The corporation is a nameless, faceless entity, has the characteristics of a psychopath, takes over the commons to extend control, and has the single-minded aim of profit – that, in essence, is the story behind Corporations of the world.
With commentary from critical thinkers, scientists and philosophers like Milton Friedman, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky among others, this movie examines the role of the corporation from many different angles – the good, the bad and the ugly.
The movie tracks the evolution of the ‘Corporation’, which grew out of the Industrial Age after the Newcomen Steam engine – a predecessor to the steam engine – was invented in 1712 to the current day Corporation. The purpose of the steam engine was to pump water out of coal mines in Britain, to reduce the time spent physically filling buckets of water. It was not just about helping the labourers, but about increasing productivity per man hour. The early corporations were supposed to be a gift from the people to serve the public good – to build a bridge across a river, to lay good, sturdy roads. However, very soon, the corporation became something other than benevolent.
The documentary brings to light the various ways in which corporations function – undermining governments, societies and communities. Citing the example of water privatization in Bolivia, the documentary illustrates a corporation’s attempt to extend control by taking over the commons, which should in reality be the right of every individual. Corporations approach it with disguised generosity, bringing hope to make a country’s resources better. Eventually, they take control, and access to clean water and air – a fundamental right – is now something that has to be paid for.
This not only includes goods, it also includes human rights and essential services. There are also those who advocate the owning of all commons as the only way to conserve them. One is forced to introspect and ask questions: The survival of our planet is dependent on the survival/ availability of the commons. How then, can we be so unconcerned that we bequeath our commons to private ownership? Will we see a day when we pay for every drop of water that we drink? Already, in the case of land – earlier a commons – we see acres and acres increasingly owned by individuals and corporations.
The most significant fact that emerges is this – today, a corporation has come a long way from merely being a loosely knit group of individuals; it has now become an entity like ‘a person’. According to Noam Chomsky, te corporation is a “special kind of person”; one only concerned with its stockholders and not with its stakeholders i.e. the public. This is enshrined in law and hence not questioned by anyone.
If the Corporation is a person, what are his/her qualities? With the help of criteria laid down by the World Health Organization, used by behaviour analysts to determine disturbed individuals, the film explores this question. These criteria which determines the behaviour of a psychopath include 1) Reckless disregard for the safety of others. 2) Callous unconcern for the feelings of others. 3) Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships 4) Deceitfulness - repeated lying and conning others for profit. 5) Incapacity to experience guilt. 6) Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviour.
And the results are damning - for the scores substantiate that on all the above counts the corporation is no less than a ‘psychopath’. Interestingly, even when a corporate executive may be considered highly respectable and ethical in his behaviour as an individual, as a corporate role holder he often becomes capable of pschopathic behaviour, such a marketing a known dangerous product and not feeling guilty about it. The key here is the way large numbers of employees can be converted into unethical instruments of the corporation.
Interesting contradictions are also examined: though slavery is abolished, the film argues that the practice has assumed the form of sweatshops across the third world. Ironically, many of these companies claim to be socially responsible by funding some other human justice/rights cause, when, a look at their own manufactories are examples of injustices. Experts are talking of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ as the current response to a ‘market need’; it has little to do with altruism.
Monsanto – the infamous biotechnology firm – also finds prominence. Their long run of creating chemicals that they claim are safe, which are then proven false, dates back to Agent Orange. We then hear of them creating rBGH, a growth hormone administered to cows to produce more milk, which made the cows sick and now Bt. Are we going to stand by and wait till it is proven hazardous?
The documentary succeeds in shedding light on the insidious ways in which the Corporation functions. Though the movie is lengthy (two and a half hours) and the narrative tends to get slightly repetitive, the facts are interesting, relevant and point out patterns already articulated by movies like ‘Capitalism – A love story’ . Importantly, it is a chance to examine the current paradigm that is dominating our world and its repercussions on
humanity and the planet.
Sinduja Krishnan is an ecologist with a passion for travel, who wants to visit New Guinea as she is curious about the customs of the local communities there.