Kalle Lasn Wants to Instill Fear in Boardrooms by Revoking Charters of Corporate Criminals

When Adbusters magazine called on activists to occupy Wall Street on September 17, 2011, they did. And thus was launched a global campaign to rein in corporate power.

Now, the Vancouver based magazine is at it again. The upcoming issue, out later this month, proclaims “The Birth of the Corporate Charter Revocation Movement.”

And across the top of the magazine, the editors declare — “In this issue, we are going to kill off one criminal corporation.”

Which one? Well, Adbusters is putting it up to a vote.

At killcap.org, people can vote from a list of “the most hated dirty dozen corporations.” (As of this writing, Monsanto is the runaway leader with 2618 votes, with Goldman Sachs a distant second at 776.)

Adbusters’ editor in chief Kalle Lasn says that fines aren’t deterring corporate wrongdoing.

“Corporate executives don’t have much to worry about,” Lasn writes. “Their chances of ending up in jail are next to zero. The corporation loses none of its legal rights to lobby congress or fund political candidates. The corporation hires a new CEO, settles the suit, takes out a series of full-page ads in the New York Times to regain public confidence and it’s back to business as usual once again. That’s why the executives of rogue corporations like General Motors, Pfizer and ExxonMobil continue lying to us, hiding information and flouting the law with impunity year after year after year. There is no penalty that they fear.”

“We must find ways to instil fear,” Lasn writes. “One way to start doing that is to add a Charter Revocation Clause (CRC) at the end of every charter warning the corporation that if it breaks the public trust — if it is caught repeatedly dumping toxic wastes, damaging watersheds, fixing prices, defrauding employees or customers and keeping vital information secret from the public — then that corporation will be sentenced to death, its existence ended, its charter revoked, its assets sold at a public auction and the money funneled into a superfund for its victims. The insertion of such a clause would send a chill down the corporate spine and change the ugly face of megacorporate capitalism forever.”

The Adbusters’ charter revocation issue is dedicated to Richard Grossman, the citizen activist who opened eyes around the world to the citizen history of the battle with corporate power. Grossman died in November 2011.

“In the early days of Adbusters, we were fighting multiple fights along the way. We were learning what was possible and what was not. I personally hated many large corporations,” Lasn told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “My biggest hate was for Philip Morris, a company that played some role in turning me into a smoker for twenty five years of my life. And I also knew people who died horrible deaths from emphysema. The first book I wrote — Culture Jam — was dedicated to the killing off of Philip Morris Inc.”

“It was an angry response. But then Richard Grossman was coming through Vancouver. And he dropped by to see me. And we spent a few afternoons together. And he seemed to have thought so much more deeply about this than I had. I was just an angry guy. But he had spent a lot of time doing the research. He started telling me about corporate charters and how they are actually a legal justification for the existence of corporations. And he told me tantalizing things like — in the past, corporate charters had been revoked. And there was a time in American history when the people held corporations on a short leash. And they made sure that their charters were such that the corporations were not able to overstep the boundaries, to not have too much power, and their power couldn’t spill over into the political realm.”

“I was fascinated by this. And I was mesmerized for a few afternoons listening to him tell me about this movement. That impulse that he gave me in those afternoons has been part of Adbusters ever since then.”

“There was a feeling in our office that this whole movement was like a sleeping beauty,” Lasn says. “And it’s time to wake up the sleeping beauty and rejuvenate this idea that we the people will not tolerate criminal behavior by corporations like General Motors, Philip Morris, Pfizer and Exxon. And if they betray the public trust, we will kill them off.”

It sounds a bit implausible that proclaiming the birth of the corporate charter revocation movement will make it happen.

But then there is Occupy Wall Street. When Adbusters called on the activists to occupy Wall Street, they did. Now Lasn is saying — strip corporate criminals of their charter.

What’s a young person to do?

“I don’t know exactly,” Lasn said. “I trust in this younger generation. What we are doing with Occupy and sleepy beauty is just giving them a few hints. It’s an attempt to answer that question we posed in that occupy Adbusters — what is our one demand? This is something that was never settled on in all of the meetings. But at the moment, we don’t quite know. If the future doesn’t compute, what are you going to do? We are putting up these big ideas. We need a Robin Hood tax. We need charter revocation for corporate criminals. We need these big ideas. And I fervently believe that Richard Grossman’s idea about using the corporate charter to keep corporations honest is one of those big ideas.”

“There is voting now ongoing on our web site. We are opening up a discussion about corporate criminality,” Lasn says. “In the next few weeks we will post our 30 second television spots on news programs in the United States. And after that, we can see how many people we can inspire to join this movement.”

“It’s going to be different from Occupy Wall Street. Occupy was a physical occupation of Wall Street. This is different. This is a slow rolling, mind changing meme war, where we try to convince the world to start thinking differently about corporations. It’s a different kind of a campaign. We want to put charter revocation back into contention.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Kalle Lasn, see 28 Corporate Crime Reporter 22(12), June 2, 2014, print edition only.]

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