FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

We Must Begin to Curb the Power of Corporations

The revelations of the Paradise papers, the earlier Panama Papers and numerous articles in the western mainstream and alternative media demonstrate just one dimension, tax evasion, of an increasingly obvious truth: global corporations have become the greatest threat to the planet. The deliberate starvation of government, climate change, grotesque inequality, Dickensian working conditions, environmental degradation, dwindling bio-diversity, the slow (or not so slow) death of the oceans and the creation of the security state on their behalf threaten not only the natural world but the our capacity to democratically govern ourselves while maintaining some semblance of civilization.

The advent of the corporate state was truly unleashed when Canada and the US signed the first ‘free trade’ agreement in 1989. In the twenty-eight years since hundreds of such agreements have been signed, all of them designed to erase borders for corporations and radically reduce the operational space for democratic governance.

Governments are the only institutions that can seriously challenge the power and reach of transnational corporations: they made them and they could unmake them. Only governments can curb their predatory nature, constrain their contempt for their workers, communities and the environment, and genuinely punish them when they openly break the law as part of their fiduciary ‘duty’ to their shareholders.

Of course it’s difficult to imagine current governments in any role other than the unindicted co-conspirator which have played for decades. The implementation over thirty years of neo-liberal policies by governments of virtually every stripe has liberated corporations, increasingly removing constraints designed to make them accountable to the broader society.

The tax avoidance/evasion tidal wave is just one example. This obscene anti-social conspiracy has not just been allowed by governments it has been facilitated by them. Much of it is actually legal, in other words sanctioned by governments we elect. Yet that does not absolve corporations from their responsibility. A recent study by Canadians for Tax Fairness (disclosure: I am on their board) revealed that the sixty largest public companies in Canada have 1,021 subsidiaries in a string of tax havens. Four had none; Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Sun Life Financial have over fifty each. According to the study,  “Canadian foreign direct investment (FDI) in tax havens grew from $2.1 billion in 1994 to $284 billion in 2016.”

By now most people know how these ‘profit shifting’ schemes work. Companies assign profits made elsewhere to tax haven subsidiaries in countries with low or no income taxes. They half-heartedly claim they actually do business in these countries but the numbers say otherwise. The study shows subsidiaries in non-tax haven countries employ between 1,244 to 2,760 employees per billion in assets; for tax-haven users the ratio is one to 250. In 2014, Canadian corporations held almost $31 billion in assets in Bermuda; their subsidiaries employed a total of 35 employees.

While the Trudeau government has made some moves in the right direction to track flesh-and-blood tax cheaters, it has does done virtually nothing to curb the immoral behaviour of so-called corporate citizens. This should hardly surprise us. Over the decades we have watched these ersatz ‘citizens’ develop into the institutional equivalent of psychopaths. This is not a subjective assessment; it is written into their legal DNA by our laws governing corporations. They don’t have social responsibility like ordinary citizens – only the fiduciary duty to their shareholders. They are citizens who live forever; once a corporation has a charter it can’t be revoked.

Twenty years ago of the 100 largest ‘economies’ in the world, 51 were corporations. I am sure that number is higher now. It was recently revealed that the Royal Bank is now, officially, ‘too big to fail’ – or more to the point free to be reckless knowing the taxpayer will bail it out.

In attempting to imagine how we can save our civilizations and ecosystems from corporate predation it may be helpful to know that  corporations haven’t always had such free reign. In 1809, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that if an applicant’s purpose in seeking a corporate charter “…is merely private or selfish; if it is detrimental to, or not promotive, of the public good, they have no adequate claim upon the legislature for the privileges.” Charters were routinely denied and in 1832, Pennsylvania revoked the charters of 10 banks for not serving the public good.

These strict limits on corporations — they could only engage in the single activity described in their charter — began to disappear in the late 1800s. The civil war resulted in corporations becoming much more powerful. States competed with each other for corporate investment and their judges systematically eliminated restrictions on corporate charters. They gradually re-interpreted the U.S. constitution and changed the common law to make corporations citizens.

Canada of course, actually started off as a corporate state – the Hudson’s Bay Company –  and they corporations have always had a cozy relationship with governments here. But it wasn’t until the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that they were considered ‘natural persons’ with the same human rights as you and I. The fight to get corporations to pay their fair share of taxes must continue. But we should set our sights a lot higher. A good start would be to find a compelling case to take to the Supreme Court and have corporations’ ‘natural persons’ status removed. And then put back into corporate law the power to revoke the charters of corporations which violate the public good.

More articles by:

MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years.  He can be reached at murraydobbin@shaw.ca

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 19, 2019
Richard Falk
Burning Amazonia, Denying Climate Change, Devastating Syria, Starving Yemen, and Ignoring Kashmir
Charles Pierson
With Enemies Like These, Trump Doesn’t Need Friends
Lawrence Davidson
The Sorry State of the Nobel Peace Prize
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Scourge in the White House
Urvashi Sarkar
“Not a Blade of Grass Grew:” Living on the Edge of the Climate Crisis in the Sandarbans of West Bengal
Thomas Knapp
Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?
Dean Baker
Is There Any Lesser Authority Than Alan Greenspan?
Gary Leupp
Warren’s Ethnic Issue Should Not Go Away
George Ochenski
Memo to Trump: Water Runs Downhill
Jeff Cohen
What George Carlin Taught Us about Media Propaganda by Omission
Stephen Martin
The Perspicacity of Mcluhan and Panopticonic Plans of the MIC
September 18, 2019
Kenneth Surin
An Excellent Study Of The Manufactured Labour “Antisemitism Crisis”
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Crown Prince Plans to Make Us Forget About the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Before the US Election
W. T. Whitney
Political Struggle and Fixing Cuba’s Economy
Ron Jacobs
Support the Climate Strike, Not a Military Strike
John Kendall Hawkins
Slouching Toward “Bethlehem”
Ted Rall
Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted
William Astore
The Ultra-Costly, Underwhelming F-35 Fighter
Dave Lindorff
Why on Earth Would the US Go to War with Iran over an Attack on Saudi Oil Refineries?
Binoy Kampmark
Doctored Admissions: the University Admissions Scandal as a Global Problem
Jeremy Corbyn
Creating a Society of Hope and Inclusion: Speech to the TUC
Zhivko Illeieff
Why You Should Care About #ShutDownDC and the Global Climate Strike  
Catherine Tumber
Land Without Bread: the Green New Deal Forsakes America’s Countryside
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail