I love Carol!
She make me think
First and foremost it is virtually impossible to sue large corporations unless you plan to devote your life and every penny you can raise to it...
I don't know how true that that is. Large corporations (at least in the USA) are routinely and often successfully sued by smaller challengers. What keeps most such cases from reaching a verdict is the all too frequent willingness on the part of the entities bringing suit to accept financial and other settlements rather than risk going to a jury. And the reason so little is heard about them is that the plaintiffs will also almost always agree to a non-disclosure clause as part of the settlement.
So from my perspective, we're often just as guilty as the next for allowing ourselves to be bought off. When I used to be very involved in consumer advocacy causes, I learned a bitter lesson from one attorney I got friendly with. I was extremely frustrated with the number of times we got the rug pulled out from under us when the people we were advocating for cut a deal.
She had a terrific phrase that summed up the problem very neatly:
"It's just baseball."
Out on the field, we're all in it together. But up on the plate, we each stand alone
But I'd like to go back to my original point about legalities.
As I said, I keep hearing people, and to be fair (on rare occasions) even corporate officers, assert that corporations can be held legally liable
for not availing themselves of every and any means at their disposal to maximize revenue. And that would include immoral, amoral, or borderline legal actions.
And to which I again say: Simply not true.
The requirement to exercise fiduciary responsibility neither allows nor justifies illegal or immoral activity on the part of a business. Whether or not they routinely do, in fact, get away with such behaviors is up for debate. But there is absolutely nothing in any corporate law that either states or implies a requirement for businesses to act in such a manner.
And that was what I was taking issue with.
How about the US company that released poisonous gas at Bhopal in India and is still to admit responsibility or pay compensation to the families that are still suffering to this day?
I assume that you're referring to Union Carbide's chemical plant disaster here?
Probably not the best example to cite for corporate irresponsibility...
I was outraged as the next person when that story originally came out. However, if you look beyond the original headlines, and follow up on what went on before, during, and after that tragedy, a very different picture emerges. And that picture involves political posturing, collusion on the part of the Indian government to limit the scope of the investigation in order to deflect shared responsibility for numerous questionable actions initiated at their request
; and the refusal of the Indian government to allow an independent international investigation
to be conducted into plant design changes and circumstances leading up to the occurrence.
Then there's the unresolved scientific debate surrounding exactly what
the proximate cause for the explosion was. Something which remains unanswered to this day due to India's insistence on gathering and controlling all the evidence and testimony in the original and subsequent investigations. It just goes on and on.
I also have to take issue with the characterization they "released poisonous gas." In keeping with the demonetization theme, that implies some huge uncaring giant villain deliberately or carelessly elected to kill a few thousand helpless and unsuspecting people. It paints a picture of actual intent
where none exists. Far more accurate to say "an explosion at a plant jointly owned by Union Carbide and a consortium of public and private Indian investors
resulted in the release of a toxic cloud of gas which caused the death of many people." Maybe not as catchy and righteously indignant as headlines like "Union Carbide Kills Thousands in India!!!" But it would be a lot more accurate statement.
I'm not defending Union Carbide. It's their plant, it's their responsibility. But I strongly question whether it should fairly be considered theirs alone.
Unfortunately, there's a tendency with most governments to take the easy way out in situations like this one. The formula seems to be: unilaterally blame the foreign interest for everything; if at all possible, demonize said foreign interest to deflect domestic criticism; accept no local governmental responsibility for anything despite having regulatory authority; and stonewall any and all requests for independent outside review.
Bophal was tragic. But what was even more tragic was how the survivors are still waiting for some relief, largely because of the Indian government's absolute demand that Union Carbide USA be held solely to blame. Something which they continue to insist on despite a large amount of evidence to show there's plenty of blame to be shared by all parties involved.
The posturing continues to this day with the refusal of the Indian judiciary to vacate a warrant for manslaughter against Warren Anderson, who was the CEO of Union Carbide at the time of the incident. It's of interest to note that Anderson was given advance notice, taken into custody and placed under house arrest for a few hours, allowed to post a bond of something like $2,000 dollars - and then placed on an Indian government owned plane and flown out of the country.
