Multinational Monitor

DEC 2001
VOL 22 No. 12


Corporations Behaving Badly: The Ten Worst Corporations of 2001
by Robert Weissman and Russell Mokhiber


Report from Doha: Intrigue at the WTO, as Developing Countries Try to Keep Their Heads Above Water
an interview with
Cecilia Oh


Behind the Lines

Assault on Democracy - In Memorium: John O’Connor

The Front
Mahogany Buyers Stumped - Lord of the Fries

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News

Book Notes


Book Notes

The Death of a Thousand Cuts: Corporate
Campaigns and the Attack on the Corporation
By Jarol B. Manheim
Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000
272 pages; $39.95

Rules for Corporate Warriors
By Nick Nichols
Bellevue, Washington: Free Enterprise Press, 2001
372 pages; $25

Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy:
A Book of History and Strategy
By Dean Ritz (ed.)
Croton-On-Hudson, New York: Apex Press, 2001
352 pages; $17.95

Over the past two decades, corporate campaigns —multi-pronged organized attacks on the economic, legal, political and community standing of a company — have evolved into a media-savvy game of psychological warfare where the goal is to redefine the image and undermine the reputation of the target company in order to force it to respond to pressure from key stakeholders, including shareholders, customers, employees and regulators.

The corporate campaign concept emerged in the 1960s through a combination of influences, including New Left politics and hardball community organizing tactics developed by Saul Alinsky and others. The National Council of Churches and the leadership of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were instrumental in the development of the corporate campaign, as was a new generation of impatient young labor activists who were casting about for some alternative means of reversing the decline of organized labor.

The first successful corporate campaigns were led by the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union against textile giants Farah and J.P. Stevens, Inc. After the Stevens victory, the corporate campaign was quickly adopted by the labor movement and developed into a “finely tuned instrument of conflict.” Ray Rogers, one of the organizers of the Stevens campaign, went on to form Corporate Campaigns, Inc., a consulting business that works with union locals and other groups who want to “disorganize the power structure.” Rogers has since worked on a number of well-known corporate campaigns against Hormel, Campbell’s Soups, A. E. Staley, International Paper, Eastern Airlines and other companies.

Meanwhile, the corporate campaign concept has been adopted by environmentalists (Home Depot, Staples and Citigroup), consumer groups (Nestle, Microsoft), human rights advocates (Pepsi, Nike, Unocal) and others, each of whom have used different strategies and tactics. Nearly 200 corporate campaigns are listed in the index in Jarol Manheim’s Death of a Thousand Cuts, which is the definitive exploration of the history, strategies and tactics used in corporate campaigns.

The corporate campaign concept is now fully developed and fully institutionalized (some unions, for instance, even have their own corporate campaign department). Corporate campaigns are now refined so that they can deliver a thousand different sorts of cuts; whether they threaten corporations with “death” is another story.

Although corporate campaigns have succeeded at forcing many corporations to alter their behavior, an equal number have failed due to a lack of resources, shallow analysis of a corporation’s vulnerabilities, poor organizing or stale messaging that fails to galvanize public and media attention. Corporations have also become more adept at responding to corporate campaigns, often following the advice of public relations specialists.

Rules for Corporate Warriors offers some insight into how such consultants coach corporations into responding aggressively to “attack group shakedowns.”

Described as “one of [corporate] America’s leading crisis management experts,” Nick Nichols has spent 15 years waging trench warfare over environmental, food, drug and product safety issues on behalf of multinationals. Although most of what he discusses are public relations campaigns rather than actual corporate campaigns, this book helpfully explains the tactics corporations use to respond when targeted by a corporate campaign.

Nichols’ obvious intent is to pose as a kind of corporate Saul Alinsky (the title refers to Rules for Radicals, Alinksy’s own book), advising corporations under siege to avoid making the common mistake of becoming appeasers (“Nevilles”) who give in willingly to their attackers. The way to do that is to first convince his main audience — corporate executives — that if they have a problem, it’s not because the corporation has tread upon the public interest, but because they have become victimized by the “extremists” who have taken over the environmental and consumer movements. According to Nichols, activists are just as greedy as the next person, so appeasement only encourages them to demand further concessions. He goes on to offer advice on how to put campaigners on the defensive by attacking their credibility, ridiculing them and making them believe they’ve been infiltrated. “Flash your brass knuckles,” he urges the desk-bound executive. Use the tactics of the movement against itself.

