NAFTA at 30 / "Corporate Personhood" at over 100

Thirty years ago today, President Bill Clinton signed legislation supporting U.S. entry into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Removing restrictions on trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, NAFTA was aggressively opposed by organized labor, environmental organizations, and many “good government” groups for two major reasons.

First, NAFTA’s provisions prioritized “trade” of goods and services produced by multinational corporations over protecting workers, consumers and the environment.

Second, disputes brought by corporate investors directly against foreign nations over claimed “barriers to trade” were decided by unelected and unaccountable Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) "tribunals" largely composed of corporate-friendly members -- beyond the reach of citizens or even national legislatures or courts.

Reams of studies and reports on the negative impact of NAFTA on jobs and the environment has been produced during the last three decades. Less attention, but growing over time, has been the ISDS process of fining countries over their existing legal protections, which incentivized gutting those laws to avoid future financial cost with the ultimate aim to “harmonize” or "liberalize" (sweet sounding words for reaching the lowest common denominator between the three countries) laws protecting workers, consumers and the natural world. 

Rules favoring corporate production and distribution and national decisions trumping democratically passed local, state or national laws is nothing new in the U.S. The Supreme Court’s sweeping interpretation of the U.S. Commerce Clause affirming the rights of “commerce” over all else is responsible for declaring 353 local ordinances, state laws and Acts of Congress as “unconstitutional” from 1789 to 2008, as identified in Gaveling Down the Rabble by Jane Anne Morris. 

But another fundamental source of unaccountable corporate power that’s trampled over people, communities and the natural world is “corporate personhood” (shorthand for corporate constitutional rights) that the U.S. Supreme Court has granted to corporate entities since the 1880’s. 

NAFTA and its renegotiated 2017 version wasn’t and isn’t ultimately about “trade,” be it free or fair, but about increasing corporate economic and political power. “Corporate personhood” is the same. It’s not about creating a predictable, uniform and safe business climate, but about maximizing economic and political power. 

Image credit: Gregory Bull, Associated Press

First Amendment corporate “rights” to invest in political elections has provided enormous influence in determining what candidates run, what issues are discussed, who wins, and after they win, what votes are cast. Fourth Amendment search and seizure “rights” protect corporations from surprise inspections to ensure worker and community protections. Fifth Amendment corporate takings “rights” is a massive deterrent against, for example, corporations from being forced to keep climate destroying fossil fuels from being drilled, mined, fracked and burned. And Fourteenth Amendment equal protection “rights” secures communities from giving preferential treatment to locally owned businesses over multinational or transnational businesses. 

Trade, commerce, production and maximized profits are often cast as the ultimate tonics to national economic health, just as our commercial culture defines giving and receiving ever more things and stuff as what this holiday season is all about. 

But they’re not. Dignity, respect, service, community, love, compassion, awe and so many more non-quantifiable feelings and attitudes toward oneself and others are the essence of this season. 

Authentic and legitimate power is centered on creating and expanding for every person the ability to have a voice in conditions affecting their lives. There’s no single season where this should stand out.

We at Move to Amend work on it all year round. 

Justice and Peace,

Shelly, Jessica, Jason, Tara, Ambrosia, Cole, Alfonso, George, Daniel, Jennie, Keyan, Michael, Katie, Margaret & Greg

Move to AmendNational Team

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