Photograph by Carmel Reid
Wherever you are in the world if you have large corporations, the chances are there is corruption.
The current corporate model is geared towards creating maximum profits for shareholders to receive a good return on their investment and the CEO’s of these companies are paid a high income based on their ability to perform in a way that maximises these profits. When there is little or no regard for how these ends are achieved, you get corruption.
The first time I really understood corruption was some years ago researching for a debate on Genetically Modified (GM) foods and I came across a company called Monsanto.
Monsanto, as far as I could establish, were trying to create seeds for crops that were resistant to insects and diseases and they succeeded but the seeds they produced were only allowed to be used once.
My understanding of third world countries was that people who grew grain, each year at harvest time they would preserve 10% of the grain for replanting next season’s crops. In the case of Monsanto grain, the farmers were not allowed to stockpile any grain and were obliged to buy again from Monsanto year after year. To add to my horror at this, I recently found out that a farmer whose crop had been inadvertently contaminated by Monsanto seeds, was asked by Monsanto to pay their technology fee.
I have been appalled at the whole attitude of appearing to care whilst at the same time maximizing profits for the shareholders – it is totally against humanity. Many shareholders don’t bother to question these unethical practices, they are happy to just accept the dividends not realising that in doing so they divest themselves of responsibility to their fellow man.
Here is another example: I used to love drinking Coca-Cola when I was a child but I have learned so many things about the company that I won’t touch the stuff now. Apart from the fact that it is full of sugar and chemicals that make it a great toilet cleaner, and it used to contain cocaine (but no longer), for me there are ethical concerns about the way it is made.
In a recent report Coca-Cola were claiming how well they are doing with their water consumption, going from using more than 2 litres to make a litre of cola down to 1.7 litres in the next two years.
For me the only drink we really need is water and the fact that Coca-Cola use almost twice the amount of water to make one litre of a drink that is unnecessarily full of sugar and chemicals is appalling.
It is not just these two companies, if you use the Internet and search using the words ‘World’ and ‘Corruption’ you will find a plethora of reports on the weapons industry, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, tobacco, any industry you can name.
This corruption can take many forms: paying low wages, destroying natural resources, lobbying political parties and governments so that laws get passed in their favour, lying about future plans, paying millions in bribes, and creaming off large amounts of money to further line the pockets of people who are already rich, investing in research where they have direct control of the results, sponsoring medical schools so that their pharmaceutical products get promoted, starting unrest and wars in order to sell weapons, and then bombing a country to get the rebuilding contracts. These are just a few examples, pretty much every industry in every country has some level of corruption.
How did we get to this dreadful state of affairs and what can we do about it?
We can do more than we realise. It feels overwhelming because we have stood by and said nothing for so many centuries that the momentum of world-wide corruption feels impossible to stop single-handed. Together we can all contribute to the much-needed change.
Many of us invest money in banks, savings accounts, building societies, funds, insurance, premium bonds, and other financial institutions as well as directly holding shares, and we cannot ignore our responsibility. We buy products from companies without consideration for how they look after their employees, for example Amazon has a reputation for delivering a fast service, but there are many stories from employees of poor treatment. The clothes trade is well known for its slave labour, as is chocolate, coffee and tea. We have a choice – we can choose not to buy from these companies.
We can also look to our own lives, on the basis that the outside world reflects the inner; we can look at what we are doing that is on a small scale, but corruption nevertheless.
I reflected on something I did when walking the dog recently. I dutifully picked up the dog poo in the recyclable plastic bag but then decided to walk a little further to dump the bag in the park litter bins rather than have it festering in our own bin.
A few days earlier I had been horrified at the story of a nuclear power plant in one part of the UK shifting tons of radioactive sand away from their site into the water just off the Welsh Coast6. But here I was doing the same thing – instead of taking responsibility for living with and disposing of my own rubbish, I dumped it elsewhere in the local park bin.
Another example of greed for me is in food – at a micro level many of us binge eat, eating more than our body needs, or sometimes taking a bigger portion than others. This is a micro reflection of what happens in the corporate world: companies do the same, take more than their share, take more than they need, and do not see us all as a whole with everything to be shared equally.
For me the way to stop corruption is to show that there is another way, to live and work in brotherhood in our local neighbourhood.
We can protest in many ways: by signing petitions, by posting reports far and wide, and whistle blowers exist but are often silenced. The corruption is so huge it will be centuries before it stops altogether, but that needn’t stop us looking at our own lives and knowing that how we live as individuals now will truly make a difference in the years to come.