A lot of this is pure fantasy. For instance, he urges activists to set up the following publicity stunt at a WTO protest to make the point that the critics of free trade do not represent the best interests of the poor: “A girl dressed in rags and carrying a single crust of bread could remind the protesters and media that what U.S. companies pay their workers is typically two or three times the average wage in those countries … A little girl dressed like a hooker could emphasize that prostitution (not school or a cushy $8-an-hour job in Bloomies) is often the alternative for children who must still support families that otherwise would be destitute and starving.” Anyone who regularly reads publications like PR Watch will recognize a lot of the tactics he suggests from the activities of front groups and other PR conduits.

Much of what Nichols proposes is best countered directly by community and mass movement-based organizing. But campaigns that lose touch with their constituency base or ability to connect with mainstream culture will become more susceptible to the tactics suggested here.

And as more and more corporations take up this kind of playbook, movements for economic and environmental justice will need to remember also to seek deeper challenges to the legitimacy of corporations.

Some important ideas for how activists and other corporate campaigners should begin to campaign against corporations have been suggested in a book put together by members of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD), a group of activists that, more than any other, has deconstructed the myth of corporate personhood and other judicial doctrines which have underpinned the growth of corporate power.

Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy is an important collection of visionary essays and discussion documents which combine legal analysis, historical scholarship and provocative movement critiques that point to a new direction in corporate campaigning.

Although corporate campaigns are rare enough to begin with, it’s even more rare that people question a corporations’ very right to exist. As Richard Grossman, co-director of POCLAD points out, “challenging the legitimacy of the corporation and organizing to limit its rights and powers under law are not regarded as obvious or logical. Such ideas are often dismissed as unrealistic, utopian and counter-productive.”

Attempts have been made. Activists have filed petitions to revoke the charters of companies like Unocal, Waste Management and Weyerhaeuser. But many of POCLAD’s ideas have yet to be buttressed by mass actions and other tactics deployed in corporate campaigns.

Nevertheless, a functioning democracy requires citizens to begin to restrict the rights of corporations by fundamentally redefining their limits and questioning their very “right” to exist.

With corporations increasingly able to deflect or survive traditional issue-based corporate campaigns, anyone concerned about how corporations have eroded our democracy, will find inspiration here for pursuing bold new strategic approaches to corporate campaigning.

Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain
By George Monbiot
London: Macmillan, 2001
448 pages; $18.40

The accelerated corporate takeover of public and private life in Britain has provoked a crisis of governance. Although the outward signs are obvious — corporate logos are popping up everywhere from the Millennium Dome to police uniforms –– the policies used to drive the process, such as the Private Finance Initiative, are for the most part relatively obscure.

This is largely the result of a two-party political system that’s easily bent to corporate interests. While the Conservative Party initiated many of the intrigues that have pushed the British government out of the path of big business interests, the Labor Party has sought, successfully, to take office by relegating any opposition to corporate power within the party’s own parliamentary ranks to the back bench. As Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Confederation of British Industry, there is “great commitment and enthusiasm, right across the government, for forging links with the business community.”

The extent of those links is demonstrated by the number of corporate officials who simultaneously sit in public office. A list of corporate officials appointed by Labor since the 1997 general election takes up a whole chapter of Captive State. The stunning conflicts of interest depicted rival those of any U.S. administration. It should not therefore be a surprise when British regulatory agencies promote the interests of industries they are supposed to keep in check. The influence of the biotech industry over food policy is just one of many examples that George Monbiot chooses to explore.

One conduit for such influence is through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the main source of funds for biologists working in Britain’s universities. Peter Doyle, BBSRC’s Chairman, is also an executive director of the biotech company Zeneca. Other council members come from Nestle, the Food and Drink Federation, and other corporate interests. BBSRC condemned the prestigious medical journal The Lancet as “irresponsible” for publishing a paper by Arpad Pusztai claiming that genetic engineering could endanger human health. The BBSRC also funds the secondment of academics into corporations.

Any writer who takes up the topic of corporate power in Britain finds a target-rich environment. Corporations have colonized virtually every aspect of British life, assaulting workers’ standard of living and collective bargaining rights, extracting decision-making processes for health, safety and environmental standards and placing them in remote decision-making spheres such as the World Trade Organization, distorting the research and teaching agendas of British universities, and using rigged planning processes to crush the well-being of residents and small businesspeople.

