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Corporate Charades: Part 3. All the Rest

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Gary Brumback     Permalink
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The first two essays were about corporations' pretenses of being ethical and of being socially responsible respectively by having programs bearing those names all the while their normal corporate behavior is unethical and socially irresponsible. This third and last essay in the series shines a brief "slime light" on all the rest of the charades corporations have in their bag of dirty tricks. They are, in this order; philanthropy, general counsel, governance, investor relations, public relations, advertising and marketing, customer relations and service, human resources and employee relations, and finally, the biggest charade of them all, corporate personhood.


"PhilanthrôpÃa," to the ancient Greeks it meant "love of humanity." Turning this ancient meaning on its head and vulgarizing it is "corporate philanthropy." Its roots in America can probably be traced to the robber barons of the Gilded Age. They robbed America and gave a tiny bit back, perhaps as guilt gifts, but more likely as insurance against civil revolt as millions of Americans were in abject poverty, just as they are today. Corporations now, with the aid of our government, are the robber barons of the Ruinous Age because they are robbing America and the world while ruining all facets of ordinary life.

The most honorable form of giving may be anonymous giving that makes a positive difference, but there is nothing anonymous or positive about corporate giving. Corporations can't get their tax benefits if the government doesn't know they gave. And the public wouldn't know, which is, of course why corporations trumpet their philanthropy. They trumpet it as their benevolent gesture to society hoping it will mask their harmful and often deadly malevolence.

As a case in point, let's pull back the charade's curtain at Wal-Mart, one of the wealthiest corporations in the world that is also at or near the top of philanthropic giving. It hardly reflects a "love of humanity." Here is a sample of what can be read about this corporation's treatment of humanity: It threatens to shut down stores in areas where a living wage law might be passed; fires workers who strike for fair pay, decent working conditions, and respect at work; pays below poverty-level wages, forcing many employees to get state-funded health care and overall to collect a $2.6 billion in taxpayer-funded welfare annually; pressures employees to work overtime without pay or risk being fired; trains managers to falsify time sheets or not pay employees for all the hours they worked; forces higher-paid, full-time employees to work  inconvenient  shifts to get them to quit; buys from suppliers purring workers in sweatshops and deadly fire traps; quashes an internal investigation of a major bribery involving a foreign subsidiary; etc.; etc. In sum, "Wal-Mart," says Paul A. Samakow, an attorney, "is the poster child for despicable behavior" (Mr. Samakow is living proof that not all lawyers are unsavory). [1]

Wal-Mart would just as soon keep the curtain closed on another fact. It isn't about to tell the public that the corporation's giving is embarrassingly tiny considering its total assets (if my data and figuring are roughly accurate the percentage of corporate gifts to total assets is half a percentage point).

Before moving on to the next charade, I want to point out that the "non-profit industrial complex" could not exist without funding from corporate philanthropy or the tax exempt status of both that is given by our government. This complex is the corpocracy's clever way of moderating resistance to it and to making social reforms by the complex its own charade. I will have more to say about this complex, an off-spring of the Devil's Marriage between corrupt corporations and corrupt government in a separate essay sometime later.  

General Counsel

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Some countries apparently have no lawyers. America has thousands of all kinds, and the latest figures I could find show nearly 70,000 working in corporate legal departments. The charade is that these departments help ensure that corporate behavior is legal behavior. The reality is that corporate lawyers are always looking for ways to make corporate behavior look legal that is or should be illegal, and if illegal and caught, to ensure that their corporations get as much immunity as the government will give, which is always plenty. 

Even if corporate lawyers abided by their professional code and guided their corporations on a legal path, doing business legally isn't enough. There are two reasons why. Politicians, most of whom are lawyers, define laws very narrowly and/or riddle them with loopholes so that what should be illegal isn't. Secondly, a business action can be on the right side of the law, the minimal standard, but on the wrong side of ethics, the higher standard. The adage that no one is above the law, therefore, is unwittingly perverse and no different from the rationalization that anything goes as long as it's legal. Just the opposite is true. Everyone should be above the law, way above it. Or as St Paul admonished the Galatians, "---no one is put right by doing what the law requires."

Are you wondering about Wal-Mart's legal department? In 2012 the corporation

merged its compliance, ethics, investigations and legal offices into one organization answering to the company's general counsel. [2] Wal-Mart employs hundreds of in-house and "out-house" lawyers. It has to. It's a lighting rod for lawsuits, attracting "nearly one every two hours, every day of the year" and fighting the plaintiffs tooth and nail. [3] Whenever it can the corporation, true to form, tries to skimp by hiring the out-house lawyers. [4]


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Corporations would like us to believe that they are governed by their boards of directors as representatives of their owners, the shareholders. That is a charade/myth that needs to be shattered into its two pieces of reality.

1. Boards of Directors

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Retired organizational psychologist.

Author of The Devil's Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch; America's Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying; and Corporate Reckoning Ahead.

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