The Problem with Corporate Morality

Liberals today applaud the likes of Google and GoDaddy for taking a stand against violence and hatred. This is not something new, started since the election of Donald Trump, but it has certainly grown more common in its wake. Certain segments of Americans have begun looking to corporations to stand up and “do the right thing”. And while it might feel good, something like a victory, to have a large company come out against someone or some group we feel has wronged society in some way, it is both short-sighted and dangerous to expect corporate morality to play a significant factor in changing the tide of current political events.

Let us not forget that corporations have one, and only one, true duty. That duty is to make money for their shareholders. Period.

People, liberals especially, will take umbrage with such a pronouncement. But they do so at their own peril. They may argue that corporations also care about sustainability, about quality of life for their workers or their customers, about the communities that they serve. The “good” companies, the “moral” companies, care about more than just making a profit.

While more and more companies today do champion these ways of thinking, they are not on the same par as their duty to grow their share of profits. Not even close.

And the reason they champion such ideals is precisely because they are in pursuit of those profits. They will go where the money is. And they recognize that consumers will reward them for championing “moral ideals”.

Need we remind ourselves that during the build up to World War II, and even after the United States entered said war against the Nazis in Germany, there were a fair deal of American corporations doing business directly with the fascist governments of Europe?

Long after the world knew of the atrocities going on in Germany after Hitler and his party rose to power, the likes of IBM, Ford, General Motors, Chase Manhattan Bank, Dow Chemical, and a number of other large US companies were actively trading with the Germans. Why? Because it was lucrative for them to do so. In fact, according to many reports, some of these businesses continued to deal with the German government even after the US entered the war, thereby supporting our enemies directly in their efforts to conquer the world and spread Nazism and Fascism.

That was then, the Liberals will argue. Times have changed.

But corporations are not moral actors who can see more easily than we can what is right and what is wrong. They are led by men, same as always, and the need to make money will always cloud their better judgement, no matter how much the general public boos and cheers and tries to persuade them to act in certain ways.

What makes matters even more precarious, endangering our future, is that by holding up corporations as our moral saviors, defenders of justice, we abdicate our responsibility as citizens and sacrifice the power of workers to them.

By focusing so much on the “good” that they are doing, we willfully ignore their numerous other flaws. We ignore how these tyrannical conglomerates exploit workers at home and abroad. We ignore how they abuse the environment and rape the Earth of natural resources. We ignore the corporate welfare offered up by our governments to keep them growing ever bigger, ever more powerful.

All of this is not to say that companies should not be encouraged to do things that address the concerns of their workers and customers, and of society at large. They are provided, under current law, an incredible amount of power to act in any way they see fit. And if they choose to act in ways that we consider good or moral, all the better for us.

But we should not expect them to lead the way on creating a more equal, and just world. That much is not in their interest. And it is not in our interest to believe otherwise. That much is up to us, as citizens, as people.