As in the United States, cynicism and discouragement has risen among the electorate as a result.

But new kinds of grassroots resistance are gradually being borne out of the crisis. The book opens with the story of how Robby the Pict and other citizens living on the Scottish island of Skye organized after losing a free government-run ferry service to a privately financed toll bridge.

George Monbiot, a Guardian columnist and investigative journalist, points out some major obstacles to building a broader movement of resistance to corporate power, such as the corporations’ ability to use Britain’s draconian libel laws to attack would-be reformers and the absence of a strong Freedom of Information law that is an essential tool in any democracy. Although handicapped by the lack of such a law, in Captive State Monbiot has effectively combined national policy analysis with on-the-ground reportage to help British citizens and outside observers understand the current context for the emerging struggle against corporate dominance in Britain.

Overdose: The Case Against the Drug Companies;
Prescription Drugs, Side Effects, and Your Health

By Jay Cohen
New York: Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam, 2001
318 pages; $24.95

Jay Cohen is a physician who describes himself as “pro-medication.” But he recognizes the enormous damage routinely inflicted on patients as a result of pharmaceutical side effects.

Conservative estimates suggest more than 100,000 people die each year in the United States from drug reactions. Millions of people suffer ailments ranging from permanent disability to severe discomfort as a result of pharmaceutical side effects.

Many of these deaths and illnesses are due to drugs that should not be on the market. Especially in the last several years, the pharmaceutical industry, its Congressional allies and weak-kneed agency officials have conspired to severely compromise Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory processes. FDA drug reviewers says the agency culture is to assume a drug safe until proven otherwise — a dangerous reversal of the appropriate burden of proof. The uncertainty about safety prior to approval makes it imperative that manufacturers and the FDA carefully monitor the experience of recently released pharmaceuticals — but, as Public Citizen has documented, they are not. As a result, consumers must exercise ultimate caution regarding drugs recently placed on the market; Public Citizen’s Dr. Sidney Wolfe advises against taking any drug until it has been on the market for five years.

Even drugs properly approved for use are potentially dangerous, however, and this is the main focus of Jay Cohen’s book. Routine overdosing of all sorts of medications exposes millions of patients to avoidable dangers, he convincingly argues.

While doctors clearly share significant responsibility for misprescribing to patients, Cohen lays blame for the pervasive problem of overdosing on the pharmaceutical industry.

Drug companies seek approval for dosages at the highest levels, he argues, because high doses are more likely to show rapid and significant results.

That enables manufacturers to tout their product as an improvement from existing competitors in the new drug’s class, and fuels their promotional machinery. The problem is that higher doses cause more frequent and severe side effects.

The companies then make their drugs in one-size-fits-all pills, with the one size being a supersize, which they tell doctors is the recommended dose. The manufacturer’s recommendation, including through its appearance in the Physician’s Desk Reference, is the de facto standard for doctors. In repeated instances, Cohen finds that the manufacturer’s recommended dosage is higher than that urged by independent medical reviewers, or even than the manufacturers’ own data suggest is necessary.

The sensible means of prescription, Cohen emphasizes, is to start with the lowest effective dosage, except in emergency or acute situations. Cohen’s mantra is “start low and go slow” — meaning slowly increase the dose if and as necessary. That enables many to avoid side effects they would experience at higher doses while still gaining the drug’s benefits, and establishes a system for tailoring of dosages to meet individual variation.

In case studies looking at Prozac, Viagra, drugs prescribed for women, cholesterol-lowering medications, high blood pressure drugs, and drugs prescribed primarily to seniors, Overdose illustrates the debilitating consequences of failure to follow a common-sense approach to drug prescription. Along with the health effects, many patients simply stop taking medications because the side effects are too severe, sometimes denying themselves access to treatments that, if offered in moderation, could alleviate serious health problems from which they suffer

Resource Rebels: Native Challenges
to Mining and Oil Corporations
By Al Gedicks
Boston: South End Press, 2001
241 pages; $18.00

The last decade has witnessed a remarkable upsurge in indigenous people’s organizing for control of their natural resources and against multinational corporate projects to extract resource wealth from indigenous lands. Indigenous communities have asserted long-ignored rights; refused to tolerate mining, oil and other projects that despoil their land, threaten their health and destroy their livelihoods; networked with each other nationally, regionally and even globally; and worked closely with non-indigenous allies around the world.

