Good Corporation, Bad Corporation
Guillermo C. Jimenez
Elizabeth Pulos
SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology
Good Corporation,
Bad Corporation:
Corporate Social
Responsibility in the
Global Economy
Good Corporation,
Bad Corporation
Corporate Social
Responsibility in the Global
Guillermo C. Jimenez
Elizabeth Pulos
Open SUNY Textbooks
©2016 Guillermo Jimenez and Elizabeth Pulos
ISBN: 978-1-942341-25-3
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About the Textbook
This textbook provides an innovative, internationally-oriented approach to the teaching
of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and business ethics. Drawing on case studies involving
companies and countries around the world, the textbook explores the social, ethical
and business dynamics underlying CSR in areas such as: global warming, genetically-modified
organisms (GMO) in food production, free trade and fair trade, anti-sweatshop and
living-wage movements, organic foods and textiles, ethical marketing practices and codes,
corporate speech and lobbying, and social enterprise. The book is designed to encourage
students and instructors to challenge their own assumptions and prejudices by stimulating
a class debate based on each case study.
About the Authors
Guillermo C. Jimenez, J.D. is a tenured professor in the department of International
Trade and Marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology (S.U.N.Y.) in New York City.
He also holds adjunct teaching appointments at NYU Stern Graduate School of Business,
Brooklyn Law School, Iona College (New York) and at the International School of Management
in Paris, France. Prof. Jimenez teaches courses on international law, international
management, multicultural management, and international corporate citizenship. He is the
author of four previous books, including: the ICC Guide to Export-Import, 4th Edition
(ICC Publishing, 2012), the first book on the new legal discipline of fashion law, Fashion
Law: A Guide for Designers, Fashion Executives and Attorneys (Fairchild Publishing), and a
multi-disciplinary review of political psychology, Red Genes Blue Genes: Exposing Political Irrationality
(Autonomedia, 2009). Prof. Jimenez received his B.A. from Harvard and his J.D.
from the University of California at Berkeley. As an international policy and legal expert, he
has lectured in over 35 countries and collaborated with such intergovernmental organizations
as the United Nations, World Trade Organization and European Commission.
Elizabeth Pulos is Senior Manager of Compliance Administration at Worldwide
Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting ethical
manufacturing around the world through certification and education. She has a BS in
International Trade and Marketing from the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she
was president of the CSR Club and recipient of the World Trade Week, New Times Group
and PVH scholarships, as well as the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.
Prior to FIT, Elizabeth studied Music Performance at Mount Royal Conservatory and
Environmental Science at the University of Calgary. A classically trained violist, she has
performed in New York, Canada, Europe, the UK and Australia.
Reviewer’s Notes
Guillermo Jimenez’s Good Corporation, Bad Corporation is a fair-minded and thoroughly
readable introduction to the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility. It is intended for
students in business management and economics courses, but I think it is accessible to any
college student in any discipline with an interest in the subject.
Chapter by chapter, students are encouraged not merely to master the information but
to engage with it, to think critically about the real-world complexities of business ethics and
to grasp competing rationales on both sides of tangled moral dilemmas. Rather than deal
with abstractions, Jimenez walks the reader through the ways in which questions of CSR
have actually played themselves out. There is no preaching or tendentiousness here. There
is only respect for each student’s capacity to form intelligent opinions that are grounded in
reason rather than in emotion.
Reviewer: Professor Mark Goldblatt, Chair, Department of Educational Skills,
Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY)
About Open SUNY Textbooks
Open SUNY Textbooks is an open access textbook publishing initiative established
by State University of New York libraries and supported by SUNY Innovative Instruction
Technology Grants. This pilot initiative publishes high-quality, cost-effective course
resources by engaging faculty as authors and peer-reviewers, and libraries as publishing
service and infrastructure.
The pilot launched in 2012, providing an editorial framework and service to authors,
students and faculty, and establishing a community of practice among libraries.
Participating libraries in the 2012-2013 pilot include SUNY Geneseo, College at
Brockport, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, SUNY Fredonia, Upstate
Medical University, and University at Buffalo, with support from other SUNY libraries and
SUNY Press. The 2013-2014 pilot will add more titles in 2015-2016.
Chapter 1
Corporations and their Social Responsibility 1
Chapter 2
Debating CSR: Methods and Strategies 20
Chapter 3
Climate Change 39
Chapter 4
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) 53
Chapter 5
Social Entrepreneurship 68
Chapter 6
Marketing Ethics: Selling Controversial Products 84
Chapter 7
Organic Food: Health Benefit or Marketing Ploy? 97
Chapter 8
Fair Trade 109
Chapter 9
CSR and Sweatshops 123
Chapter 10
Corruption in International Business 133
Chapter 11
Corporations and Politics: After Citizens United 147
Chapter 12
Animal Rights and CSR 163
Appendix A
Nuclear Energy Is Our Best Alternative for Clean Affordable Energy
by Emily Campchero 176
Appendix B
Friend, Foe, or Frock: Animal Rights in Fashion
by Briana N. Laemel 195
Appendix C
Monsanto Company and Its Effect on Farmers
by Akiko Kitamura 206
Appendix D
To What Extent Are Small-Scale Coffee Producers in Latin America the
Primary Beneficiaries of Fair Trade? by Larissa Zemke 216
Corporations and their Social Responsibility|1
Chapter 1
Corporations and their Social
Understanding Corporations and CSR
The subject of this book is corporate social responsibility (CSR), a broad term that refers
generally to the ethical role of the corporation in society. Before we define CSR more
precisely and before we explore in depth a number of case studies that illustrate aspects of
the ethical role of corporations, we first need to understand exactly what corporations are,
why they exist, and why they have become so powerful.
Today, the global role of corporations rivals that of national or local governments. In
2000, it was reported that, of the 100 largest economic organizations in the world, 51
were corporations and 49 were countries.1
General Motors, Walmart, Exxon, and Daimler
Chrysler all ranked higher than the nations of Poland, Norway, Finland and Thailand
(in terms of economic size, comparing corporate revenues with national gross domestic
product, or GDP). This trend has continued, and for the past decade, 40 to 50 of the world’s
100 largest economic organizations have been corporations, with the rest being national
economies. In 2012, Walmart was the twenty-fifth largest economic organization in the
world, putting it ahead of 157 countries.2
For corporate employees, as for citizens living in communities dominated by large
corporations, the corporation is arguably the most important form of social organization.
For people such as corporate executives and shareholders, whose lives depend directly on
corporations, it is not surprising that company politics often are considered more relevant
than national or local politics. Corporations are also a major part of the daily lives of the
world’s citizens and consumers. For devoted fans of iconic brands like Nike, Apple, Mercedes,
or Louis Vuitton, the corporation can occupy a psychological niche very much like
that of a member of the family. Indeed, if many teenagers today were forced to choose
between an iPhone and a memorable night out celebrating their parents’ anniversary, the
parents would likely celebrate alone. Similarly, those parents might also be loath to part
with their cherished products. Dad would not easily say goodbye to his Chevrolet Corvette
or Bose stereo, and Mom might not be easily persuaded to part with her Yamaha piano or
Rossignol skis.
At the opposite extreme, for citizens who have been harmed physically or financially
by corporations—like the Louisiana or Alaska residents whose beaches were fouled by
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Corporations and their Social Responsibility|2
massive oil spills, or the thousands of small investors who found their life savings wiped out
by the Ponzi schemes of Bernie Madoff ’s investment company—the corporation can seem
as dangerous as an invading army, or as destructive as an earthquake.
Despite their vast social role, corporations remain poorly understood by the world’s
citizens. While school children everywhere are expected to study the structure and history
of their nation’s government, they are not similarly taught to appreciate the functions,
motivations, and inner workings of corporations. Let us begin with a brief review of the
nature of corporations.
BP oil rig explosion, photo by United States Coast Guard (2010, public domain).
Figure 1.1 The 2010 explosion of a British Petroleum (BP) oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, the
cause of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
Why Do Corporations Exist?
There were no corporations in ancient Egypt, Greece, or Rome; or in imperial China
or Japan; or among the precolonial kingdoms of the Zulu or Ashanti. The Aztecs and Incas
had no corporations, nor did the Sioux, Cherokee, or Navajo. It is true that in some classical
and traditional societies there were certain forms of communal and religious organizations
that anticipated the organizational capacities of corporations, but strictly speaking, they
were not corporations.
Corporations are a relatively modern social innovation, with the first great corporations
dating from about 1600. Since then, the growth of corporations has been phenomenal.
What explains it? Why has the corporate structure been so successful, profitable, and powerful?
Here are a few of the distinguishing characteristics of corporations.
Corporations are Creatures of Law
The first point to make about corporations is that they are not informal organizations
or assemblies. In order to exist at all, corporations must be authorized by state or national
laws. In their daily operations, corporations are regulated by a specific set of laws. Every
country has laws that stipulate how corporations can be created; how they must be managed;
how they are taxed; how their ownership can be bought, sold, or transferred; and
how they must treat their employees. Consequently, most large corporations have large
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legal and government affairs departments. Since the laws and rules that may constrain
corporations are written and enforced by the government, most corporations consider it of
vital importance to seek influence over governmental regulators and lawmakers. In most
countries, the very largest corporations have privileged access to top decision makers. The
extent and reach of corporate influence over governments is one of the most controversial
aspects of corporate existence.
Corporations Raise Capital for Major Undertakings
The first great benefit of corporations is that they provide an organized vehicle for
pooling cash and capital from a large number of investors so that they can undertake major
enterprises. Thus, one great stimulus to the growth of corporations was the rapid growth
of international trade between 1400 and 1700 CE. In that era, sending a large vessel across
the oceans was a major financial and logistical undertaking, which was also extremely risky;
ships were often lost in storms. These early commercial ventures required such large capital
investments that, at first, funding them was only within the reach of royalty. American
schoolchildren are taught that the legendary explorer Christopher Columbus needed the
royal patronage of Queen Isabella of Spain to support the voyages that led to the “discovery”
of the New World. However, as new ocean trading routes were established and the
vast potential for profits from trading spices became known, the first modern corporations
were formed: the English East India Company, chartered in 1600, and its archrival, the
Dutch East India Company, chartered in 1602. These companies are considered the world’s
first multinational corporations, and they possessed most of the hallmarks of corporate
structure that we see today.
Corporations and Other Business Structures
Not all businesses or companies are public corporations. For example, in the US, it is
legal to operate a business in your own name (this is called a sole proprietorship) or with
partners (a partnership). Corporations also come in a bewildering array of forms. Thus, in
the US, we have C corporations, S corporations, benefit corporations (also B corporations), and
limited liability companies (LLCs). In the UK, the term company is preferred to corporation,
and we will notice that the names of most large UK companies followed by the designation
plc or PLC (public limited company), as in Rolls-Royce plc, while smaller companies often
have the designation Ltd (private limited company). In France, large companies are usually
designated SA (société anonyme), while smaller ones may be known as SARL (société à responsabilité
limité). In Germany, large companies are designated AG (Aktiengesellschaft),
while smaller ones are known as GmbH (Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung). In Japan,
the corresponding terms are KK (kabushiki kaisha) and YK (yūgen kaisha).
All of these terms define two basic aspects of corporations: 1) their limited liability
(which applies to all corporations), and 2) their status as a public or private company. Public
companies are allowed to sell their shares on public stock markets and tend to be the larger
type of company.
The Importance of Limited Liability
Why aren’t all businesses sole proprietorships or partnerships, instead of corporations?
The answer is found in the concept of liability, which refers to the risk of loss for debts
incurred by the business, or for damages caused by the business.
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If you start a business as a sole proprietor or via a partnership, you (and/or your partners)
are personally liable for any debts or damage that can be attributed to the particular
business. Let us say that you have $1 million in assets and your good friend has $2 million
in assets. Together, you agree to invest $250,000 each in a pizza delivery business (the
business will start with $500,000 worth of capital). Unfortunately, in the first month of
operation, one of your drivers negligently causes a car accident and severely injures a family
driving in another car. The family sues you for their injuries and they obtain a court judgment
ordering you to pay $3 million in compensation. Even though you had intended to
invest only $250,000 in the business, now your entire fortune and that of your friend are
likely to be wiped out in satisfying that court judgment. The same sort of result could arise
if your business ran up $3 million in debt that it was unable to pay back. Thus, the founder
of a sole proprietorship exposes his/her entire personal assets to the risk that the assets will
be seized to satisfy liabilities incurred by the business.
The result can be quite different for a corporation. One of the principal advantages of
a corporation, from an investor’s point of view, is that the corporation provides a legal a
“shield” from liability. A shareholder of a corporation only risks the stock that the shareholder
owns. The shareholder’s personal assets are not in jeopardy. When a corporation
suffers an adverse legal judgment and does not have sufficient funds to satisfy the judgment,
the corporation simply goes bankrupt. The party or parties who have been injured cannot
sue the owners—the shareholders—of the corporation because the corporation acts as a
shield from liability.
Why does society allow the shareholders of a corporation to retreat behind the corporate
shield, while we do not allow the same for owners of a so-called mom-and-pop
business in the form of a sole proprietorship? The main purpose of the liability-shield is to
encourage investment in corporations. People are more willing to invest in a corporation
(by acquiring stock) because they need not fear that their personal assets can be seized to
satisfy the business’s debts or liabilities. The underlying implication is that corporations and
corporate investment provide important benefits for society, which explains why governments
have been willing to adopt laws that protect and encourage corporate ownership. As
many U.S. states learned in the nineteenth century, it can make sound economic sense to
attract large corporations because they often become major employers and taxpayers. Corporations
may enhance the ability of the local economy to compete with foreign economies
that are supported by the productivity of their own corporations.
In many instances the ability of corporations to retreat behind the corporate shield
has been controversial. For example, several major airlines (notably American Airlines)
have been accused of choosing to declare bankruptcy over finding a way to pay high wages
to their pilots and cabin personnel.3
The airlines were attacked by labor unions as having
used the bankruptcy as a tactic to avoid meeting the union’s demands for fair wages. Such
corporations are able to benefit from an option provided by US bankruptcy law, known as
Chapter 11 reorganization, which allows them to enter bankruptcy temporarily. The courts
appoint a trustee to run the corporation, and the trustee is empowered to take any actions
necessary to reduce the corporation’s debts, including revoking labor agreements with
employees. Such corporations can later “emerge” from bankruptcy with fewer employees or
with employees earning lower salaries.
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Corporations Permit Wealth Creation and
Speculation in Stocks
While all corporations possess limited liability, not all of them are permitted to raise
money in the stock market or have their shares traded in stock markets. Here, we find the
important distinction between public corporations, which may have their shares traded on
stock markets, and private corporations, which may not have their shares traded on stock
As a rule, large corporations and multinational corporations choose to do business as
public corporations because big companies have such enormous capital needs that they may
best raise funds by placing stock for sale in public stock markets. However, this is not always
the case; there are some very large corporations that choose to remain private, which means
that they raise money directly from investors rather than from making stock available on
stock markets.
On the whole, ownership of a corporate interest in the form of stocks is more freely and
easily transferable than ownership of an interest in a sole proprietorship or partnership. If
you want to sell a mom-and-pop store, you generally have to sell the whole business; you
cannot sell a small portion when you need to raise money.
If you are one of the members of a partnership and you want to sell your share, you
will generally have to get prior approval from the other partners; needing to do so may
discourage possible investors because they may not want to go to the trouble of seeking approval
from your partners. However, if you inherit a thousand shares of stock in Apple from
your wealthy aunt (which, in 2013, would have had an approximate value of $420,000),
and you find that you need extra money, you can sell one hundred shares (or about $42,000
worth). Such a transaction is easy because there are lots of investors eager to own Apple
shares and you do not need anyone’s approval. This ease of transferability also encourages
people to invest in stock instead of in other businesses, because it is so easy to sell corporate
stock as needed.
When a corporation grows and/or becomes more profitable, the shareholders benefit
financially in two ways. First, the corporation will often distribute a portion of its profits
to the shareholders in the form of dividends, a certain annual payment per share of stock.
Second, if a corporation is growing rapidly and is expected to be very profitable in the
future, more investors will want to own its stock and the price of that stock will increase.
Thus, ownership of stock is an investment vehicle that provides many advantages over
other types of investments. For one thing, you can own stock without having to personally
take part in the management of the company. In addition, you can sell all or part of your
ownership when you need the funds. Finally, if the corporation is very successful, it will not
only pay a steady revenue stream—through dividends—but your shares will become more
valuable over time.
The advantages of stock ownership as an investment vehicle explains the growth of the
world’s great stock exchanges, such as the New York Stock Exchange or the Hong Kong
Stock Exchange. Stock exchanges are like enormous flea markets for stock, because you
can either buy or sell stock there. Unlike the goods available in ordinary markets, though,
the price of stocks fluctuates constantly, literally minute by minute. A stock that was worth
$10 last year may now be worth as much as $1000 or as little as $0.10. Thus, stock markets
are also somewhat like casinos or lotteries, because they allow investors to speculate on the
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Speculation has its pros and cons. The potential for wealth creation through stock
ownership has spawned an important industry that employs hundreds of thousands of
people and generates vast profits: financial services. Stock brokerages, investment banks,
and trading houses have arisen to provide expert guidance and services to investors.
American colleges and universities have developed a highly collaborative and perhaps
even symbiotic relationship with the financial services industry. For one thing, since there
are many jobs and professional occupations in financial services, virtually all universities
offer courses and majors in finance or financial economics, and many also have graduate
business schools that prepare students for careers in the financial services industry.
Perhaps equally importantly, most colleges and universities depend on private and
charitable donations to help defray the cost of running the institution and, consequently, to
keep tuition rates and fees lower (although many students will find it hard to imagine how
tuition could be any higher). When wealthy individuals and corporations make donations
or charitable contributions to colleges and universities, they often do so by giving corporate
stock. Even when they make a cash donation, the university may find that it is most
financially convenient to use that cash to acquire corporate stock. As a result, the largest
universities have amassed vast holdings of corporate stock, among other investments. The
financial resources of a university are often held in the form of a special trust known as an
endowment. Universities prefer not to sell off parts of the endowment but rather seek to
cover costs by using the interest and dividends generated by the endowment.
At times, the corporate holdings of universities have become quite controversial. For
example, in the 1970s and 1980s, a growing student movement called on universities to
divest (to sell all their stock) in any corporations that did business with the racist apartheid
regime that controlled South Africa at that time. Many commentators believe that it was
this pressure on corporations that led to the fall of the apartheid regime and the election of
South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela.
Corporations Can Have Perpetual Existence
It is possible but rare for family-owned businesses to remain sole proprietorships for
several generations; more commonly, they eventually become corporations, or they are sold
or transferred to a new business operator. Very often, a small business is sold when the
founder dies, because the founder’s children or heirs either do not want to work in the
family business or are not as gifted in that business as was the founder. Even in successful,
family-owned businesses where a child or relative of the founder inherits the business, it
still happens that after a generation or two, no further family members are qualified (or
wish) to join the business, and the business must be sold.
However, corporations are structured from the outset to have a potentially perpetual
existence, because corporations do business through their officers and executives rather than
through their owners. Although it is possible for owners to have dual roles as shareholders
and as executives, it is not necessary. One common scenario is for the founder of the corporation
to act as its chief executive officer (CEO) until such time as the corporation becomes
so large and successful that the shareholders prefer to transfer management responsibility
to an executive with specific professional experience in running a large corporation.
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Corporations and their Social Responsibility|7
Disadvantages of the Corporate Form
Separation of Ownership and Management
One potential disadvantage of the corporate form (from the point of view of its
founders) is that, as the corporation grows, the original founders may lose control and even
be pushed out of the corporation by newcomers. This happened to Steve Jobs, the legendary
cofounder of Apple, who was pushed out of his leadership role in 1985 by Apple’s board
of directors, only to return in the mid-1990s and retake his role as CEO. More recently,
in 2013, George Zimmer, the founder of the apparel retailer Men’s Wearhouse, was terminated
as chairman of the board by his own board of directors. This situation can arise
because, as a company grows, the founders may be tempted to part with some portion of
their equity by selling stock to new investors. Corporations are ultimately controlled by the
board of directors, who are voted into office by the shareholders. If a founder allows his or
her share of corporate stock to drop beneath 50%, then the founder will no longer be able
to elect a majority of the board of directors, and may become subject to termination as an
officer by the board. The board of directors is thus a sort of committee that controls the
fate of the corporation, and it does this principally by choosing a CEO and supervising the
CEO’s performance.
Dual Taxation
Although the tremendous growth in the number and size of corporations, and their
ever-increasing social role, is due in part to their advantages as an investment vehicle, there
are some financial disadvantages worth mentioning. One of the most important is so-called
dual taxation, which refers to the practice in most countries of taxing corporate profits
twice: once when the corporation declares a certain amount of profit, and again when the
corporation distributes dividends to shareholders. The complexity of corporate tax regulations
is such that even small corporations must frequently employ specialized accountants
and attorneys to handle their tax returns.
Quarterly Financial Reporting for Publicly Traded
Another disadvantage applies only to publicly traded corporations. Although all corporations
are subject to a number of government regulations, the highest degree of regulation
applies to public corporations, which raise capital by selling stock in stock markets. Large
corporations are often willing to submit to these burdensome regulations because there are
strong benefits to being traded on a stock exchange, the most important of which is the
ability to raise a great deal of initial funding when the stock is first made available for trade.
This first public sale of stock is known in the US an initial public offering or IPO. In two
famous recent examples, Google raised $1.67 billion with its IPO in 2004, and Facebook
raised $18 billion with its IPO in 2012.
Despite the allure of additional financing, a company that is traded on a stock market
must make a great deal of financial information publicly available, usually on a quarterly
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basis, four times per year. This obligation can be quite onerous because it requires the
corporation to employ a number of internal accountants as well as outside auditors. In
addition, the information that is publicly revealed can be of strategic value to the corporation’s
competitors. Moreover, the need to make frequent quarterly reports on the company’s
ongoing profitability can have a negative impact on corporate strategy, because executives
may become fixated on short-term goals while neglecting long-term goals. In light of these
disadvantages, it is not surprising that some public corporations decide to take their shares
off the stock markets in a process that is known as going private, which is the opposite of
an IPO. Other corporations simply avoid going public in the first place. Thus, there are also
some very large corporations, such as the multi–billion-dollar engineering firm Bechtel,
which prefer to remain private even though they could raise investment capital with an
IPO. Such companies prefer to raise capital by other means to avoid the requirements of
quarterly earnings reports and therefore not revealing financial information to competitors.
Source: Toms Shoes, photo by Vivianna Love (CC BY 2.0, 2009)
Figure 1.2 A well-worn pair of Toms Shoes; Toms gives away free shoes to a poor child for every
pair it sells.
Corporate Social Responsibility
In this book, we will make continual reference to the concept of corporate social responsibility,
but it is important to realize that CSR is an evolving concept that can be analyzed
from multiple perspectives. The term CSR may be used quite differently depending on
whether a given speaker is looking at it from the point of view of a corporation, a government,
a charity sponsored by the corporation, a citizen employed by the corporation, a
citizen who has been harmed by the corporation, or an activist group protesting abuses of
corporate power. Let us review key concepts and terms related to CSR, starting with CSR
CSR: Definition
We define CSR simply and broadly as the ethical role of the corporation in society.
Corporations themselves often use this term in a narrower, and less neutral, form. When
corporations have a director of CSR or a committee in charge of CSR, or when they men-
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Corporations and their Social Responsibility|9
tion CSR prominently in their mission statements, they are invariably using the term to
mean “corporate actions and policies that have a positive impact on society.” Corporations
refer most frequently to CSR when they speak of civic organizations they support, or to
corporate environmental or social policies.
One related term here is corporate “compliance.” Not only are large corporations subjected
to a host of governmental regulations, many of which have social objectives (such as
avoidance of discrimination, corruption, or environmental damage), but many corporations
also have set up internal guidelines. In order to make sure that a corporation respects or
complies with all these laws, regulations, and norms, both internal and external, corporations
increasingly employ “compliance” officers or executives. For example, large fashion
and apparel companies frequently place a specific executive in charge of “human rights
compliance,” to ensure that its clothing was manufactured in safe factories that respect
labor laws and do not employ children.
Corporate Philanthropy
Corporate philanthropy refers to a corporation’s gifts to charitable organizations. There
is an implication that the corporation’s donations have no strings attached, which is probably
quite rare. At a minimum, most corporations expect that their donations will be publicly
attributed to the corporation, thus generating positive public relations. When corporations
make large cash gifts to universities or museums, they are usually rewarded with a plaque,
or with a building or library named after the donor. Such attributions burnish the corporation’s
public image, and in such cases we are not dealing with true corporate philanthropy,
strictly speaking, but something more in the nature of marketing or public relations.
Stakeholder Capitalism
Stakeholder capitalism refers to a conception of the corporation as a body that owes a
duty not only to its shareholders (the predominant American view) but also to all of its stakeholders,
defined as all those parties who have a stake in the performance and output of the
corporation. Stakeholders include the company’s employees, unions, suppliers, customers,
local and national governments, and communities that may be affected by corporate activities
such as construction, manufacturing, and pollution. Stakeholder capitalism is a concept
that was largely developed in Europe and reflects the widespread European attitude toward
corporate governance, which accepts a great degree of government and social oversight
of the corporation. The American approach is often described, in contrast, as laissez-faire
(meaning “leave alone”), in that corporations are granted more freedom of operation than
in Europe. One example of a stakeholder approach is in the German practice known as
codetermination, in which corporations are required to provide a seat on the corporation’s
board of directors for a union representative. This is intended to oblige the corporation to
be more cognizant of worker needs and demands, and to ensure that corporate strategies
are not concealed from workers.
Cause-Related Marketing
Cause-related marketing (CRM) refers to a corporation’s associating the sales of its
products to a program of donations or support for a charitable or civic organization. An
example is provided by the famous Red campaign, in which corporations such as Gap
pledged to contribute profits from the sale of certain red-colored products to a program
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for African development and alleviation of AIDS-related social problems. The basic idea
of cause-related marketing is that the corporation markets its brand at the same time that
it promotes awareness of the given social problem or civic organization that addresses the
social problem. Another well-known example is the pink ribbon symbol that promotes
breast-cancer awareness and is used prominently in the marketing of special lines of products
by many corporations, such as Estée Lauder, Avon, New Balance and Self Magazine. In
addition to marketing products with the pink-ribbon symbol, Estee Lauder has made support
for breast cancer awareness one of the defining features of its corporate philanthropy.
Thus, Estee Lauder also frequently refers to such charitable contributions, currently on the
order of $150 million, in its corporate communications and public relations documents.4
Sponsorship refers to a corporation’s financial support for sports, art, entertainment,
and educational endeavors in a way that prominently attributes the support to the particular
corporation. Sponsorship can be considered a form of marketing communications because
it seeks to raise awareness and appreciation of the corporation in a given target audience.
Arguably, of course, sponsorship benefits society, because society appreciates sports, art,
and entertainment. However, in the case of sponsorship, as opposed to philanthropy, the
sponsors expect a clear return. Indeed, many corporations carefully analyze the benefits of
their sponsorship activities in the same way they measure the impact of their marketing
and advertising.
Many prominent global sponsors are companies that find it difficult to advertise through
other channels. For example, Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company and owner
of the Marlboro brand, which finds its global advertising restricted due to a number of bans
and limits on tobacco advertising, has invested heavily in sponsorship. Philip Morris has
long been the number one sponsor of Formula 1 race car competitions, and it is impossible
for a spectator to watch one of these races without observing, consciously or otherwise,
huge billboards and banners featuring the famous red-and-white Marlboro logo. Similarly,
since alcohol advertising is also increasingly scrutinized, it is not surprising that Budweiser
has followed a similar tactic and become the principal sponsor of NASCAR racing. Pharmaceuticals
have also become an area subjected to tight advertising and marketing controls;
therefore, Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, engages in scores of sponsorship
activities, notably in its support for the Paralympics, an Olympic-style competition for
physically-handicapped athletes.
Sustainability has become such an important concept that it is frequently confused
with CSR. Indeed, for some companies it seems that CSR is sustainability. This is perhaps
not surprising, given the growing media attention on issues related to sustainability.
Sustainability is a concept derived from environmentalism; it originally referred to the
ability of a society or company to continue to operate without compromising the planet’s
environmental condition in the future. In other words, a sustainable corporation is one that
can sustain its current activities without adding to the world’s environmental problems.
Sustainability is therefore a very challenging goal, and many environmentalists maintain
that no corporation today operates sustainably, since all use energy (leading to the gradual
depletion of fossil fuels while emitting greenhouse gases) and all produce waste products
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Corporations and their Social Responsibility|11
like garbage and industrial chemicals. Whether or not true sustainability will be attainable
anytime in the near future, the development and promotion of sustainability strategies has
become virtually an obsession of most large corporations today, as their websites will attest
in their inevitable reference to the corporation’s sincere commitment to sustainability and
responsible environmental practices. No corporation or corporate executive today will be
heard to say that they do not really care about the environment. However, if we observe
their actions rather than their words, we may have cause for doubt.
We will explore specific cases related to sustainability in later chapters. For now, let us
just note that CSR, strictly speaking, is broader than environmental sustainability because
it also refers to a corporation’s ethical relationship to its employees, shareholders, suppliers,
competitors, customers, and local and foreign governments.
More recently, many people have been using the term sustainability also to refer to
social and political sustainability, which brings the concept closer to that of CSR.
Greenwashing refers to corporations that exaggerate or misstate the impact of their
environmental actions. By the early 1990s a great number of consumer products were being
promoted as “environmentally friendly,” “eco-friendly,” or “green,” when in fact there was
little or nothing to justify the claims. In 1991, an American Marketing Association study
revealed that 58% of environmental ads contained at least one deceptive claim. As a result,
many advertising regulatory bodies around the world adopted specific advertising codes to
regulate the honesty and accuracy of environmental claims in advertising. For example, in
the UK, a producer of a recycling bin advertised that it helped buyers “save the rainforests”
by encouraging recycling of plastic and paper products. The advertisement was found to
be misleading because most paper products sold in the UK were not made from wood in
tropical rainforests, but from wood harvested on northern European tree farms.
In Norway, car manufacturers and dealers are prohibited from claiming that their cars
are green, eco-friendly, etc., because in the view of the Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman,
it is impossible for cars to be beneficial for the environment; the best they can do is reduce
the environmental damage they cause.5
Greenwashing is not only a corporate practice but a political one as well, as politicians
everywhere promise to undertake actions to improve the environment. Thus, the administration
of former US President George W. Bush was widely criticized for promoting
legislation under the name of the “Clear Skies Initiative,” when in fact the purpose of the
legislation was to weaken antipollution measures.6
Social Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise
Social entrepreneurship and social enterprise refer to the use of business organizations
and techniques to attain laudable social goals. As we will discuss further in Chapter 6, Blake
Mycoskie decided to create TOMS Shoes largely as a reaction to his travels in Argentina,
which had exposed him to terrible poverty that left many school-age children without
shoes. An important part of the corporate mission of TOMS Shoes lies in its pledge to give
away a free pair of shoes for every pair purchased by a customer. TOMS Shoes’ model has
been imitated by many others, including the popular online eyewear brand, Warby Parker.
The difference between social entrepreneurship and CSR is that, with social entrepreneurship,
the positive social impact is built into the mission of the company from its
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Corporations and their Social Responsibility|12
founding. Other examples of social entrepreneurship include The Body Shop, Ben & Jerry’s
ice cream, and Newman’s Own. The Body Shop was founded by noted activist Anita Roddick
who insisted that all products be derived from ingredients which were natural, organic,
and responsibly sourced. Her employment policies famously allowed every employee to
take off one day a month from work to engage in social or community projects. Similarly,
Ben & Jerry’s was founded to promote the use of organic, locally-produced food. The company’s
founders insisted on a policy that executives earn no more than seven times the
salary of factory line-workers (although this policy was eventually relaxed when it became
difficult to recruit a competent CEO at those wages). Ben & Jerry’s engaged in a number
of high-profile political activities in which they encouraged their employees to participate,
such as protesting the building of the Seabrook nuclear power plant in Vermont. Newman’s
Own was founded by film actor Paul Newman and his friend A. E. Hotchner with the goal
of selling wholesome products and giving away 100% of the profits to charitable ventures.
To date, Newman’s Own has given away over $200 million.
Social Marketing
Social marketing refers to the use of business marketing techniques in the pursuit of
social goals. Often, governments and nonprofit organizations make use of social marketing
to make their points more forcefully and effectively to a wide audience. Classic examples
are the extremely powerful TV commercials warning of the dangers of unsafe driving or of
failing to use seatbelts. Cinematic techniques are employed to portray dramatic, arresting
images of crumpled cars and bodies, children and mothers crying. The source of social
marketing advertisements is usually a local government or nonprofit organization.
Social marketing is usually used to try to convince citizens to drive more safely, eat
better, report child and domestic abuse, and avoid various forms of criminality and drug
use. As with ordinary advertising, social marketing can seem overdone or maudlin, and
some social marketing ads have been mocked or considered silly. For example, former First
Lady Nancy Reagan participated in a social marketing campaign that urged young people
to “Just Say No” to drugs, an approach which was ridiculed as simplistic by many. Noted
radical activist Abbie Hoffman said that telling drug users to “just say no” to drugs was like
telling manic-depressives to “just cheer up.” Despite that, drug use in America declined
over the time period that the campaign was in progress, though there is no evidence that
any part of this decline was due to the campaign.
Business Ethics
Business ethics is an academic discipline closely related to CSR, but one that tends to
use the tools of philosophy to formally analyze the ethical role of individuals and corporations.
Although the terms are quite similar, there are differences of nuance. For example,
although academics who study business ethics tend to focus on corporations, the term itself
could also apply to the ethical dilemmas of sole proprietors or of individuals involved in
commercial situations, such as a private party trying to sell a used car that he knows has a
hidden mechanical flaw. While the term CSR tends to be used by corporations and social
entrepreneurs in a way that assumes a positive connotation, business ethics is used in a more
neutral and even critical fashion, as one might expect, given the perspective of writers who
are not beholden to corporations. Indeed, when the media uses the term business ethics, it is
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Corporations and their Social Responsibility|13
often in a negative sense, to draw attention to instances of deception or fraud on the part
of corporations or executives.7
Source: United States Marshals Service, 2004, public domain
Figure 1.3 The mug shot of former Enron top executive Ken Lay. Lay was eventually convicted
on 10 counts of fraud; while awaiting sentencing of up to 100 years in prison he died of a heart
attack in 2006.
White-Collar Crime
White-collar crime refers to fraudulent or financially-oriented criminal activities by
high-status professionals or businesspeople. The term white-collar crime was coined by
sociologist Edwin Sutherland, who defined it as a “crime committed by a person of respectability
and high social status in the course of his occupation” in a 1939 speech entitled “The
White Collar Criminal.” Although the term applies to financial fraud committed by individuals
who are not associated with corporations, there is a strong linkage to corporations
in actual practice because corporate executives are often well-placed to commit crimes of
fraud and corruption. However, a distinction should be drawn between white-collar crime
and corporate crime, which refers to crimes for which the corporation itself is responsible.
In many cases, such as in violations of US laws against bribing foreign government officials,
it may be unclear whether the matter is better classified as white-collar crime or corporate
crime. In the law, it may depend on whether the corporation’s senior executives were aware
of and supported the acts of criminality.
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Corporations and their Social Responsibility|14
While there is a popular perception that punishments for wealthy white-collar criminals
are less severe than for poor and middle-class criminals, the situation appears to have
changed in light of the severe penalties for white-collar crime mandated by the 2002 Sarbanes–Oxley
Act, which was adopted by the US Congress in the wake of the notorious
Enron scandal. As a result, former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, the architect of Enron’s
frauds, was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Bernie Ebbers, former CEO of WorldCom, was
convicted of fraudulent misstating of billions of dollars of WorldCom earnings, resulting in
a sentence of 25 years. More recently, Bernie Madoff, whose vast Ponzi scheme defrauded
investors of up to $65 billion, was sentenced in 2009 to 150 years in prison for his crimes,
effectively a life sentence without possibility of parole.
Topic for Debate: Regulation of
It is one of the basic premises of this book that we do not want you merely to read and
assimilate the material. We want you to engage it personally in an effort to develop and
refine your own opinions. Therefore, each chapter will feature a topic for debate (more detailed
rules and suggestions for debate will be set forth in the next chapter). Most chapters
will feature an in-depth case study based on a real-life business situation, or a fictionalized
account of a real business situation or social controversy. In this chapter we will use what
we will call a “mini-case study”—a sort of thought experiment, based on a simple set of
facts as follows:
Mini-Case Study: The Case of the Undecided Voter
Your close friend, Jane Goodie, is a college student who has registered to vote in her
first election. Jane’s father has been a lifelong Republican voter and Jane’s mother a lifelong
Democrat. As Jane grew up, she often listened to her parents debating politics at the dinner
table. More than once, Jane found herself disconcerted and discouraged by the appearance
of biased thinking on the part of one or both of her parents; they rarely seemed to agree or
listen to each other in their political debates. Sometimes, Jane even wondered to herself,
“Why do they vote at all, since their votes obviously just cancel each other out?” However,
since her parents have strongly urged her to vote as soon as she is old enough, and since they
have also urged to make up her own mind about which candidate to choose, she is looking
forward to expressing her own views at the ballot box. But first she must make up her mind.
Since this is not a presidential election year, the most important office up for election is
that of Senator. Both senatorial candidates are very impressive and illustrious people: One
is a graduate of Harvard Law School, the other of Yale Law School. The Democratic, or
“liberal,” candidate pursued an impressive career as an environmental lawyer before being
elected to a position as mayor of one of the leading cities in your state. The Republican, or
“conservative,” candidate enjoyed an impressive career as an advisor to a number of successful
start-up companies before also being elected to a position as a mayor of one of the
leading cities in your state.
Both candidates appear to be exceptionally bright, eloquent, and dedicated to public
service. In this particular campaign, they both espouse very similar views on foreign policy
and social policy. In fact, the main difference between the candidates comes down to one
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Corporations and their Social Responsibility|15
thing: their attitude toward government regulation of business, and of large corporations in
particular. The Democratic candidate, citing recent examples of fraud, pollution, and layoffs
at major corporations, is calling for tighter regulation of corporations. The Republican candidate,
citing the importance of the business sector as a major taxpayer and creator of jobs,
calls for a loosening and reduction of government regulation of business.
Your friend does not know who to vote for, but believes that she should decide on the
basis of the single issue on which the candidates differ: the regulation of business. Your
friend asks for your advice.
You are therefore asked to develop the strongest reasons for supporting one of the
following two possible responses:
Affirmative Position: Jane should vote for the Democratic candidate.
Possible Arguments:
• It is better to maintain tight regulation of businesses and corporations, given their
propensity to cause or contribute to social harms.
• Corporations are able to lobby governments to shield themselves from regulation.
• Corporations are able to attain more power and influence than citizens.
Negative Position: Jane should vote for the Republican candidate.
Possible Arguments:
• It is better to liberate businesses and corporations from onerous and expensive
government regulation.
• Corporations are major employers and job-creators.
• Corporations can undertake enormous projects beyond the scope of small business
or individuals.
• Corporations stimulate research and innovation.
The readings below are meant only to stimulate your thinking about possible perspectives
to take on corporations. Please supplement them with your own research.
1.1 The Corporation as a “Psychopathic” Creature
Bakan, Joel. “Business as Usual,” in The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and
Power, 28-59. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
Bakan, Joel. “The Externalizing Machine,” in The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of
Profit and Power, 60-84. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
Business leaders today say their companies care about more than profit or loss, that
they feel responsible to society as a whole, not just to their shareholders. Corporate social
responsibility is their new creed, a self-conscious corrective to earlier greed-inspired visions
of the corporation. Despite this shift, the corporation itself has not changed. It remains, as
it was at the time of its origins as a modern business institution in the middle of the nineteenth
century, a legally designated “person” designed to valorize self-interest and invalidate
moral concern. Most people would find its “personality” abhorrent, even psychopathic, in a
human being, yet curiously we accept it in society’s most powerful institution. The troubles
on Wall Street today, beginning with Enron’s spectacular crash, can be blamed in part on
the corporation’s flawed institutional character, but the company was not unique for having
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Corporations and their Social Responsibility|16
that character. Indeed, all publicly traded corporations have it, even the most respected and
socially acceptable….
As a psychopathic creature, the corporation can neither recognize nor act upon moral
reasons to refrain from harming others. Nothing in its legal makeup limits what it can do to
others in pursuit of its selfish ends, and it is compelled to cause harm when the benefits of
doing so outweigh the costs. Only pragmatic concern for its own interests and the laws of
the land constrain the corporation’s predatory instincts, and often that is not enough to stop
it from destroying lives, damaging communities, and endangering the planet as a whole….
Far less exceptional in the world of the corporation are the routine and regular harms
caused to others—workers, consumers, communities, the environment—by corporation’s
psychopathic tendencies. These tend to be viewed as inevitable and acceptable consequences
of corporate activity—“externalities” in the coolly technical jargon of economics.
“An externality,” says economist Milton Friedman, “is the effect of a transaction…on
a third party who has not consented to or played any role in the carrying out of that
transaction.” All the bad things that happen to people and the environment as a result of
corporations’ relentless and legally compelled pursuit of self-interest are thus neatly categorized
by economists as externalities—literally, other people’s problems.
1.2 “EPA Costs US Economy $353 Billion per Year”
Young, Ryan. “EPA costs US economy $353 billion per year.” The Daily Caller.
Last modified December 27, 2012.
Transparency is the lifeblood of democracy. Washington needs more of it, especially in
the all-too-opaque world of regulation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for
example, is the most expensive federal regulatory agency. Its annual budget is fairly modest
in Beltway terms, at a little less than $11 billion, but that’s not where the vast majority of
its costs come from. Complying with EPA regulations costs the US economy $353 billion
per year—more than 30 times its budget—according to the best available estimate. By way
of comparison, that is more than the entire 2011 national GDPs of Denmark ($332 billion)
and Thailand ($345 billion)…
In the last edition of the Unified Agenda, the fall 2011 edition, the EPA had 318 rules
at various stages of the regulatory process. Nobody outside the agency knows how many
rules it currently has in the pipeline. All in all, 4,995 EPA rules appeared in the Winter
Unified Agenda from 1999–2011. Over the same period, 7,161 EPA final rules were published
in the Federal Register. That means more than 2,000 final rules, which have the force
of law, came into effect without first appearing in the Unified Agenda. This could indicate
an important transparency problem.
That’s just the EPA’s annual flow of regulations. The agency has existed for more than
40 years. How many total rules does it currently have in effect? Again, the answer doesn’t
come from the agency. Earlier this year, the Mercatus Center’s Omar Al-Ubaydli and
Patrick A. McLaughlin ran text searches through the entire Code of Federal Regulations
(CFR) for terms such as “shall,” “must,” “prohibited,” and the like. The CFR Title covering
environmental protection alone contains at least 88,852 specific regulatory restrictions. The
number could be as high as 154,350….
Justice Louis Brandeis correctly believed that sunshine is the best disinfectant. With
high regulatory costs contributing to a stagnant economic recovery, it is well past time to
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Corporations and their Social Responsibility|17
shine more light on regulatory agencies. Annual agency report cards would make a good
1.3 Press Release from the US Consumer Product
Safety Commission
Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Port Surveillance News: CPSC Investigators
Find, Stop Nearly 650,000 Unsafe Products at the Start of Fiscal Year
2012.” News Release. April 5, 2012.
Investigators Stop Nearly 650,000 Unsafe Products
Investigators with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) prevented
more than half a million violative and hazardous imported products from reaching the
hands of consumers in the first quarter of fiscal year 2012.
Working with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, CPSC port investigators
successfully identified consumer products that were in violation of US safety rules
or found to be unsafe. CPSC and CBP teamed up to screen more than 2,900 imported
shipments at ports of entry into the United States. As applicable, these screenings involved
use and abuse testing or the use of an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer. Their efforts
prevented more than 647,000 units of about 240 different non-complying products from
reaching consumers, between October 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011.
Topping the list of products stopped were children’s products containing levels of lead
exceeding the federal limits, toys and other articles with small parts that present a choking
hazard for children younger than 3 years old, and toys and child-care articles with banned
In addition to violative toys and other children’s products, items stopped at import
included defective and dangerous hair dryers, lamps, and holiday lights.
“We mean business when it comes to enforcing some of the toughest requirements
for children’s products in the world. If an imported product fails to comply with our safety
rules, then we work to stop it from coming into the United States,” said Chairman Inez
Tenenbaum. “Safer products at the ports means safer products in your home.”
During fiscal year 2011, CPSC inspected more than 9,900 product shipments at the
ports nationwide and stopped almost 4.5 million units of violative or hazardous consumer
products from entering the stores and homes of US consumers.
CPSC has been screening products at ports since it began operating in 1973. In 2008,
the agency intensified its efforts with the creation of an import surveillance division.
1.4 “Costs of Air Pollution in the U.S.”
Taylor, Timothy. “Costs of Air Pollution in the U.S.,” Conversable Economist (blog),
November 7, 2011,
What costs does air pollution impose on the U.S. economy? Nicholas Z. Muller, Robert
Mendelsohn, and William Nordhaus tackle that question in the August 2011 issue of the
American Economic Review. Total “gross external damages” the six “criterion” air pollut-
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Corporations and their Social Responsibility|18
ants in 2002—sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ammonia, fine
particulate matter, and coarse particulate matter—was $182 billion.
Since GDP was about $10.5 trillion in 2002, the cost of air pollution was a bit under
2% of the total. The effects included in the model calculations are adverse consequences
for human health, decreased timber and agriculture yields, reduced visibility, accelerated
depreciation of materials, and reductions in recreation services.
The sectors with the biggest air pollution costs measured in terms of “gross external
damages” (GED) (counting the same six pollutants but again not counting carbon emissions)
are utilities, agriculture/forestry, transportation, and manufacturing.
If one looks at the ratio of gross economic damages to value-added in the sector, agriculture/forestry
and utilities lead the way by far with ratios above one-third. Manufacturing
has fairly high gross external damages, but the GED/VA ratio for the sector as a whole is
only 0.01.
To me, a lesson that emerges from these calculations is that the costs of air pollution
and of burning fossil fuels are very high, both in absolute terms and compared to
the value-added of certain industries, even without taking carbon emissions into account.
Environmentalists who are discouraged by their inability to persuade more people of the
risks of climate change might have more luck in reducing carbon emissions if they deemphasized
that topic—and instead focused on the costs of these old-fashioned pollutants.
1.5 “Over-Regulated America”
“Over-regulated America: The home of laissez-faire is being suffocated by excessive and badly
written regulation.” The Economist. Last modified February 8, 2012. http://www.
Synthesis Questions
The most productive discussions and debates are those that open our eyes to different
perspectives and different ways of thinking. While we may not change our initial opinions,
we may emerge with an enhanced understanding of the perspectives of others, or of the
complexity of a particular issue.
So we suggest that at the end of each chapter you answer a few questions in a way
that allows you to “synthesize” your discussions and readings—by bringing together the
strongest parts of each side of the argument—so as to arrive at a deeper, more nuanced
understanding of the issues involved.
Clearly, the ethical role of corporations is a vast, complex topic and allows for a great
diversity of opinions. Here are three initial synthesis questions for further reflection:
1. Are corporations on the whole good for society?
2. Do you personally like or distrust corporations? Why?
3. How should society regulate corporations?
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 1
Corporations and their Social Responsibility|19
1. Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh, “Top 200: The Rise of Corporate Global Power,” Institute
for Policy Studies, December 4, 2000. accessed December 6, 2014,
2. Vincett Trivett, “25 US Mega Corporations: Where They Rank If They Were Countries,”
Business Insider, June 27, 2011, accessed December 6, 2014, http://www.businessinsider.
3. Steven Pearlstein, “Two Can Play the Airline Bankruptcy Game,” Washington Post, 28 April
2012, accessed November 28, 2014,
4. “The Estee Lauder Companies Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign,” accessed November 28,
5. “Norway Outlaws ‘Green’ Cars,” TerraPass, September 11, 2007, accessed December 6, 2014,
6. US Senator Patrick Leahy, “The Greenwashing of the Bush Anti-Environmental Record on the
President’s Earth Day Visits to Maine and Florida,” (statement on the Senate floor, Washington,
DC, April 26, 2004).
7. See Sebastian Bailey, “Business Leaders Beware: Ethical Drift Makes Standards
Slip,” Forbes, May 15, 2013, accessed December 6, 2014,
Debating CSR: Methods and Strategies|20
Chapter 2
Debating CSR: Methods and
Source: U.S. Navy (CC-BY 2012)
Figure 2.1 Deployed U.S. sailors watching the U.S. Presidential debate between candidates
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012.
Why Debate CSR?
In this chapter, we help you prepare for productive debates on CSR. Our first question
is: why debate CSR? Why not just study texts on CSR, and then write essays or take tests
on the topic? Why do we need to debate?
The position of this textbook is that CSR is not only an important social phenomenon,
but a complex and controversial one. As we will see in this book, there are often two sides to
CSR issues. As future voters and future employees of corporations, schools, governments,
and civil society organizations, you will get a chance to have a real impact on the future
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 2
Debating CSR: Methods and Strategies|21
of CSR. But what should the future of CSR be? It is not the role of teachers or textbooks
to tell you what to think when it comes to such a new and politically divisive topic. Like
your fellow citizens, you are entitled to develop your own opinion, but we hope that it will
be an informed and logical opinion, rather than one that emerges reflexively from political
partisanship or cultural tradition.
In short, we want you to practice thinking for yourself about CSR, and we think the
best way to practice is that is to debate crucial issues relating to CSR. At times you will
be asked to come up with the strongest arguments in favor of a position that you do not
initially support. As the saying goes, to understand another person you have to walk a
mile in their shoes. If you want to understand why many of your fellow citizens take social
and political positions that are different from yours, the best thing to do is to consider the
strongest arguments on their side—and the best way to do that is to become their advocate,
even if only for the length of a class session.
Questioning the Value of CSR Itself
As an example of the importance and complexity of CSR-related public debates, consider
the following controversies related to CSR:
CSR: Sincere ethics or hypocritical public relations?
• Facts: CSR is a rapidly growing field of study in universities and business schools,
and most large corporations have adopted CSR programs.
• The controversial aspect: Is CSR a good thing or is it just corporate
• In favor of CSR: CSR motivates corporations to address social problems, it energizes
and rewards workers, it strengthens ties to the community, and it improves
the image of the corporation.
• Against CSR: Surveys show that citizens are more concerned about corporations
treating their workers well and obeying laws than about engaging in philanthropic
activities, and CSR may allow corporations to distract consumers and legislators
from the need to tightly regulate corporations.
Climate change and CSR
• Facts: There is a scientific consensus that global warming and climate change represent
an enormous threat facing mankind.
• The controversial aspect: Can corporate CSR really have a significant impact on
climate change, or is it just a public relations vehicle for companies and a distraction
from the need for stronger government action, such as through a carbon tax?
• In favor of global warming–related CSR: Corporations can have a major impact
in the battle against global warming by reducing their large carbon footprints, by
encouraging other corporations to follow suit, and by helping discover and develop
alternative sources of energy.
• Against global warming–related CSR: Companies spend a lot of advertising
money to boast about small measures against global warming, but many of these
companies are in industries—such as fossil fuels or automobiles—that produce
the most greenhouse gases to begin with; self-serving claims of climate-change
concern are often simply corporate public relations campaigns intended to distract
us from the need for society to take more effective measures through taxation and
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 2
Debating CSR: Methods and Strategies|22
Corporate Lobbying and Government Influence
• Facts: Most large corporations spend money on lobbying and on seeking to influence
legislators and regulators. In the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court
ruled that, as “corporate persons,” corporations enjoy the same freedom of speech
protections as ordinary citizens and are entitled to relief from strict government
control of their rights to political speech.
• The controversial aspect: Many citizens are outraged to find that the justice
system accords multinational corporations the same rights as ordinary people on
the grounds that corporations are “persons.” However, others point out that The
New York Times and CNN are also corporations, and that it could have a chilling
effect on freedom of speech if all corporations were legally-constrained from
speaking out freely.
• In favor of corporate lobbying: As major employers and technological innovators,
corporations benefit society. They should be free to oppose inefficient and cumbersome
government regulations and taxation that can limit the benefits they provide.
In this way, freedom of political speech is so important that we should be cautious
about limiting it in any way.
• Against corporate lobbying: Corporations are not “persons” in the same sense
that humans are, and therefore, they should not enjoy the same freedom of speech
protection. Since corporations can become vastly wealthier than ordinary citizens,
allowing them to participate in politics will enable them to bend laws and regulations
to their will.
In each of the debates outlined above, there are intelligent and well-informed people
on both sides of the issue. However, if our society is going to progress in its handling of
these issues, we will need to reach consensus on the best approach, or at least on the best
compromise. It is therefore vital that citizens learn to discuss these issues in an informed,
respectful and productive manner.
How to Debate CSR: Rules of Civility and
This chapter introduces you to the techniques of logical debate. We hope to improve
your ability to craft a forceful, persuasive argument and to detect faulty logic and weak
evidence put forward by your adversaries. It is equally important, however, to practice engaging
in social and political debates in a way that is respectful and tolerant of differing
Although we will base our approach to some extent on the rules and methods of formal
debate, the reality of life is that most of our disagreements, and much public debate, are
not carried out according to formal rules or any previously agreed structure. Indeed, the
average political debate with our schoolmates, work colleagues, and family is often quite
freewheeling and sometimes extremely illogical. It is an accepted truism of American life
that political campaigns are filled with name-calling, mud-slinging, finger-pointing, and
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scurrilous attack ads. That is one reason that so many people say that you should never
discuss politics or religion among friends or family—because doing so can compromise
friendships and spoil family gatherings with angry and unproductive arguments.
In this course and in this textbook, we want to lean toward the other extreme. We
believe that there are sincere, intelligent people on both sides of most social debates. As
educated people, we should not engage in political discussion in order to flaunt our superior
intelligence or backgrounds, or to browbeat or insult our interlocutors. Unfortunately, since
people sometimes resort to bullying and offensive tactics when discussing sensitive topics,
and since many of us are unable to control our wounded, emotional responses to such
aggression, it can become difficult to discuss important social issues in a productive way.
We suggest certain ground rules to promote fair and respectful debate.
1. Do not try to “win” the debate.
In formal debate contests, each side is trying to defeat the other. Similarly, in political
debates each candidate is trying to come out on top so as to win the election. However, in
the classroom or in informal discussions around the dinner table or at the workplace, such
tactics can be unproductive and can backfire.
Therefore, we recommend that (at least part of the time) instructors randomly assign
students to each side of an argument. In this fashion, you will sometimes find that you
are arguing on behalf of a position that you would not ordinarily support. This may seem
paradoxical to you, so why do we insist on its value?
By obliging you to consider and advocate on behalf of the strongest points of each side
of the argument, we want you to appreciate that there are valuable, sincere motivations on
both sides of most social debates. We are not asking you to be insincere and pretend to
believe in something that you do not support. Rather, we are simply asking you to look for
the strongest arguments the other side could make.
So, in this course the goal is not to try to win the debate by making the other side look
bad. The objective here is to obtain greater knowledge and greater depth of understanding.
Everyone in the class should consider it a win anytime fellow students make a new or
interesting point, express themselves eloquently, or show a willingness to listen and learn
from the other side. The ultimate win in this course is to learn more about an important
social topic, and to learn to engage in debates in a respectful way.
2. Admit discomfort or emotionality.
Discussions of important social or political topics often touch upon values that each
of us holds dear. They may be values we have imbibed from the teachings of our parents,
trusted elders, respected teachers, and admired thinkers. As a result, when someone strongly
challenges those values, especially in a way that we find disrespectful, it is understandable
that we feel negative emotions or anger. The challenge is to control those emotions without
being tempted to retaliate.
So if you ever feel uncomfortable or embarrassed in a class debate, whether online or
in person, do not hesitate to let your interlocutor, the class, and the instructor know of your
feelings. You can simply say, for example, “I think that last remark was bit personal,” or “I
find that the tone you are using is somewhat aggressive.” However, try to avoid responding
in an equally offensive fashion because that usually leads to a breakdown in the conversation.
It is not only up to the instructor; it is up to each class member to monitor class discussions
for inappropriate levels of aggression or condescension.
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3. Listen respectfully and show that you have heard the other side.
It is very easy for debates to degenerate into emotional contests if neither side makes
a sincere attempt to listen to the other side’s arguments. Therefore, it is always a good
strategy to show that you have heard the other side and have understood their point. For
example, you can say, “So it seems that you feel the strongest argument in favor of freedom
of corporate lobbying is that if we restrict such lobbying, then we will create a precedent
that could eventually lead to restrictions on the freedom of speech of individuals. However,
we would like to argue that…”
On political talk shows and at the dinner table, it is quite common for debaters to cut
each other off, interrupt rudely, or talk over each other. In the classroom, however, we want
to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Let people finish talking before you make your point.
If you feel someone is going on too long, you can alert the instructor and request that you
be given an equivalent amount of time for your rebuttal.
Logic: The Techniques of Persuasive
The Structure of a Debate
Although this is not a course in logical debate, you will get more out of it if you proceed
in a systematic manner. Although there are many systems and theories for debate,
we present a simplified version here so that your class can have a common framework to
follow. The elements of a logical debate are the topic, the argument, and the rebuttal or
The Topic
Sometimes also called the “proposition,” “claim,” or “thesis,” this is the concise statement
of what the argument will address. In formal debating, the topic is usually called a
proposition and may be presented in the form of a motion that is going to be submitted to
a body for a vote, for example:
Resolved, that American corporations should refrain from outsourcing to factories
in countries where child labor under the age of 15 is permitted.
Thereafter, one side (sometimes an individual but often a team consisting of up to three
people) takes the affirmative position (meaning that it supports the proposition), while
the other takes the negative position (meaning that it opposes the proposition). The party
taking the affirmative side then opens with a clear formulation of its position and begins
the debate by presenting the “main line,” or strongest point on its side. The negative side is
allowed to question the manner in which the affirmative side has defined the proposition,
and may choose to present an alternative formulation before presenting the main line of its
argument. In team debating, the second and third members will then present the second
and third lines of their team’s argument. Opportunities for rebuttal may be provided after
each speaker or at the end of each team’s main presentation. When the debate is concluded,
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a vote may be taken (for example, by the audience or by a group of judges) to determine
which team has been more persuasive.
In this course, we encourage a more informal approach in order to suit the preferences
and prior experience of the instructor and students. You may prefer to present different
topics for debate, or provide for a range of alternatives for action. Regardless of the approach
you choose, each class and each student should have some freedom to frame the
debate in the perspective that he or she finds the most relevant while ensuring that both
sides are still engaging the same question. Consequently, it is always a good practice to
begin a debate or discussion (or a written assignment) with a clear statement of your topic
or proposition, even if it seems implied by the assignment.
The Argument
Once you have clearly stated the debate topic and your opening proposition, you must
go on to provide logical support or evidence in support of your argument. In order to
persuade an audience, you must support your main thesis with compelling reasoning and/
or factual evidence. You may choose to focus on either logic or evidence, or you may use
both. For example, if you wanted to base your argument on moral reasoning, you might say,
In the United States, we do not permit full-time factory work for children under
the age of 15, so we should not participate in the exploitation of children abroad in a
manner we would not accept at home.
Note that this argument, like many other arguments based on logic or reasoning, is
itself based on further unstated assumptions, which we may call the logical basis or moral
basis of the argument. Thus, the person making the above argument is assuming that
A. it is self-evident that we should not participate in behavior abroad that we
do not accept at home (which may or may not be true depending on circumstances);
B. behavior that is not legally accepted in the United States is necessarily exploitative
when practiced abroad (which, again, may or may not be the case).
If you wanted to base your argument on factual evidence or statistics, you might say,
for example:
Statistics show that countries that permit full-time employment for children have
lower levels of literacy.
Or :
Studies show that underage female factory workers are subjected to high levels of
sexual harassment and are at greater risk to become victims of rape or violence.
As with arguments based on reasoning, arguments based on evidence also depend on
implicit assumptions about the evidence. For example the evidence must be
A. accurate and recent (thus, the statistics should not be derived from unreliably
small samples, and they should not be obtained from studies conducted so long
ago that they are no longer valid),
B. relevant and logically connected to the argument (thus, the statistics on literacy
might show that children raised in the countryside have even lower rates of
literacy than urban children who work in factories), and
C. available to be examined (it is very easy to say, “Studies show that . . .” but if you
cannot produce any published report of the study, or the study itself, then your
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argument cannot be considered valid; you might even be misstating the results
of the survey).
Rebuttal and Counter-argument
A good debate allows opportunities for each side to respond to the other side’s arguments,
and this may be called a rebuttal or a counter-argument.
To develop an effective rebuttal, you should listen carefully to the other side’s argument
and try to detect flaws or gaps in their claims, reasoning, or evidence. In classical rhetoric,
debaters were trained to detect a number of logical fallacies, common types of arguments
which on further examination are unconvincing. Here are some of the key fallacies, or flaws,
you may encounter:
Arguing Off-topic
Failure to stick to the main argument is perhaps the most common of all logical
fallacies encountered in everyday discussions. In informal discussions, this is sometimes
acceptable, but in a serious intellectual discussion, it wastes time and energy because you
cannot seriously argue about two different topics at the same time. For example, in the
debate described above, one of the parties might say something like,
“Everyone knows that American corporations don’t really care about people; all they
care about is profits.”
Not only is that point arguable in itself (though it might make for an interesting argument),
it is not directly relevant to a discussion of child labor in overseas factories. In such
a case, it is appropriate simply to say, “The point you are making is not relevant to the topic
of this discussion.”
Drawing Excessive or Illogical Conclusions from Evidence
In debates over the value of evidence, it is frequently said that “correlation does not
prove causation.” In other words, if statistics show a correlation between two sets of facts,
they do not necessarily prove a causal connection between them. For example, in one nineteenth
century study of tuberculosis in Paris, the researcher noted that tuberculosis most
frequently struck people living on the fifth floor of apartment buildings (the highest floor
in apartment buildings of the day). He concluded that there was a causal relation between
tuberculosis and altitude, and theorized that it was unhealthy to live too high above the
ground. In fact, the highest floor was reserved for the small, drafty attic chambers of the
poor servants who served the bourgeois families on the lower floors, so the true correlation
was between poverty and tuberculosis. Statistics must always be closely scrutinized for
relevance. We must always ask whether the statistics apply to the same fact pattern that we
are discussing. Also, be wary of statistics that are out of date or are drawn from samples that
differ in some fundamental way from the population being discussed.
Ad Hominem Argument
This refers to a statement that attacks you personally (or personally attacks an authority
upon whom you are relying), rather than addressing the argument that you are making. In
everyday discussions, this is perhaps the most dangerous of rhetorical fallacies. Not only is
it irrelevant, but it frequently arouses such negative emotions that the opponent retaliates
in kind. Everyone, including the instructor and other classmates, should be attentive to ad
hominem arguments, and the person making them should be gently but firmly admonished
against this tactic.
