A coalition of more than 30 public interest organizations recently served California’s Attorney General Dan Lungren with an unusual request: that he do his job. They asked that he use all the legal tools available to protect citizens from harm. Lungren enjoys using tools like 3-Strikes and the death penalty to punish individual criminal offenders, but what about those offenders that rampantly damage our health, safety, environment, and quality of life-the corporate offender?
More than twice as many people die each year in the US from preventable workplace diseases and injuries than from murder. Ten times greater property losses are inflicted by white-collar crime than by theft and robbery. We can’t even measure the consequences to our health and environment of industrial pollution. Worst of all, the fact that corporations have bought our political processes means we no longer feel empowered to do anything about these problems.
All states have laws that grant corporate charters, essentially business licenses, and provisions to revoke them. The California Code of Civil Procedure, § 803 and 1801 authorize the Attorney General to take action to revoke the charter of “any domestic corporation… upon the Attorney General’s own information or upon complaint of a private party, to procure a judgment dissolving the corporation and … forfeiting its corporate existence upon any of the following grounds: (1) The corporation has seriously offended against any provision of the statutes regulating corporations. (2) The corporation has fraudulently abused or usurped corporate privileges or powers… ” Just as the State revokes the operating licenses of hundreds of professionals each year for malpractice, corporations can be dissolved and their assets sold to others who will obey the law and protect the public interest.
On September 10, activists presented a 127-page petition in favor of revoking the corporate charter of Unocal (Union Oil of California). “After extensive reflection, discussion and research, those of us acting here as part of We the People ask the Attorney General and the Governor to use this tool that lies ignored in their desk drawers, a tool to keep giant corporations wholly subordinate to the sovereign people by whose permission and toleration they exist… If the information against Unocal… is not enough to galvanize them into action, then what in the world would be enough?” Their petition alleges 10 counts of crimes against humanity and the environment. They include:
Environmental Devastation, “contaminating land, air and water from San Francisco to Los Angeles, helping destroy rainforests in southeast Asia, and contributing to climate change while funding a researcher to throw doubt on climate-change science.”
Unfair and Unethical Treatment of Workers. After hundreds of OSHA violations that left workers sick, disabled, and dead, Unocal has now declared that “it no longer considers itself as a US company,” abandoning long-time employees for cheaper labor overseas.
Aiding Oppression of Women and Homosexuals; Enslavement and Forced Labor; Forced Relocation of Burmese Villages and Villagers; Killings, Torture, and Rape; Complicity in Cultural Genocide of Tribal and Indigenous Peoples… In the name of profit, Unocal has colluded with some of the most oppressive regimes in the modern world, for example Burma and Afghanistan.
Usurpation of Political Power. Unocal has legitimized brutal human rights abusers in Afghanistan and Burma, negotiating business deals that promise them major military support. This has undermined government sanctions policies, pushing instead for policies of “constructive engagement” that allow its business deals to thrive. “California authorized Unocal to be a business corporation, not to be an international policy entity working to thwart US foreign policy and to subvert the democratic process.”
Deception of the Courts, Shareholders and the Public. That’s right, lies, lies, lies.
Naturally, Lungren dismissed the petition, but it marks a major action by a growing movement to return corporations to the democratic control of the people by revoking the charters of corporations that violate our human and civil rights. Regulatory agencies and the occasional fine do nothing to stop widespread corporate abuses of power. Since corporations operate by OUR authority, it’s time to tell them to stop!
For more information about this project, contact the National Lawyers Guild International Law Project for Human, Economic, and Environmental Defense (HEED) 213-736-1094.