Can Corporations Kill Us?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately, and one question keeps popping into my mind. Can corporations kill us? Well, I guess I should clarify my question. I wouldn’t want anyone having nightmares of large skyscrapers with red, gleaming eyes hiding in their closet, waiting for the right moment to pounce. I guess what I’m asking is; can corporate interests and actions harm the environment, and ultimately us? Today we know that corporations, for good or bad, are major influences on our lives. For example, of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporation led countries while only 49 are countries; based on a comparison of corporate sales and country GDPs[1]. In this era of globalization, people are becoming more aware of the motives of multinational corporations, and corporate-led globalization is being met with increasing protest and resistance. Most commonly we see this form of resistance in books like Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. But it is not these books however that peek my interest. In general, it is the call to question why so many individuals believe that corporations can be conclusively harmful.

To try and reconcile this question, let’s first begin by looking at the major industries corporations make their home turf (such as the auto, mining, pharmaceuticals, oil and chemical based industries). All of these are major areas in which major countries are run, and because these corporations hold so much power over these critical resources, is it unreasonable to ask that they be held to some extent accountable for what is happening to our world? Recent years have witnessed increasing importance on corporate social responsibility, especially as concerns about climate change are becoming main-stream. There have been criticisms of corporate social responsibility from ardent free trade capitalists and anti globalization activists/environmentalists alike. But seeing no change of major companies towards a greener way of living, one question still remains. Do corporations have a moral obligation to society? If so, how far does their moral obligation extend?

One major “high flying” executive believes corporations should be held to a higher moral standard then is accepted now. In a recent interview with CNET News, Cisco Systems’ CEO John Chambers gave the following answer when asked what role corporations should play in making the world a better place.

“I believe that those who have been successful are obligated to give back to those who have been less successful. That’s what my family believes. That’s what I believe. That is what Silicon Valley believes. When Cisco first started, Hewlett-Packard helped us a lot. I was a little company then, and after a year and a half I finally had the courage to ask (because I was afraid that if I asked they might stop): “Why are your top executives spending time with us?” And they said, “Because it’s the right thing to do. Helping others is the right thing to do[2]

Although many perspectives are trying to make corporate behavior more responsible when it comes to ethics, working conditions, environmental sustainability, etc, are we moving in the right direction if one of the corporate elites can take a stand and confirm that the general populaces concerns should be the concerns of corporations? Or could it be that corporations will continue to placate us with pretend solutions until we eventually run this planet dry of resources?

Whatever the conclusion, the debate is just getting started, and it looks like we’ll all be right in the thick of it. So grab hold of the nearest bandwagon and settle down for the longest ride of your life.

Check out this unique video on consumerism and how that affects our planet.




One Response to “Can Corporations Kill Us?”

  1. CJ- this post rocks! Nice work, thoughtful, and well-organized!! I can’t wait to continue to see the results of that poll.

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