The purpose of this paper is to illustrate that The Corporation’s claim that many corporations behave unethically, negatively affecting the current and future state of this planet, it’s environment, and those who live within it is a valid argument. I will first explain in more detail the central argument within The Corporation and will discuss the support given for it. To then further support this argument I will analyze the actions, characteristics, and tendencies of corporations given in the documentary using rights theories, Kantianism, and, Edward Freeman’s theory of Managing for stakeholders. Based on the application of the above ethical theories I will argue that many modern day corporations act unethically in the pursuit of profit.
The Corporation argues that many corporations behave in an unethical manner that negatively affects the current and future state of this planet, it’s environment, and those who live within it. This argument is based on the fact that the modern day corporation has become the dominant institution within our society meaning that it has the power to make large scale impacts from it’s actions. This along with fact that when the corporation is assessed by the DSM-IV test as a person using various case studies it is found to act in a psychopathic manner with disregard to the harm it causes workers, human health, animals, and the biosphere. The combination of the given facts that corporations have the capability of affecting many things and acts in a destructive manner supports the claim that corporations are acting unethically.
Rights theories are ethical theories that revolve around the idea that people have claim to certain rights that should be honoured including basic rights to things like property, work, privacy, or a healthy environment (Beauchamp, Bowie, Arnold 30). These theories also state that the rights people have claim to are are the justifying basis of sets of obligations that must be fulfilled by others (Beauchamp, Bowie, Arnold 30).
The rights being discussed, known as human rights, evolved from natural rights, which are claims individuals have against the state. If the state did not honour these rights its legitimacy was questioned (Beauchamp, Bowie, Arnold 31). The theory makes note of two kinds of rights and two kinds of obligations that exist. The rights include positive rights, which are a valid claim on goods or services, and negative rights, which are a right not to be interfered with. Secondly positive obligations require that certain people or institutions provide a benefit or service and negative obligations require that certain people or institutions not interfere with the liberty of others (Beauchamp, Bowie, Arnold 32).
The Corporation exposes corporations for causing harm to workers in the form of layoffs, factory fires, and sweatshops, and to human health in the form of dangerous products, toxic waste, and pollution. When assessing these situations using rights theories they can be seen as situations involving positive rights and obligations. The workers and humans involved, according to rights theories, have certain claims to rights that create obligations for corporations. These workers and humans should have positive rights to things like job security, workplace safety, freedom from exploitation, a healthy work environment and an environment free of pollution. Created from these positive rights are the obligations for corporations to provide these things for its workers and humans affected by their operations to be considered an ethical corporation.
Based on the harm corporations are causing to their workers and human health, they are failing to fulfill their positive obligations to these groups of people and are thus acting unethically. Secondly, The Corporation exposes negative effects caused by corporations for animals in the form of habitat destruction, experimentation, and chemical administration and to the biosphere in the form of clear cutting, C02 emissions, and nuclear waste. These situations can be assessed using negative rights and obligations.
The animals and the biosphere, although not human entities should have the negative right not to be interfered with, creating a negative obligation for corporations not to interfere with them. The above examples of negative effects caused by corporations on animals and the biosphere are clearly interference in these entities as they cause disturbance and adverse health effects for them. When interfering with animals’ lives and the biosphere, corporations are not honouring their negative obligations. It is clear that through these behaviours corporations are neglecting to take into consideration the rights of groups that they effect and failing to fulfill their obligations making them unethical by the standards of rights theories.
Many corporations may claim that no concrete hierarchy or set of human rights has been developed, making it difficult to know which rights should be honoured above others and who the obligations created fall on (Beauchamp, Bowie, Arnold 33). While it is true that an international concrete set of rights and responsibilities has not been developed it is widely agreed upon that “a person can legitimately exercise a right to something if sufficient justification exists – that is, when a right has overriding status” (Beauchamp, Bowie, Arnold 33). Based on the use of overriding status it should hold that basic rights regarding safety, freedom from pollution, exploitation, and health should have priority over the pursuit of profits. Pertaining to who the obligations should fall on, it seems fair that the obligations to honour basic rights of specific groups should fall on the entity, in this case the corporation, using them as a tool to obtain profits.
Kantianism concerns respect for humans and the importance of motives for actions in making the ‘right’ and ethical decision ((Beauchamp, Bowie, Arnold 25). In showing respect for humans, they should not be treated exclusively as a means in accordance with ones’ ends and as stated in the categorical imperative: People must always be treated as if they are ends in themselves, never merely as a means to an end. To treat person with respect is to consider their judgments, concerns, and needs (Beauchamp, Bowie, Arnold 24). Human beings possess moral dignity and so, according to Kant, should not be treated as a piece of machinery might be.
This respect for others entails a negative obligation to refrain from treating humans as mere objects and positive obligations to help ensure the development of rational and moral capacities (Beauchamp, Bowie, Arnold 25). According to Kantianism, the motive for action must be out of these obligations and must involve recognition of the duty to act in order to be considered an action of moral worth (Beauchamp, Bowie, Arnold 26).