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Should corporations be allowed to vote?

Democracy was once defined so that neither women nor poor could vote. Nowadays this sounds absurd and it’s obvious that both women and poor constitute as important parts of society as rich men, and should thus have the right to vote. Corporations are also important parts of our society and are also ascribed rights and duties. So is it so wrong to think that IKEA should be allowed to vote? After all, companies were allowed to vote in local elections in Sweden from 1861 to 1920 and IKEA does have other rights and duties in society just like any anyone else.

In a newly published article, Ludvig Beckman uses Robert Dahl’s theory of the democratic process in order to discuss this idea. According to this theory the minimum criteria that needs to be met in order to be granted democratic rights can be conceptualized in four different ways:

  1. You are a legal person.
  2. You are a legal person and are sentient.
  3. You are a legal person and have a perception of what is morally right.
  4. You are a legal person and have a perception of what is morally right, where “have a perception” is judged based on the actions you take.

Companies are legal persons and if their perception of what is morally right is judged based on how they act they undoubtedly seem to act in a moral manner now and then. By this it’s possible to argue for that companies could be given democratic rights according to the criteria in (1) and (4). However, if they should be allowed to vote is a different discussion. Then, looking at (2) and (3) companies cannot think nor feel, so to say that they are sentient would be an exaggeration. Furthermore it’s also difficult to show that IKEA in itself has a perception of what is morally right.

Thus, IKEA would not qualify for democratic rights according to two of the four conceptualizations, since companies are not sentient nor have moral agency – women and poor on the other hand fulfill all four criteria. With this in mind we can conclude that it makes sense that women cast their vote in the Swedish election on the ninth of September while it’s still unclear if companies can be allowed to do the same, even though they are ascribed rights and duties.

Read the full article here:
Personhood and legal status: reflections on the democratic rights of corporations
Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy 47:1, pp. 13-28, 2018. doi: 10.5553/NJLP/.000068

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