Monday, 30 September 2013

Freedom of speech in companies

The concept of freedom of speech has strong ties to the history of distrust of government. Whilst a healthy distrust of government is a good thing, governments aren't the only entities that we should be wary of: our corporations have a lot of power too.

It would be interesting to explore what extent the principles of freedom of speech could be incorporated into companies. Typically companies work much like a tin pot dictatorship: there is much behind closed doors mutterings about leadership and strategy, but public criticism is frequently met with persecution.

A typical response might be: but how can companies remain successful if their leadership is openly criticised from within? The answer to that is: how has the USA been so successful when its leadership is only criticised from within.

The culture of persecution of free speakers within companies has led to a weak corporate culture, and weak corporations. Good leadership can still lead even when many of their flock openly criticise them.

So how might democratic principles be brought into companies? The big challenge is culture - there needs to be a top-down acceptance of democratic principles. Other levers include the employment contracts, which should be encouraged to state more employee rights about freedom of speech, and also through legislation. (In respect of the latter we do already have whistle-blowing legislation, which is a step in the right direction.)

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