Can Corporate Personhood
Be Socially Responsible?
Corporate personhood creates equality before the law that results in inequality in human society. It permits corporate appeals to justice that result in human injustice. These claims—the first legal, the latter moral—appeal to the ideals of human equality before the law and universal participation in the political community, ideals reflected in normative definitions of democracy. If the primary social good of a civil society is democratic self-governance, then privileging a few to deny the democratic rights of the many works in opposition to that primary social good. The direct consequences of corporate personhood unavoidably violate that social good, and so corporate personhood is rightly declared socially irresponsible.
Instead, corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts should realign and drive towards two ends: first, empowering human communities to resist corporate rights claims that invalidate and deny the inalienable rights of human beings, which could be accomplished by increasing the power and efficiency of genuinely democratic processes; second, eliminating the constitutional rights granted to corporations and thus the antidemocratic powers granted to corporate agents.1 I begin this chapter by establishing the meaning of the terms and claims. Then in the main body I investigate the claims and consider counterclaims. I then conclude by proposing a response to the situation.
Consider two tools of modern society: corporations and a republican form of government. At the most superficial level, corporations are “mechanisms by means of which a number of persons unite for the purpose of assembling a fund of capital with which to carry on some business enterprises” (Dodd, 1954, p. 367). In the United States, they are created and dissolved under the authority of individual states, with each corporation a state-created fictional entity possessing a legal existence independent of its shareholders and incorporators. This fictional entity may enter into contracts, hold named title to property, incur tax liability, and be a party to a lawsuit—characteristics also ascribed to natural persons (Millon, 2001, pp. 39–40). State corporation codes now permit corporations to be created for no specific purpose other than providing shareholders with the privileges of incorporation. These privileges include perpetual existence, special tax treatment, the imposition of fines rather than imprisonment of shareholders or corporate employees for corporate violations of law, shareholder liability limited to the value of their investment and no more, and legal personhood with its consequent constitutional rights. This chapter focuses on statechartered for-profit corporations only.
The other tool of modern society, the republi- can form of government, is by definition subject
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Publication information: Book title: The Debate over Corporate Social Responsibility. Contributors: Steve May - Author, George Cheney - Author, Juliet Roper - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2007. Page number: 190.
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