Impoverished politics: Since corporate personhood is a thing, can I please marry Panera Bread?
The American courts have been considering corporations as people since the 1800s,
meaning that, in the eyes of the law, corporations have the same legal rights as a real human
being. This came to an absurd head this past June in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, in which
the Supreme Court essentially admitted that corporations have the right to religious expression,
exempting Hobby Lobby from providing insurance coverage for select birth control methods for
As ridiculous as I think it is for corporations to be viewed as people, let’s humor that idea for
a thought experiment: if a corporation has the rights of a person, should they not also have the
ethical responsibilities and obligations of a person, too?
A 2004 documentary simply titled “the Corporation” documents many of the more heinous
acts by massive American corporations and delves into the implications of corporate
personhood. The film makers even assess the “personality” of the corporate “person” and find
their individualistic, greedy behaviors to be maladaptive – going so far as to say that they are
Often the effects of these behaviors on real life people can be frightening. Last year in
Bangladesh, a sweatshop collapsed on its workers, killing 100 and injuring over 1,000. It
turns out that the building was grossly below par on safety standards, and while the American
corporations, H&M, the Gap and many more who bought textiles from this factory are not in
charge of the factory itself, they should at least have felt a moral responsibility not to exploit
cheap labor that is putting lives in danger.
Since the tragedy in Bangladesh, Gap and other companies that purchased textiles from
that area have made massive efforts to insure their products are made in safer, more ethical
conditions. As great as this is, the sad news is that if the collapse had never happened and
consumers hadn’t complained about the factory worker’s conditions, nothing would have ever
Back home in the U.S., corporations like McDonalds and Walmart force managers to erase
hours from employees’ time sheets so that they won’t get paid overtime. And to save even
more of their billions and billions of dollars, many corporations are moving their headquarters
overseas to evade taxes – which is highly illegal – and yet no one is stopping them from doing it.
For these corporations that already have unbelievable amounts of money, it is all about making
more, and they will cheat, exploit and steal from whoever to get as much cash as they can get
their hands on.
The most effective way to exact change nowadays in America is to vote with your dollars.
Money, sadly, has the power to influence policies and politicians more than anything else.
I have been trying hard in recent months to be a conscious consumer, and it is not easy.
There are many things that are much more convenient to buy at a Walmart, Target or other
superstores than to drive to god-knows-where to find a mom and pop store that sells what
I need. Clothes made in America are the easiest way to ensure that what you’re buying is
sweatshop free, but that means that you have to pay more than what many are accustomed to
paying for clothes. I asked my mom this summer to buy me a $50 pair of shoes from American
Apparel, and she told me that I could get a similar pair anywhere else for $20. I reminded her
that the difference between these two pairs of shoes is that the more expensive ones weren’t
made in a factory by a Malaysian child.
As difficult as it may be, I invite everyone to attempt at becoming ethical consumers.
Research where your products come from, how the corporations that sell them treat their
workers and how they treat the environment. Corporations will do whatever makes them the
most money- not what is best for people. If we want more ethical companies then we need to be
more ethical consumers.