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The Problem of Cognitive Bias
One of the difficulties encountered in everyday discussions of social and political affairs
is that people enter the discussion with their minds already made up. No matter how
compelling the reasoning or convincing the evidence, they will refuse to consider the other
side. If asked to research the facts, they will only look for facts that support the views they
already had. Such people could be said to be wearing “intellectual blinders.” In a classroom
or college context, this attitude is unfortunate: It closes us off from learning and from
growing intellectually. In order to detect it in others and avoid it ourselves, it pays to learn
about this tendency toward stubborn consistency, which is sometimes referred to by psychologists
as cognitive bias.
One of the great discoveries of modern psychology is that humans are, in fact, extremely
susceptible to biased thinking. Much of our understanding of the powerful influence
of cognitive bias is due to the work of two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos
Tversky. (Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for his efforts in 2002.) Kahneman postulates
that humans use two different kinds of thinking systems, fast and slow.1
Fast thinking is
instinctive, emotional, and reactive, and can be useful in contexts when you have to make a
decision quickly (e.g., you see a bear coming toward you in the forest, so it is time to think
quickly about climbing a tree). Slow thinking is logical, laborious, and difficult: the kind of
thinking that we use when we solve a math problem or a logic puzzle.
Cognitive bias represents the tendency toward instinctive, reflexive modes of thought,
or fast thinking, when we might be better off using our slower, more laborious mode of
thinking. One might suppose that when it comes to politics and social issues, such as those
involved in analyzing corporate social responsibility, people would always rely on slow,
logical thinking. However, Kahneman’s research (as well as that of many other cognitive
psychologists) indicates the opposite.
Let us consider the power of some important cognitive biases that draw us astray.
Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is the human tendency to discredit or ignore information that contradicts
our beliefs, while we uncritically adopt information that supports our beliefs. Studies
have demonstrated that most people are only open to hearing new information if it confirms
their previously-held beliefs.
Confirmation bias explains why information exchange tends to reinforce our beliefs.
The more we learn about ethical, social, or political issues, the more biased we become.
Confirmation bias is thus the motor of prejudice. Once we get a tiny bit biased one way
or another, the confirmation bias pushes us farther and farther in that direction. Increased
education and research, strangely, can end up making us all more deeply biased.
In one classic study, a group of pro–death penalty students and a group of anti–death
penalty students evaluated two “opposing” studies on capital punishment. In fact, the studies
were identical, except that they carried different titles and came to different conclusions.
The students were asked to decide which of these studies was better and more convincing
(despite their being virtually identical). Almost invariably, the students concluded that the
study with the title that supported their pre-existing views was superior to the other study.
Not only that, but when the students were asked why they preferred the study they felt was
superior, they were able to present a number of highly-specific examples to support their
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evaluations. Since both studies were based on exactly the same information, the students’
preference for one study over the other was derived purely from bias.
When we are exposed to mixed information, part of it supporting our views and part of
it contradicting our views, we are more attentive to the part that supports our views, which
we are likely to accept as accurate and true, while we ignore the part that contradicts our
views. Indeed, sometimes these contrary arguments barely register in our consciousness.
Partisan Bias
Partisan bias is a form of prejudice and overconfidence that takes hold of people whenever
they feel loyalty or affiliation with a group or a team. We witness partisan bias in the
political sphere when presidential campaigns are under way, as Democrats are always quick
to point out that their preferred candidate is vastly superior to the Republican candidate,
while Republicans are equally certain of the contrary.
Partisan bias does not only rule the world of politics, but can occur in any sphere where
people feel drawn to one group over another. We can relate this concept to CSR: If you
begin to perceive that you are part of a group that is a big supporter of a certain kind of
CSR activity, then you will probably be susceptible to the assumption that your group is
always right in all aspects. As soon as we feel we belong to a group, we begin to view that
group as superior to other groups. It is so easy to elicit group bias that psychologists have
proposed the existence of implicit partisanship—a hard-wired human predisposition to take
sides and then prefer that side.
One experiment relating to implicit partisanship showed that, if people are shown a list
of names and asked to study it for as briefly as a few minutes, they develop a preference for
the names on the list and consider them superior to other names.2
In another experiment, a
group of college students was assigned to one of two teams to watch a taped football game.
The students displayed a clear preference for their assigned team and later argued that the
referee had unfairly called fouls against their team.3
If a group of people are told that they will be assigned to either group A or group B
according to a coin toss, they begin to prefer their group even before they are sure they are
assigned to it. Those to whom it has been merely hinted that they may have been assigned
to group B begin nonetheless to express a clear preference for the members of group B and
a belief that group B is generally superior to group A.4
While the existence of the partisan bias has been confirmed by recent research, it has
long been apparent to perceptive observers of political argument. In fact, Socrates noted the
following in Plato’s Phaedo:
The partisan, when he is engaged in a dispute, cares nothing about the rights of the
question, but is anxious only to convince his hearers of his own assertions.5
Availability Bias
Availability bias refers to the fact that, in an uncertain situation, people tend to use the
most obvious fact or statistic in order to come to a conclusion—even if a moment’s thought
or the slightest bit of research would have demonstrated that the particular fact or statistic
was unreliable. You can test your own susceptibility to the availability bias by trying to
correctly answer the following question as quickly as possible:
Facts: A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball.
Question: How much does the ball cost?
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Most people answer 10 cents. However, this is clearly wrong, as you will probably
realize if you think about it carefully for a few more seconds. The correct answer is that the
ball costs 5 cents.
If you answered incorrectly, don’t feel bad—more than half of a group of Princeton
students got the answer wrong as well. How is it possible that even smart people can be so
dumb when it comes to such a simple question? In Kahneman’s words, “The respondents
offered their responses without checking. People are not accustomed to thinking hard and
are often content to trust a plausible judgment that comes quickly to mind.”6
Since $1.10
divides neatly into $1.00 and ten cents, respondents leaped to this seemingly obvious answer,
though it was incorrect. Kahneman named this the availability heuristic, the tendency to
rely on a mental shortcut to choose answers from the most obvious (available) options.
Kahneman amusingly illustrated a variant of the availability bias, which he called the
anchoring bias. When asked to estimate anything numerically, we have a tendency to overrely
(or “anchor”) on any number that has recently been suggested to us, regardless of
its relevance. Kahneman asks an audience to think of the last four digits of their social
security number, and then asks them to estimate the number of physicians living in New
York City. To a remarkable and entirely illogical extent, people’s subsequent estimates of
the number of New York physicians correlated with the last four digits of their own social
security number. (Amazingly, this held true even when the audience was composed of
math teachers.) Numbers hold a mystical sway over the human brain and it appears we are
frighteningly suggestible when it comes to arguments based on data, even when the data
is irrelevant. Thus we acquire newfound respect for the prescience of Mark Twain’s famous
quip, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
One example of availability bias that comes up in the context of CSR relates to the
impact of global warming on polar bears. Global warming contrarian Bjorn Lomborg often
uses this example to show that most people think they understand global warming better
than they actually do. Thus, he opens his book Cool It with a long chapter that provides
abundant statistics to show that, over the past 25 years, the global population of polar
bears has been increasing.7
This comes as such a profound shock to most citizens who are
concerned about global warming that they can scarcely believe it. Is Bjorn Lomborg telling
the truth, or is he pulling our leg? Some students even become angry when presented with
the evidence.
Actually, Lomborg does not deny that in the long term global warming may have a
highly negative impact on polar bear populations. The point he is trying to make is that
people leap to assumptions without checking the facts. People are concerned about polar
bears because so many groups that try to raise awareness about the dangers of global
warming have used the endangered polar bear as their favored mascot. Consequently,
many people have simply assumed polar bear populations were already being decimated by
global warming. While, polar bear populations may become under severe strain from global
warming in the 21st century, for the past several decades, as well as the current decade, the
main danger to polar bears comes from legally licensed hunters.
This point is raised here not to advance any argument about global warming. We will
devote an entire chapter to global warming issues, and you will have an opportunity to learn
more there about the very real dangers associated with global warming. The point here is
that people have a tendency to leap to the easiest assumption, and that is one tendency that
we should try to resist when we engage in formal research and debate.
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Debating CSR: What are the Key Issues?
As noted at the beginning of this chapter, some people are surprised to hear that there
is anything to debate about CSR. After all, such people may ask, isn’t CSR a matter of
corporations doing good things? And what could possibly be wrong with corporations
doing good things?
Actually, even corporations that fully support CSR do engage in debates about CSR,
but these are usually about how to do CSR, not about whether CSR is in general a positive
thing or not. Corporations, like individuals, sometimes have to make difficult choices
about how to spend their money. It can be quite challenging for a corporation to choose
among different options for CSR, and equally difficult to decide how much to spend on a
particular CSR project in terms of cash and organizational resources. Several of the case
studies in this book deal these types of strategic CSR questions.
However, it is worth noting at the outset that many CSR skeptics also believe that
CSR merits greater ethical scrutiny, and thus there are some prominent voices who have
expressed doubts about the perceived social benefits of CSR.
So that you can begin to develop your own informed opinion on this topic, let us begin
with a review of the potential benefits and drawbacks to CSR.
CSR: Potential Benefits
Neglected Social Problems Are Addressed
It is undeniable that even governments in the wealthiest countries cannot effectively
address all social problems. Every society is to some extent plagued by issues such as unemployment,
criminality, homelessness, disease, discrimination, pollution, and natural disaster.
Why not mobilize the vast economic and organizational resources of corporations to help
alleviate the damage caused by such problems?
Corporate Employees Are Energized and Motivated
A large percentage of the workforce in most countries is employed in the corporate
sector (38% of Americans are employed by large companies).8
CSR allows corporate employees
to feel an added level of meaning in their lives by enriching their jobs with an
ethical dimension. Such employees may be more productive on the job and may be more
willing to volunteer for community service and contribute to charitable organizations.
Links between Business, Nonprofits and the
Government Are Enhanced
Today, a great deal of CSR involves partnerships between corporations, nonprofit
organizations, and governmental bodies. For example, the Timberland footwear and apparel
company developed a partnership with the Boston-based nonprofit organization City
Year in 1989, beginning with a small contribution of 50 boots.9
City Year engages young
people from 17 to 24 in a 10-month program of community service. By 1994, Timberland
had provided $5 million to help City Year expand into 6 cities, and by 1998, Timberland
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employees had contributed 20,000 hours to City Year efforts. President Bill Clinton was so
impressed by the City Year story in 1992 that, in 1993, he enlisted its founders to help him
establish the AmeriCorps program, a federally-funded means of supporting community
service by young people. Since its founding, 575,000 AmeriCorps volunteers have contributed
over 700 million hours of community service.
Corporate Image Is Improved
In a competitive global marketplace, corporations want to maintain a strong, positive
image in the minds of consumers and legislators, and CSR helps them achieve this. For
example, Estée Lauder has become closely associated with the pink ribbon symbol of its
Estée Lauder Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, a program that has raised over $35
million for breast cancer research and has spread to over 70 countries.
CSR: Potential Drawbacks
Bad Corporations Are Able to Buy a Positive Image
Some of the biggest contributors to CSR are companies in the oil, tobacco, and alcohol
sectors, arguably those who have the most to gain from repairing negative associations with
the harm caused by their products. Although the World Health Organization has declared
that tobacco is the single greatest cause of preventable deaths worldwide, that fact has
not stopped global tobacco companies, such as Philip Morris International (owner of the
Marlboro brand) from spending huge sums to improve their image. Philip Morris not only
contributes over $30 million per year to a variety of charitable causes in over 50 countries,
it is also a leading sponsor of sporting events (notably Formula 1 racing).10
The Public Is Misled on the True Impact of
Corporate Activities, e.g., “Greenwashing”
Greenwashing refers to the corporate practice of making misleading environmental
claims. By the early 1990s, nearly a quarter of all consumer products were marketed
with some sort of environmental claim, using terms such as “green” or “environmentally
friendly.”11 So many of these claims were later found to be exaggerated or deceptive that
a number of advertising regulatory bodies and consumer protection agencies around the
world enacted strict controls on environmental claims in advertising.
Among the leaders in making environmental claims have been oil, chemical, and automobile
companies, all of which are arguably linked to increasing levels of pollution. Thus,
in Norway, for example, strict regulations prohibit car manufacturers from making virtually
any environmental claims, because in the view of the Norwegian Consumers Ombudsman,
“cars can’t be environmentally beneficial.”
As early as the mid-1990s, the Chevron oil company had become a leader in touting
its commitment to environmentalism, but that did not prevent it from getting embroiled in
a controversial lawsuit involving claims of massive amounts of pollution in the Ecuadorian
Amazon, with Chevron suffering an adverse $19 billion legal judgment for the environmental
damage it caused. Similarly, BP (British Petroleum), went so far as to revamp the
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corporate logo in its attempt to become recognized for environmentalism despite evidence
that BP management was aware of the risks that led to the offshore oil platform explosion
off the coast of Louisiana in 2010, considered the worst marine oil spill in the world and
the greatest environmental disaster in the history of the United States. Evidence uncovered
in a U.S. Congressional hearing suggested that BP management had overruled its own staff
and consultants to undertake riskier procedures because these were perceived to save time
and money.12
Nonprofits and Charities May Rely Too Heavily on
Corporate Handouts
Many charities and nonprofits come to rely heavily on corporate contributions and
often on contributions from a single corporation, which leaves them at the mercy of corporate
goodwill, and at the risk of economic or management reversals which could lead to a
cutoff of their funds. Thus, in the Timberland–City Year example discussed earlier, by 1997,
City Year found that it was almost wholly dependent on Timberland for financial support,
and it was only at that point that Timberland and City Year reached out for help from
other corporations. Indeed, the City Year sponsorship had even caused a problem within
Timberland when the company suffered a sharp decline in revenue in 1995 that led to
layoffs. Employees were angry that management continued to spend millions on charitable
contributions at the same time it was terminating jobs.
From a similar perspective, consider the cases of Enron and Lehman Brothers, enormous
companies that disappeared virtually overnight due to fraud and mismanagement,
respectively. Both companies maintained large CSR programs that had to be suddenly
abandoned.13 Indeed, Enron had become known as a leading “poster child” for CSR, with
widely reported commitments to green energy, so that at the 1997 Kyoto Conference it
received an award from the Climate Institute.
Topic for Debate: To CSR or Not to CSR?
You have a close friend, John Goodie, who is considering obtaining a graduate degree
in business and is trying to decide between two programs. One program is part of the MBA
(master of business administration degree) curriculum at University A, and it focuses on
CSR. The other program is part of the MBA curriculum at University B, and it focuses on
the management of nonprofits and charities. John has always considered himself a very
ethical and responsible citizen and has spent most of his summers since his teenage years
volunteering in a number of community service positions. Both schools have excellent
reputations, but University B is slightly more prestigious.
John tells you that his ultimate goal is simply “to make the world a better place.” He
asks for your advice. What do you tell him? Provide the strongest arguments in favor of
either University A or University B, as follows:
Affirmative Position: John should attend University A, which has a strong program
in CSR.
Possible Arguments:
• CSR is likely to be the most powerful and effective way of making the world a
better place.
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• CSR is a rapidly growing field with lots of jobs.
• John is already implicitly interested in CSR since he wants to make the world a
better place.
Negative Position: John should attend University B, which is slightly more prestigious
but does not have a well-developed CSR program.
Possible Arguments:
• There are problems with CSR, such as greenwashing.
• If John wants to make the world a better place, he will be better off developing his
skills in the more prestigious institution.
• With a more prestigious degree, he will be able to get a job in a nonprofit or
charitable organization if he wants.
2.1 CSR Isn’t Working
Morrell, Marcus. “Anita Roddick: Corporate Social Responsibility?” Transcript of video,
5:02. Filmed September 15, 2006.
Corporate social responsibility, I don’t think it’s working. I think it’s been taken over
by the big management houses, marketing houses, been taken over by the big groups like
KPMG, like Arthur Anderson. It’s a huge money-building operation now. I think maybe
it’s the word “corporate.”
When I was part of the architects of this responsibility business movement, that was
so different; that was an alternative to the International Chamber of Commerce, it was a
traders’ alliance, it had progressive thinkers, progressive academics, it had, you know, people
who were philanthropists.
Things happened. We didn’t see the whole growth of corporate globalization; we didn’t
see the immense power of businesses playing, especially in the political arena. We didn’t
look at the language, the economic language which was about control, which was about
everything had to be for the market economy. We were just flowering around on our own
thinking and so we took our eyes off the ball and when we put it on the ball again we
thought, “you know, it’s been hijacked, this social responsibility in business”; and it became
corporate social responsibility.
And it was a huge money-earner, for these big management companies, like KPMG,
like Arthur Anderson, like PriceWaterHouseCoopers, all of those. They were making shedloads
of money by actually doing a system of analysis about how you measure your behavior.
But it was no good; it was like this obsession for measurement. It wasn’t showing you how
you can put these ideas into practice and they never told you it meant a truth—truth that
nobody wants to discuss, that if it gets in the way of profit, businesses aren’t going to do
anything about it. So we still have rapacious businesses, you still have businesses in bed with
government, you still have governments’ inability to measure their greatness by how they
look after the weak and the frail. You still have government’s only true measurement of success
as economic measurement. And you still have businesses that can legitimately kill, can
legitimately have boardroom murder, can legitimately have a slave-labor economy, so that
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 2
Debating CSR: Methods and Strategies|34
all of us in the West—primarily in the West, or all of us who are wealthy—are guaranteed
a standard of living to which we are used to.
But for me, corporate social responsibility in my life, I don’t think it has worked. And
that’s a shame. Because it’s controlled the language and it’s hijacked the language.
Morrell, Marcus. “Anita Roddick: Corporate Social Responsibility?” Transcript
of video, 5:02. Filmed September 15, 2006.
2.2 Paul Newman reflects on founding Newman’s
Newman, Paul and A.E. Hotchner. In Pursuit of the Common Good, 197-199. New York:
Broadway Books, 2003. Find this book in a library.
I really cannot lay claim to some terribly philanthropic instinct in my base nature. It
was just a combination of circumstances. If the business had stayed small and had just
been in three local stores, it would never have gone charitable. It was just an abhorrence of
combining tackiness, exploitation, and putting money in my pocket, which was excessive
in every direction.
Now that I’m heavily into peddling food, I begin to understand the romance of the
business—the allure of being the biggest fish in the pond and the juice you get from beating
out your competitors. I would like to see the company reach $300 million in sales, and be
able to support new philanthropic initiatives. We were a joke in 1982, but the joke has given
away $250 million so far—so we are a very practical joke.
One thing that really bothers me is what I call “noisy philanthropy.” Philanthropy
ought to be anonymous, but in order for this to be successful you have to be noisy. Because
when a shopper walks up to the shelf and says, “Should I take this one or that one?” you’ve
got to let her know that the money goes to a good purpose. But overcoming that dichotomy
has provided us with the means of bringing thousands of unlucky children to the Hole in
the Wall Gang Camps.
Since the Connecticut camp opened in 1988, a time when only 30 percent of the
children who attended survived, medical progress has been phenomenal, especially in the
field of bone marrow transplants; the result is that the percentages have been completely
reversed—70 percent of those children who come to camp will now survive; but during the
critical time of treatment and recovery we furnish them with much needed respite….
It is also thrilling to note that thirty-five of last summer’s counselors were former
campers who had overcome cancer and were now taking care of kids afflicted as they were.
At the end of last summer’s session, a counselor who had been a media major in college, on
the basis of her experience at the camp changed her course of studies to pursue a medical
career in pediatric oncology….
Another experience last summer, a marvelous African-American girl who told me,
“Coming up here is what I live for, what I stay alive for during those miserable eleven
months and two weeks is to come up here for the summer.”
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 2
Debating CSR: Methods and Strategies|35
2.3 “Corporate Conscience Survey Says Workers
Should Come First”
Strom, Stephanie. “Corporate Conscience Survey Says Workers Should Come First.”
The New York Times online. May 31, 2006.
2.4 Corporate Watch Critiques CSR
“What’s Wrong with Corporate Social Responsibility? The Arguments against CSR,”
Corporate Watch, accessed November 30, 2014,
Like the iceberg, most CSR activity is invisible…It is often an active attempt to increase
corporate domination rather than simply a defensive “image management” operation.
CSR is supposed to be win-win. The companies make profits and society benefits. But
who really wins? If there is a benefit to society, which in many cases is doubtful, is this
outweighed by losses to society in other areas of the company’s operation and by gains the
corporation is able to make as a result? CSR has ulterior motives. One study showed that
over 80% of corporate CSR decision-makers were very confident in the ability of good
CSR practice to deliver branding and employee benefits. To take the example of simple
corporate philanthropy, when corporations make donations to charity they are giving away
their shareholders’ money, which they can only do if they see potential profit in it. This may
be because they want to improve their image by associating themselves with a cause, to
exploit a cheap vehicle for advertising, or to counter the claims of pressure groups, but there
is always an underlying financial motive, so the company benefits more than the charity.
…CSR diverts attention from real issues, helping corporations to avoid regulation,
gain legitimacy and access to markets and decision makers, and shift the ground towards
privatization of public functions. CSR enables business to pose ineffective market-based
solutions to social and environmental crises, deflecting blame or problems caused by corporate
operations onto the consumer and protecting their interests while hampering efforts to
find just and sustainable solutions.
CSR as Public Relations
CSR sells. By appealing to customers’ consciences and desires CSR helps companies
to build brand loyalty and develop a personal connection with their customers. Many corporate
charity tie-ins gain companies access to target markets and the involvement of the
charity gives the company’s message much greater power. In our media-saturated culture,
companies are looking for ever more innovative ways to get across their message, and CSR
offers up many potential avenues, such as word of mouth or guerilla marketing, for subtly
reaching consumers.
CSR also helps to greenwash the company’s image, to cover up negative impacts by
saturating the media with positive images of the company’s CSR credentials….
A prominent case against Nike in the US Supreme Court illustrates this point. When,
in 2002, the Californian Supreme Court ruled that Nike did not have the right to lie in defending
itself against criticism, chaos ensued in the CSR movement. Activist Marc Kasky
attempted to sue the company over a misleading public relations campaign. Nike defended
itself using the First Amendment right to free speech. The court ruled that Nike was not
protected by the First Amendment, on the grounds that the publications in question were
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 2
Debating CSR: Methods and Strategies|36
commercial speech. The case proceeded to the US Supreme Court. Legal briefs were submitted
to the Supreme Court by public relations and advertising trade associations, major
media groups, and leading multinationals, arguing that if a company’s claims on human
rights, environmental and social issues are legally required to be true, then companies won’t
continue to make statements on these matters.
The submission from ExxonMobil, Monsanto, Microsoft, Bank of America, and Pfizer
contended that “if a corporation’s every press release, letter to an editor, customer mailing,
and website posting may be the basis for civil and criminal actions, corporate speakers will
find it difficult to address issues of public concern implicating their products, services, or
business operations.”
This case simply reinforces the criticism that CSR is nothing more than a PR exercise.
Corporations would not be so concerned about potential legal actions if they valued truth,
transparency, and accountability as much as they claim.
CSR is a strategy for avoiding regulation
CSR is a corporate reaction to public mistrust and calls for regulation. In an Echo
research poll, most financial executives interviewed strongly resisted binding regulation of
companies. Companies argue that setting minimum standards stops innovation; that you
can’t regulate for ethics, you either have them or you don’t; and that unless they are able to
gain competitive advantage from CSR, companies cannot justify the cost.
Companies are essentially holding the government to ransom on the issue of regulation,
saying that regulation will threaten the positive work they are doing. CSR consultancy
Business in the Community supports corporate lobbying against regulation, arguing that
“regulation can only defend against bad practice—it can never promote best practice.” These
arguments, however, simply serve to expose the sham of CSR. Why would a “socially responsible
company” take issue with government regulation to tackle bad corporate practice?
…The argument that regulation would hinder voluntary efforts on the part of the company
to improve their behavior has been readily accepted by a government keen to avoid
its regulatory duties when it comes to curbing corporate power. The UK Department for
International Development (the department charged with tackling global poverty…) dismissed
the idea of an international legally binding framework for multinational companies
saying that it would “divert attention and energy away from encouraging corporate social
responsibility and towards legal processes.” As this quotation shows, without any evidence
for its effectiveness, the government is choosing CSR over making corporate exploitation
and abuse illegal.
2.5 “Leading Organizations Build Case for Green
“Leading Organizations Build Case for Green Infrastructure,” The Nature Conservancy,
accessed June 11, 2013,
Research by experts from industry and an environmental organization finds that incorporating
nature into man-made infrastructure can improve business resilience—and bring
additional economic, environmental, and socio-political benefits.
Experts from The Dow Chemical Company, Shell, Swiss Re, and Unilever, working
with The Nature Conservancy and a resiliency expert, evaluated a number of business Case
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 2
Debating CSR: Methods and Strategies|37
Studies, and recommend in their newly published White Paper that green infrastructure
solutions should become part of the standard toolkit for modern engineers.
Green infrastructure employs elements of natural systems, while traditional gray infrastructure
is man-made. Examples of green infrastructure include creating oyster reefs for
coastal protection, and reed beds that treat industrial wastewater.
“Instead of thinking about independent solutions, we must look at integrated systems,”
said Andrew Liveris, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dow. “Natural systems not
only serve multiple functions, but have multiple benefits—often requiring less capital and
less maintenance while promoting biodiversity that we all enjoy.”
“Green infrastructure can bring benefits for companies, for communities and for the
environment,” said Peter Voser, Chief Executive Officer of Royal Dutch Shell plc. “It can be
cheaper, provide new opportunities for engagement with stakeholders, and create wildlife
habitats. Green infrastructure should be part of mainstream business thinking.”
“Protecting nature and the services it provides to people and business is one of the
smartest investments we can make,” said Mark R. Tercek, president and CEO of The
Nature Conservancy.
“This is the case whether we are talking about the production of clean, abundant
freshwater, protection from storms, or healthy and productive soils. Green infrastructure
solutions also provide many co-benefits, such as wildlife habitat, and typically appreciate
over time, rather than depreciate as happens with gray infrastructure.”
Union Carbide Corporation (subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company) uses constructed
wetlands to treat wastewater near Seadrift in Texas.
This 110-acre (approximately 44.5-hectare) engineered wetland was designed to consistently
meet regulatory requirements for water discharge from the manufacturing plant,
and has operated successfully for over a decade.
Petroleum Development Oman LLC (PDO) uses constructed wetlands to treat
produced water from oilfields in Oman.
The Nimr oilfields, in which The Shell Petroleum Company Ltd is a joint venture
partner, not only produce oil, but also more than 330,000 m3
of water per day. PDO built
the world’s largest commercial wetland, and it treats more than 30% (or 95,000 m3
per day)
of the total produced water. This volume would normally require extensive infrastructure
to treat and inject the water into a subsurface disposal well. As gravity pulls the water
downhill, reeds act as filters, removing oil from the water. The oil is eaten by microbes
that naturally feed on hydrocarbons underground. Oil content in the produced water is
consistently reduced from 400 mg/l to less than 0.5 mg/l when leaving the wetlands.
Power consumption and CO2
emissions are 98% lower than they would have been with
the alternative man-made solution. Also, the wetlands are providing habitat for fish and
hundreds of species of migratory birds.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the
world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy
and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 2
Debating CSR: Methods and Strategies|38
Synthesis Questions
1. Are there companies you can name whose social responsibility actions you admire
and trust? What do they do that inspires you?
2. Are there companies you can name whose social responsibility actions you would
not trust, or even doubt? Which companies are they, and why do they fail to convince
3. Would you like to work in the field of CSR? Why or why not?
1. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2011), 19-25.
2. Anthony G. Greenwald, Jacqueline E. Pickrell and Shelly D. Farnham, “Implicit Partisanship:
Taking Sides for No Reason,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83 (2002), 367-379.
3. Albert H. Hastorf and Hadley Cantril, “They Saw a Game: A Case Study,” The Journal of
Abnormal and Social Psychology 49(1) (1954), 129-134.
4. For a thorough review of the extensive experimental literature on unconscious bias, see Mazarin
Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (New York: Delacorte,
5. Plato, The Dialogues of Plato (Oxford: Clarenden Press, 1921), 439.
6. Michael Schrage, “The Thought Leader Interview: Daniel Kahneman,” Business +
Strategy, Winter 2003, accessed November 29, 2014,
7. Bjorn Lomborg, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming (New
York: Vintage, 2010).
8. Kristie Arslan, “Five Big Myths About American Small Business,” Huffington Post, May 24,
2011, accessed November 29, 2014,
9. “Integrated Partnership: City Year and Timberland,” SR International, accessed November 29,
10. “Corporate Contributions,” Philip Morris International Management, accessed June 19, 2015,
11. Joshua Karliner, “A Brief History of Greenwash,” CorpWatch, May 22, 2001, accessed on
November 30, 2014,
12. “BP Engineer Called Doomed Rig a ‘Nightmare Well’”. CBSNews/CBS/
Associated Press, last updated June 14, 2010,
13. Robert Murphy, “Enron, the CSR Poster Child,”, last updated April 26, 2008,,_the_csr_poster_child/page/full.
Climate Change|39
Chapter 3
Climate Change
Source: Timothy Krause, (CC-BY 2.0, 2012)
Figure 3.1 In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City and surrounding areas,
leaving hundreds of thousands of area residents without electricity or public services for weeks,
and leading to the death of 90 citizens. Could continued climate change lead to an increase in
catastrophic weather events of this nature?
The Threat of Climate Change
Climate change is perhaps the most important problem facing the world’s citizens
today. In the consensus view of scientific experts, climate change—in particular as manifested
through global warming—is likely to produce disastrous social and environmental
catastrophes in this century. For example, certain low-lying Pacific islands are in danger of
being inundated by rising sea levels. Another fear is that deserts in Africa and the Middle
East will not only grow rapidly in size, but eventually will become inhospitable to human
and animal life as temperatures rise. Yet another major concern is that the hurricanes and
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 3
Climate Change|40
typhoons that regularly pound the world’s coastlines will reach ever-greater levels of destructive
Despite these risks, neither the United Nations nor the world’s governments have yet
implemented a clear and convincing strategy to fight climate change. Virtually all climate
experts agree that the key to stopping or even slowing global warming lies in the urgent
reversal of the long-term trend toward increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon
dioxide (CO2
). Although there have been many proposals to curb the growth of CO2
emissions, it is not yet clear how a global reduction in CO2
can be achieved. One major
roadblock in this effort is that a few of the world’s largest emerging economies, notably
those of India and China, are responsible for a large proportion of current global CO2
but these countries are not yet willing to agree to mandatory limits. Faced with their
reluctance, the United States, the world’s second-leading producer of global warming gases,
has also refused to commit to mandatory reductions in CO2
. In the United States’ view,
mandatory commitments must be accepted by all major economies in order to have a real
impact. However, in November 2014 the first signs of China-U.S. cooperation on climate
change were witnessed when the countries formally announced a mutual commitment to
reduce carbon emissions by 2028.1
In this chapter, you will be asked what kind of action a major corporation should take
in fighting global warming. Should the corporation spend a lot of money and try to be an
industry leader in fighting global warming, or does it make more sense to take smaller, more
symbolic actions?
Source: NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), 2009, public domain
Figure 3.2 Global records of average temperature and carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration show
that as CO2 levels have increased over the past century, so have global temperatures.
Basic Terminology
What is generally called climate change or global warming in the popular media is referred
to by scientists as anthropogenic climate forcing. Anthropogenic means man-made and
specifies that they are talking about global warming that is caused by human activity and
not by natural variations in temperature. The global temperature of the earth has varied
continuously since the birth of the planet, and even today, some portion of that variation
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 3
Climate Change|41
can still be attributed to unpredictable increases and decreases in the amount of solar radiation
the Earth is receiving from the sun.2
Climate forcing refers to the effect of human activities in pushing the natural variation
of the earth’s temperature in one direction or another. From this perspective, global warming
is an imprecise term because some of the observed warming of the earth’s temperature may
also be due to natural causes or natural variation. Most press commentators prefer to use
the term climate change because many of the negative impacts of global warming will be the
product of changes in weather patterns. There is thus more to climate change than increased
temperatures, and it is even possible that some areas of the planet could experience cooling
of temperatures (for example, it has been postulated that continued global warming could
disrupt the Gulf Stream, which brings warm Caribbean waters to Europe—thereby leading
to much colder European winters).3
Despite these caveats, we will fall back on use of the more common terms, climate change
and global warming because they are so widely used by ordinary citizens and policymakers.
Causes: Greenhouse Gases
It is generally agreed that the primary cause of man-made global warming is the accumulation
of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. These gases act as a sort of
invisible blanket around the earth, holding in heat and preventing it from radiating out into
space. The most important greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2
), methane (CH4
nitrous oxide (NO2
) and ozone.4
Carbon dioxide has been a particular focus of anti-global warming efforts. Concentrations
are measured in parts per million or PPM (indicating how many molecules of the
gas are present in one million molecules of air). The current concentration of CO2
in the
atmosphere is approximately 395 to 400 PPM, and CO2
emissions are increasing at a rate
of about 3% every year. As a result, human activities currently produce emissions of roughly
35 billion tons of CO2
per year, a 54% increase over 1990 levels.5
Prior the start of the industrial revolution, around 1780, it is estimated that global CO2
concentrations were approximately 280 PPM. In 1958 when CO2
emissions began to be
precisely measured for the first time, the atmospheric concentration was approximately 315
PPM. By 1990, CO2
emissions were growing rapidly, and in 2013, occasional measurements
of over 400 PPM began to be recorded for the first time, suggesting that a potentially
dangerous threshold had been reached.6
It is widely feared that concentrations of 450 PPM
or higher would be associated with a global average temperature increase in excess of 2
degrees Celsius, which is considered by many experts to be the threshold beyond which
the Earth’s human population is likely to suffer potentially catastrophic effects. As a result,
much of the worldwide effort to fight global warming has been focused on reducing the
increase in CO2
emissions so that global levels can be kept beneath 450 PPM. However, if
nothing is done, some projections suggest that, by the year 2100, CO2
could range as high
as 540 PPM to 970 PPM.7
At such high concentrations, scientists fear that climate change
could reach a “tipping point,” beyond which temperatures and chaotic weather patterns
could accelerate wildly out of control.
It should be noted that, even though most public debate concerns CO2
, it is not the
only significant GHG. Methane, in particular, also has a potentially important impact on
future global warming. In fact, methane is 23 times more powerful than CO2
in terms of its
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warming effect (that is, methane traps more heat than CO2
Some experts argue that the
world should focus more on curbing methane than on CO2
, largely because it seems easier
to control methane emissions without undertaking the major costs and expenses that are
demanded by reduction of CO2
Despite the ongoing controversy over whether methane deserves more attention, the
primary concern of policy-makers continues to be CO2
. One reason for this focus is that
lasts much longer in the atmosphere than methane does (methane decomposes in 15
to 20 years, whereas CO2
can remain for 50 to 75 years), but another reason is that CO2
emissions are linked to civilization’s relentlessly increasing use of energy, which seems much
more challenging to control. Methane is generated primarily by decomposing garbage, by
extraction of natural gas, and most colorfully, by the belching and flatulence9
of agricultural
animals. Some people find it hard to believe that the burping of cows can lead to a risk
of global warming, but agricultural generation of methane is actually quite significant. In
addition to the belching of ruminants, the enormous amounts of animal manure generated
by agriculture also create significant methane emissions.10 However, current technologies
allow for a more optimistic view on reducing methane emissions. For example, landfills for
garbage and refuse are now commonly fitted with methane-capturing devices that not only
prevent the methane from escaping into the atmosphere, but they even allow the methane
to be used to generate clean energy.
Given the importance of controlling CO2
in the battle against climate change, it has
become commonplace for policymakers to speak in terms of controlling “carbon” (note that
carbon is part of not only the CO2
molecule, but also the CH4
molecule, as well as being
present in atmospheric soot, which is also considered a major contributor to warming).
Thus, when climate economists are trying to measure the average CO2
emissions produced
by an individual, company, or country they often refer to the relevant carbon footprint.
When policymakers discuss the possibility of discouraging CO2
emissions by taxing them,
they commonly refer to this as a carbon tax.
The primary sources of CO2
emissions are the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas.
Every time you drive in a car or fly in an airplane, the car’s or the airplane’s engine burns
gasoline to create energy, thereby producing greenhouse gases. When you use electricity to
operate devices or appliances like electric lights, televisions, or computers, the electricity
they use was most likely generated in a power plant through the burning of coal, oil, or
natural gas (though it is true, of course, that a small but increasing percentage of electricity
generation is coming from solar and wind power).
Solutions and Responses: Mitigation,
Adaptation and Geo-Engineering
The long term solution to global warming is for mankind to further develop renewable
or “clean” forms of energy, such as hydropower, solar power, and wind power, which do not
generate GHG emissions. However, with the exception of hydropower, renewable methods
produce energy at prices that are currently so much more expensive than energy derived
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Climate Change|43
from coal, oil, and gas that it seems very unlikely that many countries will switch over
rapidly to clean energies.
One well-established form of energy production, nuclear, appears to meet the need for
reasonably cheap and plentiful energy produced without generating GHG emissions, but
nuclear energy has other strong disadvantages. Nuclear power plants use the controlled fission
of radioactive uranium to heat water into steam, which then turns turbines to generate
electricity. In their daily operations, nuclear power plants do not produce CO2
. However,
when the uranium fuel is depleted, it remains dangerously radioactive and must be disposed
of carefully.
Even more disturbing, from the public’s point of view, is the danger associated with
accidents at nuclear power plants, such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, or the
2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan. Though such accidents are rare, they can result
in the release of highly toxic radioactivity into the atmosphere, which poses both short- and
long-term health risks for the surrounding population, and even for distant populations.
Following the Fukushima disaster, Germany decided to phase out all use of nuclear energy
(in 2010, 17% of Germany’s energy came from nuclear plants).
Meanwhile, however, over 400 nuclear plants continue to operate in 31 countries. A
few countries, such as France, Belgium, and Slovakia, derive most of their energy from
nuclear plants. Given that such plants can yield a great deal of energy but they do not
produce GHGs, they pose a great dilemma for people who are concerned about global
warming. On one hand, additional nuclear plants could satisfy the world’s demands for
more energy without producing GHGs. On the other hand, a major expansion of nuclear
energy production would increase the risk of accidents, which could release dangerous
levels of radioactivity. Although some prominent climate change activists, most notably the
respected former NASA scientist James Hansen, have called for increased use of nuclear
energy as the only realistic way of limiting climate change, such arguments have yet to
convince most environmentalists.
Therefore, most experts do not believe that there is any easy fix that will be readily
available in the near future to solve the problem of global warming. Consequently, most experts
believe that humans should focus on strategies of mitigation, or reducing the negative
impacts of global warming until technological progress makes alternative forms of energy
cheaper.13 When solar or wind power becomes cheap and powerful enough to permit a
worldwide move to clean energies, we will have solved the CO2
problem. However, that
point now seems several decades away, possibly even longer.
In the meantime, how do we mitigate the danger of global warming? The key strategy
is to gradually reduce our dependence on energy that emits GHG. As we will see, governments
all over the world have committed themselves to reducing the amount of GHG
each nation emits. They do this by reducing energy consumption and by gradually moving
toward increased usage of clean energy. For example, when consumers purchase electronic
appliances that use less electricity, or when they switch from cars with gasoline engines to
hybrid engines that generate fewer GHGs, the countries in which those consumers live
gradually reduce the growth of GHG emissions.
Governments everywhere, from national to city and local administrations, are seeking
ways to conserve energy and to encourage consumers to use less energy. Since some companies
and countries have had more success in reducing GHG emissions, one policy that
has been promoted is to create a market-based mechanism for encouraging reductions in
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Climate Change|44
GHG. These mechanisms have alternatively been referred to as cap and trade or carbon offset
Under a cap and trade system, a government sets a maximum limit on the amount
of emissions a company is allowed—the so-called cap. Cap and trade was used in the
United States to control acid rain by limiting emissions of sulfur dioxide, but it has never
been adopted for controlling climate change by limiting emissions of carbon dioxide.15
The “trade” part of the equation comes in when a company wants, for business reasons, to
go beyond the allowed limit. It can do so by trading, or purchasing unused permits from a
company that had stayed below its limit. In this way, companies are encouraged to reduce
their emissions—because they can sell their unused allowances—while companies that find
themselves unable to do so can obtain a measure of flexibility by buying permits.
In 2005, the European Climate Exchange was created in Europe to permit trading of
carbon emissions permits. This system worked in Europe because many European countries
had committed themselves to mandatory carbon emissions caps under the Kyoto Protocol.16
Similar to the cap and trade system is the use of carbon offsets, which is a voluntary
system. With carbon offsets, companies that continue to generate carbon emissions pay
other companies or organizations to reduce their emissions. In this fashion, the overall
amount of carbon emissions between the two companies should decrease or remain stable.
Common carbon offsets include a number of GHG-reduction projects, such as tree plantings,
renewable energy expansion, and energy efficiency projects. Even individuals can
participate in the carbon offset system. For example, it is well known that one of the easiest
ways for an individual to make a negative impact is to take a long airplane flight, because
airplane engines produce a great deal of carbon emissions. This can be quite a dilemma,
because many people today are very concerned about global warming, yet they still love
to travel. One solution is to purchase a personal carbon offset when you take a plane trip.
In this way, you can keep from increasing your personal carbon footprint. Al Gore is one
prominent individual who travels in this fashion.
Adaptation involves preparing people and countries to better resist the negative impacts
of climate change.17 One of the most widely-discussed risks associated with increased
global warming is the increased intensity of hurricanes. The harmful impact of such hurricanes
can be augmented by a gradual increase in sea level, also associated with global
warming.18 For example, it was a combination of a severe hurricane with an unusually high
tide that resulted in the devastation and flooding of New York City by Hurricane Sandy in
2012. Adaptation by New York City might involve preventing future encroachment upon
the city of hurricane sea surges by building barriers similar to the massive ocean barriers
that have been built in the Netherlands.
Often relegated to the realm of science fiction or fantasy by experts, geo-engineering
responses continue to be discussed as a possible fallback option if, as seems increasingly
likely, humans are unable to reverse the long-term growth of carbon emissions in the
twenty-first century. Geo-engineering involves using a number of novel or advanced technologies
to reduce carbon emissions or lower the planet’s temperature.19 One example is the
massive planting of trees, because trees drain CO2
out of the atmosphere, thereby creating
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 3
Climate Change|45
a large “carbon sink” and reducing the level of atmospheric CO2
. Another solution, more
far-fetched, would be to spray inert sun-blocking gases high into the stratosphere, creating
a sort of “global sun-block.” Some concerned scientists are even more frightened by the
thought of ill-advised geo-engineering of this nature than they are of global warming itself.
The United Nations and the IPCC
In light of the scientific community’s consensus on the possible danger of continued
global warming, in 1988, the United Nations created a special agency to coordinate the
world’s efforts to control climate change: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), which brought together the world’s top scientific and public policy experts.20 The
IPCC is a large coordinating committee of scientists and government representatives. More
than 2500 climate experts are affiliated with the IPCC and about 350 representatives from
120 countries regularly attend the IPCC’s periodic meetings. Although the IPCC does
not directly conduct research itself, it summarizes current global warming research into a
special document that can be used by governments around the world, the IPCC Summary
for Policymakers.
The IPCC has also produced a few larger, comprehensive surveys called “Assessment
Reports,” which seek to consolidate the results of all global warming research to date. The
first assessment report was published in 1990 and concluded that man-made emission
of greenhouse gases was accelerating global warming. It was estimated that the projected
growth in CO2
emissions would lead to a future warming throughout the twenty-first
century on the order of 0.3°C per decade.22
The United Nations Framework Convention
and the Kyoto Protocol
In 1992, at the so-called Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the United Nations
undertook concerted action for the first time to fight the danger of climate change,
with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (also known as the
Framework Convention, FCCC or the UNFCCC). The UNFCCC eventually was signed
by some 190 countries, with 37 countries agreeing to legally-binding limits.23
The UNFCCC is an international treaty that is continually updated. That is why it is
called a “framework convention”: The basic framework remains the same, but the specifics
of what the signing countries intend to achieve is periodically refined in successive revisions,
and these subsequent agreements are named after the city where the main negotiating
conference takes place. Recent updates to the UNFCCC have occurred, notably, at Doha,
Cancun, and Copenhagen, but the most historic of the UNFCCC updates still remains the
famous Kyoto Protocol, the first time that the world’s nations agreed to commit themselves
to controlling and reducing carbon emissions.
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Dissenting Voices and Public Opinion
Despite the increasing alarm with which the scientific consensus pressures policymakers
for convincing solutions, a vocal minority of politicians and scientists has continued
to attack the consensus viewpoint. These global warming skeptics have often been derided
as irrational and unscientific “deniers” by the media. Many of these so-called deniers, it
has been claimed, are actually paid or otherwise indebted to large oil companies and other
corporate producers of CO2
. However, many of these skeptics have impressive academic
credentials, and they have managed to convince a growing number of policymakers and
citizens that the consensus viewpoint is either erroneous, alarmist, or overstated.
Some of the critics continue to argue that they are not convinced that increased levels
of CO2
will inevitably lead to higher global temperatures, but this is certainly a marginal
viewpoint, and very few respected scientists go so far. Notably, Danish economist Bjørn
Lomborg, perhaps the most famous representative of the skeptics, admits that global
warming is a real and serious threat, but argues that the scientific community is pressing
for excessively costly solutions that will not help in the long run. Lomborg believes that
sharp reductions in carbon emissions, the principal prescription issued by the IPCC, could
be counterproductive, because this would not do much to reduce global warming but could
have severe negative impacts on the global economy. Lomborg favors a modest reduction
in carbon emissions coupled with heavy investments in scientific research for alternative
means of energy.24 Other critics, such as Richard Lindzen, professor of climatology at MIT,
question the scientific basis of the consensus view that disastrous warming is an inevitable
consequence of increased CO2
Case Study: UBS Seeks an Appropriate
Global Warming Policy
In 2005, the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), one of the world’s largest financial
services institutions, was trying to decide what action to take on global warming. Many of
UBS’s large competitors, notably Hong Kong Shanghai Bank Corporation (HSBC), had
made significant public commitments to help mitigate global warming. UBS wanted to do
the right thing, and it also wanted to keep up with its competitors, without spending too
much money. UBS was determined to take some concrete action to fight global warming,
but it was not easy to decide how much of a commitment it should make—a major commitment,
an average commitment, or merely a symbolic commitment.
Some of the steps that UBS could take would actually produce long-term cost savings
for UBS, and therefore these actions were clearly in UBS’s interest. For example, UBS
could reduce the number of airplane flights taken by its top executives, replacing in-person
meetings with international video-conferencing. Such a step would not only reduce UBS’s
carbon emissions, it would reduce the cost of sending executives to foreign locations, which
was quite expensive. Despite such potential cost savings, it soon became clear that it would
cost money for UBS to be able to say it was taking action against global warming.
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 3
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At the time of this case, UBS was one of the world’s largest financial services institutions,
with offices in over 50 countries and more than 70,000 employees. The company was
organized into several major divisions, including a leading investment bank and a wealth
management operation providing special banking services to very wealthy people. Like
many other Swiss banks, UBS catered to a sophisticated, global clientele.26
UBS’s commitment to CSR and sustainability went far beyond global warming issues
alone. In general, UBS believed that CSR was more than just a business issue; it was also a
moral issue and a matter of company values. Consequently, UBS created a special Corporate
Responsibility Committee, which was composed of many of the bank’s senior executives.
Interestingly, however, UBS did not measure the impact of its CSR activities. In contrast,
it carefully measured the impact of its sponsorship activities on the UBS brand. Thus, UBS
seemed to draw a distinction between community involvement, from which it expected
returns in marketing awareness and public relations, and CSR, which was to be pursued for
its own good.27
On the industry level, UBS had begun to develop expertise in analyzing investment
funds for their social and environmental responsibility. On the local level, UBS believed
in supporting communities through cash donations to educational and environmental
projects of $38 million per year. As for UBS’s own overall environmental impact, UBS
audited its own impact by having an independent inspector subject UBS’s activities to an
ISO 14001 environmental audit, the world’s leading standard for measuring environmental
UBS Competitors’ Actions on Global Warming
In researching possible options for its anti–global warming strategy, UBS reviewed the
actions taken by its chief competitors. Here is what the research revealed:
HSBC, the world’s largest bank, was also the banking industry’s leader in the battle
against global warming. As early as 2004, HSBC announced that it would offset 100% of
its greenhouse gas emissions through a variety of market-based mechanisms. Among the
beneficiaries of HSBC’s offset purchases were a New Zealand wind farm, an Australian
waste composter, a German methane reducer and an Indian biomass generator. HSBC’s
leadership was widely recognized in industry circles, and included a Sustainable Banking
Award from the Financial Times.
Citigroup, which operates Citibank, was also one of the world’s largest financial services
companies, managing over $1 trillion in assets. Citigroup was tackling global warming by
compiling records on energy use at all of its company buildings and then using that information
to refurbish many of its facilities so as to reduce energy consumption. Citigroup also
committed itself to a 10% reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions to be achieved by 2011.
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Credit Suisse
UBS’s main competitor in Switzerland, Credit Suisse had announced that all of its
buildings in Switzerland would be greenhouse-gas neutral by 2006. In order to fulfill its
commitment to achieving a completely neutral carbon footprint by 2008, Credit Suisse
ordered nearly 250,000 tons of carbon credits at a cost of CHF 2.2 million.
UBS Four Options for Action
After conducting its research and evaluation, UBS settled on four possible scenarios for
action on global warming.29 In the end, it became a question of how much UBS was willing
to pay for different levels of reduction of carbon emissions:
Option Commitment 2012 cost
(in $ millions)
Reduction in
CO2 emissions
1 CO2
emissions stabilized at 2005 levels $2.8–5.0 0%
2 Keep up with competitors $3.7–5.9 10%
3 Good public relations $6.4–8.6 40%
4 Match industry-leader HSBC $9.1–11.3 100%
Topic for Debate: Appropriate CSR Action
on Global Warming
The question you are to debate is as follows: If you could advise UBS on what course of
action to take, what option would you recommend?
Take a position specifically on what UBS should do about global warming. You must
base your arguments to some extent on the statements and publications of scientific and
public policy experts.
The debate positions may be formulated as follows:
UBS should adopt the more aggressive, powerful, and costly alternative to fighting
global warming, by choosing option 1 or 2 from the list.
Possible Arguments
• Global warming is very serious and all companies should take action.
• UBS is a respected company that will inspire other companies to follow suit.
• All corporations should be part of the solution.
• It will send a message to other financial institutions.
• It will motivate employees by improving perception of their employer.
• It will provide good public relations.
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UBS should settle for a less-costly and -aggressive alternative, by choosing option 3 or
4 from the list.
Possible Arguments
• UBS reduction of carbon emissions will have a minuscule effect on global warming.
• Switzerland is not a major source of carbon emissions.
• UBS clients do not choose UBS because of its global warming actions.
• UBS should focus on banking services and not get distracted by CSR or global
• Banks cannot solve the global warming problem alone.
• Symbolic action is acceptable but strong action is unnecessary. Let HSBC win this
3.1 “We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change”
Gore, Al. “We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change.” New York Times, February 27, 2010,
3.2 “The Climate Science Isn’t Settled: Confident
Predictions of Catastrophe Are Unwarranted”
Lindzen, Richard. “The Climate Science Isn’t Settled,” The Wall Street Journal, November
30, 2009.
3.3 “Climate Change Worse Than Expected, Argues
Lord Stern”
Nayantara Nayaran and ClimateWire, “Climate Change Worse Than Expected, Argues
Lord Stern,” Scientific American, April 3, 2013, accessed on November 30,
3.4 “Heretical Thoughts about Science and Society”
Dyson, Freeman. “Heretical Thoughts about Science and Society,” in Many Colored Glass:
Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe, 43-60. Charlottesville, VA: University
of Virginia Press, 2007.
The Need for Heretics
The public prefers to listen to scientists who give confident answers to questions and
make confident predictions of what will happen as a result of human activities. So it hap-
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 3
Climate Change|50
pens that the experts who talk publicly about politically contentious questions tend to
speak more clearly than they think. They make confident predictions about the future, and
end up believing their own predictions. Their predictions become dogmas which they do
not question.
Climate and Land Management
…My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated.
Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of
deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models…
When I listen to the public debates about climate change, I am impressed by the enormous
gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations, and the superficiality of
our theories. Many of the basic processes of planetary ecology are poorly understood. They
must be better understood before we can reach an accurate diagnosis of the present condition
of our planet. When we are trying to take care of a planet, just as when we are taking
care of a human patient, diseases must be diagnosed before they can be cured. We need to
observe and measure what is going on in the biosphere, rather than relying on computer
Oceans and Ice Ages
We have accurate measurements of sea level going back two hundred years. We observe
a steady rise from 1800 to the present, with an acceleration during the last fifty years But
the rise from 1800 to 1900 was probably not due to human activities. The scale of industrial
activities in the nineteenth century was not large enough to have had measurable global
effects. So a large part of the observed rise in sea level must have other causes…
Another environmental danger that is even more poorly understood is the possible
coming of a new ice age… If human activities were not disturbing the climate, a new ice age
might already have begun. We do not know how to answer the most important question:
Do our human activities in general, and our burning of fossil fuels in particular, make the
onset of the next ice age more likely or less likely?
The Wet Sahara
At many places in the Sahara desert that are now dry and unpopulated, we find rockpaintings
showing people with herds of animals…
I would like to ask two questions. First, if the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
is allowed to continue, shall we arrive at a climate similar to the climate of six
thousand years ago when the Sahara was wet? Second, if we could choose between the
climate of today with a dry Sahara and the climate of six thousand years ago with a wet
Sahara, should we prefer the climate of today?
The biosphere is the most complicated of all the things we humans have to deal with.
The science of planetary ecology is still young and undeveloped. It is not surprising that
honest and well-informed experts can disagree about facts…
3.5 UBS Ordered to Pay 1.5 Billion Fine for Fraud
Bart, Katharina, Tom Miles, and Aruna Viswanatha. “UBS Traders Charged, Bank Fined
$1.5 Billion in Libor Scandal.” Reuters. December 19, 2012. http://www.reuters.
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 3
Climate Change|51
Synthesis Questions
1. Are consumers more likely to buy products from companies that are more active in
the fight against global warming?
2. Should companies strive to be industry leaders in the fight against global warming?
3. What is the best overall solution or response to the problem posed by global
1. “U.S. – China Joint Announcement on Climate Change,” White House, November
12, 2014,
2. Matthew Bampton, “Anthropogenic Transformation” in Encyclopedia of Environmental Science,
ed., David E. Alexander and Rhodes W. Fairbridge (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic
Publishers, 1999), 22-27.
3. America’s Climate Choices: Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change; National
Research Council, Advancing the Science of Climate Change (Washington, DC: The National
Academies Press, 2010).
4. Thomas R. Karl TR and Kevin E. Trenberth, “Modern global climate change,” Science 302, no.
5651 (2003): 1719–23, doi:10.1126/science.1090228.
5. D.M. Etheridge et al., “Natural and anthropogenic changes in atmospheric CO2 over the
last 1000 years from air in Antarctic ice,” Journal of Geophysical Research 101, no. D2 (1996):
6. Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, “Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide,” Earth
System Research Laboratory Global Monitoring Division, last updated August 8, 2012, http://
7. I.C. Prentence et al., “The Carbon Cycle and Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide: Executive Summary,”
Chapter 3 in Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Contribution of Working Group
I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed., J.T.
Houghton et al. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 185–187.
8. S. Soloman et al., “Net Global Radiative Forcing, Global Warming Potentials, and Patterns of
Forcing,” Technical Summary 2.5 in Climate Change 2007: The Scientific Basis (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 2007), 31–34.
9. Or in the popular vernacular, “farting.” Ruminants (animals with multiple stomachs, which
permits them to digest grasses), such as cows, deer, sheep, goats, and camels, produce significant
amounts of methane during their digestive process, known as enteric fermentation. Most of the
methane thereby produced comes out the front end of the cow, but significant amounts also come
out the other end. Twenty-three percent of the methane produced in the United States comes from
10. Henning Steinfeld, et al., “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.”
Livestock, Environment and Development, FAO, 2006, 79-122.
11. Laurence A.Wright, Simon Kemp, and Ian Williams, “’Carbon Footprinting’: Towards a
Universally Accepted Definition,” Carbon Management 2, no. 1 (2011): 61–72.
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Chapter 3
Climate Change|52
12. Peter Hoeller and Markku Wallin, “Energy Prices, Taxes, and Carbon Dioxide Emissions,”
OECD Economic Studies, no 17 (Autumn 1991), 92.
13. Brian Fisher et al., “Interaction between Mitigation and Adaptation, in the Light of Climate
Change Impacts and Decision-Making under Long-Term Uncertainty,” Section 3.5 in Climate
Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change, Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth
Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, ed., B. Metz et al.
(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 225–233.
14. Jenna Goodward and Alexia Kelly, “Bottom Line on Offsets,” World Resources Institute, 17
(August 2010), 1–2.
15. Robert N. Stavins, “Experience with Market-Based Environmental Policy Instruments,”
Discussion Paper 01-58 (Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, November 2011).
16. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol (UNFCCC,
17. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “UNFCCC Glossary of Climate
Change Acronyms,” accessed November 30, 2014,
18. Andrea Thompson, “Study: Global Warming Could Hinder Hurricanes,” LiveScience, April
17, 2007,
19. United States Government Accountability Office, Climate Engineering: Technical Status, Future
Directions, and Potential Responses (Washington, DC: Center for Science, Technology, and Engineering,
July 2011), p. 3.
20. Spencer Weart, “International Cooperation: Democracy and Policy Advice (1980s),” The
Discovery of Global Warming, American Institute of Physics, last modified February 2014, http://
21. IPCC, “Summary for Policymakers,” in Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, Contribution
of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, ed., S.D. Solomon et al (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
22. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
23. “Status of Ratification of the Convention,” United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change,
24. Sophie Elmhirst, “The NS Interview: Bjørn Lomborg,” New Statesman, September 24, 2010,
25. William K. Stevens, “Scientist at Work: Richard S. Lindzen; A Skeptic Asks, Is It Getting
Hotter, Or Is It Just the Computer Model?” The New York Times, June 18, 1996.
26. “Our Clients and Businesses,” UBS, last modified August 12, 2014,
27. Katharina Bart, “UBS Lays Out Employee Ethics Code,” The Wall Street Journal, January 13,
28. “ISO 14000—Environmental Management,” ISO,
29. Sid Maher, “Europe’s $287bn carbon ‘waste’: UBS report,” The Australian, November 23,
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)|53
Chapter 4
Genetically Modified
Organisms (GMOs)
Source: Paul and Cathy, Creative Commons License (CC-BY 2.0, 2013)
Figure 4.1 Worldwide concern over GMO and GMO-labeling has made leading GMO-seed
producer Monsanto one of the world’s most controversial corporations. Here, a pro-labeling
activist group is protesting against Monsanto in Columbus, Ohio in 2013.
What Are Genetically Modified Organisms?
No corporate activity today is more controversial than the production and sale of genetically
modified organisms (GMOs; another common abbreviation is GM for genetically
modified foods). One company in particular, Monsanto, has become so closely associated
with GMOs that it has become the target of worldwide criticism and a number of public
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Though news articles and editorials appear daily about public interest campaigns
against GMOs, many consumers still are not sure exactly what GMOs are or why they
are so controversial. As you walk down the aisle of your local supermarket, you may have
noticed package labels that state, “This product does not contain GMOs.” Should you buy
such products? Should you prefer them to other products that do not make the same claim?
A GMO is any organism whose genes have been modified unnaturally.1
gene modification involves isolating a gene from one species and splicing it into another. For
example, this could involve isolating a mildew-resistant gene from one plant and splicing it
into a different species of plant in order to create a product that stays fresh longer.2
In one
sense, genetic manipulation is quite ancient. Ever since the origins of agriculture thousands
of years ago, farmers have known how to improve crop quality by selectively breeding strains
of vegetables, fruit, or grain. However, such hybrids are not GMOs because the process of
creating them does not involve the transfer of genes from one species to another.
The term GMO refers not only to food products, but also to animals, insects, and medications
that have been produced through genetic modification. The first medicine produced
through genetic engineering was insulin. Previously, insulin for diabetes patients had been
harvested from animals.3
Introduction of GMO-derived insulin reduced dependence on
animals for the creation of this drug, and also reduced the number of negative allergic
reactions among diabetes patients who were sensitive to animal-derived insulin. Genetic
engineering has been used to develop medicines and treatments for a number of diseases,
including cancer. This ability to engineer the genetic make-up of an organism has been
referred to as conscious evolution.
Genetically modified crops can be designed to provide benefits for producers or consumers.
To date, the primary focus has been on improved farming productivity. Most GMO
crops available today were created to be resistant to specific pests, pesticides, diseases, or
difficult environmental conditions such as flood or drought.5
For example, one of the most
commercially successful genetic modifications for crops is one that makes them resistant
to glyphosate, an especially effective herbicide developed by Monsanto and sold under the
trademark Roundup, but which is now produced by many other companies.6
Monsanto has
developed seeds for GM crops that are resistant to glyphosate and are therefore marketed
as “Roundup Ready.” By using GM crops that are resistant to glyphosate, farmers can
control weeds more easily. This allows farmers to increase harvests while using less labor,
because there is less need to plow fields once they have been cleared of weeds with glyphosate.
Clearing weeds also reduces the presence of insect predators that could diminish crop
One commonly cited example of the potential benefits of GMOs comes from the
extensive reliance on GM crops in China, which has allowed China to greatly improve farm
Cotton plants genetically modified to be resistant to local pests are already
widely-used in China. By switching to this cotton, use of pesticides has decreased by 80%.
Genetically modified organisms play a larger role in our world than most Americans
realize. In the United States today, over 90% of soybean, cotton, corn, and other crops are
genetically modified.8
If you were not aware of the extent of GMO usage, you are not alone.
A 2005 survey asked Canadians, Americans, and Britons if they were paying close attention
to genetic engineering in their medication and food: Only 9% of Americans reported that
they paid close attention to the issue and 31% were somewhat interested, but 25% answered
that they had not paid any attention to the issue, and an additional 35% had paid little
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Arguably, one of the reasons the public does not know more about genetically modified
organisms is that research in the field is primarily conducted by the main companies who
develop GMOs, and these companies do not wish to alarm the public.10 Large corporations
have dominated the world of genetic engineering since the Supreme Court ruled that genes
could be patented.11 Patent protection and enforcement by large corporations make it difficult
for smaller companies or research firms to enter the genetic modification market. As
a result, it is difficult for independent researchers to study patented genes without approval
from the companies that own them.12
In the view of GMO skeptics, available research on GM food is usually biased in favor
of GMOs.13 It has been alleged that independent researchers who threaten the interests
of the large corporations risk losing research funding.14 The relative lack of independent
research makes it more difficult for the general public to arrive at an informed, objective
opinion. Many of the articles, websites, and other publications on this topic are biased: They
either are produced by corporations that have developed GM foods, or they are published
by lobby groups who are strongly opposed to GM foods.
