Friday, January 18, 2008

Corporations and political responsibilities

Just today the latest issue of Business Ethics Quarterly has dropped into the mailbox, featuring our latest article on corporate citizenship - well, actually an invited response to someone else's article about whether the label of 'citizens' fitted corporations or not. Oh, the joys of becoming "those two corporate citizenship guys" - available 24/7 to answer all your CC questions ... and more often that not to be roundly disagreed with by just about everyone.

Unusually for us, this time around we actually agreed with most of what our colleagues had written. Anyway, one thing that we particularly liked in this paper, and which we have been talking about in our work for some time, is the idea that once you start to acknowledge some role for corporations in the realm of citizenship, then you are effectively moving towards the idea that corporations have a political role in society.

Now, for various reasons, this whole idea that corporations might have political roles and responsibilities is for many people a fairly controversial one. Obviously none of us are very comfortable with the whole blurring of boundaries between business and government, between the economic and the political. But this is the situation that we find ourselves in at the moment. And, as people interested in nature of business ethics and responsibility, it represents one of the more fascinating, yet challenging aspects of the whole debate.

On the one hand, we applaud corporations that step in where governments have failed, such as in the provision of decent roads, schools, and hospitals, or where they move to protect their workers from HIV/AIDS infection. This is just good citizenship, right? On the other hand, we have many legitimate doubts about the presence of multinationals in delivering the basic entitlements of citizens, or when corporations get involved in lobbying governments to prevent legislation that might curb some of their worse excesses. Bad citizenship, huh?

So the area is something of a minefield, albeit quite a fun one to hop around in ... until you put a foot in the wrong place of course. But over the next few months we'll be commenting quite a bit on some of these political issues as they relate to corporations. There could be a few explosions along the way, but we're ready for it, helmets on, and ... well ... you can finish off the metaphor for yourselves...

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