SPECIAL REPORT
Unreasonable Involvement Of Religious Busybodies In Economics Allows Corporations To Dismiss Genuine Business Ethics
A team of three religious-oriented groups which make their living watching over the activity of corporations has announced the "Principles of Global Corporate Responsibility" it wants to impose on corporations. The need to examine the nature of these groups appears very appropriate for this Institute to fulfill, along with their "theological principles" they base their judgments upon and the recommendations they want implemented by corporations.

The protagonists

There are three organizations. The Ecumenical Committee for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) is a Body in association with the Council of Churches of Britain and Ireland. It is located in the UK and bears the responsibility of having initiated the project.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) is the US arm of the coalition. It has been established 25 years ago. It boasts members from Catholic orders, the Jewish religious community and Protestant churches. In reality the bulk of its members are Catholic religious orders. Together they invest $45 billion in Wall Street. Their leader Timothy Smith, an alumnus of the Crypto Marxist Institute of Policy Studies has cleverly drawn for its members the attitude they should have as investment tycoons. They cannot wear an oyster watch on their pin-striped vests and smoke cigars but they can have another persona which would fit them much better and would be just as pleasant to embody: they are going to be the moral watchdogs which will keep the US and world economy in line.

The third organization is the Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility (TCCR) "established by national Christian Churches and related religious orders and agencies in Canada in 1975 to address issues of corporate responsibilities."

Purpose of the Effort

The concept of "globalization" seems to have a hypnotizing effect on the leaders of this program who state: "the rapid globalization of the international economy poses fundamental challenges for corporations as well as for local, regional and international communities. As the global marketplace expands, corporations are faced with questions of what values should guide their operations in diverse countries and cultures. In addition to their traditional business focus, corporations need to address global concerns about human rights, just wages and safe working conditions, child and forced labor., the environment and sustainable community development. These issues will remain high on the agenda of corporations and socially responsible investors into the next century as communities press for social responsible corporate policies."

The authors confess that they take most of their cues from the United Nations’ Criteria for Sustainable Development Management, (United Nations Center on Transnational Corporations, NY, 1991), an organization whose Christian roots and real concern for the most important principle of subsidiarity seems to disappear every day further into the horizon. The concern about "globalization," as candidly reported, is that "corporations now have the capacity to shift resources—finances, machinery, technology, personnel—anywhere in the world to maximize their competitive position. Today, traditional methods of monitoring and regulating corporate activities, based on a old nation state model, are inadequate when applied to global corporations."

The real issue of concern to our religious corporate-watchers is then not that large corporations have new sets of responsibilities, it is rather that they have an increased ability to escape the various national regulators. These religious orders seem therefore to place a great deal of confidence in the effectiveness and appropriateness of the work of national regulatory bodies whose assumptions and methods they do not question. This seems somewhat strange that religious groups would espouse so readily the purposes and methods of secular watchdogs of the economy whose methods have grown over the century from those of benevolent advisors to storm troopers of the corporate life.

The Theological Context

This religiously-oriented team has therefore the burden to prove to us that it is not only motivated by pure secular and regulatory instincts but has purposes which are solidly grounded in well conceptualized and strongly adhered to principles of religious doctrine.

Now, in view of the above let us see how they announce their "religious framework": "Faith communities measure the global economy not only by what it produces, and its impact on the environment, but by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person. Economic decisions have human and moral consequences. Human dignity can only be realized and protected in solidarity with others. The protection of human rights—civil, political, social and economic—are minimum standards for social institutions that respect human dignity and social justice. The purpose of this document is to promote positive corporate social responsibility consistent with our responsibility to sustain all God’s creation."

This statement seems strangely non theological. God is brought in at the last minute so that He can be a moral guardian for ALL His creation, including we should assume maybe minor elements such as the AIDS virus or the various species of insects which happens to make up the bulk of the ecologists' list of endangered species. as well as other aspects of creation which has always been the goal of human ingenuity to change so that man can make the planet earth a better place for what some of us consider to be the superior sentient species: Man himself.

Human dignity and social justice are not defined in ways that would relate with the spiritual. The terms are not defined at all, we should add. But we will further study this theological background.

The above-quoted paragraph is important as the religious team had bracketed it to be the core of its own theological basis for the whole exercise.

