Licensed to Kill, Inc.
by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman There is a new tobacco company in town, and it aims to teach a lesson or two. The company: Licensed to Kill, Inc, is incorporated in the state of Virginia, for the explicit purpose of engaging "in any business permitted by the Commonwealth of Virginia and not required to be stated herein including, but not limited to, the manufacture and marketing of tobacco products in a way that each year kills over 400,000 Americans and 4.5 million other persons worldwide". "We're not like other tobacco companies that try to obscure what their business is about", says the company's short introduction, published on its website (www.licensedtokill.biz). "If you market cigarettes, you market death. It's that simple. In a country which effectively allows corporations to be formed without regard to their purpose, corporations are allowed to kill people to make money. Addiction to cigarettes may be lethal, but profiting from spreading death is perfectly legal." Describing its unique identity, the company states, "The name 'Licensed to Kill' is truly a tobacco name — a name associated with leadership in corporate killing in that industry in the United States and around the world. We do not own any companies that are not tobacco-based, and we do not feel a need to purchase any food subsidiaries to obscure the fact that our prime source of profit is indeed cigarettes." By taking such a name, Licensed to Kill Inc clearly identifies what it is: a company that has been given the explicit permission by the state to manufacture and market tobacco products in a way that each year kills millions the world over. "Some have speculated that the choice of the name 'Licensed to Kill' is perhaps a tad bit too truthful. It isn't. Licensed to Kill Inc takes pride in owning what we believe to be the premier tobacco company in the world. Going forward, our identity will give stakeholders clarity about the purpose of our company." Taking a jab at Philip Morris, which has renamed its holding company Altria, Licensed to Kill Inc says, "We don't hide what our business is really about behind an altruistic-sounding name." Why was such a company created? Licensed to Kill Inc is the inspiration of Robert Hinkley, a former corporate lawyer now turned activist, and is a project of Essential Action. It was formed to make a point both about corporations generally, and the tobacco industry in particular. States once exercised a modicum of control — and retain the power to exercise real control — over the incorporation, or corporate chartering process. Corporations are creatures of the state. States have the authority, through their chartering process and through corporations law, to establish rules setting boundaries on corporate conduct and requiring certain kinds of corporate activity. Over the years, however, states have effectively forfeited these powers, though they remain dormant and could be reasserted. Underlying the creation of Licensed to Kill Inc was this question: Have states made the incorporation process so pro forma that they would grant a charter to a company that set out as its purpose the killing of millions of people a year? Now we know the answer: Yes. The idea of highlighting such an extreme example — that a literal parody could gain a charter — is to suggest how out of control the chartering process has become, and to suggest that it is time to reimpose controls. Of course, although it is a parody, Licensed to Kill Inc's business plan differs from the actual business plans of existing tobacco companies in only one notable respect: its willingness to acknowledge the deadly, devastating impacts of the industry's marketing practices, product manipulation, manipulation and misrepresentation of science, political influence buying, and fundamental way of doing business. Nearly five million people a year worldwide are now dying from tobacco- related disease, thanks in considerable part to the way the industry chooses to do business. A choice the companies have, because the states fail to impose basic controls on the companies they authorise to do business. The bottom line message conveyed by Licence to Kill Inc: no one — and certainly no corporation — should have a licence to kill. And any system that is willing to grant one is fundamentally flawed, and should be scrapped.
* * *Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington DC-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington DC-based Multinational Monitor.