Thursday, January 02, 2003

Soylent Green Is... Corporations?
Early last month, local government officials in Porter Township, Pennsylvania, refused to recognize corporate claims to civil rights when it took steps to better protect residents from toxic sewage sludge. In 2000, one of the country's largest sludge-hauling corporations sued the township because it requested -- required -- verification of the safety of sludge dumped in the area. The complaint claims that the township is infringing civil and constitutional rights held by the company.

While the township's legal actions might merely be a response to the suits brought against them -- how can a company claim its rights have been infringed if the company has no rights in that locale? -- what interests me is this case's potential impact on the very nature of incorporation itself. Historically, incorporation emerged in the world of business to establish companies as quasi-legal entities that were responsible for the companies' activities -- an effort to shield the business owners and managers who in fact take action on behalf of those very corporations.

Part of the problem with the cases of corporate corruption we saw come to light in the last year stems from the lack of legal responsibility held by the executives of companies around the world. If an oil company, say, pollutes the ocean, the company is held liable -- not the business leaders that made the decisions that led to the pollution. Anything we can do to better hold executives responsible for the consequences of their corporate actions -- intended and unintended -- would be good, I think. Porter Township might be a step in the right direction.

Thanks to Utne Web Watch.

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