13 April 2016

Corporations bully the bigots

A number of southern U.S. states have adopted or are considering laws allowing faith-based organizations to discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgender people. They are now being faced with consequences delivered by some of the biggest names in corporate America.

For example, Pay Pal recently announced that an expansion it was planning for Charlotte, North Carolina, would be moved elsewhere because of that state's LGBT discrimination law. Four hundred jobs will be lost. Braeburn Pharmaceuticals is reconsidering a $50-million facility in Durham County for the same reason. Other companies are taking similar measures. Apple, Amazon, Google, Monsanto, Intel and dozens more corporations have established the Business Coalition for Equality in support of the Equality Act, federal legislation that would provide basic protections to LGBT people similar to laws that protect other groups.

This is a lot of muscle. As Beth Brooke Marciniac of Ernst and Young told a Davos forum discussing LGBT rights earlier this year, "Our corporate economies are bigger than the economies of some countries, and I think we understand both the obligation and the importance of speaking out."

This sounds very much like a good news story. What can you do but applaud when entities with bigger economies than some countries act to defend LGBT rights?

Yet there is something very disturbing here. Should corporations really have the right to dictate to governments what kind of legislation they can pass? Isn't that right supposed to lie with the people? What we are witnessing is the replacement of democracy with plutocracy.

In this case, it's in a good cause, which makes it easier to overlook the corruption of democratic process, but we know all too well that corporate power is also used to promote companies' own interests, often at our expense. So before we applaud corporations behaving as good citizens, we might consider whether or not they should be acting as citizens at all.

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