Documentary Review: “The Corporation”October 28, 2010
What do you call someone who has callous unconcern for others, an incapacity to maintain enduring relationships and feel guilt, is reckless in regarding the safety of others, and fails to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors? Psychologists diagnose this person as a psychopath. What if that person was the dominating institution of the world? What implications would that have for the world and all that constitutes it? The Corporation provides a detailed picture of one of the dominant institutions of the world and clearly describes its ascension to the top of the global order.
So, how did the corporation achieve the influence it has today? Initially, a corporation was defined as an association of individuals chartered by states to perform a particular function, such as building a bridge or constructing a road. Essentially, the corporation was considered a subordinate entity to the law and culture of the states and was deemed a tool that was to serve the public good. After the civil war there was an explosion of corporate growth. This led to corporate lawyers pushing for more power, as corporations were becoming a more substantial institution within the structure of the country.
In 1868, a constitutional amendment (14th) was passed with the purpose of granting citizenship to African Americans and prohibiting state and local governments from depriving all persons of life, liberty and property. The law that was unquestionably of good intentions would later be interpreted by the Supreme Court as to include or cover corporations as well through its mandate. The court argued that a corporation is a group of people and in that sense it was to be interpreted that their rights were to be protected under the stipulations of the 14th amendment.
In addition to this, it was later put into law that corporations were required to put the financial interests of their owners above other “competing interests.” These interests included all externalities, which are the effects of transactions between two individuals (or corporations in this sense) on a third party who has not consented to, or played any role in the carrying out of that transaction. The following paragraphs will demonstrate the consequences of the court’s decisions.
Let’s now look at the track record of how corporations have “enjoyed” the freedoms granted to them and what their relationship is with people and the environment in general. The Corporation documents specific cases that all describe a science of exploitation enacted by transnational businesses. One of the main areas of injustice has evolved specifically from the capitalist doctrine followed by all corporations; the doctrine of efficient cost and production. In search of fulfilling the curriculum requirements of capitalism, corporations have spanned the world in search of cheap labor in order to produce their products at the most profitable levels possible. So take NIKE co. as an example. Multiple copies of internal pricing documents explaining the corporation’s production process illuminated the aforementioned “science”. At one of its shirt production factories in the Dominican Republic, workers are allotted 6.6141 minutes (yes, they break time frames of operations down to ten one thousandths of each second) to make each shirt. They receive an hourly wage of 70 cents per hour for their labor, or 8 cents per shirt. Skipping the math, that means that each worker is receiving 3/10 of 1 percent of the retail price for each shirt. This exploitation would be obvious to those in developed countries which are by law required a minimum wage that is the majority of the time over 7 dollars per hour. However, in developing countries, this rate is unheard of. In fact, in many countries a considerable amount of the population lives on less than 2 dollars per day. Consequently, corporations walk in advertising cents on the hour wages and are seen as an opportunity to the poor. After different human rights groups and worker unions provide enough pressure on governments and corporations, causing wages to rise past what is considered an efficient cost level in the production process, corporations move out and on to another country to repeat the injustice. This is the science of exploitation that is deeply engrained in arguably the most dominant institution in the world.
It is important to note that the span of spheres in which the corporation occupies is constantly expanding. In 2000, the third largest city in Bolivia, Cochabamba made the decision to re-finance its public water service through a $25 million loan from the World Bank. As a condition of receiving the loan, the bank required that the Cochachamba’s water supply service be privatized. Soon after, the San Francisco transnational corporation, Bechtel, obtained a private contract over the Bolivian city’s water supply. The corporation, in conjunction with the government, went as far as rendering the collection of rain water to be illegal. In essence, the corporation claimed ownership of the city’s rain water falling from the sky. And again, the exploitation of the poor, part of the corporation’s doctrine explained legally in the courts and theoretically in capitalism took place. People living on less than $2 per day were forced to pay ¼ of their income for fresh water. The externalities that corporations ignore can be found in the brutal dilemma imposed on many Cochabamba citizens. The new cost of privatized water forced many people to choose between things such as sending their children to school or providing an adequate amount of food and medical coverage for their families. So, should the externalities of designating water as a commodity for sale be ignored, particularly in developing countries where personal resources are limited to begin with? And if they are, what does this lead a person to conclude about the nature of a corporation? Also, in fulfilling the requirements of the loan agreement, Bolivia’s airline and oil industry, along with its railroad, electricity and phone companies were all privatized as well.
One may ask, “Why haven’t I heard about these cases of corporate exploitation?” Are the previous cases mentioned just outliers in a capitalist system that raises the living standards of so many people around the world? The answer to the first question lies in the fact that mainstream media outlets such as Fox, CNN and ABC are all owned by corporations with vast interests outside of the news media itself. These corporations’ interests are loyal first and foremost to the viability of their collective enterprise. This includes, in addition to their news channels, holdings in everything from sports teams and airline companies to nuclear power plants and transportation systems. Aside from that, media outlets depend heavily on advertising from thousands of other corporations who purchase air-time in between news breaks to promote their own product or service they are selling. So, news about the exploitation of workers in the Dominican Republic won’t be making headlines while news channels are depending on revenue supplied in this case by Nike’s purchasing of CNN’s or Fox’s advertising air-time. In other words, news that could in any manner negatively affect the image of, and thus the corporate interests of Nike will not be presented to the public simply because the profit motives of both the news channel and the sporting company come first in both cases. The answer to the second question is lucidly explained with multiple examples of exploitation by different corporations in the documentary. Examples include IBM and Coca Cola’s relationships with Nazi Germany and the chemical company, Monsanto’s hazardous antibiotic, rBGH, used in the production of milk.
By now you are probably asking yourself, “Where is morality in all of this?” The problem with any psychopath or corporation is that their belief system is non-existent. This special kind of “person” is concerned for and liable only to their stockholders. The global community and workforce are not brought into the equation. So in essence, there is only one overwhelming motivation: profit. In simple terms, the corporation’s slogan can be expressed as profit over everything.
One must question the future implications that are linked to the influence which corporations possess. The “personal” characteristics that define the very nature of a corporation imply a dark reality in which exploitation of the person and environment is permitted by law. One must also question where and how any type of significant change is to occur when the supposed “watchdog” media is so deeply entrenched in a mutually defined relationship based on corporate interests. The Corporation implies the need for a systemic change involving the relationships of corporations and other dominant institutions of the world. In addition, it also advocates for a redefining of the fundamental capitalist principles that determine the overall functioning and objectives of modern corporations. The film serves as an invaluable tool that will increase your understanding of how our complex world works and is much recommended.
– Bryant Anderson, MPT Intern