The Guardian April 30, 2003


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.

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