The Corporation



The Corporation is a 2003 Canadian documentary film and book critical of the modern-day corporation and its behaviour towards society. The topics addressed include a Business Plot in 1933 when General Smedley Butler was nearly implicated in a corporate coup against then US President Franklin Roosevelt, the tragedy of the commons, economic externalities, suppression of an investigative news story about bovine growth hormone on a Fox affiliate television station, and the Cochabamba protests of 2000 brought on by the privatization of Bolivia's municipal water supply by the Bechtel Corporation. Other important topics include: corporate social responsibility, the notion of limited liability, the corporation as a psychopath, and the corporation as a person.

The film charts the development of the corporation as a legal entity from its genesis to unprecedented legal protection stemming from creative interpretation of the 14th amendment, that is from its origins as an institution chartered by governments to carry out specific public functions, to the rise of the vast modern institutions entitled to the legal rights of a "person." One central theme of the documentary is an attempt to assess the "personality" of the corporate "person" by using diagnostic criteria from the DSM-IV; Robert Hare, a University of British Columbia Psychology Professor and FBI consultant, compares the modern, profit-driven corporation to that of a clinically diagnosed psychopath.

The film starts with modern day corporate logos rapidly flashing across the screen. After the logos begin to flash steadily faster the narrator's voice emerges and starts recounting the history of the corporation. She asserts that the corporation is today's dominant institution replacing bygone monarchies and other totalitarian regimes. A speech made by George W. Bush starts the discussion about how a few "bad apples" are bound to be present in the corporate system. The narrator then points out the irony in that a metaphor with apples describes a machine that has and creates great wealth but also causes enormous and frequently hidden harms. Various interviewers then go on to use many other metaphors including a jigsaw puzzle, sports team, family, telephone system, whale, Frankenstein's monster, and most notably, Ira Jackson of Harvard University's metaphor to the "majestic eagle" which he scoffs at after he thinks the camera has been turned off. Next, the question, "what is a corporation?", is asked. Joe Badaracco, a professor of ethics at Harvard Business School, defines it as a group of individuals working together to serve various objectives, the principle one being the creation of large, growing, sustained, legal returns for the owners of the business.

The beginning of the modern corporation is detailed starting with Ray Anderson, the CEO of the world's largest carpet manufacturer. He explains that the corporation began in 1712, when Thomas Newcomen invented a steam driven pump to increase the productivity and output of coal mines. The desire to increase product output per man hour, be it steel, pens, or computer chips, led to the modern corporation and the modern industrialized world. Noam Chomsky then explains the historical function of a corporation. In the past, individual states in the United States issued charters which stipulated what, where, and for how long a corporation could last in order to protect the public good. Richard Grossman states that in early America, the common viewpoint was that the corporation is a subordinate entity which is considered a gift from the people to help the general public. According to Howard Zinn, this all changed after the Civil War, when the 14th amendment was passed to free black slaves. Corporate lawyers saw this as an opportunity to increase their powers considerably, by claiming that a corporation is in fact a sort of person who is being deprived of their rights. Zinn further states that between 1890 and 1910 there were 307 cases brought to the Supreme Court dealing with the 14th amendment. Out of the 307 only 19 cases were made by African Americans, while the other 288 came from corporate lawyers seeking "equal" rights for their corporate entities.

A black-and-white clip is shown of two actors discussing how to create a corporation. One of the characters states that a corporation is in fact a legal person. After this, Noam Chomsky explains that a corporation is a very special kind of person with no moral barometer, solely concerned with generating the maximum profit possible for its owners. Various people are then interviewed and asked to explain what type of person they would describe particular corporations as. For instances, General Electric is a kind old man and Nike is young and energetic. Several interviewers refute this claim, saying that legally the corporation must look out for the interests of its shareholders above all else, including the environment and the community. In corporations' efforts to minimize cost and maximize profit they came up with externalities. Milton Friedman explains that an externality is the effect of a transaction between two parties on a third party who is not involved. Such externalities include the use of national militaries to secure oil rights for energy corporations, and governments that provide roads and bridges to drive automobiles on.

