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June 16, 2004

Marketing The Revolution: Why turning a company green will only make it more vulnerable to attack

Posted by Michael Mosbacher

Turning a company green will only get it attacked more fiercely by activists

Corporations that seek to placate activist pressure by introducing 'progressive' policies on the environment and employment practices in the South make themselves more vulnerable to attack. Older organisations such as Greenpeace International may stop attacking a corporation such as Shell when it adopts more progressive policies; the newer generation of anti-corporate activists will attack it all the harder, I argue in Marketing The Revolution, a study of anti-globalizers published by the Social Affairs Unit.

Anti-corporate activists and writers such as Naomi Klein, George Monbiot and Noam Chomsky attack corporations such as The Gap, Nike, Starbucks and McDonald's, not primarily to change this or that corporate practice, not to 'end sweatshops' or 'abolish animal cruelty', but as a means to popularise a broader anti-capitalist message. As one activist puts it, 'it's a gateway drug.'

Fresh PR for an old message
The broader message is an old, and rather tired one, hatred of capitalism, the belief that the world is diametrically and permanently divided between the exploiting corporate fat cat few and the exploited masses. What's changed is the way that message is now being marketed to a new, wider audience by piggy-backing on the corporations' own publicity. The activists do this by cleverly parodying corporate ads, organising media friendly stunts at AGMs and launching boycotts. Because its impulse is anti-capitalism rather than ameliorating the practice of corporations, the anti-corporate movement views progressive corporate policies as simply an attempt to mask the true nature of capitalism; which it is their mission to unmask. The harder an individual corporation seeks to show that it is doing good, the more important it becomes for these activists to seek to show that it is not. Progressive companies are attacked not in spite of, but because, of their progressiveness.

Progressive policies make attacks easier
Furthermore, when corporations establish progressive policies they set themselves a benchmark by which they can be easily judged. Whenever this benchmark may not be met, perhaps by a supplier in the South or a distant subsidiary, the corporation has set itself up for attack. The activists' do not acknowledge the benefits such policies often bring about, but highlight the instances, however rare, where such policies are breached. Companies are asking to be judged, and the anti-capitalist movement is doing just that.

Anti-corporate activists funded by corporate and corporate-created wealth
Ironically these new-style anti-corporate activists are funded by corporate and corporate-created wealth. The Ruckus Society – a US based organisation which runs training camps in non-violent direct action for anti-corporate activists – has received funding from Ted Turner’s Turner Foundation, The Body Shop Foundation, The Ben & Jerry Foundation (itself funded by Unilever), and hiking clothes firm Patagonia. The $170 million Foundation for Deep Ecology, established by Doug Tompkins after he sold quintessential global clothing brands Esprit and The North Face, has awarded grants of over $50 million to what Doug Tompkins describes as 'the boldest, most visionary groups working to …fight megatechnology and industrial globalization'.

There may be many good reasons for corporations to adopt progressive policies. They will not, however, prevent a corporation from being attacked. In fact, they will make such attacks more likely.

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Whether companies adopt new policies or not, they have made their money from raping the earth. They owe the earth, their mother, big! Within 30 years the utter destruction of all that allows us to exist will become apparent. These companies are attacked simply because they have cut themselves and everyone else in the process off from what we are, life itself. Darkness is ahead my good man.

Posted by: neil orange peel at October 17, 2004 04:34 PM
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