Shell Corporation Doesn’t Want Personhood When It Means Following the Law

October 1, 2012

By Egberto Willies

Why is there so much anti-American sentiment in the world? Why  is the US viewed with such animosity when America spends more on foreign aid than any other nation? To many the answer is simple: They see our corporate-friendly trade policy as anti-democratic.

A case before the Supreme Court right now (Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum – aka Shell) is a classic example. The case alleges that in order to squash the non-violent movement in opposition to Shell’s operations in Ogoniland, Nigeria. Shell conspired with the Nigerian military to fund and arm those that perpetrated crimes against humanity. These included the torture and execution of environmentalists known as the “Ogoni Nine.” A parallel case was settled by Shell in 2009 for $15.5 million.

At issue is Shell’s desire for the courts to carve out a special exemption for corporations to the Alien Tort Statute. This statute allows foreigners to bring civil suits in the US federal courts for violations of international laws. A positive outcome for Shell in this case will allow corporations to violate--with impunity--human rights, the environment, and basic human dignity around the world.

This is a case that likely will get little to no coverage in the mainstream media, as corporate wrong-doing generally receives short shrift. The lack of coverage has a material effect on the perceptions of both Americans and foreigners.

Americans believe that corporations doing business abroad reflect the same corporate behavior demonstrated in the United States. Only the most well informed Americans understand that corporations doing business globally deliberately seek locations with weak human rights and environmental laws, and at times destroy the cultures of the indigenous people who live there. Many foreigners, especially those in developing countries, see America from a very different perspective: They see America as a place where corporations enrich themselves from ill-gotten raw materials as the local population remains impoverished. Moreover, they see corporations that abuse their laws, environment, and their people, sometimes with deadly consequences, and oftentimes their grievances go unheard.

If Shell wins this, any corporation may misbehave overseas without the threat of any consequences in US courts. While said outcome would be great for corporations, it is a public relations nightmare for the rest of us. US corporations are the face of America overseas. When they become the enemy, America becomes the enemy. Increased corporate misbehavior has the real potential to increase already existing bad feeling against Americans, and sows the seeds for violent rebellion, a clear and present danger for all Americans.

For well over a century, corporations have used the court to gain inherent rights intended only for human being beings.  Most recently the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision reaffirmed corporate personhood by allowing unfettered spending in electoral campaigns. This is a dangerous doctrine in and of itself, but when corporations get to be both people and legal fictions, human beings will have no recourse against corporate power in the courts.

It is essential that the Court rule on the side of human rights, but regardless of what happens in the Shell case we must build a movement to overturn the doctrine of Corporate Personhood by amending the US Constitution. Please join Move to Amend to make it happen!

Egberto Willies is a political activist, author, business owner, software developer, web designer, and mechanical engineer in Kingwood, TX. He is a member of the Move to Amend National Leadership Team.

Check out this video by our friends at Earth Rights International: