Corporations are designed to be evil. At least that is the main point of Joel Bakan, the law professor at UBC, Vancouver. He published the book and the film “The Corporation” a couple of years ago, and now I got the opportunity to read it.
Bakan takes an interesting stand against the legal position as “person” that a corporation currently enjoys. At the same time, a corporation is similar to you and me in the sense that it can own things, but on the other hand it is strangely inhuman; There are laws (in most of the world) regulating that corporations _must_ go for profit instead of charity if there is a choice.
Corporate Social Responsibility is legally subordinate to Corporate Profitability, i.e. CSR is ok as long as it contributes to the bottom line – otherwise it must be ignored.
This creates a level of temptation to do immoral profitable activities that is too strong to resist, at least for the extensive list of colourful examples presented in the book.
The personality of the legal “person” of a corporation is therefore designed to be quite pervert – something that Bakan describes with sharpness, wit and disappointment.
And it is something I did not realize before.
Most of business books are written with a naive positivism regarding the powers of corporations, often spiced with idealistic values, see e.g. “Good to Great” by Jim Collins or “The 5th Discipline” by Peter Senge.
The insights of Bakan are unfortunately also consistent with my own experiences in multinational corporations. Immoral and illegal activities that increase profit do happen.
The question I am left with is – can I continue working in a corporation which is stimulated by legal requirements to be destructive?
Can I negotiate the counterforces and manage my parts of the operations in a positive and constructive way?
I sure will do my very best.