Barbara Freese on Corporate Denial
Democratic values are about more than politics. They permeate throughout society and into the economy. Barbara Freese has examined how corporate leaders have not lived up to these values. She offers examples like the tobacco industry, the use of lead in gasoline, and global warming to demonstrate how they have avoided not just accountability but any sense of responsibility for behavior with catastrophic consequences.
Barbara calls this phenomenon corporate denial and explains, “We should study corporate denial because corporations dominate our economy and shape our democracy, and for a huge proportion of Americans, corporate incentives, pressures, norms, and culture govern our work lives.”
This is really a conversation about citizenship. We work hard to compartmentalize different parts of our life. Our behavior at work is not supposed to impact our neighbors or our community, but it can and often does. Ultimately, corporate denials do not come from corporations. They come from people viewed as leaders. And they erode the trust necessary for democratic governance. But we can restore that trust through honesty. Honesty with each other and honesty with ourselves.
Barbara Freese is the author of Industrial Strength Denial: Eight Stories of Corporations Defending the Indefensible from the Slave Trade to Climate Change. She is an environmental attorney and a former Minnesota assistant attorney general. Her interest in corporate denial was sparked by cross-examining coal industry witnesses disputing the science of climate change. She lives in St. Paul.
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