The Business of Better

For me, watching The Story of Citizens United brings to life a powerful metaphor of today’s corporation, a legal creation which appears as a robot with people inside of it. In the movie, the robot is programmed to eject the CEO who puts values such as human rights, justice and the environment on par with the pursuit of profit. Certain types of corporation managers can be sued by their shareholders for prioritizing any other value besides profit.  While the legal structure of many corporations fits this model, happily there are businesses who are working successfully to change the law and build a greener and more just economy.

We all can think of corporations which do not exemplify the robotic legal creation in the Story of Citizens United. For example, Seventh Generation and Stonyfield Farm are large companies that are committed to sustainable practices which honor social, as well as financial goals. These corporations provide an alternative vision of the future in which citizens are the lead participants in our government, and corporations focus their efforts on innovation and production that benefits our society.

These corporations aren’t just doing good independently, they are working to change the law. Right now there’s a dynamic group of businesses and organizations working to create a new corporate legal structure which would permit companies to do what is best for the environment and the community. These Benefit Corporations are a new class of corporation that are required to create a material positive impact on society and the environment, and to meet higher standards of accountability and transparency.

This effort is being spearheaded by the  nonprofit B Lab along with the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) to to make Benefit Corporations a reality nationwide. B Lab is part of the American Sustainable Business Council, a group of more than 100,000 businesses working to further this positive corporate model and advocate for policies, which support socially responsible business.  Maryland became the first state to recognized Benefit Corporations in April 2010, followed by New Jersey, Vermont, and Virginia. Several other states are due to follow this year.

So how does this relate to the Citizens United decision and pay to play politics? In response to this disastrous decision, the American Sustainable Business Council and Ben & Jerry have launched the Business for Democracy Campaign, which opposes the Citizens United decision and supports a constitutional amendment which would affirm that citizens, not corporations should have Constitutional rights in our democracy (such as the right to speech in elections).

As these progressive business leaders show, the business community in the United States is not a monolith. Not only is the Citizens United decision a disaster for the democractic process, it also hurts small business and emerging enterprises in new and innovative fields because when money is speech, those who have the most can drown out the voices of the rest of us. For this reason and many others, we’re working with Free Speech for People, a growing national grassroots campaign, to raise the voices of business leaders in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

If you own a business or know a business owner committed to both social well-being and profit, the American Sustainable Business Council is a membership organization that brings a business voice to the effort to combat Citizens United and to support the passage of Benefit Corporation laws.

Aquene Freechild is the Coordinator of the American Sustainable Business Council’s Business for Democracy Campaign. The American Sustainable Business Council, a group of more than 100,000 businesses working to further this positive corporate model and advocate for policies, which support socially responsible business.