Asimov's rules of corporations?

While I was in Belize, I found time to read Fast Food Nation and Culture Jam, both of which got me thinking (or kept me thinking) about how out of control corporations have become and how complicit we all are in this situation.
The issue that Culture Jam raises–which is still pretty much limited to the left–is that it’s a big problem that corporations are regarded in US law as having the same rights as human beings. That leads to the perverse idea that they should be allowed to participate (spend money) in the political process, for example.
I’ve always believed that the US corporations should not be allowed to violate our constitutional rights any more than the government can–especially the first and fourth amendments. In any event, it occurred to me that corporations were humanlike, but not quite human, and that something like Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics ought to apply to them.
Today I found this article on Nike’s claim that it has the right to lie, and the author’s suggestion that Asimov might have already thought this problem through. Some ideas are just in the air. (Thanks, WebWord!)
The chapters of Fast Food Nation on worker safety in the meatpacking industry broke my heart. I don’t know why, but I’m still stunned by the cruelty and indifference with which some people are able to treat others. But I am ashamed that as a nation we’re incapable of electing a Congress willing to do something about this.

2 thoughts on “Asimov's rules of corporations?

  1. Um, wrong about Nike claiming the right to lie. The issue, as I understand it, is what the standard is for determining what “lying” is. If it is found that Nike deliberately or even negligently set out to deceive, and the deception harmed someone, then they should be liable. But if you force companies to microscopically examine their data about their corporate social responsibility practices, you’ll end up with no data at all–and that is much, much worse. Nike is putting a lot of money and sweat into getting this right-they may not be perfect, but they are really trying. To call an error deception destroys any chance to engage businesses in a public dialogue about what they are doing. The real question here is whether EVERYTHING a company says is “commercial speech”-which is what the California court said. If that’s the case, companies will end up speaking a lot less-and consumers will lose.

  2. Exactly. They’re claiming the right to deliberately or even negligently set out to
    deceive”, as long as no one is harmed. That is the right to lie.
    We’re talking about a public relations campaign, where a lot of sweat is put into shading the truth to suit your message, no into getting it right. The way to get corporations to give us information about their labor practices is not to depend on their PR and advertising agencies, but to legally require them to report correctly or to be audited by a third party.
    Everything a company says is commercial speech, because a company is a commercial entity, not a human being. It has one purpose, maximizing shareholder value. All other purposes are arguably a breach of fiduciary duty.

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