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. It carries no passport.
It can't serve on a jury of my peers. It can't pull the curtain behind itself in
a voting booth and vote. (Although it surely can, and does, determine the outcome
of elections.) Corporations are creations of the state and we as citizens have
the right, and duty, to ensure they do no harm. We have failed as citizens. And
we pay the price every day.
Russell Mokhiber, editor, Corporate Crime Reporter
Sponsoring day care, employee training, and other virtuous programs can help
corporations boost their bottom line. But a true movement of corporate
responsibility must unite populists, unions, environmentalists, and community
groups with visionary businesses to regulate the global financial casino that
fuels corporate irresponsibility; recharter corporations as nonpersons
accountable to real people; limit the manic corporate takeover of schools, health
care, and media; fight for employee/community ownership and sustainable growth;
and contest all undemocratic forms of corporate power.
Charles Derber, author of Corporation Nation
Corporations can behave responsibly. Laws and policies as well as greater
competition for resources will demand sustainable behavior. We are already seeing
a turnaround. Corporations that have spent the 1990s fighting such instruments of
sustainability as eco-label certification are beginning to moderate their
opposition, chastened by their failed efforts in such forums as the World Trade
Arthur Weissman, president, Green Seal
The terms "corporate citizen" and "corporate responsibility" imply that corporate
officials should have the
right to define responsible behavior. I favor corporate accountability wherein we
the people define corporations' operating parameters, rewarding or sanctioning
them based on our standards of environmental sustainability, human rights, and
community goals. The economy should serve the people and the earth. Today, most
of us are servants to it.
Jim Price, senior regional staff director, Sierra Club Southeast office