By Gov. Howard Dean, M.D.
September 27, 2004
But the truth is that there are very few "American" corporations of any size left. An even sadder truth is that many of these large multinationals no longer value employees as people, they see labor as nothing more than a commodity. And in the last ten years, they have seen small investors as a commodity as well.
The examples of corporations taking advantage of laborers and consumers are well-known. Enron bragged of how they cheated grandmothers who depended on them for electricity in California, and also cheated their own employees by recommending they buy more stock in their pension funds as company executives were selling. Tyco¡s top officers used millions of investor dollars for their own personal expenses. American Airlines¡ former chairman secretly took huge pay increases while negotiating pay cuts for the company¡s pilots, flight attendants and mechanics.
There are many reasons for all this, including a lack of moral tone set by the federal government. Congress and the Bush administration allow and encourage this behavior.
Tyco, for example, is an "American" company headquartered in Bermuda. This allows them to avoid a lot of American taxes and at the same time makes it harder for small investors to get information and accountability from the leadership in the company.
Most CEOs, whose pay has skyrocketed despite lousy performance over the past few years, have a majority of insiders on their boards while the outside directors are hand picked. There is no "corporate conscience" unless the CEO wants one.
Corporate governance is often a matter of state law. Delaware has thousands of businesses incorporated there simply because Delaware laws make it more difficult than most states to enforce the obligations that directors have to shareholders.
If we want more and better jobs, a fair trade policy, better behavior by corporate leaders, more pay equity between those who work and those who lead and better corporate morals, we need to make that happen by doing the following:
The stakes are high. America
is rapidly losing its dominant position in the world economy
as jobs move elsewhere and Americans lose faith in the moral
leadership of the business community. Small businesses and small
communities are the first casualties of corporate indifference
and of our falling standard of living. If we want a strong America,
we need a strong business community.
Howard Dean, M.D. and former governor of Vermont, is the founder of Democracy for America, a grassroots organization that supports socially progressive and fiscally responsible political candidates.
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