Merry Consumermas and a Capitalist New Year
29th December 2012
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Over the Christmas and New Year period the illusion of the humane corporation – that corporations are ethical, in-touch, and caring –is perhaps at its strongest. We consumers are at our least critical as we cosy up with our families around the fire, reunited in the holiday season. Our soft, blinking eyes lap up the plastic corporate messages of goodwill that project from the TV screen, as adverts portray people together in the falling snow, together in the hustle and bustle of a roast dinner kitchen, together at Christmas time.
Take the Coca-Cola advert, for example. Every year whenever the Coca-Cola advert initially appears it seems like there is an explosion of ‘oh wow now it really feels like Christmas’ – as if Coca-Cola are the architects of the season of goodwill, when in reality they are a company with one of the most aggressive legal teams in the world of business. Indeed, there is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to outlining criticism of Coca-Cola regarding its financial, environmental and ethical practices. Yet people associate Coca-Cola with a procession of red trucks on a snowy road and with the feeling that ‘the holidays are coming’, rather than with the alleged bullying and environmentally-hostile.. Public image is everything - and in modern times advertising is by no means the only road corporations can go down in order to work on that image. Indeed, it is no accident that Jeffrey P. Bezos, CEO of online retail giant Amazon, donates large sums of money to charity; or that Larry Page, CEO and co-founder of Google, invests significant resources into renewable energy. Of course, when you are worth $23.2 billion and $20.3 billion respectively, why wouldn’t you support a charity or fund some research – but the point is this: these men are the public figureheads of their companies. Their ‘philanthropic’ actions distract the media spotlight from the financial activity of the companies they themselves run. We look at them and think – ‘oh, they’re nice people – their companies must be nice too – they must be humane corporations.’ But we must remember to sever the illusory link between the personality at the helm of the corporation and the corporation itself: the corporation is there to make money, nothing more. For, indeed, it has recently been uncovered that Amazon and Google – along with fellow billion dollar multinational companies including Starbucks – partake in complex tax avoidance schemes: a far cry from philanthropy. It is scandals such as these that temporarily pierce the illusion of the humane corporation, reveal the dark underbelly of capitalism and spur the public into action.
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