In 2010, SCOUTS declared that corporations have free speech rights. Earlier this week, the Supremes made clear that closely held corporations (like Hobby Lobby) should enjoy religious freedom, too.
Why stop there? All companies are created equal and are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The U.S. Bill of Rights gives companies the right to bear arms (you’ve noticed those gun-toting baristas? Or at least Wal-Mart’s gun counter?) along with a bevy of other freedoms. But corporate rights surely extend beyond the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Yes, these are human rights, and the declaration specifically talks about “human people,” but meh. If companies are basically people, these rights should apply to them too. Based on the UDHR’s actual text, what might this look like?
Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Even if companies commit egregious crimes or produce something no ones wants, they can’t just be killed off. Their lives are worth preserving. R.I.P. Pets.com, Enron and Bear Stearns. Your unnatural, untimely demises represent crimes against corporatehood.
Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Sanctions schmanctions. States can’t stop corporations from dealing with shady dictators, nor can they kick out companies they don’t like.
Article 12: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Financial transparency is overrated. If a company provides terrible customer service or tries to pass off horsemeat as beef, it’s none of your business. Corporate honor and reputation is at stake!
Article 13. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Zoning and trade laws just get in the way.
Article 16. (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
Antitrust laws are discriminatory. Disney and Facebook have every right to merge and found a family (well, maybe not Facebook, which is only 10 years old, but you get the point).
Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
See Hobby Lobby.
Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
See Citizens United.
Article 20. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
Unions just get in the way.
Article 21. (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
One company, one vote. Unless you live in the City of London. Seriously. Watch this:
Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
There go 24-hour 7-Elevens. Companies can now vacation with pay in the Cayman Islands, where they’re already dodging taxes.
Article 25. (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
“In the event of unemployment.” So if you’re a contractor without any jobs, the state’s got your back. Same logic applies if you can’t find anyone to work at your poison or porn factory.
Article 26: (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory…
I can’t wait to see Hobby Lobby, Starbucks and Hustler perform in this year’s compulsory kindergarten play.
Article 26: (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
I predict many many many courses on corporate social responsibility.
Article 23: (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Parent companies, of course.
Article 27. (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
So if a person works for a company, who gets the patent? We’ve been debating this one for decades…
Article 28. Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.
Sounds nice, but I’m not sure that’s possible if corporate people (?) and human people have the same, at times competing, rights. We shall see.
Article 29: (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
That’s a pretty high bar for companies. Are you sure?
Article 30. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.
Phew! I was worried there for a minute. Corporations always act with society’s best interest at heart. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and see how this plays out. What could possibly go wrong?