The adverse affects of corporations are viewed beginning with the harm they inflict upon workers. Such harms include: layoffs, union busting, factory fires, and sweatshops. Charles Kernaghan, the director of the National Labor Committee, shows off various consumer goods made by sweatshops, and compares the prices they were selling for with the amount the workers were paid. He then recounts his travels to a Honduras sweatshop where various guards and spies try to prevent him from talking with the workers. He eventually finds out the workers were making Kathy Lee Gifford brand clothing and a media circus followed in America. After various pledges were made to end the sweatshops, nothing significant changed. Michael Walker of the Fraser Institute offers a different take. He states that the places in the world where people are starving desperately need sweatshops which provide an opportunity to feed themselves. Walker continues by saying that corporations come in and raise the living standards until the people demand more money and the corporation moves on to the next starving part of the world.

The harm to others induced by the corporation is viewed next including: dangerous products, toxic waste, pollution, and synthetic chemicals. Samuel Epstein explains that in 1940 a miraculous change occurred. Chemists began formulating synthetic chemicals to combat things like disease and insect infestation. Some of these chemicals like DDT have been found over the course of many years to cause cancer and birth defects. Epstein makes a point about the difference between creating and allowing products that kill people over time and killing them with a gun.

The harm to animals is also accounted for, such as habitat destruction, factory farming, experimentation, and rBGH/rBST Posilac. Epstein recounts the deceitfulness of the Monsanto corporation when trying to cover up the harmful effects of Posilac on cows and humans. Jeremy Rifkin points out the uselessness of Posilac stemming from the fact that the world overproduces milk and the demand for increased output is idiotic. A Monsanto promotional video is then shown instructing farmers to "inject every available cow" because the more cows you inject the more milk you produce, and the more milk you produce results in higher revenues.

The harm to the Earth's biosphere is then examined, including clear cutting, carbon dioxide emissions, and nuclear waste. Robert Monks, a corporate governance advisor, recalls a night in Brewer, Maine when he awoke with hay fever. He looked out the window and saw the pollution from the local paper factory was creating white suds in the river. Carlton Brown, a commodities trader, is interviewed next. He explains that traders only care about the money generated by commodities, and not about any environmental implications. Robert Weissman of the Multinational Monitor recites the biggest fines paid by corporations in the 1990s for breaking the law. Some of the biggest include $125 million paid by Exxon for the mishap in Valdez, Alaska and several companies paying up to $400 million for antitrust violations. Ray Anderson finally explains that all of the earth's major life support systems are in decline, but because there is still so much abundance left, no entity is willing to make the changes necessary for sustainability.

Dr. Robert Hare, a consultant to the FBI on psychopaths, draws parallels between a psychopath and the modern corporation. His findings corroborate the following behavior:

* Callous unconcern for the feelings of others
* Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships
* Reckless disregard for the safety of others
* Deceitfulness: Repeated lying and conning of others for profit
* Incapacity to experience guilt
* Failure to conform to the social norms with respect to lawful behaviors

Noam Chomsky theorizes that flesh-and-blood humans are all basically made up of the same things, but the moral freedom in the species allows for many different types of behavior. Sam Gibara is then interviewed about his experiences as the CEO of Goodyear. He explains that he felt very bad about laying off over 20,000 workers and closing 8 plants since 1990, but that it was just the nature of the beast. Chomsky furthers this by stating that there is a large difference between the system of slavery and the slave owner, as well as a difference between the CEO and the corporation. While the system is inherently malevolent the people that contribute to it can be honorable and good. This is exemplified by Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, the former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell. A clip is shown of him and his wife, talking with and feeding a group of protestors staged in front of his house. After some discussion the student draws the conclusion that Sir Moody-Stuart was a good person but the system was to blame. The narrator returns and states that while large corporation may donate some of their money to honorable causes, they still put the bottom line before all else. This is noted when a story about Nigerian oil production is shown. Nine protestors were hanged when they rose against the environmental standards set by Shell in Nigeria, creating some of the worst pollution in the world.

