Feet to the Fire
Corporations should be liable for human rights violations
Published: Sunday, February 26, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Should corporations be able to be sued for violating human rights?
By this time, all of us remember the landmark Supreme Court case Citizens United, where it was determined by a 5-4 vote that a corporation is considered a person when donating money to political campaigns, and that unlimited amounts could be donated to super PACs.
Now, a kind of test is coming to the highest court in the land.
In the past 20 years, there have been 120 lawsuits against corporations on a very specific issue: human rights violations. While many were unsuccessful, some have still hung on to be dragged out through the massive legal process.
Among those suits include an instance where Indonesian villagers accused Exxon Mobil's security forces of murdering and torturing civilians and a case accusing the Firestone tire company of using child labor.
The case brought in front of the Supreme Court involves an appeal by a group of Nigerians who claim that the Shell oil company helped the Nigerian government destroy protests against oil exploration. Justices are not going to be determining whether or not the company actually did violate human rights, but whether or not they can be sued at all for it.
Corporations and foreign governments are arguing against the case on the basis that they might be opened up to a number of frivolous lawsuits. Lawyers argue that even a completely baseless argument could take years to resolve and might end up costing the company exorbitant sums of money.
They argue that the individuals involved should be held accountable and not the corporations.
So as far as buying the democratic process and dumping money into political campaigns, corporations want to be considered people and protected under the first amendment so they can give as much as they want to super PACS.
Once they have the responsibility to not commit human rights violations and stop using child labor or support a brutal crackdown on free protests, however, suddenly they don't want to be people any more.
Well that sucks, but it's too bad. They asked for this, they got it, and now they have to pay for it. Corporations have been implicated in some horrible things, and should be held accountable for what they've done.
Frivolous lawsuits are not a reason to give companies civil immunity for helping atrocities. People filing lawsuits without merit will always be a problem, and that needs to be tackled separately.
Justices have two clear paths to put this country down in front of them. One holds corporations' feet to the fire when they've violated U.S. and International law by violating human rights.
The other path is one of immunity. It sends the message that not only is a corporation a person, but that they're a level above citizen. They'll get the message that they can do whatever they want with impunity. Exploit child labor, crush opposition through dictators, or kill civilians to ensure complacency: it doesn't matter. They can't get sued for what they did.
We need an amendment to the Constitution that ensures that only individual people are citizens, not multinational corporations.
This will probably never happen, but we can always dream.