GMOs and Biodiversity
The impact of GMOs on biodiversity is widely debated. Pro-GMO researchers maintain
that if crops are genetically modified for pest resistance, farmers can reduce their reliance on
insecticides, so that local fauna, such as birds, rodents, and insects, can flourish in the area.
Secondary pests that would have been eliminated through widespread insecticide application
are not suppressed by the scaled-back insecticide use permitted by GMOs. Because
these secondary pests remain, other small predators—the birds and rodents that feed on
the secondary pests—remain viable.15 In addition, the development of drought-resistant
or flood-resistant crops allows arid or flood-prone land to be used for growing crops. This
means that less high-biodiversity terrain needs to be converted for farming.16
On the other side of the debate, GMO skeptics have argued that up to 75% of plant
genetic diversity has been lost since farmers switched to uniform GM crop varieties. In
this view, less popular, non-GM seed varieties are being neglected.17 Moreover, widely used
GM crop varieties can spread to neighboring fields and eventually mix in with non-GM
crops. A farmer who wishes to continue using a non-GM seed variety, or who desires to
maintain the organic status of his crops, must adopt potentially expensive measures to
protect his crops from contamination or cross-pollination with his neighbor’s GM crops.
It has also been argued that the over-popularity of certain GM crops may lead to greater
susceptibility to pests and disease.18 Pests may evolve to target the monoculture of popular
and overused crop varieties. Moreover, it has been argued that the evolution of glyphosateresistant
weeds has required farmers to make ever-greater use of glyphosate, the toxicity of
which poses dangers for human health.
It has been hypothesized that GM crops can harm insect species that are not pests.
Insects that feed on GM crops will carry GM pollen, which may prove toxic in the long
term and result in depletion or even extinction of insect populations.19 The genetic integrity
of any plant or insect that lives in close proximity to GM crops can be compromised
because gene transfer from one organism to another can occur, and such genes may pose
unanticipated risks. GM traits have been found transferred to insects, water life, and soil.
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GMOs and Food Supply
It is frequently argued that GM crops are helping farmers solve the world’s hunger
problems. Conceivably, GM crops help improve food sustainability, enhance environmental
farming methods, and produce more nutritious food. Thus, it is generally accepted that
GM crops can yield greater amounts of food (though not in all cases). Since GM crops
can be designed to grow at a uniform speed and size, harvesting is simplified and yield
is increased.20 GM crops are commonly engineered to require fewer pesticides and to be
planted with no-till methods, thereby decreasing erosion, fuel consumption, and herbicide
use. Moreover, GM crops can yield more nutrients. For example, the widely cited example
of the GM crop known as Golden Rice illustrates the use of GM techniques to develop
food staples with higher-than-usual nutrient levels. Proponents contend that, in the long
term, Golden Rice and similarly nutrient-enhanced GM crops can help reduce malnutrition
in developing countries. Supporters of GM crops argue that over-regulation of the
GMO industry limits the realization of potential benefits from GM food. As a result,
consumers in developing countries are deprived of potential public health benefits.
On the other side of the discussion, advocates for organic farming methods argue that
sophisticated organic farming can actually produce higher crop yields than GM crops.
Proponents of this view argue that world food problems are more often caused by poor
distribution rather than a lack of available food. Improving the availability of food through
the increased yields of GM crops cannot solve distribution problems. Anti-GMO groups
also maintain that GM crops make farmers reliant on corporations that supply seeds and
chemicals, thereby perpetuating poverty by yoking farmers into a cycle of dependence.21
The Case for GMOs and against Labeling
Given the above-described debates over the impact of GMOs on food supply and
biodiversity, it is clear that there is strong support for GMOs as well as a determined lobby
against them. While it currently seems unlikely that any major food-producing nations
will outlaw GMOs, a vigorous debate is taking place on the mandatory labeling of foods
containing GMOs. Opponents of mandatory labeling contend that GM foods are safe and
do not require labels, while proponents maintain that consumers have a right to know what
is in their food.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an organization
that promotes scientific integrity and publishes the journal Science, has stated that
attacks against GMOs and the fight to have them labeled can cause unnecessary alarm
among consumers. The AAAS considers fears about GMO safety unfounded.22 The AAAS
has pointed out that other types of natural breeding are universally encouraged and that
genetic modification is fundamentally no different and no more harmful than these natural
methods.23 The AAAS argues that since GM foods and non-GM foods are nutritionally
equivalent, labeling of GM foods could lead consumers to erroneously believe that GM
foods are harmful.
Other opponents of mandatory labeling argue that genetic modification of food is not
different from the widely accepted practice of adding fluoride to our water, which does not
require labeling under American law.24 Since labeling would discourage the use of GM
ingredients in food products, we would essentially be preventing better food products from
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Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)|57
reaching consumers. For example, genetic modifications can eliminate fungal infections
in foods that might otherwise cause sickness or lead to expensive food recalls.25 Greater
regulation of GM foods could generate unfounded suspicion of good food products, and
this suspicion could hinder further GM development and research.26
Unnecessary regulation of GM crops could also cause hardship to farmers. It has been
claimed that some farmers have lost income because they cultivated GM crops that had
been approved but were subsequently rejected for use as a result of lawsuits or revocation
of USDA approval.27 Likewise, developers of GM crops have faced difficulty in trying to
research and develop new seed varieties because regulations limit their ability to plant test
crops outdoors.
The Case against GMOs and for Labeling
The anti-GMO lobby has called for labeling of all GMO food products so that
consumers can make informed choices about whether to avoid the potential harm from
GMOs. One widely publicized and highly controversial study published in 2012 examined
laboratory rats that had consumed Roundup Ready corn—including both corn that was
Roundup Ready but had not been sprayed with Roundup, and corn that was Roundup
Ready and had been sprayed with Roundup. The researchers observed death rates two to
three times higher among the Roundup Ready–fed rats than in the control group, in addition
to major kidney impairments.28 This research was notable because most research
conducted by corporations that develop GM foods is based on a ninety-day observation
period. However, the study by Séralini et al. tracked the research animals for a period of two
years, allowing for observation of long-term effects. The authors of this study pointed out
that no regulatory body requires GM foods to be tested for consumption on animals before
being sold to humans. Many GMO detractors seized upon this study as evidence that GM
food is potentially dangerous. Since its publication, however, the study has been challenged
by other scientists and was formally retracted by the publishers of the scientific journal in
which it appeared.29
Another study examined pregnant mothers who ate GM corn, which had been modified
with a pesticide-resistant gene that has been shown to cause tissue and autoimmune
damage in mice.30 The study revealed that 93% of pregnant mothers tested positive for a
toxin from the pesticide-resistant gene in their blood. The toxin also showed up in 80% of
the umbilical blood of their babies. In addition, the authors of this study mention that farm
laborers who work with this type of GM crop report serious allergies, and that animals
grazing on these GM crops have higher death rates.
As mentioned above, independent research on GM food is difficult to conduct and is
therefore scarce. However, there are a small number of studies that do suggest that GM
food can cause impaired liver and kidney function as well as impaired embryo development.
In addition, it has been conjectured that GM foods cause antibiotic resistance, and
that they provide less nutrition because they may have lower levels of naturally occurring
nutrients or hormones.31 Additionally, GM foods are alleged to pose higher risks for allergy
sufferers. Clear labeling would allow individuals who may be especially susceptible to the
harms of GMOs to avoid GMO foods.
Many anti-GMO groups argue that not enough research has been done to know if
GM crops are safe for human consumption.32 Groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the
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Earth have warned consumers that there is no solid evidence that GM food is safe for
At present, the only way a consumer can be confident that he or she is not purchasing
GM food is by buying food with an “organic” label: The USDA only permits this label to
be used on food products that are GM free.33 As an alternative, some companies voluntarily
label their food as GM free to indicate that it has no traces of GM ingredients. This label
is not regulated, however, and no inspection is conducted to ensure that all foods with this
label are in fact free of GM ingredients.
According to a 2011 study of over one million Americans by the Mellman Group, 93%
of poll respondents said they would like food with genetically engineered ingredients to be
labeled as such.34 Approximately 75% of poll respondents were worried about the health
effects of GM food, and 37% of respondents feared increased risks for cancer or allergies
from these foods. Among those concerned about GM food, 26% thought these foods were
not safe to eat and 13% worried about environmental problems caused by GM crops and
foods. Forty percent of respondents thought that the fruits and vegetables they purchased
were likely genetically modified; half of respondents said they would not eat modified veggies,
fruits, and grains. Two-thirds of people surveyed claimed that they would not eat
genetically modified meat.35
Labeling is admittedly difficult to introduce, due to both the cost and the complexity
of food production. Many food companies today may be unaware of the extent to which
their products contain GM ingredients. Consequently, in order to be effective, labeling
must start at the very root of the food chain, when a GM seed is planted and grown into a
GM crop.
GMO Labeling Around the Globe
While GM foods are freely grown in the United States, other regions, most notably
the European Union, enforce strict regulations on GM crops.36 The European Food Safety
Authority examines three aspects of GM food: genetic composition of the food, risk, and
environmental impact. The European Union requires labeling because it believes that consumers
should be able to make informed choices.37 Labeling of all GM food is mandatory
in the European Union and in over 60 countries around the world, including China, Japan,
and Australia.38 In other countries, such as Canada, labeling remains voluntary.39
Australia has imposed a strict regulatory framework for dealing with GMOs. Notice
must be given of all applications for licensing of new GMOs. Following this, invitations
to comment on these applications are widely published and feedback is invited from individuals,
nonprofit organizations, researchers, and experts in the field. A separate regulatory
body, staffed with experts in the field of GMO research, has helped ensure the success
of this program by maintaining high standards for reporting and debate. Unfortunately,
Australia’s regulatory system has not worked as smoothly as expected. Lobbying by strong
interest groups continues to delay the release of some approved GMO products. However,
proof of the regulatory system’s effectiveness has been shown through changed public
opinion toward GMOs in Australia. As public education has increased and transparency
about GM products has improved through this regulatory process, attitudes toward GMOs
have become more positive.40
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The Philippines contemplated introduction of mandatory labeling over the last decade
and decided against it. A study of Filipino food production and the retail system concluded
that labeling for GMO foods would result in cost increases of up to 12% for manufacturers.
If any of this increase were passed along to consumers, in a country where 54% of the
average household budget is already allocated for food, consumers would be less likely to
buy the labeled GMO products.41
Approaches to Labeling in the United
A number of reasons have been advanced for strengthening regulation of GMOs in
the United States, most notably that American farmers have suffered from the misuse
of GM food products. In 2008, the United States was responsible for about 50% of GM
crops planted globally, including 80% of GM corn, 92% of GM soybeans, and 93% of GM
canola. It has been reported that over 70% of processed food sold in the United States
contains GMOs.42 In the past, accidental release of unapproved GE crops into the market
has led to trade embargos by other countries that enforce more stringent control of GM
products, resulting in losses for American farmers.43
Several states have begun independently looking at mandatory labeling for GM foods
within the state. Connecticut, Hawaii, and Maine passed bills in 2013 to require various
levels of labeling for GM foods. Hawaii’s legislation is the most detailed, requiring labels
on GM foods imported from outside the state of Hawaii, as well as labels related to the
sale of GM fish products. In 2013, New Hampshire’s House of Representatives proposed a
GM labeling system, which was approved for further study by the State Senate in January
As of October 2013, bills for various degrees of mandatory labeling had been proposed
and were awaiting a vote in Alaska, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota,
Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania,
Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia. Bills for mandatory labeling
had been proposed and voted down in Colorado and New Mexico. A bill for mandatory
labeling was introduced in Florida but died in committee, and a bill for labeling was introduced
in Maryland but was subsequently withdrawn as a result of an unsupportive report
from the state’s Health and Government Operations committee.45
One of the most publicized campaigns for labeling was California’s Proposition 37.
Proposition 37 required labeling of all GM food, and it forbade food producers from using
the word “natural” on any food containing GM ingredients. Ultimately, it was defeated
53% to 47% in the 2012 elections. Had it passed, California would have been the first state
to adopt anti-GMO legislation. The California Right to Know campaign raised major
support, but a strong “No on Prop 37” campaign was also mounted with massive funding
from corporations such as Monsanto and Hershey’s.46 While this bill was ultimately unsuccessful,
noted author and food activist Michael Pollan has pointed out that Proposition 37
started a national conversation about food and food safety, gave the public an opportunity
to vote about their confidence in the food industry, and made the public increasingly aware
of lack of transparency within the food industry.47
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Topic for Debate: To Label or Not to Label?
For this debate, you are the assigned to the role of owner of Just Food, a large (fictional)
supermarket chain in the southwestern United States. A bill has just been tabled in your
state’s House of Representatives to require mandatory labeling of all food products containing
GMOs. Your major competitor, organic-loving Soul Foods, has come out publicly
in support of this bill. Various lobby groups for both sides of the debate have approached
you for support, and you must now decide whether you and your supermarket chain will
take a public stand on the issue of GMO labeling.
The CEO of Just Food, Emily Progresso, is very mindful of the potential public relations
benefits of coming out in favor of mandatory GMO labeling. On the other hand, Ms.
Progresso has a degree in agricultural science and she is a very sincere person who does
not want to take a position just for the sake of expediency; she would prefer to think she is
doing the right thing. She asks two of her executives to prepare briefs for an internal debate
about the topic.
Just Food should publicly support mandatory labeling of all products that contain
Possible Arguments
• GMOs are not adequately researched and may be harmful for human consumption.
• Consumers have a right to know what they are purchasing for consumption.
• GMOs reduce plant biodiversity.
• Taking a stance against labeling will risk a consumer boycott or shift of consumer
preferences to our competitor, Soul Foods.
Just Food should not publicly support mandatory labeling of all products that contain
Possible Arguments
• GM foods are as nutritious as, or even more nutritious than, conventional foods.
• GMO use reduces a number of environmental problems.
• Genetic modification occurs naturally.
• Unnecessary labeling creates consumer fear and suspicion.
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4.1 Food Safety Fact Sheet: Genetically Engineered
Food: The Labeling Debate
Center for Food Safety. “Genetically Engineered Food: The Labeling Debate.” Food Safety
Fact Sheet. April 2013.
If you want to know if your food was irradiated or contains gluten, aspartame, high
fructose corn syrup, transfats or MSG, you simply read the label. But if you want to know if
your food was genetic engineered, you’re not going to find any information on the package.
Why? Because despite the fact that 64 countries around the world (including all European
Union member states, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and China1
) grant their citizens
the right to know what is in their food, the United States continues to ignore consumer
demands to label GE foods. Numerous polls2
have indicated that more than 90 percent
of US consumers believe GE foods should be labeled, yet the US has refused to grant its
citizens this basic right.
Unlabeled, Untested, and You’re Eating It
Consumers across the country are being allowed to purchase and consume unlabeled
GE foods, without our knowledge or consent. Already, this novel technology has invaded
our grocery stores and our kitchens by fundamentally altering some of our most important
staple food crops. Currently, more than 88 percent of US corn is genetically engineered,
as are 93 percent of soybeans and 94 percent of cotton3
(cottonseed oil is often used in
food products). According to industry estimates, up to 95 percent of sugar beets may now
be GE varieties. It has been estimated that upwards of 75 percent of processed foods on
supermarket shelves—from soda to soup, crackers to condiments—contain genetically
engineered ingredients.
The United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the American Medical Association
have all called for mandatory safety testing of GE foods. Nonetheless, FDA does
no independent testing of their safety, even though documents uncovered in CFS litigation
show that scientists within FDA indicated that GE foods could pose serious risks…
The State of GE Food Labeling
…Just over twenty years ago, FDA decided that GE foods need not be labeled because
they were not “materially” different from other foods.
The biotech industry has also fiercely opposed GE labeling, and has convinced many
in Congress and FDA that such a label would “mislead” consumers into thinking the
food is dangerous. But we don’t label dangerous foods; we take them off the market. The
government mandates food labeling not based on safety, but upon “material” change that
consumers should be informed about. In fact, the agency already requires labels for over
1 Center for Food Safety, Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Laws Map, http://www.
2 Center for Food Safety, U.S. Polls on GE Food Labeling,
3 Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo, Genetically engineered varieties of corn, upland cotton, and soybeans,
by State and for the United States, 2000-12, Washington, D.C.: USDA National Agricultural
Statistics Service, 2012.
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3,000 ingredients, additives, and processes in food production, for all kinds of reasons, none
of which are because the food has been deemed dangerous…
State and Federal Labeling Initiatives
As concerned citizens across the country grow tired of waiting for the federal government
to take action, they are turning to state and local governments. In 2013 alone, over half
the states in the country introduced bills that would require labeling for GE foods.4
of these bills use language that CFS crafted, or are based on CFS’s model GE labeling bill.
On the heels of the narrow defeat of California’s landmark Proposition 37, states from
Washington to Vermont are debating state legislation and citizen driven ballot initiatives
to do what the federal government won’t: label GE food…
Interested parties seeking counsel on getting an initiative started in your city or state
should contact CFS at
Center for Food Safety. “Genetically Engineered Food: The Labeling Debate.” Food
Safety Fact Sheet. April 2013.
4.2 “Why Genetically Modified Foods Should Be
Bartolotto, Carole. “Why Genetically Modified Foods Should be Labeled,” HuffPost: Food
for Thought. December 4, 2013.
Did you know that you have been enrolled in the largest research study ever conducted
in the United States but you never signed a consent form or agreed to participate? That’s
because since 1996 you—and basically everyone you know—have been eating genetically
modified foods…
Most soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, sugar beets, and Hawaiian papaya, and some zucchini,
yellow squash, and alfalfa are genetically modified. Products such as oil, high fructose
corn syrup, and sugar are created from these crops and added to processed foods. This
explains why nearly 80 percent of processed and most fast foods contain GMOs.
The question is are GMOs safe for us and the environment? Actually, the answers are
not clear. There are no long-term studies demonstrating that GMOs are safe for humans and
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not do its own safety testing of GMOs…
The environment is another issue. What are the implications when a genetically modified
plant crossbreeds with other plants? The monarch butterflies are declining due to the
destruction of milkweed. What other consequences are possible? Super bugs and super
weeds are already showing up…
The bottom line is that we have a product in our food supply with unknown health
and environmental implications. At the very least, we should have these foods labeled.
However, try as we might, we cannot make that happen in the U.S. Even though 9 out of 10
people want them labeled, the biotech companies and food manufacturers do not… Over
60 countries, including China, label GMOs and some countries ban them. Why can’t we
have transparency in our food supply?
Washington’s Initiative 522 to label genetically engineered foods, on the November
[2013] ballot, will help us get the transparency we desire. But companies such as Monsanto,
4 Center for Food Safety, State Labeling Initiatives,
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Dupont Pioneer, Bayer CropScience, Dow Agrosciences, and the Grocery Manufacturers
Association (a trade group) will pay millions to create misleading and factually incorrect
ads telling Washingtonites that labeling will cost money, hurt farmers, and isn’t necessary
because GMOs are safe. However, we know if a food has high fructose corn syrup or trans
fat, or is irradiated. Why can’t we know if it’s genetically engineered? The biggest fear of
these companies is that once GMOs are labeled, we won’t want to eat them anymore. And
that may happen, just like it did when we found out there was pink slime in our hamburgers!
4.3 Monsanto’s Position
Monsanto. “Labeling Food and Ingredients Developed from GM Seed.” Monsanto.
com. (accessed
November 30, 2014).
At-a-Glance: Our View on Food Labeling
The safety of our products is our first priority, and multiple health societies, hundreds
of independent scientific experts, and dozens of governments around the world have
determined that foods and ingredients developed through biotechnology [or genetic modification
(GM)] are safe.
Each country establishes its own food labeling laws. Within the United States, the government
has established clear guidance with respect to labeling food products containing
GM ingredients; we support this approach. We also support food companies’ choices to
voluntarily label food products noting certain attributes (e.g., organic) based on their customers’
preferences and provided the labeling is truthful and not misleading.
We oppose current initiatives to mandate labeling of ingredients developed from GM
seeds in the absence of any demonstrated risks. Such mandatory labeling could imply that
food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or
organic counterparts.
Viewpoints on Labeling GM Foods and Ingredients in the United States
…Within the United States, the  Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  oversees
food labeling. FDA guidance  requires labeling of food products containing ingredients
from GM seed if there is a meaningful difference between that food and its conventional
counterpart. The American Medical Association (AMA)  supports FDA’s approach and
approved a formal statement asserting that there is no scientific justification for special
labeling of foods containing GM ingredients.
…FDA allows food manufacturers the choice to voluntarily label their products noting
certain attributes or production methods (e.g., organic) provided the label is truthful and
not misleading. We support this approach.  Food companies are in the best position to
determine what type of information meets the needs and desires of their customers.
Monsanto website, accessed November 30, 2014,
4.4 “Why We Shouldn’t Label (or Worry about)
Genetically Modified Products”
English, Cameron. “GMO Foods: Why We Shouldn’t Label (or Worry about) Genetically
Modified Products.” PolicyMic. March 9, 2012.
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Last year, 14 states attempted to pass legislation requiring that genetically modified
(GMO) foods be labeled as such. And I learned this week that California is now following
in their footsteps to become number 15. The petition in my home state is being sold with
the tagline “It’s our right to know” what we’re eating, and ominous suggestions about the
health risks associated with eating GMO foods.
Appealing to voters’ “rights” and stirring up health concerns are guaranteed ways to
bring attention to political causes, but in the case of GMO food labeling, both tactics are
fallacious. There is no reason to label these generally harmless foods and doing so could
create unnecessary concern among the public…
The idea of food laden with foreign genes may sound scary, but it really isn’t. Since we
don’t live in a sterile environment, all the plants we eat, genetically modified or not, are
loaded with bacteria, viruses, and other living organisms— and their DNA. According
to agricultural scientist Steve Savage, this fact shouldn’t concern us. “Even though we are
eating microbes, their genes, and their gene products on a grand scale, it is almost never a
problem. In fact, some of these microbes go on to become part of our own bank of bacteria,
etc., that live within our digestive system—often to our benefit.”
Savage goes on to point out that the only difference between the foreign genetic materials
found naturally in plants and the genes we intentionally add to them is that we know
more about the latter. “We know the exact sequence of the gene, its location in the plant’s
chromosomes, what the gene does,” Savage says. The result is that we can more easily determine
how safe GMO foods are for consumption, compared to their natural counterparts.
But, that’s not the only good thing about GMO foods. Genetic engineering has allowed
scientists to develop crops that consume less water, grow in harsh environments, and
produce less carbon dioxide, as molecular biologist Henry Miller points out. Put another
way, these technological advances have made it possible to produce cheaper food in greater
quantities and in a more sustainable fashion. Food security and environmental protection
are political causes typically championed by progressives. So why are these same people
pushing for GMO food labeling?
…Most importantly, science education doesn’t come from food packaging. There’s
simply no way to properly educate consumers about the foods they’re eating at the point of
sale. That requires a concerted effort on the part of scientists and educators (which is already
underway), and a desire to learn on the part of consumers. There’s no reason to begin that
process by feeding people misleading information during their weekly grocery runs.
Of course, that last sentence assumes that supporters of food labeling petitions are
interested in educating people about nutrition, which they aren’t. The environmentalists
and public health advocates behind these measures are trying to force their preferences on
the public through the initiative process. If you think that’s just the ranting of an idealistic
libertarian, considering that prominent scientists and science writers have been saying the
same thing for many years.
If for no other reason, the opinion of experts ought to be enough to put a stop to exaggerated
fears of genetic engineering and baseless food labeling campaigns.
Synthesis Questions
1. What impact will labeling of GM food products have on producers and developers
of GMO foods?
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2. What impact will labeling of GM food products have on research of GMOs?
3. What impact will labeling of GM food have on consumers?
4. What would be the most effective and efficient system for labeling GM food?
1. World Health Organization, 20 Questions on Genetically Modified Foods, accessed October 4,
2. Nancy Harris, ed., “Introduction,” in Genetically Engineered Foods (San Diego: Greenhaven,
2004), 3-9.
3. J. S. Coker, “Crossing the Species Boundary: Genetic Engineering as Conscious Evolution,”
Futurist, 46, no. 1 (2012), 23–27.
4. Ibid., p. 23.
5. World Health Organization, 20 Questions.
6. Food and Water Watch, “The Case for GE Labeling,” Fact Sheet, May 2012, http://documents.
7. Foresight. “The Future of Food and Farming: Final Project Report (London: The Government
Office for Science, 2011).
8. Coker, “Crossing the Species Boundary.”
9. Shelley Mika, “Britons Show Distaste for Biotech Foods: Americans More Optimistic about
GM Food Safety,” Gallup, Inc., October 18, 2005,
10. Michael Antoniou, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan, GMO Myths and Truths: An EvidenceBased
Examination of the Claims Made for the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops,
(London: Earth Open Source, 2012).
11. Josh Schonwald, The Taste of Tomorrow (New York: Harper, 2012).
12. Schonwald, The Taste of Tomorrow.
13. Antoniou, GMO Myths and Truths.
14. R. Cummins, “Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops: Why We Need a Global
Moratorium,” in R. Sherlock and J. Morrey, eds., Ethical Issues in Biotechnology (Lanham, MD:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002), 213–219.
15. J.E. Carpenter, “Impact of GE Crops on Biodiversity,” GM Crops, 2, no. 1 (2011), 7–23,
16. Ibid., p. 7.
17. D. Gertsberg, “Loss of Biodiversity and Genetically Modified Crops,” GMO
Journal: Food Safety Politics, June 17, 2011,
18. Janet E. Carpenter, “Impact of GM Crops on Biodiversity,” GM Crops 2(1) (2011), 1-17.
19. R. Cummins, “Hazards of GE foods and crops.”
20. Schonwald, The Taste of Tomorrow.
21. Soil Association, Feeding the Future: How Organic Farming Can Help Feed the World (Bristol,
UK: Soil Association, 2012).
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22. American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Statement by the AAAS Board of
Directors on Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods,” news release, June 12, 2013, http://www. .
23.G. Conko and H. Miller, “The Rush to Condemn Genetically Modified Crops,” Policy Review,
165 (2011), 69–82,
24. Henry I. Miller, “Genetically Modified Foods Have Numerous Benefits and No Known Risks,”
Genetic Engineering, Ed. Noël Merino. (Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2013), Rpt. from “When
Technophobia Becomes Toxic,” 2012, “Opposing Viewpoints in Context,” accessed 30 Nov. 2014,
25. Ibid.
26. Ibid.
27. G. Conko and H. Miller, “The Rush to Condemn.”
28. G. Séralini, et al., “Long-Term Toxicity of a Roundup Herbicide and a Roundup-Tolerant
Genetically Modified Maize,” Food and Chemical Toxicology, 50 (2012), 4221–4231.
29. Steven Novella. “The Seralini GMO Study: Retraction and Response to Critics,”
Science-Based Medicine, December 4, 2013,
30. J. M. Smith, “GMO Toxins in Women and Fetuses,” AMASS Magazine, 41 (April 1, 2011),
31. R. Cummins, “Hazards of GE foods and crops.”
32. United States Government Accountability Office, Genetically Engineered Crops: Agencies Are
Proposing Changes to Improve Oversight, but Could Take Additional Steps to Enhance Coordination and
Monitoring (Washington DC: United States Government Accountability Office, 2008).
33. Food and Water Watch, “The Case for GE Labeling,”
34. Ibid.
35. The Mellman Group, memorandum to Just Label It!, “Voters Overwhelmingly Support a
Labeling Requirement for GE Foods,” March 22, 2011,
36. World Health Organization, 20 Questions.
37. M. Valletta, “Consumer perception and GMOs in the European Union,” in Policy Responses to
Societal Concerns in Food and Agriculture: Proceedings of an OECD Workshop (Paris: Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010), 87–93.
38. Guillaume Gruère, “Labeling Policies of Genetically Modified Food: Lessons from an International
Review of Existing Approaches,” Brief Number 7, 2007,
39. Michael Pollan, “Vote for the Dinner Party,” New York Times Magazine, October 10, 2012,
40. J. Hewitt, (2010). “GMO Policy in Australia,” Policy Responses to Societal Concerns in Food and
Agriculture: Proceedings of an OECD Workshop (Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development, 2010), 95–97.
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41. A. de Leon, A. Manalo, and F. C. Guilatco, “The Cost Implications of GM Food Labeling in
the Philippines,” Crop Biotech Brief, IV, no. 2 (2004),
42. United States Government Accountability Office, Genetically Engineered Crops.
43. United States Government Accountability Office, Genetically Engineered Crops.
44. Center for Food Safety, “State Labeling Initiatives,” accessed November 30, 2014, http://www.,
45. Center for Food Safety, “State Labeling Initiatives.”
46. Anna Almendrala, “Prop 37 Rejected: California Voters Reject Anti-GMO Labeling,” The
Huffington Post, last updated November 8, 2012,
47. Almendrala, “Prop 37 Rejected.”
Social Entrepreneurship|68
Chapter 5
Social Entrepreneurship
Kate Ter Haar (CC-BY 2.0, 2011)
Figure 5.1 The proud owners of TOMS Shoes are often willing to help promote the brand.
While there is no universally accepted definition of social entrepreneur, the term is typically
applied to an individual who uses market-based ideas and practices to create “social
value,” the enhanced well-being of individuals, communities, and the environment. Unlike
ordinary business entrepreneurs who base their decisions solely on financial returns, social
entrepreneurs incorporate the objective of creating social value into their founding busi-
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Social Entrepreneurship|69
ness models. Social entrepreneurship has become exceedingly popular in recent years and
a number of prestigious business schools have created specific academic programs in the
field. It is often said that social entrepreneurs are changing the world. They are lauded for
their ability to effect far-reaching social change through innovative solutions that disrupt
existing patterns of production, distribution, and consumption. Prominent social entrepreneurs
are celebrated on magazine covers, praised at the World Economic Forum in Davos,
and awarded millions of dollars in seed money from “angel” investors, and and applauded as
“harbingers of new ways of doing business.”1 Social entrepreneurs are thus often hailed as
heroes—but are they actually affecting positive social change?
Undeniably, social entrepreneurship can arouse a striking level of enthusiasm among
consumers. Blake Mycoskie, social entrepreneur and founder of TOMS Shoes, tells the
story of a young woman who accosted him in an airport, pointing at her pair of TOMS
while yelling, “This is the most amazing company in the world!”2
Founded in 2006, TOMS
Shoes immediately attracted a devoted following with its innovative use of the so-called
One for One business model, in which each purchase of a pair of shoes by a consumer
triggers the gift of a free pair of shoes to an impoverished child in a developing country.
The enthusiasm associated with social entrepreneurship is perhaps emblematic of
increased global social awareness, which is evidenced by increased charitable giving worldwide.
A 2012 study showed that 83% of Americans wish brands would support causes; 41%
have bought a product because it was associated with a cause (a figure that has doubled
since 1993); 94% said that given same price and quality, they were likely to switch brands to
one that represented a cause; and more than 90% think companies should consider giving
in the communities in which they do business.
Despite the eager reception from consumers, critics of social entrepreneurship have
raised concerns about the creation of social value in a for-profit context. Thus, TOMS is
sometimes mistaken for a charity because it donates shoes to children in developing countries,
yet it is also in business to sell shoes. The company earns an estimated $300 million
a year and has made Mr. Mycoskie a wealthy man. While companies are starting to look
more like charities, nonprofits are also increasingly relying on business principles to survive
an uncertain economy in which donors expect to see tangible results from their charitable
Our understanding of social entrepreneurship is complicated by the absence of any
consensus on ways to measure social outcomes. As a result, there is little concrete statistical
data available on the impact of social entrepreneurship. Indeed, there is not much agreement
on a precise definition of social entrepreneurship, so it becomes difficult to say to
what extent any given company is an example of social entrepreneurship. TOMS’ Chief
Giving Officer, Sebastian Fries, recently told the New York Times that the company is “not
in the business of poverty alleviation.”3
Does this mean that increased social value is merely
a happy externality of the business of selling shoes? If so, what makes Blake Mycoskie a
social entrepreneur?
Some critics go so far as to suggest that social entrepreneurs are merely using public
relations tactics to engage in social or environmental greenwashing—taking advantage
of consumers’ desire to do good. In some cases, it has been argued, social entrepreneurs
can even do more harm than good (as we will see, this criticism has even been leveled at
TOMS). Lacking a full understanding of the socioeconomic and cultural dynamic of the
developing countries in which they intervene, social enterprises can undermine fragile local
markets and foster dependence on foreign assistance.
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In our chapter-ending debate, we will put ourselves in the position of a startup company
that is inspired by the example of TOMS Shoes. The company is considering adopting a
one-for-one model and you will be asked whether it should. To arrive at an informed answer
to this question, we must first address two related questions: (1) Do social entrepreneurs
create social value to the same degree as a traditional nonprofit or charity? (2) Does the
blurring of distinctions between charity and business dupe consumers into believing that
consumption equals caring? Given the mixture of enthusiasm and ambivalence aroused by
social entrepreneurship, our first task is to understand it.
The Growth of Social Entrepreneurship
In 1974, a Bangladeshi economics professor named Muhammad Yunus visited a small
rural village in Bangladesh in an effort to connect the economic theories he was teaching
with the reality of poverty in his native country. Amidst the tragedy of rural poverty, Yunus
believed he saw an opportunity to transform perceptions of poverty relief. Yunus felt that,
although rural people were skilled and hardworking, they were unable to obtain loans from
banks primarily due to a lack of collateral. Yunus’s innovation was to seek to alleviate poverty
directly by establishing a bank for the poor. This bank would make microloans (very
small loans, often less than $100) with low interest rates to enable small entrepreneurs to
slowly build up their capital to reinvest, grow their businesses, and rise from poverty.
Yunus was able to launch this idea in 1976 in the form of Grameen Bank, which began
operations by making a small number of loans to members of a local village. The business
grew quickly, with an extraordinarily high loan repayment rate of 99%. The explosion of cellular
access served as a catalyst for the microfinance market. Through their mobile phones,
rural entrepreneurs had access to a global network of investors and business tools, where
traditionally they might have had to travel hundreds of miles to a city to borrow money or
buy goods and services.
By 2005, the Grameen Bank had more than 1,500 branches in nearly 50,000 villages,
covering about 70% of India, with approximately five million borrowers and annual revenues
of about $80 million. The success of the Grameen experiment fostered the modern
microfinance industry, which connects thousands of entrepreneurs to donors all over the
world, through sites like Kiva, GiveDirectly, Accion USA, and the Grameen Foundation.
In 2006, Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize, which recognized him as a pioneer in microfinance.
The social entrepreneurship revolution was underway.
While Yunus focused on microfinance, other thinkers and social activists developed alternative
methods for using entrepreneurial techniques to foster social change. In 1981, Bill
Drayton, a former EPA administrator and management consultant, formed Ashoka, the
first organization specifically devoted to promoting and supporting social entrepreneurs.
Ashoka invests in promising social entrepreneurs, providing them with start-up financing,
professional support services, and connections to a global network of business and social
sector players. Today, Ashoka funds nearly 3,000 Fellows in 70 countries.
Since Ashoka was launched, scores of other organizations all over the world have
formed to support social entrepreneurship. According to a 2012 study,4
there are more than
60 national or international social entrepreneur networks worldwide, with an average of
four to five new networks being set up every year.5
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Governments have hopped aboard the social entrepreneurship bandwagon. In 2011,
the European Union established social entrepreneurship as one of the 12 pillars of its policy
for growth and social progress. France appointed a Minister for Social and Cooperative
Economy, and in 2012, the European Commission launched a call for proposals to produce
and collect statistics on social entrepreneurship in the EU, under the Initiative for Social
In the United States, new legal corporate forms have emerged that allow for the inclusion
of social value objectives in a company’s articles of incorporation. In 15 states,
companies can legally incorporate as a benefit corporation (B Corp), a new class of corporation
that by definition must (1) create a materially positive impact on society and the
environment; (2) expand fiduciary duty to require consideration of non-financial interests
when making decisions; and (3) report on its overall social and environmental performance
using recognized third-party standards. B Corps allow directors and officers to consider
non-financial decisions in reporting to multiple stakeholders. Today, there are more than
520 certified B Corps across 60 different industries representing $3 billion in revenues.
Patagonia was the first company to take advantage of the new law, officially becoming a B
Corp in California in 2012.
Similar to the B Corp is the flexible purpose corporation (FPC), a designation that
allows a corporation to select at least one specific mission to pursue in addition to profitmaking.
A low-profit limited liability company (L3C) is a for-profit social enterprise that
has a stated goal of performing a socially beneficial purpose rather than maximizing income.
It is a hybrid structure that combines the legal and tax flexibility of a traditional limited
liability corporation (LLC) with the social benefits of a nonprofit organization, and the
branding and market positioning advantages of a social enterprise. The L3C is designed to
make it easier for socially oriented businesses to attract investments from foundations and
private investors.
Some social entrepreneurs have sought to enhance their fundraising capacity by creating
a hybrid model—a commercial enterprise linked to a nonprofit subsidiary, or vice
versa. The nonprofit side is tax exempt and can apply for grants and accept donations, while
the for-profit side can enlist investors and leverage debt.
An example of this form is Mozilla, the company that makes the web browser Firefox.
In response to the explosive growth of Firefox, the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation formed
a for-profit subsidiary in 2005, the Mozilla Corporation. The for-profit makes about $104
million a year from revenue sharing agreements with search partners such as Google and
Yahoo. Meanwhile, the Mozilla Foundation, which is the corporation’s sole shareholder,
handles the development of open-source software and brings in just over $222,000 in
charitable donations per year.
Social Entrepreneurship and Global
Is social entrepreneurship a form of philanthropy? Given that both concepts are rooted
in the creation of positive social value, it makes sense to consider the strong relationship
between the two fields. Indeed, policy makers have cited social entrepreneurship as a powerful
ally for philanthropy, and perhaps even as its successor. Increasingly, many donors see
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themselves as investors rather than as providers of charity. Such donors, who have been
dubbed “philanthro-capitalists,” expect measurable social returns on their investments. They
tend to view the for-profit social enterprise model as an efficient, innovative, and scalable
method of creating social value in markets where nonprofits and governments have seemingly
Bill Gates, former Microsoft CEO and one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, has
attained leadership status in the global philanthropic community as the head of the world’s
largest charitable institution, the Gates Foundation. At the World Economic Forum in
2008, Gates called for a new form of “creative capitalism,” which “matches business expertise
with needs in the developing world to find markets that are already there, but are
untapped.” Gates pointed out that “sometimes market forces fail to make an impact in
developing countries not because there’s no demand, or even because money is lacking, but
because we don’t spend enough time studying the needs and requirements of that market.”6
Gates cited economist C.K. Prahalad’s bottom of the pyramid (BoP) approach to
eradicating poverty, which postulates that the billions of people in the world who live on
less than $2 a day represent the “unserved and underserved.” Prahalad argues that collectively
the BoP has immense buying power. By selling products and services to this segment,
companies both profit and serve the needs of the poor. The Gates/Prahalad approach was
seconded in a 2011 speech by World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who postulated that
the time had come to move “beyond aid” to a system in which “assistance would be integrated
with—and connected to—global growth strategies, fundamentally driven by private
investment and entrepreneurship. The goal would not be charity, but a mutual interest in
building more poles of growth.”7
Zoellick called for entrepreneurship and innovation to create expanded markets, acknowledging
that “new players and new donors are already transforming the aid world
as we know it.” This new multilateral system would be rooted in “a notion of stakeholder
responsibility, more connected to private sector and civil society networks, more committed
to practical problem solving and innovation.”
The call by Gates and Zoellick to develop new forms of private entrepreneurial support
for global aid reflects the reality that the private sector has become a much bigger factor
than government aid in international development. In 2010, global private philanthropy
totaled $575 billion. U.S. giving from foundations, corporations, private and voluntary
organizations (PVOs),8
individual volunteers, religious organizations, and academic institutions
totaled $39 billion. Corporations and private and voluntary organizations (PVOs)
accounted for the largest portion of U.S. philanthropy, making up more than half the total.9
While these figures offer a fair estimate of philanthropic activity worldwide, they likely
under-report the total amount of money donated to developing nations each year. Financial
reporting is typically done voluntarily by PVOs, corporations, foundations, and religious
groups in developing countries. In the United States, organizations with less than $5,000
in annual revenue are not required to register with the IRS. The Urban Institute estimates
that, of the approximately 1.1 million public charities in the United States, only 366,000
report data to the IRS each year.10
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Social Value: Measuring the Impact of
Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy
While it is clear that global philanthropic activity is generally increasing, measurement
of its impact on social value and aid effectiveness has only recently become a priority.
Increased demands for transparency and accountability from donors and governments
have resulted in hundreds of competing methods of measuring social value. Foreign aid
is predominantly measured in terms of total capital investment, not by how many people
are actually helped. Historically, reports of aid effectiveness have frequently consisted of
unreliable individual anecdotes and testimonials.
Without accurate financial and impact data, it is difficult to tell exactly where donor
dollars are going. This information is unfortunately quite complicated and costly to acquire.
Not only must the concepts of benefit or value be quantified, but external factors affecting
research validity must be ruled out. While many donors demand to know how their money
is spent, most of them do not like the idea of paying for the administrative costs associated
with producing such statistics. Most aid organizations want to see their money going
toward groundwork, not paperwork.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is the main
international body that collects and evaluates data on aid effectiveness. A coalition of 34
countries dedicated to stimulating world economic growth and international trade, the
OECD, through its Development Assistance Committee (DAC), coordinates agreements
between donor countries, developing nations, and private interests to help developing
country governments. Based on “trade, not aid” principles, the DAC is ultimately geared
toward improving local systems so that developing countries are able to manage economic
growth without depending on foreign aid. Much of the DAC’s data suggests that aid works
best when it is properly directed and managed. By some estimates, it costs a nonprofit an
average of $33 to raise $100 in the United States and up to 80% of a nonprofit’s time and
energy is devoted to raising funds.
Social return on investment (SROI) is one method of impact measurement that has
been gaining in popularity. SROI is basically a cost–benefit analysis that measures nonfinancial
(social and/or environmental) value created relative to resources invested. This
approach is sometimes accused of being simplistic: While “hard outcomes,” such as the
number of children passing a literacy test, can be easily measured, “soft outcomes,” such
as increased happiness, self-confidence, or communication skills, cannot be measured and
weighed against dollar amounts. While SROI is usually applied to charities and NGOs,
many believe that the method works best when applied to for-profit businesses, such as
those created by social entrepreneurs. Proponents of SROI point out that it forces organizations
to have meaningful discussions with their stakeholders.
Much of the impetus for improved measurement is driven by a widespread frustration
with the perceived ineffectiveness of foreign aid. According to the World Bank, many
forms of aid are ill-conceived and do not make optimal use of resources.11 Studies on the
impact of development aid in the form of in-kind donations, or gifts of materials or goods
rather than money, suggest that, while potentially benefiting recipients in the short term,
in-kind donations have a negative impact on local markets in the long term. Thus, Oxfam
International has argued that, while much foreign food aid helps to save lives in the immediate
aftermath of natural disasters and conflict, in-kind food donations have often been
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a way for donor countries to dump their surplus production and promote exports.12 For
example, in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, an influx of rice donations hurt
local rice farmers’ livelihoods and threatened the local agricultural economy.13 A 2008 study
from the University of Toronto compared in-kind clothing donations with food aid, stating
that used clothing imports have a negative impact on apparel and textile production in
Africa, resulting in a roughly 40% decline in African apparel production and a 50% decline
in apparel employment.14
The Dark Side of Social Entrepreneurship
Critics of social entrepreneurship draw attention to its potential to encourage corporate
and consumer hypocrisy. Social philosopher Slavoj Zizek observes that adherents of “conscious
consumerism” often state that they are trying to address problems such as poverty,
inequality, and environmental degradation, which are the principal negative externalities of
a capitalist economy. However, in Zizek’s view, it is an obvious self-contradiction to think
that one can overcome the defects of capitalism by engaging in yet more capitalism. TOMS
shoes, for example, are manufactured by poor people in overseas factories. When their
famously flimsy design wears out, they are discarded into landfills.
There is evidence that conscious consumerism can generate surprisingly counterintuitive
effects. A study released by the University of Toronto in 2010 found a negative
connection between altruism and ethical behavior.15 Student volunteers were divided into
groups and instructed to look at two online stores: one that offered mostly green products
and another that carried mostly conventional products. Half the students in each group
were asked to purchase products, and half were asked to simply rate them. Afterward, in
a money-sharing game, the students who only rated the green products shared the most
money, while the students who purchased green products shared the least. Furthermore,
in a computer game that tempted the students to cheat, those who had purchased green
products were not only more likely to cheat than the other groups, but they took extra
money when asked to pay themselves from envelopes on their desks.
The researchers concluded that mere exposure to green products (experienced as an
ethical act) encourages prosocial behavior, while engaging in ethical purchasing may decrease
the likelihood of future ethical behavior. It appears that people may have a limited
amount of ethical motivation, which can be used up. This tendency is referred to as the
single-action bias and has been confirmed as a potential drain on charitable giving. A University
of Michigan study found that if two consumers are given a chance to purchase
the same product but one of them buys the product as a “cause-related” purchase, that
consumer’s charitable giving will be lower than the other’s.16
Critics of social entrepreneurship also cite the so-called halo effect, a cognitive bias in
which we assume that because someone is good in one area, they will be good in other areas.
The phrase was coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1920 to describe the way
commanding officers rated their soldiers as either good or bad across the board. Arguably,
when consumers see a company as having a positive social impact via social entrepreneurship,
we assume that it is ethical across the board, which may not be the case.
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Case Study: TOMS Shoes
In 2006, Blake Mycoskie, a young entrepreneur from Arlington, Texas, started a shoe
company with a simple premise: For every pair of shoes sold, the company would donate a
similar pair to a child in need. Mycoskie, self-described Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS Shoes,
is considered the pioneer of the one-for-one giving model, which has since been imitated
by companies making everything from hospital scrubs to chewing gum.
Mycoskie claims that with TOMS he has created not just a business but a social movement
that has fundamentally changed the way we consume products. He has trademarked
the tagline, “One for One,” and plans to expand the model into many more product categories,
a move that supports his view of giving as an across-the-board lifestyle choice. It’s
also Core Value #8, according to an inspirational sign in the TOMS office space: “Giving is
what fuels us. Giving is our future.”
Mycoskie was vacationing in Argentina when he got the idea for TOMS (the name
is a play on the phrase “Shoes for Tomorrow”). After meeting charity workers who were
collecting used shoes to distribute to poor children in the local villages, he was struck by the
fact that so many children go barefoot in the developing world, and resolved to find a more
sustainable alternative to straightforward donation. In his 2011 book, Start Something That
Matters, Mycoskie reflects on his thought process: “Why not create a for-profit business to
help provide shoes for these children? Why not come up with a solution that guaranteed a
constant flow of shoes, rather than being dependent on kind people making donations? In
other words, maybe the solution was in entrepreneurship, not charity.”17
Mycoskie’s business model proved remarkably successful. TOMS experienced phenomenal
growth in market penetration and consumer loyalty in a very short period of time.
By 2013 the company had over 2 million social media followers and had given away more
than 10 million pairs of new shoes to children in over 60 countries.
The majority of TOMS shoes are produced in China in order to keep manufacturing
costs down, but a small number of the Giving Shoes are produced in Ethiopia, Kenya, and
Argentina, where they can be distributed cheaply using local supply partners. The company
plans to add shoe manufacturing in India and Haiti. By producing shoes in regions where
they’re donated, TOMS lowers its distribution costs. In the case of Ethiopia and Kenya, the
company benefits from the open borders of the African Free Trade Zone.
The company has also suggested that it is evaluating approaches to increasing employment
in “Giving” regions, while offering existing workers more benefits, such as higher
wages, childcare, and financial education. “Within two years, we will produce one-third of
our Giving Shoes in the regions where we give them. By producing more shoes locally, we
will create and support jobs in places where they are needed. We are testing production in
India and are looking to expand manufacturing in Africa and other regions.”18
Although TOMS does not own any factories, it has a strict code of conduct for its
supply chain. The company assures its customers that supply, production, and labor comply
with corporate responsibility standards and local laws, including the prevention of slavery
and human trafficking.
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Product Mix
Mycoskie started TOMS with just one product: the alpargata shoe, a simple design that
was popular with Argentinean laborers in the late nineteenth century and became an important
part of the Argentine national identity. The shoes are inexpensive and lightweight,
with canvas or fabric uppers and synthetic rubber soles.
TOMS gradually began to add more designs and, by 2013, featured additional categories
such as ballet flats, lace-up boots, wedges, kids’ shoes, wedge booties, and vegan shoes. The
company regularly partners with celebrities, brands, and charities to create limited-edition
collections; past collaborators have included Charlize Theron, Ben Affleck, Jonathan Adler,
Sub Pop Records, The Row, the Movember Foundation, and the Haiti Artist Collective, a
group of Haitian artists who customize Chinese-made TOMS for the U.S. market.
All of TOMS’s Giving Shoes are based on the original alpargata design, and usually
come in black, red, or blue. A common criticism of the brand is that they do not always
satisfy children’s basic environmental needs. The shoes have a very short lifespan in muddy,
rough terrain, and do not offer insulation in colder climates. In response to these criticisms,
TOMS is beginning to produce and distribute a winter boot in Afghanistan, India,
Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.
In 2011, TOMS began selling sunglasses using the One for One model. Made in
Italy, the $135 sunglasses come in three basic styles and a variety of colors; each consumer
purchase pays for prescription glasses, eye surgery, and other sight-related procedures in
developing countries. The eyewear line shows promise of becoming as successful as TOMS
footwear, even though the connection between “buy one” and “give one” is less clear. TOMS
has not released any sales data on its sunglasses, but claimed that, as of 2013, it had helped
to deliver eye care to more than 150,000 people in 13 countries.19 Upon launching the new
product line, Mycoskie announced, “From this day forward, TOMS will no longer just be a
shoe company, it will be a one-for-one company.”20
This strategy has allowed TOMS to position itself as a lifestyle brand that will eventually
turn every purchase into a philanthropic opportunity. A search of the U.S. Trademark
Electronic Search System (TESS) reveals that the company has also registered trademarks
for numerous other product categories, including baby clothing, hats, pet accessories, water,
coffee, tea, jewelry, and books (as of the publication date of this text, TOMS had already
begun operations in the coffee sector).
Target Market
TOMS attracts a demographic of young men and women. These consumers tend to
be creative, individualistic trendsetters who use multiple media and technology platforms;
have progressive political, environmental, and social views; and prefer to shop at small,
independent boutiques. In addition to perceived design and style, they are attracted to
the emotional value of the buy-one-give-one model. They buy organic clothing, ask for
charitable donations in lieu of gifts, and shop at farmers’ markets. Their choice to buy
TOMS is both an aesthetic preference and a public statement about their socially responsible
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Locations and Distribution
TOMS shoes are sold at more than 500 stores nationwide and internationally, including
Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods Market,
and many independent boutiques. The company is also experimenting with standalone
locations. It opened its flagship store in Venice, California, in 2012 and plans to expand its
retail presence in the future. Mycoskie included a cafe in the flagship store, and describes it
as more of a community meeting place than a retail location.
TOMS distributes donated shoes in two ways—with traveling shoe drops involving
volunteers, employees, and contest-winning consumers; and through partner organizations
with significant on-the-ground resources. The strategic Giving Partners are usually
nonprofit humanitarian organizations that choose where and how the shoes are dispensed,
often integrating donations into health and education programs. In some places, the shoes
are gifts for families who bring their children in for checkups or immunizations; in others,
they are simply given away, as at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where over 115,000
displaced Syrians are living in a massive makeshift city.
As of 2013, TOMS collaborated with 75 Giving Partners in over 50 countries, including
Bridge2Rwanda, World Vision, goods for good, Save the Children, the Cambodian
Children’s Fund, Partners In Health, and the Seva Foundation.
Impact Studies
Critics have questioned whether or not TOMS is truly a social enterprise, or if it
merely uses cause marketing as a way to differentiate the brand and drive revenues. The
inspirational message is so effective, and the feeling of moral certitude among supporters
is so strong, that most customers do not ask the company to provide any statistical proof
of its social, environmental, or economic impact on the developing world. At a time when
consumers are demanding increased transparency and accountability from MNEs (multinational
enterprises) and NGOs (non-governmental organizations), TOMS has somehow
managed to avoid criticism from this group for failing to measure its philanthropic efficiency
or efficacy.
Journalists, academics, and aid workers have shown less restraint. In response to criticism
from the media—from the New York Times to a Peace Corps volunteer’s blog—TOMS
funded a two-year study at the University of San Francisco to measure the company’s
effect on local economies in one of its Giving Areas. In August 2013, researchers released
a report entitled, “Do In-Kind Transfers Damage Local Markets? The Case of TOMS
Shoe Donations in El Salvador.” After studying 979 households in 22 communities, they
concluded that there was “little evidence to support the hypothesis that donated shoes
exhibit negative impacts on local shoe markets.” However, the report goes on to say, “El
Salvador [is] in many ways an ideal context to test the impact of in-kind donations on local
markets because, although there are many children that do not wear shoes out-of-doors,
most children do indeed own a pair of shoes (ed. emphasis), providing greater scope for finding
a negative impact on local markets than a context in which shoe ownership, and hence
market purchases, are rare. Indeed there are many countries such as El Salvador, which are
recipients of donated shoes and clothing, but where existing ownership of these goods is
relatively widespread compared to developing countries with even lower income levels.”22
In effect, TOMS is arguing that it does not impact local shoe markets in El Salvador part
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because children there already own shoes, which raises the question of whether the donated
shoes are actually necessary.
Topic for Debate: Follow the TOMS Model?
In this chapter’s debate section, you are asked to play the role of an executive at a
company that is considering adopting the TOMS model.
Our fictional company, Swensen Bags, Inc., owns a leading brand of backpacks and
handbags in the United States, based in Albany, New York. The owner, Joe Swensen, has
decided that the company needs to adopt a more active CSR profile. Swensen has decided
to allocate $1 million over the next 5 years to support some sort of charitable or socially
responsible activity. Swensen has asked his senior executives to develop proposals.
Swensen’s vice president for marketing, Alma Marlow, has proposed an idea that Joe
is supporting: to create a subsidiary brand to be called Earth Bags, which would be made
from recycled polyester and which would employ a one-for-one giving approach. For every
bag purchased, a backpack would be given to a promising student in a developing country.
Joe Swensen has always insisted on the highest quality for his bags and is fanatical about
the life span of zippers. He is convinced that low-income people in developing countries
probably have to settle for low-quality bags, which break easily, and make it difficult for
students to transport their school supplies.
The role of devil’s advocate is taken on by Joe’s vice president for finance, Suzanne
Rentof, who believes that the plan is impractical and that it would be simpler to give
money to a promising charity. “How are we going to get these bags to the kids?” she asks,
“We don’t have any overseas sales offices. So how much money are we going to spend flying
someone around the world, transporting bags through customs? The kids would probably
prefer the cash; they could buy their own bags. Besides, how many of our customers are
going to buy an expensive backpack just so kids overseas can get a free one? It’s different
with TOMS Shoes; most Americans have many pairs of shoes and they feel bad for a kid
without shoes. But most people only have one backpack, and they probably don’t feel that
sorry for someone who doesn’t have a good backpack. If we don’t sell any of these bags, how
are we going to pay for sending them overseas?”
Swensen admits that Rentof makes some interesting points, but he still supports the
idea. He organizes a meeting and assigns two executives to develop pro and con arguments
for the idea of the one-for-one bag. In this case, as opposed to some of the others in this
text, if you are arguing the negative side of the debate, do not limit yourself to pointing
out flaws in Alma Martin’s idea of a one-for-one approach. Remember, Swensen is ready
to commit $1 million to some charitable enterprise. If you do not think the one-for-one
approach is a good idea, give examples of projects that you feel would represent a better use
of the money.
Swensen Bags should create a backpack line based on the one-for-one giving model
pioneered by TOMS Shoes.
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Possible Arguments
• It would be an inspiring and fun way for company employees to interact with
schools in developing nations, which would foster understanding across class, culture,
and community.
• The project would promote education, as many children in developing countries
cannot afford good backpacks.
• It would inspire other entrepreneurs to follow the one-for-one model and find new
ways to fight poverty, which is something we should support.
Swensen Bags should not create a backpack line based on the one-for-one model, but
should instead adopt a different form on social project.
Possible Arguments
• Giving away free products does not address the underlying problems of poverty.
• Donations foster dependency on foreign aid, which is unsustainable.
• The one-for-one model gives consumers the feeling that they’ve “done enough,”
instead of looking for ways they can really help.
• Donated products hurt local merchants who sell similar products.
5.1 “Shoes for Business: The Unintended
Consequences of Doing Good”
Jain, Niharika S. “Shoes for Business: The Unintended Consequences of Doing
Good.” The Harvard Crimson. April 27, 2011.
TOMS is well known for its one-for-one business model: For every pair of shoes it sells,
the company donates a pair of shoes to a child in need. At first, I thought this sounded like
a great way to leverage business to help communities. But a skeptical friend prodded me to
think more carefully about the impact TOMS—and other companies with similar business
models—are making. By giving free shoes to impoverished populations, she pointed out,
TOMS competes with local businesses and takes away customers that might otherwise buy
locally made shoes.
Apparently, this isn’t uncommon in philanthropy. Several acknowledged instances can
be found where in-kind donations have disrupted local markets in developing countries.
A 2008 study found that used-clothing imports to Africa explained 50 percent of the fall
in employment in that sector from 1981–2000. After the Haiti earthquake, an influx of
foreign food aid—particularly donations of rice—hurt rice farmers’ livelihoods. Oxfam
has also found that secondhand clothing imports to nations like Senegal and Ghana have
likely hurt local industries and contributed to unemployment. The Oxfam report quotes the
General Secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation
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on the job losses: “Unable to compete [with secondhand clothing imports], local businesses
are collapsing, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers jobless.”
Although TOMS likely has good intentions, its donation strategy may negatively
impact the communities it seeks to support. Like the litany of organizations that donate
shoes, clothes, and other items to developing countries, TOMS may be undermining the
development of local businesses. And while making in-kind donations benefits consumers
in the short run, stifling local industry and increasing unemployment in this way will intensify
poverty in the long-term.
Another issue with organizations like TOMS is that donating shoes can be financially
inefficient. Shoes are typically inexpensive in developing nations—in Mumbai, as in Portau-Prince,
one pair is sold for as little as $2. Shipping a used pair of shoes often costs
more; for instance, Soles4Soles solicits donations of $3–$5 to ship a pair of shoes to Haiti.
In addition to hurting local business, in-kind donations sometimes simply waste money.
We could actually save money and simultaneously help stimulate local economies by just
keeping our old shoes and instead buying new ones from community-based vendors…
As consumers of “socially conscious” products, we need to be aware of the impact of our
purchases. In a culture where giving back through consumption is increasingly popular, and
where myriad companies market items that purportedly help those in need, we should be
cautious and deliberate about how we choose to support international development.
5.2 “The Best and Simplest Way to Fight Global
Yglesias, Matthew. “The Best and Simplest Way to Fight Global Poverty: Proof That
Giving Cash to Poor People, No Strings Attached, Is an Amazingly Powerful Tool
for Boosting Incomes and Promoting Development.” May 29, 2013.
Poverty is, fundamentally, a lack of money. So doesn’t it make sense that simply delivering
cash to poor people can be an effective strategy for alleviating it?
When it comes to the global poor—the hundreds of millions of slum-dwellers and
subsistence farmers who still populate the world—one might be more skeptical. Perhaps
the problems facing these unfortunates are simply too profound and too complex to be
addressed by anything other than complicated development schemes. Well, perhaps. But
there’s striking new evidence that helping the truly poor really is as simple as handing them
money. Money with no strings attached not only directly raises the living standards of those
who receive it, but it also increases hours worked and labor productivity, seemingly laying
the groundwork for growth to come…
The research comes from a 2008 initiative in Uganda’s very poor northern sections. The
government announced plans to give roughly a year’s worth of average income (about $382)
to young people aged 18–34. Youths applied for the grants in small groups (to simplify
administration) and were asked to provide a statement about how they would invest the
money in a trade. But the money was explicitly unconditional—parceled out as lump sums
with no compliance monitoring.
[Researchers] surveyed 2,675 youths from both the treatment and the control group
before dispersal of money, two years after dispersal of money, and four years after dispersal
of money. The results show that the one-off lump-sum transfer had substantial long-
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term benefits for those who got the cash. As promised, the people who received the cash
“invest[ed] most of the grant in skills and business assets,” ending up “65 percent more
likely to practice a skilled trade, mainly small-scale industry and services such as carpentry,
metalworking, tailoring, or hairstyling.” Consequently, recipients of cash grants acquired
much larger stocks of business capital and thus earn more money—a lot more money.
Compared to the control group, the treatment group saw a 49 percent earnings boost after
two years and a 41 percent boost after four.
…One of the most interesting results from the experiment is that recipients of grants
actually report 17 percent more hours worked, suggesting that the money serves as a true
bridge to economic opportunity. Grant winners increase both the quantity and quality of
labor supplied, suggesting there should be at least some spillover benefits to the broader
community. No doubt there are major limits to how far up the development ladder you can
climb with this strategy: It might not work in moderately prosperous countries with more
access to capital. But these results are extremely encouraging…
Poor people just need more money.
5.3 “Sacrificing Microcredit for Megaprofits”
Yunus, Muhammad. “Sacrificing Microcredit for Megaprofits” [op-ed]. New York Times.
January 14, 2011.
5.4 “Our Ineffectiveness at Measuring
Pallotta, Dan. “Our Ineffectiveness at Measuring Effectiveness” (blog). Harvard
Business Review. November 1, 2010.
Synthesis Questions
1. Do you think the one-for-one model can be expanded to all product categories?
Why or why not?
2. Would you like to start a social enterprise? What sector or type of product line do
you think might work?
3. Do you think the world needs more people like Blake Mycoskie?
4. Are there any social enterprises that you support or whose products you buy? What
attracts you to these companies and their products?
1. Richard M. Murphy and Denielle Sachs, “The Fireflies Next Time: The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship
and the Future for Global Capitalism.” Skoll World Forum in partnership with Forbes,
May 2 2013,
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2. Blake Mycoskie, “SXSW 2011 Keynote: Blake Mycoskie Gives Tip #1 for Business,” YouTube
video, 3:39, from a keynote speech at the SXSW festival, posted by “SX TX State” on March 15,
3. Adriana Herrera, “Questioning the TOMS Shoes Model for Social Enterprise
(blog) New York Times, March 19 2013,
4. For more information on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, go to http://
5. A detailed outline of the study can be found on the website of the Convergences World Forum,
“Convergences,” accessed December 1, 2014,
6. Bill Gates “A New Approach to Capitalism in the 21st Century,” transcript of remarks at the
World Economic Forum 2008, January 24, 2008, Davos, Switzerland,
7. Robert B. Zoellick, “Beyond Aid,” transcript of speech given at George Washington University,
September 14, 2011, Washington, DC,
8. PVOs are nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) they receive cash contributions from the
general public.
