Economy

Corporate "Social Responsibility" - An Alibi For Perilous Deregulation

"These business leaders from the companies Salco-Brand, Ahumada and Cruz Verde were in fact convicted"
"These business leaders from the companies Salco-Brand, Ahumada and Cruz Verde were in fact convicted"
Roberto Pizarro

-OpEd-

SANTIAGO - After four long years in court, the 10 Chilean pharmaceutical executives prosecuted for colluding to raise the prices of 222 medicines can breathe easy.

These business leaders from the companies Salco-Brand, Ahumada and Cruz Verde were in fact convicted, but the sentence amounted to a meager fine — the equivalent of $445,000 to be paid as a group — and an order to attend 30 hours of business ethics classes.

It's an insulting punishment for executives who padded the profits of their respective companies by millions at the expense of sick people. But unfortunately in Chile, sanctions are light for businesses and executives who commit financial crimes.

Sentencing the 10 guilty executives to attend business ethics classes is absurd. How can they redeem themselves in a country that pushes them to cheat, and where personal success and profit, at any cost, are the driving forces of the economy?

As an alternative to government regulation, the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has evolved here as a form of self-regulation. Companies are supposed to monitor and guarantee their compliance with legal and ethical requirements. But CSR is in clear opposition to the pressures and demands of the economy. As long as no rules, regulations or sanctions exist for those who abuse their economic power, CSR will remain mere window-dressing, duping society and benefiting only the richest 1% and their profit margins.

The Chilean economic model has renounced all regulation. Indeed, all obstacles to the flow of productive and speculative capital have been eliminated. Unionization and the right to strike have been restricted, and collective bargaining is almost non-existent; natural resources can be freely exploited; regressive taxes hurt taxpayers while large businesses are granted exemptions; education, health and social systems have been converted to business models; and the state’s responsibilities have been reduced to a bare minimum. In summary, Chile has created a society designed around a tiny fraction of its wealthiest citizens.

CSR simply cannot counteract the overwhelming neoliberal ideology. In fact, it is making matters worse. It is used to justify less regulation, which means fewer checks and fewer preventative measures. Businesses fiercely defend their right to self-regulation, including their right to self-regulate their CSR, because they think that rigid national regulations would dampen competitiveness and, in the long term, lead to financial losses.

In the name of my free market

And businesses insist on self-regulating not just their relationships with other companies and consumers, but also their interaction with local communities, the environment and the global market. CSR is therefore directly responsible for the relocation of industry to countries with globalization, competition and lower overhead. CSR will never modify the rules of the game to attribute greater importance to decency and respect for citizens.

Businesses are using it in the name of the free market to justify reducing the role of the welfare state and eliminating anything that hinders generating maximum profit in the most minimum timeframe possible.

But ethics must never be forsaken. They should be present throughout society, and especially within the economy and politics. But if we want to see socially guided behavior from businessmen, we need to start by giving the state back to its citizens and creating a regulatory system that favors ethical competency and harshly condemns crimes against consumers, workers and the environment. In particular, if the education system forgets its love affair with profit and starts to teach civil decency, our culture may finally begin to value social solidarity.

Aristotle believed that political and economic decisions have an unavoidable moral connotation. But Machiavelli thought that economics and politics are far from moral, that ethical values have no place in the pursuit of power achieve power. Though it repulses us to acknowledge it, economic and political power, independent of the common good, have become dominant in today's world. We are unfortunately much closer to Machiavelli than Aristotle.

The way in which economics governs everyday life is not helping us to achieve a more ethical outlook. In Chile, like much of the world, the size of the economy and the power of those who control it have grown. Instead of compensating for the inequalities inherent in modern financial markets, politics and the state have grown weaker, becoming instruments used to increase financial power. Economics 1 – politics 0. Though they have been elected by the people, politicians regard their ability to channel the public’s desires as limited. The nation’s sense of community is weakened by the overbearing power of the economy and the fragility of the state.

The case of pharmaceutical collusion, just like the La Polar accounting fraud case, is emblematic of the assault being committed in Chile against consumers. And this is allowed to happen because the state is so weak. By focusing on growth and employment, it has placed the need for a healthy balance between business and society into a distant second place. Until that changes, justice in Chile will continue to be biased, and ethics classes certainly won’t make a difference.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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