Returning to what seems to be the values which are the real concern of our team, human dignity and social justice, their lack of definition is all the more concerning that there is a major other element that it has completely ignored. The economy should not be judged only by what it produces. they claim. But what if what the economy produces "human dignity and social justice" directly, at the same time that it does produce products and services? Does not the economy, contribute to the human dignity of the great majority of the population as they gain the wherewithal for the requirements of everyday living so that they can attend to more important educational and spiritual matters? Does not the economy provide work for the great majority of the population so that their personal self-esteem as productive workers, providers for their needs and those of their families and agents of economic and social change, are assured. Then, if one would force the economy to produce another species of human dignity and social justice indirectly and super- imposed on the basic activities and concerns of a on-going economy, is there not a risk that all these present gains made in preserving human dignity and social justice be dangerously compromised?

The Theological Principles.

Let us take of closer look at the theological principles they renounce:

T1. "The context for all human activity is the totality of creation. Faithful action requires that we use our power to live in harmony with creation and affirm the interdependence of everything on earth and the dignity of all parts of the creation."

Comment: this is an appropriate position for people whose religion is shamanism, or the animism or American Indians or African tribes, or the Buddhist concern of the Tao, or the so-called white-magic forces of modern-day sorcery and witchcraft. There is no allusion here to the Christian mystery of the Creation and the mystery of the Incarnation. Christians are therefore warned that this, the first and foremost theological principle of the document should not concern them.

T2. "Faith communities measure the global economy not only by what it produces and its impact on the environment, but also by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person..."

Comment: "Faith communities" reaches out to belief systems very far from traditional Christian churches. This principle indeed is not addressed to traditional Christians, especially not to Catholics. Where is the concept of sustainability gone? The concept is oftentimes used to convey that care for the environment should not be promoted so aggressively that the economy would grind to a halt. "Sustainability" means that ecologists have understood the need that the economy should not be choked to death by dissipating resources for the protection of the environment. But "sustainability" is important also a concept for religio-moral would-be reformers. Would it not be important that these people not choke the economy to death out of concern that it does not allow room for their view of justice?

T3. "In a global economy, the challenge for both corporations and individuals is to provide adequate resources for human development while preserving God’s creation...."

Comment: Again that "global" thing! How does the economy being global changes anything to the basic responsibility of economic agents? Also important concepts are mentioned here: "provide resources" ("how to provide", the technical demands of positive production and "what to provide" will never be examined; "adequate resources" is not the subject of a developed inquiry either ). "Preserving God’s creation" seems a necessity to be demanded more for the preservation of all the variety of created species, rather than for the most unique and transcendent in that creation, the human soul. The exercise is another effort in the promotion of "diversity appreciation" all too common these days and usually a front for the active support and recognition of all moral perversions such as homosexuality and the support for abortion.

T4. "We believe all people and institutions have a responsibility to work for a just society marked by love, compassion and peace." They state their norms for justice: "justice calls for fundamental fairness in all agreements and exchanges between individuals and groups." "requires that the allocation of income, wealth and power be evaluated in the light of its effects on persons whose basic needs are unmet;" "implies that persons have an obligation to be active participants in the life of society; and" "asserts that the fulfillment of the basic needs of the poor is a high priority."

Comments: How do they define "love" is central to the issue. Apparently, in view of the above, it is not of real Christian love that is referred to here, but a warm and fuzzy feeling. Is the peace they talk about as the mere cessation of all conflicts or is it about a life in friendship—which infers the following of all His commandments—with Our Lord, the Prince of Peace? Justice as fairness is a tautology....OK for the principle of commutative justice.... Their distributive justice smacks of a strong socialist bent. Further than that: who is going to distribute, if not the State to whom the authors would apparently ipso facto and indiscriminately surrender all powers? OK for social participation of the workers and for supporting the poor. Now how are we to tell how a specific amount of participation is adequate. too much or inadequate?

T5. "We believe that corporations have a moral and ethical responsibility to incorporate these principles in the conduct of their global business as prerequisites for measuring their obligation to work toward a just society."

We want to save space here so well telescope a little their prose: their prerequisites include respect of the human person, investing for the benefit of communities, right of trade unions, women’s liberation, non discrimination relative to pay scales, provide adequate minimum pay, preserve the ecology.

Comment: Either these requests are sensible but too general and of no great assistance, or they are specific and possibly dangerous as with the whole concept of equal pay for equal job when such proponents bent themselves backward to develop grids inferring that quite different jobs are equal.

T6. "An increasing globalized economy requires a definition of the concept of stakeholder. For us the community rather than the corporation is the starting point in the definition of the stakeholder.... Corporations are stakeholders in the community with consumers, employees, stockholders and the community at large."

