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Financial Times: Distrust in the land of psychos and soya milk: By Mark Moody-Stuart (ShellNews.net)

 

By Mark Moody-Stuart

Published: October 30 2004

 

The film The Corporation is of the genre of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 or Bowling for Columbine, built up from a series of interviews (including Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore) with interspersed clips of archive film.

 

The aim is to demonstrate that the modern corporation is a dysfunctional development and that the economic system supported by corporations is seriously flawed. As a polemic it is effective and I have spoken to several, mainly young people, on whom it made a considerable impression.

 

The film suggests that by stealth and through lack of attention from the rest of society, corporations have managed to acquire the legal persona of individuals. Corporations should thus be subject to analysis as though they are individuals. So far, so good. Corporations do indeed develop a kind of collective character or ethos, a composite of those working in them, often built on characteristics inherited from their founders. The same is true of NGOs, newspapers, military units, universities and churches. But like individuals there is a great variety of "character" between organisations.

 

Events in the history of various corporations are reviewed - IBM's alleged provision of data processing to the Nazi holocaust, the effects of a Monsanto product, bad labour conditions in a garment factory in central America, a particularly creepy individual who claims to extract industrial secrets by posing as a headhunter and so on. With the exception of the first, where the Nazi connection has always seemed to me to be tenuous, none of this, at face value, reflects well on the operations concerned.

 

Corporations have done and still do reprehensible things. In the film each incident is ticked off against a human characteristic. The combination of the characteristics turns out to match the profile of a psychopath - QED corporations are psychopathic. Good knockabout stuff, but a judgment of psychopathy of an entire section of the population based on characteristics from half a dozen individuals would be laughed out of court as stereotyping or racism.

 

At this point I should reveal that my wife Judy and I both appear in the film. In 2002, in an interview at a conference in Vancouver for what I understood was to be a television series, I mentioned a demonstration that had taken place at our house in Sussex. At their request I later pointed the producers in the direction of the NGOs who had filmed their efforts in our garden, including the banner proclaiming us as murderers and Judy apologising for the lack of soya milk for the vegan's coffee. Over three hours we had discussed and shared many of the concerns of the demonstrators. Most felt frustrated at not being able to do anything about the issues and I believe that they are certainly right that corporations can contribute to the solutions. After this interlude in the film a commentator remarks that although there may be a few reasonable people in business, the existence of a few reasonable slave owners did not justify that system either.

 

Ray Anderson, of Interface carpets, fares better as the business hero, with a description of Interface's path to closed-loop sustainability. I am an admirer of Ray's work on sustainability. I have never discussed his views on the capitalist market system but I do not believe he is a proponent of radical change. The film suggests no alternative, except perhaps government.

 

Would I recommend the film to business people? Definitely. You will see the deep gulf of distrust which we have to overcome if we are to be able to work together with others to repair some of the large deficiencies of society. Business, economic development and indeed corporations large and small are an essential part of the solution. But at nearly 2 hours I would buy the video so you can fast-forward through the repetitive bits.

 

Mark Moody-Stuart is a former chairman of Shell. "The Corporation" opened in cinemas yesterday.


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