9. Hudson Institute Center for Global Prosperity, “Index of Global Philanthropy,” 2013 (updated
yearly), accessed December 1, 2014,
10. Amy S. Blackwood, Katie L. Roeger, and Sara L. Pettijohn. “The Nonprofit Sector in Brief:
Public Charities, Giving, and Volunteering, 2012.” Urban Institute, September 2012, http://www.
11. Craig Burnside and David Dollar, “Aid, policies, and growth,” World Bank, Policy Research
Working Paper 1777.
12. Oxfam International, “Food Aid or Hidden Dumping? Separating Wheat from Chaffs,”
Oxfam Briefing Paper 71, March 2005,
13. Adam Davidson and Caitlin Kenney, “How Foreign Aid Hurts Haitian Farmers,” Planet
Money (blog), NPR, June 11, 2010,
14. Garth Frazer, “Used Clothing Donations and Apparel Production in Africa,” accessed October
28, 2013,
15. Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong. “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?” Psychological
Science, vol. 21 no. 4. April 2010, 494-498.
16. Aradhna Krishna, “Can Supporting a Cause Decrease Donations and Happiness?:
The Cause Marketing Paradox “, Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21 (3), (2011), 338-345.
17. Blake Mycoskie, Start Something That Matters (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2012), 6.
18. Robert Zoellick, “Beyond Aid.”
19. “TOMS Announces It Has Given 10 Million Pairs Of New Shoes To Children In Need
And Has Helped Restore Sight For 150,000 People Around The World,” PR Newswire, June25,
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20. Booth Moore, “TOMS Founder Blake Mycoskie Is Known for Pairing Fashion and
Causes,” Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2011,
21. For a typical speculative analysis of TOMS target market demographics, see for example
“TOMS: In Business to Help Save Lives,” accessed December 1, 2014, http://tomspoli461.
22. Bruce Wydick, Elizabeth Katz, and Brendan Janet, “Do In-Kind Transfers Damage Local
Markets? The Case of TOMS Shoe Donations in El Salvador,” March 12, 2014, http://tinyurl.
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Chapter 6
Marketing Ethics: Selling
Controversial Products
Source: Frank Gruber, (CC BY-NC-NDS, 2.0, 2008)
Figure 6.1 Advertisers are continually exploring new media for advertising as they seek to break
through the promotional clutter of modern life to attract the attention of consumers. Here, the
Budweiser beer logo is imprinted on the top of a house adjacent to the Wrigley Field baseball
park in Chicago, Illinois.
Legal and Ethical Constraints on Marketing
and Advertising
This chapter explores the ethics of marketing and advertising. As the most visible form
of marketing, advertising is one of the principal motors of a capitalist economy and also
one of the largest modern industries: The global advertising market was valued at $495
billion in 2013 (the United States was the largest national market at $152 billion).1
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vertisements not only inform consumers of available products, services, promotions, and
sales, they serve a vital business function by allowing brands to distinguish themselves from
competitors, which rewards firms for improving the quality of their offerings. Advertising
is a key ally for innovation, because advertising allows firms to create awareness and desire
among consumers to buy new products. Despite these benefits, the advertising industry
has long been suspected of using devious tactics. As a result, many consumers are highly
skeptical and even disdainful of advertising in general.
Advertisers sometimes take the risk of shocking the public with their ads because they
are seeking to break through the communications clutter of modern life. Today, the average
American is exposed to a great number of advertising messages every day, with estimates
running from several hundred to several thousand ads per day.2
In order to attract the
public’s attention, advertisers may resort to appeals and tactics of questionable taste. Little
wonder that more than half of Americans believe that advertising today is out of control.
Social critics point to advertising as one of the most objectionable aspects of our consumer
economy. From the billboards that blot out the countryside along highways, to the television
shows that are interrupted every few minutes by outlandish commercials, to the mailboxes
and e-mail accounts that become cluttered with direct marketing, advertising methods are
often criticized for being intrusive, offensive, silly, and even dishonest.
As a result of the perceived abuses of advertising, national governments all over the
world have imposed laws and regulations on the advertising industry. Every country or
region has its own area of sensitivity. In many Muslim nations, for example, there are prohibitions
against advertisements that display nudity or offend traditional notions of decency.
France and Germany prohibit comparative advertisements in which one brand claims to be
superior to another.
The modern marketplace abounds with products that pose difficult challenges for
regulators. Consider the example of tobacco and alcohol. These products can be harmful or
dangerous, but many people nonetheless desire to consume them. Most Western countries
have decided that it is counterproductive to outlaw the sale of tobacco and alcohol, as doing
so may create a black market and stimulate organized crime. The official response of most
governments has been to allow the sale of such products but to prohibit or strictly constrain
their advertising. Other product categories that tend to be governed by specific advertising
regulations include pharmaceuticals and financial products.
Many products have positive uses but can also be dangerous if misused, like automobiles,
knives, razors, lighter fluid, pesticides, toys, athletic equipment, and so on. In such
cases, the law usually prohibits advertising that encourages the consumer to use the product
in a dangerous fashion. Another common type of marketing regulation is one that prohibits
advertisements from making false, deceptive, or misleading claims. In most countries, such
rules are enforced by the ministry for consumer affairs. In the United States, rules against
deceptive advertisements are promulgated and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission
There are certain product categories in which exaggerated claims are commonly made.
For example, in the case of skin creams, cosmetics, perfumes, deodorants, toothpaste,
mouthwash, and so on, advertisers typically claim (or suggest indirectly) that their products
make the consumer more physically attractive, especially to the opposite sex. The problem
is that some consumers may not be sophisticated enough to discern the difference between
innocent puffery and claims of effectiveness. Thus, teenage boys have been known
to douse themselves with Unilever’s Axe deodorant products in the hope that they will
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attract females as effectively as is suggested in Axe’s notoriously provocative advertising.
Many advertisements for such products come so close to making deceptive appeals that
they may trigger the FTC’s attention. As a result, advertisers have learned to be cautious
in the precise wording of their claims. For example, advertisements for skin cream may
permissibly suggest that the user’s skin will “look and feel better” after use of the product,
but they cannot include text guaranteeing the disappearance of wrinkles.
In many countries, regulators are especially vigilant when it comes to advertising aimed
at children, because it is felt that children are sometimes more susceptible to manipulation
or suggestion and are less likely to understand the dangers associated with the use of an
advertised product. In Greece, for example, toy advertisements are prohibited between the
hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. In Sweden and Norway, all advertising aimed at children is
prohibited, and in France, a child may not appear as the spokesperson in a commercial. In
Holland, advertisements for sweets must include a toothbrush at the bottom of the ad to
remind children to brush their teeth after eating sweets.
In this chapter, we will begin with a review of the advertising industry’s “self-regulation”
of objectionable or unethical advertising. Many advertisements and marketing tactics fall
into a regulatory gray area, where the advertisement is technically legal but still manages to
offend some of the population. A frequent cause of such offense is the advertiser’s quest to
develop a humorous or surprising advertisement. For example, one Danish advertisement
featured an image of the Pope wearing a particular brand of sneakers, which offended
many Catholics. In Italy, the fashion company Benetton shocked the nation by using an
advertisement in which a priest is seen kissing a nun. In cases like these, it is not possible
to make the advertisements illegal, but advertising industry associations feel it is necessary
nonetheless to police the market for objectionable advertisements.
Our chapter-ending case study will deal with the ethical dilemma faced by executives
at an advertising consultancy that is considering accepting an account for a global brand
that manufactures skin-whitening products. The CEO of our company will call upon us to
consider and debate the pros and cons of developing a US advertising campaign for Fair
and Lovely, an Indian brand. In the United States, this product is demanded primarily by
immigrants from South Asian countries, a large and growing demographic.
Many people feel that advertisements for such products contain racist appeals, since
they are implicitly based on promoting the superiority of white skin. Is it ethical to market
and promote such a product? Why or why not? Let us first consider some background to
allow us to answer these questions.
Principles of Marketing Ethics
As stated earlier, every country has a basic framework of advertising law. Many types of
advertisement are simply prohibited by law. However, with respect to advertisements that
are legal but morally questionable (or otherwise objectionable), the advertising sector polices
itself by applying self-regulatory codes of marketing and advertising ethics. This means
that the advertising industry sets up its own committees to police questionable advertisements.
Virtually every country has at least one advertising industry trade association with a
self-regulatory panel or committee that reviews consumer complaints. After examining the
advertisement in question, the panel decides whether or not to ask the advertiser to remove
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the advertisement; although advertisers are not legally obliged to follow the decisions of
such committees, they usually do.
The self-regulatory panels base their decisions on ethical principles contained in codes
of advertising ethics. The most influential codes are those established by the International
Chamber of Commerce (ICC); ICC Codes are followed by advertising bodies in over 30
countries. The ICC Codes are based on the core principles of legality, decency, honesty,
and truthfulness in all marketing communications. The ICC further emphasizes that “all
marketing communications should be prepared with a due sense of social and professional
responsibility and should conform to the principles of fair competition, as generally accepted
in business. No communication should be such as to impair public confidence in
Self-regulatory codes are deliberately framed in general terms, because it can be very
difficult to objectively define what kind of advertisement can be considered “decent.” It is
assumed that standards of decency vary on a national or cultural basis, and in addition are
likely to change over time. Thus, the ICC Code thus provides general guidelines: “Marketing
communications should not contain statements or audio or visual treatments which
offend standards of decency currently prevailing in the country and culture concerned.”
The ICC Code further stipulates the following:3
• Marketing communications should be so framed as not to abuse the trust of consumers
or exploit their lack of experience or knowledge. Relevant factors likely to
affect consumers’ decisions should be communicated in such a way and at such a
time that consumers can take them into account.
• Marketing communications should respect human dignity and should not incite
or condone any form of discrimination, including that based upon race, national
origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or sexual orientation.
• Marketing communications should not without justifiable reason play on fear or
exploit misfortune or suffering.
• Marketing communications should not appear to condone or incite violent, unlawful,
or antisocial behavior.
• Marketing communications should not play on superstition.
Examples of Objectionable Advertising
Discriminatory Advertisements
As we review the history of advertising, we will observe that certain ads and campaigns
were previously considered acceptable, and even popular, but today would generally be regarded
as objectionable (in clear violation of one or more of the principles outlined above).
Such cases can help illustrate the ongoing evolution of community standards in marketing
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Source: Kim Bhasin and Patricia Laya, “26 Shockingly Offensive Vintage Ads,” Business Insider, June 14, 2011.
Figure 6.2 This is a vintage Schlitz beer advertisement from 1951.
Consider the vintage ad for Schlitz beer in Figure 6.2. A suit-clad husband is comforting
his tearful wife, who has just burned the evening’s dinner. The advertising copy reads
as follows: “Don’t worry, darling, you didn’t burn the beer.” This advertisement appears to
be aimed at men and contains a mocking and patronizing reference to young housewives
of the day. In its time, such an advertisement was probably considered by many to represent
light-hearted humor, but today it would be considered offensive by many viewers. The
unstated implication is that men are breadwinners while women are weepy and emotional
homemakers. By contemporary standards, the Schlitz ad is overtly sexist.
While it might seem that such advertisements are relics of the past, controversial discriminatory
appeals and references continue to appear in the media. As a further example,
consider the advertisement for the Mountain Dew soft-drink in Figure 6.3:4
Source: Christopher Heine, “Mountain Dew Pulls ‘Arguably Most Racist Commercial in History’,” Adweek (2013)
Figure 6.3 Mountain Dew’s zany but ill-fated campaign featuring a Mountain Dew-crazed
Mountain Dew had run a successful series of edgy commercials targeted at Internet
viewers and users of social media (an increasingly popular tactic). Perhaps influenced by
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the remarkable success of insurance company GEICO’s advertising mascot (a green gecko
with a cockney accent), Mountain Dew had created a series of ads featuring a goat with a
crazed passion for the caffeine-laced green soda. For one of these commercials, Mountain
Dew hired hip-hop artist Tyler the Creator to create and produce the advertisement. In the
ad in question, the goat is driving a car and is pulled over and arrested by a policeman. In
flashback, we see the goat attacking a woman to wrench away her bottle of Mountain Dew,
leaving the woman bloodied and wounded. In the next scene, the woman tries to identify
her assailant from a police line-up that features the goat and four black men. Drinking
steadily from a bottle of Mountain Dew, the policeman prods the woman to make a choice.
The goat responds to the situation by speaking in a parodic hip-hop style, employing slang
phrases such as “do her up” and “ya better not snitch on a playa.” Meanwhile, the Dewamped
policeman urges the woman to “nail this little sucker” and suggests it is “the one
with the doo-rag.”
In retrospect, one wonders how such an offensive advertisement could have been released
by a subsidiary of one of the world’s largest marketing organizations (Mountain
Dew is a PepsiCo subsidiary). There was a great deal of outrage voiced when the ad was
posted on Mountain Dew’s music/arts website. One college professor labeled the commercial
as “arguably the most racist commercial in history.” The ad was promptly pulled
and PepsiCo accepted full responsibility and apologized. To no avail, PepsiCo had pointed
out that Tyler was African-American and that the four black men featured in the lineup
were actually his close friends. Apparently, the irony intended by Tyler was meant to mock
racism and discriminatory police practices. However, as many other advertisers had learned
before, humor is a two-edged sword in advertising. It can attract attention, but it can also
be misunderstood and cause offense.
Encouraging Harmful or Dangerous Practices
The advertisement in Figure 6.4 illustrates two categories of advertising that merit
special scrutiny: advertisements featuring children and advertisements encouraging misuse
of a product. Would any parent think it appropriate to have his or her infant shave himself
with a razor? Of course not, but clearly that was not the intent of the advertiser.
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Source: Kim Bashin, “20 Creepy Ads Featuring Children,” Business Insider, Oct. 26, 2011.
Figure 6.4 This is a vintage Gillette advertisement from 1905.
The ad is attempting to be humorous by employing an absurd image, a baby shaving
itself. The ad is also trying to make the point that the new Gillette safety razor is so safe that
even a baby could use it without harm. There also may have been an intention to create an
association between the smoothness of a baby’s skin and the closeness of the shave provided
by the razor. By today’s standards, however, the advertisement appears reckless. While it is
not possible that a baby would be influenced by an advertisement, it is not inconceivable
that a small child of five or six years of age might be encouraged by this advertisement to
play with a razor: The baby seems to be having such fun, and the small child might have
seen his or her father shaving. Regardless of the likelihood that the advertisement could
cause harm, today’s advertisers have become increasingly wary of using advertising that
features children engaged in dangerous activities.
Potentially Dangerous Products:
Advertising Bans and Restrictions
As stated above, there are products that are sold legally but that are considered to have
such a high potential for harm or abuse such that their advertising has been banned or
regulated. Let us consider just two such product areas: cigarettes and alcoholic beverages.
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Source: Cory Doctorow, “Particularly Despicable Cigarette Ad,”, Nov. 25, 2011.
Figure 6.5 This is a 1962 advertisement for the L&M cigarette brand featured in the edition of
Popular Science magazine.
Concerned with medical research that revealed the health hazards of smoking, the US
and European governments began to regulate tobacco advertising in the 1960s. The print
ad in Figure 6.5, from 1962, features an idyllic family scene that suggests that a smoker
gets “lots more” from a particular brand. The ad suggests that one acceptable way to enjoy
the smoking experience is to smoke in the company of one’s spouse and children. In 1964,
however, the US Surgeon General issued a formal report that concluded that smoking
caused lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. This led to the government instituting a series
of regulations aimed at the tobacco industry. The new laws required health warning labels
on all cigarette packages and required that all cigarette companies file annual reports to the
FTC. One goal of these regulations was to oblige the large tobacco companies to disclose
their advertising expenditures and strategies, so that the government would be able to assess
the link between tobacco advertising and smoking-related health risks.
Throughout the late 1960s, the US government accumulated and analyzed data on the
marketing and advertising practices of the large cigarette companies and finally concluded
that tobacco advertising encouraged smoking. As a result, the Public Health Cigarette
Smoking Act was passed and signed into law in 1970. This act banned all cigarette advertising
on television and radio advertising in the United States. At the time the prohibition
went into effect, tobacco companies were spending eighty percent of their advertising budgets
on television advertising, so the impact of the law was significant.
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Subsequently, the United States enacted further restrictions on cigarette advertising. In
1999, billboard advertising of tobacco products was banned. In 2010, tobacco companies
were prohibited from sponsoring athletic, musical, or artistic events, and from featuring
their logos on apparel. However, the government has stopped short of banning print advertising.
These governmental efforts have been matched by a certain level of self-regulation
on the part of tobacco companies. For example, after a public outcry over its use of a
cartoonish camel to sell cigarettes (it was feared that such advertising would be appealing
to children and teenagers), Camel Cigarettes voluntarily stopped advertising in magazines
in 2007. However, in 2013 Camel resumed its practice of advertising in magazines.
Alcohol has been classified by the International Agency on Research for Cancer
(IARC) as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that the circumstances in which humans are
exposed to alcohol are sufficient to create a risk of cancer. According to the World Health
Organization (WHO), alcohol causes approximately 1.8 million deaths per year. In the
United States alone, approximately 10,000 deaths per year are the result of automobile accidents
caused by drunk driving. Despite these sobering statistics, the US government has
taken a very different approach to alcohol advertising as compared with tobacco advertising.
In essence, the FTC has primarily asked the alcohol industry to self-regulate.
Given that advertising is known to be an effective means of increasing sales and market
share, why would alcoholic beverage companies agree to abide by self-regulation? Here,
the example of advertising bans on tobacco products is instructive. Other industries whose
products are seen as controversial have been influenced by the threat of an advertising ban
similar to that placed on tobacco products. Consequently, trade associations for such industries
have sought to maintain an open dialogue with legislators in the hope of appeasing
them with effective self-regulation, so as not to be faced with a total ban. In the United
States, the self-regulatory focus has been to minimize the exposure of underage drinkers to
the advertising of alcoholic beverages. Currently, the alcoholic beverage industry has agreed
to restrict advertising in print, TV, and radio to those venues where studies show that more
than 70% of viewers will be of drinking age (i.e., older than 21). Further, the industry has
agreed to support a public campaign against underage drinking and to include warnings
about drinking responsibly in all advertising. The FTC has urged industry to apply the
70% rule to sponsorship of musical and sporting events as well but no agreement has been
Even with these self-regulatory measures in place, there remains a good deal of concern
among watchdog groups about the appeal of TV advertising to young people, who are
considered more likely to abuse alcohol than older viewers. Moreover, the alcohol industry
continues to employ advertising appeals based on the implicit sexual allure of drinking
in bars or at parties. This approach is disturbing to industry critics who see the glamorizing
and sexualizing of alcohol consumption as another way of attracting young people
to alcohol products. As with cigarettes, the implicit threat is that if the industry can get
young people “hooked” early in life, then they will become lifelong consumers of a product
with known health risks. Youths who begin drinking at age 15 are four times more likely to
become alcoholics than those who begin drinking at age 21.5
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Case Study: The Marketing of SkinWhitening
Americans—in particular, white Americans—spend hours in tanning salons going to
great efforts (and sometimes even incurring great pain and health risks) to make their skin
darker. In other parts of the world, such as the Caribbean, Africa, East Asia, and the Indian
sub-continent, people go to much expense to lighten their skin. They do so through the
purchase and application of skin-whitening or skin-lightening creams that purport to make
dark skin lighter. (Whether or not they actually work is controversial.) In many of these
regions, lighter skin is more highly regarded socially. Arguably, this phenomenon is a sad
by-product of colonialism, in that it is based on a positive association with the skin color
of Caucasians. The flip-side is that, in the United States and Europe, darker skin is often
considered attractive and exotic.
Fair and Lovely is an Indian brand of skin-whitening products manufactured and marketed
by Hindustan Lever Ltd. (HLL). Fair and Lovely is the top-selling skin-whitening
brand in India, followed closely by Fairever which is made by CavinKare. HLL advertising
touts Fair and Lovely as a “miracle worker” and claims that it is “proven to deliver one
to three shades of change.” As a result of competition from Fairever, HLL stepped up
its marketing efforts in recent years, which led to a great deal of controversy. One of the
controversial HLL ad campaigns was based on the theme “The fairer girl gets the boy.”
In one of the typical television commercials used in this campaign, a poor father is
lamenting the fact that he does not have a son who can work and help support the family.
His daughter, who has dark skin, looks on and clearly feels a sense of guilt. When she
seeks employment, she is rebuffed because of her dark skin. Her unhappy lot is magically
transformed with the use of Fair and Lovely skin-whitening cream. Suddenly, she not only
appears to have much lighter skin, but the other characters in the commercial perceive her
as much more beautiful. She dons a miniskirt and finds employment as a flight attendant,
receiving the romantic attention of a fair-skinned Westerner. Among the many improbable
benefits associated with use of Fair and Lovely, it seems, are a wardrobe change, secure
employment, and a foreign boyfriend. The newly confident young woman is now a success
and can take her proud father out for a lavish dinner.
The popularity of Fair and Lovely, as well as other skin-whitening creams, is tied to
Indian cultural traditions. Lighter skin has been associated with a higher caste and therefore
greater social status. Most of the famous female stars in India’s popular Bollywood
movie industry are light-skinned. Do the Fair and Lovely products—or those of competitors—really
make someone’s skin lighter? Or is this idea just an illusion perpetuated by
effective advertising? In its official documentation regarding Fair and Lovely, HLL only
states that the cream contains vitamins essential to skin care and UV blocking agents (as
in sunscreens). In other words, rather than actually turning the skin lighter, Fair and Lovely
may only work by keeping skin from getting darker, something likely to happen in sundrenched
areas of India. Critics claim that at best such products temporarily bleach skin
Not everyone in India is comfortable with the promotion of skin-whitening creams. A
number of groups have come out against HLL and Fair and Lovely, charging the company
with deceptive advertising and the promotion of discrimination and sexism. Many critics
point out that the celebration of lighter skin is implicitly a rejection of darker skin. Thus, the
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Women of Worth Foundation launched a campaign called “Dark is Beautiful” to protest
skin-whitening products.
Indian fashion writer Rumnique Nannar observed the following:
I’ve heard the stray dig “for a Punjabi, you’re quite dark” or jokingly mentioned, “are
you sure you haven’t been adopted from Kerala?” or even the infamous, “wow, you are,
like, so exotic”—all standard fare for me as the darker blip in family photos. Having
your identity reduced to skin tone can be crushing, particularly when it doesn’t fit with
the more fair ideal admired by most cultures. In India, ads by Emami and Fair and
Lovely often seemed laughable and pompous to me, with grandfathers sanctioning
the use of skin lightening creams to ensure the success and subsequent beauty of their
dusky daughters.6
Nannar points out that to be identified or even judged according to one’s skin color is
demeaning and diminishes a woman’s self-esteem and creates a sense of insecurity.
Topic for Debate: Should an American
Advertising Agency Represent Fair and
In this fictional case, a small but highly successful new advertising agency based in New
York City, Enviralism, Inc., has become known for its ability to craft effective social media
campaigns targeting the so-called millennial generation (young people born between the
early 1980s and early 2000s). Enviralism has become successful especially with rapidly
growing high-tech, fashion, and communications groups. This small agency is known for
its cutting-edge creativity.
The CEO of Enviralism, Ralph Rodriguez, has been approached by Unilever, one
of the world’s largest consumer goods conglomerates, with a US advertising budget in
the tens of millions, to craft a strategy for marketing Fair and Lovely products to South
Asian and East Asian immigrants and their first-generation children. Unilever is aware of
the controversies surrounding Fair and Lovely products, but is also aware that there is a
significant US market for skin-whitening products. As a result, Unilever would like to tap
into Enviralism’s knack for thinking up unusual, outside-the-box marketing strategies. In
its initial discussions, Unilever has talked about starting with an annual $2 million budget,
which might be doubled or tripled in subsequent years. This would instantly make Unilever
the largest client at Enviralism, which is still a very small boutique agency with only 18
However, when Rodriguez discusses the opportunity with his Creative Director, Elaine
Williams, she demurs: “That’s a straight-up racist product, Ralph. We can’t go there, no
matter how much money it makes us.”
Ralph, who has just invested $200,000 in renovating a Williamsburg loft into beautiful
new offices for Enviralism (complete with state-of-the-art computer and graphics equipment),
is not so sure.
He counters, “What about Coppertone? What about Hawaiian Tropic? Those products
make people’s skin darker, supposedly, but nobody complains. What about Afro Sheen and
other hair-straighteners for the black community? Nobody says those are racist. This is a
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$500 million market in India alone, not to mention a standard skin-care product category
in Japan, China, Indonesia, and Thailand—we’re talking about a market with well over two
and a half billion people!”
Ralph can see that Elaine is not convinced, so he schedules a board meeting where his top
executives will argue the case, pro and con, for accepting the Unilever account. You will be assigned
to one of those teams. Should Enviralism agree to craft advertising campaigns for the
Fair and Lovely product line?
Enviralism should agree to represent Fair and Lovely in the United States.
Possible Arguments
• We have a responsibility to customers to provide them with the products they
desire; we should not demean our customers by treating them like children.
• Fair and Lovely is not dangerous and may provide psychological benefits to customers,
like other cosmetics products.
• Fair and Lovely’s skin enrichment, sun blocking, and moisturizing features are
Enviralism should refuse to represent Fair and Lovely.
Possible Arguments
• Fair and Lovely is an ineffective product and its related advertising claims are
therefore deceptive.
• Fair and Lovely promotes and sustains social, racial, and ethnic stereotypes and
• Marketing Fair and Lovely would be socially irresponsible.
6.1 “Whiter-Skin Ad Campaign Spurs Debate Among
Chomchuen, Warangkana. “Whiter-Skin Ad Campaign Spurs Debate Among Thais.”
Wall Street Journal. October 25, 2013.
6.2 “Skin Whitener Advertisements Labeled Racist”
Sidner, Sara. “Skin Whitener Advertisements Labeled Racist.” CNN. September 9, 2009.
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6.3 The Dark Side of Skin-Whitening Cream
Hundal, Sunny. “The Dark Side of Skin-Whitening Cream: The Dangerous Fashion
for Skin-Whitening across Asia Perpetuates Racism and Should be Stigmatized
as Such.” The Guardian. April 1, 2010.
Synthesis Questions
1. Is there anything wrong in marketing cosmetics products with the suggestion that
they make the buyer more beautiful, even if this is unrealistic in many cases?
2. Should skin-whitening products be legal? Why or why not?
3. Does modern society have too much advertising? How could we control it? Can
you suggest any specific mechanisms or regulations that should be implemented?
1. “Magna Global 2013 Advertising Market Forecast,” Magna Global, accessed October 23, 2012,
2. For example, the article “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad,” (New York
Times, January 15, 2007), quotes figures ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 per day. Advertising industry
sources argue that the number is much smaller, commonly around 300 per day.
3. “ICC Code of Consolidated Advertising and Marketing Practice,” International Chamber of
Commerce (2011), accessed December 2, 2014,
4.The commercial can be viewed on YouTube via the following link:
5. AAFP, “Alcohol Advertising and Youth” (Position Paper), American Academy of Family Physicians,
accessed October 25, 2013,
6. Rumnique Nannar, “Is Dark Beautiful? The Fairness Debate Opens Wide in India,” Huffington
Post, August 26, 2013,
Organic Food: Health Benefit or Marketing Ploy?|97
Chapter 7
Organic Food: Health Benefit
or Marketing Ploy?
Source: Richard Smith, (CC-BY 2.0, 2010)
Figure 7.1 Farmers and food distribution and retail companies have learned to capitalize on the
allure of organic foods, as we see in this eye-catching display of organic produce farmed in India.
Many claims are made for the benefits of organic food—but is it really healthier?
What are the pros and cons of growing and eating organic food?
The Organic Trend
Consumers all over the world are becoming increasingly health conscious and are more
than ever concerned about the quality of their food supply. Food is also crucial economically:
Forbes magazine estimates that food is the world’s biggest industry, citing 2006 World
Bank statistics that indicated that food represented about 10% of global gross domestic
product, roughly $4.8 trillion dollars.1
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One of the major food choices facing consumers today is whether to buy organic or
conventional food. While consumers wishing to buy organic food once had to seek out a
specialized health food store or a farmers’ market, organic food is now a standard offering
at major supermarket chains. Today, organic food is the fastest growing segment of the
American food industry. Between 1997 and 2010, US sales of organic food increased from
$3.6 billion to $26.7 billion, an extraordinary rate of growth.2
By 2011, organic foods earned
over $31 billion in the United States and accounted for about $450 million in exports in
2012. There are now over 17,750 USDA certified organic food producers and processors in
the United States, and over 25,000 worldwide that meet USDA standards.
The growth in organic food sales has been so rapid over the past two decades that
the phenomenon begs for explanation. Is it just a massive social fad, or does it reflect a
profound change in our modern marketplace and in our personal consumption habits?
Given the importance of food in the global economy, the trend toward organic foods is
destined to have a major impact on a wide range of business sectors, including agriculture,
food processing, supermarkets and groceries, fast food chains, restaurants, hotels, school
and workplace cafeterias, caterers, and so on. Businesses in each of these sectors will have
to make strategic decisions regarding the extent to which they will feature organic food
products or related services.
In order to make responsible decisions, companies will need to understand the pros
and cons of organic food, and especially why consumers are gravitating toward organic
options. In fact, consumers who choose organic foods are driven by a number of different
motivations and factors. The most common reasons for choosing organic foods are health
concerns, including fear of pesticides and bacterial-borne illnesses; higher nutritional value;
better taste; and environmental sustainability. However, as we will see, there is no clear
consensus on the benefits to be derived from organic foods in any of these areas.
Regardless of the discussion over the benefits claimed for organic foods, there is no
question but that they are more expensive. Organic foods are more costly to produce and
as a result the prices to consumers are higher, with some organic options costing twice as
much as their conventional counterparts. As a general rule, consumers will not pay significantly
higher prices unless they are driven by some clear motivation. As with so many other
areas in our society, the access to organic food—and the ability to afford it—comes most
easily to those with deeper pockets. This creates a dilemma for many businesses faced with
a choice between organic and conventional alternatives. If they offer organic food options,
they will incur greater costs and have to charge a higher price. Whether or not this is a
smart, strategic decision is an issue that every company (and every consumer) will have to
decide on a case–by-case basis.
In this chapter’s debate section, we will consider the case of a private hospital deciding
whether or not to institute an all-organic food service. Many hospitals are already beginning
to provide some organic and locally produced food. As consumer demand increases for
organic food, should hospitals follow this trend? The disturbingly high cost of health care
is already one of the most contentious issues in American politics today. Should hospitals
nonetheless accept the higher costs (and hospital charges) associated with organic offerings,
so as to model and promote a public health policy related to nutrition? Should a hospital
devote a greater percentage of its operating budget to providing organic food? The more a
hospital spends on food, the less it will have available for other important health-related
services. Will the health outcomes associated with eating organic food (even for the short
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time of the average hospital stay) outweigh the potentially higher costs entailed, or are the
benefits too uncertain, taking money away from more pressing medical needs?
In order to answer these questions, we need to have a better understanding of the pros
and cons of organic foods, especially relative to health outcomes. Organic farming practices
attempt to promote a healthy and sustainable relationship between animals, humans, and
the environment. Organic food production is a booming industry, but is it actually providing
healthier, more nutritious food, or is it a successful packaging and marketing strategy
with no real value to consumers?
What Is “Organic”?
In general, organic means that food was grown or produced without the use of synthetic
pesticides or fertilizers, without GMO ingredients, without chemical food additives or
artificial food-ripening substances, and without irradiation. Meats labeled as organic must
come from animals raised without hormones or antibiotics. Processed foods may be allowed
to contain a small percentage of non-organic ingredients and still be labeled organic
(in the United States, no more than 5% non-organic). Note, however, that organic fruits
and vegetables may be grown with a certain usage of natural (non-synthetic) pesticides and
natural fertilizers. Animals raised for meat on organic farms may be treated briefly with
antibiotics to manage disease.
In the United States, the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) set the national
standards for the meaning, regulation, and certification of organic food. Only farms and
facilities that have been inspected and certified by the USDA can claim to be organic
and use organic on their labeling and packaging. Other countries around the world have
different standards for what it means to be certified organic, which makes the import and
export of organic foods difficult. In response to these constraints, the European Union and
the United States created a new partnership in organic trade equivalence in 2013 with the
objective of allowing organic products to flow more easily internationally.
For most of human history, agriculture was, by default, what we now call organic.
Chemical pesticides only came into regular use about 60 years ago, allowing for expanded
farming and greater output. Early on, most pesticides used were insecticides, but as potency
increased, the amount of insecticides needed began to drop. Now about 70% of pesticides
used are herbicides, and most of those are used in the cultivation of corn. Although pesticides
are used widely across the United States, there is some fluctuation depending on the
current pest infestations and types of crops. As public awareness grew about the potential
dangers of chemical pesticides, certain pesticides were banned during the 1960s and 1970s.
Consumers and public health advocates began demanding a return to natural and organic
food production. The increased scrutiny led to new restrictions on the toxicity of allowable
pesticide use. Today, chemical pesticides must adhere to health and environmental
standards, and chemical companies continue developing new pesticides that may be less
harmful to humans and the environment.
In addition to organic pesticides, organic farmers battle insect and pest infestation with
crop rotation and cover crops.
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Organic Food Evaluated: Pros and Cons
A poll conducted in 2011 by NPR–Thomson Reuters found that 58% of American
consumers preferred organic foods.3
The reasons cited by those that preferred organic were
support for farmers’ markets (36%), avoiding toxins (34%), environmental impact (17%),
and taste (13%).
Let us now briefly examine some of the claimed benefits and alleged disadvantages of
organic food and organic farming.
Environmental Impact
• Because organic farming is done without the use of pesticides and chemicals, toxic
residues do not poison the land, water, and air. Organic farming is a sustainable use
of land and resources. Crop rotation promotes fertile, healthy soil.
• Pesticide use in conventional farming contaminates runoff, water flowing over
land, which is a natural part of the water cycle. Pesticide residues are found in
ground water, surface water, and rainfall. This means that contamination may not
be isolated in food produced with pesticides, but affects the environment as well.
• Healthy soil is a key component of organic farming.
• Organic farming seeks to protect and promote biodiversity.
• Conventional food production often involves thousands of miles of transportation
from point of production to the grocery store, using oil and gas that contribute to
global warming.
• While one of the arguments for organic farming is the absence of chemical pesticides,
natural pesticides may be used on organic farms, and these may also have
potentially harmful effects. Organic plants grown without chemical or natural
pesticides or fertilizers may produce naturally occurring pesticides, called phenols,
to protect themselves against insect infestation. The effects of phenols on humans
is an ongoing area of research and debate, as those in favor of organics tout their
benefits while those skeptical of organics purport their potential health risks.4
• Pesticides allow farmers to obtain larger harvests and are therefore an economic
asset to food production. Every dollar invested in pesticides results in about four
dollars’ worth of crops produced. Pesticide use makes more economic sense, and
provides more food to more people.
• Organic farming is too costly in terms of its greater use of land and resources.
Organic farms are less productive (80% in one study) than conventional farms,5
and therefore require greater land use. In organic farming, weeds are removed
without the use of chemicals. However, mechanical cultivation—including turning
soil between crops to reintegrate plant parts and physically removing unwanted
plants—can actually damage soil structure, remove needed moisture, release carbon
into the atmosphere, and lead to increased soil erosion.
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• As organic food carves out a greater share of the market and international markets
expand, the carbon footprint of organic food distribution may exceed that of conventional
Health Impact
As often happens when opposing groups look at the same data, they come to different
conclusions. In the view of proponents, organic food is much better for your health than
conventionally grown alternatives. However, a number of studies, including a controversial
metastudy published by researchers at Stanford University Medical School in 2012, find
no evidence of significant benefits from organic food consumption in terms of health outcomes.
There have been no long-term studies following children and adults who consume
only organic food, and such studies would actually be rather cost-prohibitive to conduct.
Nonetheless, let us review the arguments put forward by both sides.
• Organic produce has much lower—as much as 81% lower—levels of pesticide
residue than conventional food. It also almost never contains high-risk pesticides.
And while conventional produce can harbor multiple pesticide residues, that is
rarely the case with organic produce.
• Evidence suggests that fetuses exposed to pesticides have higher rates of neurodevelopmental
problems and disorders, birth defects, autism, ADHD, asthma, and
lower IQ. In one study, school-aged children who began a primarily organic diet
showed no pesticide exposure after only five days. Switching to an organic diet
can thus have immediate and very beneficial advantages. Like fetuses and young
children, other segments of the population, especially the elderly and people with
degenerative diseases, are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of pesticide
exposure. Another area of pesticide use that cannot be overlooked is its impact
on the health and safety of farmworkers who have higher levels of exposure with
conventional farming practices than organic.
• Proponents of organic farming maintain that organic food is more nutritious than
conventional food. Organic apples, strawberries, grapes, carrots, milk, and grains
have been found to have higher levels of vitamin C, antioxidants, and phenolic
acids as compared to conventional food. On average, organic produce has nutrient
levels 12% higher than conventional fruits and vegetables.
• Organic dairy products and meats contain an optimal balance of omega-6 and
omega-3 fatty acids. Fats, consumed in the right amount, are crucial to human
health. They provide energy, are the building blocks of cell membranes, and can be
converted into other essential substances, like hormones, which are necessary for
healthy bodily functioning. Diets higher in omega-6 and lower in omega-3 fatty
acids can lead to a higher incidence of myocardial infarction and heart disease. On
the other hand, eating diets with the optimal ratio of omega-6 and omega-3, found
in organic food, can decrease the risk of heart disease.
• Organic farming virtually eliminates the consistent use of antibiotics in meat
and dairy production, limiting the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria into the
human population. Conventional meats are 300% more likely than organic to test
positive for bacteria resistant to three or more antibiotics.6
About 70% of antibiotics
given in the United States are used for animals in meat production, not in
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treating sickness, but to enhance growth and to mitigate the ill effects of overcrowding.7
Antibiotic resistance makes the treatment of infectious diseases much
more difficult to control. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists antibiotic
resistance as one of its top concerns. The production of organic meat therefore has
an immense public health benefit.
• The now well-known and often referenced Stanford study, a meta-analysis and
comprehensive review of academic research on organic food and production, found
virtually no health benefits associated with consumption of organic food. The Stanford
research reported that organic food had only a 30% lower risk of pesticide
residue than conventional food, compared to the 81% lower risk claimed by those
in favor of organics.
• The Stanford study also found no significant differences in the nutritional value
of organic versus conventional produce. The researchers noted that the risk for the
presence of E. coli (a common bacteria) was about the same in organic and conventional
produce. Although they also acknowledged that only five studies have been
done, they found that four out of the five studies actually found a slightly higher
risk for E. coli in their organic samples.
• Other studies have found that manure, a natural fertilizer, often transfers E. coli
to soil, plants, and water used in irrigation and cleaning. Even though organic
farming requires manure to be composted before usage and may only be applied to
soil not used for growing food for human consumption, E. coli may still survive and
can live in soil for over 200 days. This means that even if crops are rotated, E. coli
can remain a threat to a new crop and to human consumers.
• Actual practices in organic farming differ widely. Although the USDA has attempted
to define “organic” for certification purposes, these regulations nonetheless
permit a great deal of variation of production methods in organic farming, just as
in conventional food production. Simply having an organic label may not be a
guarantee of best practices or of safe and nutritious food.
• In October 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued their first
statement about organic food consumption, stating that there simply is not enough
evidence to support claims of clear health benefits from an organic diet. While the
AAP confirmed research that higher levels of pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant
bacteria are found in conventional rather than organic food, they advocated
for parents to provide their children with a well-rounded diet, including a variety
of fruits and vegetables, whether organic or not.
Hospitals, Health Care, and Organic Food
Just as ordinary consumers are showing a steadily increasing market preference for organic
food, medical patients are following suit, expecting and demanding fresher, healthier,
organic, and local foods. Many hospitals are beginning to respond to this demand, offering
more organic food, hosting farmers’ markets in their facilities, and providing more information
about nutrition to patients and medical workers. In addition to patient demand,
organizations like the international coalition Health Care without Harm (HCWH) have
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pushed for changes to provide healthier and more sustainable food options in the healthcare
industry as well as education about nutrition. HCWH has issued a blueprint for
change, including a variety of ways that hospitals can incorporate healthier food in their
facilities, ranging from forming food “teams” and holding conferences to purchasing local
and/or organic food.8
Traditionally, economic costs and organizational issues have made buying and providing
organic food in hospitals a challenge. Hospitals have their own regulations and
standards concerning food and food delivery. For example, some hospitals require potatoes
to be delivered already peeled and cut, which lies beyond the production and distribution
capabilities of most small organic farms.
Hospitals in the United States have predominantly relied on large-scale, nationwide
food distributors. However, in 2005, MedAssets, a major purchasing agent for the health
care industry, teamed up with United Natural Food, the leading distributor of natural and
organic food, to supply healthier food options to hospitals around the country. In the first
quarter of 2013, United Natural Food earned revenues of about $1.64 billion, up 22% from
the previous year. There are almost 6,000 registered hospitals in the United States today.9
More than 2,000 hospitals in the United States offer some permutation of organic and local
foods to patients and staff.
Many hospitals already do community outreach, running educational programs
targeting nutrition and healthy eating. Some examples of local/organic food initiatives supported
by hospitals today include the following:
• Catholic Healthcare West, a health system with 42 acute care facilities in three
states, has developed an educational program about the relationship between food
production and ecology, and no longer purchases dairy products containing the
hormone rBGH.
• Kaiser Permanente hosts farmers’ markets in 25 of its medical buildings around
the country and serves local and organic produce according to seasonal availability.
To balance cost concerns, Kaiser has made changes in some of its traditional food
service, including eliminating dessert from patient meals and replacing it with fruit.
• Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, California, buys organic food from a local
farm and has created its own vegetable garden.
• Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston, Oregon, no longer serves deep
fried food and is switching to more organic food.
• St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth, Minnesota, now provides fair trade coffee, rBGHfree
milk, wild salmon, and local organic salad.
• Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, New Hampshire, purchases vegetables
from a local organic farm and provides an informational card with food
served to patients. Food waste is returned to the farm for composting.
• Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vermont, buys organic eggs and grows
vegetables on its rooftop garden.
Although food does not make up a large part of a hospital’s operating budget, food
prices continue to rise between 3% and 5% yearly, and with the cost of health care also
increasing, every dollar spent must be justified by hospital management.
While patient demand may be spurring change, physicians and hospital workers also
have a personal stake in the food served in hospital cafeterias and commissaries. Doctors,
nurses, and other hospital workers account for most of the food consumed in hospitals.
As more research shows links between diet and health outcomes, hospitals have the op-
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portunity to model best practices. But that begs the question, what are best practices, and
do they imply 100% organic offerings? Health care costs are often exorbitant and keeping
costs down is a major issue for hospitals operating on a tight budget. Some people argue
that food eaten during a brief hospital stay will have negligible effects on patient health
outcomes and may simply not be worth the cost. Others, however, suggest that hospitals
have a unique and powerful role to play in public health.
Case Study: Organic Hospital
In late January 2014, the (fictional) Lincoln Memorial Hospital of Yonkers is holding
its annual strategic retreat for top executives. The retreat is held on a Friday and Saturday at
the Taconic Hotel, a small hotel on the Hudson River. Item 1 on the agenda is a proposal
by the hospital’s vice president of marketing, Jonah Strong, who has suggested that the
hospital move to a 100% organic food policy for patients as a means of distinguishing itself
from competitors.
Lincoln Memorial is a for-profit hospital owned by a large health-care provider, OmniHealth,
which owns 11 other hospitals in 3 states. OmniHealth management is concerned
that profits have been stagnant for the past 3 years at Lincoln Memorial and has informed
Lincoln’s CEO, Dr. Sandra Maxwell that the company would like to see a return to 2% to
3% growth per year. Dr. Maxwell is prodding her executive staff to come up with new ideas
to control costs and increase revenues.
Lincoln Memorial is an above-average sized hospital of 575 beds that offers a diverse
range of medical services, from emergency care to maternity, pediatrics, cancer treatment,
and so forth. Although it is not facing competition from other large hospitals in the area, a
new trend toward small local clinics seems to be taking business away from Lincoln.
Lincoln is trying to control costs to stay attractive because the average cost of a stay
at Lincoln is currently $1,925/day, which puts Lincoln slightly above several other competitors.
As a result, Lincoln’s marketing approach is to vaunt its superior services. This is
becoming increasingly hard to do as the main hospital building dates from 1968 and is
beginning to need a renovation, which could cost over $10 million.
When the idea of the all-organic option was put on the table, Dr. Maxwell was approached
by the vice president of human resources, Martin Torres, who informed her that
the doctors and nurses would insist that food in the hospital’s cafeterias would also be organic,
so that costs could escalate. The Food Services Director, Jennifer Wang, is extremely
opposed to the idea. Ms. Wang tells Maxwell:
Do you have any idea how hard it is to source organic food for 1,000 people per
day? Our patients and staff are used to eating food like tomatoes and spinach out of
season, and that’s when organic prices go sky-high, sometimes even three times higher
than conventional. Right now, the average food cost per patient is running at $55 a day
and we’re billing them $125 just for food. If we have to go to 100% organic, my costs
are going to go up at least 20% and we’ll have to pass that on, it could add $30–$50
per day to the cost of a hospital stay. Patients are already disturbed by the current cost
per day, if this is what pushes us over the $2,000-a-day threshold, I’m afraid you’ll get
sticker shock.
On the other side, Jonah Strong, the marketing vice president, has argued that it would
be worth it:
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Have you been to the Whole Foods recently? It’s packed every day, with very long
lines, and those people are our customers. They’re already voting for organic with their
pocketbooks. Organic food consumption is going up 20% per year and now we’re getting
patients who get very upset if we can’t tell them if their food has GMOs. There’s
no way we can keep bringing patients in, with all these new clinics, unless we can
distinguish ourselves. If we don’t jump ahead of the other hospitals and distinguish
ourselves first, one of the other hospitals will beat us to the punch.
Dr. Maxwell asks you to prepare the strongest arguments you can think of, on one side
or the other, for presentation at the executive retreat.
Topic for Debate: Go Organic, or Stay
Memorial should go to a 100% organic option.
Possible Arguments
• It will allow us to improve the health outcomes of our patients.
• It will allow us to do public service by performing a leadership role in health
• It will distinguish us from competitors.
• It will motivate our employees and show them that we care about them.
Memorial should not move to a 100% organic option.
Possible Arguments
• There is no evidence that organic food consumption has a significant impact on
• It would simply increase our costs, which will render us less competitive.
• Our average patient stay is only 5 days and, in that time, the benefit of organic
food, if any, would be negligible.
• We should care more about cost and health outcomes than about marketing.
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7.1 “Lots of Chatter, Anger over Stanford Organic
Food Study”
Mestel, Rosie. “Lots of Chatter, Anger over Stanford Organic Food Study.” Los Angeles
Times. September 12. 2012.
7.2 “Michael Pollan Responds to Study Finding “No
Significant Health Benefit” to Organic Food”
Brooks, Jon. “Michael Pollan Responds to Study Finding ‘No Significant Health Benefit’
to Organic Food.” News Fix (blog). NPR: KQED News. September 4, 2012. http://
You may have heard the NPR story this morning about the meta-study from Stanford
University, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which found “no significant
health benefit” to organic food. As physician R. Dena Bravata, the study’s co-author, told
KQED Science’s Amy Standen today, when it comes to healthfulness, “there is, in general,
not a robust evidence base for the difference between organic and conventional foods.”
A 2010 Nielsen study found 76 percent of respondents bought organic because they
thought it was healthier. So this seemed to merit a call to the person who convinced me
in the first place that it was okay to pay $4.00 for a head of cauliflower: local journalist,
professor, and food advocate Michael Pollan, whose book The Omnivore’s Dilemma was a
major influence in popularizing organic and locally produced food.
JON BROOKS: So is this meta-study a big deal?
MICHAEL POLLAN: I’m not sure it’s a big deal. The media’s playing it as if there
were something new here, but this is not new research, it’s a meta-study [a review of previously
conducted research], and I’ve seen the exact same data analyzed in a very different
direction. A lot of it depends on how you manage your assumptions and statistical method.
I think we’re kind of erecting a straw man and then knocking it down, the straw man
being that the whole point of organic food is that it’s more nutritious. The whole point of
organic food is that it’s more environmentally sustainable …which has a lot more to do
with how the soil is managed and the exposure to pesticides, not just in the eater’s diet but
to the farmworker…
JON BROOKS: Let’s say you’re a consumer standing there at your grocery store and
you have a choice between an organically grown piece of produce grown far away and a
conventionally grown piece grown locally. All things considered, which is the best choice?
MICHAEL POLLAN: It depends on your values. If you’re concerned about nutritional
value and taste, you might find that the local food, which is more likely to have been
picked when it was ripe, is better. Because any food that’s traveled a few days to get to you
or been refrigerated for a long time is going to have diminished nutritional value. That
argues for fresh being more important than organic.
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But if you’re concerned about pesticides—let’s say you’re pregnant or have young kids
you’re feeding—then you might choose organic, because it will have on balance fewer pesticide
residues. You may also be concerned with the welfare of the people picking and the
farmers growing your produce, or you may be concerned about soil health—that would
argue for organic too…
I tend to favor local food, whether it’s certified organic or not. Most of the local food
available to us in the Bay Area, though, tends to be grown organically, even if it’s not
certified. So it is possible to have it both ways. If you’re shopping at your farmers’ market,
you’re getting food that’s very fresh, probably very nutritious, and probably grown without
synthetic pesticides.
7.3 “Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming >
Conventional Agriculture”
Wilcox, Christie. “Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Farming.” Science
Sushi (blog). Scientific American. July 18, 2011. http://blogs.scientificamerican.
7.4 “The Benefits of Organic Food—For Less”
Villacorta, Manuel. “The Benefits of Organic Food—For Less.” Healthy Living (blog).
Huffington Post. July 12, 2011.
…You have people who swear by organics and others who feel the whole movement is
overblown—and often I hear that the organic movement is just a scheme to charge more at
the markets. This whole “organic” concept has complicated our already difficult relationship
with food.
I don’t write this article to fan the flames of the argument. Certainly, I understand that
emotions on both sides run high… What I have learned that’s valuable to everyone, I think,
is that there exists a middle ground between pesticide crops and certified organics: that is,
fruits and vegetables that are seasonal, pesticide-free, and locally grown by farmers. There
is such a thing as “clean” crop that is 100 percent natural in terms of no pesticides, but still
absent an organic label. This comes as a surprise to many as we seem to think now that
everything not marked organic is chemically tainted.
Finding pesticide-free non-organics is a great way to spend less money and enjoy
natural produce. The only downside—if you consider it one—is that you have to eat seasonally,
meaning you have to stop expecting ripe tomatoes and avocados in February in many
parts of the country
Farmers’ markets provide a great opportunity to learn exactly how and where your food
is produced and to sample items prior to purchasing. This option will also reduce cost, as
well as be pesticide-free. Regardless of the kind of produce you buy, please buy it. I believe
the benefits that come from consuming fruits and vegetables will outweigh the hazards of
conventional farming…
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Synthesis Questions
1. Does this chapter increase or decrease your motivation to consume organic food
products? Explain why.
2. What is a more important motivation—in your view—for consuming organic
food: a) that it is better for your health, or b) that it is better for the environment
and for farmworkers? Explain.
3. Let us say that, instead of a hospital as our case study example, we had used the
example of a wealthy private school for K–12 students. Would the argument be
stronger or weaker for adopting organic food in the cafeteria of the school? Why?
1. Sarah Murray, “The World’s Biggest Industry,” Forbes Magazine, November 15, 2007, http://
2. Smith-Spangler, Crystal, et al., “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier than Conventional
Alternatives?” Annals of Internal Medicine, 157 (2012): 348–366.
3. Scott Hensley, “Organic Foods Have Broad Appeal, But Costs Temper Demand,”, July 20, 2011,
4. Burke, Maria. “Don’t Worry, It’s Organic.” Chemistry World 1.6 (2004): n.p. Royal Society of
5. Maeder, Paul, et al., “Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in Organic Farming.” Science 296.5573
(2002): 1694-697.
6. Benbrook Charles. “Initial Reflections on the Annals of Internal Medicine Paper “Are Organic
Foods Safer and Healthier than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review.”” 4 Sept. 2012.
7. “Pew Recommendations to FDA Regarding Use of Antibiotics in Food Animal Production.”
The Pew Charitable Trusts, 22 Feb. 2012.
8. Larry Cohen et al., “Cultivating Common Ground: Linking Health and Sustainable Agriculture”
(Oakland, CA: Prevention Institute, September, 2004), , 14–15,
9. “Fast Facts on US Hospitals.” Fast Facts on US Hospitals. American Hospital Association, 2
Jan. 2014.
The author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable research assistance of Vanessa Hemenway in the
preparation of this chapter.
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Chapter 8
Fair Trade
Source: Lisette Cheresson, (CC-BY, 2013)
Figure 8.1 Coffee is the world’s second-most traded commodity, behind petroleum. Because
coffee grows best on hillsides, harvesting can be labor-intensive – it takes a lot of
work to get ripe coffee beans from the bush to your cup. Fair Trade’s goal is to
make life better for those involved in that process.
Fair Trade: Conscious Consumerism
Comes to Coffee
The concept of fair trade arose in the mid-twentieth century as a means of providing
farmers and farm workers around the world with employment benefits similar to those
found in developed nations. At its broadest level, fair trade can be seen as an initiative of the
developed world to reward principled production in the developing world. More specifically,
fair trade operates primarily as a certification system under which qualified producers
(who follow certain environmental and labor standards) are guaranteed a minimum price
for their production. This price guarantee is intended to augment and stabilize the revenues
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of producers in developing countries, so that they can invest in social welfare infrastructure
and environmentally friendly farming methods. It is worth noting at the outset that there
are some slight variations in the way this concept is spelled or presented. The generic term
for this entire field is “fair trade,” but we also commonly it spelled as “Fairtrade” or presented
with capital letters as “Fair Trade.” These latter two versions are actually trademarks
that are owned by fair trade organizations, which certify that a participating company has
met certain standards.
When people discuss fair trade, the conversation usually begins with coffee, which
remains by far the most economically significant product category covered by fair trade.
Although fair trade has expanded to include other agricultural and manufactured products,
such as bananas, tea, honey, sugar, rice, cacao, organic cotton, textiles, and handicrafts, any
attempt to evaluate the success or failure of the fair trade movement must begin with
an examination of its role in the coffee industry. With corporate coffee giants like Starbucks
vaunting their sales of fair trade coffee, most consumers have become aware of the
movement, although few are able to precisely define the mandatory standards that must be
satisfied in order for a product to be called fair trade. Now, fair trade coffee is as ubiquitous
on supermarket shelves as food deemed certifiably organic—but compared to the organic
label, the fair trade certification process is more complex and subject to different interpretations
from different certifying bodies.
In this chapter, you will be asked to consider whether a New York–based specialty coffee
chain should make the transition to selling exclusively fair trade coffee and tea products.
The chain’s CEO is aware that fair trade is generally well viewed by consumers, but she has
also read some disturbing articles in the press about inconsistencies and even corruption in
the fair trade sector. Should she ignore what she has read? Making the switch will increase
costs to her consumers, whose cup of coffee will have to go up in price by twenty-five to
fifty cents—but on the positive side she will be able to claim that her business is socially
responsible and sustainable. Does a coffee shop chain that aspires to the highest level of
social responsibility have an obligation to engage in fair trade, even if the existing fair
trade system is not perfect? In order to discuss this issue, we need to arrive at a deeper
understanding of what fair trade means.
The Origins of Fair Trade
As with many other progressive social programs, the fair trade concept can be traced
back to the personal initiatives of a few dedicated reformers with a social conscience. In
1946, Edna Ruth Byler, an American businesswoman, had the idea of importing needlecrafts
from impoverished Puerto Rican communities and paying their creators a fair wage
for their work. Byler’s efforts became the foundation for Ten Thousand Villages, the first
North American nonprofit organization devoted to connecting handicraft manufacturers
in developing countries with developed-world commodity buyers. Today, Ten Thousand
Villages maintains long-term relationships with artisans in 38 countries that provide stable
opportunities for income.1
Byler’s efforts constituted a precursor of fair trade, but the first organizations to utilize
the fair trade designation in its modern sense were European. The first fair trade organization
in Europe was in the United Kingdom, an offshoot of Oxfam UK, which during the
1950s had sold crafts made by Chinese refugees. By 1964, this had developed into the fair
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trade Organization, and in 1967, the Netherlands initiated its own cooperative, fair trade
Original. Following a concept similar to that of the Ten Thousand Villages storefronts
in the United States, the Dutch opened a fair trade World Shop in 1969. World Shops
became the first retail distribution network of fair trade products and the first European
World Shops conference was held in 1984.2
Guatemalan-grown fair trade coffee was introduced in the Netherlands in 1973. In
1988, the first fair trade coffee brand, Max Havelaar, hit the market. Within a year, Max
Havelaar commanded a 3-percent share of all coffee sales in the Netherlands. By the late
1980s, there were several national fair trade cooperatives operating in Europe under different
umbrella organizations, some of which spanned the jurisdiction of several countries.
One of these was the Network of European World Shops (NEWS!), which was formed in
1994 and soon represented roughly 3,000 different shops across the continent.
Fair trade quickly outgrew its European origins. In 1989, the first global fair trade
network was initiated, the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT). Five years later,
the first network of fair trade organizations was founded in North America, called the Fair
Trade Federation. In 1997, Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) was
founded with the intention of creating a unified worldwide certification scheme. There are
currently 23 members of FLO around the world. Founded in 1998, TransFair USA (which
changed its name to Fairtrade USA in 2010) was an early FLO member and became the
leading third-party certifier of fair trade goods sold in the United States. TransFair got its
start in California, importing the production of Nicaraguan coffee farmers.
In 1998, four European Fair Trade organizations banded together to form an international
coalition to promote and more clearly define fair trade practices around the world.
Calling their coalition FINE, these organizations set forth one of the most commonly used
definitions of fair trade:
A trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks
greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering
better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, disadvantaged producers
and workers—especially in the South. 3
Fair trade, in the view of its supporters, is quite different from free trade, the defining
international economic strategy of the twentieth century. The primary goal of free trade is to
increase the economic growth of both developed and developing nations. The massive and
continuing expansion of global free trade has been driven by consumers and manufacturers
in developed nations. Fair trade, on the other hand, is intended to serve the interests of
workers in developing nations. Fair trade is meant to empower manufacturers and farmers
in developing nations by providing them with privileged access to socially conscious consumers
in the developed world.4
Fair Trade in Action: The Key Players
Most socially conscious consumers who are aware of fair trade simply assume that
it signals that an item is somehow a “good product,” either for environmental reasons or
because workers involved in production are well paid. However, as we shall see, the system
is more complicated than one might expect, and a well-informed consumer or business
needs to go deeper to have a sufficient basis for evaluating fair trade and deciding whether
or not to participate in it.
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One of the reasons for the complexity of the fair trade system is that there is no universal
fair trade authority. There are several important international organizations that serve
a coordinating function, but none of these has the power to impose standards on all players
in the field. In fact, there are many different kinds of fair trade organizations: international
nonprofit organizations, regional nonprofit organizations, local nonprofit organizations
that certify fair trade brands, local nonprofit organizations that certify fair trade farming
and exporting cooperatives, and finally, both nonprofit and for-profit inspection organizations
that visit the farming cooperatives to determine whether they meet the criteria to be
certified as fair trade. Let us describe a few of the most important organizations.
Most fair trade certifiers and umbrella organizations are now members of the World
Fair Trade Organization (WFTO; formerly IFAT). The WFTO serves as a global network
and clearinghouse, serving the interests of over 370 independent organizations in more
than 70 countries.5
Fairtrade International (FLO) is an international organization, based in Bonn, Germany,
that promotes the most widely used certification system for products designated as
fair trade or “Fairtrade.” Note that FLO deliberately distinguishes itself by using a special
way of spelling the term with no space between the words. One reason for this approach
is that FLO has registered “Fairtrade” as a trademark, which it then licenses only to those
organizations that meet its standards. The Fairtrade trademark has become the world’s
leading way of designating that a product qualifies as fair trade. Note, however, that other
organizations may still prefer to certify a product as fair trade.
FLO-CERT is a private, for-profit company that carries out certification audits for
national organizations that wish to authorize local brands and vendors to use the Fairtrade
Fair Trade USA is America’s largest fair trade organization; notably, it does not use the
Fairtrade trademark, as it resigned from FLO in 2011 out of disagreement with several
aspects of the FLO system. In particular, Fair Trade USA objected to the fact that FLO
certification is inconsistent with regard to who can be considered a certified producer: With
coffee products, certification is limited to cooperatives made up of independent farms,
while with other products, like bananas and tea, workers on large farms can also receive
certification. Consequently, Fair Trade USA has developed its own certification system that
does not use the Fairtrade label, but rather designates products and producers with its own
trademark: “Fair Trade Certified.”
The above-described organizations are just a few of the literally hundreds of nonprofit
and for-profit organizations operating in the fair trade sector. Next, let us describe how the
process works in bringing fair trade products to your kitchen.
How It Works: From Farm to Supermarket
There are two different types of fair trade certification: organizational recognition and
producer certification.
Organizational Recognition
To become a fair trade vendor or brand and obtain the right to use one of the authorized
trademarks or labels, importers and vendors are certified by national fair trade organizations.
Such brands are recognized as trading only products from authorized suppliers who,
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in turn, buy from farms that pay their workers a fair wage and follow sustainable practices.
When you see a product in a supermarket or store that is labeled fair trade, it indicates that
the brand has sought and obtained certification from a national Fair Trade organization.
Producer Certification
Producers, in fair trade terms, usually refer to cooperatives of independent farms; however,
in the case of particular products, the farms and farm workers themselves may be
certified. Producers gain Fair Trade or Fairtrade certification from independent certification
organizations. FLO-CERT, which provides Fairtrade certification for farmers in more
than 70 countries, is the largest certifying organization in the world. 7
Now let us look more closely at the different operators in the fair trade supply chain,
working backward from your local retailer all the way to the farm workers at the other end.
Any local retailer, whether it is a supermarket, boutique, or coffee shop, can sell Fair
Trade or Fairtrade products. As noted above, the brands and products themselves must be
authorized to use one of the recognized labels or trademarks, but any store or shop that
buys legitimate products at wholesale is free to resell them to consumers any way it pleases.
Note, in particular, that the local retailer is under no obligation to sell the products at any
given price or to return any of its revenues or profits directly to producers in the exporting
country. What this means in practice is that, some retailers, aware that a small percentage
of affluent consumers is desirous of socially responsible products, will simply charge a very
high premium for the fair trade products. The profits generated by such high prices are
purely for the retailer alone. Thus, a consumer who pays a high price for a fair trade product,
under the impression that this premium will go directly to the producers or farm workers, is
somewhat misguided. Indeed, as we will see, some portion of these high prices is indirectly
returned to the farmers, but in most cases, the amount is less than consumers would expect.
