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The Sham of Corporate Social Responsibility

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From Robert Reich Blog

Boeing recently fired CEO Dennis Muilenburg in order "to restore confidence in the Company moving forward as it works to repair relationships with regulators, customers, and all other stakeholders."

Restore confidence? Muilenburg's successor will be David Calhoun who, as a long-standing member of Boeing's board of directors, allowed Muilenburg to remain CEO for more than a year after the first 737 Max crash and after internal studies found that the jetliner posed an unacceptable risk of accident. It caused the deaths of 346 people.

Muilenburg raked in $30 million in 2018. He could walk away from Boeing with another $60 million.

Last August, the Business Roundtable an association of CEOs of America's biggest corporations, of which Muilenburg is a director announced with great fanfare a "fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders" (emphasis in the original) and not just their shareholders.

Rubbish. Corporate social responsibility is a sham.

Another Business Roundtable director is Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. Just weeks after making the Roundtable commitment, and despite GM's hefty profits and large tax breaks, Barra rejected workers' demands that GM raise their wages and stop outsourcing their jobs. Earlier in the year GM shut its giant assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

Some 50,000 GM workers then staged the longest auto strike in 50 years. They won a few wage gains but didn't save any jobs. Meanwhile, GM's stock has performed so well that Barra earned $22 million last year.

Another prominent Business Roundtable CEO who made the commitment to all his stakeholders is AT&T's Randall Stephenson, who promised to invest in the company's broadband network and create at least 7,000 new jobs with the billions the company received from the Trump tax cut.

Instead, AT&T has cut more than 30,000 jobs since the tax cut went into effect.

Let's not forget Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and its Whole Foods subsidiary. Just weeks after Bezos made the Business Roundtable commitment to all his stakeholders, Whole Foods announced it would be cutting medical benefits for its entire part-time workforce.

The annual saving to Amazon from this cost-cutting move is roughly what Bezos whose net worth is $110 billion makes in two hours. (Bezos's nearly-completed D.C. mansion will have 2 elevators, 25 bathrooms, 11 bedrooms, and a movie theater.)

GE's CEO Larry Culp is also a member of the Business Roundtable. Two months after he made the commitment to all his stakeholders, General Electric froze the pensions of 20,000 workers in order to cut costs. Culp raked in $15 million last year.

The list goes on. Just in time for the holidays, US Steel announced 1,545 layoffs at two plants in Michigan. Last year, five US Steel executives received an average compensation package of $4.8 million, a 53 percent increase over 2017.

Instead of a holiday bonus this year, Walmart offered its employees a 15 percent store discount. Oh, and did I say? Walmart saved $2.2 billion this year from the Trump tax cut.

The giant tax cut itself was a product of the Business Roundtable's extensive lobbying, lubricated by its generous campaign donations. Several of its member corporations, including Amazon and General Motors, wound up paying no federal income taxes at all last year.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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Bill Willers

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Dear Professor Reich:

Everything you write, as usual, is known already by the choir who reads it.

Corporations were not originally conceived to be individual persons or immortal, yet it has evolved to that. Moreover, the corporate structure is a filtering device that favors the ascendency of the most rapacious and least ethical individuals. It was always a setup guaranteed to get us where we are. Corporate charters are revocable.

Perhaps it's time for a (repetitious) series of articles about the desirability of removing corporate charters.

Submitted on Thursday, Jan 2, 2020 at 5:31:16 PM

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Richard Girard

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By the decision inDodge v. Ford Motor Co., the primary and overriding responsibility that a corporation has is to its shareholders. Any thing else constitutes malfeasance an the part of the corporation. "Corporate responsibility" is worse than a sham, it is contrary to established law.

Submitted on Thursday, Jan 2, 2020 at 7:51:13 PM

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Bill Willers

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Dodge v. Ford was a decision of a state court and apparently is not a consideration for the rest of the country. But yes, corporate responsibility is a myth of value only for corporate ads. Milton Friedman has stated that stockholders who believe that a corporation's environmental and social projects interfere with profits should sue the board of directors. I do not know if such lawsuits are a common thing.

Submitted on Friday, Jan 3, 2020 at 7:01:45 PM

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