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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Corporate Behavior

This is the time for annual shareholder meetings for many of the nation’s largest corporations. This is the time when the owner-shareholders, who attend these meetings to ask questions, see once again how shabbily they are treated by the CEOs and Presidents of these companies and their rubber-stamp Boards of Directors sitting stiffly nearby.

Around the country, though, there is increasing criticism of these global companies that centers on their abandoning America and jettisoning any allegiance to the country where they are chartered and got their start and made their billions in profits. Indeed, these business giants prefer to be “anational” — that is being from no country but transversing the planet and nations seeking maximum profits with minimum labor and other costs.

This “anational” status is a practice of daily corporate behavior but, legally, the parent corporations are still chartered in a single country. For example, IT&T, GM and Citicorp are all chartered in the permissive state of Delaware. So, in the United States, the state governments grant most of the corporate charters that give the companies their legal existence and the privileges and immunities which they are accumulating out of those artificial legal entities.

The question that needs to be given prominence, in these times of exporting plants overseas and outsourcing blue and white collar work to people earning serf-wages that keep them in poverty in places like Indonesia, China or India, is this: Do these U.S. corporations have any allegiance to the United States and the communities that labored and nurtured these companies?

Certainly, our local, state and national governments have displayed, with your tax dollars, a great deal of allegiance to these large companies over the year. Our soldiers and sailors have protected these corporate investments with their lives for a century from defending the United Fruit corporation in Central America to the oil companies in the Persian Gulf. A famous marine commander pithily pointed out over forty years ago how his marines were ordered to make sure the flag followed the companies.

The commercial attaches of American Embassies have as their purpose the safeguarding and promotion of U.S. corporations. This has frequently meant the U.S. government both supporting and subsidizing brutal dictatorships that open the doors to raw materials and other markets for these firms. Your tax dollars go to finance these unholy alliances.

When the investment environment in Mexico got shaky for U.S. companies recently, due to speculation and corruption of the Mexican plutocracy, President Clinton fashioned a $50 billion bailout package for the dictatorial Mexican regime without Congressional approval. You the taxpayers will bear largest share of this bailout both directly and indirectly.

Maybe you didn’t realize that the tax code subsidizes foreign investment by U.S. corporations, that the Export-Import Bank provides subsidies as loan guarantees for U.S. multinationals operating abroad and that a federal agency, called OPIC, insures these companies against political risks.

By these supports and other numerous measures, the U.S. government and the American taxpayers and consumers supply the dollars and bear the risks for these giant corporate welfare programs.

So what kind of allegiance do these companies give back to the country where they started and where they are chartered? In the past the lack of allegiance has been shockingly callous. DuPont and General Motors worked with fascist Germany and its companies openly before World War II and did not entirely sever all dealings when hostilities started. Congressional investigations showed what the arms merchants did during World War I that was considered treasonous by some close observers of their machinations.

There needs to be a crisp and public display of allegiance demanded of these U.S. multinational corporations. The best place for this to happen is at their annual shareholder meetings, with the press and nominal owners present. These companies, with the Officers and the Directors standing at attention, should pledge allegiance to our country.

The phrasing is obvious: “The General Motors (or Exxon or Citicorp or Dupont) corporation pledges allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”