Editorials from occupational diseases. On-the-job deaths are often the result of criminal recklessness. They are sometimes prosecuted as homicides or as criminal violations of federal workplace safety laws. Environmental crimes often result in death, disease and injury.
And, the vast majority of corporate crime and violence goes undetected or unprosecuted for a number of reasons. Firstly, corporations tend to 'win ' (with the help of generous research grants and the promise of endless job opportunities) the backing of most government and university scientists, and it is they who are charged with legitimising (often unsafe) products. Secondly, unlike all other criminal groups in the US, major corporations have enough power to define the law under which they live and to influence prosecutors not to bring criminal charges.
This point has been made over and over again, most recently in the book, Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law and Endangers Your Health by Dan Fagin, Marianne Lavelle and the Centre for Public Integrity (Common Courage Press, 1999), where the authors show how the chemical industry has overpowered the lawmakers and the police (euphemistically known here as "regulators") and forced dangerous chemicals onto the market.
Here's a case in point: The chemical companies are required by federal law to make any scientific findings available to the government i f a chemical already on the market is found to pose a "substantial risk of injury to health or to the environment." Toxic Deception found that the
Corporate crime: industrial waste outlet.
industry frequently acted in "bad faith" in this regard. In 1991 and 1992 the despairing Environmental Protection Agency, knowing that there was little they could do to enforce the law, offered amnesty from big-money fines to any manufacturer that turned in health studies they should have provided under the law. In response chemical corporations turned over more that 10,000 studies showing that their products already on the market pose a substantial risk. In this way, corporations were able to avoid crippling fines.
Wea k law , wea k law enforcement , n o "crime. " There is a debate now raging among activists in the United States: what to do about an ever-expanding wave of unprosecuted corporate crime and violence? There are those activists who engage in battles against individual corporate predators, who seek to leverage power to change the ways of individual corporations, who seek to get regulatory reform legislation, who meet with corporations, who praise them when they do good and condemn them when they do bad. This has been the de facto model of activism for the past 30 years.
But there is a new breed of activist roaming the land. These activists believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with the large corporation itself. These activists believe that it is not what multinational corporations do wrong that is the problem - it is corporations that are the problem.
These activists believe large corporations as they exist today are fundamentally undemocratic and cannot be reformed. These activists question whether corporations should be considered legal persons with the same rights of you and me and other living human beings. They question the very nature of the corporation.
Hope for re-igniting a democratic campaign against dehumanising corporate power lies with this second camp led by Richard Grossman and his colleagues at the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy.
For the past couple of years, Grossman and his colleagues have been travelling the country, encouraging activists of all stripes to begin asking fundamental questions about citizen control of corporations, to research the history of corporations, and to begin to question corporate control over the citizenry.
Grossman and his colleagues believe that instead of focussing on one corporate crime at a time, we must begin to question the legitimacy of the corporate form.
In each state where they are organised they are digging through the history books and finding that at the beginning of the
corporate era more than 150 years ago we the citizens controlled corporations.
Through the corporate charter, citizens imposed full liability on shareholders for corporate wrongdoing (today, shareholder liability is limited), we limited the life span of corporations (today, they have unlimited life), and we revoked their charters when they did things we told them they couldn't (today, the corporate elites laugh at the possibility or corporate charter revocation).
And back at the turn of the century, we understood the corporation to be fundamentally different from you and me - not something deemed to have the legal rights of a human citizen.
Here is Williams Jennings Bryan speaking to the 1912 Constitutional Convention in Columbus, Ohio. Ask yourself: Who today would speak in such a manner? (And Bryan was not alone - he reflected a healthy cultural distaste for corporate power.)
Grossman and his colleagues believe that instead of focussing on one corporate crime at a time, we must begin to question the legitimacy of the corporate form. "The first thing to understand is the difference between the natural person and the fictitious person, called the corporation. They differ in the purpose in which they are created, in the strength which they possess, and in the restraints under which they act. Man is the handiwork of God and was placed upon earth to carry out a divine purpose. The corporation is the handiwork of man and was created to carry out a moneymaking policy. There is comparatively lit tle difference in the strength of men. A corporation may be one hundred, one thousand, or even one million times stronger than the average man. Man acts under the restraints of conscience, and is influenced also by a belief in the future life. A corporation has no soul and cares nothing about the hereafter."
The corporate culture is a century or more in the making. It wil l take a while before we figure out how we got ourselves into this soup - from a situation where we controlled corporations, to where corporations are controlling us.
It wil l take a while longer to figure how to get out of it.D
Russell Mokhiber is the editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, a legal weekly based in Washington D.C. He is co-author, with Robert Weissman, of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for Mega-Profits and the Attack on Democracy (Common Courage Press, 1999).
