Real Corporate Responsibility

In John Hooker & Peter Madsen (eds.), International Corporate Responsibility Series. Carnegie Mellon University Press. pp. 69-84 (2004)
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The Call for Papers for this conference suggests the topic, “international codes of business conduct.” This paper is intended to present a shift from a discussion of codes, or constraints to be placed upon business, to an entirely different topic: to responsibility, which yields duty, and the reciprocal concept, right. Beyond the framework of external regulation and codes of conduct, voluntary or otherwise, lies another possible accounting system: one of real corporate responsibility, which arises out of the evident capability of businesses to engage in rationally self-regulated activity. If such responsibility can be shown to be comprehensible, then it could bind the activities of corporations ethically, and in rationally compelling legitimate law, just as your activities and mine are bound. Perhaps we can bind the officers of corporations as responsible persons, but I would like to introduce an undiminished conception of responsibility that will back legitimate law for the corporations themselves, as artificial persons. That is the purpose of Part 1 of this paper. In Part 2 I will turn to the case of multinational corporations in particular. I will draw conclusions regarding their general duties and rights, and will dip explicitly into ethical formulations, as well as the ground of legitimate law. I will also indicate a particular rational requirement, or duty, for politically and environmentally sustainable business practices of multinationals. In Part 3 I will discuss jurisdiction for instituting legal sanctions in multinational cases. I will argue that the national laws and civil suits that may be pursued within a court in one nation can actually stand as legitimate checks against abuses carried out by the arms of multinational corporations that reside in other nations.

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Eric Palmer
Allegheny College


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