Dada is the sun, Dada is the egg. Dada is the Police of the Police.

3/14/2005

Corporate guilt

The Unrepentant Individual is upset that anyone would take umbrage at the recent comments of a Nestle executive, which were the subject of a recent Boston Herald article entitled "Nestle chief rejects the need to 'give back' to communities":

In a stunning broadside to corporate citizenship as Bostonians have come to know it, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe - head of Nestle S.A. - said companies should only pursue charitable endeavors with an underlying intention of making money for investors.

"I think there is good reason for corporate philanthropy," Brabeck-Letmathe said, speaking to Boston College's Chief Executives' Club. "But as managers, we need to be very careful, because it is not our money we're handing out, but the money of shareholders."


The Unrepentant One thinks this is perfectly reasonable:

It is often that corporations are made to feel guilty for being profitable and successful ... Nestle is a successful corporation that employs a lot of people, provides many products at decent prices, and as a result, rewards those shareholders who have chosen to invest in Nestle.

...

It's high time someone actually stands up and explains that successful corporations, by their very existence, are part of the lifeblood of this country. Corporations are not de facto evil, and thus should not be forced to feel guilty for their success.


It's doubtful that very many corporations "feel guilty" about anything, but it is true that corporations are not necessarily evil; their evil is wholly contingent, though perhaps practically inevitable. If you dig deep enough -- and you usually don't have to dig all that deep -- you will find that almost every single major corporation engages in morally irresponsible behavior in order to maximize profits. Nestle may not need to feel guilty for its success, but there are plenty of other things for Nestle to feel guilty about.

Nestle aggressively markets its infant formula in third world countries, even giving samples away to maternity hospitals to give to newborns. The problem is, the newborns often become dependent on the formula -- apparently, the don't learn to suckle well, and thus breastfeeding becomes impossible. But after they're home from the hospital, the free formula stops flowing, and the parents often cannot afford to buy it. As a result, the child dies from various malnutrition-related diseases. See here, here, and here for more information.

Nestle was also criticized over its insistence that the government of famine-stricken Ethiopia pay Nestle some $6 million in compensation for the nationalization of a Nestle subsidiary in the 1970s. Eventually, in the face of negative p.r., Nestle gave in and settled for a mere $1.6 million.

And just for good measure, Nestle has also been accused of violating workers' rights to a safe workplace and doing business with various oppressive governments, and the cosmetics company L'Oreal, which Nestle owns, is known to engage in cruel animal testing.

So you'll have to excuse me if I can't work up much sympathy for multinationals like Nestle. Corporations may not be intrinsically evil, but left to their own devices -- which means absent government regulation -- they tend to get their hands exceedingly dirty.

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