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Mitt Romney famously remarked that "corporations are people too." I don't buy that, but I've been wondering about what Jewish ethics says about how we should treat them. Specifically,

  1. If we speak ill of them, is it lashon hara? Can we say a large corporation is greedy, or doesn't care about privacy, or safety, or whatever? Assume not Jewish owned, but doubtless many Jewish employees.
  2. If we despise them, is it sinat chinam? Can we harbor ill will toward a corporation or must we forgive them?
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I think we've had a question about lashon hara against a community, but I can't find it. –  Monica Cellio Jul 12 '13 at 13:12
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@MonicaCellio I thought so too and also can't find it. Anyway, your insight that a corporation and a community could be treated very similarly in this realm is well-taken. If someone badmouths my employer, my kids' school, my neighborhood, or my favorite online community, my reaction (internal and external) is going to be of a similar form. –  Isaac Moses Jul 12 '13 at 14:33
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@MonicaCellio This is probably not what you were thinking of, but it's related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/18061/3 –  WAF Jul 12 '13 at 15:33
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A lot of topics relevant to the concept of corporate bodies in Jewish law can be found in this compilation: Jewish Business Ethics books.google.com/… –  WAF Jul 12 '13 at 15:36
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2 Answers

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I think that the general point is that in Halacha, corporations don't exist.

Think about it this way:

  1. I sell an old laptop on ebay. Am I now corporate?
  2. I sell 5 old laptops on ebay. What about now?
  3. I sell 5000 new laptops on ebay.

    yada yada yada

  4. I am HP. Am I a corporation now?

Even multiple owners doesn't change anyting.

  1. If two brothers bought a duplex together. Are we a corporation?
  2. If three brothers bought a store together. What about now?
  3. If 5000 friends bought HP. Are we corporate now?

In other words, all big corporations are companies with multiple owners. Whatever halacha would be regarding badmouthing a Jew selling iphone accessories in a street corner would apply to it (though note, that due to the fact that HP is not owned exclusively by Jews, the Halacha may be different. Though in theory, the Halacha would be the same).

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Excellent point! –  Ernest Friedman-Hill Jul 12 '13 at 18:22
    
I wonder if your logic also extends to situations where one (vs. a corporation, perhaps wholly or partially owned by Jews ) may charge interest on borrowed money, without a heter iska. –  Eric Brown Jul 12 '13 at 19:07
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@ShmuelBrin what you're describing is a partnership, not a corporation. Corporations are defined, in a large part, by having rights and liabilities that are distinct from that of their shareholders. –  Charles Koppelman Jul 12 '13 at 19:27
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The nafka minah of what I said above is that just as shareholders do not hold much fiscal liability, they may similarly be exempt from "lashon hara liability". That is, they might be far enough removed from the operations that you're only speaking bad about a legal entity and not about people. –  Charles Koppelman Jul 12 '13 at 20:19
    
@Charles mitzad halacha or mitzad Dina Demalchusa? –  Shmuel Brin Jul 12 '13 at 20:59
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I would think a critical point here (though not necessarily the only point) would be the concept of lashon hara leto'elet -- something that's necessary to be said for a productive purpose.

Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz has a lecture on the subject where he asks if one can be an investigative journalist and stay within the laws of lashon hara. Well, what is the productive purpose? To reveal to the world that the latest celebrity got a DUI for the latest time doesn't really serve a productive purpose; on the other hand, to reveal that say, a mayor was taking bribes to give a major city contract to one company does very much serve a productive purpose. (There are also conditions that you keep the tone as neutral as possible, stick to what you know to be true, and that the outcome of the revelation will not be disproportionate to the offense. If this winds up with people recalling the mayor or their being charged in fair courts, that's proportionate. If this causes a lynch mob, it's not.)

Thus to say: "XYZ Corp has a spotty safety record, as proven from these documents, and therefore the city should not hire them for this project" should meet all these terms.

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