“Given the fact that we are in a capitalist society, we still do not want to overlook not only what a corporation produces and its profitability but also how it impacts the environment, touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person.”

–Dean Smith

Dean Smith was spot on. A renowned athlete by profession, his observations suggest that almost everyone, regardless of their personal engagements in life, is in some way touched by a corporation. The magnitude of this contact is overwhelming but at times alarming too.

Corporations lure us with their attractive advertisement campaigns. They tempt us with their delicious chocolaty delights. They make us believe that they are just like a member of our family. They open up their kitchens to show that they care. They engage reputed mouthpieces, to assert that their product is the purest. They use cricket stars to dazzle our doubts away. Hence, corporate giants make tireless efforts to market and sell their products. While they are convincing us with their soft corporate images, elsewhere someone, a person, a group even a state may be groping with a different reality altogether.

The corporate world is a world of emotionless artificial entities stimulated mostly by a constant desire to make profit. This world is inhabited by companies that are governed by a charter commonly known as memorandum and articles of association and are ruled by shareholders/investors through a representative body, the board of directors. The companies may have a distinct personality but they reflect the character of its shareholders. This complex human-corporate connection has witnessed mammoth growth in the past century or so.

It is interesting to point out that a few large corporations dominate global resources. These cross-jurisdiction corporations, apart from their usual business operations, are known for their “persuasive skills” to define and dictate state politics, set direction for international relations, control monetary policies, build public opinion, experiment with business ethics and commercial environment.

Cross-border companies commonly known as multinationals, having head offices in well-regulated countries and business centers around the world, face a rather peculiar situation. In their countries of origin, they are compelled to follow laws, maintain proper accounts, file returns, pay taxes, make statutory disclosures and in default face stern legal action and public backlash. Transparency is the currency for their businesses in their homeland.

When multinationals come to jurisdiction such as ours, they are caught up in a corporate fix. Here corruption is rampant, exploitation galore, corporate regulation is often too soft and accountability is conspicuous by its absence. The judicial system is weak and largely unresponsive towards corporate issues. This is a perplexing situation to say the least.

The resources and training required to judicially monitor and implement a corporate regulatory regime are not easily available for or accessible to our respected judges. Just imagine that in our jurisdiction, a Judge has the jurisdiction to deal and decide rape, dacoity and murder cases and at the same time the company offences are also tried by him. This brings out a very interesting contradiction. The honourable Judges, juristically speaking, are not able to comprehend, given the grievous nature of other offences they try every day, the complexities and ensuing consequences of corporate offences.

It is easy for multinationals to cave in to the system. However, there is also an exciting opportunity in doing just the opposite. Multinationals thrive on their business repute, name and corporate outlook. Their corporate philosophies are taught and followed around the globe. They must persist with their business principles when they enter markets such as ours. Their experiences must have taught them that a clean positive image is good for business and will ultimately translate into profits. They must learn to share their experiences and achievements with their fellow corporations.

Multinationals should not only invest capital in our markets, they should also introduce international trends and best business practices to the local entrepreneurs. Train them through competition. Set examples that show fair play pays off. In essence they are obligated to cultivate an environment where fairness and transparency is maintained at all levels at all times. Through their business models they must educate their native partners that unfair means to do business may yield profits in the short run and that too at local level, but for cross-border economic growth and recognition, the only way forward is by maintaining corporate transparency.

The international business world has not been immune to corporate misadventures. The diamond industry of Africa, the mineral mines of RikoDiq, the burnt victims of garments factory of Bangladesh, the Gulf of Mexic oil spill, money laundering by a highly respected bank for terrorists and drug cartels, wars of recent times, all tell a nauseous story about corporate callousness that has partnered with government apathy to make maximum but wrongful gains.

Additionally, some suspicious landmarks have been set that show signs of corporate indifference. Issues such as child labour, unsafe, poor and unhygienic working conditions, life threatening pollutants contaminating our environment, oceans and seas, commodifying water, persuading regulators to accept genetically manufactured organisms (GMO) as food, capturing indigenous lands by forcing the local populations to relocate, are often brushed under the red carpet with traditional glitz and glamour – the ultimate corporate style. All these and many more such incidents are part of our history and like it or not, some corporation had filled its pockets with money and human misery.

There have been many cases where the corporate structure has been used as an instrument of fraud. The issue becomes more serious as public money or interest or both become involved. Remember Ponzi schemes that attract general unsuspecting public offering ridiculous profits on their investments. Not to forget the housing scams that invite the masses with a promise to provide a dream house on ludicrous rates and terms. The recent financial fraud where the bearded exploiters trapped the masses in the name of interest free income also merits mention. And the list goes on and on.