Business Featured Short Conversation

A short conversation about corporations

1: World killers

Let’s talk about corporations.

“Corporations?” I can see you’re dubious. “Aren’t corporations a little dull?”

Dull?

I wish it were so.

 

Corporations are our enemies.

They’re enemies of humanity.

They’re enormously dangerous – and they’re killing our world.

What could possibly be dull about that?

 

“Well, ok, but aren’t you now being a little extreme?”

Dull? Extreme? Which is it?

Let’s keep talking. Let’s see if we can work this out…

 

2: The big ten

China Coal. Saudi Aramco. Gazprom. National Iranian Oil. ExxonMobil. Coal India. Petroleos Mexicanos. Russia Coal. Royal Dutch Shell. China National Petroleum.

These companies?

They’re enemies of our children.

And of their children.

And, if the worst comes to the worst, potentially of all life.

 

These ten companies generate the highest CO2 volumes of any in the world.1

They’re world beating at being world destroying.

 

 

3: The big one hundred

Combine these polluters with the next ninety by volume and you get one hundred companies producing 71% of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions.1

Our enemies?

What else can they be?

They’re taking the biological world to the brink of apocalypse – an apocalypse which will crush our civilisation beyond recognition.

 

Have you seen what happens when a car goes through a crusher? There’s not much you can recognise once the process is finished.

It could be like that for human civilisation.

Or worse.

The efforts of these corporations, unhindered, may transform our planet into something like Mars.2

 

 

4: Mars

Mars: fourth planet from the sun. 6792 kilometres in diameter. Air you can’t breathe.

Lifeless (or virtually so). Dusty. Usually very, very cold.

You want to live on Mars?

Along with Musk?3

That in itself would be like hell on Earth.

 

5: Enemies of humanity

There are other corporations which are no less dangerous, though in different ways. Some specialise in the corruption of governments.

The world’s five largest public petroleum companies spend $200m+ a year on lobbying.4 BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Total, in that order of expenditure, use their extractive wealth to campaign against those who attempt to protect the environment. Their sheer financial power distorts government policy in their favour – in favour of polluting the Earth.

Are they enemies of humanity? If so, they’re not the only ones. There are the big mining companies.5 The arms manufactures. The asset-stripping hedge funds.

There are companies like CocaCola whose packaging fills our oceans with plastic.6 Companies like McDonalds and Tescos, whose ‘cheap’ foods are costing us our forests. Through pollution, direct or indirect, through lobbying against change, through funding campaigns of disinformation, these companies are putting our children’s lives at risk.

 

6: Nice

“I know someone who works in BP,” you say. “She’s pretty senior – but a lot of fun. No one would describe her as an enemy of humanity!”

That’s a good point.

In fact, it’s a crucial point.

You see, it’s not the people who work in these organisations that’s the problem.

Many of them are decent folk.

You’d like them if you met them.

You’d never guess they were servants of extinction.

 

The danger doesn’t come from individuals.

It’s a structural thing.

 

7: Uncomfortable

“Structural?” You shift uncomfortably in your chair. I know already what you’re going to say. “Structural stuff’s definitely dull.”

Well, there’s structure and there’s structure.

Some structure’s complex. Some’s boring.

And some structure can kill you.

 

8: Corporate structure that can kill

Try this for size:

a)  Corporations are amoral

Corporations, to a lesser or greater degree of efficiency, do exactly what they’re designed to do: deliver profit; deliver a service or a product; deliver more profit. Extraneous harm? Damage to the environment? Poor employee working conditions? Child exploitation?

Unless corporations are deliberately designed or compelled to prevent these things, they won’t.

b)  Corporations are growth junkies

More growth? And then more? Companies can’t help themselves. They need to grow. And the bigger they get the bigger they want to be – a hunger fuelled by economies of scale, by the leverage gained from market sector dominance, by the reinforcing feedback loop between growth and share value, by executive rewards for corporate expansion…

So they keep growing. And growing. But because they’re inherently amoral, there’s no Pause button.

There’s nothing inbuilt to say, “Stop growing – it’s causing harm…”

c) More feedback

As corporations grow, the better they become at attacking the regulations that restrain their growth. With increasing financial leverage they dictate to governments and nations what the regulations on growth should be. It’s a reinforcing feedback loop. Corporate growth empowers further corporate growth.

d)  Atomisation

Another negative of growth is this: As businesses grow the sense of personal responsibility of those within them decreases. The employee’s stake in ownership and management decreases proportionally to company size. The larger the company, the easier it becomes to say we’re just there for the wage, that we’re only doing our job, that the corporation’s business is its business.

A thousand employees? Tens of thousands of employees?

