STARVING THE CORPORATIONS
At present the majority of consumption in the world is superfluous at best and destructive and oppressive at worst. We live in a society focused on the consumer; where both advertising and media tell us how to act, what to wear, and where to buy. This Friday is what has been called ‘Buy Nothing Day’; this Friday is the day after the American Thanksgiving and has become the biggest shopping day of the year. Buy Nothing Day serves to educate consumers about the extent to which we focus our lives on products, and hopefully has created some discussion and thought, and perhaps may even have changed buying habits. However, Buy Nothing Day gives us a false sense of charitable action. We can easily give up one day each year to not go into the stores, but has it made a difference in the behaviour of corporations, or do we stop to think during the rest of the year where our products come from? For the most part no, understanding the way that corporations work causes profound ethical problems next time we go out to the store, and perhaps can lead to a change in the way products are manufactured.
The first step to changing corporate mentality is for us to know what we buy. This does not involve much work, but it can have wonderful implications on the profits of corporations that continue to disregard human rights, the environment, and society at large. For example, Philip Morris Inc. is the biggest producer in the world right now, we may not be familiar with his name but we know his products. Over the years Philip Morris has bought such companies as Kraft, Post, Nabisco, Starbucks, Miller, Molson’s, and Toblerone, each company earning profits of over one million dollars each year. However, Philip Morris is not known as a food producer, he is known as perhaps the world’s largest tobacco company, reaching into every country on this planet. Morris is well known for covering up the harmful effects of tobacco for decades, targeting children in his advertising in North America, and actively encouraging the addiction of children in the Developing countries. Using the profits from his many companies Morris can easily afford to hand out free cigarettes in the schoolyards of Developing nations. What if we were to take the profits away?
Morris also has the monopoly on corporate donations in the United States, for instance in the recent federal elections Philip Morris Inc. donated 1.2 billion dollars to Bush’s campaign. Many politicians refuse to accept tobacco money as part of his fundraising, and rightfully so, but will eagerly take money from Kraft. Morris can easily control the laws those politicians propose by threatening to pull donations, he can do the same with the editorial content, and even the articles of magazines that advertise Morris’ products. It is not too surprising, then, when we see tobacco-regulating bills being struck down in Congress, and rarely do we read editorials condemning smoking in newspapers.
These sorts of problems exist with so many of the products available in stores. Human rights organizations and labour unions have recently exposed the actions of Nike, the Gap, McDonald’s, and Chiquita, among others. The increasing Globalization of corporations has led to countries promising the corporations relaxed labour standards, environmental disregard, and destruction of the local economy, with no guarantee that the corporation will remain in the country long enough for a second generation to find work.
Perhaps what are less spoken about here is the Developed world are things like the continued use of the pesticide, developed by Monsanto, and commonly known as DDT. DDT was banned in all European countries and in North America by the year 1968; however, most Developing nations have not issued such a ban. Consequently, many of the imported fruits and vegetables in our grocery stores have come in contact with some levels of DDT. But these chemicals are causing problems for many people who have to work daily covered in pesticides; birth defects and cancer are now linked with continued exposure to many of the pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that are sprayed on our food crops.
Other products made by Monsanto are Agent Orange, used during the Viet Nam war; the Terminator Gene, designed to prevent species from reproducing; Bovine Growth Hormone, which has been banned in Europe because of its link with cancer; and Nutra-sweet/Aspartame both of which were banned in North America at one time (before Reagan decided they were safe again), and are still banned in many European countries. Monsanto is also one of the biggest developers of Genetically Modified Organisms.
As we begin to consider where our foods and other products come from we will develop into, by definition, more conscious consumers, something the corporations would rather not see. However, it is this knowledge that can be implemented to create protest and eventually change the way that goods are produced. Refusing to buy from companies that will not respect our communities and our environment is the answer. The corporations make their money from us, if we make it clear that we will not tolerate gross injustices and pollution then they will have to change. There is a social cost involved with manufacture that is to be expected. However, we can diminish this cost as long as we understand where our products come from and refuse to allow unethical business practices to continue.
With references from: philipmorris.com, monsantos.com, ratm.com, and adbusters.com.