Vendors, Brands, and Importers
Companies that wish to market their products as fair trade and feature a certification
label or trademark (such as “Fairtrade” or “Fair Trade Certified”) on their packaging must
conform to the standards of one of the national certification authorities. Essentially, this
means they must buy their product from a certified importer or directly from one of the
certified exporting cooperatives. Fair trade importers must pay a minimum price of $1.20/
pound for Arabica beans or $1.05 for Robusta beans. This minimum price guarantee is one
of the essential features of the fair trade concept.
Exporting Cooperatives
In the coffee sector, there are more than 300 exporting cooperatives in over 20 coffeeexporting
nations. Cooperatives are certified by an international certification authority,
which in most cases means FLO-CERT. Cooperatives buy their coffee from small, independent
farms that adhere to fair trade principles, meaning that workers are paid fairly
and that environmental standards are followed. Fair trade coffee is not required to be fully
organic, though growers may use organic farming methods if they wish; however, limits are
placed on the use of pesticides and herbicides.
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The cooperative has the responsibility of visiting the individual farms to make sure
that they are complying with standards. The trouble is, according to some farmers, that
cooperatives do not always enforce international fair trade standards. Allegedly, the crops
from farmers who bribe fair trade cooperatives to be lax with their inspections are mixed in
with those from farmers that are truly committed to fair trade practices.
The cooperative consolidates its purchases and sells the bulk coffee to certified importers
in developing nations. It is the cooperative that is guaranteed the minimum price
maintained by the fair trade system. Note that most cooperatives are unable to sell all of
their coffee as fair trade due to insufficient demand, so roughly half to two-thirds of their
coffee is sold without a special label. Cooperatives are required to use their profits to engage
in social projects, such as building schools or athletic fields for farm workers.
In order to sell their coffee to fair trade exporting cooperatives, farmers must agree to
limit their use of child labor, GMOs, herbicides, and pesticides. Farmers are not guaranteed
a minimum price for their coffee.
Fair Trade Social Projects
Most fair trade organizations, including Fair Trade USA and FLO, promote social and
economic development projects in the farmers’ communities. One of the principal elements
of the fair trade concept is the requirement that a portion of each cooperative’s earnings
must be invested locally in projects to benefit the farmers, e.g., building schools, hiring
teachers, funding for women’s empowerment groups, and/or investment in healthcare.
Farmers are taught how to lobby large international organizations and demand fair prices
for their labor, and children are encouraged—sometimes required—to go to school rather
than to work. Fair Trade USA requires that all its farmers have access to doctors and affordable
medical treatment in case of illness or injury. Projects are also funded to help protect
the environment, for example, through clean water initiatives, training on ways to reduce
pesticides and herbicides, education about crop cycling, and funding for reforestation.
One problem with fair trade social projects is that their effects are extremely difficult to
quantify. As of 2013, no universal metric had yet been developed to measure the impact that
fair trade projects actually have on the developing world. Moreover, it has been alleged that
many cooperatives devote all of their profits (if they make any) to social projects, leaving
them unable to pay higher cash prices to their farmers. The farmers are thus left with social
projects of arguable utility rather than the higher cash prices for their crops that many of
them might have preferred. Thus fair trade organizations have come under fire for allegedly
making promises they cannot keep.
Fair Trade and the Global Coffee Market
The rise of the fair trade coffee market provides an interesting case study on the interplay
between international politics and the global economy. Although coffee is the world’s
second-most traded commodity, after petroleum, the global coffee market has been subject
to periodic boom and bust periods; when prices are low, living conditions become abject for
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the world’s millions of coffee farm workers.8
In response to this problem, the first International
Coffee Agreement was signed in 1962 to impose export quotas and set international
prices for coffee as a means of protecting the world’s coffee farmers from rollercoaster
market swings in coffee prices.9
By 1989, however, the arrival of new coffee-producing
nations on the market, compounded with a change in consumer tastes favoring Arabica
coffees, led to the demise of the quota system; this in turn led to a global collapse in prices
as farmers were faced with a worldwide coffee glut. The devastating impact on the livelihood
of farmers across the developing world was one of the driving motivations behind the
creation of the first fair trade cooperatives and marketing organizations, such as Holland’s
Max Havelaar, which were intended to provide stable prices so that farmers would be less
vulnerable to volatile world markets.
By 2002, however, the Wall Street Journal reported that an oversupply of coffee beans
had once again driven coffee prices to an all-time low, pushing many farmers out of business.10
This second collapse of world coffee prices was estimated to affect 125 million people
internationally, and most farmers were again at the mercy of a volatile market, without recourse.
In areas where coffee is grown, few other legal crops are as profitable. The collapse of
the global coffee market was relatively painless for consumers: The price of coffee declined
disproportionately in developed-world supermarkets. And yet, in the midst of this market
turbulence, there is some evidence that farmers that had signed on with fair trade cooperatives
enjoyed a relatively stable price for their goods throughout the market collapse.11
Fair trade had grown from humble origins to the point where it could be claimed that
it was having a major impact on global coffee production. By 2009, fair trade coffee had
become a $1.8 billion market.12
Coffee Social Responsibility: The
Starbucks Example
As America’s largest coffee importer, Starbucks was lobbied early on to sell fair trade
coffee. In 1999, Starbucks began working with FLO and TransFair USA to buy and sell
Fairtrade certified products and launched the first official sales of certified coffee in 2000.13
Thereafter, Starbucks established the Coffee and Farmer Equity (CAFE) Practices buying
guidelines to delineate a specific set of rules and regulations pertaining to ethically sourced
coffee, with the goal of eventually ensuring that all of Starbucks’s imported coffee would
qualify as ethically sourced (though relatively little of that would be Fair Trade certified).
The four main areas on which the CAFE guidelines focused were economic accountability,
social responsibility, product quality, and economic leadership. An independent body, Scientific
Certifications Systems, oversees the evaluation of CAFE products.
In 2009, Starbucks announced that, with cooperation from FLO and TransFair USA,
it would promote a $20 million loan program to support small-scale farmers in the developing
world.14 Labeled the Small Farmer Sustainability Initiative (SFSI), the program
was designed to promote responsible trading practices throughout the coffee industry.
Also in 2009, Starbucks became the largest purchaser of Fair Trade certified coffee in the
world, purchasing 40 million pounds of Fair Trade certified crops from vendors on three
continents. By 2012, ninety-three percent of the coffee that Starbucks sold worldwide was
ethically sourced (according to Starbucks)—ninety percent of which was certified through
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CAFE practices. The company has announced that its goal is to ensure that one hundred
percent of its coffee products are ethically sourced by 2015.
One goal of the SFSI program was to streamline the process of small-scale farmers
applying to become a part of the fair trade program. Starbucks and FLO-CERT developed
a single-audit system so that farmers applying for Fairtrade certification and Farmer Equity
Practices verification could become Starbucks vendors in one step. The streamlined process
was intended to eliminate fifteen to thirty percent of the cost of auditing expenses for coffee
farmers in the developing world.
Although Starbucks has acquired a reputation for a strong commitment to CSR,
having appeared on the list of Ethisphere Magazine’s most ethical international companies
for four consecutive years, critics have pointed out that Starbucks’s promotion of their
CAFE program has misled American consumers. Many Starbucks customers have come
to believe that all of Starbucks’s coffee is fair trade, while it actually only accounts for about
6% of Starbucks’s coffee sales.
Good Coffee, Bad Coffee? Evaluating
Criticisms of Fair Trade
Fair trade coffee is often held up as one of the great success stories of responsible consumerism.
Supporters of the fair trade movement argue that it promotes a more direct trade
system, fosters long-term economic improvement in developing nations, provides living
wages, strengthens labor protection for artisans and farmers in impoverished communities,
and provides access to otherwise unreachable global markets.
Critics of fair trade argue that it constrains the beneficial flexibility of the free market
and that most of the social projects promoted by fair trade are such small-scale endeavors
that they are not sufficiently influential. Rather than supporting and protecting the interest
of small-scale farmers, critics contend that fair trade does little more than play on “developed-world
guilt.” Critics argue that staying in the fair trade system raises costs for farmers
who sometimes experience a decrease in profits due to a decrease in yield, and who also
must adhere to labor rules that require them to hire workers rather than employing their
own children or offering “work for trade” within their community. Some researchers have
found that fair trade labeling cooperatives are able to turn a profit while farmers, originally
enticed by the promise of a higher per-pound price, fail to see any significant benefits. In
any event, there is no evidence that farmers on average are receiving higher income due to
selling to fair trade cooperatives.
There are a number of reports and investigations that indicate that fair trade inspections
are unreliable. Some of these criticisms have come from former insiders, such as Christian
Jacquiau and Paola Ghillani, formerly associated with Fairtrade Labelling Organizations. 15
In 2006, a Financial Times investigation of fair trade in Peru revealed that out of ten mills
that claimed to sell fair trade coffee, all ten had sold uncertified coffee as certified. It also
found that workers on fair trade farms were often paid beneath the minimum wage, in
violation of fair trade standards.
Ironically, many of these criticisms began surfacing just as fair trade was starting to
achieve widespread acceptance from consumers and retailers. In many cases, it appears that
retailers believe they can increase profits if they jump on the fair trade bandwagon. Argu-
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ably, though, such retailers have a tendency to exaggerate the benefits of fair trade. Whole
Foods, for example, has boasted that five percent of the money from coffee sales goes to
growers. Investigation revealed, however, that the five percent figure merely reflected the
price that Whole Foods paid its coffee unit. In Europe, supermarket giant Tesco was reportedly
charging upwards of an additional $3.46 for its fair trade coffee, while the farmers
of that coffee only received 44 cents of that premium.
Regardless of its real impact on producers and farmers in developing countries, the fair
trade movement is already beginning to change the ways that consumers in rich countries
think about shopping and consuming. In 2006, Media, Pennsylvania, became the first US
town to become fair trade certified by successfully converting a critical percentage of all
goods it purchases to those certified by third-party certification schemes.16 By 2013, approximately
thirty-two other US towns had followed suit. In Europe, this process is much
further advanced, with hundreds of towns and municipalities having received certification.
The success of fair trade certification has spawned a number of similar certifications, of
which the best known is the Rainforest Alliance, which certifies food products as grown in
a sustainable fashion.
Regardless of the ongoing controversy about its legitimacy, it appears that fair trade
certification is here to stay.
Topic for Debate: Should a Specialty
Coffee Chain Sell Only Fair Trade Coffee?
In the fictional case that is the topic for this chapter’s debate, a small specialty coffee
chain, known as World Coffee, Inc., is considering switching over to a 100% fair trade brew
for its coffee and tea products.
World Coffee is a chain of eleven stores in the greater New York metropolitan area,
with five in Manhattan, three in Brooklyn, two in Long Island, and one in Hoboken, New
Jersey. The founder, Wendy Mueller, opened her first store in the trendy Tribeca neighborhood
of Manhattan in 2004 and quickly attracted a devoted following due to its use
of extremely high-quality coffee, which was complemented with a 100% organic product
line—organic milk and cream for the coffee and tea, organic sugar and honey as sweeteners,
and pastries and baked goods made from 100% organic ingredients. Building on its initial
success, the chain quickly expanded to its current size and each of its store operations is
highly profitable. Wendy has a full-time executive staff of four people and the stores employ
an additional ten store managers and fifty to sixty part-time employees.
A potential franchise partner from San Francisco, Blake Morton, has approached
Wendy and is proposing opening an additional twenty to thirty stores in the western
United States, especially in California, Oregon, and Washington.
However, her potential partner has proposed a significant change to World Coffee’s
operations: They would switch over to 100% fair trade coffee and tea.
Wendy is concerned because she is aware that there has been a lot of criticism of fair
trade as a system that promises more than it delivers. She is also concerned that the supply
is more limited and that she will have to choose lower quality coffees. Additionally, she feels
that it would be hard to source all her coffee from Fair Trade providers unless she raises
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her coffee prices by twenty-five to fifty cents per cup, and she was already worried that they
were too high to begin with.
Despite this, Blake Morton is a vocal supporter of fair trade and is convinced that a
100% fair trade concept will help distinguish her from competitors and drive business to
the store.
Wendy proposes that she and Blake research the topic and present their arguments to a
jury composed of five people whom Wendy considers as New York’s top experts in running
and expanding socially responsible businesses. Blake agrees to Wendy’s list and they both
begin to prepare their arguments.
You will be assigned either to the team supporting Wendy’s position or the team supporting
Blake’s position.
The debate positions may be formulated as follows:
World Coffee should move to 100% fair trade.
Possible Arguments
• Customers are attracted to the fair trade concept.
• Despite the increased cost to consumers and reports that fair trade is not always as
transparent as it should be, every little bit helps. If we wait for a perfect system, we
will never help poor farmers.
• Fair trade raises awareness that it is possible to help citizens in developing countries.
• Fair trade products are more sustainable than conventional products.
• Fair trade helps put an end to unjust and unsustainable practices in global trade.
• If the coffee shop does a good job of promoting why their prices have increased and
gives consumers a reason to pay more, they will.
World Trade should not adopt a 100% fair trade policy.
Possible Arguments
• Fair trade is not all that it is cracked up to be: It is a marketing gimmick aimed at
socially conscious consumers.
• It would be more ethical to buy directly from known farmers, regardless of
• Fair trade coffee is not necessarily organic.
• Our employees and other stakeholders are our first concern, and if we charge too
much for coffee, we will find ourselves out of business.
• We can still make fair trade coffee available to customers who want it, but we do
not have to offer it exclusively.
• If fair trade improves its certification procedures, we can increase our support later.
• Because fair trade may benefit retailers more than suppliers, it actually adds to the
problem by creating a false sense of philanthropy.
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8.1 Benefits of Fairtrade
“Benefits of Fairtrade.” Fairtrade International, accessed Nov. 25, 2014. http://www.fair
For producers, Fairtrade is unique in offering four important benefits:
1. Stable prices: For most products there is a Fairtrade Minimum Price that aims
to cover the costs of sustainable production—even when world market prices fall.
2. A Fairtrade Premium: The Premium helps producers to improve the quality of
their lives. It is paid on top of the agreed Fairtrade price, and producers decide
democratically how to use it. Typically they invest it in education, healthcare, farm
improvements, or processing facilities to increase income.
3. Partnership: Producers are involved in decisions that affect their future. Fairtrade
certified producers jointly own and manage Fairtrade International. Through
Fairtrade International’s Board, its Committees, and consultation processes, producers
can influence prices, premiums, standards, and overall strategy.
4. Empowerment of farmers and workers: This is a goal of Fairtrade. Small farmer
groups must have a democratic structure and transparent administration in order
to be certified. Workers must be allowed to have representatives on a committee
that decides on the use of the Fairtrade Premium. Both groups are supported by
Fairtrade International to develop their capacity in this area.
With Fairtrade, Everyone Wins
Shoppers can buy products in line with their values and principles. They can choose
from an ever-growing range of great products. By buying into Fairtrade, consumers support
producers who are struggling to improve their lives.
Since its launch in 2002, the Fairtrade mark has become the most widely recognised
social and development label in the world. Fairtrade offers companies a credible way to
ensure that their trade has a positive impact for the people at the end of the chain.
Fairtrade rewards and encourages farming and production practices that are environmentally
sustainable. Producers are also encouraged to strive toward organic certification.
Producers must:
• Protect the environment in which they work and live. This includes areas of natural
water, virgin forest, and other important land areas and dealing with problems of
erosion and waste management.
• Develop, implement, and monitor an operations plan on their farming and techniques.
This needs to reflect a balance between protecting the environment and
good business results.
• Follow national and international standards for the handling of chemicals. There is
a list of chemicals that they must not use.
• Not, intentionally, use products that include genetically modified organisms
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• Work out and monitor what affect their activities are having on the environment.
Then they must make a plan of how they can lessen the impacts and keep checking
that this plan is carried out.
8.2 “Fair Trade in Bloom”
Downie, Andrew. “Fair Trade in Bloom.” New York Times. October 2, 2007. http://www.
8.3 “Voting with Your Trolley”: Can You Really
Change the World Just by Buying Certain Foods?
“Food Politics: Voting with Your Trolley.” The Economist: Special Report. December 7, 2006.
8.4 “The Problem with Fair Trade Coffee”
Haight, Colleen. “The Problem with Fair Trade Coffee.” Stanford Social Innovation
Review. Summer 2011.
…As the name implies, Fair Trade has sought not only to protect farmers but also
to correct the legacy of the colonial mercantilist system… To its credit, Fair Trade USA
has played a significant role in getting American consumers to pay more attention to the
economic plight of poor coffee growers. Although Fair Trade coffee still accounts for only
a small fraction of overall coffee sales, the market for Fair Trade coffee has grown markedly
over the last decade, and purchases of Fair Trade coffee have helped improve the lives of
many small growers.
Despite these achievements, the system by which Fair Trade USA hopes to achieve its
ends is seriously flawed… Among the concerns are that the premiums paid by consumers
are not going directly to farmers, the quality of Fair Trade coffee is uneven, and the model
is technologically outdated…
The primary way by which FLO and Fair Trade USA attempt to alleviate poverty and
jump-start economic development among coffee growers is a mechanism called a price
floor, a limit on how low a price can be charged for a product. As of March 2011, FLO fixed
a price floor of $1.40 per pound of green coffee beans…
It is these requirements and pricing structure that create a quality problem for Fair
Trade coffee… A simple example illustrates this point. A farmer has two bags of coffee to
sell and there is a Fair Trade buyer for only one bag. The farmer knows bag A would be
worth $1.70 per pound on the open market because the quality is high and bag B would be
worth only $1.20 because the quality is lower. Which should he sell as Fair Trade coffee for
the guaranteed price of $1.40? …To maximize his income, therefore, he will choose to sell
his lower quality coffee as Fair Trade coffee…
…Membership in a cooperative is a requirement of Fair Trade regulations… Premiums
are retained by the cooperative and do not pass directly to farmers. Instead, the farmers
vote on how the premium is to be spent for their collective use. They may decide to use
it to upgrade the milling equipment of a cooperative, improve irrigation, or provide some
community benefit, such as medical or educational facilities.
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Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit, but an unusually sustainable one. It gets most of its
revenues from service fees from retailers. For every pound of Fair Trade coffee sold in
the United States, retailers must pay 10 cents to Fair Trade USA. That 10 cents helps the
organization promote its brand, which has led some in the coffee business to say that Fair
Trade USA is primarily a marketing organization…
Another challenge for FLO is the issue of transparency in business dealings… Records
kept by cooperatives have shown that premiums paid for Fair Trade coffee are often used
not for schools or organic farming but to build nicer facilities for cooperatives or to pay for
extra office staff…
FLO also provides incentives for some farmers to remain in the coffee business even
though the market signals that they will not be successful. If a coffee farmer’s cost of production
is higher than he is able to obtain for his product, he will go out of business. By
offering a higher price, Fair Trade keeps him in a business for which his land may not be
Synthesis Questions
1. After studying this chapter, are you more likely or less likely to buy fair trade coffee?
2. Is there another way of achieving the objectives of improving the lives of developing-country
farmers and producers than the Fair Trade approach? Describe at
least one option.
3. Why do consumers buy Fair Trade products? List a few reasons and analyze each
of them.
1. “About Us,”, accessed October 5, 2013,
2. “Sixty Years of Fair Trade: A Brief History of the Fair Trade Movement. Nov. 2006, accessed
October 5, 2013,
3. What Is Fair Trade,” Fair Trade Resource Network. accessed October 6, 2013, http://www., 2.
4. What Is Fair Trade: Impact,” FairTrade USA, accessed October 6, 2013,
5. “Who We Are,” World Fair Trade Organization, accessed November 25, 2014, http://www.wfto.
6. “About Us,” FLO-CERT, accessed October 5, 2013,
7. “About Us,” FLO-CERT.
8. Eric Goldschein, “11 Incredible Facts About the Global Coffee Industry,” Business Insider, November
14, 2011,
9. Mary Bohman and Lovell Jarvis, “The International Coffee Agreement: A Tax on Coffee
Producers and Consumers,” Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics University of
California, Davis, 1999,
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10. Peter Fritsch, “An Oversupply of Coffee Beans Deepens Latin America’s Woes,” The Wall Street
Journal, July 8, 2002, .
11. Diane Cameron, Richard M. Locke, and Cate Reavis, “Fair Trade Coffee: the Mainstream
Debate,” MIT Sloan Management, August 27, 2010,
pdf, 2, 12.
12. Alain de Janvry,, Craig McIntosh and Elisabeth Sadoulet. “Fair Trade and Free Entry:
TheDissipation of Producer Benefits in a Disequilibrium Market.” University of California at
Berkeley. July 2010, accessed Nov. 25, 2014,
13. Company Timeline,” Starbucks, accessed May 4, 2014,
14. FairTrade USA, “Starbucks, Transfair USA and Fairtrade Labelling Organizations
International Join in Support of Small-Scale Coffee Farmers Through a $20 million Loan
Program,” press release, April 16, 2009,
15. Steve Stecklow and Erin White, “At Some Retailers, ‘Fair Trade’ Carries a Very High Price,”
The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2004,,,SB108664921254731069,00.
16. John Roman, “Media, PA Is First Fair Trade Town in US,” Organic Consumers Association,
July 10, 2006,
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Chapter 9
CSR and Sweatshops
Source: Weronika, (CC-BY 2.0, 2013)
Figure 9.1 A relative of one of the workers in a clothing factory at Rana Plaza, Bangladesh,
holds up the picture of his missing family member, presumed dead.
The Importance of Sweatshops
On April 24, 2013, at Rana Plaza on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, a building
containing apparel factories collapsed, trapping and killing over 1,100 employees. It was
not only the worst industrial disaster in the history of the garment industry, it was also
the world’s most fatal industrial building collapse. News reports soon emerged that the
factory owners had ignored ominous warning signs, such as visible cracks in the wall, and
had illegally added several stories to the top of the building, creating a weight the building
could not bear. Many of the factories operating in the building were producing apparel for
well-known Western brands, such as Walmart, Joe Fresh, and Mango.
Rescue workers struggled for over a week to reach trapped survivors, while hospitals
tended to the over 2,500 workers who had escaped, many with severe injuries. Survivors
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told heart-rending tales of having lost mothers and sisters who had worked in the same
factories. The deaths of so many innocent workers created a firestorm of controversy in
Bangladesh and around the world. Accusations and recriminations were leveled at corporations
and government officials. A period of intense and profound soul-searching ensued
for the global fashion companies that made substantial use of outsourced factory labor in
Bangladesh. Within a few months, two major initiatives were announced, one American
and one European, to increase safety and accountability in Bangladeshi factories.
In this chapter, we will explore the complex issues underlying the outsourcing of manufacturing
and its relationship to sweatshops and child labor. While the horrific example
of Rana Plaza might lead one to assume that sweatshops are always a bad thing, a closer
examination reveals the limitations of a simplistic view. In fact, Bangladesh relies heavily
on outsourced apparel manufacturing for the well-being of its citizens. Clothing factories
employ over 3 million Bangladeshi citizens and the country obtains nearly 80% of its export
earnings from the apparel sector.1
An outright ban on outsourced manufacturing would
leave many poor Bangladeshis without a job. Although such jobs may not seem desirable
from the perspective of citizens of industrialized countries, in developing countries these
kinds of factories often pay more than the average salary.
In this chapter’s debate section, we will ask ourselves what is the proper attitude of a
major global brand toward manufacturing in a country like Bangladesh, which has suffered
from a spate of manufacturing disasters in recent years. The company we will consider is
Disney, which is known for producing toys, clothes, and movies aimed at children. Disney
has been accused of producing goods in sweatshop factories that employ child labor. Obviously,
Disney cannot afford to become known as a company that is unconcerned with the
rights of children. What should they do? In order to discuss this issue, we first need to come
to a more sophisticated understanding of sweatshops and their benefits and disadvantages.
Understanding Sweatshops: History and
The term sweatshop refers to a factory that is guilty of some sort of labor abuse or
violation, such as unsafe working conditions, employment of children, mandatory overtime,
payment of less than the minimum wage, unsafe working conditions, abusive discipline,
sexual harassment, or violation of labor laws and regulations. The US Government Accounting
Office has chosen to define a sweatshop as any manufacturing facility that is
guilty of two or more of the above types of labor abuses.2
However, it is important to
understand that the term sweatshop is not just a legally defined term but a word that has
entered the general lexicon and is used broadly.
Historically, the term was first used in association with the manufacture of articles of
clothing and apparel. Shortly after the beginning of the industrial revolution, which began in
the United Kingdom at the end of eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth,
a rise in living standards led to a much greater consumer demand for clothing. Although the
raw materials of clothing—fabric, yarn, buttons, and thread—could be produced efficiently
in large, mechanized factories, the same was not the case for the final garment itself. To the
present day, it has remained difficult to mechanize the sewing process involved in making
clothing: The manual dexterity of a human being has always been needed in addition to a
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simple sewing machine. Consequently, the manufacturing of clothing has remained labor
intensive relative to other industries.
Another particularity of the apparel industry is that it is difficult to predict demand
for articles of fashion. In any given year, some styles and colors will be wildly successful,
while others will prove unpopular and need to be sold at a discount (hence the ubiquitous
nature of discount sales of clothing). Given high labor costs and unpredictable demand,
garment manufacturers turned to a system built on outsourcing production to middlemen
who would then parcel out production to a number of small workshops. The middlemen
were tasked with making sure that production deadlines were met, so they put pressure on
the workshops and became known as sweat-ers, meaning that they made the workshops
and their employees sweat. In time, these high-pressure workshops became known as
By the 1830s, the abuse of workers in sweatshops had become a topic of social concern,
and the United Kingdom passed its first Factory Act, which was then amended some 7
times by 1878.3
In 1844, Friedrich Engels, who would attain fame as Karl Marx’s intellectual
partner and one of the founders of Marxism, wrote a critique entitled The Condition
of the Working Class in England. As industrial production developed in the United States,
sweatshops also became a major American political issue. Many of the Abolitionists who
became famous for their staunch opposition to American slavery also fought against
sweatshops, considering them a form of human oppression akin to slavery. By the 1890s, a
number of groups sprung up to try to alleviate and control sweatshop conditions.
Origins of the Anti-Sweatshop Movement:
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
By the first years of the twentieth century, New York City had become a center for
apparel manufacturing and, consequently, for sweatshops as well. Tens of thousands of immigrant
workers toiled in the sweatshops of an area that is still referred to as the Garment
District, the heart of which lies along Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan.
By 1900, a number of local unions allied to form the International Ladies Garment
Workers Union (ILGWU), the first major attempt to unionize sweatshop labor in the
United States. In 1909, approximately 20% of the workforce of the Triangle Shirtwaist
Factory walked out in the first major strike in the garment sector.4
As the strike wore on
and the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory learned of attempts to unionize the
remaining workers, the owners locked out the entire staff. At a series of public meetings
at which female workers spoke movingly of their deplorable working conditions, a mass
walkout ensued, in which 20,000 out of 32,000 total shirtwaist workers walked off the job,
giving this action the name of the “Uprising of the 20,000.” While a few shops accepted
unions and most agreed to improve conditions, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory did not
accept a union. Shortly afterwards, in 1910, 60,000 workers walked off the job in an action
that became known as the “Great Revolt.” The dispute was mediated by legendary jurist
Louis Brandeis, who later became known as one of the Supreme Court’s greatest justices.5
Despite the central role of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in these actions, and despite
the promises of improvement made pursuant to Brandeis’s mediation, it soon became
clear that not enough had yet been accomplished. On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in
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the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory located next to Washington Square Park.6
several of the main exits locked to prevent employees from stealing, only one exit was available
and it was soon blocked by flames. Many workers succumbed to the heat and smoke
while others, trapped by the growing fire, stepped out onto an eighth floor ledge, and when
the heat became unbearable, jumped off. Dozens of young women fell to their deaths on
the pavement below, creating a horrific image that would transform the entire industry. It
was the worst industrial accident in the history of the United States.
In the wake of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, a number of reforms were promptly undertaken
in New York, with over sixty laws dealing with fire safety and labor rights passed
by the state legislature in the first two years after the fire. These reforms were echoed and
amplified throughout the United States and around the world in the decades that followed.
In 1919, the International Labour Organization was created to protect worker rights.7
1937, the United States passed an important national statute on union and labor rights,
the National Labor Relations Act.8
Despite these and other reforms, however, sweatshops
stubbornly refused to disappear. In 1994, the US Government Accounting Office noted
that thousands of sweatshops continued to operate in the United States.9
Rather than
disappearing, the sweatshop problem would follow the international path of globalization
and spread around the world.
Modern Sweatshop Scandals: Kathie Lee
Gifford, Nike, Saipan, and Bangladesh
Globalization is a term that refers to the growing interconnection of the world’s economies.
The globalization trend greatly picked up speed after international moves to lower
import tariffs were instituted by the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) in
1947 and even more so after the GATT system was institutionalized in the World Trade
Organization (WTO) in 1995. At the corporate level, one manifestation of globalization
is foreign outsourcing, the practice of moving manufacturing operations to low-cost
countries. Fashion and apparel companies were among the first to take advantage of the
benefits of outsourcing. Throughout the period from 1970 to the present, employment in
American apparel factories dropped sharply as companies moved production to countries
like Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.
The outsourcing movement was accompanied by increasing reports of sweatshop
abuses. As a result, a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) became involved
in anti-sweatshop activities. One of these was an American organization called the National
Labor Committee, headed by labor activist Charles Kernaghan. Kernaghan was devoted to
ferreting out instances of sweatshop abuse in foreign factories producing for American
brands, and then publicizing the abuses in an effort to shame the companies into changing
their practices. Not surprisingly, both the factories and their American clients were quite
reluctant to share information with Mr. Kernaghan. He therefore developed a number of
sleuthing tactics; for example, he would surreptitiously trail the garbage trucks that picked
up the factory’s waste, following the truck to the local dumpsite. Later, displaying remarkable
commitment to his job, he would sneak in and rummage through the waste, looking
for discarded office files. When he found the factory’s production records, often minutely
described in spec sheets, he was able to determine who the client was and how much the
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client was paying for the labor cost included in assembling a particular garment. Another
technique employed by Kernaghan was to find the local food stands where workers would
go for lunch or coffee. There he would seek to engage the workers in conversation about
the factory. This technique had to be employed with great discretion because, if a factory
owner or foreman heard that a worker was collaborating with Kernaghan, there was a great
likelihood the worker would be punished or fired.
After several years of watching his reports go ignored by the mainstream media, Kernaghan
finally broke a story in 1993 that would transform the public image of American
outsourcing. Kernaghan discovered that a fashion line produced for Walmart under the
label of a prominent American television personality, Kathie Lee Gifford, was manufactured
in Guatemala in a factory that used child labor and engaged in a number of worker
abuses. Although Kernaghan expected that this report would receive little coverage, he was
unwittingly helped by Gifford herself, who went on the air during her popular morning
show, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, to tearfully deny the allegations. In the United States
as in many other countries, any incident involving a media celebrity becomes fodder for the
popular press. Kernaghan found himself at the center of a news storm. As Kernaghan and
Gifford exchanged accusations and denials, the issue of sweatshop abuses came to the fore.
Gifford eventually promised publicly to ensure that employment of children would cease
and worker rights would be respected, and the controversy abated. Kernaghan has stated
that, in the end, Gifford changed nothing of substance.
Throughout the 1990s, a number of other sweatshop-related abuses came to light in
factories used by American brands. Several of these involved the island of Saipan, a small
American protectorate in the Pacific. A number of factory owners discovered that since
Saipan is technically American territory, clothing produced in Saipan could enter the
United States duty-free and carry the label “Made in America.” Since Saipan is much closer
to Vietnam and the Philippines than to the United States, a number of these factories
recruited Vietnamese and Filipino natives as factory workers. Upon their arrival in Saipan,
however, some of these workers were exposed to flagrant human rights abuses and, in the
worst of cases, outright slavery. In one notorious case, workers were literally imprisoned
in the factory and forced to work without pay. Eventually, these abuses were revealed and
US prosecutors filed charges against factory owners, some of whom were sentenced to
substantial prison sentences.
In the early 1990s, one of America’s most prominent footwear brands, Nike, also came
under attack as reports emerged from Indonesia and Vietnam of worker abuse. In Vietnam,
a young female factory employee was working on basketball shoes when her machine exploded
and sent a bolt through her heart. The American cartoonist Garry Trudeau began
featuring a series of strips satirizing Nike’s sweatshop factories in his popular newspaper
cartoon Doonesbury. At first, Nike refused to accept responsibility, pointing out that Nike
had never manufactured its own footwear and apparel. Nike’s contracts with its sourcing
factories required the factories to obey labor regulations and, in Nike’s view, this meant
that any abuses were the factories’ responsibility. However, by 1998, the continuing negative
publicity obliged Nike to reverse course by instituting a strict code of conduct for its
Through the efforts of a crusading Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, the Clinton administration
sought to leverage the power of the bully pulpit available to the US presidency.
In 1995, the Clinton administration announced the formation of the Apparel Industry
Partnership, a government–industry collaboration aimed at reducing instances of sweat-
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shop abuse. Companies who were able to establish that they had produced their items in
sweatshop-free environments would be allowed to add a special label in their clothes: “No
Sweat.” It seems this approach was ill-advised, as no companies ever made use of it, perhaps
because many people would be disconcerted to find a reference to sweat in their garments.
In 1998, America’s college students created US Students Against Sweatshops (USAS),
which has proven to be an influential public interest group. USAS’s initial goal was to
convince American universities to eliminate sweatshops from the sourcing of college apparel,
such as the sweatshirts and T-shirts bearing university logos that are commonly sold
in campus stores and bookshops. Around the same time, a group of large American brands
announced the creation of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a group that set standards for
certifying American brands as sweatshop-free if they submitted themselves to a regime of
regular inspections. The FLA was viewed with suspicion by many antisweatshop activists
and NGOs, in part because the FLA did not accept membership from unions, and also
because it was felt that FLA’s principal approach, to reward corporations with certification
for a few years of minimal inspections, was insufficient to truly eliminate sweatshop abuses.
As a result, union groups and the USAS led the way in creating a rival group, the Worker
Rights Consortium (WRC), which took a different approach. The WRC investigated reports
of abuse and published its findings.
In light of continued scrutiny from groups like the WRC, the USAS, the National
Labor Committee, and other international groups such as the Clean Clothes Campaign,
most large apparel brands developed and publicized their own internal codes of conduct
for suppliers. Such codes of conduct were contractually imposed on all suppliers and required
that factories comply with all local labor laws, refrain from employing children,
and maintain safety programs. In addition, most brands began to require that factories
make themselves available for inspections to make sure that they were complying with the
standards set forth in the codes of conduct. A number of inspection companies sprang up
to service the needs of the corporations and groups of young inspectors soon scanned the
globe, moving from factory to factory, checking them for fire violations, reviewing records
to make sure that rules on overtime were respected, and so forth.
Despite all these efforts, reports of violations continued to be heard. The American
consumer seemed to have wearied of the sweatshop issue to some extent, and companies
like Walmart and Nike, which had often been accused of sweatshop abuses, saw their sales
and stock valuations continue to rise. Many companies began to focus more on environmentalism
and anti–global warming issues, and a number of brands began to require that
their supply factories obtain some sort of environmental certification, such as the Bluesign
certification that was established in Germany under the auspices of SGS, the world’s largest
inspection company. Then, in 2012 and 2013, a horrific series of accidents—eerily reminiscent
of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that had occurred a century before—reminded the
world’s consumers that the sweatshop issue was still with us.
In 2012, a fire broke out at an apparel factory in Pakistan, killing some 270 Pakistani
workers. Among the western companies sourcing from that factory were the UK retailer
Tesco and the German apparel brand Kix. Kix’s offer of compensation to the victim’s
families of $2,000 per fatality was viewed by many Pakistanis as insulting. Then, just a few
months later, at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, another 112 factory
workers perished in a fire. Again, it was discovered that well-known western brands such
as Walmart, Disney, and the Gap has sourced products from the factory. The world’s attention
was squarely focused on Pakistan and Bangladesh when the building collapse at
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Rana Plaza in Bangladesh became the worst industrial catastrophe in the history of apparel
The Other Side of the Story: In Praise of
In light of the above history, it might seem startling that many experts appear to accept
the existence of sweatshops as something positive. Economist Jeffrey Sachs, who is perhaps
the world’s foremost expert on the eradication of poverty (he was the creator of the
United Nation’s Millennium Project to cut global poverty in half ) was quoted in 1997 as
saying, “The problem with sweatshops is not that there are too many, but that there are not
enough.”10 What did he mean by that?
In general, economists are less disturbed by sweatshop abuses than are labor activists,
but most economists would deny that this is because they are heartless or unconcerned
with human rights. Rather, they concede that sweatshop abuses are both common and reprehensible,
but they also believe that the benefits to the local economy from international
outsourcing more than outweigh the harm. According to this point of view, sweatshops are
part of the industrialization process and are an inevitable by-product of economic development.
Factories in poor countries are able to attract foreign customers because local labor
is cheap. As factories proliferate and employment rises, factories must begin to compete for
better workers. Wages therefore increase, and factory conditions improve. With a broader
tax base and greater economic growth, local governments are able to invest in the infrastructure
for further development, building roads, hospitals, and schools.
Some international research studies appear to confirm the economists’ point of view.
One study revealed that, in most countries where the presence of sweatshops had been
reported, apparel factory workers actually earned more than the average national wage.11 A
number of countries have passed through a manufacturing phase in which sweatshop conditions
were more prevalent on their way to full industrialization and a diversified economy.
Examples include the United States, Japan, and Korea. Most recently, China appears to be
following a similar path, though it is still in a transition phase and reports of sweatshop
abuses are still common.
Case Study: Disney in Bangladesh
The Walt Disney Corporation is one of the world’s largest entertainment conglomerates,
known for its theme parks, such as Disneyland and Disneyworld; its long history of
producing blockbuster animated movies from Fantasia and Snow White to The Lion King
and Tangled; and its sale of licensed apparel and toys featuring famous characters from the
Disney movies. Given that an important segment of Disney’s target market is children, the
company is especially exposed to negative publicity related to certain sweatshop abuses, in
particular, the use of child labor.
After the 2011 Tazreen Fashions factory fire in Bangladesh, Disney management
became concerned about the company’s public relations exposure due to its sourcing
operations in Bangladesh. Although Disney’s apparel manufacturing was far from neg-
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ligible, it still represented a very small percentage of Disney’s total earnings, which came
predominantly from its television, film, and theme park divisions. One commonality to
the Disney-branded products was that they all relied on Disney’s image as a wholesome
provider of family fare. If Disney were to become tagged with accusations similar to those
leveled at Kathie Lee Gifford—namely that it was the beneficiary of child labor in sweatshop
conditions—the consequences could be quite devastating for Disney’s public image.
What would Disney do if high-school students started nagging their parents to abandon
Disney vacations or to stop renting Disney movies?
Therefore, in early 2013, Disney decided to pull its manufacturing operations out of
Bangladesh. That Disney departed from Bangladesh shortly before the Rana Plaza building
collapse was misinterpreted by many as having been caused by the collapse, whereas Disney
had actually made its decision well before the collapse. Despite this, many representatives
of antisweatshop NGOs and workers’ rights groups condemned Disney’s decision as an
abdication of responsibility. In the view of such critics, Disney should have stayed behind
to help remedy the problem.
Topic for Debate: Should Disney Return?
In this chapter’s debate section, we ask, would it more ethical for Disney to stay in
Bangladesh and use its considerable reputation to help lobby for improved worker conditions
at Bangladesh apparel factories?
We will assume for the purposes of this debate that the Disney Board of Directors has
been pressured to reconsider its position. Two directors are preparing their presentations
for an upcoming board meeting at which the issue will once again be discussed. One of
the directors, whom we will call Mr. Jones, is one of the founders of an international NGO
dedicated to worker rights. He was invited onto the board specifically because of his ability
to speak to issues of human rights compliance in outsourcing factories. It is Mr. Jones’s
opinion that Disney should resume operations in Bangladesh.
On the other side is a director we will call Mr. Smith, who is one of the principal
shareholders of the Disney Corporation. Mr. Smith is very concerned that a return to Bangladesh
would expose Disney to major financial risk, because another factory catastrophe
coming after Disney’s return could lead to Disney’s name being tarnished. You will be asked
to help one of these directors prepare their presentation at the Board meeting.
Disney should resume manufacturing in Bangladesh.
Possible Arguments
• Disney has sufficient prestige to help lobby for improved human rights compliance
in Bangladesh.
• Disney’s departure may only encourage Disney’s suppliers and related parties to
leave Bangladesh as well, thereby diminishing employment in Bangladesh and
harming the local workers through unemployment.
• By helping support the efforts of other foreign companies sourcing in Bangladesh,
Disney will learn state-of-the-art methods for working with governments and
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community groups to help improve worker safety, which can only serve Disney
positively in the other countries where Disney sources its apparel products.
Disney should not resume manufacturing in Bangladesh.
Possible Arguments
• Disney markets products to children and families; any reports of child labor or the
deaths of teenage workers in factories could be devastating to Disney’s image.
• Disney should reward—with its factory contracts—those countries that are doing
a good job in providing a safe working environment for its employees, free of
sweatshop labor.
• Disney’s departure should help create an incentive for Bangladeshi authorities to
improve conditions in their factories. If no foreign buyers leave, it is too easy for
them to become complacent and do little to change the status quo.
9.1 Address the Real Challenges
Posner, Michael H. “Disney and Other Big Brands Need to Address the Real Challenges
to Outsourcing.” New York Times. May 2, 2013.
9.2 Disney’s Decision Was Appropriate
Kanzer, Adam M. “Disney’s Decision to Leave Bangladesh was Appropriate.
The New York Times. May 2, 2013.
9.3 Disney’s Disgrace
Foxvog, Liana, and Judy Gearheart. “Disney’s Decision to Pull Out of Bangladesh Is a
Mistake.” New York Times. May 2, 2013.
9.4 Responsibility Is Local, Not Global
Bhagwati, Jagdish. “Responsibility for Sweatshops is Local, Not Global”.
New York Times. July 11, 2014.
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Synthesis Questions
1. When you buy clothing do you check the inside label to see where the item was
manufactured? Would it matter to you to discover that an item was manufactured
in Bangladesh?
2. If you found an article of clothing that had a label stating that it was manufactured
in the United States, would this make it more attractive to you? What if the item
was 20% or 30% more expensive, would that keep you from buying it?
3. What is the best way to make sure the workers in factories are treated fairly? Can
you come up with one detailed proposal?
1. Anu Muhammad, “Wealth and Deprivation: Ready-made Garments Industry in Bangladesh,”
Economic and Political Weekly, 46, no. 34 (August 20, 2011), 23–27.
2. United States General Accountability Office, –“Sweatshops” in the U.S.: Opinions on Their
Extent and Possible Enforcement Options, a briefing report to the Honorable Charles E. Schumer,
House of Representatives, no. HRD-88-130BR, August 1988,
3. “The 1833 Factory Act,” UK Parliament, accessed October 28, 2013,
4. M. L. Disher, American Factory Production of Women’s Clothing (London: Deveraux Publications
Ltd, 1947).
5. Tony Michels, “Uprising of 20,000 (1909).” in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical
Encyclopedia, Jewish Women’s Archive, March, 20 2009,
6. “The 1911 Triangle Factory Fire,” Cornell University, accessed May 5, 2014, http://www.ilr.
7. Savitri Goonesekere, “A Rights-Based Approach to Realizing Gender Equality,” UN Women,
accessed May 5, 2014,
8. National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169 (1935).
9. “Efforts to Address the Prevalence and Conditions of Sweatshops,” U.S. General Accounting
Office, November 1994,
10. Allen R. Myerson, “In Principle, a Case for More ‘Sweatshops’” New York Times, June 22 1997,
11. Worker Rights Consortium, “Global Wage Trends for Apparel Workers, 2001–2011,”
Center for American Progress, July 11, 2013,
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Chapter 10
Corruption in International
Source:, (CC-BY 2.0, 2012)
Figure 10.1 A common practice worldwide is for government favors to be sought in exchange
for surreptitious payments in cash. Corruption is not merely a problem in developing countries.
In recent years, American, German and Italian companies have been implicated in corruption
scandals, both domestic and international.
The Problem of Corruption
When a large corporation decides to enter a foreign market, it must usually secure a
number of licenses, permits, registrations, or other government approvals. Certain types of
business may be even be impossible or illegal unless the corporation is first able to obtain
a change or adjustment to the nation’s laws or regulations. Since the power to authorize
the foreign corporation’s activities is vested in the hands of local politicians and officials,
and since corporations have access to large financial resources, it should not be surprising
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that some corporate executives resort to financial incentives to influence foreign officials.
While certain financial incentives, such as promises to invest in local infrastructure, may be
legitimate, any form of direct payment to the foreign official that is intended to influence
that official’s public decisions will cross the line into illegal subornation, also commonly
referred to as bribery.
Bribery is one of the archetypal examples of a corporation engaged in unethical behavior.
A number of problems can be attributed to business bribery. First, it is obviously
illegal—all countries have laws that prohibit the bribery of government officials—so the
foreign company engaging in bribery exposes its directors, executives, and employees to
grave legal risks. Second, the rules and regulations that are circumvented by bribery often
have a legitimate public purpose, so the corporation may be subverting local social interests
and/or harming local competitors. Third, the giving of bribes may foment a culture of
corruption in the foreign country, which can prove difficult to eradicate. Fourth, in light
of laws such as the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the Organization of
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Convention on Anti-Bribery (discussed
in greater detail below), bribery is illegal not only in the target country, but also in
the corporation’s home country. Fifth, a corporation that is formally accused or convicted
of illicit behavior may suffer a serious public relations backlash.
Despite these considerable disincentives, experts report that worldwide business
corruption shows little signs of abating. Transparency International (TI), a leading anticorruption
organization based in Berlin, estimates that one in four people worldwide paid a
bribe in 2009. It appears that the total number of bribes continues to increase annually. The
World Economic Forum calculated the cost of corruption in 2011 at more than five percent
of global GDP (US$2.6 trillion) with over $1 trillion paid in bribes each year.1
Governments and intergovernmental organizations have redoubled their efforts to
combat the perceived increase in international business corruption. Globalization, which
accelerated in the final decades of the twentieth century, is often cited by specialists as
contributing to the spread of corruption. Corporations and businesses in every nation have
become increasingly dependent on global networks of suppliers, partners, customers, and
governments. The increased interaction between parties in different countries has multiplied
the opportunities for parties to seek advantage from illicit incentives and payoffs.
Although outright bribery is clearly unethical and illegal, there is great deal of behavior that
falls into a gray zone that can be difficult to analyze according to a single global standard.
When does a business gift become a bribe? What level of business entertainment is “right”
or “wrong”? Over the past two decades, governments and regulators have sought to clearly
define the types of behavior that are considered unethical and illegal.
Another factor that has heightened the sense of urgency among regulators is the magnitude
of recent cases of corruption (several of which are described in greater detail below).
The cost to shareholders as well as stakeholders and society has proven enormous. Governments
and international organizations have ramped up their enforcement of anticorruption
laws and sought increasingly severe penalties, sometimes imposing fines amounting to
hundreds of millions of dollars. Largely as a result of these efforts, most multinational
corporations have developed internal policies to ensure compliance with anticorruption
legislation. However, as we will see in the case study featured in this chapter, such compliance
also raises complex ethical dilemmas for corporations. It remains difficult to regulate
ethical behavior when social and cultural norms vary significantly from country to country.
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Acts that are considered unethical in one country may represent a traditional way of doing
business in another. One legal scholar explains the difference as follows:
A common misconception, held in both Western and developing countries, and
even among many researchers on corruption, is to confuse what is corrupt with what is
legal. Laws are defined by values, as are ethical norms, but the two are not equivalent.2
In this chapter, we will explore the impact, reasonableness, and the effectiveness of
anticorruption laws and corporate compliance rules. Finally, we will discuss a case in which
the line between corruption and traditional business practices remains difficult to ascertain.
The Scope of the Problem
Recent cases of corruption in international business have attracted considerable media
attention. Paying a traffic officer to ignore a minor traffic violation is unremarkable; paying
a senior government official a secret bribe of millions of dollars to get a large contract
signed is a different matter.
While virtually all multinational companies have adopted anticorruption policies, it
is not clear how often these policies are fully implemented and internalized as part of the
corporate culture. The emphasis on anticorruption policies is relatively recent and, even in
the most responsible organizations, such policies are still works in progress. However, there
is some evidence that the implementation is not always as effective as might be hoped.
For example, a study by Control Risks and the Economist magazine’s Intelligence
Unit showed that while most companies acknowledge the need to combat bribery and
corruption, many are complacent and unprepared to deal with scandals inside their own
The review of global attitudes on corruption surveyed more than 300 senior
lawyers and compliance heads in April 2013. It painted a disturbing picture. The authors
concluded that “too many companies still fall short of best practices in their anticorruption
compliance programs.” Despite ranking anticorruption high on most corporate agendas,
the report noted a “danger of complacency” among companies, and as a result, “the risk of
a company finding itself in the middle of a corruption-based investigation remains real.”4
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranks countries and
territories according to their perceived levels of public sector corruption. It is an aggregate
indicator that combines different sources of information about corruption, making it possible
to compare countries. Perceptions are used because corruption is generally a hidden
activity that is difficult to measure. The CPI confirms that corruption remains a problem
worldwide and takes place even in the wealthiest countries.5
Research in 2012 by the Austrian
economist Friedrich Schneider placed the annual loss to the German economy alone
at €250 billion.6
The Dow Jones State of Anti-Corruption Survey in 2011, which surveyed more than
300 companies worldwide, found that more than 55 percent of companies have found
cause to reconsider working with certain global business partners due to concerns about
possible violation of anticorruption regulations. Additionally, the biannual survey indicated
than more than 40 percent of companies believe they have lost business to competitors
who won contracts unethically, an increase from only 10 percent in the 2009 study. “Strict
liability provisions in legislation like the UK Bribery Act make businesses responsible for
the activities of their agents and partners overseas, and this is having a direct impact on the
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occurrence of new business partnerships between firms,” said Rupert de Ruig, managing
director of Risk and Compliance, Dow Jones.7
Global social costs from corruption include the reluctance of investors to commit to
projects in developing economies, inhibited growth of businesses due to syphoning off of
revenues for bribes, and diversion of funds from food, medical, and educational aid programs.
In addition, it seems likely that corruption hampers the development of executive
talent in developing nations, given that frustrated local executives may seek to emigrate to
countries where corruption is less prevalent. Consider for example, the long term impact
of the necessity of paying a bribe to get running water in a household in rural India.8
type of corruption can effectively exclude the poor from access to vital public services.
Economist Daniel Kaufmann of the Harvard Institute of International Development cites
public sector corruption as the most severe obstacle to development in developing and
post-communist countries.9
Notable Examples of Corruption
The number and magnitude of recent corruption cases prosecuted by government authorities
is disconcerting. Moreover, these widely-publicized cases may represent only the
tip of the iceberg: Regulatory bodies focus principally on the bribery of public officials so
that other forms of business corruption are under-reported. To date, the ten largest cases
successfully tried pursuant to the FCPA are listed below (in order of magnitude of fines):
1. Siemens (Germany): $800 million in 2008
2. KBR/Halliburton (USA): $579 million in 2009
3. BAE (UK): $400 million in 2010
4. Total SA (France): $398 million in 2013
5. Snamprogetti Netherlands BV/ENI SpA (Holland/Italy): $365 million in 2010
6. Technip SA (France): $338 million in 2010
7. JGC Corporation ( Japan) $218.8 million in 2011
8. Daimler AG (Germany): $185 million in 2010
9. Alcatel-Lucent (France): $137 million in 2010
10. Magyar Telekom/Deutsche Telekom (Hungary/Germany): $95 million in 2011
There are other recent examples of large-scale corruption in international business.
Walmart in Mexico
According to a report issued by the Mexican Employers Association in 2011, companies
operating in Mexico spend more than 10 percent of their revenue on corrupt acts. One
of the most well-known cases was the Walmart scandal that was brought to light in September
2005 and resulted in the company’s stock value dropping by as much as $4.5 billion.
Evidence unearthed by internal and external investigations revealed a widespread use of
bribes, alleged to total over $24 million. The bribes were paid to facilitate the construction
of Walmart stores throughout Mexico. The country is a huge market for Walmart—one
in every five Walmart stores is in Mexico. As of October 2014, the investigation con-
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tinued, having implicated Walmart management at the most senior levels of complicity or
GlaxoSmithKline in China
In September 2013, China’s Xinhua news agency reported that a police investigation
into bribes paid by drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) indicated that the bribes
were organized and paid by GSK China and not by individuals operating on their own
prerogative as had been reported by the company initially. Police also alleged that the corporate
parent merely went through the motions of an internal audit process, indicating a
knowledge and acceptance of the bribery. This very recent case suggests that the Chinese
government’s widely publicized arrests and convictions for bribery have not yet served as a
sufficient deterrent to corrupt practices by foreign corporations.
Alcatel in Costa Rica
In January 2010 Alcatel agreed to pay Costa Rica US $10 million in reparations for
social damage caused by Alcatel’s payment of US$2.5 million in bribes to get a contract to
provide mobile phone services in that country. This case is notable for its application of the
concept of social damage and the resulting order of compensation to the citizens of Costa
Anticorruption Laws and Regulations
The first major international anticorruption law was the United States’ Foreign Corrupt
Practices Act (FCPA), adopted in 1977.11 The FCPA criminalized bribery of foreign public
officials by American business enterprises. Initially, the FCPA was not well received. Few
other countries followed suit and US companies complained that the FCPA shut them
out of the competition for billions of dollars’ worth of overseas business contracts. Slowly,
however, the push for concerted anticorruption measures gathered momentum, and intergovernmental
institutions such as the OECD, the African Union, and the United Nations
eventually adopted anticorruption conventions. Further support for a global anticorruption
agenda was provided by the lending institutions such as the World Bank, by NGOs such as
Transparency International, and by the rapidly evolving CSR movement. Notable among
these efforts was the Communist Party of China’s promulgation of a code of ethics to fight
the widespread corruption within the Communist Party of China.
The FCPA applies only to bribes paid (or offered) to foreign government officials to
obtain or retain business or to develop an unfair competitive advantage. The concepts of
bribe and foreign government official can be interpreted broadly. While companies and executives
charged with FCPA violations have often sought to characterize their payments
as business “gifts,” this has not shielded them from liability when there was evidence that
the payments were intended as a means of obtaining illicit objectives. However, where
payments have been characterized as “facilitation” or “lubrication” payments, meaning that
they merely created an incentive for an official to promptly execute legal actions, such as
mandatory customs inspections, the payments have been allowed. In numerous countries,
the state owns all or part of commercial enterprises so that a great number of business
executives could be classified as foreign government officials.
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In 1997, the OECD established legally binding standards for defining bribery in international
business transactions. Similar to the FCPA, the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention
focuses on the bribery of public officials. Like the FCPA, the OECD also potentially creates
the opportunity for companies to circumvent the regulations by hiring consultants
or agents (this topic will be the focus of this chapter’s case study discussion). Notably
excluded from the scope of the OECD Convention is a prohibition against bribing private
parties. Despite such loopholes, the OECD Convention was an important step in the
right direction. By 2012, forty-three countries had ratified the agreement and begun its
Corruption and Culture
Prior to the expansion of international trade in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,
most commerce was local and followed traditional norms and ethical standards.
With the expansion of international trade, however, businesses began to operate across
cultural and linguistic boundaries. Misunderstandings and transgressions, both intended
and unintended, became commonplace. To some extent, perceptions of corruption may
derive from cultural differences, because behavior that is considered corrupt in one society
may represent a normal business practice in another.
One example can be found in the Chinese concept of guanxi, which refers to the
reciprocal obligations and benefits expected from a network of personal connections. A
person with a powerful level of guanxi is considered a preferred business partner because
such a person can utilize connections to obtain business or government approvals. Guanxi
can derive from extended family, school friends and alumni, work colleagues, members of
common clubs or organizations, and business associates. Chinese businesspeople seek to
cultivate an intricate and extensive web of lifelong guanxi relationships. The key expectation
in guanxi networks is reciprocity in the granting of favors; the failure to reciprocate is
considered a breach of trust. The greater the favor asked or granted, the greater the favor
owed. Guanxi thus generates a cycle of favors over time. Among the questionable practices
facilitated by guanxi are certain types of corrupt favoritism—such as nepotism (favoring
family members) and cronyism (favoring friends). In fact, relatively high levels of nepotism
or cronyism are accepted and tolerated in many non-Western cultures, not only in China.
As applied to business transactions, guanxi opens doors and creates opportunities for business
relationships and dealings. In itself, guanxi is not corrupt. However, strong guanxi
connections and obligations can serve as an incentive to corruption.
Many traditional business practices around the world are rooted in concepts analogous
to guanxi, as in the practice of using business gifts or personal connections to speed up
transactions both large and small. Russians use the term blat to refer to the ability to get
things done through personal networks or contacts with people of influence. The Japanese
have adapted the English word connections to coin a term of their own, konne. In Pakistan,
the use of personal sifarish (“recommendation”) refers to the ability to make contact with
the right official on the most favorable terms. The French expression for bribe is pot de vin
(“jug of wine”), which implies friendly relations. In Urdu and Hindi, petty bribes are known
as chai pani (“tea water”). In West Africa the term is dash. The English colloquial term grease
and the German schmiergeld (“grease money”) imply a lubrication or easing of resistance to
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the transaction. In Mozambique, one term for corruption is cabritismo or “goatism,” which
is derived from the saying “a goat eats where it is tethered.”
The universality of such terms suggests that various forms of business bribery and graft
are prevalent worldwide. However, specific business activities that are considered acceptable
in some societies may be considered taboo in others. Thus, the American practice of lobbying
legislators and governmental agencies would be considered an illegal form of buying
influence in many other countries. In some societies, gift giving to chiefs, elders, or religious
leaders is considered not only acceptable and appropriate, but even a mandatory traditional
expression of respect and obligation.
A survey conducted by KPMG in the United Kingdom found that while 80 percent
of respondents agreed that the UK Anti-Corruption Act was an admirable attempt to
address the problem of corruption, 58 percent believed that the Act was impractical and
ignored the reality that bribery is an accepted way of doing business in many countries.
Other similar studies have revealed widespread international criticism of US anticorruption
law as hypocritical in light of the American business practice of offering gifts to potential
customers or clients (e.g., trips to conferences, golf outings, tickets to entertainment and
sporting events, use of luxury facilities such as spas, condos, and country clubs, etc.).
Case Study: The Chinese Agent
The fictional case subject for this chapter is based on the difficult issue of determining
the ethics of employing a well-connected agent. In our case, an American for-profit educational
institution, which we will call Cleveland College, is opening a Shanghai campus to
offer United States–style college programs in China. There is a ready market in China for
“prestigious” US baccalaureate degrees. However, Cleveland College needs to satisfy a lot
of red tape to be accredited in China and obtain the necessary licenses for an educational
institution in the Shanghai area.
On an exploratory trip to Shanghai, the President of Cleveland College, Mark Rollins,
is approached by a prominent businessman, Wang Li, a former member of the Shanghai
city government who is familiar with the educational bureaucracy. Wang offers to assist as
a public relations agent, but his fee is so hefty ($200,000 per year) that Rollins fears that
Wang is going to use much of it to grease palms. Research with local authorities indicates
that Wang is well respected and has a high level of guanxi with local educational officials.
Wang promises to get Cleveland College all the necessary certifications in much faster
time than it usually takes, and also promises to prevent bothersome audits and bureaucratic
problems. Should Cleveland College sign him on? What FCPA danger would this entail?
Corruption in China
Over the past decade, the Chinese government has joined the global community in decrying
corruption and initiating regulations and laws, and publically stating a strong intent
to clamp down on corruption. Thus, in a widely publicized 2011 statement by China’s
Premier, Wen Jiabao, anticorruption actions were emphasized as a “primary task in 2011.”13
This was interpreted as an indication that increased enforcement of anticorruption laws will
be a top government priority and that these prohibitions must be taken seriously by foreign
corporations operating in China.
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A number of recent high-profile cases have illustrated the extent of the Chinese crackdown
on corruption. One notorious case was that of the former anticorruption official
Huang Songyou, who was sentenced to death for accepting 7.71 billion yuan in bribes.
In another case, Wang Huayuan and eight other senior officials of the provincial governments
in Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces were convicted of corrupt actions that took
place between 1998 and 2009. The former president of the Supreme Court and the former
vice president of the state-owned China Development Bank were charged with taking
bribes and then convicted to life in prison. In 2011, China sought the repatriation of Lai
Changxing from Canada after twelve years there. As former chairman of Yuanhua International
Corporation, Changxing was accused of absconding with $7.7 billion dollars. His
defense against the repatriation was that he would face torture and execution.
Some observers have questioned the resolve of the Chinese government and have
suggested that the small number of corruption prosecutions concluding with extreme
punishments may have less to do with ending corruption than with sending a message to
those who engage in corruption beyond an acceptable level. Others have suggested that
anticorruption prosecutions may be an alternative means of conducting political purges.
A more positive but still skeptical interpretation is to view the anticorruption cases as an
expression of support for global anticorruption, an encouragement to foreign investors who
fear corruption, and a way of appeasing the Chinese citizenry. According to Yan Sun, Associate
Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York, it was corruption,
rather than democracy as such, that lay at the root of the social dissatisfaction that led to
the Tiananmen protest movement of 1989.
Foreign Educational Institutions in China
Accompanying China’s meteoric economic development over the last three decades has
been a corresponding growth in sophisticated higher education. The number of institutions
of higher education in China has doubled in the last ten years. By 2020, China intends to
have produced 195 million college graduates. The Chinese government has determined
that it must not only increase the number of college graduates, but also make China an
education destination for non-Chinese students. Accomplishing these goals will necessitate
increased cooperation with Western institutions of higher education
In an interview with University World News in 2013, Michael Gaebel, head of the
higher education policy unit at the European University Association (EUA) reported that,
just a few years ago, “it was very difficult to convince European vice-chancellors that Asia
was not just a provider of fee-paying students. Now no one in Europe can ignore that
China has become important globally for research and will continue growing in importance.”14
In 2013, China’s vice minister for education announced that China would take
efforts to attract more foreign students. By 2020, China hoped to attract some 500,000
international students, making the country the largest Asian destination for international
students. Currently about 35,000 foreign students are studying in China.
With 37 million students studying in over 2,400 universities and colleges, China has
the largest system of higher education in the world. The rapid growth of demand for colleges
and universities in recent years has resulted in a number of problems, including rushed
and poor quality construction, high student–lecturer ratio, shortages of qualified faculty,
and questionable academic quality, not to mention allegations of corruption.