Our sense of moral involvement bleeds away.

e)  Hierarchies R Us

Corporations tend toward hierarchy – further contributing to the atomisation and disengagement of those of us lower in the structure. And it’s not just us who get atomised and disengaged. It’s our morality, too.

f)  ‘Instinct parasites’

Like parasites, corporations exploit human nature: our loyalty, our need for approval, the desire to be part of a tribe – they take unfair advantage of these instincts, co-opting us to purposes of their own. The parasites attach themselves to our spinal ganglia. We become corporate loyalists or keen subordinates, our personal morality abandoned at the factory gate or office door.

g)  Psychopaths

Corporations are havens of psychopathy. The dehumanising characteristics of the business world give psychopaths a perfect home.8 We see yet another vicious circle kicking in. The psychopaths rise to become senior managers or executives… they reinforce the amorality of the organisations in which they work… and thus create environments in which further psychopathy is rewarded rather than suppressed.

h)  Mechanistic transference

Corporations are machines, working to predefined objectives and rules. Even those of us who have no psychopathic traits begin to adopt the qualities of machines. We are imprinted with the mechanistic, rule-driven nature of our workplace. We subordinate our empathy, morality and sense of fairness to the mechanical, algorithm-driven activities of the corporation.  As functioning components of the corporate machine we become functionally psychopathic.

No surprise, then, that the perfectly decent people making up the bulk of the workforce offer little hindrance to a corporation’s structurally amoral or immoral behaviour.

 

These features of corporations make them profoundly dangerous. With their natural absence of morality and their relentless appetite for growth, they have become like ultra-competitive cancers, fighting over the body of our world.

Every corporation in the world should have a warning notice attached:

DANGER!

CORPORATE ENTITY!

STRUCTURALLY UNSOUND

 

9: Defenestration

So how do we stop the corporations from endangering the human world?

That’s a big question.

Let’s take a step back and ask a question that’s rather smaller.

What IS a corporation?

A corporation is a group of people working together to achieve specified objectives in accordance with specified rules. Corporations are recognised legally as entities, with rights and powers similar to our own. This, despite their inherent lack of empathy, morality or compassion.

So how do we restrain or control these chilling, rule-bound, objective-obsessed entities, these enemies of the human world?

The answer is shockingly simple.

Their structure is determined by their objectives and rules.

So we adjust their objectives.

We change their rules.

 

www.ethicalintelligence.org  “The ethics of common sense”

Twitter & Facebook: @EthicalRenewal

References/Notes

  1. ‘100 COMPANIES ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR 71% OF GHG EMISSIONS‘ – com, here: https://www.activesustainability.com/climate-change/100-companies-responsible-71-ghg-emissions/
  2. See ‘A short conversation about why we should be scared’ in Volume 1 of this series.
  3. Long-term survival of a human colony on Mars, with a calamitously ruined Earth unable to supply it, is unlikely. The quantity of personnel and supplies required to meet a minimum sustainability threshold is enormous and enormously expensive, and the environmental challenges overwhelming. See Coates, A (2018),‘Sorry Elon Musk, but it’s now clear that colonising Mars is unlikely – and a bad idea’, com, link: https://theconversation.com/sorry-elon-musk-but-its-now-clear-that-colonising-mars-is-unlikely-and-a-bad-idea-100964. You also have to ask, Why? Why not create a similar but far cheaper ‘escape pod’ habitat in the inhospitable environment here on Earth? At least, for the moment, we’ve got an atmosphere worthy of the name.
  4. McCarthy, N. (2019). Oil And Gas Giants Spend Millions Lobbying To Block Climate Change Policies. com. Here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/03/25/oil-and-gas-giants-spend-millions-lobbying-to-block-climate-change-policies-infographic.
  5. Mining companies contribute significantly to CO2 emissions, with Vedanta Resources, Glencore and Rio Tinto being three of the worst on this score, whilst many mines also cause significant local environmental harm. See, e.g. Neil, P. (2020). Major mining companies accused of greenwashing. Environmental Journal. https://environmentjournal.online/articles/major-mining-companies-accused-of-greenwashing/and Tiseo, I (2019), Global mining companies’ CO₂ emissions 2017, com. Link: https://www.statista.com/statistics/729396/co2-emissions-levels-of-mining-companies-worldwide.
  6. Christie, Niall (2019). Coca Cola, Pepsi and Nestle named world’s worst plastic polluters in 2020. The Big Issue. Link: https://www.bigissue.com/latest/environment/worlds-worst-plastic-polluters/.
  7. Heal, Alexandra et al (2020). Soya linked to fires and deforestation in Brazil feeds chicken sold on the British high street. Unearthed/Greenpeace. Link: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2020/11/25/brazil-fires-deforestation-tesco-nandos-mcdonalds/.
  8. Agerholm, Harriet (2016). One in five CEOs are psychopaths, new study finds. The Independent. Link: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/psychopaths-ceos-study-statistics-one-five-psychopathic-traits-a7251251.html

© Luke Andreski 2021. All rights reserved.

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 Short Conversations: During the Plague

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Luke Andreski
Co-founder of the @EthicalRenewal and EthicalIntelligence.Org cooperatives.
http://www.ethicalintelligence.org/
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