While I have cited instances where the #OccupyWallStreet movement is valuable, permit me to cite instances where the current economic status quo is non-valuable and explicitly detrimental. While the focus of the movement is protesting banking institutions, the ramifications of corporate greed go far beyond inequality and unemployment into a myriad of injustices. I can go far beyond five, but for the sake of time and readability, I’ll stop there.
#5: Nike, Outsourcing Slavery
Nike’s use of Chinese sweatshops to manufacture shoes is not exactly an obscure topic. Indeed, this has resulted in one of the most widely-covered boycotts in recent memory. Nonetheless, it represents perhaps one of the best examples of how cost-cutting costs lives. The meager labor laws of developing countries like China, coupled with the disparity between different types of currency, allows companies to outsource work at rates far below living wage in despicable conditions often exceeding 14 hours. Here, the maximization of profits supersedes the business’s responsibility to conduct its work in an ethical and fair manner. Thus, stockholders and boardmembers get rich at the expense of foreign laborers that they will never know.
Thankfully, Nike has since created a board to investigate conditions within their own factories. Nonetheless, Chinese sweatshop labor isn’t isolated to Nike, even the perpetually hip Apple admitted to exploitive practices for iPod manufacturing.
#4: Monsanto, Patenting Genetics
Anyone who has watched Food Inc. is familiar with the cutthroat brutality of the food industry, and Monsanto has been cited as the worst offender, consistently valuing profit over human life, freedom and prosperity. The company acquired a strain of soybean possessing a strand called the “Terminator Gene”, which causes the seeds to produce sterile plants, thus negating the chance of a second harvest. This essentially cuts away any chance of farmer-independence by forcing growers to repurchase seeds annually.
The patenting of the GMO has caused major problems for farmers at all levels. As the world’s largest supplier of seeds, farmers have little choice but to purchase the relatively inexpensive Monsanto seed. As a result, factory farm conditions explode and independent farmers are driven out of business. These exploitive practices led to a mass-exodus of small farmers in Argentina as they failed to make profit as well as an explosion of the farmer-suicide rate in India as independent farmers were plunged into debt.
#3: McDonalds, Causing the Disease of Affluence
By a large margin, McDonalds is far more panned by anticorporate groups as a symbol of the problems of globalization than any other American company. This criticism is not unfair though, and the company has a contentious history that existed before the release of Spurlock’s Super Size Me. For one, in his book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser alleged that the company’s targeting of children in its marketing was responsible for the childhood obesity epidemic. This was the cause of a 2010 San Francisco law banning the inclusion of toys in Happy Meals.
In the bigger picture, what is more problematic is the price disparity between environmentally-sustainable, locally-grown food and processed fast-foods. Anyone with the slightest familiarity with Michael Pollan understands the destructive effects of the mammoth amounts of salt, sugar and saturated fat included in these foods, and the relatively high price of healthy foods relegates the poor to diets comprised of packaged and processed foods. This causes the so-called diseases of “affluence”, namely, diabetes, obesity and certain types of cancers.
#2: Sony, Restricting Intellectual Freedom
The next instance deals with the crux of the open-source movement and its advocacy of property rights when applied to software. When it was released, the Playstation 3 was touted for its ability to run Linux among other operating systems. Free-software advocates praised Sony for allowing users this freedom and the system was lauded by many.
In March of 2010, Sony cut the feature in its 3.2.1 update, thus provoking modders to attempt to restore the feature. Renowned iPhone hacker George Hotz successfully hacked the system and found a way to restore the Linux functionality and released a guide both on his blog and on YouTube. Sony sued Hotz and demanded social media sites to surrender IP addresses of people who viewed Hotz’s guides. After a complicated tangle of legal threats, a Spanish splinter group of Anonymous released a DDOS attack on Sony, thereby bringing down the Playstation Network for a record-setting month.
Sony’s infraction here constitutes an abridgement of personal autonomy and ownership rights. If an individual owns a piece of property, s/he should be able to do whatever he pleases to said property. By essentially cracking down on people possessing knowledge of how to modify the Playstation, Sony directly infringed on both the intellectual and property freedom of property owners. The company stated that the removal of the Linux feature was to prevent piracy, thereby maximizing profits. By suing GeoHotz for teaching people how to hack, Sony essentially abridges the all-important freedom of knowledge, thereby obstructing democracy.
#1: Outsourcing, Subverting Trickle-Down Economics to the Cost of All
The final instance that I will talk about does not deal with a single corporation, but rather an economically unsustainable trend resulting in recession. In order to maximize profits, corporations outsource work to developing countries where products can be manufactured or work can be done for a comparatively low price. While I do support stimulating the economies of developing countries, infant labor laws allow for corporations to pay paltry wages in unethical conditions. Furthermore, while our modern economy is a global one, outsourcing work causes people to lose jobs on the national level. As jobs are shipped overseas, our own economy is neglected and the “trickle-down” effect is subverted. Thus, Americans lose jobs and movements like Occupy Wall Street happen as the percentage unemployed skyrockets.