Comments: This is where the rational powers of whoever drafted this poor exercise can really show lacking. How can we define a community of an element of that community before defining the element. Is the community of nations the same as the community of wolves in a wolf pack? The community of a corporation is different from the community of a local fishing village residents. The drafters’ bias is evidently showing as what they have in mind is "communidad de base", they are thinking mostly in terms of local geographic communities, of self-managed neighborhoods which smacks of the Theology of Liberation and their desire to reject any institutionalized organization or doctrine. The globalized economy does not require a new definition of the concept of stakeholder. This definition is mandated by the concept of justice what ever the size of the corporation. The specific requirements of the obligation of justice, which is the root of the concept of "stakeholder" and its implementation must be studied and applied with the greatest prudence and in view of another host of concerns of the Church social teachings, and not in a cold socialistic and politically-motivated atmosphere..

T7. "A vital group of stakeholders are women who make up a significant portion of the workforce in transnational corporations."

Comment: the sense of justice of the drafters of this document is not immune from the desire to deal one or two blows to the principle of equality of justice for all. Some groups are just a little more equal than other groups. Justice towards women is a little more important than justice towards other groups? We would surmise that this last and pathetic element in their so-called "theological context" is only a tribute to the vast majority of women religious who weigh heavily in their membership base and who tends to seem the majority of issues exclusively through a gender-biased lens.

The Wider Community

The first part of the substance of the document is based on a reasoning which the authors find quite brilliant (i.e. that the community defines the stakeholders of the corporation for the corporation). However, as we showed, this first part betrays a sad and dangerous crippled rationality. But now the document comes to the part of examining what it believes to be the community in which corporations participate.

In this first most important part of the document, the first subpart is dedicated to: "ecosystems". Again we start with the least relevant and important to build up to the most crucial. Possibly, the drafters should have started at the level of the amoeba and told us what corporations should do in the field of germ warfare. What should transnational do to bring peace and compassion in germ warfare as germ populations are known to be important to the development of various species of insects, themselves capital to the survival of vegetation as well as to the happiness and shiny fur of many small mammals.

Humans come second in this wider community, as "national communities."

Not, mind you, as individuals responsible for their actions and of their eternal soul, but as participants in the human beehive. Next, "local communities" is where companies have manufacturing plants. They can in all conscience move their plants only when the cause is just as it was in South Africa with apartheid as these busybodies never wavered from the position that Western corporations should move out of that country even when the Catholic bishops of South Africa were pleading that this would hurt the blacks the most.

The third group which makes the community of businesses—one might have given up waiting for it—is "the corporate business community," including shareholders, employees and suppliers. And, oh!, customers.

The principle to be applied to the shareholders is "the company’s corporate governance policies balance the interests of managers, employers, shareholders and other company stakeholders." Shareholders must be told to know their place. This is for the "non-responsible" shareholders, we suppose. The religiously responsible shareholders drafting this document place many demands on corporations which should naturally be immediately satisfied.

Employees have needs too, including rights to belong to a trade union (how about the right not to belong)?. The employees have a right to a "sustainable community wage." Employees have the right to child care, elder care and community service, which allows "especially women who have traditionally done this work as unpaid labor, to participate as employees." Basically corporations are responsible for bringing on the market the best possible products and services as if Original Sin had not touched the business world. Everything is supposed to be perfect, the consumers protected of any problem, the suppliers supported in their function, the community helped by the business decisions the company will take in its most humble details.

Ethics and morality starts with personal virtue. The US branch of the team whose effort we have described here, and the most powerful element of the trio, has introduced hundred of shareholder resolutions at corporate annual meetings every year and for many years. They have thus registered their complains against the behavior of corporations to protect the values which are the dearest to them. Yet, the world is still waiting for a resolution on the part of these religious busybodies against companies giving money to the perpetrators of the most heinous crime against the weakest among us, abortion.

In addition, this pollution of common sense and basic philosophy in matters of economics provides corporations with easy excuses to dismiss the whole notion that religious people should be involved in commenting on the issue of business ethics. This creates a very dangerous situation for which the authors of this document are directly responsible by making so light of the most basic needs of elementary prudence relative to a whole sphere of human activity which they seem to misunderstand so badly.

Further, one can only dream of the good that could be done with the power of $45 billions should this power be yielded with the utmost prudence and in total agreement with the richest and most profound truths of Catholic doctrine. On the other hand, any corporation with some wisdom, will appreciate from this exercise, and our comments on it, the need to set up a department of the Philosophy of the Corporation. Not the vague list of wishes that one can find in "codes of ethics", but a thorough philosophical analysis of the nature of the corporation and of its place among other elements of human concerns in general, and how a specific corporation is significantly contributing to the general needs of the economy and of mankind, in particular.


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