Dr. Vandana Shiva gives an insight into the mind of a corporation by exposing the fact that corporations now genetically modify seeds that have a "suicide gene" built in them so they will self destruct after one season and can only be used if activated by the company's fertilizer. Marc Berry, a corporate spy, is interviewed next and recounts the extremely complicated measures he has taken to gain information from a company. He has personally set up an office complete with business cards and a corporate logo to woo an employee into interviewing for a fake job where he or she tells valuable information about their current employer. After this, Michael Moore gives an insight which states executives are not in touch with the rest of the world because they are "rich white men" and the majority of the world is "poor colored women". Moore, Anderson, and others then come to the conclusion that being a member of the corporate machine is not a valid excuse and "passing the buck" has to stop eventually or the world's ecosystems collapse. After this, Clifton Brown gives another insight into the mindset by explaining how September 11, 2001 and the Iraq War benefited the commodities traders greatly because the price of gold nearly doubled. He explains how other industries like defense manufacturers also made huge profits from the increased military spending after the attacks.

Jeremy Rifkin details how the current ideology of ownership came to be. In the 14th and 15th centuries, he argues, the common view was that God owned the land and the land owned the people. The church and the aristocracy simply made sure everything ran smoothly. However, beginning with Tudor England, the nobles started fencing off the land, claiming it as private property. This idea of private property spread across the world and began applying to the oceans for fishing, airwaves for broadcast, and airspace for commercial aviation. Elaine Bernard then presents the current history of private property and the fact that in the last twenty years laws have been created that states all life except human life can be considered intellectual property and can be owned by corporations. Michael Walker of the Fraser Institute continues the discussion in private property by telling us the amount of pollution created by corporation is now a commodity and can be bought and sold. Walker then advocates the private ownership of every thing on Earth because people only value something when there is a price attached.

Susan Linn, a children’s advocate, introduces the how corporations manipulate children through advertising into purchasing their products. Lucy Hughes, the vice president of the marketing firm Initiative Media Worldwide, explains that in the late 1990s their firm conducted an experiment to determine the effectiveness of nagging on purchasing habits. They found that 20 to 40 percent of purchases would not have taken place without children nagging their parents. The study also concluded 25 percent of theme park trips and 40 percent of visits made to Chuck E. Cheese's resulted from nagging. She goes on to say psychologist's are hired along with 12 billion dollars a year spent on children's marketing in the United States. Hughes finally advocates "getting children early" so they can be profitable consumers for life. Kingswell, Chomsky, and others then began discussing the notion that corporations along with churches, governments, and other forms of power make it their job to mold the people into a "mindless consumer" that will continue to keep the entity profitable. Created wants or non-necessities are then discussed and the role the corporations have in inventing things people feel they need through the philosophy of utility such as brand names. Finally, Chris Barrett and Luke McCabe are detailed and how they paid their way through college by becoming walking advertisements for First USA.

Richard Grossman begins with how over the past 50 years corporations have marketed themselves to appear important to the public and represent progress. Chris Komisarjevsky is then interviewed about his job as an executive at a corporate relations firm and how he helps corporations appear friendly and helpful to the average consumer. Some of his former clients include: Union Carbide, which killed 20,000 people in the Bhopal disaster, Phillip Morris, the cigarette company, and the Canadian Forestry Corporation, which clear cuts Canadian forests. The Senior Vice-president of Pfizer, Tom Kline, then is shown talking to the everyman and commenting on how Pfizer helped revitalize the area around their office building. He goes down into the subway system to show off the call-for-help system installed by Pfizer but Kline cannot manage to get the system to work. Grossman then returns to talk about how only the good aspects of the corporations are shown while the parts such as the manipulating of the government through lobbyists is buried for the public eye.

