Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Criminalise corporations not civil society

'Limited liability is at the heart of this rise of corporate power: it constitutes a blanket exemption of a special interest group from accountability for the actions of their companies"

Blankenburg and Plesch

One consequence of the corporate structure and form is the ability to escape and hide liability and responsibility. The tenets of "limited liability" and "corporate person hood" allow corporations to avoid criminal responsibility. This protection is not available to individuals or civil society groups. Governments and authorities rarely use the full power of existing law against corporations.

It is telling to compare the way the US Government uses the full force of the law against civil society groups and whistle-blowers who try to hold it and corporations to account, with its complete inaction against recidivist corporate criminals such as BP who in their reckless disregard are responsible for the deaths of workers and the destruction of ecosystems, environments, livelihoods, and industries in the Gulf of Mexico.

The US government has arrested and imprisoned, without trial, a whistle blower who leaked to WikiLeaks a video showing US forces murdering 100 people, mainly children, in Garani Afghanistan. The video, which showed a US army helicopter gunning down civilians, was released by WikiLeaks early this year and caused outrage around the world. The soldier who is alleged to have released the video has been arrested and detained in an US army prison in Kuwait. The Australian founder of WikiLeaks has been forced to leave the US and go into hiding in response to a "manhunt" by the US government keen to arrest and prosecute him.

WikiLeaks collects and publishes evidence of human rights abuse and illegality by governments and corporations.

But when it comes to recidivist corporate criminals such as BP, Massey Energy or Goldman Sachs there is tough talk about criminal charges but little action. There is no serious attempt by governments to hold corporations, corporate executives, and shareholders personally and criminally responsible for the company's crimes. Laws are rarely used or enforced against corporations and the responsible individuals. And if charges are laid they are usually against low level functionaries and, as in the case of the corporate killings by Union Carbide in Bhopal, it takes 25 years before anyone is legally held to account.

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