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The 4th of July is synonymous with patriotism. Tomorrow, all over the country, Americans will congregate to spend time with family and friends, barbecue, watch fireworks, and celebrate our nation’s independence. Many will recite the pledge of allegiance or sing the national anthem. Wouldn’t it be appropriate for the large corporations that were founded in the United States to show a similar acknowledgement of patriotism?
After all, these corporations rose to their enormous size on the backs of American workers. Their success can be attributed to taxpayer-subsidized research and development handouts. Not to mention those corporations that rushed to Washington D.C. for huge bailouts from the taxpayers when mismanagement or corruption got them into serious trouble.
How do these companies show their gratitude to their home country? Many of them send jobs overseas to dictatorial regimes and oligarchic societies who abuse their impoverished workers — all in the name of greater profits. Meanwhile, back home, corporate lobbyists continue to press for more privileges and immunities so as to be less accountable under U.S. law for corporate crimes and other misbehaviors.
In a survey conducted by the Center for Study of Responsive Law, twenty of the largest unions and twenty of the largest U.S. Chartered corporations were asked the following simple question on three separate occasions:
Do you think it desirable to have your CEO and/or your president at your annual shareholders meetings stand up on the stage and, in the name of your company (not your diverse board of directors), pledge allegiance to our flag that is completed by the ringing phrase “with liberty and justice for all?”
In this survey, nine of the twenty unions replied that they do “pledge allegiance to the flag …with liberty and justice for all” or, as a substitute, sing the national anthem.
Only two of the twenty corporations — Chevron and Walmart — responded with an explanation of their company’s view of patriotism, but declined to respond directly to the question. Some of the companies that chose not to respond are: Apple, GE, GM, Verizon, J.P. Morgan Chase and Co., AT&T, Ford, ExxonMobil, Bank of America and others.
See nader.org for the full list of companies and unions that were sent the letter, including which ones that responded and which did not.
Back in 1996, a similar survey was sent to 100 of the largest chartered corporations. Thirty-four of them responded, and all but one explained why they declined to say the Pledge of Allegiance at their annual shareholders meeting. (Federated Department Stores was the only company that embraced the idea.) Many of the corporations misconstrued the request by explaining that it might offend foreign nationals who might be on their boards of Directors. (The request was crystal clear; it was to have the CEO stand up and pledge allegiance on behalf of their U.S. chartered corporation… ) After all, it’s these very CEOs who want their American companies to be treated as “persons” under our constitution in order to retain and expand their powerful privileges and immunities.
In an age of increased jingoism about freedom and American ideals, the comparative yardsticks of patriotism should be applied frequently and meticulously to the large U.S. corporations that rove the world seeking advantages from other countries, to the detriment of the United States. It is our country that chartered them into existence and helped insure their success and survival. And these corporations now wield immense power in our elections, in our economy, over our military and foreign policies, and even in how we spend time with our friends and families.
The 4th of July is an ideal time to call out these runaway corporate giants who exploit the patriotic sensibilities of Americans for profit and, in wars, for profiteering, but decline to be held to any patriotic expectations or standards of their own.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.