A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see a documentary film called The Corporation. (And I have recently seen another such documentary named Supersize Me, but that’s another story.) The following is a combination of what I saw/learned from this film and what I know from history.
Film: Originally, companies were incorporated to do ONE thing – manufacture clothing, or sell something, or DO something (like run a railroad.)
History: In the mid-1800s they began to expand. One of the first that comes to mind is that the railroads demanded land so they could have stations, yards, and coaling & watering stops. They sold the remainder of their land to settlers, thus creating their own markets, their own reasons for existence. Other corporations did similar things. This was the beginning of their diversification.
History: Corporations have always opposed workers rights, health, reasonable pay and hours. Higher wages and benefits reduced profits. Workers reacted by going on strike – corporations cannot make ANY profit if they are not producing. At times this led to open warfare: reference the Haymarket Riots.
Film: The 14th Amendment, forbidding any entity to deny rights granted by the federal government, was intended to provide for civil rights for the newly freed African Americans. Corporations went to court and used this amendment to get recognized legally as persons. This gave them a whole lot of immunities they never had before. Out of the two hundred and some 14th Amendment cases heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, only nineteen were concerned with African Americans.
History: Corporations had long been considered “artificial persons” because they could do things people did, like buy land, sell items or services, etc. In 1886 The Southern Pacific Railroad was involved in a case fighting some taxation in Santa Clara County, California (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co.). Before the Supreme Court hearing started, Justice Waite commented “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.” And so it was done on the opinion of a single judge and there was no argument about it.
With the immunities granted through 14th Amendment protections, corporate powers grew.
Film: During the 1930s, IBM leased card reader analysis machines to Germany. This evidently helped them keep track of military data, but it also helped the Nazis catalog every individual person placed in a concentration camp. That’s bad enough. When the US entered the war and Germany was an enemy of terrible force, IBM kept their equipment in place, even inside the camps like Auschwitz, and sent technical people to maintain the machines! So they aided the enemy throughout the war just to keep their profits rolling in.
Film: Monsanto has developed BGH, Bovine Growth Hormone, a genetically-engineered recombinant hormone, to increase the production of milk. The FDA has approved this stuff, but Canada and Europe have banned it. The cows get sick with continued use. The udders get inflamed and grow so large that they drag on the ground. Cows become infected and pus gets into the milk (is this the real reason why milk MUST be pasteurized?), along with the antibiotics used to try to fight the infections. Furthermore the hormone is passed on in the milk to human consumers. What does this do to the people, especially children, who drink the milk? Might this be why kids are maturing at increasingly early ages? There are certainly cancer dangers to children from this stuff.
On another topic, but related in a discussion of corporations ignoring our health, the film Supersize Me shows that fast food (McDonalds in this case) ignores healthy food – even salad dressings have extra sugar.
Film: In Cochabamba, Bolivia, an American corporation demanded that the town’s water supply be privatized before a World Bank loan was approved. The government of Brazil sided with the corporation.
Nobody has the ability to control today’s huge global / multi-national corporations. If one country tries, all the corporation has to do is move their headquarters / incorporation location somewhere else. There will always be some country willing to pick up some tax income from the corporation without trying to control them. But, there can be some controls - see below.
What can we do?
First – buy organic milk. Yes it is more expensive but it is healthy and it lasts longer! We have found that it doesn’t spoil as quickly. So it can be affordable in the long run if the milk doesn’t get used quickly in your home.
Join a Co-op. But they can be expensive. Who can afford them? Becoming a member helps, but then there is a requirement to do volunteer work there.
Select corporations that are local. In Minneapolis we have two large grocery chains, Rainbow and Cub. With the internet so available, we can investigate them. A half hour on the web brought out this information: Rainbow is owned by Fleming Industries and while Cub is owned by SuperValu. I could not find any owners above them – but they may just be well hidden. Fleming is based in Oklahoma, SuperValu in Minnesota. The latter also buys all refrigeration equipment from a Wisconsin company that builds the units in Minnesota. Our family’s choice is to shop at the home company, Cub.
What else can you do?
Some California groups have gotten the corporate status nullified in their state for companies that refuse to clean up pollution. This means that the company can no longer do business in that state.
Boycotts have been known to be effective, but they must be widely done (nationally) and they take a long time to make the corporation buckle under..
Some small towns have capped the number of multi-nationals in their town, township, or county.
Buy locally grown food at your farmer’s market. Note that this may take some investigating and logical thinking. Bananas in Minnesota will never be a local crop. Find out where they come from, how they are grown, etc.
The internet is there for you to use. Do so.
Know what you are eating and using.
Come up with new ideas and options.
Do not believe all the corporate baloney about being socially responsible; it’s a smoke screen. It costs them a pittance in comparison to the extra profits reaped.
Live by the motto: “DO NO HARM.”