Who are the big corporations really looking out for?
In an increasingly consumer-aware world, it’s a necessity for the big labels and corporations to be participating in sustainable as well as ethical initiatives. But when you look behind the scenes (as we did with The Body Shop this week), how clean is their act? Here are 7 posts from our archives that peek behind the curtain to ask what the big names are really up to.
Eating your politics isn’t for everyone and it’s easy to go overboard with the food thing (see the Portlandia episode featuring Colin, the chicken), but there are some companies with politics so against everything I believe in that I simply can’t give them my money. Remember back in the day when Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan started donating to Operation Rescue and a bunch of doctors who provided abortions were killed? Chick-fil-A is one of these companies for me.
Mega packaged food companies and investor groups buy successful organic brands that were started by visionaries who began the companies with a commitment to the organic ideal of family farms, a clean environment, and simple food without additives. But often, when the big companies buy in, this ideal flies out the window.
I’ve chosen ten of the more prominent organic and natural brands to survey. I’m comparing the stories they tell their customers to the likely (and often proven) reality, based on who owns them. Most of the company websites don’t clearly state that a huge global conglomerate runs them, but that’s when the chart above comes in handy.
Brazil had a ban on planting of GM seeds in effect since 1998, but it was one of the only holdouts in South America. Brazil’s neighbor, Argentina, was a large producer of GM soy. Monsanto encouraged farmers in Brazil to plant its “roundup ready” GM soybeans that were illegally imported from Argentina in defiance of the ban. Monsanto knew that once its seeds were in the ground they would be able to make a case for intellectual property rights. Armed with their patents, the company’s lawyers went to the courts to solidify its new Brazilian market.
By arguing that Brazil was impeding its legal right to collect royalties on its intellectual property (the seeds), Monsanto made its case and GM soy was legalized in Brazil in 2003. Still, the essential companion to Monsanto’s Roundup-ready GM soy, the herbicide Roundup, was not legal yet. In 2004, a congressman from southern Brazil pushed through a series of federal amendments legalizing the herbicide. This same congressman purchased a large farm from Monsanto for one-third of the market price. The Brazilian government is investigating the congressman for corruption.
KFC vs. PETA: Flaming Silly to Monumentally Daft
As we’ve noted before, there’s nothing that PETA enjoys more than the smell of roasting Kentucky Fried Chicken – the company, that is. Their latest attempts to haul this fast food corporation over the coals? Firstly, PETA wants Indianapolis fire trucks to sign an advertising deal, the same way the fire department has with the finger-lickin’ folk – and secondly, a 5.5 foot tall statue of a gory chicken on crutches, artfully monikered “KFC Cripples Chickens.”
In both cases, local officials denied the requests, citing inappropriate context and legislation and, in the former case, the fact that “advertising on a fire truck could even lead motorists to believe a truck heading for an emergency was just performing a stunt.” Quite.
After putting its less well-capitalized and often more quirkily authentic brethren out of business, sucking the soul out of the neighborhood coffee house, and commoditizing coffee to the point where consumers couldn’t see the difference between a $4.00 latte at Starbucks and a $2.00 latte from McDonalds, Starbucks was hurting. The company’s latest strategy involves “Unbranding” a few select stores by taking away the Starbuck’s look and logo and instead naming the stores after the neighborhoods that surround them. They are also sending spotters into independently owned shops and copying the look and feel, as well as sourcing the décor items locally. If it works, they’ll roll it out all over the country. Oh Goody. This one makes me want to choke on my home-brewed, fair trade, organic blend.
According to Change.org, opening Walmarts in areas known as “food deserts” is really just a band-aid that masks the underlying causes of poverty and inequality. This is true and there’s no doubt it is a complicated issue. Similarly, many commenters pointed out in this article by Marc Gunther that the entire model of how Walmart builds and spreads across the landscape is flawed. Again, indisputably true.
But Walmart isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Is it possible to look at some of their initiatives in a positive light?
It is well enough that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning. -Henry Ford