Corruption in higher education in China has been widely reported, including allegations
of widespread plagiarism, selling of degrees, favoritism in admissions, and bribery
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for grades. A study by Wuhan University Professor Shen Yan showed that ghostwriting
academic theses was a one billion–yuan business in 2009, and that 70 percent of the published
theses were plagiarized. John Bray, author of “Facing up to Corruption, a Practical
Guide,”15 reports that parents in China often have to pay for a spot in a university for their
Compounding these problems is the growing level of unemployment among recent
graduates. The Epoch Times reported a 7.7 percent employment rate among the seven million
graduates in 2014.16 The decline in the perceived value of Chinese higher education has
created an opportunity for foreign universities. There is a perception that a degree from a
Western university is more credible and that its graduates are more employable than graduates
of Chinese institutions. Carl Fey, Dean of Nottingham University Business School
China, discusses the growing number of foreign campuses opening in China. At his school,
they spend the first year teaching students English, so they learn to work, study, and speak
in English before diving into subject matter. “Your diploma looks exactly the same whether
you graduated from Nottingham, UK, or Nottingham, China,” Fey said. “That’s because the
education’s actually the same.”17
The number of foreign universities operating in China is changing rapidly as institutions
from Europe, the United States, and other Western countries enter the fray. This
course is not without operational hurtles, as was noted when Harvard University pulled out
of a high profile and widely published and joint venture with its Chinese counterpart, the
prestigious Beijing University. Harvard cited several reasons for ending the relationship,
including low enrollment, high operating expenses, and issues within the Chinese language
One of the problems faced by Western universities operating in China is that the potential
for government censorship places severe limitations on academic freedom. While
this is the most notable issue, there are many other challenges, mostly related to cultural
differences. The red tape involved in getting the appropriate licenses, accreditations, and
building permits from the various governmental agencies involved in local, regional, and
centralized government is a daunting task for a foreigner. Most foreign institutions find it
more expedient to partner with established Chinese universities than to attempt to open a
new university, but even then, there are all the usual issues related to operation of a partnership
or joint venture, all complicated by the cultural differences.
Topic for Debate: To Hire, or Not to Hire a
“Consultant” Who May Be Bribing Officials
on Behalf of the University
Should Cleveland College hire the local Chinese agent, or “public relations” consultant,
who requests a sizeable enough retainer that we may reasonably suspect he is making cash
donations to obtain the goodwill of local educational institutions?
Affirmative Position
Cleveland College should hire the local Chinese agent/consultant.
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Possible Arguments
• Secret cash payments may act as a morally-acceptable “lubricant” to facilitate commercial
• Corruption is an inevitable part of the process of opening up new and developing
• Companies that elect to comply with the letter of the law in the strictest sense may
be at a severe competitive disadvantage.
• Payment of “fees” to officials can serve as an incentive to development, cutting
through unnecessary bureaucracy.
• Corruption as defined in this context is a Western concept and may not be applicable
in all countries.
• In many societies, the “gift culture” is a form of appropriate behavior based on
long-standing traditions of exchanging favors.
Negative Position
Cleveland College should not hire the local Chinese agent/consultant.
Possible Arguments
• Paying an agent a fee, who then bribes a government official does not necessarily
relieve the college of the risk of violating anticorruption laws.
• Paying an agent to bribe a government official sets a precedent that can lead to
ongoing demands for bribes.
• If the organization pays a bribe, and they do not get what they paid for, they have
no recourse. This is a high-risk form of investment.
• If the college goes down the path of bribing officials for any purpose, using the
justification that it is a traditional and acceptable way of conducting business, it
implicitly condones a lack of ethics to its employees—the next step would be to sell
grades, diplomas or admissions.
10.1 “Corruption from a Cross-Cultural Perspective”
Hooker, John. “Corruption from a Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie
Mellon University. October 2008.
The world is shrinking, but its cultures remain worlds apart, as do its ethical norms.
Bribery, kickbacks, cronyism, and nepotism seem to be more prevalent in some parts of the
world, and one wants to know why. Is it because some peoples are less ethical than others?
Or is it because they have different ethical systems and regard these behaviors as acceptable?
…The phenomenon of corruption provides a good illustration of these realities. Corruption
is best understood as behavior that corrupts: it undermines the cultural system in
which it occurs. Because cultures can operate in very different ways, very different kinds
of behavior can corrupt. Practices that Westerners consider questionable, such as cronyism
and nepotism, may be functional in other cultures. Practices that are routine and acceptable
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in the West, such as bringing a lawsuit for breach of contract, may be corrupting in a wide
range of cultures, Western and non-Western, but for very different reasons.
The West tends to be universalist in its outlook: every society works, or should work,
essentially the same way. Its business practices, for example, should be based on a market
system that is characterized by transparency and regulated by laws that apply to everyone.
A country that fails to conform to this model is seen as underdeveloped or dysfunctional.
It follows from this view that that corruption is basically the same in Sweden as in Sudan.
The reality, however, is that different cultures use radically different systems to get
things done. Whereas Western cultures are primarily rule-based, most of the world’s cultures
are relationship-based. Westerners tend to trust the system, while people …cemented
by personal honor, filial duty, friendship, or long-term mutual obligation. Loyalty to cronies
is suspect behavior in the West but represents high moral character in much of the world.
…What is corrupt in the West may be acceptable elsewhere. The classic example of
the purchasing agent illustrates this point. The Western purchasing agent is expected to
award contracts based on the quality of bids and transparently available financial information
about the bidders. An agent who favors personal friends is viewed as corrupt, because
cronyism subverts this transparency-based system. It creates a conflict of interest: A choice
that is good for the agent and his or her cronies may not be good for the company.
In much of the world, however, cronyism is a foundation for trust. A purchasing agent
does business with friends because friends can be trusted. He or she may not even ask to see
the company financials, since this could insult the other’s honor. It is assumed that cronies
will follow through on the deal, not because they fear a lawsuit, but because they do not
wish to sacrifice a valuable relationship in an economy where relationships are the key to
business. In such a system it is in the company’s interest for the agent to do business with
friends, and cronyism may therefore present no conflict of interest.
What is acceptable in the West may be corrupt elsewhere …Even so basic a practice
as negotiation, which is routine in the West, can disrupt harmony in Confucian cultures.
Westerners tend to organize their affairs around agreements, deals, or contracts, relying on
a concept of covenant that traces back to the ancient Middle East. These agreements are
hammered out in negotiation, as for example when labor and management sit across the
table from each other. This practice is functional and constructive, so long as it proceeds
according to rules of fair play and good faith.
Confucian cultures …are based primarily on loyalty and obligation to friends, family or
superiors rather than on a system of rules.
10.2 “Facing up to Corruption: A Practical Business
Bray, John. “Facing up to Corruption: A Practical Business Guide.” London: Control
Risks. 2007.
Direct and Indirect Bribery
Indirect bribery is one of the most sensitive policy issues facing international companies.
A typical example would be a case where a company employs a commercial agent to
help it win a government contract. The agent is paid by commission based on a percentage
of the contract fee; part of that commission is passed on to a government official. The
agent’s employers do not know—and do not wish to know—what happened…
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The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention explicitly covers payments made “directly or
through intermediaries” to secure a business advantage. US and other international legal
practice already includes several cases where companies have been prosecuted for paying
bribes via agents. Ignorance—wilful or otherwise—is not a defence.
…A broad understanding of corruption includes certain kinds of influence, although
the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable forms of influence is often hard to
define. A series of cases in the US and other countries have drawn attention to the ethical
issues surrounding political lobbying. In principle, political lobbying is legitimate. One of
the main roles of industry associations is to lobby government on their members’ behalf.
Individual companies, like ordinary citizens, are entitled to seek assistance from their political
and diplomatic representatives. Problems arise when such contacts appear secretive,
when there is a suspicion of favouritism or when a company’s influence appears to be both
disproportionate and against the wider public interest.
In many societies it is common to speed up both larger and smaller transactions
through personal connections… The use of personal contacts is both commonplace and
useful. However, as with political lobbying, it becomes problematic when the connections
lack transparency and when officials break rules on behalf of their business friends, or seek
illicit favours in return.
In cases of doubt, the so-called “newspaper test” provides a useful indicator: would
a proposed transaction cause you or your company embarrassment when reported in the
press? If it would, do not do it.
10.3 “The Cost of Corruption: A Discussion Paper
on Corruption, Development and the Poor”
Evans, Bryan R. “The Cost of Corruption: A Discussion Paper on Corruption, Development
and the Poor,” (Middlesex, UK: Tearfund, 1999), accessed December 3, 2014,
Far from being a “victimless crime,” corruption infringes the fundamental human right
to fair treatment. All persons are entitled to be treated equally, and when one person bribes
a public official he acquires a privileged status in relation to others. He becomes an ‘insider’
while others are made “outsiders” (and the more “outside” they are—the very poor, the
landless, women, ethnic minorities—the more they will be hurt). Clare Short, the UK
Secretary of State for International Development, notes a report in the Indian magazine
Outlook to the effect that the bribe for a new water connection was R1,000. This effectively
excluded the poor from access to running water, with all the health and time-loss implications
that this entails. Corruption is thus profoundly inegalitarian in its effects—it has a
“Robin Hood-in-reverse” character. Hugh Bayley MP, introducing a bill to create offences
of international bribery and corruption, went so far as to say that “bribery is a direct transfer
of money from the poor to the rich.”
…The ramifications spread yet further. Productive foreign investment may be lost.
Before the Asian crisis of 1997/98 there were some who argued that corruption was not
harmful, it merely greased the wheels of commerce. It was pointed out that some countries
which ranked high in surveys of the level of corruption, also excelled in economic growth.
The World Development Report notes that the question of predictability (the amount to
be paid, the certainty of outcome) throws some light on this apparent paradox. “For a given
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level of corruption, countries with more predictable corruption have higher investment
However, the Report went on to state that even in these countries corruption had an
adverse impact on economic performance, because the higher transaction costs and increased
uncertainty put off potential investors. Time magazine quotes research by Professor
Shang-Jin Wei of Harvard School of Government to the effect that the high level of corruption
in Mexico compared with Singapore was the equivalent of a 24 per cent increase in
the marginal rate of taxation.
A conservationist, Lansen Olsen, in a letter to the Transparency International Newsletter
notes that “political corruption is a major feature of the political habitat in which
wildlife conservation efforts sink or swim.” When corruption breaches regulations designed
to protect the environment, everyone suffers in the long term, as the loss of primary forest
leads to soil erosion, local climate change, etc., but it is the poor who have the smallest
resources with which to weather environmental degradation.
Corruption can also have ugly and unpredictable consequences for the (Western)
briber. As soon as he pays he begins to lose control. If he does not get what he paid for he
is in no position to complain. Having broken the law he is vulnerable to blackmail. If he
tries to break the corrupt relationship he may face a variety of threats, including the threat
of violence.
Synthesis Questions
1. Consider the following hypothetical example: An American college seeks to obtain
a good image among Chinese educational regulators and accreditors by inviting a
number of them, all expenses paid, to a week-long conference in Hawaii. Is this
morally acceptable? Does it constitute a form of bribery? Why or why not?
2. In the past two decades, a number of very large corporations have paid large fines
for corrupt behavior. Presumably, the executives who authorized the payments were
highly-educated, experienced, professional people. Why do you think they failed to
speak up against the corruption?
3. This chapter explores the concept of guanxi. Do you think guanxi is morally wrong,
or rather, is an acceptable form of traditional practice that must be allowed to
continue? What are the prospects for guanxi in the future?
1. “Clean Business is Good Business,” International Chamber of Commerce, Transparency
International, the United Nations Global Compact and the World Economic Forum Partnering
Against Corruption Initiative (PACI), accessed Nov. 26, 2014,
2. Sharon Eiher, “Corruption in International Business: The Challenge of Cultural and Legal
Diversity,” Wichita, KS: Friends University, accessed October 29, 2013,
pdf/SamplePages/Corruption_in_International_Business_Ch1.pdf .
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3. “International Business Attitudes to Corruption: Survey 2013.” Control Risks Groups
Limited, accessed Nov. 26, 2014.
4. Theresa Tedesco, “Anti-Corruption High on Corporate Agenda, Low in Practise: UK
Study,”nFinancial Post, July 15, 2013,
5. “Corruption Perceptions Index 2013.” Transparency International, accessed Nov. 26, 2014.
6. “Corruption ‘will cost Germany €250 billion.’” The Local, March 16, 2012. http://www.thelocal.
7. Dow Jones Risk and Compliance. “Dow Jones State of Anti-Corruption Compliance Survey,”
Dow Jones, March 31 2011,
8. Mukti Jain Campion, “Bribery in India: a Website for Whistleblowers,” BBC News, June 11,
2011, accessed on December 3, 2014,
9. Kaufmann, Daniel. “Corruption: The Facts.”Foreign Policy, Summer 1997. 114-131. http://info.
10. Richard Cassin, “France’s Total SA Cracks Our Top 10 List,” FCPA Blog, May 29, 2013,
11. “A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” U.S. Dept. of Justice, accessed
Nov. 26, 2014.
12. Sommerville, Quentin. “China Communists Get New Anti-Corruption Ethics Code.” BBC
News, Feb. 24, 2010.
13. “Chinese Premier Renews Call for Fight Against Corruption.” Xinhua News. March 25, 2011.
14. Sharma, Yojana. “Beijing Wants More In-Depth HE Links with Europe.” University
World News. May 11, 2013.
15. Bray, John. “Facing Up to Corruption: A Practical Business Guide.” Control Risks Group Limited.
16. Chen, Lu. “Employment Rate for China’s College Graduates Lowest
Ever.” Epoch Times. August 5, 2014.
17. “Why Foreign Colleges Are Entering China.” July 2, 2013.
Corporations and Politics: After Citizens United|147
Chapter 11
Corporations and Politics:
After Citizens United
Source: courtesy of John Montgomery, (CC-BY 2012),
Figure 11.1 The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Committee
gave First Amendment rights to corporations in election periods, allowing business interests to
spend unlimited amounts on U.S. elections. Do corporations deserve the same rights as individuals
when it comes to political speech?
Corporate Influence on Politics
Corporations today exert a considerable (and occasionally overwhelming) influence on
global politics. In some countries, the influence of corporations on government is so great
as to give rise to the suspicion that the government is actually controlled by corporations.
Even in those countries that strictly limit corporate influence on political campaigns, the
corporate sector can still play an important role in the development of governmental policies
through sophisticated, high-level lobbying. In this chapter we ask, how much of this
corporate influence is acceptable? We will also explore the following related questions:
How can corporate influence be controlled? What is the appropriate level of corporate
participation in the drafting of laws and regulations? Should corporations be allowed to
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contribute freely to political campaigns? What is the role of foreign and multinational
corporations? Should they also be allowed to influence domestic politics?
Although we will focus on corporate influence, let us note at the outset that they are
not the only source of money in politics; wealthy individuals, unions, and other participants
in the electoral process also contribute significant funds and resources to campaigns. In
the United States, as in most other industrialized democracies, electoral campaigns have
become increasingly expensive despite attempts to limit allowable expenditures.
Given the importance of the issue, it is not surprising that a storm of controversy arose
over a US Supreme Court’s ruling in 2010 that government limits on corporate spending in
political campaigns violated the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. In the view
of an openly dismayed President Barack Obama, the Court’s decision in Citizens United v.
Federal Elections Commission “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special
interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections.”1
The validity of President Obama’s objection to Citizen United has been hotly contested,
and it will provide us with a focal point for our discussion: Is it true that corporations have
achieved excessive influence over national politics? Are corporations entitled to be treated
as “persons” when it comes to freedom of speech?
A Basic Distinction: Private vs. Public
Funding of Campaigns
While private election spending in the United States is increasing, the situation around
the world is quite diverse. In some countries, expenditures are increasing while elsewhere
they are decreasing. A basic distinction in national campaign finance regulations is that
some countries allow private support for political campaigns while other countries provide
public funds to candidates.
Private Finance
In the United Kingdom there are no limits on corporate or individual giving in the
general election, yet total spending on the 2010 general election was down 26 percent from
However, in the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister may call for elections at any
time within a maximum period, which shortens the total time available for campaigning
and explains the need for funds. National elections tend to be more expensive in the United
States because they come along at predictable four-year intervals.
In Brazil, it is estimated that $2 billion was spent by parties and candidates in the 2010
presidential election, with nearly 100 percent of total campaign donations coming from
Public Funding
In countries such as Norway, government funding accounts for up to 74 percent of
political campaigns, and political ads are banned from television and radio.
In Canada, candidates are given strict spending limits based on the number of voters
in their districts, in order to even the playing field in elections, and private donations (a
maximum of $1,200 to any party) are heavily subsidized by public funds paid out through
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tax credits. Although the price of elections has grown 50 percent in the past decade, Canadians
spent just $300 million on the 2008 general election.3
Campaign Finance in the U.S.
US Campaign Finance Law, PACs and Super PACs
“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember
what the second one is.”
—Mark Hanna, campaign manager of President McKinley’s successful bid for the Presidency
in 1896.
Concern over the influence of money in politics began at an early stage in the life of the
United States, with Thomas Jefferson stating in 1816 that he feared it would be necessary to
“crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge
our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”4
Despite Jefferson’s hopes, the influence of corporations on politics grew substantially
in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The presidential elections of 1896 and 1904 left
much of the American populace disgusted and convinced that political office in the United
States was up for sale. In 1896, the victor in the presidential election, William McKinley,
outspent his competitor, the populist William Jennings Bryan, by a factor of 10 to 1. In
1904, the Democratic candidate, Alton Parker, lost the election and complained bitterly
afterward that he had been defeated by large insurance companies. Parker challenged the
nation to face the reality that corporations were taking over the political process: “The
greatest moral question which now confronts us is shall the trusts and corporations be
prevented from contributing money to control or aid in controlling elections?”5
President-elect Theodore Roosevelt took the accusation seriously and joined his own
voice in the call for control of corporate contributions. In a 1905 address to Congress,
Roosevelt called for legislation:
All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political
purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be permitted to use stockholders’
money for such purposes; and, moreover, a prohibition of this kind would be,
as far as it went, an effective method of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices
acts. Not only should both the National and the several State Legislatures forbid any
officer of a corporation from using the money of the corporation in or about any election,
but they should also forbid such use of money in connection with any legislation
save by the employment of counsel in public manner for distinctly legal services.6
As a result, Congress passed the 1907 Tillman Act, the first US law prohibiting corporations
from contributing directly to federal elections. However, it turned out that the law was
easy to circumvent. Not only was there no enforcement mechanism or agency, the Tillman
Act did not prevent corporate contributions to party primaries, and in many Congressional
districts these were even more determinative than the general election. Moreover, the
Tillman Act did not prohibit corporate officers from giving money personally to campaigns
(the executives were then often reimbursed by bonuses from the corporations). It rapidly
became clear that the Tillman Act would only be the beginning of a long and tortuous
effort to curtail corporate influence.
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After World War II, labor unrest reached a historical high. From 1945–1946, millions
of railroad, auto, meatpacking, electric, steel, and coal workers went on strike, protesting
falling wages amid rising corporate profits. Corporate fears of powerful labor unions and
the perception among politicians that labor unions had communist leanings convinced
Congress to pass the Taft–Hartley Act (also known as the Labor Management Relations
Act) in 1947, which limited workers’ rights to strike, boycott, and picket. The law also
prohibited labor unions from spending money in federal elections and campaigns. As an
extension of the Tillman Act of 1907, Taft–Hartley constrained labor unions to raising
money for campaign contributions only through so-called political action committees
It was not until the 1970s that PACs were firmly regulated by the federal government.
With the passing of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) in 1971 (and subsequent
Amendments in 1974, 1976, and 1979), the modern campaign finance system was born,
along with an independent body to enforce it—the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
The new law defined how PACs could operate, set contribution limits, and instituted public
financing for presidential elections.7
Until 2010, individuals were limited to $2,500 contributions to PACs, and corporations
were strictly banned from donating. However, as we shall see below, the Citizens
United case radically altered this landscape, removing all corporate restrictions and giving
rise to the so-called Super PAC—a political action committee that can accept unlimited
donations from individuals, corporations, and unions, and engage in unlimited spending.
The only restriction on Super PACs is that the donors cannot coordinate activities with any
candidate or campaign. As we can see below from the satirical commentary by television
personality Stephen Colbert on the effectiveness of such a bar on coordination, many felt
that Super PACs were in reality little more than funding mechanisms under the control of
politicians themselves. It seemed that the efforts to control corporate contributions, begun
with the Tillman Act, had finally reached a dead end.
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Source: Cliff, (CC-BY 2.0 2010)
Figure 11.2 In 2011, comedian Stephen Colbert formed a Super PAC called, “Americans for a
Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” While it was intended as a satire of existing Super PACs, it was
also a way to educate viewers about the Citizens United decision. In January 2012, Colbert
decided to run for “President of the United States of South Carolina.” As was legally required, he
passed off control of his Super PAC to someone totally unconnected to the committee—his Comedy
Central cohort Jon Stewart.
Milestones in Campaign Finance8
• 1907: Passage of the Tillman Act, which banned corporate political contributions
to national campaigns.
• 1925: The Federal Corrupt Practices Act increased disclosure requirements and
spending limits on general elections.
• 1971: Passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), the first comprehensive
campaign finance law.
• 1974: Amendments made to the Federal Election Campaign Act: limits on contributions,
increased disclosure, creation of the Federal Election Commission (FEC)
as a regulatory agency, government funding of presidential campaigns.
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• 1976: Buckley v. Valeo: The Supreme Court upheld limits on campaign contributions,
but held that spending money to influence elections is protected speech
under the First Amendment.
• 1978: First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti: The Supreme Court upheld the rights
of corporations to spend money in non-candidate elections (i.e., ballot initiatives
and referendums).
• 1990: Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce: The Supreme Court upheld the
right of the state of Michigan to prohibit corporations from using money from
their corporate treasuries to support or oppose candidates in elections, noting:
“corporate wealth can unfairly influence elections.”9
• 2002: Passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain–Feingold),
which banned corporate funding of issue advocacy ads that mentioned
candidates close to an election.
• 2010: Citizens United v. FEC: The Supreme Court held that corporate funding of
independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited under the
First Amendment, overruling Austin (1990).
The 2012 Presidential Election
The 2012 US presidential race was the most expensive in history. According to the
Federal Election Commission, approximately $6 billion was spent on the election by candidates,
parties, and outside groups. Of that, $933 million came directly from companies,
unions, and individuals funneling money into Super PACs specifically enabled by Citizens
United. The Center for Public Integrity found that nearly two-thirds (approximately $611
million) went to just ten political consulting firms, who spent 89 percent of the money on
negative advertising spots attacking candidates.10
Influence of the Wealthy: The One Percent of the One Percent
According to the Sunlight Foundation, there is a growing dependence on the One Percent
of the One Percent—an elite group of the wealthiest Americans, including corporate
executives, investors, lobbyists, and lawyers in metropolitan areas who give to multiple candidates,
parties, and independent issue groups. Data suggests that, while these ideological
donors make up less than 1 percent of the US population, they control about one-third of
America’s net worth and contribute up to 25 percent of the money provided to all federal
political campaigns.11
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Source: Courtesy of Sunlight Foundation (2013)
Figure 11.3 Statistics show that the wealthiest 0.01% of the U.S. population contributes a major
share of all American political campaign funding.
Case Study: Citizens United v. Federal
Elections Commission
In early 2010, the United States Supreme Court shocked much of the nation when it
ruled that corporations have the same rights of political free speech as individuals under the
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First Amendment to the US Constitution.
Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission was a constitutional law case challenging
the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002, otherwise known as the
McCain–Feingold campaign finance law. The BCRA barred corporations and unions from
running broadcast, cable, or television ads for or against Presidential candidates for thirty
days before primary elections, and within 60 days of general elections. In addition, the law
required donor disclosure and disclaimers on all materials not authorized or endorsed by
the candidate.
The Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court plays a central and occasionally polarizing role in
the American democratic system. Created by the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Supreme Court
is the only court specifically prescribed by the Constitution. As the “highest court in the
land,” it remains the functional and symbolic defender of American civil rights and liberties.
As the United States’ final court of appeal, the Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter
of law in the United States. With the authority to strike down any federal and state
law it deems unconstitutional, the Court acts as a check on the power of the executive and
legislative branches of government. In theory, the Supreme Court guarantees that changing
majority views don’t subjugate vulnerable minorities or undermine fundamental American
values such as freedom of speech.
Because it often appears to defend these values in direct opposition to popular opinion,
the Supreme Court has been criticized as an antidemocratic institution that fails to take
into account progressive social evolution. Indeed, justices are often accused of ideological
activism, constitutional fundamentalism, and ignorance of the changing face of the American
public. It can also be argued, however, that the Supreme Court’s decisions historically
have reflected growing national sentiments about constitutional issues more consistently
than it has rejected them.
Virtually every political and social hot-button issue—abortion, gay marriage, affirmative
action, civil rights, immigration, and so on—appears before the Supreme Court at
some point. Justices are appointed for life so that, ideally, they will not be swayed by outside
political influences; unlike the president or Congress, they do not have to worry about
re-election campaigns or approval ratings. The Supreme Court’s decisions have often had
sweeping and profound consequences to society, and they almost always inflame passions
on both sides of the political spectrum.
The Plaintiff
Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit corporation, wanted to run an on-demand
cable documentary called Hillary: The Movie, which harshly criticized then-Senator Hillary
Clinton during the Democratic presidential primary in 2008. The documentary featured
interviews with conservative pundits and politicians who claimed that Clinton would be a
presidential disaster.
The Federal Elections Committee (FEC) blocked the documentary from being broadcast,
designating it as “electioneering communication” under the BCRA. Citizens United
brought its case to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, citing
violation of the group’s First Amendment rights, but the lower court sided with the FEC.
The case was appealed and appeared before the Supreme Court in early 2009.
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In 2004, Michael Moore released a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, shortly before the
GOP primary elections. The movie was a scathing indictment of George W. Bush, his
administration’s War on Terror, and the far-reaching consequences of his first term as President.
Citizens United filed a complaint with the FEC, stating that ads for the film were
television broadcast communications designed to influence voters, and therefore violated
federal election law. The FEC dismissed the complaint, saying it was clear that Fahrenheit
9/11, along with its television trailers and website, were purely commercial pursuits. In
response, Citizens United decided to start producing its own “commercial” documentaries.
Before the Supreme Court, Citizens United argued that the BCRA (the McCain–
Feingold Act) only applied to commercial advertisements, not to video-on-demand,
90-minute documentaries such as Hillary: The Movie. The group’s lawyer, Ted Olson, did
not even mention the First Amendment, nor did he call for the repeal of any part of federal
election law.
Taking the opposite position was the deputy solicitor general, who argued that the
Clinton documentary was the equivalent of an extended campaign advertisement, recalling
the Supreme Court’s decisions in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990), which
held that state legislatures may prohibit corporations from using treasury funds on electoral
speech, and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003), which validated the BCRA’s
spending limitations, stating that “express advocacy and its functional equivalent may be
treated alike, and that BCRA’s definition of ‘electioneering communication’ is not facially
First Opinion
After the case was argued, the Court decided that the BCRA did not apply to Hillary:
The Movie, and therefore Citizens United could air it unhindered. Chief Justice John Roberts
drafted an opinion, but it soon became clear that many of the justices didn’t think it
went far enough. The conservative majority felt that the case was a perfect opportunity to
broaden the discussion to address whether or not corporate speech should be regulated at
all under the Constitution.
Roberts withdrew his opinion, and the Court called for the case to be reargued in
September, almost a month before the official start of the fall term and two months before
the 2010 midterm election. The justices directed the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing
the question of whether the Court should overrule Austin v. Michigan and parts of
McConnell v. FEC, which would amount to eliminating decades of restrictions on corporate
electoral spending.
Second Opinion
The Citizens United case was reargued on September 9, 2009. By a five-to-four vote,
the conservative majority held that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution
prohibits the government from imposing any limits on political spending by corporations,
associations, and unions. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, which
he summarized from the bench in this way: “Political speech is indispensable to decision
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making in a democracy and this is no less true because the speech comes from a corporation
rather than an individual.”13
Justice Kennedy was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia,
Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas. To the conservative judges, the ruling was a vindication
of the power of free speech; because of Citizens United, the First Amendment could
now be applied universally and without prejudice.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a highly critical 90-page dissent, arguing that Justice
Kennedy’s opinion constituted “a rejection of the common sense of the American people,
who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government
since the founding.”14 Stevens believed that the limits Congress had for years imposed on
corporate spending were necessary to curb political corruption by the wealthiest Americans,
who would inevitably out-spend, out-lobby, and “out-speech” the vast majority of
Americans. Stevens also argued that corporations are not “people” in the real sense—they
do not have consciences, feelings, beliefs, or desires—and therefore are not true members
of society, or “‘We the People,’ by whom and for whom [the] Constitution was established.”
Justice Stevens was joined in his dissent by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen
Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. These liberal justices recognized that the decision would
open the floodgates for spending in electoral campaigns, making it “exceedingly difficult to
maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or
the appearance of corruption.’”15
Corporate “Personhood”
Widespread public criticism of the Citizens United decision has not diminished with
time, particularly from liberal or progressive voters and pundits. Protesters, lawmakers, and
organizations such as Move to Amend have called for a constitutional amendment to overturn
the ruling. Across the country, a number of public demonstrations were held where
participants waved signs reading, “Corporations Are Not People.” Despite the widespread
outrage, the reality is that corporations have had many of the same rights as individuals for
a very long time.
Corporate personhood refers to the legal concept that allows organizations of people,
as individuals acting collectively, to be both protected by the Constitution and subject to
the same laws as citizens. The word corporation derives from the Latin, corpus, meaning
body, and is defined as “a body of people acting jointly, …recognized by law as acting as an
The Romans first devised corporate personhood as a way for cities and churches to
legally organize for the purposes of joint land ownership, taxation, and institutional perpetuity.
Creating a “legal” or “artificial” person made it unnecessary to develop separate laws
enabling large groups of people to do the same things as individuals: for instance, make
contracts, own property, pay taxes, borrow money, enter into law suits, and be protected
from persecution.
Since at least 1819, in Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, the Supreme Court
has recognized corporations as having the same rights as “natural persons” for the purpose
of contracts. Since then, the Supreme Court has given corporations increasingly more rights
traditionally reserved for natural people: Fourteenth Amendment rights of equal protection
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(Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania, 1888), Fifth Amendment protections
of due process (Noble v. Union River Logging, 1893), Fourth Amendment search and
seizure protection (Hale v. Henkel, 1906), double-jeopardy immunity (Fong Foo v. United
States, 1962), First Amendment protection (Grosjean v. American Press Company, 1936),
Seventh Amendment rights to trial by jury (Ross v. Bernhard, 1970), the right to spend
money in noncandidate elections (First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 1978), and the
right to spend in campaigns as a form of “speech” (Buckley v Valeo, 1976).17
Amending the Constitution to Overrule Citizens
Move to Amend, a coalition of political interest organizations, lead the campaign for a
Constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens
United. clearly states:
We, the People of the United States of America, reject the US Supreme Court’s
ruling in Citizens United and other related cases, and move to amend our Constitution
to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations,
are persons entitled to constitutional rights.18
Specialists in campaign finance law predict that the Supreme Court’s ruling will shape
the US electoral process for years to come. The matter is far from settled, however, as there
is a growing movement of nonpartisan municipal, county, and state bodies calling for a
constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Citizens United’s legacy is far from over.
Topic for Debate: Overrule Citizens United
In this debate section, you will be asked to assume the role of a college student at a
SUNY campus in New York State. The Congressional representative who has been elected
from your university’s district has introduced a bill in Congress that would authorize a
constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The university newspaper has
sponsored a public debate so that the it can determine what position to take—should the
newspaper endorse (or not) the proposed amendment? You have been invited to be a part of
one of the two debate teams that will address the issue at a public forum. You are expected
to base your arguments to some extent on the statements and publications of legal and
public policy experts.
The university newspaper should endorse a constitutional amendment to overturn
Citizens United.
Possible Arguments
• Corporations are not people, and should not have the same rights as individuals.
• The Supreme Court erred with its decision in Citizens United, due to judicial
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• Electoral issues should be decided by elected officials and not by the Supreme
• Corporate money inherently leads to political corruption and “secret” financing.
• Wealthy Americans by and large represent the corporate interests of America and
should not drown out the voices of those with less power and money.
The university newspaper should oppose a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens
Possible Arguments
• American democracy relies on freedom of speech, which should therefore be enjoyed
by everyone, regardless of their legal status.
• Corporate money in elections increases political competition and awareness of
• Americans can decide for themselves whether or not to elect a candidate; ads don’t
make a difference either way.
• Corporations advocate for their employees, customers, and communities, and regulation
will only constrain this ability.
• Corporations are fundamental to American economic progress and should be allowed
to influence the political process to maintain their positive contributions to
11.1 Supreme Court Opinion and Pleadings
The Supreme Court’s majority opinion, the various dissenting and concurring opinions,
and the parties’ briefs, may be accessed on the Internet at the following links:
The official arguments and decision can be found at “Citizens United v. Federal Election
Commission.” The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Last updated
August 25, 2014.
The official briefs and amicus briefs can be found at “Citizens United v. Federal Election
Commission.” SCOTUSblog. June 17, 2010.
A video can be found at “The Story of Citizens United v. FEC (2011).” YouTube video,
8:50. Posted by “storyofstuffproject” on February 25, 2011.
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11.2 “Why Super PACs Are Good for Democracy:
Super PACs Get Government out of the Business of
Regulating Speech”
Smith, Bradley A. “Why Super PACs Are Good for Democracy: Super PACs Get
Government out of the Business of Regulating Speech.” U.S. News and World
Report. February 17, 2012.
11.3 “The New York Times’ Disingenuous Campaign
against Citizens United”
Kaminer, Wendy. “The New York Times’ Disingenuous Campaign against Citizens
United.” The Atlantic. February 24, 2012.
The paper is promoting the misconception that the ruling allowed for unlimited campaign
contributions from super-rich individuals. It didn’t.
Like Fox News, the New York Times has a First Amendment right to spread misinformation
about important public issues, and it is exercising that right in its campaign
against the Citizens United ruling. In news stories, as well as columns, it has repeatedly
mischaracterized Citizens United, explicitly or implicitly blaming it for allowing unlimited
“super PAC” contributions from megarich individuals. In fact, Citizens United enabled corporations
and unions to use general treasury funds for independent political expenditures;
it did not expand or address the longstanding, individual rights of the rich to support
independent groups. And, as recent reports have made clear, individual donors, not corporations,
are the primary funders of super PACs.
When I first focused on the inaccurate reference to Citizens United in a front-page
story about Sheldon Adelson, I assumed it was a more or less honest if negligent mistake.
(And I still don’t blame columnists for misconceptions about a complicated case that are
gleaned from news stories and apparently shared by their editors.) But mistakes about Citizens
United are beginning to look more like propaganda, because even after being alerted to
its misstatements, the Times has continued to repeat them. First Amendment lawyer Floyd
Abrams wrote to the editors pointing out mischaracterizations of Citizens United in two
news stories, but instead of publishing corrections, the Times published Abrams’ letter on
the editorial page, effectively framing a factual error as a difference of opinion…
As these examples suggest, …campaign-finance reforms dating back decades have produced
an overcomplicated, overreaching web of laws and regulations that are easily abused,
misunderstood, or intentionally obfuscated. The complexities of campaign finance law (and
tax-code provisions governing independent groups) also create incentives to oversimplify
the problems caused by the campaign-finance regime by naming Citizens United as the root
of all evils. This helps advance what appears to be a simple solution—repeal Citizens United
with a “free speech for people” constitutional amendment declaring that corporations aren’t
people. Putting aside the dangers of this approach, it wouldn’t solve the problem of super
PACs: The billionaires funding them may lack personal appeal but they are, after all, people,
whose expenditures were not at issue in Citizens United. When the press promotes false
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understandings of Citizens United and the problems of campaign finance, it “paves the way”
for false solutions.
It’s worth noting that the Times is not alone among proponents of reform in scapegoating
Citizens United (although it seems to have taken the lead.) The New York Times, the
Washington Post, and MSNBC regularly and routinely misstate the meaning and impact
of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on campaign finance rules,” Steve Brill
recently observed, citing a post by Dan Abrams. Brill recommends confronting reporters
and commentators with their frequent misstatements. Former ACLU Executive Director
Ira Glasser has gamely tried engaging New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane in an
effort to stop misleading readers…Are you confused yet? What does the Times believe or
want you to believe about Citizens United? Whatever.
11.4 “The Citizens United Catastrophe”
Dionne, E. J., Jr. “The Citizens United Catastrophe.” The Washington Post. February
5, 2012.
11.5 Experts Assess Impact of Citizens United: HLS
Professor Suggests Constitutional Amendment
Stating Corporations Are Not People
Greenfield, Jill. “Experts Assess Impact of Citizens United.” Harvard Gazette.
February 3, 2012.
Few recent Supreme Court cases have received as much attention—and drawn as
much ire—as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5–4 decision, the court
ruled that the First Amendment prohibits government from placing limits on independent
spending for political purposes by corporations and unions. To proponents of campaign
finance reform, Citizens United had the detrimental effect of inundating an already-broken
campaign finance system with corporate influence. At an event sponsored by the Harvard
Law School (HLS) American Constitution Society on Tuesday, HLS Professor Lawrence
Lessig, author of Republic Lost, and Jeff Clements, author of Corporations Are Not People,
reviewed the impact that Citizens United has had on the political process.
Clements said that the court’s decision exacerbates two problems that the American
political and electoral system had already been facing—the large amount of campaign
spending and the growing influence of corporate power on the political process. Clements
said that both problems need to be fixed in order to restore democracy but that, rather than
addressing these problems, the Citizens United decision instead requires that the American
people fundamentally reframe their notion of corporations.
“We need to look at what Citizens United really asks us to do, which is to accept a lot.
The court asks us to pretend that corporations are not massive creations of state, federal,
and foreign laws. It asks us to pretend that they’re just like people, that they have voices, and
that we’re not allowed to make separate rules for them,” he said.
Although some legal observers regard the decision as simply a bad day on the court,
Clements said that Citizens United actually represents the culmination of a steady creation
of a corporate rights doctrine that is radical in terms of American jurisprudence. He pro-
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vided a history of the idea of corporate personhood and corporate speech, which began
only in the 1970s under Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Lessig added that the system
that has resulted is one in which elected officials must spend 30 to 50 percent of their time
fundraising, and thus make decisions based not on what is best for their constituents, but
on what their super PACs and other major donors want to see.
“We have a corrupt government, yet one that is perfectly legal,” said Lessig. “We’ve
allowed a government to evolve in which Congress isn’t dependent on people alone, but is
instead increasingly dependent on its funders. As you bend to the green, that corrupts the
As a result, he said, members of Congress develop a sixth sense as to what will raise
money, which has led them to bend government away from what the people want government
to do and toward what their funders want government to do. To fix the problem,
we need to produce a system where the funders and the people are one and the same. The
solution, Lessig said, is a multipronged approach that includes a constitutional amendment
explicitly stating that corporations are not people, as well as a movement to publicly fund
elections and provide Congress with the power to limit independent expenditures.
Synthesis Questions
1. Do corporations have too much influence on American politics? Support your
arguments with examples of excessive influence or lack of excessive influence.
2. Why do so many people find it repugnant to treat corporations as “persons”? Is this
disfavor justifiable?
1. “Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address,”, January
27, 2010, accessed December 3, 2014,
2. “Political Party Spending at Elections,” The Electoral Commission, accessed October
25, 2013,
3. Anna M. Paperny, “Election Costs Have Skyrocketed in Past Decade, The
Globe and Mail, August 23, 2012,
4. Jefferson, Thomas. The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia. Funk and Wagnalls Company: New York and
London. Jan. 1, 1900.
5. Nichols, John. “Feingold Fears ‘Lawless’ Court Ruling on Corporate Campaigning.”
The Nation. Jan. 12, 2010.
6. Roosevelt, Theodore. “Fifth Annual Message.” The American Presidency Project. Dec. 5, 1905.
7. “The FEC and the Federal Campaign Finance Law,” Federal Election Commission, last updated
January 2013,
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8. Victor W. Geraci, “Campaign Finance Reform Historical Timeline,” Connecticut Network,
accessed October 25, 2013,
9. Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990). U.S. Supreme Court. March
27, 1990.
10. Reity O’Brien, “Court Opened Door to $933 Million in New Election Spending,” The
Center for Public Integrity, January 20, 2013,
11. Lee Drutman, “The Political One Percent of the One Percent,” Sunlight Foundation,
December 13, 2011,
12. Elena Kagan, “Citizens United, Appellant v. Federal Election Commission: Supplemental Brief for
the Appellee,” The Supreme Court of the United States, no. 08-205, July 2009, http://www.justice.
13. “Citizens United, Appellant v. Federal Election Commission, The Oyez Project at IIT
Chicago-Kent College of Law, last updated August 25, 2014,
14. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010).
15. Mike Sacks, “Citizens United Foes John McCain, Sheldon Whitehouse Take Argument to
Supreme Court,” Huffington Post, May 18, 2012,
16. “Corporation.” Chambers Concise Dictionary. p. 267. Allied Chambers Publishers Ltd.: New
Delhi. 2004.
17. “Timeline of Personhood Rights and Powers,”, accessed October 25, 2013,
18. “Timeline of Personhood Rights and Powers.”
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Chapter 12
Animal Rights and CSR
Source: David Shankbone (CC-BY 2.0, 2002)
Figure 12.1 PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has become known for its
creative and sometimes controversial publicity campaigns against mistreatment of animals (in
this case, chickens)
Donna Karan: “Bunny Butcher”
In 2010, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
garnered media attention by protesting the Donna Karan fashion company’s use of rabbit
fur. Karan’s company (DKNY, a fashion subsidiary of Moët Hennessy) had previously been
the focus of criticism from PETA. Several years earlier, PETA had tried to meet with Donna
Karan to convince her to suspend the use of real fur in her company’s clothing. Many other
high-end fashion companies, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren,
Calvin Klein, and others had joined PETA’s ranks as PETA-approved fashion retailers,
endorsing fur-free practices. DKNY, however, did not consistently participate in a PETAapproved
production agenda. PETA claimed that, on repeated occasions in 2008 and 2009,
DKNY had promised PETA that they would remove fur from their fashion lines, but
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then DKNY had failed to follow through. As a result, the high-end fashion brand became
the target of a PETA-driven, viral campaign that harshly criticized the company’s use of
farmed fur and labeled Donna Karan herself as a “Bunny Butcher.”
DKNY used rabbit fur and skins in various items of clothing and accessories, from
the fur lining in hoods and boots to the leather on bags and shoes. PETA claimed the fur
and leather farmed for these purposes was obtained from factory farms operating under
inhumane conditions. According to PETA, the animals on Chinese fur farms are penned
in cages without fresh air, sanitation, water, or light, conditions that take a mental and
physical toll on the animals. When the animals are skinned, they are often improperly
anaesthetized. Accounts have surfaced of Chinese factories that simply beat the animals
over the head before beginning the skinning process. Allegedly, many animals are still alive
during the skinning process and are then thrown onto piles of carcasses. Another claim was
that cat and dog fur are often used to supplement the rabbit fur when factories have reason
to believe that the skins will not be properly inspected.
Making strategic use of social media, PETA timed its protest on DKNY’s Facebook
page for an important marketing period, so-called Cyber Monday. PETA posted the message
“DKNY: Bunny Butchers” among DKNY’s Facebook comments.1
The innovative use
of social media for protest purposes drew substantial media coverage. Despite the protest,
according to PETA, DKNY did not alter their fur usage practices. Consequently, PETA
maintained an ongoing Internet-based protest by creating the website DKBunnyButcher.
com. The website, which features links to supportive videos from fashion celebrities such as
Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, describes in gruesome details the practices of the fur-farming
industry in China. Many fur producing operations in the United States and Europe have
become less competitive in global markets due to high production costs and the tightening
of legislation on fur trapping and skinning. China has subsequently stepped in as the
world’s top fur exporter in the world, but not without allegations of inconsistent quality and
inhumane production methods.
This chapter will ask the question, what is the role of CSR in regard to animal rights?
Should fashion companies only source products from humane farms, or should they even
stop using animal products at all? While many consumers may feel sympathy for a tortured
rabbit, the fact remains that the majority of Americans consume meat products such as beef
and pork. Leather from cows remains the preferred material for shoes, belts, and handbags.
Is it hypocritical to stand up for the rights of cute animals like bunnies, dogs, baby seals,
and dolphins, all while preparing to eat a bacon burger? In addition to fashion, many other
industries must contend with the issue of animal rights. Businesses that are dependent on
medical and scientific research, such as pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies, have been
forced to implement policies and reviews to determine whether the laboratory animals they
use for testing purposes are treated humanely.
Clearly, the issue of animal rights is a broad one that cannot be confined to a discussion
of Chinese fur factories. Many other countries, including the United States, have been accused
of lax regulation of factory farming of animal products. According to Factory Farm
Map, there are four factory-farmed chickens for every single American.2
US commercial
livestock and poultry operations produce three times more waste a year than that produced
by the entire human population.3
The environmental toll of such methods is worrisome,
but so are the potential health consequences of consuming factory farmed meat. Consumer
advocates have suggested that the meat produced on factory farms is often tainted with
antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Infection caused by such bacteria cannot be treated by current
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medicines and thus may pose a looming threat to both animals and humans.4
before exploring the ethical dilemmas that may be faced by a specific company in choosing
how to make use of animal products, let us examine the ethical framework of the animal
rights movement.
The Development of Animal Ethics and
The awakening of a consciousness of animal rights began as early as the seventeenth
century. Diane Beers, an animal rights activist and historian, cites examples of animal rights
principles held by the first Puritan immigrants to America.5
Puritan theology accorded
sanctity to the realm of animals, but the people felt that the fair treatment of animals was
the sole responsibility of their owners. Anyone who did not own a particular animal did
not have a right to mistreat it. Further, the Puritans believed that owners of animals had no
right to abuse their investment, as this was considered un-Christian and immoral. These
principles of animal rights were based on a moral hierarchy that held humans to be more
deserving of rights and privileges than animals. The privileges of humanity came, in the
Puritan view, from a spiritual, emotional, and intellectual superiority. The Puritans’ initial
attempt to curb animal abuse and/or provide animal rights is considered by Beers a great
step forward, though limited by its conception of humans as special creatures in the eyes
of God.
Animal rights historians often point to the mid-eighteenth century British philosopher
Jeremy Bentham as the founding ethicist of the modern animal rights movement.
Bentham, known for the utilitarian philosophy that would later become associated with his
protégé John Stuart Mill, believed that ethical decisions should be based on what allows
the most good or happiness (and least suffering) to the largest number of people. Bentham’s
utilitarianism assumed that all human individuals are equal from a moral point of view. In
fact, Bentham went further and posited that all living creatures were equal in terms of this
principle. This egalitarian principle was influential in the struggles for abolition of slavery
and universal suffrage, but also served as a cornerstone of modern conceptions of animal
In his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Bentham stated: “The day
may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never
could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny…. The question is not,
Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”6
Bentham’s approach led many
citizens to consider for the first time the ethical imperative to limit the suffering of animals.
Bentham’s thinking prompted the creation of Britain’s Society for Prevention of Animal
Cruelty (SPCA, later the Royal SPCA, or RSPCA), and the adoption of the first laws
curbing animal mistreatment in England throughout the 1830s–1850s.
The United States eventually followed the lead taken by England in animal rights, as
it had with the earlier abolitionist movements and suffrage movements. The first major
American animal rights group, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
(ASPCA), was created in 1866 by Henry Bergh.7
This nascent movement was further
strengthened by Charles Darwin’s publication of Origin of the Species and the resultant
acceptance of the theory of evolution. Darwin’s hypothesis that humans had evolved from
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primitive life forms gave credence to the notion that humans were not essentially superior
to other members of the natural world. The impact of Darwinian theory on philosophy and
theology challenged the traditionally held view of a hierarchy among species, according to
which humans were superior to other animals. The Darwinian revolution paved the way for
a more open-ended approach to rights (for humans and animals alike).
Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, activist groups in the United
Kingdom and United States promoted the fair treatment of domesticated animals. This
activism reflected a broader social trend toward recognition of the need for fair treatment
across social and biological categories, and in particular recognized the rights of laborers,
women, and children. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906), a novel describing the violent and
unclean practices of the Chicago meat industry, was notably influential in this regard. The
Jungle drew public attention to labor abuses in the meat industry, and also to the horrors of
the slaughterhouse floor.
Animal Liberation: The Contribution of
Peter Singer
The contemporary animal rights movement received an important impetus from the
publication in 1975 of a book entitled Animal Liberation by Australian philosopher Peter
Singer. Singer extended Bentham’s utilitarian ethics to include animals, arguing that just
because animals cannot think on the same level as humans does not mean they cannot
suffer. He pointed out that in the case of mentally handicapped people, as with small infants,
the lack of cognitive capacity does not imply that they do not deserve the same caring
treatment as other humans. The fact that animals react to pain and torture with writhing
or whining suggests that they experience suffering in much the same way that humans do.
The suffering communicated by animals does not have to be expressed linguistically to be
understood. Singer applied the term speciesism, which had been coined by Richard Ryder, to
the unjustifiable discrimination against animals by humans, reminiscent of racism, sexism,
and other forms of intolerance.
Singer argued that speciesism, like racism and sexism, is based on an indefensible
and biased preference for one’s own kind. Speciesism is expressed in the assumption that
animals can be exploited to provide benefits to humans without regard to the suffering or
well-being of animals. In Singer’s view, overcoming speciesism will require the progressive
elimination of cruelty in animal experimentation, the eradication of factory farming practices,
and the end of consumption of meat as a consumer good. While Singer acknowledges
that it is theoretically possible to raise animals humanely, he argues that such farming is
extremely uncommon and that it is better simply to move to a vegetarian diet. Singer’s
radical argument has been labeled the “rights/abolitionist” doctrine of animal ethics.8
Rights/abolitionists believe that humans have no moral right to slaughter, domesticate,
or use animals for pleasure or consumption in any way. This implies that animals should
be left in a state of nature and allowed to lead lives free of impact from human society. A
different and more moderate faction of animal ethicists are the so-called welfarists, who
seek to recognize and protect animal welfare within the current system of consumption.
Welfarists believe that animals may ethically be used for human benefit, so long as they are
treated humanely and fairly. The welfarist perspective implicitly assumes that human rights
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and interests are entitled to some sort of intrinsic superiority over the rights and interests
of animals.
The most important American activist group that has adopted a rights/abolitionist
perspective is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a nonprofit founded
in 1980 with the goal of preventing animals from being abused and tortured in any way,
whether via factory farming, the fashion industry, labs and scientific research, or the entertainment
PETA has become known for its highly publicized and sometimes
aggressive actions and campaigns. The organization has achieved recognition as the primary
face of the animal rights movement today and, as such, has taken on the responsibility of
publicly castigating those businesses that fail to exercise humane treatment of animals.
Factory Farming
As of 2007, approximately 56 billion animals were being slaughtered annually worldwide
for human consumption.10 Most of these were harvested in factory farm settings.
These numbers do not take into account the vast number of fish and other sea creatures
that are caught for industrial use or consumption as food.11 United States growers annually
slaughter some 9 billion chickens, 99 percent of which are raised in factory-farm conditions.
For the chickens, factory-farm conditions include preventative beak clipping (to quell
cannibalism in tight quarters), unsanitary and overcrowded cages, injections of antibiotics
and hormones to augment and accelerate weight gain, and little or no lighting.12 Due to the
high demand for chicken and eggs as consumer goods, the production of broiler chickens
and laying chickens is a high-volume endeavor. Worldwide, 31 billion chickens are slaughtered
annually,13 most of them under conditions similar to those found in the US farms.
As of 2011, 5.8 million pigs were bred for slaughter in the United States.14 The factory
farming of pigs requires a life of solitary confinement for each mother sow, who spends
most of her life in a gestation cage that prevents movement and waste removal, leading
to widespread respiratory diseases. Sows are moved to a farrowing cage after the birth of
their litters, where they cannot turn around or lie down while their young feed off of them.
The piglets are taken from the mother sow’s farrowing cage after about 3 weeks of initial
feeding, and are then moved to group pens. There, they are fed until they reach market
weight (a period of roughly 6 months), at which time they are brought to slaughter. Following
the production of 2 to 3 litters, the mother sow is also taken to slaughter, usually
about a year after she is brought to the factory farm.15
Cattle production for beef, the most expensive of the meat-producing industries, is
somewhat more humane, despite the large numbers involved (upwards of 34.2 million cows
slaughtered for meat in 2010 alone).16 Cattle raised for beef are allowed to roam somewhat
freely in open spaces. They are still penned in and fed hormones, and put on a rigorous diet
to gain weight. US dairy-producing cows, numbering 9.3 million in 2008, with roughly 2.3
million of these being sent to slaughter,17 share a fate similar to that of pigs and chickens.
They are kept in tightly penned cages, fed hormones, and milked by machine until they are
no longer viable. Additionally, both modes of cattle production can cause serious environmental
harm to the areas surrounding the farm. The enormous production of manure can
contaminate groundwater and render surrounding areas unlivable.
Wool, fur, leather, angora, silk, feathers, and other materials are all harvested from
various types of animals, and are prominent resources in the fashion industry.18 Although
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many people can understand the ethical issues inherent in the factory farming of meat for
consumption, most consumers do not feel similar concerns for the materials used to make
clothing, especially when, as in the case of wool, silk, or feathers, it does not seem necessary
to slaughter the animal to obtain the material. However, such materials are also developed
and sourced under factory farming conditions. As reported by PETA, wool farmers routinely
practice mulesing,
19 which involves shearing sheep so close to the skin that the shears
cut or remove chunks of hide and flesh in the process. Cows and all other kinds of animals
are utilized for their leather. A high percentage of the leather apparel items sold in the
United States are manufactured from leather that was harvested abroad. China, the world’s
leading leather exporter, has been criticized for poor supervision of factory farms, where
animals are not properly anaesthetized before they are skinned.
Animal Consumption in Research and
Approximately 100 million animals a year are killed as a result of cosmetic, medical, and
scientific experimentation in the United States alone.20 Though laboratory animals are generally
euthanized following the completion of the experiment or trial, it is not uncommon
for many to die in the testing process. These tests include skin and eye irritation tests,
repeated force feeding, “lethal dose” injection tests, vivisection, bone-breaking, paralyzing,
and infection with disease.21 Though ultimately these tests are meant to benefit mankind,
even proponents of animal testing for scientific benefits admit that experiments are only
beneficial in some cases. According to, “92 percent of experimental
drugs that are safe and effective in animals fail in human clinical trials because they are too
dangerous or don’t work.”22 The large margin of error in the trials and experimentations
suggests that many laboratory animals experience great suffering for relatively little benefit
to humans.
Proposed Solutions: Vegetarianism,
Ecofarming, and Cruelty-Free Production
Animal activist groups like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States have
been successful in promoting laws and codes of best practices to curb the incidence of factory
farming and laboratory experimentation abuse. However, it is generally accepted that
the most powerful long-term solution would be market based, in which consumers who are
dissatisfied with factory farming methods turn to alternative sources of food, cosmetics, and
clothing. For this reason, one of PETA’s principal goals is to raise awareness of the abuses
that occur in factory farming, so that consumers will be motivated to seek alternatives. Let
us consider some of the leading alternatives.
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Vegetarian/Vegan Diets
Given that the principal commercial product of factory farms consists of food for
human consumption, it is often argued that consumers who are concerned about animal
rights should adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. A vegetarian diet is one that does not contain
any meat or fish products, while a vegan diet is free of all animal products, including milk,
eggs, and cheese. A 2012 Gallup Poll found that 5% of Americans identify as vegetarian
and 2% as vegan.23 This appeared to indicate a broad and continuing social trend, as only
1% of Americans had identified as vegetarian in 1971 and only 3% in 2009.24 When asked
why they are vegetarians, about half of survey respondents cite health reasons, and roughly
the same percentage also cites animal welfare concerns. India is generally considered to
be the country with the highest percentage of vegetarians, with various studies putting
the percentage of Indian vegetarians at 20 to 40 percent of the population; it also appears
that Indians who do eat meat do so infrequently compared to citizens of other countries.
In Europe, the highest percentage of vegetarians is found in Italy, at 10 percent, while in
France the percentage is only 1.5 percent. It appears that women tend to adopt vegetarianism
more often than men, with studies in the United States, the United Kingdom and
Israel reporting that 60 percent or more of vegetarians were female.
Vegetarian/Vegan Clothing
Given that a relatively small percentage of Americans identifies as vegetarian, and that
roughly half of these cite health concerns as their primary motivation, it should not be
surprising that vegetarian or vegan clothing remains a marginal, niche category. Despite
this, there is some evidence that the category is growing. For example, fashion designer
Stella McCartney has developed a thriving, global brand that produces clothing, shoes, and
handbags without any use of leather or fur. However, she does use wool and silk products.
MooShoes, a New York retailer, markets a full line of vegan clothing, including shoes,
shirts, bags, wallets and belts; these products are sourced from a number of independent
producers, including such recognized brand names as Brooks and Doc Martens.
Cruelty-Free Products
Cruelty-free products are those that are not tested on animals and do not include
animal ingredients. Methods of cruelty-free production rely on alternative testing methods,
such as computer-based simulations. Another method is to develop new products only
from ingredients referenced in a large European database of 20,000 compounds that have
already been tested as safe. Another method is to test products on reconstructed human
skin samples made from donated skin from cosmetic surgeries. Leading cruelty-free cosmetics
brands include Aveda, M.A.C., Bobbi Brown, and Urban Decay.
Humane Farming and Meat Consumption
Given that relatively few consumers are vegetarian or vegan, while many others who
are sensitive to animal rights nonetheless find it difficult to give up the consumption of
meat, the alternative of humane farming is significant. Humane farming refers to animal
husbandry that respects codes of conduct so that animals are raised and slaughtered in
a way to minimize suffering. For example, the popular Whole Foods supermarket chain
has adopted the Animal Welfare Rating Standards developed by the Global Animal
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Partnership in order to source meat products from humane producers. According to these
standards, animals must be given space to move around, have access to outdoor areas, must
be permitted natural behavior such as wallowing for pigs or pecking for chickens, and must
spend their entire lives on a single farm. Another humane farming group, Humane Farm
Animal Care, provides a certification to farmers and producers who comply with similar
standards, and who abide by the American Meat Institute Standards for slaughtering. Such
standards provide, for example, that animals must be stunned in a way that eliminates pain
prior to slaughtering.
Topic for Debate: Fashion and Animal
This chapter’s debate is based on a difficult decision to be made by EcoFash, Inc., a
rapidly growing fictional clothing company based in Brooklyn, New York.
EcoFash began in 1998 as a line of organic cotton T-shirts featuring slogans with
progressive statements, and has grown to include jeans, backpacks, sweatshirts, and baseball
caps. All of the materials used are organic natural fabrics or recycled polyester. The company
has thirty-two employees and is billing over $20 million annually in sales. Recently, an
infusion of capital from a new investor has permitted the company to begin planning an
expansion of its product line to include shoes, jackets, and handbags.
Brenda Cordaro, the founder and principal owner of the company, is a confirmed
vegetarian (and supporter of animal rights organizations like PETA) and would like to
consider making the new lines vegan—meaning, free of leather, fur, wool, or silk materials.
However, she has encountered vigorous opposition from her chief designer, Tessa Novak,
who is horrified at the thought of having to use fake leather and imitation-silk polyester,
which she finds quite ugly. Tessa’s objection to a vegan approach has received strong support
from the company’s financial director, who believes the company will not be able to
maximize profits if it only tries to attract customers who are willing to accept synthetic
products in place of leather and wool.
On the other hand, Brenda is supported by the company director of public relations
and marketing, who believes that a vegan approach will allow the company to distinguish
itself from other “hipster” brands.
Brenda therefore decides to request her staff to prepare the strongest arguments on
both sides for a presentation to her board of directors and the new investors.
You have been asked to develop the strongest reasons for supporting one of the following
two possible responses:
EcoFash, Inc., should adopt a vegan-only policy.
Possible Arguments
• The vegan option is in keeping with the company’s ethical founding principles.
• It would allow the company to support animal rights.
• It would allow the company to distinguish itself from competitors.
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EcoFash, Inc., should not adopt a vegan-only policy
Possible Arguments
• A vegan option would restrict design creativity.
• A vegan option would lead to unattractive or expensive products.
• A vegan option would reduce the size of the potential market for the brand in the
12.1. Facts on Fur Farming
“Responsible Trade.” WeAreFur, in association with the International Fur Federation.
Accessed October 12, 2013.
Animal Welfare Is at the Heart of Fur Farming
Animals are farmed for many reasons: for meat, dairy, leather, wool, sheepskin, cashmere,
silk, and fur. It is the responsibility of those who farm animals to ensure that the
animals in their care are treated humanely. This responsibility is taken very seriously by fur
Eighty-five percent of fur sold internationally is farmed. Fur animals have been selectively
bred for over 100 years and are not the same as their wild counterparts. Not only are
there laws, regulations, and industry codes of practice and farm certification programmes
that govern animal welfare on fur farms, but an animal’s health shows in its fur first—so
it is in everyone’s interest to look after animals well…. Animal welfare is at the heart of
fur farming and in every jurisdiction there are laws or regulations governing animal welfare.
Farmers themselves encourage governments to implement animal welfare regulations
which are based on scientific research and in the major fur farming countries farmers work
with veterinary scientists to create voluntary standards and certification programmes—for
example the Welfur programme in the EU….
Fur farming is an important part of local agricultural economies. Fur farms are particularly
suited for remote northern climates where arable land is at a premium and a great
many fur farms support families and communities in rural areas where the climate and
environment make it difficult to farm many species….
Animal Welfare
…Animals have always provided us with food and clothing—from the earliest arrival
of Homo sapiens we have hunted animals. The earliest settlements were made possible
through farming of livestock and crops, and various animal species have been farmed over
thousands of generations….
In modern times, numerous life-saving medical advances have been made possible only
through being able to test procedures and drugs on animals. Many people derive a huge
amount of comfort and affection from keeping pets….
A Note on Animal Rights:
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Animal rights supporters believe that animals have the same legal and moral rights
as human beings and that therefore humans cannot keep, use or manage animals, for any
purpose, including medical research, farming/farmed animals, meat, milk and eggs (including
organic), hunting and fishing, leather and fur (including snakeskin, crocodile, etc.),
wool, cashmere, pashmina, angora, silk, zoos/circuses/animal shelters/pets and horse-drawn
carriages/ploughs, etc….
The IFTF and its members believe that people have a democratic right to make their
own decisions about what to do for a legitimate living, what to eat, and what to wear; people
should not have to live in a world where a major lifestyle choice is removed altogether.
Farming Regulations
Fur farming is well regulated and operates within the highest standards of care.
