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Can Public Companies REALLY become Benefit Corporations?

While 21st century corporations serve the purpose of profit maximization, this was not always their sole function. In the 19th century, corporations served the public, not solely the pocket. Benefit Corporations (B Corps) are a response to the increasingly polarized world of business in which money is made on one side of the spectrum and social and environmental conservation and awareness is on the other. B Corps demonstrate that there doesn’t need to be such a dichotomy. B Corp legislation, which has been signed into law in California, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Virginia, gives protection to corporations who actively endorse sustainability on all levels. As the 2012 annual report of B Lab, the non-profit that certifies B Corps, states, “Business, the most powerful man-made force on the planet, must create value for society, not just for shareholders. Systemic challenges require systemic solutions and the B Corporation movement offers a concrete, positive, market-based, and scalable systemic solution.” B Corp legislation encourages companies to get back on the public benefit ship, one that has deviated from its historic course. B Lab, in certification, offers a path to social benefit citizenship.

       B Corp legislation was introduced just four years ago but B Lab has already certified 533 companies nationally. However, the majority of those are small scale businesses and, as of yet, there are no public B Corporations.   Patagonia is one of the biggest B Corps and demonstrates that companies of great size CAN become certified. But, as we can see, there are not that many companies that are willing to sacrifice profit for a social and environmental good. Thus, the biggest challenge seems to be getting people to care, which in turn forces businesses to have to care. However, this involves a norm shift that will take years. Andrew Greenblatt, assistant at the B Lab New York city office, remarks on the time frame needed to B Corps to be the accepted norm: “It’s going to take time for that to get organized, but 10 to 20 years from now this will be the standard way of doing business. And if you’re not a benefit corporation people are going to ask why not.” We can see this slow change in standards through the increase in demand for organic food, the drop in price in solar panels, among other products. Image Power GreenBrands even found that 72% of Americans believe it is important to “buy from green companies.” Still, this norm shift has not ventured out much from the (reasonably)  stable economic hubs like the Bay Area, Portland, New York city, Chicago etc.  We will not see widespread systematic changes in business until the understood role of the economy moves to encompass long term benefit, not just short term return.

While the number of B Corps is not that high B Lab has certified businesses in 60 industries, ranging from banks to law firms to engineering companies. This demonstrates that B Corps are limitless in regards to arenas of business. But, as of now, there are no publicly traded Benefit Corporations. In A Scorecard for Companies with A Conscience in the New York Times, Op-Ed writer Tina Rosenberg explains: “For various reasons, including the difficulty of convincing thousands of small investors to agree to the legal revisions, there are no B Corps that are publicly traded companies.”

All B Lab certified companies will be awarded this insignia. Now, I am always on the look out for this mark!

One aspect of certification and legislation that had not been clear, until meeting with the San Francisco B Lab office, is that a company can become B Lab certified WITHOUT becoming a legal Benefit Corporation. In essence, a company in Kenya, or Lebanon or Kentucky could be assessed upon B Lab criteria and awarded certification. B Lab certification is a global insignia that indicates a company’s social and environmental integrity. Therefore, certified B Lab public companies do NOT have to worry about a potential lawsuit from a stakeholder (on the premise that the corporation isn’t doing enough for the general public good, as is the case if they are legally a B Corp). However, public companies could still face scrutiny from stakeholders if profit is lower due to meeting B Lab criteria.  Business, ethics, life is in constant search for a balanced homeostatic environment and public companies vying for certification and B Corp status are those whose vital pull is toward sustainability.

Public companies wanting to become B Corps, not just B Lab certified, are waiting to see how the law will play out if a disgruntled shareholder does sue on the basis of the premises mentioned above.  Once there is case law, public companies will feel protected from such actions and more willing to adopt the revolutionary new B Corp bylaws. Adelante!

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On a personal note, I visited with B Lab at The Hub in San Francisco and was so impressed by their knowledge and understanding of all the complexities which go along with becoming a publically traded B Corp. They were not at all pushy in trying to “sell” their product—B Lab certification—and their attitude really made me want to go on a sort of B Lab crusade and encourage others to at least take the FREE self assessment on their website and see if your company is really doing everything for a global benefit! I truly believe that B Lab non-profit, and those that become certified, are going to change the pH of the whole world of business!

Our Constitutional Rights Going Out The Window Again?

Tableing at Occidental College to ask our Senators co-sponsor The Due Process Guarantee Act

Eleven long years after the preventative detention policy was implemented under President Bush, the United States is once more enacting unconstitutional legislation that infringes on our civil liberties. The annual National Defense Authorization Act, passed this past December 2011, allows the government to detain innocent Americans indefinitely if it suspects they are involved in terror-related activities. This could be the reality unless the Due Process Guarantee Act (DPGA) is passed, a bill currently in consideration by the Congress and sponsored by Senator Feinstein and Congressman Geramendi. Even though you may think you are not be an explicit target of the new provisions, the NDAA threatens the natural rights of all Americans in taking away the right to a fair trial. I ask,  wasn’t this country  founded on the basis of freedom and justice for all?