Al Gedicks, author of Resource Rebels, has been in the thick of these fights. A professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, he has been a staunch ally of the Sokaogon Chippewa, as they have successfully blocked a slew of major mining multinationals, including Exxon and Rio Tinto Zinc (through its Kennecott subsidiary), from dangerous mining projects in northern Wisconsin.

Gedicks traces the intensification in resource struggles to the processes of corporate globalization. Thanks to new technologies, new developing country receptiveness to foreign investment, new international and national laws, and new financing arrangements, multinational resource companies now scour the globe for natural resources as never before. Much of their attention is focused on indigenous lands, which are typically remote and less likely than more accessible places to have been “developed” in earlier periods.

Simultaneous with the expansion of multinational corporate reach has been the strengthening of indigenous organizing capacity. Drawing on examples from all over the world, Gedicks highlights evolving indigenous strategies of resistance, from the invocation of human rights law to savvy civil disobedience campaigns, from sophisticated political alliances to media campaigns in companies’ home countries, from lawsuits to large-scale demonstrations. Resource Rebels focuses particular attention on the Wisconsin mining conflict and the Freeport McMoRan mine in West Papua (Irian Jaya), Indonesia as case studies of Native challenges to major multinationals.

Increased organizing by indigenous groups and their allies has spawned a political response from the resource companies and their governmental defenders. Gedicks explains how the mining industry has: leveraged political influence to win exemptions from environmental rules that would severely restrict its scope of operation; blackmailed governments, demanding huge compensation for agreeing not to despoil indigenous lands; looked to state and national government to override local and state laws protecting indigenous interests; and undertaken major greenwashing public relations campaigns to convince the public that environmentally devastating projects will have benign consequences. The industry routinely uses these tactics particularly to subvert the resistance of those who will be directly affected by resource projects, which is one reason the broad alliances and international networking of indigenous groups have been so important.

“The international coalitions between environmental, human rights and indigenous groups ... cannot always prevent developmental genocide,” Gedicks concludes, “but, as one industry consultant report emphasized, ‘heightened international scrutiny means that perceived transgressors have no hiding place.’”

Campus, Inc.: Corporate Power in the Ivory Tower
By Geoffry D. White (ed.)
Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000
522 pages; $34.95

Campus-based resistance to corporatism is pivotal to society’s struggle against corporate control. Their idealism, energy and intellectual sophistication make students and academics leaders in the struggle to block the all-consuming and insatiable appetites of giant corporations. In recent years, students have successfully led campaigns to kick Nike and other sweatshop-based manufacturers off campus, cut off school contracts with food service contractors tied to corporations that exploit prison-based labor, and spoil the recruiting efforts of big polluters.

These and other efforts to block administration partnerships with corporations, reform curricula to reflect real-world economics, and build solidarity with union organizing efforts by janitors and teaching assistants have brought to campuses a variety of activism not seen since the 1960s.

Collectively, these can be viewed as the logical response to the ongoing corporatization of institutions of higher education. If universities are the conscience of the culture, then the invasion of corporate culture into every interstice of campus life should be deeply disturbing. Not only do corporate logos regularly appear on college athletic jerseys and scoreboards, but corporations directly fund courses, endow chairs (increasingly named for the corporations themselves) and sponsor “research centers” that bend the research agenda towards the benefit of corporations themselves.

All of this has increasingly undermined the methods of independent inquiry that have been the signature of academic life. When the pursuit of money supplants the pursuit of knowledge, students are converted into consumers, education into job training (with curricula that fail to serve the corporate paymasters — such as the liberal arts — gradually starved budgetarily out of existence), professors into consultants and researchers for hire, and campuses into corporate research parks and profit centers.

The phenomenon is not limited to the United States. The very existence of independent centers of education around the world is threatened by neoliberal economic policies. In Mexico, for instance, the government (with urging from the World Bank) attempted to increase tuition fees for the National University (UNAM), which would have deprived the poorest students of an education that was traditionally guaranteed by the nation’s constitution. The move caused a major student revolt, establishing one of the country’s biggest fronts of resistance against neoliberalism.

In Campus, Inc., Geoffry White has collected useful essays by student activists, well-known academics and organizers who explain the various ways corporations are now controlling much of the higher learning agenda. It is a solid effort whose themes deserve considerable follow-through.



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