Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney raised eyebrows and heard catcalls for telling an audience that corporations are people. After getting heckled Romney insisted that “corporations are people, my friend.” Although in one sense the matter may be academic if his slide in the polls continues, there is a much broader question of how Americans have and are conditioned to see the economy and their place in it.
Corporations are legal entities. They’re not people. They don’t possess a soul. They are not Creations of God. The only conscience they have is what’s projected by those running the company who are quick to hide behind the corporate veil when accused of greed and unscrupulous behavior. Corporations don’t come with values, ethics, or principles. Sadly, many in upper management who operate them don’t either.
Hershey, the company that makes the beloved chocolate, is giving out a new kind of kiss. They pulled in 400 18-19 year old international students to work in its factory. They’re part of the “guest-worker-cultural exchange program.” Impoverished parents paid $3,000 to $6,000 for their sons or daughters to participate. Students thought they’d fine tune English skills and learn about American capitalism, the good kind of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
Students live four to a room, receive $8.35 an hour (sometimes only $42 a week), and pay housing costs of $400 a week at what has been described as a “seedy motel.” Many fear being thrown out of the program and denied future entry in the United States. Hershey CEO David West made $7.5 million last year. Profits rose 7.5% in the second quarter in 2011. If corporations are people, Gov. Romney, then who should be sent to jail?
Whoever developed, signed-off, and failed to monitor this program should be fired. If company lawyers knew about it and took a blind eye to it they should be disbarred. Speaking as an attorney myself too few lawyers are disbarred. American human rights attorneys, the better angels of the profession, are now involved.
At the beginning of 2011, America, home of the free and the brave where the pursuit of happiness is a foundation of the country, had 25 percent of the world’s inmates. Overhauling the correctional system has met with stiff opposition. GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America received total revenues of $2.9 billion at the end of 2010.
According to Corrections Corporation of America’s own 2010 Annual Report, “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws … Legislation has been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior …”
According to Kanya D’Almeida of the Inter Press Service, “the private prison industry creates both demand for and supply of prisoners in order to sustain an ever-expanding market for their ‘products and services’ – all the while raking in enormous profit – at the expense of primarily minor offenders who might otherwise be granted a second chance at freedom.” Ms. D’Almeida in her article, “Profiteers of Misery: The U.S. Private Prison Industrial Complex,” goes on to document lobbying efforts to stop criminal justice reform.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds, if not thousands of examples like these. This type of corporate citizenship goes on all too often in a nation that is reminded ad nauseam that it was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. If that means greed, slavery, and exploitation then and now then sadly it’s accurate. Americans are working for an exploitive economy. The economy is not working for Americans.
The Governor’s comment reminded me of an annoying song, Kids Are People Too, from a television show called Wonderama. Later, the show’s name changed to the title song. Please take a moment to listen to the schlocky theme song. As you hear it substitute kids for corporations. Pay particular attention when you get to the Golden Rule. Below I’ve taken some editorial license with the song.
You may smile, wear suits, and look real good but we
know you’ve got problems of your own
Corporations are people too
Wacka doo, wacka doo, wacka doo doo doo!
It doesn’t matter if you’re big or small you do your best to do your thing just like the rest Corporations are people too
Wacka doo, wacka doo, wacka doo doo doo!
It isn’t easy going all day,
Winning and losing in the money games that ya play,
Lobbying your souls away, doing the spreadsheets, finding the loopholes
And trying to live by the Golden Rule
And so we hope you’ll understand
And try to lend a helping hand.
Corporations are people, corporations are people, corporations are people too!
They’re really, really people too!
Perhaps Gov. Romney can get a more receptive audience if he used something snappy. By the way my sincere apologies if the theme song is now stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
Paul Peter Jesep © 2011