Corporate global invasion

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By Kenny Yum

Generation Next.”

It’s part of PepsiCo Inc.’s ploy to initiate what amounts to a Generation-X takeover.  It is a slogan and anthem to indoctrinate a new army of consumers that will ensure that this corporation maintains a strong market share while it maximizes shareholder value.

Boycott Pepsi.”

It was a backlash of protest that essentially started on North American university campuses in response to Pepsi’s tango with Burma’s military regime.  The mounting pressure on Pepsi and its subsidiaries — KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell — led to a pullback of its operations in that country.

But now, it’s not only ironic, but damned scary, that Pepsi — and other corporate interests — is quickly and quietly snapping black market share on the same campuses that rejected business influence a few years ago.

Is the issue of corporatization merely a two-sided battle of corporate freedom to do business versus young people’s idealism?

Five years ago, maybe.  But today, take a closer look.  Where do you want to go today?

Corporatization is not a localized phenomenon.  Walk down Shanghai, China’s main street and you’ll see Pepsi’s logo affixed to light posts — every light posts.  You’ll find the Nike, McDonald’s, Coke and Microsoft-brand in just about every nation.  These corporations are not only exporting a product, but western ideals (bigger is better) and culture (style over substance).  The hidden export, though, is that when Western capitalism is left unchecked in a politically undeveloped territory, people begin to suffer.

There’s nothing legally wrong with business interest’s expansion beyond a national border.  We support, even encourage, bigger and more efficient ventures.  When firms exert a multinational strength, though, we must pay attention.

Take the U.S. court’s pursuit of Microsoft’s near monopoly on the computer market.  The result of the antitrust case may show how little influence a national legal system has on an international power.

Fall into the Gap.

The student boycott of Pepsi revolved not on the fact that the firm was exploiting gum-chewing store-front clerks who sold pop at your corner store.  The reasoning, in fact, was a global one.  When a multinational entity sets up operations in a place like Burma, it can rely on cheap wages for its labour ($4 a day), a regime that will let them exploit land for pennies and a society that doesn’t have the built-in checks — like human-rights monitors and environmental regulators — that watch for corporate robber barons.

The CEOs argue that investment helps deprived nations.  But lost in the rhetoric is that most of the money is funneled to the government, not the citizens.

The Gap fell into the trap of letting its Latin American and southeast Asian subcontractors operate its floors like sweatshops.  Pressure from groups helped The Gap and Nike agree to a presence of human rights monitors in its foreign operations.  Similarly, Pepsi changed its Burma operations after the university boycott.

Just do it.

The upcoming talks surrounding the MAI (multilateral agreement on investment) — which, in part, releases corporations from national laws, like taxes and environmental legislation — will stroke, if not spark a fire of protest against the growing power of business.

So when you hear about the criticism of corporatization on your campus remember that it’s not a local invasion — it’s a worldwide takeover.  Maybe the young idealists had some foresight.  A few raised voices here led to better conditions a world away.  We’re living in a global village, indeed.

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