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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Strategic CSR - Individual Rights

I am thinking a lot about stakeholder theory at the moment.
It is interesting to debate whether the natural environment, as a non-independent actor, should be included as an identifiable stakeholder of the firm. Many argue that it should and that, in fact, the environment has rights that should be protected by law. Others, however, argue that it should not be included because it is not the environment itself that speaks or feels or acts; rather, it is how the degradation of the environment affects other stakeholder groups (e.g., NGOs or the government) who then advocate on its behalf. One argument for including the environment as one of the firm’s societal stakeholders is to reinforce the importance of sustainability within the CSR debate, while recognizing that the environment requires actors to speak and act on its behalf in order to be protected.
The article in the url below extends this argument further, exploring the extent to which animals should have legally-defined rights:
“‘Beings who recognize themselves as ‘I’s.’ Those are persons.’ That was the view of Immanuel Kant, said Lori Gruen, a philosophy professor at Wesleyan University who thinks and writes often about nonhuman animals and the moral and philosophical issues involved in how we treat them. She was responding to questions in an interview last week after advocates used a new legal strategy to have chimpanzees recognized as legal persons, with a right to liberty, albeit a liberty with considerable limits.”
The argument, as an intellectual exercise, seems perfectly reasonable to me:
“Mr. Wise [founder of the Nonhuman Rights Project advocacy group] argues that chimps are enough like humans that they should have some legal rights; not the right to vote or freedom of religion — he is not aiming for a full-blown planet of the apes — but a limited right to bodily liberty.”
Whether the Courts can be persuaded of the practical viability of this argument, however, is another thing. Nevertheless, it does seem that, if we rationalize the idea that corporations are special legal entities with some of the rights (and, it seems, fewer of the responsibilities) of people, it shouldn’t be such a stretch to extend those legal rights to animals that are very close to actually being people!
“The science of behavior is only part of the legal argument, though it is crucial to the central idea — that chimps are in some sense autonomous. … Dr. Gruen sees it as a term that is fraught with problems in philosophy, but Dr. Marino [of Emory University] said that for the purposes of the legal effort, autonomy means ‘a very basic capacity to be aware of yourself, your circumstances and your future.’”
The danger (or opportunity), of course, is that such a ruling would open a very large door to many other complicated issues:
“The kind of science that supports the idea of chimpanzees as autonomous could also support the idea that many other animals fit the bill. … The issues of self-awareness and of awareness of past and future strike to the heart of a common-sense view of what personhood might be. Chimps, elephants and some cetaceans have shown that they can recognize themselves in a mirror. … There is plenty of evidence that chimpanzees and other animals act for the future. Some birds hide seeds to recover in leaner times, for example.”
An argument against this points out that “personhood does not mean being human.” While true, this has not stopped us extending significant rights to corporations. The difference, of course, is that it suits our purposes to do so for corporations, while it may not suit our purposes (or the purposes of some of us) to extend similar rights to animals.
Take care
David Chandler & Bill Werther
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The Humanity of Nonhumans
By James Gorman
December 10, 2013
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final