It's generally understood that charging Anderson was primarily done as a symbolic gesture intended to pressure Union Carbide into more rapidly settling charges made against it.
But apparently this little bit of puppet theater continues to make hay for some local politicos. Because the warrant is still
outstanding. And there ain't nuthin' better than a bad guy on the loose to make people want to vote for the guy who promises to bring him in.
But despite the fact that the United States has an extradition treaty with India, and the fact that Anderson is still under indictment - AND officially listed as a fugitive under Indian law since the early 90s - absolutely no real efforts have ever been made to seek a US extradition warrant for his return to India to face these charges.
Sic transit gloria mundi...
By definition corporate life is (and has to be) amoral - it is precisely why corporations were originally conceived as business entities that had a limited scope of operation. They had a corporate charter with a remit to perform one task for a limited fixed period of time and in one particular place.
That isn't, nor has it ever been the case in the US.
The primary reason the corporate structure was created in the US was to provide for legal continuity
. Prior to that, businesses couldn't legally survive the death of their founders. Corporations were initially designed to create a separate and immortal
legal entity to act as the perpetual "owner" and representative of the business.
And that's not purely symbolic either.
Over here, a corporation has always been thought of as some amorphous but very real person who exists as a citizen with all the rights and responsibilities any other person has under the law. It can own property; enter into contracts; petition for relief and redress for grievances; and seek protection under the rules of due process
just like any other citizen. In short, it is guaranteed full protection under the US Constitution
and Bill of Rights
in all matters of law.
And this legal theory isn't a loophole that got created by sleazy lawyers and judges. It was something put there by design from day one.
Then there's the issue of scope...
US corporations can have as broad or as limited a charter as they choose to elect
Yes, US Corporations are chartered to do specific things. But a US corporate charter almost always includes a clause which says "and any other business
it may legally conduct." Under US law, all incorporated American businesses are generally presumed to operate with 'unlimited scope' and 'in perpetuity' except when a company self-elects to limit its charter (note: hardly any ever do) or when it is in an industry that has specific rules regulating its range of legal activity.
I've been given to understand the UK, and many other countries, truly think of corporations as "limited" companies, hence the 'Ltd.' that appears in so many business names?
In the US, the use of the term "Ltd." in a corporate name generally serves no purpose other than to try to make a business sound more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than the more usual "Inc." designation would allow.
So maybe part of this debate stems from some very real differences in what various countries think of when they think of corporations. Over here, corporations are artificial albeit real 'people. '
Which is probably why they sometimes look and act like Frankenstein's Monster.
It was only sleazy corporate lawyers and corrupt judges that created loopholes from the law designed to protect freed slaves that allowed the US in particular (and now most countries using the same corporate model) to become completely dominated by multinationals that owe no allegiance to countries or any other entities other than money.
Woo...that's an interesting bit of info! Which law for the protection of freed slaves is it that the US corporate model retooled (or loopholed ?) - and which law(s) was it designed to circumvent?
I actually have a business degree - but that's a new one for me. Obviously that's not an interpretation that gets taught here, so I'm quite interested in gaining some new perspective.
Most of the people running these large multinationals are not even involved in the day to day decisions of their subsidiaries (and their subsidiaries etc.). They only have an overview of how the corporation is performing for personal profit in the first instance closely followed by shareholders. This is precisely why banks that have almost caused the collapse of the world economy are still making profits and paying out huge bonuses.
Ah...the absentee ownership
issue. Most excellent point. That is a major problem which plays into our general uwillingness accept responsibility for things which occur remotely even when there is a clear cause and effect relationship. The neuroscience crowd says it's mainly due to a cognitive blind spot in our psyche. What isn't right in front of us isn't as 'real' as what is.
It's the old "out of sight - out of mind" mechanism rearing it's ugly head.
That's one of the reasons I'm so opposed to all this new autonomous
military technology. It reduces warfare to the status of a video game, except there's no "new" or "undo previous move" options. Remove any direct awareness of the pain and suffering warfare inflicts from the act of waging war, and you pave the way for untold human misery.
And as with war - so with business.
A faulty analogy, but quite apt in this context.