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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 26, 2006

Second Opinion piece needs a second look

By Marcus Oshiro

I'm afraid the last laugh is on Cliff Slater. In his May 18 Second Opinion commentary entitled "Let's keep those Mainland folks laughing," he criticizes a bill that does not exist.

I don't have a degree in economics from Harvard, but I learned in grade school that you should really read the book before you do a book report.

If he had only focused on the version of the bill that passed, Mr. Slater would have learned something new. The bill does not provide tax incentives, nor does it find fault with corporate managers or boards of directors.

Instead, it recognizes that current corporate laws demand maximization of profit for shareholders over other equally important business concerns like worker safety, consumer protection, market sustainability and the environment. In America, this paradigm is changing, and there is a growing public expectation of ethical business practices and social responsibility.

The "old rules" don't work anymore, as evidenced by Enron, Arthur Anderson, KPMG, WorldCom and The New York Times. Even the Harvard Business School recognizes that "corporate social responsibility is becoming a progressively more important component of good business practice," and each year it offers a three-day workshop on the subject for $6,000.

If he had read the bill, he would have learned that the Responsible Business Corporation Act, House Bill 3118, HD1, SD1, CD1 establishes a task force to develop a new business model. The objective will be to determine how to authorize the establishment of corporations structured to recognize, as corporate interest, its employees, its consumers, suppliers, community and the environment.

Maybe some like to dwell in the past, but our 18th-century business model does not address the needs of shareholders, investors, workers, consumers and society in the 21st-century global economy. A Google search for "socially responsible corporation" or "responsible business corporation" will get you about 10,000 hits.

We have come a long, long way from the colonial corporate charters that were issued by royal proclamation to build roads, bridges and public buildings, and insured the common good of all. Through this legislation, Hawai'i can lead the nation and the world.

This task force is composed of members from business, academia, law and commerce. It is chaired by the director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and includes the commissioner of securities, the chair of the Business Law Section of the Hawai'i Bar Association, the dean of the William S. Richardson School of Law and dean of the School of Business of the University of Hawai'i or respective designee and a member of the Hawai'i Bar Association and faculty from the University of Hawai'i School of Business.

This composition will ensure that academic pedagogy is considered alongside actual business trends and practices so that regulatory laws allow for real-world implementation. Hawai'i can reap huge financial rewards by becoming the first state to establish a Responsible Business Corporation regime.

Next time, I hope Mr. Slater will read the bill before writing his report. It might not be as funny, but it might just be the responsible thing to do.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro, D-39th (Wahiawa), is the House majority leader. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.