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 4, July 1999 Seeds of Conflict By Andrew Kimbrell "Seeds are software. And we have the seeds. " - Alfonso Romo Garza, owner of Empresas La Moderna, a Mexico-based seed company that controls 25 per cent of the global vegetable seed market.
Thirty-four-year-old Marvin Redenius is president of a small farmsupply dealership in Belmond, Iowa, USA. Redenius is also a man of principle and does not scare easily. Many are now seeing him as an unlikely hero who could single-handedly halt the increasing global corporate control of the world's seeds. It all started last year when his small company, Farm Advantage, resold corn seed 'belonging' to the biotechnology firm Pioneer Hi-bred International, and found itself being sued by pioneer for violating its patents.
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Redenius and his lawyer decided to fight the Pioneer (now merged with DuPont) lawsuit, and this David v. Goliath battle is now sending shock waves through global agribusiness. What bothers the transnationals most about the suit is Redenius's straightforward defence. He claims that plant patents are invalid and illegal, because they contravene a law passed by the US Congress in 1970 which is still in effect and which expressly prohibits the
If Farm Advantage's defence is successful, companies such as Pioneer will no longer be able to seek patent-protection for plants. Moreover, the thousands of patents on plants already granted (including virtually all genetically engineered plant varieties) would be invalid. patenting of any plants grown from seed. I f Farm Advantage's defence is successful, companies such as Pioneer wil l no longer be able to seek patent-protection for plants. Moreover, the thousands of patents on plants already granted (including virtually all genetically engineered plant varieties) would be invalid.
Clearly, the international stakes in this suit are high. Today the world's top ten seed companies control approximately 32 per cent of the worldwide $23 billion seed trade. Most often they establish economic
Could the days of patenting wheat be drawing to a close?
control of these seed varieties by patenting them. Patenting is also the key to biopiracy, as the major seed companies find and expropriate traditional indigenous varieties of seed, "improve" them, often by making minor alterations, and then patent and commercialise them. This eventually results in the large transnational corporations selling back the patented seeds to the communities that initially provided them. Biotechnology companies are also highly dependent on patenting to maintain absolute control over the use, sale and reproduction of their novel plant varieties.
The patenting of seeds, or any life form, is relatively recent. Over two hundred years ago the United States passed its first Patent Act. From that time until 1980, nearly five million patents were granted. None was for a life form. It was understood that life forms were "products of nature" that could not be patented. However, in 1980, a 5-4 decision in the US Supreme Court - the 'Chakrabarty case' changed the patenting-of-life picture in America, and consequently across the world. This unfortunate and misguided decision allowed for the patenting of a genetically-engineered bacterium, engineered by General Electric to eat oil. While the Chakrabarty decision was the first to allow the patenting of a life form, the decision was vague on how far the extension of life-patenting could go. It also explicitly noted that life forms could not be patented i f the US Congress had provided otherwise.
The granting of full patent-protection for seeds in the USA began in 1985 when the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) unilaterally, and without Congressional approval, expanded the holding in Chakrabarty and extended full patent-protection rights to sexually reproducing plants (plants grown from seed). This PTO regulatory action seemed to openly contradict a law passed by the US Congress in 1970. At that time Congress enacted the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) which provided a means for plant breeders to protect their new plant varieties grown from seed. However, the PVPA specifically rejected full patent-protection for these plants. Instead it enacted a significantly less monopolistic form of intellectual property protection - a plant variety certificate which provides numerous exceptions to the protection, including a farmer's exemption allowing growers to save and reuse seed and a researcher's exemption allowing plant breeders to use a protected plant variety to create new varieties.
The Farm Advantage case is the first to challenge the PTO decision on plantpatenting as an illegal usurpation of the powers of Congress. In the 13 years in which it went unchallenged, the PTO decision revolutionised plant-patenting, allow-
Today the world s top ten seed companies control approximately 32 per cent of the worldwide $23 billion seed trade. Most often they establish economic control of these seed varieties by patenting them.
ing for companies such as Pioneer to obtain full Patent Act protection over their new plant varieties. Plant varieties could now be patented in exactly the same manner as different varieties of toaster or tennis racquet. The PTO now treated plants no differently from machines.
For over a decade the United States has been trying to globalise the 1985 PTO decision and force full plant-patenting on all the nations of the world. It sees this patenting push as key to ensuring international enforcement of US plant patents and for its ability to "pirate" and patent germplasm of developing countries. US pressure for plant patents may have reached an apex in 1994 during the Uruguay Round of negotiations of the
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 4, July 1999