In the European Union, Council Directive 98/58 sets down rules covering the welfare
of all farmed animals, including fur-farmed animals. Directive 93/119 deals with the
slaughter and killing of fur and other farmed animals. Additionally, the Council of Europe
adopted a Recommendation, revised in 1999, designed to ensure the health and welfare of
farmed fur animals….
In North America, fur farmers also follow strict Codes of Practice and conform to
provincial, state, or national animal welfare and other regulations. Regular veterinary
checks are carried out in accordance with industry guidelines, provincial, state, or national
Conditions on farms are thoroughly checked and advice on improvements given when
required. Many farm associations also have voluntary certification programmes in place.
Hunters and Trappers
Wild fur-bearing animals have been always been hunted or trapped by man. The ability
to hunt animals as well as forage for food is a defining characteristic of Homo sapiens.
Using fur from hunted animals as protection from the elements is an equally ancient characteristic.
Man’s earliest tools were created for hunting and skinning animals.
Today, wild fur-bearing animals are hunted or trapped for a variety of reasons including
population management, pest control, and the protection of natural habitats, in addition
for food and fur. The trade in wild fur is a good example of the “sustainable use” principle
of conservation—fundamental to the work of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF),
International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN), and the United Nations Environment
Programme. The International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF) and the Fur Institute
of Canada are voting members of the IUCN….
…The sale of this precious commodity provides an important source of income for
communities living in remote and economically marginal areas and for indigenous peoples
such as the Cree community of North America, Inuit of Canada and Greenland, or the
Sami of Northern Finland and Russia. Hunting and trapping for these communities is a
way of life and continuing to trade fur is part of their rich heritage.
…No endangered species are used in the wild fur trade; the fur trade was a very early
supporter of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
and promotes the implementation of this vital trade agreement by governments.
…The fur trade comprises hunting communities and many small farms and family
businesses, craftsmen and women, manufacturers, dressing companies, co-operatively
owned or publicly floated auction houses, designers, and retailers. It is a small but global
industry. Worldwide retail turnover in 2008 was just over US $13 billion.
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The fur trade provides jobs and cash income in remote, hard to farm areas such as
the deserts of Namibia, the ice floes and fjords of the Arctic Circle, the great wilderness
of North America as well as being ideal for the small, family run farming economies of
Eastern Europe and the Baltic States….
12.2. Inside the Fur Industry: Factory Farms
“Inside the Fur Industry: Factory Farms.” PETA. Accessed October 23, 2013. http://
12.3. Handbag Line Freedom of Animals Serves Up
a Cruelty-Free Alternative to Céline
Hoff, Victoria. “Handbag Line Freedom of Animals Serves Up a Cruelty-Free Alternative
to Céline.” Elle. October 8, 2013.
Creating fashion that is kind to the environment is no easy feat. Labels like Stella McCartney
and Matt & Nat have already paved the way for vegan accessories, and Freedom
of Animals follows suit, adding to the cruelty-free conversation with a line of luxury bags.
The label was founded in 2012 by stylist Morgan Bogle and her photographer boyfriend
Scott MacDonough—and trust us, these well-crafted carriers could easily pass for highquality
leather. The couple’s journey to green fashion design began just a year and a half ago.
“We got to the point where we felt that all our volunteering with animals—taking dogs in
and working at wildlife sanctuaries—wasn’t enough,” Bogle told us. As they brainstormed
ways to be more vocal about their passion, they realized fashion was a great platform—and
it didn’t hurt that their day jobs gave them a leg up in understanding the industry.
Citing McCartney, Céline, and The Row as design inspiration, the duo decided to
tackle accessories, since animal skin is generally the go-to material for bags and shoes. But
they upped the ante even more when they agreed to also stand by a one hundred percent
sustainable MO. Not only is the faux-leather composed of recycled plastic and organic
cotton, the accessories are colored with vegetable-based dyes. Still, it’s clear that the couple
remains as devoted to style as they do to ethics—take an exclusive look at a backpack from
the label’s upcoming resort collection, below, and we think you’ll agree.
Bogle told us more about the brand’s mission, her favorite eco-chic boutiques, and what
it’s like for her and MacDonough to count Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington, and Sarah
Jessica Parker as brand fans.
Have you always had a soft spot for animals?
I was raised vegetarian and have always been super conscious of being ethical in every
part of my life, so the passion for cruelty-free came from a very early age.
Faux leather can look tacky or unrealistic. How do you manage to achieve such amazing
We spent a long time sourcing our materials and are so grateful to have found the most
luxurious fabrications around! This was an area that we could not compromise, and we have
been highly critical of the texture and touch of each element. Not only are they luxurious,
but they pass US durability testing to give them a long shelf life.
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Synthesis Questions
1. Does reading this chapter make you less likely to buy leather and fur products, or
not? Why or why not?
2. Does reading this chapter make you more likely to go vegetarian in your food
consumption (if you are not already), or not? Why or why not?
3. Do you feel that consumption of meat and use of leather and fur are “natural” and
therefore acceptable? Why or why not?
4. Does an “ethical” company owe any duty to animals, or are ethical duties only owed
to humans?
1. Paul Bigus and Michael Sider, “Bunny Butcher: PETA Protests Donna Karan New York,” Ivey
Publishing: London, Canada. October 7, 2011. p. 1.
2. “United States Facts,” Factory Farm Map, accessed October 24, 2013,
3. Ibid.
4. For more information on the contemporary perils of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in farmed
meat, see Richard Knox, “How Using Antibiotics in Animal Feed Creates Superbugs,” The Salt
(blog), NPR, February 12, 2012,
5. Diane Beers, “A Movement Takes Shape,” pp 19-38, For the Prevention of Cruelty: The History
and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States. Ohio University Press: 2006.
6. Bentham, Jeremy, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. p. 21. Library of
Economics and Liberty. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907. Accessed Nov. 26 2014. http://www.
7. “About Us,” ASPCA, accessed October 11, 2013,
8. Based on criteria discussed in Gary L. Francione and Robert Garner, “The Abolition of Animal
Exploitation,” chap 1 in Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation? , 1–6. Columbia University
Press, 2010.
9. “About PETA,” PETA, accessed October 9, 2013,
10. “Meat Production Continues to Rise,” Worldwatch Institute, accessed October 14, 2013,
11. “Food,” AnimalEquality, accessed October 12, 2013,
12. Leah Garces, “Why We Haven’t Seen Inside a Broiler Chicken Factory Farm in a Decade,”
Food Safety News, January 24, 2013,
13. Ibid.
14. “Pork Production on Factory Farms,” Farm Sanctuary, accessed October 12, 2013, http://www.
15. Ibid.
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16. “Factory Farming,” Farm Sanctuary, accessed October 22, 2013,
17. Ibid.
18. Ashlee Piper, “Fall Into Cruelty Free Fashion,” Vegucated, October 10, 2012, http://www.
19. “The Wool Industry,” PETA, accessed October 1, 2013,
20. “Animal Experiments, Overview,” PETA, accessed October 1, 2013,
21. “11 Facts About Animal Testing,”, accessed October 2, 2013, https://www.
22. Ibid.
23. Newport, Frank. “In U.S., 5% Consider Themselves Vegetarians.” Gallup, July 26, 2012. http://
24. “The War on Meat: How Low-Meat and No-Meat Diets are Impacting Consumer Markets”.
Euromonitor International. August 26, 2011.
Appendix A|176
Appendix A
Nuclear Energy Is Our
Best Alternative for Clean
Affordable Energy
by Emily Campchero
[These sample student papers are provided only as examples of successful student research: they are
not meant to prescribe any standard paper format and the content of each paper represents purely the
author’s view.]
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to
attempt”. —William Shakespeare
Nuclear Energy Is Our Best Alternative for
Clean Affordable Energy
Though it may surprise many environmentalists, nuclear power is environmentally
friendly, or “green.” Society needs clean, cost-effective energy for a number of reasons:
global warming, economic development, pollution reduction, etc. There is a popular perception
that this means moving toward solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy.
However, a more in-depth analysis reveals that those alternatives are not yet practical. For
the foreseeable future, nuclear must remain one of the top producers of energy in the United
States. In this paper, I will address several of the misconceptions that prevent people from
appreciating the benefits of nuclear energy in the context of our current economy.
Nuclear Power Is Safe
One of the biggest obstacles with moving toward nuclear power is that people are
afraid of it. Accidents and disasters scare people. News reports that sensationalize events,
rather than explaining them, heighten anxieties.
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In 1986, there was a nuclear accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the
Ukraine. This was the result of a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately
trained personnel. It was a direct result of the Cold War isolation and the resulting lack of
any safety culture. This caused a steam explosion and fire. There were thirty deaths over three
months. No one offsite suffered from radiation exposure—all fatalities occurred with plant
operators and firemen—but there was a large increase in childhood thyroid cancers, which
is said to be attributed to the intake of radioactive iodine fallout. The Chernobyl accident is
different from any other nuclear power plant accident because there were radiation-related
fatalities. There were no signs of radiation exposure in the general public. The design of this
nuclear reactor was extremely poor; the combination of the hot fuel with the cooling water
led to fuel fragmentation along with rapid steam production and an increase in pressure,
thereby destroying the reactor. This caused an explosion. This accident caused the largest
uncontrolled radioactive release ever recorded for any civilian operation.
Three Mile Island
On March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant experienced a cooling
malfunction that caused part of the core to melt in the number two reactor. This destroyed
the reactor. Although some radioactive gas was released, there was not enough to cause
local residents to experience any dose above background levels. There were no injuries or
adverse health effects from the Three Mile Island accident. Despite no fatalities or injuries,
no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States since 1979 because of
the problem at Three Mile Island. The Three Mile Island accident was the most serious in
US commercial nuclear power plant history; this is because it brought on huge changes in
the emergency response planning, nuclear operator training, human factors engineering,
radiation protection, and many other areas of nuclear power plant operations. This accident
also made the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission to tighten and heighten its
regulatory oversight. Also, it changed the standards that nuclear power plants must meet,
set by the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations. Training, operations, and event reporting
rules become extremely strict and essential. Overall, this accident had a massive effect on
enhancing the safety of nuclear plants.
More recently, the Fukushima disaster in Japan on March 3, 2011, has affected peoples’
views on nuclear energy. There was an offshore earthquake. In addition to the tremors, a
fifty-foot tsunami was created. The tsunami hit the Fukushima nuclear power plant (in addition
to other parts of Japan), disabling the power supply and the cooling of three reactors.
All three cores melted within three days. The power plant was not designed to withstand
that severe a tsunami, which caused severe problems at the power plant. After two weeks,
the reactors were stable. The other prominent issue with this accident was preventing the
release of radioactive materials. There have been no deaths or cases of radiation sickness.
There were two fatalities on the day of the tsunami, on site, and while tragic, it was due to
the tsunami, not the power plant; this represents few casualties compared to other energy
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Long-Term Health Effects
The other main question about nuclear power is: What about the long-term health
effects from radiation? The following is part of the conclusion from a report of a survey by
researchers at the US National Cancer Institute.
If conventional estimates of the cancer risks attributable to radiation are accepted,
exposures from the monitored emissions from nuclear facilities in the United States,
typically less than 3 millirem per year, to the maximally exposed individual, were too
small to result in detectable harm. Such levels are, in fact, much smaller than the
population exposures from natural background radiation, which amount to about 100
millirem per year, excluding lung doses from radon ( Jablon, Hrubec, and Boice 1991).
When looking at the highest and worst possible levels of radiation people could
receive in Fukushima, 22 rem, 194 excess cancers would be created out of the 22,000
people. Clearly this is not a good thing, but you also need to remember that the 22 rem
was the highest dose recorded before evacuation; and the largest amount of radiation
came from iodine, which has a half-life of eight days (Muller 2012).
Nuclear Waste Disposal
Nuclear fuel, when it is depleted, must be replaced with new uranium. This occurs
during a refueling outage. The depleted fuel rods still produce decay heat. The decay heat
is removed by storing the fuel rods in cooling pools. When the residual decay heat is low
enough, the fuel rods can be removed from the cooling pools and packaged for long-term
storage. This long-term storage isolates the fuel rods from people and the environment,
until the fuel decays and no longer poses a radiation hazard.
Nuclear waste disposal is already included in the cost of nuclear energy.
America’s Fear of Nuclear Energy
For years, American citizens have been so afraid of nuclear power. When America
first discovered the possibilities, people were thrilled, until they began to link it with the
A- bomb, and only with the A-bomb. For over fifty years, people have let its destructiveness
eclipse its power for good. They have associated nuclear power with deaths of innocent
people and the power to wipe out entire cities. What they do not realize is that nuclear
energy can power an entire city and save the lives of innocent people. We have learned from
the past, made leaps and bounds in our technology, and have an improved and extraordinary
understanding of how nuclear power works. Now it is time for everyone in the United
States of America to understand, believe, and support that.
Most films depict nuclear energy as a dangerous and volatile energy source. One of
the most popular films this year, The Dark Knight Rises was no exception. The entire story
revolved around a nuclear source of energy that could power the entire city of Gotham.
The only problem was that, if this power were to get in the wrong hands, it would become
a giant nuclear bomb, thereby destroying the city of Gotham. Almost annually, a film
comes out about a fictional nuclear apocalypse. With all of this negative publicity, why
would anyone support nuclear energy? For years, pop culture has been exploiting the idea
of nuclear power and brainwashing people to be terrified of something they know nothing
about. One of the main films that started this crisis was The China Syndrome, which came
out in March 1979, only twelve days before the nuclear accident on Three Mile Island. The
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film’s distortion of nuclear power coupled with the Three Mile Island accident added to the
hysteria about potential nuclear accidents. We need to create a new image in this country’s
mind about how advantageous nuclear power can really be for us. If the media and films
portrayed nuclear power in a realistic way, people would be educated about this energy
source and begin to look at nuclear power as a solution to our energy crisis. We need to
stop letting fictional popular media influence our opinions on nuclear power. It is time for
America to know the truth.
Energy Sources
Electricity is an integral part of our daily lives. (It is taken for granted, until a hurricane
disrupts it for a lengthy period.) Normally, various power plants generate electricity, which
is transmitted and distributed to users, e.g., homes, schools, businesses, and factories. This
paper discusses the problem of selecting the preferred energy source for growth in electrical
So with a plethora of choices, how do we know which one is the best? Which will save
us the most money? Which will save the earth? These are all serious questions that need to
be answered when we are looking toward the future.
Source: U.S. EIA, year 2005 data.
Figure 1. The main sources of energy for generating electricity.
Hydroelectric Power
Hydro may be considered the first renewable energy source. That is why the prime
hydropower sites have already been developed. Hydroelectric power, using the potential
energy of rivers, now supplies 17.5 percent of the world’s electricity (99 percent in Norway,
57 percent in Canada, 55 percent in Switzerland, 40 percent in Sweden, and 7 percent in the
United States). It is not a major option for the future in developed countries, because most
potential major sites in these countries are either being exploited already or are unavailable
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for other reasons such as environmental considerations. Growth to 2030 is expected mostly
in China and Latin America (“Hydroelectric Power” 2005).
Solar Power and Wind Power
Wind and solar are relatively new renewable energy sources.
Solar power usually is considered to be direct generation of electricity from sunlight.
(Solar power is also used for heating, but that is not part of this discussion.)
Photovoltaic (PV) cells are the building blocks of all PV systems because they are the
devices that convert sunlight to electricity. Commonly known as solar cells, individual PV
cells are electricity-producing devices made of semiconductor materials. PV cells come in
many sizes and shapes, from smaller than a postage stamp to several inches across. They are
often connected together to form PV modules that may be up to several feet long and a few
feet wide. Modules, in turn, can be combined and connected to form PV arrays of different
sizes and power output. When light shines on a PV cell, it may be reflected, absorbed, or
pass right through. But only the absorbed light generates electricity.
Wind energy technologies use the energy in wind for generating electricity. Most wind
energy technologies can be used as stand-alone applications, connected to a utility power
grid, or even combined with a photovoltaic system. For utility-scale sources of wind energy,
a large number of turbines are usually built close together to form a wind farm that provides
grid power (“Renewable Energy Technology Basics” 2012).
Both solar and wind energy are considered sustainable, meaning that they provide electricity
without harming the environment. They are possible sources of providing electrical
energy growth.
Although there are many positive aspects of solar and wind energy, there are also many
disadvantages that need to be considered.
Subsidies and Cost
One disadvantage of solar power and wind power is their high cost. Even though there
is no charge for sunshine or wind, neither solar nor wind energy is cost competitive. Some
argue that these are new technologies that require investments, or subsidies, to foster their
development. What people do not realize is that even by subsidizing these energy sources,
they are still not cost competitive. The government is using taxpayer’s money to promote an
energy source that is a financial failure. The United States is not the only country having to
face the facts that these subsides do not make solar and wind energy cost competitive, as
countries like Germany and China are learning this as well.
China dominates the solar panel market. The cost of generating solar power has dramatically
decreased over the past few years, but it is still triple the price of coal- generated
power in China. Even dominating the solar panel market does not compensate for an
unprofitable power panel. The solar companies are losing money and going out of business.
No matter how you spin it, there is no way to make alternative energy that is triple the cost
a practical choice.
Germany, the country in the European Union with the most productive economy, has
been switching from nuclear power to solar and wind energy; it has been far from successful.
The German government, like others, has also been heavily subsidizing solar and
wind energy. The subsidies do not compensate for the sunshine average in Germany being
less than that in Chicago. Energy costs now represent the biggest liability for Germany as
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a place to do business, especially in light of the marked increase in the number of blackouts
and voltage fluctuations in the grid.
Green for Whom?
Solar and wind energy are considered to be extremely beneficial to people and the
environment. That may not be a universal viewpoint. The Mexican government continues
to install wind farms in the narrow waist of Mexico, known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec,
where winds from the Pacific meet winds from the Gulf of Mexico. The people who live
there do not always agree that the wind farms are either an economic benefit or an environmental
benefit. The indigenous people are not receiving the jobs and revenues that they
were promised. Farmers and fishermen view the wind farms as harming their environment.
The fishermen noticed that the research for the wind farms resulted in a mass die-off of fish.
The vibrations from the wind turbines are affecting the livestock and fish, and the blades
are chopping up birds. What is “green” for Mexico as a whole is not necessarily “green” for
local communities.
The process of manufacturing PV cells from silicon relies on silane, a dangerous pyrophoric
gas. As manufacturers produce silicon solar cells, the use of silane continues. Of
course, silane is hardly the only environmental hazard involved in solar cell production.
Others include toxic by-products from polysilicon manufacture dumped indiscriminately
in China, and recovering cadmium—a known human carcinogen that is a primary ingredient
in some thin—film solar cells—from mining slimes. Still, only silane (SiH4) has been
linked directly to any deaths as a result of the solar industry.
Keep in mind that some of the components of PV cells are toxic materials. When the
cells are intact, the materials are encapsulated. However, if there is a fire, the toxic materials
may pose a significant hazard to anyone in the area.
PV cells are installed on rooftops. This is elevated work, which has its safety concerns.
A primary safety concern with wind turbines is their height as well. Installation and maintenance
require elevated work. Note that many turbines are at elevations of 300 feet (100
meters). Obviously high winds and rotating machinery are not a safe combination. Figure
2 shows the fatalities associated with wind energy.
Summary of Deaths in Wind Energy
Number of deaths in construction (installation or
Number of deaths in O&M 18
Number of deaths of the public 8
Number of deaths in manufacturing 2
Number of deaths in training 6
Suicides 1
Total 76
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Copyright 2012 by Paul Gripe. All rights reserved. This data is provided as a public
Figure 2
Solar energy accounts for 0.01percent of our nation’s energy. Wind energy accounts
for 0.44 percent (see Figure 1). These energy sources are not likely to be significant in the
near future. Solar and wind energy are not cost effective. As mentioned, they are not as
environmentally friendly as considered by their proponents. There are also safety hazards
that cannot be ignored. They provide a tiny fraction of needed energy, and only when the
wind is blowing or the sun is shining brightly. They are possible energy sources for the
long-term, but are only applicable for a few locations, at present.
Coal energy accounts for 50 percent, natural gas 19 percent, and nuclear power 19
percent, of our nation’s power (see to Figure 1). This focuses our energy source selection
among coal, nuclear, and natural gas, as they are the largest sources.
Coal, Gas, and Nuclear
Generation Background
The main method of generating electricity is from heat. A source of heat is used to raise
the temperature of water to turn it into steam, which transfers its energy to a turbine. The
rotation of the turbine, which is physically connected to a generator, generates electricity.
Figures 3 and 4 illustrate the common features and the differences among fossil fuel,
and nuclear, power. (The steam boiler and the heat exchanger both transform the heat into
steam.) The main differences are the combustion chamber, exhaust gases, and pollution
control necessary for fossil fuels, compared with the reactor core, containment building, and
nuclear waste necessary for nuclear fuel.
Figure 3
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Figure 4
The nuclear energy discussed here is released by nuclear fission, which is the splitting of
the nucleus of an atom. A power-producing nuclear reactor is “critical” the fission reaction
is self-sustaining. That is, the chain reaction will continue and produce heat. As the uranium
fuel is consumed, control rods need to be adjusted to keep the reactor critical. (The control
rods are adjusted, in the other direction, to shut down the reactor.) The equation E = mc2
describes the amount of energy released from nuclear fission. (Energy = mass multiplied by
the speed of light squared)
With fossil fuel, once the combustion is turned off, there is little residual heat to deal
with. With nuclear power, even when the reactor is shut down (turned off ), there is residual
decay heat to remove. New reactor designs incorporate improved methods of decay heat
removal, which minimizes the concern.
Fossil fuel generation involves exhaust gases and pollution control. Nuclear generation
has neither exhaust gases nor pollution control, but does have nuclear waste disposal.
The Cost
Ideally, a power plant should be operating as close to 100 percent as possible at all
times. The higher the percentage, the better the power plant. If a power plant is running at a
low percentage, it is not being productive. When looking at Figure 5, it is clear that nuclear
fuel has the highest average capacity percentage at 89 percent. The capacity factor for coal
is 61 percent, and gas steam turbines only run at an average of 13 percent.
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Figure 5
Figure 6 illustrates the energy content of coal, natural gas, and Uranium 235 (nuclear
fuel). The much higher thermal energy content of Uranium 235, compared with coal and
natural gas, is apparent. This energy content translates into needing tiny quantities of Uranium
235 compared to coal and natural gas. A single uranium fuel pellet contains as much
energy as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds of coal, or 149 gallons of oil.
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Energy Sources:
Key Fossil Fuel Nuclear Fuel Thermal
Generation Process Fuel
Thermal Energy
(Calorific Content)
Brown coal (lignite) 2.8
Coking (black) coal 8.3
Natural gas (North Sea) 10.8
Oil] 12.5
Diesel 12.9
Petrol (gasoline) 13.0
Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a mixture of
propane and butane 13.8
Uranium 235 22,800,000.0
Figure 6. Calorific Energy Content of Fuels and Chemicals: The energy content of various
materials usually, but not always, refers to the calorific or thermal energy that can be extracted
from the material, usually by burning it and using the heat in some way to generate electricity.
First, let’s compare the production cost by fuel type. As of 2011, nuclear energy is 2.19
cents per kWh, coal is 3.23 cents per kWh, and natural gas is 4.51 cents per kWh. The
2.19 cents per kWh includes the costs of operating and maintaining the plant, purchasing
nuclear fuel, and paying for the management of used fuel. (Oil is 21.56 cents per kWh.)
Figure 7 shows the production cost from 1995–2011. One major thing to notice is that the
actual fuel cost for nuclear power is very low compared to the other fuels.
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Figure 7
Figure 8 shows the total production costs from Figure 7 in a graphical format. The
relative costs and cost trends are apparent.
Figure 8. U.S. Electricity Total Production Costs 1995–2011, in 2011 Cents per kWh
For years, nuclear energy has had a lower overall production cost than coal and natural
gas. In most cases, the majority of spending is on the fuel itself, and the operations and
maintenance costs are relatively low. In Figure 9, you can see that coal and gas power are
both spending most of their money on fuel. Nuclear is the opposite. The fuel is cheap and
the majority of the money goes to operations and maintenance, meaning more people have
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Figure 9
Compared to coal, natural gas, and renewable energy sources, nuclear-generated
electricity has tremendous price stability because only 31 percent of production costs are
fuel costs. Fuel accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the cost of electricity produced by fossil
fuel–fired generation, making electricity from fossil fuels highly susceptible to fluctuations
in coal and gas prices.
Figure 10 is from a Finnish study from 2000, which quantified fuel price sensitivity to
electricity costs. This illustrates that the trend for rising fuel costs, as it impacts the rise in
electricity costs, favors nuclear fuel over gas and coal. The cost comparisons favor nuclear
power for the preferred energy source for growth in electrical generation.
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Figure 10
Economic Effects
In addition to direct cost comparisons, there are other economic impacts. The average
American nuclear power plant generates $470 million annually in sales of goods and services
in the local community, as well as $40 million in total labor income. A Nuclear Energy
Institute analysis shows that every dollar spent by the average nuclear plant results in the
creation of $1.04 in the local community, $1.18 in the state economy, and $1.87 in the US
economy. A nuclear power plant also generates approximately $16 million in state and local
tax revenue, and about $67 million in federal tax payments annually.
In addition to direct cost comparisons, there are workforce income impacts. Figure
11 compares the number of jobs, average salaries, and workforce income among different
energy sources.
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Figure 11
Figure 11 shows that nuclear power plants create more than twice as many jobs, at
higher salaries, than coal power plants. The comparison between a nuclear power plant and
a natural gas plant is even more striking.
Safety is not always considered in an objective manner. People can consider nuclear
power unsafe from a lack of knowledge, rather than from actual comparisons. For example,
approximately 30,000 people die in traffic accidents, each year, but people do not consider
automobile travel unsafe. Each year, there are no fatalities from generating electricity from
nuclear power, but many consider nuclear power unsafe.
Figure 12 shows the industrial safety trend for the US nuclear industry. Note, this
shows accident rates, not fatalities.
Figure 12
Figure 13 shows the fatalities associated with the oil and gas extraction industry.
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Figure 13
Figure 14 shows the fatalities associated with coal mining and the oil and gas extraction
Figure 14
These charts clearly show that there are many dangers when working in the coal and
natural gas industries.
There have been two nuclear disasters in the last three decades. There are preposterous
amounts of coalmine explosions, oil spills, and pipeline explosions every year. Just to name
a few, there was the Sabina’s Mexico coalmine explosion on May 3, 2011. Fourteen miners
were killed and one was injured. Just five years before that, sixty-five miners were killed in
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a mine explosion in Mexico. On October 29, 2011, twenty-nine miners were killed from
a gas explosion at the Xialiuchong Coal Mine in China. On March 20, 2011, forty-three
miners were killed by three methane gas explosions in Pakistan. On September 12, 2011,
at least seventy-five people were killed when a fuel pipeline exploded in Nairobi. These are
just a few examples of disasters last year in the coal, oil, and natural gas energy industries.
When looking at the numbers of fatal injuries in these industries, it is almost unfathomable.
The Environment
Another important aspect in the fuel comparison is the impact on the environment.
Some forms of energy generation are less harmful than others. Figure 15 shows the emissions
of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide avoided by the nuclear industry
from 1995–2008. Other emissions from coal power plants include fly ash, mercury, arsenic,
and particulates. These emissions are considered the cause of acid rain. Nuclear power
avoids those emissions.
Figure 15
Coal mining is quite extensive compared with uranium mining. This is due to the
relatively low energy content of coal compared with uranium, which translates to needing
much higher volumes of coal. The deforestation of the environment for mining coal is a
significant environmental impact.
The Solution
Nuclear energy is our energy source selection among coal, nuclear, and natural gas. It is
significantly cheaper, it protects our people and it saves the earth.
Why are many people skeptical about nuclear power? Some do not realize the cost
comparisons. Most consumers desire lower utility bills. That desire would encourage them
to favor nuclear power. Many people do not know the actual record of accidents and fatali-
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ties among coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. The environmental issue is also clouded by
subjective considerations. Few environmentalists promote nuclear power as a benign source
of generating electricity. They (rightly) complain about atmospheric emissions from other
power sources, but then somehow neglect to mention nuclear power as a possible solution.
We know better. We deserve better. If we are the stewards of this earth, it is our responsibility
to do better. Nuclear power needs to have the light of truth shine on it if we
are to move forward. It is time to bring this truth and allow intelligent judgments and
comparisons to be made. If not for ourselves, than for our children’s future.
President Obama on Nuclear Energy
Over the past four years, President Obama has been a very outspoken advocate for
nuclear energy. Beginning in 2008 with his inaugural speech, President Obama has been
making massive strides for the nuclear energy industry in the United States. After formally
accepting his re-election, people need to know where he stands on energy, as it is one of our
countries biggest issues. “President Obama has a real strategy to take control of our energy
future and finally reduce our dependence on foreign oil—an-all-of-the- above approach to
developing all of our energy resources. President Obama and his Administration are supporting
the construction of the first new nuclear power plant in decades, which will provide
clean electricity for nearly 1.4 million Americans.
Over the past three years, the Obama Administration has invested in grants at more
than 70 universities for research and development of nuclear technologies to improve reactor
design and safety (“All of the Above” 2012).
After the Fukushima accident, President Obama continued to support nuclear energy.
During an interview with KOAT in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when asked about the
Fukushima accident, President Obama stated, “We’ve got to budget for it. I’ve already
instructed our nuclear regulatory agency to make sure that we take lessons learned from
what’s happening in Japan and that we are constantly upgrading how we approach our
nuclear safety in this country.”
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The Obama-appointed Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved four
new nuclear reactors this year. President Obama has increased the amount of federal money
for nuclear power plant construction by $36 billion, which brings the total funds to $54.5
billion. President Obama has proposed implementing a Clean Energy Standard, which
defines clean energy as including nuclear power (Rennicks 2012).
If you are a supporter of President Obama and saving the earth, it would only make
sense that you would support nuclear power. America needs to show that they support the
man they re-elected as the President of the United States of America; they need to show
that they trust in his decisions and that they’ve got his back.
“All of the Above: President Obama’s Approach to Energy Independence.” Organizing
for Action. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Baker, Nathanael. “Coal.” Energy Boom. Last updated September 19,
2012. Accessed October 1, 2012.
Biello, David. “Explosive Silicon Gas Casts Shadow on Solar Power Industry.” Scientific
American. February 2010. Accessed November 1, 2012.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Fact Sheet: Oil and Gas Industry.” United States Department
of Labor. April 2010.
“Chernobyl Accident 1986.” World Nuclear Association. Accessed November 6, 2012.
Last updated April 2014.
“Energy and You.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. Last updated on
February 19, 2014,
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Gipe, Paul. “A Summary of Fatal Accidents in Wind Energy.” Wind Works. 20 2012.
Accessed November 1, 2012.
“Hydroelectric Power.” Electropaedia.
Jablon, Seymour, Zdenek Hrubec, and John D. Boice. “Cancer in populations living near
nuclear facilities: a survey of mortality nationwide and incidence in two states.”
IAEA Bulletin 33, no. 2 (1991): 20-27.
Jackson, David. “Obama: U.S. Needs to Learn Lessons from Japan’s Nuclear
Problem.” USA Today. 16 2011. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Johnston, John. “Death Rate From Nuclear Power Vs. Coal?” The 9 Billion. Last updated
2011. Accessed October 10, 2012.
Mine Safety and Health Administration. “Total Number of Injuries and Total Incidence
Rates (IR) at Coal Mines in the United States, by Primary Activities, 1978-2007.”
United States Department of Labor.
Muller, Richard. “The Panic Over Fukushima.” Wall Street Journal. August 18, 2012, C1.
Nuclear Energy Institute. “Nuclear Energy’s Economic Benefits—Current and Future.”
White Paper. Washington D.C.: Nuclear Energy Institute, 2012.
Nuclear Energy Institute. “The Cost of New Generating Capacity in Perspective.” White
Paper. Washington D.C.: Nuclear Energy Institute, 2012.
Rennicks, Jennifer. “Where Pres. Obama Stands on Energy.” Footprints: On the
Path to Clean Energy (blog). September 7, 2012. Accessed
December 7, 2012.
“Renewable Energy Technology Basics.” United States Department of Energy. http://
U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“The Economics of Nuclear Power.” World Nuclear Association. Accessed November 6,
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Appendix B
Friend, Foe, or Frock: Animal
Rights in Fashion
by Briana N. Laemel
[These sample student papers are provided only as examples of successful student research: they are
not meant to prescribe any standard paper format and the content of each paper represents purely the
author’s view.]
Animal Rights in Context
On the rare occasion that individuals choose to think about animal rights, they often do
so in terms of the food industry. What should come to mind are the cruelty, corruption, and
lack of credibility of slaughter houses, factory farms, and small-time butchers alike. But all
too often the public turns a blind eye to the wrongdoing of meat and poultry producers. In
the mind of a society where animals equal food, it is hunger and greed—not logical, rational
thought or compassion—that drives motives, jades opinions, and encourages ignorance, all
of which contribute to the idea that animals are food (or foe), but certainly not our friend.
Not our friend, but what about our frock?1
In today’s society, where appearance is first
and foremost, it should not be any wonder that such little concern is given to animal rights
in terms of the fashion industry. Fur, leather, wool, and silk are used in excess, and all pose an
immediate threat to the animals, who—in essence—are unwillingly forced to supply textile
manufacturers, mass-producers, designers, and the like with their bodies and secretions. The
abuse inflicted on and the deprivation felt by these innocent animals is horrific, especially
when (much like the food industry) there are many ethical, socially responsible alternatives.
Yet, despite these endless options that are now presented to those in the fashion industry,
many continue in their excessive, animal-clad ways.
Regulations could easily correct such issues of animal rights in fashion; however, very
few, if any, have yet to be enforced. Those that have been enacted are often misleading,
and yield very little power against industry practices that have been in place for centuries.
This paper will discuss such practices, the mediocre measures taken to subdue them, and
ultimately the reality of animal rights in fashion.
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Animal Rights as an Issue of Corporate
Social Responsibility
In terms of corporate social responsibility, the issue of animal rights, namely in fashion,
is often overlooked. Seemingly more important issues, such as labor rights in the workplace,
regularly take precedent, as such are noted to be of a more pressing matter. However, despite
this common misconception, issues of animal rights are just as much a part of corporate
social responsibility as anything else.
Consider the common phrase “actions speak louder than words.” Often, the phrase is
used in a positive manner to give recognition to those acting upon their ideas. Yet when it
comes to those abusing animals for the sake of fashion, this phrase holds true in the most
pejorative sense. Proponents of fur, leather, wool, and silk often speak little of their role in
evading issues of animal rights. Hardly any note where the skins and subsequent textiles
came from; even less note by which means that textile was derived. Consider that each
year, “millions of animals are killed for the clothing industry,” and that regardless of if “the
clothes come from Chinese fur farms, Indian slaughterhouses, or the Australian outback,
an immeasurable amount of suffering goes into every fur-trimmed jacket, leather belt, and
wool sweater”.2
Facts like these are universally unknown, despite being universally influenced,
and thus the ignorance of the consumer is not to blame, but rather those working
tirelessly to conceal their actions.
Ultimately, animal rights in fashion becomes an issue of corporate social responsibility
because of a notable disconnect, epitomized by the notion that what those encouraging the
use of animals for fashion purposes tell us about their doing so hardly compares to what
actually occurs in this vicious cycle on a daily basis. By improving upon corporate social
responsibility as it pertains to animal rights, the truths, the tales, and the transitions of such
a pertinent issue will certainly become clear, as will the need for radical reform.
The Facts (and Fictions) about Fur
Fur Farming Defined
By definition, fur farming is “the practice of breeding or raising certain types of animals
for their fur.”3
These animals, who have never known a life in the wild, are bred on-site,
where they “spend their entire lives confined to cramped, filthy wire cages.”4
At present, there
are no regulations for fur farms, and thus owners hold ultimate power over the confined
animals, and are certainly unfazed by the apparent discomfort and deteriorating health of
those animals. Animals raised on fur farms—namely mink, fox, and rabbit—are caged in
open sheds that provide little protection from the elements.5
As a result, the animals often
fall victim to pests and disease, brought on by an inability to continuously adapt to seasonal
climate change. Because fur farms are often so overcrowded with animals, pests and disease
spread quickly, and contagious cases such as viral enteritis and pneumonia are regular occurrences,
in addition to the fleas, ticks, and lice seeking refuge on the pelts.6
Often, the
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pests and diseases go untreated. Animals are then left to die, infested both internally and
Yet the “natural” death of animals on fur farms is hardly something owners pity. Those
killed by disease, or the stress induced by that disease, eliminate one task to be performed
by said fur farmer—and thus money can be saved. But for those who survive, a similar
fate awaits. Animals spared for their fur are often subject to a death that is both cruel and
unusual. Because furriers, much like many other manufacturers, seek to reduce cost and increase
profit, they invoke the cheapest (which is often the cruelest) killing methods known
to man. Suffocation, anal and vaginal electrocution, gassing, and poisoning are just a few
of the legally practiced methods. Despite their apparent harshness, these specific methods
remain legal. In many cases, it has been argued that the above-mentioned methods kill
the pelt bearing animals quickly, instantaneously even, and thus reduce potential suffering.
However, a recent PETA investigation of a Chinese fur farm found that many animals
were still alive and struggling after electrocution or gassing; some were noted to have hearts
beating for five to ten minutes after they had been skinned. Skinned alive in many instances,
these animals are left to die amidst the unbearable pain of their pelts having been
removed entirely.7
Unfortunately for these innocent animals, furriers are unmoved by the
cruelty attached to their work. But why is this so? How could that be so? For furriers, only
one thing matters: the condition of the pelt upon removal. A fur farmer’s method of choice,
though predominately a factor of cost, thus is also impacted by the potential damage that
method may inflict not on the animal, but on the animal’s pelt. Skinning animals alive is
often practiced to encourage the pelt’s overall contour and fur retention.
After all is said and done, it is quite clear that the inner workings of fur farms are
anything but ethical—and certainly not socially responsible. However, individuals continue
to encourage the manufacturing, production, and eventual use of fur for garments of both
high and low fashion, which leaves the question: Is ignorance really bliss, or is the truth
about fur farming something so many individuals miss?
Fur Farming Exposure and Concealment
Through the work of organizations like PETA, the cruelties of fur farming are gaining
recognition in the public eye. Yet while organizations work to expose the realities about
animal rights in fashion, many counter organizations seek to conceal them. Such an organization
has arisen under the Fur is Green campaign. The Fur is Green campaign claims
that “fur is a natural, renewable and sustainable resource,” meaning that because furriers
“only use part of what nature produces each year without depleting wildlife populations or
[damaging] the natural habitats that sustain them,” ecological balance is maintained.8
these recent claims that fur is environmentally friendly are quite unfounded, and it is clear
that the fur industry is not fooling anyone. According to Joshua Katcher, renowned ethical
fashion expert, “factory farming is factory farming. When you place a concentrated number
of wild animals in an area that hasn’t evolved to deal with that concentration of waste—environmental
disaster is inevitable.”9
Other such organizations claim that, while fur farming
may be misguided, fur used from wild caught animals—known as free-range fur—is more
ethical because the animals have lived their lives free and natural in the wild.10 However,
upon capture, these animals suffer a fate similar to that of their fur farmed counterparts.
Thus, while countless organizations seek to prove not only the viability, but also the
ethical nature of fur use in fashion—going so far as to claim fur as being “green”—not
one has succeeded at doing so. What these counterorganizations have succeeded at doing,
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however, it highlighting the disconnect between the actions of furriers and the words of
those furriers.
The Lessons (and Lies) About Leather
Leather and Animals
Much like fur, which can be taken from countless animals, leather can be made from
cows, pigs, goats, sheep, alligators, ostriches, kangaroos, and—in some instances, where
animal rights are particularly neglected—even dogs and cats.11 These animals are slaughtered,
but only after they have lived in a life of horror on a gruesome factory farm.
Much like factory farms that house cows and the like for food production, factory
farms for fashion purposes are extremely crowded. The animals who reside in these farms
are deprived of necessities and often fall victim to abuses so cruel it becomes hard to believe
that any human being could be capable of such acts. Castration, branding, tail-docking, and
dehorning are done regularly, without painkillers. Many of these animals, upon slaughter,
have their throats slit so quickly that the killer does not succeed at rendering the animal
unconscious. As a result, many of the animals killed for their leather are skinned and
dismembered while still conscious.12 Tens of millions of cows are killed in this manner
each year, despite regulations trying to lessen the cruelty of slaughter, although “the federal
Humane Slaughter Act stipulates that cows should be stunned by a mechanical blow to
the head and rendered unconscious before they are strung up.”13 However, as has been the
case throughout, because time is of the essence, the high speed of the assembly lines often
results in improper stunning.14 Improper stunning, as with improper throat slitting, is an
entirely unethical practice that leaves millions of cows in terror and to suffer unbearably as
they are skinned.
In terms of fashion, while much of the leather used is derived as a byproduct of cows
used for beef and milk, waste management and issues of sustainability should not surpass
the welfare of the animals at stake. As PETA notes, “buying leather directly contributes
to factory farms and slaughterhouses because skin is the most economically important
byproduct of the meat industry.”15
Leather, Animals, and the Environment
Economical it may be, but environmental is it not. Despite the fact that using leather as
a byproduct of factory farming reduces waste, the slaughter of animals and the subsequent
manufacturing of their leather is hellish, specifically in terms of the fashion industry’s effect
on the environment.
As in any case of mass production, natural resources are required at unfathomable
amounts. Raising animals for food and leather “requires huge amounts of feed, pastureland,
water, and fossil fuels,” all of which could be used for practices more ethical and
environmentally sound, namely feed, which could be used to solve hunger in many thirdworld
countries.16 In addition to these natural resources, leather manufacturing specifically
requires unbelievable amounts of energy and chemicals. These chemicals often end up in
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US waterways, in addition to the animals’ excrement, and thus possess a toxic threat to
both human beings and other living animals.17 The Environmental Protection Agency has
gone as far to consider the chemicals used in leather manufacturing hazardous, and yet still
practices persist. Many countries known for their leather industries are out of governmental
reach, and because issues of animal rights are, to a great extent, less important abroad, the
abuse continues.
Although animal rights organizations have also worked to expose the cruelties of
leather manufacturing, the skin is still used for fashion purposes. Producers, manufacturers,
designers, and retailers alike turn their backs on the animals that should be seen as their
compatriots. Rather, these animals are seen as merely a means to an end—an end that only
benefits those “who profit from the misery and suffering of others” with seemingly less
valuable lives than themselves.18
The Questions (and Misconceptions) About
Wool and Silk
To the standard shopper or fashion enthusiast, wool appears to be a perfectly ethical
natural fiber, one free from the issue of animal rights. Often, this is assumed because the
sheep providing the fiber are not slaughtered for their skin, as are those providing leather
hides and fur pelts. However, while these animals may not face the same gruesome end as
their friends of fashion, it is not acceptable to assume that those wool-bearing beings live
wonderfully ethical lives.
Much like leather and fur, wool is an incredibly sought-after textile. Because of this,
there is an incredibly strong market for the fleece and skin of sheep. As a result, these
animals “are treated as nothing more than wool-producing machines,”19 and shearers are
not shamed for generating those machines. Shearers, although they do not kill their victims
as do furriers or leather manufactures, are not shy from being equally as evil. Profit is, of
course, their top priority, one that far surpasses the concern for their wool-bearing animals’
welfare. Shearing sheds are one of the worst places in the world for cruelty to animals,
despite the common misconception that shearing is in fact healthful for these animals. Because
shearers are often paid by volume, and not by hour, fast work is encouraged; regard for
the well-being of these sheep being sheared is not even so much discouraged as it is ignored
entirely.20 Sheep that survive the shearing process—many die from cuts and wounds caused
by fast work—are left with no remaining fleece. These animals often become ill without
enough wool to protect them from temperature extremes because they have no insulation
against both cold and heat.21
But cruelty during the process of wool production goes beyond easily avoidable shearing
accidents and weather-induced illness. The cruelest, and one of the most common, practices
of sheep shearing is known as mulesing, a process by which “huge chunks of skin and flesh
are cut from the animals’ backside, often without any painkillers.”22. This practice is done
most often to sheep raised as merinos, who are bred specifically to have wrinkly skin, an
attribute that encourages more wool per animal.23 Breeding merinos in this way creates
what would actually be considered an unnatural overload of wool, were there any standards
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to protect sheep from shearing. This excess of wool “causes many sheep to collapse and even
die of heat exhaustion during hot months, and the wrinkles collect urine and moisture.
Attracted to the moisture, flies lay eggs in the folds of skin, and the hatched maggots can
eat the sheep alive.”24 Fearful that these pests may lessen the wool’s quality upon shearing
and spinning, mulesing was developed as a way to free not the sheep, but the wool, of
maggots. Mulesing “is a crude attempt to create smoother skin that won’t collect moisture;”
however, “the exposed, bloody wounds often become infected,”25 often by the maggots this
practice was supposed to ward off. Many sheep who have undergone this particular mutilation
suffer; many more die. Mutilation in the form of mulesing is thus not only cruel, but
ineffective, and many other practices could easily discourage pest infestations in a humane
manner. Through diet regulation, spray washing, or simply breeding types of sheep without
excess wool, sheep can be spared.26 Noting this, many companies have taken progressive
steps to reduce their wool consumption, pledging to move away from mulesed wool.
Thus, as is clear, “no amount of fluff can hide the fact that anyone who buys wool
supports a cruel and bloody industry.”27 While wool has long been seen as natural fiber
of ethical standards, this misconception is illustrative of the fashion industry’s ability to
encourage a disconnect between the actions of shearers and the words of those shearers.
In terms of animal rights, silk is perhaps of the least concern to the average consumer.
However, as the issue of animal rights in fashion covers the entire realm of animal fibers, it
is important to address those problems associated with silk harvesting.
Conventional silk is made by boiling the intact cocoons of silk worms. In massproduction,
silk is often made from domesticated silkworms, raised on farms much like
the animals used for fur, leather, and wool.28 The silkworms—in caterpillar stage—are fed
mulberry leaves until they are ready to spin cocoons. Silk is secreted as a liquid from two
glands in the caterpillar’s head, and it is the silk that forms the worm’s cocoon.29 When the
silkworm has passed through this stage of development, the cocoon is placed in boiling
water, thereby beginning a process which eases the extraction of silk thread, and thereby
killing the silkworm.30
As if being boiled to death is not cruel enough, silk worms often lead lives that are
unconventional. They are exploited for their secretions, and thus kept in a strictly controlled
environment to ensure that their silk is of the highest quality. For those fortunate enough
to break free of their cocoon before boiling, a similarly unfortunate life awaits. Because silk
caterpillars are bred to maximize silk production, the moths that emerge from their cocoons
do so with countless defects. Many cannot fly because their bodies are too big compared to
their wings; many cannot eat because their mouths are underdeveloped. Proponents of silk
use claim that worms bred for harvesting live perfectly suitable lives, as insects cannot feel
pain. However, experts disagree over to what extent an insect can feel pain, and highlight
that because an insect’s nervous system is different from a mammal’s, it is difficult to gauge
an insect’s feelings (namely because worms cannot show their distress in ways that humans
easily recognize).31 Nonetheless, the mere presence of a nervous system should be enough
to solidify claims of silk worm suffering, as signals from stimuli still elicit a response to
those stimuli.32 Thus, despite public belief, silk caterpillars suffer immeasurably as they are
either unethically boiled alive or born as moths with seemingly intentional defects.
Yet the suffering of a silk caterpillar is not the only immeasurable aspect of silk production.
What also appears to me immeasurable is just how extensive the use of silk moths is.
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“The amount of useable silk from each cocoon is small,” and as a result, it takes hundreds
of silkworms “to produce just one silk scarf or tie.”33 Consider that approximately fifteen
silkworms are killed to make one gram of silk thread. Consider, then, that it takes approximately
10,000 silk worms to make one sari, a fashion item commonly made from the
finest of silk threads. If allowed to develop naturally, outside of a farm, and free of genetic
breeding, silk worms would turn into defect-free moths, and silk could still be harvested.
By collecting the cocoons those moths chewed out of, manufacturers would be able to
unravel the silk strands and produce silk textiles in similar quantities. However, the strands
of tussah silk (the official name for unfarmed silk) are much shorter, less lustrous, and thus
less valuable. And as has been the pattern throughout the animal rights in fashion debate,
quality of said animal fiber is of more importance than the animal’s quality of life.
Ethical Fashion: The Development of
Animal-Friendly Design
Over the years, issues of animal rights in fashion have become increasingly more
prevalent. Long gone are the days of vegan hippies, who shunned fashion for being a cruel
institution. Here to stay are the fashion-conscious vegans, in the age of ethical fashion.
Ethical fashion “is an umbrella term to describe ethical fashion design, production,
retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation,
fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.”34. In essence,
it encompasses all aspects of corporate social responsibility as it pertains to the fashion
industry. Of the CSR issues pertaining to ethical fashion, animal rights—as has been the
clear case—has been given the least amount of focus. Because the topic is so controversial, it
seems to be given less attention in terms of social acceptance, but it gets plenty of attention
in terms of innovation and development.
Ethical fashion has illustrated that there is no need to be cruel in order to stay warm
and look cool. Cruelty-free fabrics and faux furs are available in stores everywhere, and
PETA continues to work with designers and clothing retailers to encourage the strict use
and sale of animal-friendly fabrics.
Alternatives to fur include a wide range of faux options. Vests, jackets, hats, shawls,
and muffs are now being designed with the welfare of animals in mind. These cruelty-free
options are highly fashionable, and in many instances are entirely realistic. And with public
figures (namely celebrities and pop-culture icons) denouncing the use of real fur, choosing
to “go naked” is becoming more and more enticing.
Alternatives to leather are becoming increasingly more innovative, including vegan
microfiber, which claims to match leather in strength and durability, as well as alternative,
sustainable, and renewable plant-based and man-made, non-animal materials such as
ultrasuede, organic cotton, canvas, nylon, velvet, linen, cork, and eco-lining. Of course, these
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alternatives will never match the exact look, feel, and wear of leather; however, in terms of
performance, they match all qualities of leather in the most ethical of fashions.
Alternatives to wool include acrylic, cotton, cotton flannel, polyester fleece, and synthetic
shearling. Newer innovations, such as Tencel, are breathable, durable, and biodegradable,
and serve as is one of the newest cruelty-free wool substitutes.35 Another newer innovation,
Polartec Wind Pro, is made primarily from recycled plastic soda bottles and boasts a wind
resistance four times that of wool.36
Alternatives to silk include some of the most interesting developments. The use of
banana leaves and tree stalks to create a silky fiber has revolutionized the production of
many silk-dependent items, such as the sari.37
Vintage and Second Hand
Buying clothing, shoes, and other accessories from vintage boutiques or second-hand
stores serves as an easy and affordable way to shop ethically. Although these items may be
made with animal derivatives, the practice is sustainable as it encourages recycling and discourages
waste. Buying vintage or second hand also limits the amount of support unethical
producers, manufacturers, and designers are given, and doing so ultimately takes a stance
for animal rights from a less militant view.
Thus, as PETA has noted on many occasions, “fashion should be fun, not fatal,” and
choosing to buy fashion-forward products made of near-identical alternatives can encourage
the adoption of this slogan-turned-lifestyle motto.38
Developing Corporate Social Responsibility
Standards for Animal Rights
What Has Been Done
It is quite clear that the realities of animal rights in fashion are shielded by the glamour
of the industry. Fur, leather, wool, and silk are not seen for what they truthfully are—the
skins of living, breathing beings—but rather for what they can be—status-conveying, luxury
fibers and textiles. In terms of corporate social responsibility, little attention has been given
to such issues, encapsulated by the general issue of animal rights. While many acknowledge
that the protection of animal welfare is important, many too consider the rights of human
beings to be of first priority. Activist groups, such as PETA and the Humane Society of
the United States, have worked for the protection of animal rights for years, and in doing
so have generated a greater concern for the cause. However, in terms of legalized practice,
there are few laws and acts that have impacted the fashion industry enough to inspire
radical change.
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What Should Be Done
The decision to develop socially responsible standards in terms of animal rights is ultimately
a choice to be made by each individual corporation. While it may be unrealistic
to imagine a fashion industry entirely free of fur, leather, wool, and silk, it is realistic to
encourage the development of an industry with higher standards for the ethical treatment
of the animals that provide for it. But aside from developing higher standards, it is also necessary
to develop a means of ensuring that these standards are upheld. In many instances,
companies claiming to be cruelty-free have deceived consumers through mislabeling; many
have gone a step further, reverting to their fur, leather, wool, or silk use despite vowing to
do otherwise.
This past February, Urban Outfitters fell victim to such a case. Since 2009, Urban
Outfitters has claimed to be fur-free. After coming under attack that same year, the retailer
agreed to cease the stocking of fur merchandise, and has since made notable cruelty-free
fashion lists such as “Fur-Free Retailers, Designers, and Brands,” as compiled by the
Humane Society.39 However, when a shopper grew suspicious of his purchase—“I have
been analyzing fur and fashion for many years, and there is a significant visual difference
between faux and real fur, and there is no way that the fur in this photo is faux. The way the
fur falls open to reveal the skin beneath is obvious in the photos. The organic distribution
of coloring is not machine-made. The hairs are not uniform. The oil-sheen of the hair is
organic, not synthetic”—he ran a series of tests that confirmed his questioning.40 Upon
receiving countless letters of complaint, Urban Outfitters removed the item from their
inventory and released a public apology, noting that “unfortunately, the information we’d
initially gathered led us to believe that the collar trim was indeed faux fur. After further
investigation, we were able to confirm your assertion that the trim in question was in fact
real fur.”41 Regulating animal rights specifically in terms of fashion could help to reduce the
number of instances such as the Urban Outfitters case. And recently, it is these cases that
have inspired new ideas about reform.
What Is Being Done
Most recently, the US Senate voted unanimously, “approving an important bipartisan
bill to protect consumers and animals.”42 The law, known as the Truth in Fur Labeling Act,
passed the House of Representatives in July 2010 and was signed by President Obama later
that same year. The act “will bring much-needed accuracy and disclosure to fur products,”
as long as those committed to animal rights in terms of corporate social responsibility
ensure that it is upheld.43 Yet even with new laws coming into effect, standards already in
place need to be improved. Guidelines for the protection of animal rights are limited, and
governmental motions like the Animal Welfare Act only require that minimum standards
of care and treatment be provided.44 But consider how the public would feel about these
minimum standards if they applied to laborers in the workforce. Despite public opinion,
there is little difference between the well-being of a human being and the well-being of an
animal; after all, both have emotions, feel pain, and can be manipulated by another. Thus, in
terms of corporate social responsibility, it is time to level the playing field, for to solve the
issue of animal rights it is necessary to accept the philosophical view that considers animals
to have rights similar to or the same as human beings.45
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In Conclusion
Although the fashion industry has come to equate animals with foes (even frocks) and
not friends, the two do not necessarily need to remain mutually exclusive. In a different
sense, animals can be both friend and faux—and with this, animal rights and the fashion
industry can coexist in an ethical, compassionate, exclusive, and luxurious way.
1. Originally, a frock was a loose, long garment with wide, full sleeves, such as the habit of a monk
or priest, commonly belted. Today, the term is a common phrase for a dress or gown (often worn
by a girl or woman).
2. “Animals Used for Clothing,” PETA, accessed November 16, 2011,
3. “Fur Farming,” Wikipedia, accessed November 14, 2011,
4. “The Fur Industry,” PETA, accessed November 14, 2011,
5. “Fur Farms,” Friends of Animals, accessed November 14, 2011,
6. Ibid.
7. “A Shocking Look Inside Chinese Fur Farms,” PETA, accessed November 14, 2011, http://
8. “Fur Is Eco-logical,” Fur Is Green, accessed November 14, 2011,
9. “Blog: Pinnacle: Reinvent the Icon,” Reinvent the Icon, accessed November 14, 2011, http://
10. “Fur Farming” (see endnote 3).
11. “The Leather Industry,” PETA, accessed November 16, 2011,
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. “The Wool Industry,” PETA, accessed November 16, 2011,
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
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22. “Mulesing by the Wool Industry,” PETA, accessed November 16, 2011,
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid.
25. Ibid.
26. Ibid.
27. “The Wool Industry” (see endnote 19).
28. Doris Lin, “Why Vegans Don’t Wear Silk,”, accessed November 16, 2011, http://
29. Ibid.
30. Ibid.
31. “Silk, Cashmere, Shearling, and Other Animal Products Used for Clothing,” PETA, accessed
November 16, 2011,
32. Lin, “Why Vegans Don’t Wear Silk”
33. Ibid.
34. “What Is Ethical Fashion?” Victoria and Albert Museum, accessed November 14, 2011, http://
35. “Alternatives to Wool,” PETA, accessed November 16, 2011,
36. Ibid.
37. “Glossary,” Eco Fashion World, accessed November 26, 2011,
38. “The Leather Industry” (see endnote 11).
39. Annie Hartnett, “Urban Outfitters Falsely Advertises Real Fur as Fake,” News, accessed November 16, 2011,
40. Ibid.
41. Della Watson, “Urban Outfitters Apologizes for Selling Real Fur Labeled Faux,” the Green
Life, Sierra magazine, accessed November 16, 2011,
42. Amy Skylark Elizabeth, “Obama Signs Truth in Fur Labeling Act,” PETA, December 29, 2010,
accessed November 16, 2011,
43. Ibid.
44. “Animal Welfare Act,” United States Department of Agriculture, accessed November 16, 2011,
45. “Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights,” Animal Welfare Council, accessed November 16, 2011,
Appendix C|206
Appendix C
Monsanto Company and Its
Effect on Farmers
by Akiko Kitamura
[These sample student papers are provided only as examples of successful student research: they are
not meant to prescribe any standard paper format and the content of each paper represents purely the
author’s view.]
There have been numerous public controversies regarding the impact of genetic engineering
on the safety of genetically modified (GM) food and the ethics. Monsanto, a
leading producer of genetically engineered seeds, has been at the center of the criticisms on
agribusiness and GM crops. This paper focuses on one of these controversies: Monsanto’s
GMO practices and its effect on farmers. In particular, the high suicide rate among GM
crop farmers in India due to its production has attracted a great deal of attention in the
press. Is there in fact a negative effect of Monsanto on farmers? When genetic engineering
is mentioned, many people have immediate negative reactions. However, we must address
the point of view that holds that genetic engineering actually improves the nutrition, facilitates
efficient production and helps the Third World countries to develop. Today, genetic
engineering is advantageous in various fields such as medicine, manufacturing, and agriculture.
While it is surrounded by controversy, many scientific studies have found various
results and the evidence of beneficial effect of Monsanto on farmers worldwide.
The first time media reported on the issue of farmer suicides in India was in 1995.1
Several years later, anti-GM activists started making claims about the harmful effect of
GM seeds on farmers. Vandana Shiva, an Indian physicist turned environmental activist,
blamed transgenic seeds for the suicides more than 200,000 Indian farmers over the past
However, it was in 2002, seven years after the Indian farmer suicide report, that
Monsanto began selling GM cotton seeds in India.3
In addition, the dispute between
Monsanto and farmers in the United States has sometimes raised lawsuits, with 145 court
cases filed since 1997. The issue is that Monsanto imposes a patent agreement on farmers,
requiring them to purchase new seed varieties for every season, but some farmers do not
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honor this agreement.4
However, Monsanto has to be paid for its inventions and its continuous
research and development. The research is done for its customers, who are farmers.
Genetic Engineering
Technically, genetic engineering modifies the genetic structure of cells and moves genes
across species boundaries to produce new organisms. These techniques involve the highly
sophisticated manipulation of genetic material and other biologically important chemicals.
Because genes determine an organism’s traits, moving genes from one organism to another
transfers those traits. Genetic engineering can create new combinations of genes, in other
words, new combinations of traits. This technology is impossible in nature and, therefore,
such an artificial technology is fundamentally different from traditional plant and animal
breeding. While natural reproductive mechanisms limit the number of new combinations,
genetic engineering does not have restrictions, and it is possible to produce purple cows if
purple genes are available in nature, such as from a sea urchin or an iris. Therefore, genetic
engineering enables scientists to create gene combinations that would never be found in

Another point to note is that the controversy over the link between the possible risk
of cancer and GM food remains to be addressed, and researchers at France’s University of
Caen uncovered that rats fed on Monsanto’s NK603 maize and/or exposed to its gylphosate
were more likely to grow tumors and multiple bodily deformities. However, the European
Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found that the researchers’ study has “insufficient scientific
quality to be considered as valid for risk assessment.”6
Despite many critics and researchers
attempting to reveal the harm of genetic engineering, including the blame on Monsanto’s
harm to farmers, not all studies are accountable. Such reports embed people with fears and
negative thoughts on genetic engineering, but the truth may be different.
Agriculture and GM Crops
Genetically engineered crops first came on the market in 1996 as modified to tolerate
the herbicide glyphosate (HT crops) or to produce their own insecticide (Bt crops).7
the agriculture industry, genetically modified seeds are widely used for crops such as cotton,
maize, soybeans, and rice. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), there are more than 14 million farmers in 25 countries
cultivating GM crops.8
And the production is significantly increasing as two billion acres of
transgenic crops were planted in the same year. Monsanto introduced a new biotech crop,
gyphosate-resistant sugar beets, and variety of GM crops continues to be adopted in China
and India. Even in Europe, which is strongly against GMOs, 7 of 27 countries cultivated
the only transgenic crop approved there. Also, the area planted with transgenic crops rose
by 10 percent during the year, and the estimated value is about $750 million.9
Small farmers
can substantially benefit since the gain from GM seeds is usually much more than the cost
of the seeds. Also, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton has become a major GM seed in India
because it disrupts the life cycle of the bollworm and thereby highly increases the productivity.10
Today, India is one of the largest manufacturers of the apparel and textile industry,
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and Bt cotton has largely contributed on the country’s significant economic development
in the last decade.
Theoretically, it would require less pesticide than conventional crops to use such GM
seeds. But a recent study found that, although GE crops worked this way in the first
few years, farmers eventually increased the use of pesticide due to the emergence of new
weeds.11Small farmers can substantially benefit since the gain from GM seeds is usually
much more than the cost of the seeds. Also, Bt Cotton has become a major GM seed in
India because disrupting bollworm insects highly increases the productivity. (The Pros and
Cons of Genetically Modified Seeds)
Furthermore, research done by the Swiss National Research Programme investigated
the environmental, economic, and social impacts of GM crops. According to Federal Ministry
of Education and Research, the aim of this program was to investigate the potential
of genetically engineering plants for Swiss agriculture; only a few people buy GM products
and only a few farmers grow today. In this European country with a large anti-GM group,
the industry’s economic benefits are very small and the coexistence costs too high. However,
the researchers expect an increase of acceptance of GM crops when new GM crops with
such herbicide and disease resistance traits become commercially available. Notably, the
report asserts, “risk assessments should be based on the specific characteristics of the plant
variety, rather than on the breeding method used to produce it. The environmental, social
and economic impacts of a GM plant can only be determined through a direct comparison
with conventionally bred plants.”12
Genetically modified foods are a very effective solution to one of the most concerning
issues—world hunger—and they enable farmers in Third World countries to grow more
crops more quickly and for less cost. In addition, there is a correlation with global warming
since climate change is a threat to food supply and limits growing crops.13 But subtle positive
effects are that the use of pesticides can keep the plants healthy and prevent damage
to the environment, and less fertilizer can be used, and thereby keeping farming cost low.
