Magazine article Sierra

Can Corporations Be Good Citizens?

Magazine article Sierra

Can Corporations Be Good Citizens?

Article excerpt


The companies that advanced the first industrial revolution have left us choking on its consequences--dioxins in the breast milk of every woman on the planet, clearcuts, exhausted fisheries, and weakened biodiversity. But we have an opportunity for a second industrial revolution, in which goods and services are designed not to poison the water, foul the air, or litter the environment with toxics and endocrine disruptors.

Corporations need a charter to operate in each state in which they do business. These charters now require only that businesses obey existing laws. As citizens, we could change them to prohibit actions like habitat destruction or dispersal of toxic substances. Instead of focusing corporate citizenship around compliance, new charters could inspire corporations to lead progressive change.

Dave Olsen, chief executive officer, Patagonia

Citizenship requires a commitment to democracy, but corporations, in their exercise of political power through campaign finance, are antagonistic to democracy. Citizenship requires a commitment to place, but in a globalized economy, place has lost its meaning for corporations. Citizenship also requires a long-term horizon, but corporations define "long term" as the next quarter, not the next quarter century.

Stephen Viederman, president, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation

Is it in the nature of corporations to oppose a healthy environment and decent working conditions for their employees? Unquestionably. The natural drive of corporations is to place profit before human needs. But that does not mean they cannot be induced--by the threat of losing some of their profit due to a boycott or strike--to change their policies, to pay attention to the environment, to do better by their employees. There is a long history that shows how powerful and selfish corporations can yield, at least a bit, to human needs if there is sufficient pressure from consumers and employees.

Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States

A corporation can't be a good citizen or a bad citizen. …

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