A New Corporate Consciousness or Control?

Apple and Citigroup, two of the most powerful multinational organizations in the world have recently said that they will reimburse the travel costs for those of their American employees that would have to cross state lines in order to gain access to an abortion. This corporate policy comes as 19 states (predominately in the South and Mid-West) enacted restrictions on abortion access last year. One such anti-abortion legislation is the Texas Heartbeat Act, so titled as this ruling would place a ban on abortions as soon as the heartbeat of the fetus can be heard (roughly after 6 weeks). Additionally, under this law citizens can sue anyone who “aids and abets” a person trying to receive an abortion. In response to this, the ride sharing companies Uber and Lyft have already said they will defend drivers working for them who are sued under this provision, and Salesforce has said that it will help employees leave Texas.

With the 2010 Citizens United ruling the Supreme Court affirmed that corporations have certain legal rights and responsibilities that are the same as human beings, has this corporate personhood now evolved to the point where corporations have a conscience similar to humans? Considering that the sole reason that businesses exist is the pursuit of profit the answer to this question seems to be clear: No. Instead, it could be said that corporations’ subjective code of ethics is monetary morality, sold to the highest bidder. One need only look at the mercenary role of corporations in the darkest periods of modern history to see them colluding with dictatorships and tyrannical regimes. This is not at all to compare the access to abortion to tyranny and autocracy, but rather to say that corporations follow the money and will adapt themselves to the current environment and zeitgeist in order to reach it. One need only see how corporations have been molded by consumer power such as boycotts to get in line with popular consciousness.

Some observers may see these corporate actions as unique instances in an exceptional period. However, it could be said that these policies have already set a new precedent and high-water mark of corporate consciousness, opening the door to new power dynamics between workers, corporations and society. Technology such as mobile phones and laptop computers has already allowed businesses previously unimaginable access to its workforce from anywhere at any time. Furthermore, the brutal work at Amazon Fulfillment Centers has shown a new level of corporate control over the bodily autonomy of workers, choosing when its workers can use the bathroom, the tempo of their work and even the state of their health (as shown by the rates of injury and Covid-19 in Amazon facilities). Enforcing this control is the indentured servitude for health insurance that many American workers live under. Unable to risk showing their head above the corporate parapet, workers that displease their employer risk the removal of their basic human right to health, and potential ruin if they are unfortunate enough to suffer medical mishap. These abortion access policies are the next level of increased corporate control over workers’ bodies, as the worker is now dependent upon its employer as to whether they can bring or not bring life into the world, alongside all the potential ramifications of either decision.

If these are the impacts upon workers what are the repercussions for society and those who have not had the societal privileges to work for these elite organizations? According to the Guttmacher Institute half of all women who received an abortion in 2014 lived in poverty. Does this division in access to abortion due to differing proximity to power show more clearly the stratospheric inequality in America? Does the right to choose now become the right to choose to work at an organization that will allow this right of choice? Additionally, the majority of workers at these companies are caucasian, making even clearer the connections of race, economics, power and health. Ultimately, it shows a weakening of American democracy and further failure of government that now younger generations rely upon unelected and undemocratic organizations to provide and fight for the public services that impact their lives. It also makes a mockery of the idea that the common person has the power to change society, instead it is replaced by the idea that money talks and without it you do not have a say in how either your country or life is run.