Excerpt of Business As Unusual by Anita Roddick
(Page 4 of 7)
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Or take the example of Walt Disney, chosen by the US corporate watchdog magazine Multinational Monitor as one of the ten worst corporations of 1996, because of its refusal to pay decent wages to contract workers in Thailand, Haiti and even in the US. Haitian contractors producing children's clothing under licence to Disney were paying workers 28 cents an hour, or about 7 cents for every garment they make. In other factories producing Disney clothing, workers earn as little as $1 a day - 12 cents an hour. The workers' call for a living wage - 58 cents an hour - fell on deaf ears at Disney. To interfere would be "an inappropriate use of our authority," said a Disney spokesperson. It would take one Haitian worker producing Disney clothes and dolls 166 years to earn as much as Disney president Michael Eisner earns in one day. Eisner isn't even one of the seven richest men in the world, whose pooled wealth would - it is said - be sufficient to eliminate global poverty.
There is a direct link between this kind of greed, once it becomes widespread in society, to some of the worst social shocks of the day - like the children who murder each other just to get their Nike trainers. Greed without legal and moral constraint can destroy everything worthwhile in life. Wealth can corrode humanity and alienate the wealthy from the human condition.
This is not just a theoretical issue for me, after all. The Body Shop has been successful enough for me to be wealthy compared to the vast majority of the world - though we have resisted the kind of corporate greed I've just described. I know it would be all too easy for me to sink into the seductive comfort of just being a wealthy businesswoman. It would be an easy life, but without fighting for anything there's also a hint of death about it, so I do what I can to keep striving, travelling and fighting. What I see around me also helps keep me alive, and as I have told my children - when I die every penny I've ever earned will be given away to human and civil rights activists.
"When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino," warned Keynes, "the job is likely to be ill-done." In our generation, the casino analogy has also been used by the development economist Susan George as a way of describing how the financial system can be mendacious to a majority of the world's population. It is a world economic casino overseen and policed by no-one, with central bankers acting as croupiers. Crowded about the tables are players using commodities, currencies and derivatives as chips. Outside, politicians act as greeters, like retired prizefighters, yelling "Great to see you!" and bidding us all inside.
But this is no utopia. After two centuries or more of economic growth, the benefits are still only felt by a minority of the world. And while those who operate the casino reap the spoils, the goods for sale in the global economy are usually produced not by the world's victors, but its victims. Not by a charming band of little people singing "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go", but by desperately poor people, often children, engaged in forced and bonded labour, and struggling in sweatshops. Not in the democracies promised by the political economists, but in brutal dictatorships.
Nor to gain the promised rising standards of living, but at the cost of poisoned air, water and land and increasingly unequal wealth. Every day, computer screens on money markets around the world oversee a global flow of no less than $1.5 trillion dollars. The terrifying thing about that figure is that only about three per cent has anything to do with trade at all, let alone 'free' trade between communities. What it has to do with is money. That means that 97 per cent of that enormous sum is speculation and froth. It's money making money.
Copyright Anita Roddick 2000. All rights reserved.