Banks profit while cutting staff

Posted on December 9, 2015 in Debates – Opinion / Readers’ Letters – Re: Canada’s 6 biggest banks earned $96M a day in 2015, Dec. 4
Dec 08 2015.   Steve Soloman

It’s a pity this news item was relatively buried behind the Sports pages because the facts, as presented, are symptomatic of a larger problem.

Six banks, profitable to the tune of $96 million each and every business day for the past fiscal year, are nonetheless firing staff at unprecedented rates. We’re informed that more than 4,600 people were fired in the last quarter alone; we’re not told how many people were fired over the first three quarters.

I am far from being the first person to ask how such hugely profitable businesses can justify firing any staff, much less many thousands. One could, I think, be forgiven for assuming such firings are the result of grotesque levels of greed. At the very best, it appears to be the coldest of cold rationalism. Are corporate shareholders really so lacking in human virtues? It should be noted that shareholders include not just those who buy shares as individuals but also those who hold stocks as part of a mutual fund portfolio or pension plan.

Shareholder greed at least has a name — the Canadian Business Corporations Act. This piece of legislation requires companies operating in Canada to maximize shareholder earnings, regardless of how those earnings are generated. Morality and ethics are noteworthy only because of their entire absence.

An irony in all of this is that in Canada, and elsewhere, private corporations have the legal status of persons. They enjoy the same legal protections as individuals, but clearly have none of the moral or ethical responsibilities of individuals living in a civil society.

As members of that society, you and I are expected not just to live by the laws of the land but beyond that to treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated. If corporations are persons under the law, why are they not also expected to behave as persons by the accepted standards of morality?

Steve Soloman, Toronto

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