Naomi Klein describes how corporate branding is not advertisement but a rather production that constantly surrounds all of us. She then goes on to talk about Celebration, Florida which is an entire town based on a brand. Clay Timon then explains how corporations like Disney differentiate their branding by having Mickey Mouse for children all the way to Touchstone Pictures which makes adult oriented cinema. The interviewer then go on to ask if the human race can continue if all of our interactions with other human beings are a result of commercial branding.

Jonathan Ressler, A Marketing Specialist, explains how in any given day the average person sees several different examples of undercover marketing. This marketing can range from a group of boxes with branding laying in front of your door, to a branded bottle of water in the company fridge, to a fast-food wrapper, to even people talking casually about a product. Ressler then goes on to say there is no way to escape marketing and you shouldn't be critical of those buying into a brand because everyone buys into a brand and if the brand of product works and makes your life easier there is no reason to complain.

Jeremy Rifkin tells us how in the 1980s Professor Jack Abarty "invented" microorganisms that ate hazardous waste. General Electric then went to the United States patent office claiming they had invented this bacteria and needed a patent. The Patent Office immediately turned down the request citing a living organism cannot be patented. To this the corporate lawyer went to the court system fighting for their patent rights. By a 3-2 decision the court overruled the patent office. Rifkin then appealed this decision by going to the Supreme Court. His argument was that if the verdict was upheld the blueprints of life would be owned by corporations without congress or the public's consent. By a ruling of 5-4 chief justice Warren E. Burger upheld the decision and seven years later the Patent Office wrote into its laws one sentence that stated any life except a full blooded human can be patented. Rifkin finally states the current race is on in the corporate biotech world to "cash in" on the Human Genome Project so they can patent the genetic code that causes all known diseases. Rifkin finishes by stating within ten years corporations will not only own all human life but that of every other species on Earth.

Jane Akre and her news crew for Tampa, Florida television station WTVT recount the battle they had with Fox Broadcasting Company and Monsanto in the late 1990s. She and her fellow reporters planned on airing an investigative report on the negative effects on Posilac. Before the story aired corporate lawyers for Monsanto threatened to sue Fox News if the story went on. The Fox Broadcasting Company owned 23 separate stations at the time and did not want a loss in advertisement dollars so they agreed to cooperate with Monsanto's lawyers. After over 83 rewrites were made to the story it still wasn't aired and the reporters were eventually fired. They sued and won $425,000 in damages but the decision was overturned on appeal after Monsanto lawyers found a way to remove the "whistle-blower” status of the news team. Their status was removed because falsifying news is not technically against the law. Today, some of our milk supply still comes from cows that have been modified with posilac to produce more milk.

The Narrator discusses the Cochabamba protests of 2000 brought on by the privatization of Bolivia's municipal water supply by the Bechtel Corporation. Up to one-quarter of the citizen's income had to go to pay for their water after the takeover and the collection of rainwater was made illegal. This did not sit well with Oscar Olivera and the rest of the Bolivian people so they started a massive riot to gain control of their water back. Six people died and 175 were injured but an agreement was eventually reached were Cochabamba regained full rights of it public water. Howard Zinn next discusses the collusions between fascist Europe and the role of the corporations. As Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini rose to power the business climate dramatically improved as radical leftwing dissenters and democratic bureaucracies were abolished. Michael Moore then brings up the collusion between American corporations and the Nazis during WWII. He explains how the IBM punch card computer was used to systematically sort and exterminate political enemies, homosexuals, Jews, and other persecuted groups and how Coca-Cola invented the Fanta orange subsidiary so they could continue making money on both sides throughout the war. The narrator then returns to list several American Corporations such as Chevron, Texaco, Citibank, and Exxon, which had been fined for trading with enemies of the United States. Chomsky and others concluded that a corporation has no national ties and only acting in its own best interest.