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a bill passed annually by Congress and signed by the president to provide the military with a budget. Often, it includes additional language surrounding military and defense policy, but in the most recent NDAA signed by President Obama, legislators have added new provisions stating that all individuals can be detained indefinitely, without a due process guaranteed, if under suspicion of terrorist links.

This country has witnessed similar events in the not-too-distant past. The internment of Japanese Americans following the Pearl Harbor attacks, as well as the blacklisting of suspected communists in the 1950s give light to instances in which the government suspended the constitutional right for a due process. In the aftermath of 9/11, federal and state legislatures enacted similar laws that threatened immigrant communities, justifying their policies on the basis that the country was in a state of national emergency. Never having been charged with a crime, 2,870 Muslim immigrants were detained during that time, and many were not released until months later. A decade after 9/11, the government is still passing laws aiming to prevent terrorism, laws which invariably revert to discrimination against the Muslim community. Their passage is most striking considering how they contradict both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of our Constitution.

After recognizing the NDAA’s clear breaches of the Constitution and discrepancies, Senator Feinstein and Congressman Garamendi responded by proposing the Due Process Guarantee Act (DPGA) in January 2012, which would amend the NDAA to ensure a fair hearing and trial process for all American citizens. The bill currently has 63 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 26 in the Senate, crossing party lines and agendas. It has been endorsed by the likes of Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky and Congressman Gary Ackerman, a Democrat from New York.

The NDAA expands the power of the government to detain Americans without being charged with a crime, which will disproportionately affect minority groups inside the United States, just as the PATRIOT Act’s racialized surveillance policies affected the African-American and Hispanic communities. Under the PATRIOT Act, the government expanded its wiretapping and surveillance programs aimed at both demographics, as well as the Muslim and Arab immigrant community. The FBI and police departments across the country could take advantage of the indefinite detention provision under the NDAA to detain Americans without due process, simply by claiming a link to domestic terrorism.

Organizations like the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) have rightfully taken interest in the Due Process Guarantee Act, as the Muslim community fears that without protections, they will be extremely vulnerable to state-sanctioned discrimination and unwarranted detention. The Council advocates for not only the passage of the DPGA, but also proposes a revision to the DPGA to include due process for all individuals both inside the U.S. and as they travel overseas. MPAC, as well as other advocates of the Due Process Guarantee Act, are pressuring Congresswomen Judy Chu to push the bill through committee. She sits on the coveted committee currently holding the DGPA bill hostage–the House Judiciary Committee.

While President Obama has said that he would not enforce many of the most reprehensible elements of the new NDAA, his commitments have not been written into law, nor do they represent anything more than a politician’s oral pledge. His personal assurances bind neither himself nor future presidents, and all people should be alarmed. In the practice of American foreign policy, diplomats and politicians often preach democracy and due process. But ironically, it might be said that back home, America is hardly a model for those very same virtues.

Note: A version of this article was published in the Occidental Weekly, April 2nd edition. This article was co-written by myself and the wonderful Dina Yazdani of http://theglobalconsciousness.wordpress.com/ Check out her insightful blog on Middle Eastern political complexities!

Yet To Come: The Best Years of My Life

It hadn’t hit me until a friend said to me, giggling with that vacation glow, “I am on summer break but you are just beginning everything.”  Now I understand why being on summer break has felt so anti-climactic. In college, I would continuously remark how my every day life felt like summer camp (No, I never went to sleep away camp but this was how I imagined it). My friends would agree and chime in, “Yes, I was thinking the same thing earlier today.” I have left that campy bubble and entered another: that of the “real world.”

I keep recalling the relief I felt one year ago when I graduated high school. My IB exams were done and I was off to college– “the best years of my life.” Now, I feel relieved but for a different reason: I will be 20 and in charge of my life. I will be 20 and living the life I create and want. I will be 20 and out of the machine I was put in and, it will be my choice if I want to go back. Curiously, I will be studying this summer out of desire to gain a valuable skill while dissecting cultural complexities–my greatest hobby.

I have only been out of school for four days but my to-do list has grown with my many scattered plans, which I have begun to act on. In fact, I will be attending my first skillshare class this Wednesday evening!  Some may say I am all over the place but I truly feel that I need to try out as my different things as I can in order to find my focus. And so my journey, which many do not understand, scorn and become defensive about (I am not saying you should change YOUR path) has begun.

Skills, skills, skills

As an article in the Atlantic magazine said today: “For an education to be worth anything these days, it needs to impart skills.” Reading these words solidified the WHY I am leaving higher education for an alternative path where my goal is to become a skill-gainer. I fear that after four years, although I would have a diploma in my hands, I will not have learned any tool that I can use in the “real world.” No wonder 53% of all newly graduated college students are unemployed or are working jobs which are way under their supposed skill level as BA holders.

Language fluency is a skill. That is why I have embarked on the journey to learn Arabic. (Yes, I think the language is beautiful as well!). Painting and art are other activities that, in my mind, are tools. In the fall, I am planning on taking an EMT course in hopes of getting certified. Who wouldn’t want a person who is qualified in saving lives in their vicinity? And I hope one day to be able to code, among other aspirations. Now, let’s see how this all unfolds…

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