Corporate Responsibility

This is going to be a short one, because like yesterday, I'm just too tired to actually write anything worth sharing with friends.

I just wanted to touch on the ways in which we think about corporate responsibility. Opinions vary wildly depending on where you are in the world, if you are part of a corporation (and sense are both dulled and sharpened while being part of the machine), and so forth.

So, what does it even mean to be responsible? Is that something that's applicable to corporations, which by their very definition operate on the principle of the free market? Most people think that yes, there should be a guiding dogma for all corporate entities, and that this dogma be based on some amount of regulation. And yes, I'm including even the most radical laissez faire advocates in this analysis: even these individuals agree with holding companies to some amount of international law (like not killing people, for instance).

In our country, we try to regulate heavily based on the principle that corporations have a responsibility to consumers, investors, employees, and when large enough, the general public. The specifics of these regulations and the logic behind them differs from state to state and from market to market, but for the most part, our government seems to get that we want safe products made by workers who are treated well.

However, this is entirely at odds with corporate philosophy. Most, if not all, corporations operate on the principle that if a venture is profitable in the end, then steps along the way are justified. On the more responsible end of this continuum are companies that try to make ends meet, and when they can't, ask for input from employees and make changes based on collective bargaining. On the sleazy end are companies that perform massive layoffs, lower the quality of their products (or the quantity per dollar), or ship their industry to places where they are tax-exempt or where labor is cheaper. The degree to which they are motivated by Machiavellian economics varies, but the guiding principle is the same: the bottom line defines success.

And there are many in our country who believe that this is the way things should be. After all, we were founded on the principles of capitalism, meritocracy, and Locke's idea of equal starting points. Why is it then that companies with worse business models, practices, and products become more successful? Why is it that despite massive regulation, most industries find way to bypass the law? And why is it that despite a call for new jobs in the United States, a record number of positions are being shipped overseas?

I don't have answers to this. I personally think that capitalism is crap, an educated white man's justification for retaining the purse strings of an entire globe in the face of widespread poverty, violence, and intolerance. To me, the corporate structure reinforces the hierarchical structure of our society and maintains the perceived integrity of those on the top while dooming those at the bottom to obscurity.

But, like any person with an opinion but without a solution, I can't say that my perceptions are all that valid. I know I don't like what I see, but is there any way to successfully communicate ideas of frustration and disgust without an alternative in mind? For the most part, this is what gets those with a social conscience (some call us progressives. that was a joke.) are accused of on a daily basis: having criticisms without being able to forge a new paradigm from the decay all around us.

What do we need in order to do that? Collaboration? Better ideas? A new perspective? More power? LESS power? Inner peace? Inner pain?

Who knows?

No seriously. Who does? Do you?


Post a Comment

A blog about social change, written from Brooklyn, New York. Currently looking for contributors.