The narrator gives the history of the popular General Smedley Butler that was nearly implicated to lead a corporate coup against then US President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 because the president's New Deal was seen as too progressive. The congressional investigation into the coup revealed some of the top industry players were involved in the plot including, J.P. Morgan, DuPont, and Goodyear Tire. Ira Jackson then goes on to explain how because of globalization governments have lost most of their power and multinational corporations have become the new dominant control. Marc Berry then gives an account of the Critical Thinking Consortium which was a meeting involving the heads of many large corporations and the CIA, NSA, and FBI. This recount shows how corporations work with governments to gain power and control over policy.

The focus of why corporations try to not break laws and try to help others and the environment is examined. After various interviews from Anderson, Chomsky, and others a conclusion is drawn that corporations do these things in order to survive and make more money. Consumers will not buy a product if they feel strongly enough that it is harmful, so corporations manufacture a positive public image through various charities. Naomi Klein then states the biggest flaw in a corporation is the fact that they will do anything for money. Jim Lafferty then discusses the Unocal controversy and how he and many others fought to dismantle the corporation and return it to the public trust. A counterpoint is then made that socialist ideals like that can lead to unfavorable situations like Communist Russia. Moore returns to describe how personal accountability is important. An example given by him is that the main job for the parents of Columbine High School was Lockheed Martin, a company that manufactures weapons. The movie then shows Ray Anderson giving a speech pleading his fellow tycoons to develop sustainable industries so the planet does not get destroyed. The interviewers then all state there is a way to fight the large corporations by working together. Michael Moore ends the film by pointing out the major flaw of a capital oriented entity. The only reason Moore can get his message out is because his documentaries make money for the movie picture corporations. "The rich man will sell you the rope to hang himself."

The film also features interviews with prominent corporate critics such as Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Michael Moore, Vandana Shiva and Howard Zinn as well as opinions from company CEOs such as Ray Anderson (from the Interface carpet & fabric company), the conservative viewpoints of Peter Drucker and Milton Friedman, and think tanks advocating free markets such as the Fraser Institute. Interviews also feature Dr. Samuel Epstein with his involvement in a lawsuit against Monsanto for promoting the use of Posilac, (Monsanto's trade name for recombinant Bovine Somatotropin) to induce more milk production in dairy cattle.

The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power written by Joel Bakan and first published in hardcover in Canada in 2004. The book is an extended look at the corporation and follows the same themes discussed in the movie. It has since been published in softcover.

The film was written by Joel Bakan, and co-directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott. The documentary has been displayed worldwide, on TV (sometimes in 3 parts) and is also available in DVD. The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power is also the title of a book (ISBN 0-74324-744-2) written by Bakan during the filming of the documentary.

The Economist review points out that the idea for an organisation as a psychopathic entity originated with Max Weber, in regards to statist government bureaucracy. The review does say that "...“The Corporation” is a surprisingly rational and coherent attack on capitalism's most important institution." Also, the review points out that the film weighs heavily in favor of public ownership as a solution to the evils depicted, while failing to acknowledge the magnitude of evils committed by government in the name of public ownership, such as those of the Communist party in the former USSR, the Imperial Government in Japan, and the National Socialist party in Germany (which was not Socialist, but Fascist). Some say that the review fails to make the point that the film favours democratic control rather than totalitarian control and conflates the two, different, structures.

The Maoist Internationalist Movement, in their review criticizes the film for the opposite: depicting the communist party in an unfavourable light, while adopting an anarchist approach favoring direct democracy and worker's councils without emphasizing the need for a centralized bureaucracy. The film, in their view "offers no realistic alternative to imperialism." and "it shares some of the strengths and downfalls" of Mark Achbar's film Manufacturing Consent, which celebrated the life of anarcho-syndicalist, linguist, and activist Noam Chomsky. In their view, "corporate power for profit is not the same as megabureaucracy without profit."Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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