(Nature Biotechnology)
Figure 1.
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Monsanto is a leading company of genetically engineered seeds. This public company’s
headquarters are in St. Louis, Missouri, and it was founded in 1901, more than 100 years ago.
The company holds 404 operating facilities in 66 countries, and there are 20,767 employees
worldwide. In 2011, its net income was $1.6 trillion and its net sales were $11.8 trillion,
which are a 13 percent and 47 percent increase from 2010, respectively. Their mission is to
produce more, conserve more, and improve lives, and they are committed to sustainable
agriculture. The company states that it is their purpose to work alongside farmers to grow
as much food as they have in the past by selling seeds with traits developed through biotechnology,
and crop protection chemicals. It was ranked in the top 10 of the World’s Most
Innovative Companies by Forbes magazine, as well as honored with various other awards.
The company addresses its corporate social responsibility activities by fighting hunger,
supporting human rights and education, and so on. In terms of commitment to sustainable
agriculture, it states, “Looking forward, we are exploring opportunities to support
continuous improvement in crop yields through our efforts in breeding, agronomics, and
biotechnology. We are also exploring better health and nutrition through our vegetable
business.”14 The report also notes that, as the population continues to increase, so does
the demand for valuable resources; therefore, Monsanto works on providing better seeds,
protecting natural resources, fighting hunger, improving nutrition, and providing economic
benefits to everyone involved. 15 Based on the data compiled by ISAAA and PG Economics,
Monsanto is one of the contributors to having 2.1 million resource-poor farmers adopting
biotech crops for the first time in the 2008–2010 seasons, and these farmers achieved US$3
billion in additional net income thanks to this technology adoption. In addition, there were
three to seven times the level of economic benefits across rural communities. 16
GM Seeds and Farmer Suicide in India
Many Indian farmers commit suicide by drinking fatal amount of pesticides. After the
media report of tragic phenomenon of Indian farmers’ suicides in 1995, the story began
when anti-GM activists like Vandana Shiva blamed GM crop for this phenomenon. The
media has put the blame mostly on corporate agriculture and Monsanto, and outrageous
GM seed prices made small farmers suffer from debts.17 Shiva says, “On paper, genetic
engineering is made to look very good, but on the ground it’s a tragedy. . . . Otherwise, we
wouldn’t have farmer suicides concentrated in the Bt cotton belt.” The fact is that 200,000
Indian farmers have committed suicide over the past decade. However, since the arrival of
Bt seeds in 2002, the price of cotton seeds raised from 7 to 1,700 rupees a bag. So Monsanto,
the world’s largest seed company, disagrees as the suicide trend began well before its cotton
seeds were introduced to the market. Shiva also argues that because of the self-regulatory
system of labeling in India, Monsanto sells GM seeds on fraudulent claims of 1,500 kilograms
a year when farmers harvest 300 to 400 kilograms a year on average. Additionally,
although Bt cotton was promoted as resistant to the bollworm, it actually created new pests,
and farmers were using 13 times more pesticides than they were using prior to introduction
of Bt cotton. “Bio-piracy . . . where you take stuff from the Third World, claim it to
be an invention of a US company, and then sell it back for a profit, and forbid the original
contributors from having free access,” and Multinational Corporations are taking control of
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the Indian market.18 Moreover, a 2011 report published by the Center for Human Rights
and Global Justice (CHRGJ) claimed the sale of expensive genetically modified seeds to
rural Indian farmers was a key factor contributing to the growing suicide crisis.19
Monsanto and other producers of GM crops insist that their crops require fewer
chemicals, as plants are engineered to prevent crop pests. Nevertheless, the study done by
Washington State University Professor Charles Benbrook found that the usage of herbicides
in GM crops—cotton, soybeans, and maize—has increased over the last decade in the
United States. His study found that the herbicide-tolerant crops did not have problems but
recently, so-called superweeds have become resistant to glyphosate weed killer, Roundup,
produced by Monsanto. Therefore, farmers started to use increasing amount of Roundup
and some more additional herbicides to fend off the tough weeds. Benbrook adds that
many farmers reliant on GM crops are raising the volume of herbicide needed each year by
about twenty-five percent. Estimations are that production of herbicides was increased by
239 million kilograms between 1996 and 2011 for the use of GM crops. This study undermined
the claims of GM crop producers that fewer chemicals are needed in production.20
Nevertheless, according to Raju Das, a developmental studies professor at York University,
“the issue of farmer suicides is not just entirely a farmer issue, or rural issue, or a village
issue—it is a much more broader political-economic problem”21 In 2008, the study focusing
on this issue was reported by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
The report also writes, “Most reports tend to reflect the polarized views on Bt cotton itself,
without providing a comprehensive understanding of the actual situation that led to the
observed resurgence of farmer suicides in India and therefore the potential role (or absence
thereof ) of Bt cotton in this picture.”22
In the data found, it is evident that the high number of suicides occurred much before
the introduction of Bt cotton23 and the suicides appear to have slowed down since the
introduction of Bt cotton in 2002.24 Moreover, farmer suicides have been reported in developed
countries such as Australia, the United States, and Great Britain and involve diverse
crops, most of which are not Bt cotton. The report says:
It is not only inaccurate but simply wrong to blame the use of Bt cotton as the
primary cause of farmer suicides in India…The reality is much more complex, when
one considers the conditions surrounding the use of Bt cotton, the resulting effects, and
the socioeconomic constraints that have likely pushed farmers in particular regions to
commit suicide during some years. There is no single explanation or even consistent explanations
across reported cases. However, one leading factor seems to connect several
causes particularly related to agriculture: the heavy indebtedness of farm households,
particularly in the suicide-prone states. 25
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Figure 2. Farmer suicides and Bt cotton area in Andhra Pradesh, 1997-2006
(Gruere, Mehta-Bhatt, Sengupta, 19)
Figure 3. Average economic effects of Bt cotton compared to non-Bt cotton in India,
Patent Law and Farmer Lawsuits
Monsanto enforces patents on the seeds they researched and developed, and gives
requirements and guidelines to farmers for use of their products. But some farmers are
not happy about this agreement. 26 The farmer’s position is understandable for the reasons
that seeds naturally grow and increase in amount, but the seeds are the products of the
company and business has to be paid for its product to survive. Nonetheless, patent law
gives companies a right to exclude others from using the invention that sometimes requires
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a high cost for the research and development, and the rights encourage further invention
and promote development. According to Monsanto, about 145 lawsuits were filed between
1997 and 2000 in the United States, an average of approximately 11 per year for 13 years
among more than 250,000 American farmers using Monsanto seeds. The company invests
more than $2.6 million per day in research and development and claims that it would not
be possible without the protection of the patent. Furthermore, Monsanto says it would
be unfair to the farmers that honor their agreements, and most of the cases are filed from
the reports from one farmer seeing another farmer’s infringement, saving patented seeds.
27 In a recent Supreme Court case, a 75-year-old farmer, Mr. Bowman, got into trouble
when he planted a second crop of soybeans in the same year. What he wanted was a cheap
source of seed, and in 1999, he bought some ordinary soybeans from a small grain elevator
where local farmers drop off their harvest. He was aware of the probability that these
beans had Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene in them, but he also thought that Monsanto
was not controlling these soybeans anymore, and got a different varieties of seeds, which
hardly pose a threat to Monsanto’s seed business.28 Another defense is the concept that
once a patented object is sold, the patent holder loses control over how it is used, and he
was merely using the seed from the elevator and was not making seeds, as the nature of a
seed is that it creates more copies. The previous courts awarded the company more than
$84,000 in 2007, and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said that Bowman had
created newly infringing articles.29 In May 2013, the case came to an end with the decision
ordering Bowman to pay Monsanto $84,000 for infringing on the company’s patent. The
justices ruled that “patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds
through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission.”30 Accordingly,
the public has been critical of this giant company for making a poor 75-year-old farmer
pay $84,000. As a human being, people may feel sympathy for this man. However, any
person who abuses patent laws will be charged a penalty, and this consequence is genuinely
a rational decision. Regrettably, Bowman made a mistake.
It would be difficult to conclude that the farmer suicide phenomenon in India is due
to GM seeds, not only because of all the data shown in the study done by the International
Food Policy Research Institute, but also because of the overall conditions in India, such
as the culture, economy, and political system. Although the country has achieved a higher
standard of living from its economic development, many people still remain poor and live in
difficult conditions with a lack of infrastructure. Also, some suicidal farmers drink pesticide
to kill themselves, but this has nothing to do with Monsanto and GM seeds. They have
access to pesticide only because they are farmers, not because they are specifically GM crop
farmers. Moreover, Monsanto sets seed prices that correspond with the market. Thus, critics
should not blame Monsanto for the issue of the small percentage of farmers who have
difficulty paying the company for the seeds. The reason for the suicides could be personal
problems or economic problems, but perhaps Monsanto could adjust their prices if an
increasing number of people suffer.
In regard to lawsuits against farmers, Monsanto could give better and clearer guidance
about its patent rights, for example through the media, to increase the farmers’ understanding.
About eleven lawsuits against farmers per year is not a large number. This is
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only 0.058 percent of the total number of Monsanto’s customer farmers. Compared to
Walmart, which has 500,000 lawsuits per year for issues such as wage law violations, inadequate
health care, exploitation of workers, and the retailer’s antiunion stance, Monsanto’s
suits seem small in number.31 I think companies have to care for the customers, which in
Monsanto’s case are the farmers, and be good to the customers so that they can continue
running the business most of the time. It is unlikely that the company keeps enforcing its
agribusiness which has negative effects, if there are any. For this reason, however, it will be
essential for Monsanto to invent a new seed that is effective against superweeds so that
farmers can reduce the amount of pesticides, since the use of pesticide on these weeds is not
as effective as it is on conventional weeds.
Monsanto and genetic engineering have been the targets of numerous criticisms, but
they have more benefits than some opponents may recognize. It would cause significant
damage to people around the world, including farmers and people who are fed by GM
crops, if biotechnology and Monsanto were denied, and the company stopped its incredible
and hopeful research and inventions for the future. GM crops have better nutrition and help
farmers to a great extent because they are economical and efficient to produce. Moreover, it
is a solution to the food supply shortage caused by climate change and population increase.
The facts about Monsanto involvement in farmer suicides and patent lawsuits against
farmers seem overexaggerated, and a lot of incorrect information has spread to the public.
However, any possible risks or issues should definitely be monitored by Monsanto because
it is their responsibility to care for customers. However, these criticisms and controversies
have probably been helpful to alert the company to constantly improve the technology and
products. Investments and funds are necessary for further research, and logically Monsanto
deserves to receive payment from farmers for the products, research, and development,
which ultimately benefit the farmers.
1. Chris Bennett, “Indian Farmer Suicides a Case of Misplaced GM Blame,” Delta
Farm Press. February 11, 2013. Agriculture Collection,
2. “The Pros and Cons of Genetically Modified Seeds,” Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2010, http://
3. Chris Bennett, “Indian Farmer Suicides a Case of Misplaced GM Blame,” Delta
Farm Press. February 11, 2013, Agriculture Collection,
4. Monsanto, E. Freeman, “Why does Monsanto Patent Seeds?”, September, 30, 2008, Accessed
April 17, 2013,
5. “What Is Genetic Engineering?” Union of Concerned Scientists, last updated July 18, 2003, http://
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix C
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6. Philip Case, “Monsanto Cancer Study Not Scientifically Valid,” Farmers Weekly, October 12,
2012. Agriculture Collection.
7. Charles M. Benbrook, “Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United State:
The First Nine Years,” Union of Concerned Scientists, October 2004,
8. “Pros and Cons of GM Seeds.”
9. Andrew Marshall. “13.3 Million Farmers Cultivate GM Crops.” Nature Biotechnology 27, no. 3
(03, 2009): 221. doi:
10. “Pros and Cons of GM Seeds.”
11. Benbrook, “Genetically Engineered Crops.”
12. “No health or environmental risks from plant biotechnology,” Swiss National Research Program,
13. Mack LeMouse, “Genetically Altered Food: The Pros and Cons,” Health Guidance, accessed
March 13, 2013,
14. 2011 Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Report, 3.
15. Ibid, 2
16. Ibid, 63
17. Bennett, “Indian Farmer Suicides.”
18. “Pros and Cons of GM Seeds.”
19. Rubab Abid, “The Myth of India’s ‘GM Genocide’: Genetically Modified Cotton Blamed
for Wave of Farmer Suicides,” National Post, January 26, 2013, http://news.nationalpost.
20. Philip Case, “US Farmers Using More Pesticides with GM Crops.” Farmers Weekly, October
26, 2012, Agriculture Collection.
21. Quoted in Abid, “The Myth of India’s ‘GM Genocide.’”
22. Guillaume P. Gruère, Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, and Debdatta Sengupta, “Bt Cotton and Farmer
Suicides in India.” Working Paper no. 00808, International Food Policy Research Institute,
October 2008,, 1.
23. Ibid., 29
24. Ibid., 38
25. Ibid.
26. Monsanto, E. Freeman, “Farmers Reporting Farmers- Part 2”, October 10, 2008, http://www.
27. Ibid.
28. Mark Memmott, “Supreme Court Rules for Monsanto in Case against Farmer,”
NPR, May 13, 2013,
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix C
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29. Andrew Pollack, “Farmer’s Supreme Court Challenge Puts Monsanto Patents at Risk,” The
New York Times, February 16, 2013,
30. Mark Memmot, “Supreme Court Rules for Monsanto.”
31. “The Good, the Bad, and Wal-Mart,” Workplace Fairness, accessed April 17, 2013, http://www.
Appendix D|216
Appendix D
To What Extent Are SmallScale
Coffee Producers in
Latin America the Primary
Beneficiaries of Fair Trade?
by Larissa Zemke
[These sample student papers are provided only as examples of successful student research: they are
not meant to prescribe any standard paper format and the content of each paper represents purely the
author’s view.]
This paper focuses on the socioeconomic impacts of fair trade on small-scale coffee producers
in Latin America. The fair trade mechanism has shown some benefits to small-scale
farmers on a micro-level and has been gaining firm grounds as a socially responsible initiative.
This paper explores the extent to which small producers and cooperatives are primary
beneficiaries of fair trade. Nevertheless, a critical approach to the fair trade mechanism
and its implementation is also necessary, in order to evaluate and improve its effectiveness.
The paper sets off by discussing the origin of the concept, goals, and positive impacts of
fair trade. Subsequently, a discussion on the concept’s weaknesses is obtained through an
assessment of the socioeconomic impacts of sustainable livelihoods, poverty alleviation,
capacity building, and empowerment on a local level in Latin America. The impacts analyzed
focus on the following respective areas: human, social, financial, and physical capital
of the small-holder coffee producers through assessing various case studies addressing the
impacts of fair trade coffee in Latin America. I conclude with an analysis of the one-way
link that fair trade constructs between the consumers in developed countries and producers
in developing nations, through societal marketing, which promotes ethical consumerism.
Fair Trade1
presents an alternative to traditional forms of international aid,2
the livelihoods of small-scale producers and communities, as well as the economic growth
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix D
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of developing nations, are supported through trade, as they receive a “fair” price from developing
nations for the goods they produce. The founders of the fair trade concept, Nico
Roozen and Frans van der Hoff, were inspired by the statement of a Mexican coffee farmer:
“We are not beggars, we only need a fair price for our coffee…We want to put an end to
the centuries of exploitation that we have experienced…and [gain] the (market) power
to change [our] destiny.”3
This exploitation may be explained by the dependency theory,
which states that the terms of trade between center, developed nations, and the periphery,
developing nations, is unbalanced and unfair.4
Immanuel Wallerstein’s center-periphery
, may be applied to analyze this relationship, as the underdeveloped Latin American
coffee smallholders, the periphery, are exporting the raw material of coffee to the developed,
industrialized world, the core, and, the market acts as the means by which the core exploits
the periphery.
Fair trade aims to mitigate this unfair power relationship through its sustainable
In 1981, the Dutch foreign-aid activists founded the world’s first fair trade cooperative,
the Union of Indigenous Communities in the Isthmus Region (UCIRI), in the Oaxaca
region of Mexico, with the objective of fighting the root causes of persistent poverty among
local coffee farmers. They adopted policies aimed at readjusting low coffee prices and reducing
farmers’ heavy debts7
in order to render them more competitive on the world market.
The founders went on to establish the Max Havelaar label, which successfully elevated and
stabilized coffee prices in Oaxaca, Mexico, by eliminating the middleman8
and shortening
the coffee production value chain. The small-scale farmers were able to receive a higher
price: $0.95 per kg of coffee instead of the previous rate of $0.25.9
Certification programs
were founded in order to ensure that ideals and standards of fair Trade are implemented,
which became joined under the umbrella group known as the Fair Trade Labeling Organizations
International (FLO).10
The stakeholders in the fair trade coffee network include producer groups in developing
nations, umbrella organizations, buyers in developed nations, roasters, retailers, and
consumers.11 The intended primary beneficiaries of the fair trade concept are small-scale
producers in developing nations. The main issue that these producers face is the downward
trend of coffee prices in the global market since there is an excess supply over demand for
coffee. During the 1900s, the world’s coffee production has increased at an average annual
rate of 3.6 percent, whereas demand has merely increased by 1.3 percent per year.12 As a
result, coffee smallholders have been unable to cover their production costs and improve
their livelihoods.
FLO states that fair trade standards are designed to support the sustainable development
of small-scale producers and agricultural workers in the poorest countries in the
world.13 Fair trade’s key objectives include ensuring that producers receive prices that cover
their average costs of sustainable production; providing a fair trade premium14; investing in
social, economic, and environmental development projects; enabling prefinancing for producers;
facilitating long-term trading relationships; enhancing producer power over trading
process; and setting clear minimum and progressive criteria to ensure that conditions of the
production and trade of all fair trade certified products are socially, economically fair and
environmentally responsible.15
The following section discusses the extent to which fair trade standards are effectively
implemented in improving the lives of small-scale coffee producers in Latin America—the
core—which supplies 78 percent of the world’s Fair Trade-certified coffee to consumers in
developed nations—the periphery.16
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Smallholders and Fair Trade
In order to fully evaluate the socioeconomic impacts of fair trade coffee on small-scale
producers, this section uses an “asset analysis” based on four assets, or types of capital17:
social, human, financial, and physical capital.18
Human Capital
The analysis on human capital focuses on capacity building, which enhances the
small-scale coffee producers’ understanding, skills, and access to information, knowledge,
and technical training to enable them to perform effectively to sustain and improve their
The coffee cooperative union of Jinotega, Nicaragua, called Soppexcca, provides technical
support to small-scale coffee farmers to achieve capacity building through workshops
and direct personal assistance, which provides an opportunity for them to both adequately
access the fair trade market and obtain a higher price for their coffee, and ensures that
their coffee meets required quality standards.20 Furthermore, the case study has shown that
capacity building of the Jinotega smallholders resulted in an increase of their competitiveness
on the fair trade market.
The development of sustainable and improved livelihoods also includes improvement in
human capital, related to gender equity and the role of rural women in fair trade activities.21
Improvements have been shown through the formation of Soppexcca’s Café de las Mujeres
(“Women’s Coffee”), which has been encouraging an increase in women’s participation in
fair trade coffee production and generating household income.
However, a case study, comparing TransFair USA (TF)22 cooperative participants and
non-participating farmers in three Latin American countries on the socioeconomic indicators
of well-being, education and health outcomes,23 shows varied results. The study’s
path analysis does conclude that TF participation tends to have a positive influence on
current participation in primary education.24 It is difficult to assess the extent to which
fair trade initiatives positively impact the human capital of Latin American smallholders
since numerous factors’ effects must be considered, such individual households’ priorities
and cultural traditions. Nevertheless, capacity building is crucial to encouraging sustainable
development, as it is necessary for smallholders, members of cooperatives, to be able to
operate and make unified decisions regarding how to invest their fair trade premium most
efficiently. Capacity building fosters a fairer balance in power between the fair trade coffee
roasters and retailers in developing nations—the periphery—and the smallholders in Latin
America—the core.
Social Capital
The evaluation of changes in the social capital of small-scale coffee farmers in Latin
America examines the process of empowerment, the social recreation, levels of migration,
and participation and decision making within the cooperative as well as within the
community.25 Soppexcca’s organizational objectives succeeded in opening up spaces for
the empowerment of their members, encouraging Jinotega smallholders to take part in
events and inducing them to feel that they are part of a system that belongs to them,
and establishing closer relations with the general manager of the organization as well as
between buyers and cooperative members.26 The Soppexcca cooperative union has shown
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix D
Appendix D|219
an increase in the engagement of the smallholders in the cooperative’s governance and
decision-making, as it “consists of a general assembly and a board of directors made up of
[small-scale] producer members.”27 Jinotega’s small-scale coffee producers “became part
of a fair trade system, not only in events organized by their cooperative, but also at the
community level.”28 Their interactions with development included involvement in “health
and peace committees, sports activities, parents’ committees at school; and with national or
international development NGOs operating in their regions.”29 Fair trade’s empowerment
objective stresses the importance of allowing smallholders to experience unity and have
their voice count in order to encourage production efficiency and sustainable livelihoods.
However, the efficiency of self-governance of smallholders is debatable. The president of
Soppexcca has alluded to the problem of inefficiency of many cooperatives due to, “high
levels of illiteracy…low educational levels, and the lack of knowledge about how to manage
legal, commercial, organizational, and fair trade requirements,”30 amongst the members and
the board representatives. Furthermore, as a result of a lack of education, there is “a lack of
knowledge about the international coffee market [and fair trade] and the low capacity to
interpret its trend,” 31which inevitably leads to weak international negotiation power in the
supply chain and reduces efficiency of small-scale coffee producers.
A case study on the Guatemalan Loma Linda Community investigates the local dynamics
of the social vision of fair trade32 and addresses the significance of solidarity in
contributing to sustainable livelihoods of smallholder coffee producers. The cooperative
was founded in 1977 by a Spanish Catholic priest, Father Celestino, emphasizing “the
significance of individual rights to livelihood and the importance of employment and
access to land,”33 which challenged the power legacy of local landlords since colonial times.
Furthermore, it banned middlemen and prevented the sale of land and individual commercialization
of products, which permitted producers to legitimize themselves as the
organized embodiment of solidarity relations.34 In the 1980s, the Loma Linda Community
joined the Federation of Coffee Cooperatives of Guatemala (FEDECOCAGUA), which
promoted fair trade practices and economies of scale. However, discontent amongst smallholders
soon arose due to lack of circulation of information and transparency, and queries
on how the fair trade premium funds were distributed to local cooperatives, as they did
not seem to directly reach to local producers, resulting in discontent and political resentment
against FEDECOCAGUA.35 The study reveals the problems that fair trade faces in
ensuring that the fair trade premium trickles down to reach the smallholders and improve
their livelihoods, and how the,“paths to fair trade generate different texts36 in a context in
which people’s life worlds become fractured to embody a diversity of solidarity and fair
trade categories.”37
Moreover, a case study conducted in rural region of Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2004, questions
the sustainability of the fair trade–organic coffee mechanism in regard to the migration
opportunities.38 The study explains that the increased trend in migration of labor in the
Cabeza del Rio community in search of greater opportunities abroad has caused “wages
[to double] in five years…[while] the fixed price of fair trade coffee had not risen in over
ten years.”39 This raises the question of how efficient the FLO and Fair Trade certifiers are
in investigating and ensuring that the fair trade coffee price and premium amount paid to
smallholders adequately meets the minimum living standards of smallholders and provides
poverty alleviation.
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix D
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Financial Capital
An examination of the financial capital40 reveals the contribution fFair trade has had on
raising the living standards of small-scale coffee producers in Latin America.41 In theory,
fair trade provides a stable coffee price and a premium to small-scale producers to effectuate
poverty alleviation. Additionally, it encourages local smallholders to compete in production
of quality coffee. However, it is important to investigate these claims more critically and
question the extent to which the fair trade premium (USD$0.010)42 benefits and alleviates
small-scale producers from poverty.
A study focusing on smallholders in Jinotega, Nicaragua, reveals that one disadvantage
of trading with fair trade organizations is that they use the “open account payment”
method, which does not offer immediate payment for each sack of coffee delivered.43 This
has shown to create the risk that some producers will breach contracts, especially when the
international price of coffee is similar to the fair trade price agreed upon when the contract
was signed, in order to receive their payment immediately.44 This behavior also causes trade
relationships between the smallholders and their cooperatives and the international buyers
to suffer, and weakens the international negotiation power of the coffee smallholders.
Furthermore, the extent to which the fair trade price paid to smallholders is fair is
debatable. Even though the smallholders in Jinotega, Nicaragua, are able to attain a higher
price—“4.5 times [higher] than before they joined the fair trade system”45—for their coffee
through Fair Trade certification, are they the primary beneficiary of the elevated fair trade
Table 146
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix D
Appendix D|221
Figure 147
The following study investigates the fair trade coffee trade between Nicaraguan smallholders
and Finnish consumers, by questioning how efficient fair trade is in redistributing
wealth from consuming countries to producing ones.48 This alludes to the coffee paradox
theory that argues that the global coffee business is creating wealth in the consuming
countries—the core—while smallholder farmers and laborers in developing nations—the
periphery—are exploited and remain in poverty.49 It is questionable whether fair trade
mainly empowers roasters and retailers50 rather than small-scale coffee producers. The study
assesses what percentage of the final retail price paid by consumers in the developing nation,
in this case Finland, actually goes to the small-scale coffee producers in Nicaragua. The
Finnish customs statistics estimate that “the average price paid for all green coffee imported
to Finland in 2006 [was €1.95 per kilogram and]…estimates a transportation and insurance
cost of €0.07 per kilogram of green coffee.”51 Additionally, the study estimates that
approximately 1 percent of the retail price paid by Finnish consumers goes to international
coffee trade stakeholders: export companies or trading houses. Table 1 and Figure 1 provide
evidence that a higher portion, 60 percent, of the final retail price for fair trade coffee goes
to consumer country than the producer country, which receives merely 35 percent. On the
other hand, the purchase of conventional coffee resulted in 50 percent of the retail price
going to the consumer country and 48 percent going to the producer country. The study
explains that retailers’ reason for taking very low margins from their conventional coffee
sales is to attract customers.52 The Finnish retailers or roasters charged significantly higher
margins for fair trade coffee than for conventional coffee, and thus a greater portion of
the premiums paid by fair trade consumers, the ethical donations, remains in Finland, the
consuming nation, rather than being transferred to the Nicaraguan coffee smallholders, as
fair trade initiatives advocate.53 As a result, it may be concluded that fair trade is inefficient
in redistributing the wealth from the developed consuming nations—the periphery—to
the developing nations—the core—as a greater portion of the fair trade retail price remains
in the consuming nation. It is arguable to what extent this claim is valid, as the study
does not mention whether the difference in purchasing power in Nicaragua and Finland is
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that smallholder members of coffee cooperatives
only sell a part of their coffee supply to fair trade markets, since the volatile coffee price
may be periodically higher in mainstream markets than in cooperatives.54 This was the
case during the harvest season of 2005–2006 in Nicaragua during which the Exportadora
Atlantic, SA, paid an average of USD$0.83 per pound of coffee while the Fair Trade certi-
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix D
Appendix D|222
fied cooperative merely paid an average of USD$0.06 more per pound of coffee. Yet, there
were times when the export company offered a higher price.55 It must also be taken into
account that Fair Trade certified cooperatives also deduct a portion from the price sold to
cover operational certification costs, which were 5.5 cents per pound of exported coffee in
2005–200656 and thus don’t receive full the minimum fair trade price for all their produced
Moreover, the French critic Christian Jacquiau’s controversial book, Les coulisses du commerce
equitable, criticizes the effectiveness of fair trade and the Max Havelaar Foundation,
questioning “how much of that money ends up in the pockets of farmers in developing
countries.”57 Jacquiau states, “There are 54 inspectors around the world, working on a parttime
freelance basis to check and control a million producers. These checks do not take
place on the ground but in offices, hotel rooms, or even by fax.”58 He refutes Max Havelaar’s
claim that, “€50 million (SFr79 million) has been distributed among small farmers…
[while] the organization claims to work with a million producers.”59 He states, “Here the
dream falls apart. [Producers] therefore each receive just €50 a year—or €4 a month.”60
Jacquiau’s claims have raised debates as to whether fair trade’s higher prices and standards
are effective in alleviating the poverty of the small-scale coffee producers and encouraging
sustainable livelihoods.
Physical Capital
Finally, the improvement of Latin American small-scale coffee producers’ livelihood
is further assessed by addressing their physical capital. Fair trade and other ethical certifications
aim to facilitate exchange and protect health and safety61 of workers; however,
“developing countries might suffer from structural bottlenecks,”62 to comply with these
standards. These bottlenecks often involve lack of adequate infrastructure, processing technologies,
and national regulatory bodies.63
The case study of Jinotega’s smallholders and community demonstrates weaknesses in
efficiently in investing the premium funds to enhance the local infrastructure. Premium
funds have shown to be used “for disjointed, ad hoc projects [that] may not have optimized
the potential benefit of such funds.”64 Soppexcca’s social project cocoordinator explains
that this is because funds collected from the air trade social premium are insufficient to
consider larger community development work such as improving road infrastructure and
water and electricity services.65 In addition to an insufficient amount of funding, there is
also a limited or even a lack of government support.66 The lack of adequate physical services
such as communication and electricity in most rural communities in Jinotega, Nicaragua,
makes it difficult for smallholders high in the mountains and Soppexcca to communicate,
through the radio or paper leaflets sent by bus.67 The existence of inefficient modes of
communication hinders transparency and open communication between the cooperative
administrations and the small-scale coffee producers in order to ensure efficiency of fair
trade premium–financed projects.
From these case studies, it can be deduced that the fair trade premium is good concept;
however, more thorough investigation by FLO is required to ensure that the amount of fair
trade premium paid to smallholders is sufficient to finance projects to develop the physical
capital and infrastructure of the communities.
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Smallholders and Consumers
Having analyzed the link between Latin American smallholder coffee producers and
fair trade retailers and roasters in light of the dependency theory, this section examines the
link that fair trade constructs between the Latin American small-scale coffee producers and
the consumers in developing nations. The weaknesses of the implementation of fair trade
initiatives revealed in research results have raised the question whether fair trade is merely
a societal marketing68 strategy that promotes ethical/green consumption.69 Fair trade seems
to create a mode of connectivity to strengthen producer–consumer relationships70 by offering
consumers an opportunity to donate to charity at a distance.71
It is debatable whether Alternative Trading Organizations such as FLO are successful in
altering power relationships between producers and consumers or whether they are merely
another profit-making business that promotes consumerism.72 The case study conducted
on the fair trade coffee trade between Finland and Nicaragua provides supporting evidence
to the coffee paradox theory’s claim that the global coffee business is creating wealth in
the consuming countries—the core—while smallholder farmers and laborers in developing
nations—the periphery—are exploited and remain in poverty.73 The study demonstrates
that a greater percentage of the final retail coffee prices actually goes to the consuming
nation instead of the producer nation. The artificial bond created between consumers and
the small-scale coffee producers through societal marketing’s visuals gains the sympathy
of consumers and makes them believe they are being socially responsible citizens by purchasing
ethical products to support the less fortunate smallholder producers.
The coffee commodity is demystified, “as the hidden layers of information are peeled
away to reveal the social and environmental conditions of the commodity’s production,”74
with visual presentations of smallholders and their farms. Yet one must question to what
extent the information provided is accurate. The examination of fair trade product packaging
has revealed that fair trade seems to apply deceptive packaging to attract consumers,
as there are subtle differences in fair trade labeling among the different certifiers, Institute
for Marketecology (IMO) and FLO, that define whether the product is Fair Trade Lite75
certified or Whole Product76 certified. The IMO claims to distinguish the Whole Product
from a Fair Trade Lite product by placing the IMO Fair Trade label for a whole product
on the front of the certified product’s packaging while the Fair Trade Lite label must be
placed on the back. Nevertheless, the FLO labels the Fair Trade Lite and Whole Products
in exactly the same manner, which provides ambiguity of the extent a product is fair trade.
The fair trade product packaging of the Organic Very Dark Chocolate (71% Cacao) bar by
Equal Exchange77 demonstrated inconsistencies in labeling, since the back side states: “By
weight 100% Fair Trade content” and “Fair Trade and Social certified by IMO.” This does
not adhere to IMO’s certification guideline that a Whole Product label must be placed
on the front of the product packaging. This raises the doubt about how efficient the Fair
Trade certifiers are in ensuring that products are labeled correctly and how they collaborate
with fair trade advocates such as Equal Exchange. Additionally, a subtle difference exists
between fair trade membership, which certifies a company’s commitment to fair trade principles,
and Fair Trade certification, which is “certification…of the supply chains of specific
products.”78 The distinction is one that consumers tend to overlook.
Fair trade consumption may be regarded as a means of encouraging altruistic79 behavior,
as the consumer is manipulated to believe that through a simple purchase of a fair trade
product he or she is donating for a greater cause, or “shopping for a better world.”80 Fair
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix D
Appendix D|224
trade products have become “ethical luxury” goods”81 that allow consumers to reflect their
political, socially responsible values in society. Consequentially, ethical/green consumption
seems to act as justification for our overconsumption.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that fair trade’s link between smallholder producers
in Latin America and consumers in the developed nations merely provides a one-way flow
of information. Small-scale farmers often lack the knowledge about the consumers and the
coffee market. A survey interviewing cooperative members on their understanding of fair
trade demonstrated that merely three of fifty-three surveyed members regarded fair trade
as a means of building relationships with foreign consumers or coffee roasters, and that
they primarily viewed fair trade as a market transaction paying slightly higher prices than
conventional coffee markets.82 Ultimately, the strongest, most beneficial link provided by
fair trade seems to be the bond created between the small-scale producers and the roasters,
as cooperative membership has shown to encourage capacity building and provide information
about international coffee market trends. Capacity building plays a crucial role in
enabling small-scale producers to invest their fair trade premiums efficiently to improve
their livelihoods and international negotiating power.
This paper has revealed the benefits and weaknesses of the fair trade concept as a tool of
international development. The in-depth analysis of the link that fair trade constructs between
roasters and retailers in consuming nations and small-scale coffee producers in Latin
America is compared to the link formed between the consumers in developed nations and
the smallholders, through fair trade societal marketing. The research conducted has shown
that, although the fair trade mechanism is a valid method of promoting sustainable development
in developing countries, its implementation in developing nations and marketing
should be more thoroughly refined. This would enhance its efficiency in promoting sustainable
development and enhancing consumer credibility and support. We can conclude that
the most beneficial link, provided by the fair trade mechanism, is the direct relationship link
it creates between the small-scale producers and the roasters. Cooperative membership has
shown improvements in the capacity of the smallholder’s human capital, which is vital to
achieving sustainable development and improving the international negotiation power of
the smallholders on the coffee market.
1. There is an important difference between the terms free trade and fair trade. Free trade is defined
as the general openness to exchange goods and information between and among nations with
few-to-no barriers-to-trade, whereas fair trade refers to exchanges, the terms of which meet the
demands of justice. ( Jeffrey Eisenberg, “Free Trade vs. Fair Trade,” Global Envision, October 26,
2. Ibid., 453.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix D
Appendix D|225
5. Wallerstein’s model applies “a zero-sum game analysis of international trade… This model
characterized the world system as a set of mechanisms which redistributes resources from the
periphery to the core.” (Mine Aysen Doyran, “Latin America,” 2010: 8).
6. Ibid.
7. Jan Van der Kaaj, “Building a Sustainable Profitable Business: Fair Trade Coffee (A),” International
Institute for Management Development, 2003, 2.
8. The “middleman” refers to local traders who monopolized the market. (Taken from Van der Kaaj,
“Building a Sustainable Profitable Business (A),” 3.
9. Ibid.
10. Eric J. Arnould, Alejandro Plastina, and Dwayne Ball, “Does Fair Trade Deliver on Its Core
Value Proposition? Effects on Income, Educational Attainment, and Health in Three Countries,”
Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 28, no. 2 (2009): 187.
11. Sarah Lyon, “Evaluating Fair Trade Consumption: Politics, Defetishization and Producer
Participation,” International Journal of Consumer Studies, 30, no. 5 (2006): 453.
12. Jan Van der Kaaj, “Building a Sustainable Profitable Business: Fair Trade Coffee (C),” International
Institute for Management Development, 2003, 6
13. “Aims of Fairtrade Standards, 2010,” Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International, December
5, 2010,
14. “A Fairtrade Premium of US$ 20 cents per pound is added to the purchase price and is used by
producer organizations for social and economic investments at the community and organizational
level” (“Benefits of fair trade for producers,”
15. Ibid.
16. Of the 78 percent of Latin American fair trade coffee, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Colombia,
and Nicaragua are the largest exporters. ( Joni Valkila, Perti Haparanta, and Nina Niemi, “Empowering
Coffee Traders? The Coffee Value Chain from Nicaraguan Fair Trade Farmers to Finnish
Consumers,” Journal of Business Ethics, 97 (2010): 257).
17. “In classical economics, capital is one of three factors of production, the others being land and
labour. Goods with the following features are capital: It can be used in the production of other
goods (this is what makes it a factor of production). It is human-made, in contrast to “land,” which
refers to naturally occurring resources such as geographical locations and minerals. It is not used
up immediately in the process of production, unlike raw materials or intermediate goods.” (http://, accessed 2010
18. Karla Utting, “Assessing the Impact of Fair Trade Coffee: Towards an Integrative Framework.”
Journal of Business Ethics, 86 (2009): 129.
19. Ibid., 136.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. TF is “a third-party certifier [who] audits the supply chains of specific products from point of
origin to point-of-sale against fair trade criteria…” ( “Reference Guide to Fair Trade Certifiers
and Membership Organizations,” For a Better World: Issues & Challenges in Fair Trade, Issue 1, Fall
23. Eric J. Arnould, Alejandro Plastina, and Dwayne Ball, “Does Fair Trade Deliver on Its
Core Value Proposition? Effects on Income, Educational Attainment, and Health in Three
Countries,”Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 28, no. 2 (2009): 186.
24. Ibid.,198.
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix D
Appendix D|226
25. Utting, “Assessing the Impact,” 136.
26. Ibid., 137.
27. Ibid., 140.
28. Ibid., 137.
29. Ibid., 137.
30. Ibid., 140.
31. Ibid.
32. Alberto Arce, “Living in Times of Solidarity Fair Trade and the Fractured Life Worlds of
Guatemalan Coffee Farmers, ” Journal of International Development, 21(2009): 1033.
33. Ibid., 1033–34.
34. Ibid., 1034.
35. Ibid.
36. “The term text ‘refers not to script alone, but any articulation of intelligibility, that is to say, of
being’ (Michael Schatzki, Site of the Social: A Philosophical Account of the Constitution of Social Life
and Change, Penn State Press, 2010, p.61.) Text is used here to encompass narratives, discourses,
and speech-acts as languages of performance, weaving distinctions from differences in peoples’
diverse interpretations that constitute the fabric of solidarity and fair trade. This refers to the
etymological root of the three meaning of the term ‘text’: generate, hit, and prepare, orienting the
performance of networks and socially expressing different kinds of solidarity and the tasks involved
in the coordination of fair trade and its involvement within social life.” (Arce, “Living in Times of
Solidarity,” 1037, note 9.)
37. Ibid., 1036-7.
38. Jessica Lewis and David Runsten, “Is Fair Trade-Organic Coffee Sustainable in the Face of
Migration? Evidence from an Oaxacan Community,” Globalizations, 5, no. 2 (2008): 275.
39. Ibid., 287.
40. Examining “financial capital” refers to the “financial resources used to support livelihood and
[examine] how fair trade producers’ financial assets have changed over time.” (Utting, “Assessing
the Impact,” 138).
41. Ibid., 138.
42. “Coffee: Benefits of Fair Trade for Producers,” Fair Trade Labeling Organization, 2010, http://
43. In this method, “buyers pay upon delivery of supply of coffee, which may take up to…four
months”. Utting, “Assessing the Impact,” 139.
44. Utting, “Assessing the Impact,” 139.
45. Ibid.
46. Ibid., 266.
47. Joni Valkila, Perti Haparanta, and Nina Niemi, “Empowering Coffee Traders? The Coffee
Value Chain from Nicaraguan Fair Trade Farmers to Finnish Consumers,” Journal of Business
Ethics, 97 (2010): 266.
48. Ibid., 257.
49. Ibid., 259.
50. Ibid., 257.
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix D
Appendix D|227
51. Ibid., 265.
52. Ibid., 266.
53. Ibid.
54. Ibid., 263.
55 Ibid.
56. Ibid., 264.
57. Ian Hamel, “Fair Trade Firm Accused of Foul Play,” Swiss Info, August 3, 2006, http://www.
58. Ibid.
59. Ibid.
60. Ibid.
61. Joseph E. Stiglitz and Andrew Charlton, Fair Trade for All (New York: Oxford University Press
Inc., 2005), 211.
62. Ibid., 211.
63. Ibid., 212.
64. Utting, “Assessing the Impact,” 138.
65. Ibid.
66. Ibid.
67. Ibid.
68. “Societal marketing emphasizes several aspects of responsible marketing, beyond simply
focusing on the process of maximizing consumer purchasing. Societal marketing extends ahead
of the company’s needs and seeks to meet the customer’s needs and societal needs. This allows for
more sustainable success rather than short-term accomplishment.” ( J. R. Ericson, “About Societal
Marketing,” eHow, Accessed
69. Ethical consumerism or green consumption is defined as the consumption trend that reflects
an increased concern and feeling of responsibility for society, which has led to remarkable growth
in the global market for environment-friendly products. (Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong,
“Do Green Products Make Us Better People?” Psychological Science, 21, no. 4 (August 27, 2009):
494–498. )
70. Lyon, “Evaluating Fair Trade Consumption,” 457.
71. Ibid.
72. Arnould, Plastina, and Ball, “Does Fair Trade Deliver?” 199.
73. Ibid., 259.
74. Lyon, “Evaluating Fair Trade Consumption,” 457.
75. A Fair Trade Lite product is afair trade product that contains 20% minimum fair trade content,
“made with single/some Fair frade ingredients.” ( Nasser Abufahra, “How Do you Know It’s Really
Fair Trade?” For a Better World: Issues & Challenges in Fair Trade, 1(Fall 2009): 6.)
76. There is a “50% [fair trade] content minimum for ‘whole product’ [Fair Trade] certification…”(Abufahra,
“How Do you Know?” 6).
77. “Equal Exchange is a for-profit Fairtrade worker-owned, cooperative headquartered in West
Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Equal Exchange distributes organic, gourmet coffee, tea, sugar, cocoa,
Good Corporation, Bad Corporation Appendix D
Appendix D|228
and chocolate bars produced by farmer cooperatives in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Founded
in 1986, it is the oldest and largest Fair Trade coffee company in the United States.” “Equal
Exchange: About Our Co-Op” Equal Exchange, Inc.Accessed 2010. http://www.equalexchange.
78. “Reference Guide to Fair Trade Certifiers,” 4.
79. Altruism is a helping behavior that is motivated by a selfless concern for the welfare of another
person. (
80. Ibid.
81. Valkila, Haparanta, and Niemi. “Empowering Coffee Traders?” 259.
82. Lyon, “Evaluating Fair Trade Consumption,” 458.

“A Theory of Literate Action makes a significant contribution to the field and enriches
and deepens our perspectives on writing by drawing together such varied
and wide-ranging approaches from social theory and the social sciences—from
psychology, to phenomenology, to pragmatics—and demonstrating their relevance
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Rhetoric and Composition, the impact of social theory and social sciences on rhetorical
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approaches been gathered together in one comprehensive text, to my knowledge.”
— Mary Jo Reiff
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processes and motive/emotion relate to genre; the historical insights; all
up and down, macro micro meso. This work leads in so many productive directions.
I’ve taken pages of notes.”
— David R. Russell
Charles Bazerman, Professor of Education at the University of California,
Santa Barbara, is the author of numerous research articles and books on the
social role of writing, academic genres, and textual analysis, as well as textbooks
on the teaching of writing.
Perspectives on Writing
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Introduction 3
Chapter 1. The Symbolic Animal and the Cultural Transformation of
Writing as Learned Activity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7
Activity, Work, and Transformation of Consciousness . . . . . . . . . . . .9
Biological and Cultural Evolution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13
The Transformed and Extended Here and Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14
Non-Symbolic and Symbolic Cognition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
Language as Situated, Embodied Utterance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19
Language, Literacy, and Cognitive Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
Chapter 2. Symbolic Selves in Society: Vygotsky on Language and
Formation of the Social Mind 25
Linguistic Structure and Literary Affect: Vygotsky’s Catharsis . . . . .26
Goals, Obstacles, and Empowerment: Vygotsky’s Adler . . . . . . . . .28
Cognitive Tools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30
Second Order Symbol Systems and Consciousness Development . .34
Interaction and Self-Regulation: Influencing Others and Influencing
the Self . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36
Places of Play, Self-Articulation, and Development . . . . . . . . . . . . .39
Chapter 3. Active Social Symbolic Selves: Vygotskian Traditions 43
Activity, Object, Affect, and Social System: Leont’ev . . . . . . . . . . . .44
Complex Activity Systems: Engeström . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .47
Written Genres in Activity Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .52
Reflectivity in Individual and Group Writing Activity . . . . . . . . . . .55
Meaning, Consciousness, and Activity: Luria . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .56
Chapter 4. Active Social Symbolic Selves: The Phenomenological
Sociology Tradition 65
Schutz, the Problems of Economic Behavior, and a Unified Social
Science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .66
Schutz’s Typification . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .68
The Typified Internal and External, and the Falling Away of the
Untypifiable . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .71
Relevance in Consciousness and Externalized Mediations . . . . . . . .72
The Natural Attitude and the Pull of Typified Consciousness . . . . .73
Critiques of Social Construction and Ways Out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .76
Typification, Novelty, and Particularized Meanings . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
Typification and Particularity: Appreciating the Music of Life . . . . . 79
Schutz, Berger, and Luckman and the Social Production of the
Everyday . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
Chapter 5. Active Social Symbolic Selves: The Pragmatic Tradition within
American Social Science 85
Philosophic Pragmatism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86
Pragmatism as a Perspective for Social Understanding
and Action . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
The Differences and Commonalities of Early Pragmatisms . . . . . . . 88
Peirce’s Semiotics with Interpretation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
James’s Psychology of Experience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
Dewey’s Thinking about Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
Dewey’s Learning through Active Experience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
The Problem of Living with Others: Mead . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
Mead in Relation to Other Traditions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
Mead, Chicago Sociology, and Symbolic Interactionism . . . . . . . . . 97
Legal Institutions and Legal Practice as Experiment: Holmes . . . . . 98
Pragmatic Influences on Sapir and Linguistic Anthropology . . . . . 100
Sullivan’s Pragmatic Interpersonal Psychiatry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102
Language and Writing as Interpersonal and Self-Forming . . . . . . . 104
Chapter 6. Social Order: Structural and Structurational Sociology 107
Merton’s Social Structure through Individual Choice-Making . . . . 107
The Mechanisms of Choice Making within Opportunity
Structures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
Terms for an Agentive Structural Sociology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
Merton’s Relation to Structurationist Accounts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
The Relevance of Meso-Phenomena and Theories of the Middle Range
for Rhetoric and Writing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
Chapter 7. From the Interaction Order to Shared Meanings 121
The Interaction Order . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
Proximate Interactional Orders and Distant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 124
Fragility of Written Interaction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125
The Invisibility of Fragility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
Creating Alignment and Readability in Writing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
The Interactional Potential and Challenges of Evoking Novel
Meanings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Chapter 8. Linguistic Orders 135
The Importance of the Orderliness of Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
Creating Orderliness of Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
Keeping Language Orderly: Housekeeping and Prescription . . . . . 140
Learning Transcription . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
Words and Lexical Orders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144
Syntax and Grammar, Ordering Word Relations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146
The Educational Uses of Rules . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 148
Chapter 9. Utterances and Their Meanings 151
Volosinov and His Circle’s Proposal for an UtteranceBased
Linguistics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
Utterance to Speech Act . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
Social Facts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156
Meaning in the Situated Speech Act World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158
Meaning from an Utterance Perspective . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160
Sense-Making in Everyday Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162
The Sense-Making Difficulties of Literate Interaction . . . . . . . . . . 164
Socialization into Literate Worlds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165
Chapter 10. The World in the Text: Indexed and Created 169
Locutionary Acts, Ideational Functions, Chronotopes . . . . . . . . . 170
Genred Ontologies and the Work of Expanding the
Worldview of the Genre . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
Epistemology, Accountability, and Trust . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173
Scientific Epistemologies, Methods, and Visible Phenomena . . . . . 174
Pointing at Other Texts: Intertextuality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176
The Intertext as a Resource and a Contended Topic . . . . . . . . . . . 177
Intertextuality and Socially-Formed Consciousness . . . . . . . . . . . . 178
Intertextuality and Individuation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
Reasoning and Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
Trust and Prior Belief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185
The Insubstantial Pageants of Meaning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187
Chapter 11. The Writer on the Spot and on the Line 191
The Problems of Spread of Shared Understandings and Action . . . 192
Literacy and the Organization of Society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193
The Challenges of Learning to Write . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195
References 199


Aristotle set the terms for rhetoric over 2500 years ago. Classical rhetoric
established a powerful, useful, and enduring set of concepts for producing and
critically evaluating persuasive statements in the public sphere. Its concepts
provide means of reflective understanding and choice-making relevant for the
class of language productions it arose from—namely high stakes, public, oral
performances on matters of deliberative and judicial governance and occasions
of commitment to state enterprises. As a consequence of the success of the
institutions it reflected on, modern institutions of governance have tended to
rely on and replicate the forms of citizenship embodied in classical rhetoric,
thereby giving enduring relevance to rhetorical categories.
Yet the world imagined by rhetoric is far from the whole social and
communicative world. Even in ancient Greece and Rome, the same agora where
rhetoric was established contained discursive worlds of sales and contracts. And
when rhetors went home, they engaged in a variety of familial and intimate
discourses. All of these would have gained from a reflective understanding and
informed choice making, but they were not the subject of rhetorical theorizing.
Furthermore, institutions and forms of social participation have expanded
greatly in the last two millennia, in large part fostered by the affordances of
literacy. The presence of literacy over the last five thousand years has given rise
to many new genres, has transformed social life, and has given rise to new forms
of social organization dependent on writing as a communicative infrastructure,
a repository of knowledge, and as a collection or recorded commitments.
Academic work, scientific disciplines, and government bureaucracies are held
together by the reading and writing of texts. Only a small part of these texts could
conveniently be labeled as persuasive in any traditional sense. Even law (which
in the courtroom can be seen as paradigmatic of rhetoric) now is much a matter
of libraries, filings, briefs, and case files as it is of dramatic courtroom oratory.
At the end of chapter one of the companion volume, A Rhetoric of Literate
Action, I rapidly reviewed the history of rhetorical theory’s attempts to address
the problematics of writing and produce a workable rhetoric to guide us in
navigating the literate world. I concluded there that we still have yet to reconceive
rhetoric fundamentally around the problems of written communication rather
than around rhetoric’s founding concerns of high stakes, agonistic, oral public
A further reason to rethink rhetoric is the emergence of social science over
the past century, to provide us new understandings of individuals and societies,
and how individuals interact and participate in societies. The social sciences
now provide strong tools to reconceive what it is we accomplish through writing
and how we go about accomplishing it. In this volume I explicitly present
the conceptual grounds for the theory I propose in terms of major schools of
contemporary social scientific thought. Most basically, I draw on sociocultural
psychology, phenomenological sociology, and the pragmatic tradition of social
science. Based on an account of human sociality and communication that arises
at the intersection of these, I consider the kinds of orders embodied in texts and
on which texts rely—social, linguistic, textual, and psychological. I particularly
attend to the problem of communication across time and space among humans
who biologically evolved social and communicative capacities in face-to-face
activities. With the emergence of literacy as part of human cultural evolution,
new kinds of relations and activities formed that have created structures of
participation in larger and more distant organizations, relying on accumulating
knowledge and mediated through genre-shaped texts. It is for these activity
contexts that individuals must produce texts, mobilizing the resources of
language, and it is within these contexts that the texts will have their effect.
Near the end of the book, at the end of Chapter 10, I summarize the theoretical
path traveled in the book in a way that can also serve to guide us on the way:
1. developmental theories of self and consciousness arising in social interaction
saturated with language in order for social creatures to seek life
needs and satisfactions;
2. phenomenological sociology, which finds the emergent order of everyday
social activity resting on processes of typification and recognizability;
3. pragmatic theories of self and society, seeing self, society, institutions,
language, and meaning constantly being transformed to meet human
4. structurational sociology, which sees larger structuring of events and relations
emerging interactionally from the local actions and attributions
of participants;
5. anthropological and psychological studies of discourse practices as situated,
distributed, and mediated;
6. speech act theory, which sees utterances going beyond conveying meaning
to making things happen in the social world;
7. theories of discourse as dialogic, situated, and heteroglossic; and
8. a rhetoric oriented to content, purpose, and situation as well as form
and style.
While this theory may make some conceptual breaks with the rhetorical
tradition in its focus on the problematics of writing and its grounding in
contemporary social science, I still draw on many of the founding concepts of
A Theory of Literate Action
rhetoric, which are discussed throughout both volumes. More importantly, I
maintain a commitment to the practical rhetorical project of providing tools
for reflective, strategic use of language. I hope that others will entertain the
new concepts offered here as within the rhetorical tradition, but providing a
new direction for the way forward as we begin to address the practical needs of
composing communications in new media. To do that, however, we must first
come to terms with the world of writing which has become infrastructural for
modern society, even as modern society is venturing into new digital ways of
I have been working on these two volumes in one form or another for a
quarter-century, with two early promissory notes sketching early versions of the
theory and the need for it (Bazerman 1994a, 2000a). It has been a struggle to
tell the theory of these two volumes clearly while still respecting the complexity
of writing. To accomplish this, I have made some choices. In order to maintain
focus on the underpinnings of the theory proposed, I have not engaged with a
full discussion of the rhetorical tradition, but rather have used concepts from
the tradition as they are usefully integrated into the theory I propose. Similarly,
while there has been extensive contemporary research in writing studies, I have
cited such research only insofar as it aids the exposition of the theory, even
though much research could be cited in empirical support. I have discussed
these findings extensively in my other publications and have aided their
dissemination in numerous sites, including the Handbook of Research on Writing
(Bazerman, 2008) and several book series I have edited.
This and the companion volume can be read separately. While there is,
I hope, consistency across the exposition of practical considerations in the
Rhetoric of Literate Action and the theoretical exposition of this Theory of Literate
Action, there is no one-to-one correspondence of the chapters, as each book
follows its own logic. Nonetheless, some core concepts of the former volume
do have fuller expositions in specific chapters of this volume. The issues of
spatial and temporal location raised in chapters two and three of the Rhetoric
and motivated social action in chapters five and six of the Rhetoric are examined
extensively throughout the first seven chapters of this volume, as I present the
location and situated action choices within communication at a distance as the
fundamental problems of writing. Genre, which helps solve these problems,
appears throughout both volumes but has its most explicit treatment in
Chapters 2 and 8 of the Rhetoric and Chapters 3, 4, and 10 in this volume. The
role and nature of intertextuality discussed in Chapters 4 and 9 of the Rhetoric
are the topic of Chapter 10 here. The problem of representation of meaning in
Chapter 9 of the Rhetoric, here is addressed in Chapters 9 and 10. The temporal
experience of texts discussed in Chapter 10 of the Rhetoric is here theorized in
Chapter 10. Style presented in Chapter 11 of the Rhetoric is examined from the
linguistic perspective in Chapter 8 here. The issues of writing processes and the
accompanying emotional and cognitive issues considered in Chapters 10 and
12 of the rhetoric receive theoretical treatment here in Chapters 2, 4, 5, and 11.
As with the companion volume, I am deeply grateful to the many, many
people over the years I have learned from, shared ideas with, and worked with
as I struggled to make sense of the complexities of writing. Most recently,
for their thoughtful reviewing of the latter stages of this manuscript, I thank
Anis Bawarshi, Joshua Compton, Christiane Donahue, David Russell, Sandra
Thompson, and the anonymous reviewers of the WAC Clearinghouse. Finally, I
could not have come to these thoughts on writing without the good fortune of
having met a partner over forty years ago who shares the passion and adventure
of writing, Shirley Geoklin Lim.
Writing, as all life is, is activity. When writing, humans are doing things,
purposeful things, things that transform themselves, their relation to each
other, and their relations to the material world. The reason for inquiring into
writing is to understand what we are doing, to learn how to do it, to learn to
do it better—and to help others do, learn, understand. Writing is a skilled,
invented, learned, historically emerged sociocultural activity—not instinctual,
not programmed directly into genes and stimuli-released hormones. Homo
sapiens emerged perhaps 200,000 years ago with strong social orientations from
prior species and with newly emerged language capacities. About 5000 years ago
(Schmandt-Besserat, 1996), however, we found new ways to enact our social
and language capacity within a new symbolic environment for us to attend to—
fostering new skills and capacities to meet new challenges and opportunities.
By participating in and through this new symbolic environment we have been
able to transform our meanings, relations, identities, and activities. While there
are strong arguments to suggest that our general language capacity biologically
evolved in dialectic with the development of our means and practices of
language and social interaction—that is, nature and culture co-evolved—the
introduction of writing has been so recent and its general spread to the great
majority of humans only within the last few centuries, that there is no reason to
believe that there has been any biological adaptation to favor writing. Writing
relies on biological machinery thoroughly in place before literacy, assembled
for non-literate purposes—such as our visual discrimination, our hands able
to manipulate fine objects, and engage in small operations, and our capacities
to use language and other symbols (See Deacon, 1997; Donald, 1991). Since
written language is apparently a sociocultural evolution without the benefit of
any specific biological evolution selecting for skill in writing, any biological
variation in the way we participate in written language, would depend on
variation that is not specific to written language, such as variations in eyesight
Chapter 1 The Symbolic Animal
or general processing capacities in the pre-frontal cortex, or abilities to imagine
and respond to non-present situations.
Writing from its beginnings relied on human invention, an invention that
we constantly extend and elaborate, that we learn to do new things with and
work with more deeply. Writing is an invention we are still learning to exploit,
learning to carry out new activities with. Likewise, any rhetorical theory of
writing is a new invention, a means of reflective understanding of the choices
to be made in order to extend our abilities to use writing. A rhetorical theory
of writing is a bootstrap to do and see more, a way of acting at different levels,
incorporating new considerations.
Inventions occur in the course of humans trying to do things—such
things as coordinate life in a society, improve agriculture, extend and exercise
authority, keep track of property and property transfers, inform others of the
great deeds of leaders and forebears, enlist cooperation with the authority of
leaders, encourage particular values and attitudes, keep each other amused
and cheered, or provide services for which others would provide goods in
return. Every time writing has been used and therefore developed through
expanding uses, it had functional use within an activity. Even play, which
seems so separate from the goal-directed activities of life, enacts human desires
and frustrations and explores behaviors, meanings, skills, and tools that seem
effective in the lives of others and might become effective in some imagined
life of the people at play. Play activities are what they are because of their
relation to the more directly goal-bound activities of life. So just as every
manifestation of language is an instance of situated language use, so every
manifestation of writing is an instance of use of writing by some individuals
in some place for some purpose.
Setting about the act of writing requires high focus, intention, and motivation.
Even at the physical level, gathering the materials for writing, placing ourselves
in a physical environment that makes writing possible, focusing our visual
attention on small sign and manipulating our writing tools with fine motor
skills require preparation and long skill development. All these preparations
require intentionality even when we use convenient electronic devices that we
can operate in almost any environment. In the past, when we actually had to
buy paper or even prepare parchment, fill our pens, locate a desk apart from
the winds of the fields, and form legible characters, the barriers of material
and skill preparation were even higher. Material considerations aside, cognitive
intention must be high to compose messages to those not physically present, to
anticipate difficulties, to organize extended statements, to gather thoughts and
facts, to build coherence, and to face the risks making our messages available
to be examined later by others. These are not faced lightly and we must have
A Theory of Literate Action
strong purposes to motivate us to such inconvenience, physical and mental
effort, and risk.
Therefore, a theory of writing must also be founded on a theory of activity,
but it must also distinguish itself as a particular form of action, realizing its
action in particular ways. I will present writing as a form of mediated, learned
activity that carries out social activity at a distance. Writing works through
cognitive means that align writer and reader to common perceived locations
of symbolic interchange and then carry out specific interactions within that
space. In that space the writer offers temporally and spatially organized
representations, transformations, and acts in an attempt to influence the
cognitive state, disposition, and mental organization of the readers, but which
the readers attend, to interpret, evaluate, respond to, use, forget, or remember
from their own positions, situations, and interests.
It is in the art of rhetorical writing for the writer to increase the influence or
effect of the sort the writer desires on readers. It is in the art of rhetorical reading
for each reader to locate, interpret, and evaluate what is being offered from the
positions, interests and understanding of the reader, for the reader’s purposes.
The interchange mediated by writing is complex, potentially making available a
cognitive meeting ground in shared representations that is nonetheless entangled
with individual differences of location, situation, interests, material conditions,
material engagements, knowledge, beliefs, commitments, skills, and motives.
Writing—the making of texts—is a form of work aimed at transforming the
thought and behavior of others, and thus coordinating relations in the material
world, through inscribed language, transmittable through time and space.
The theory here is grounded in Marx’s view of work as transformative
of nature, including the nature of humans. Culture, in turn, consists of the
accumulated tools and mediational artifacts we employ in our labor (See
Fromm, 1961). Work does not consist only in the reductionist sense of paid
work and the accumulation of cash value, a very particular and local historical
means of organization of labor. Rather work comprises all we do to make
our lives together as social and material creatures in our social and material
circumstances. This labor of transforming the conditions of our life in accord
with our desires, aspirations, and imagined possibilities, is itself a product of
our consciousnesses that arise out of our orientation to our material and social
conditions. Our consciousness is directed toward achieving our objects or goals;
Chapter 1 The Symbolic Animal
that is, those transformations that we strive for. Our consciousnesses are part
of the activity of living and are action directed. Marx, following Hegel but
in his own way, presents human consciousness as historically changing, thus
giving meaning to the project of phenomenology. Marx sees the history of
consciousness tied to our changing forms of labor—that is, the ways in which
we transform nature to make it our own, and make it knowable to humans and
part of human life.
Rhetoric and writing are deeply implicated in the formation, orientation,
and activities of our consciousnesses—as we form much of consciousness
through our participation with others through language, and we learn to make
meaning (that is states of consciousness in ourselves and others) through these
culturally developed mediational tools.1
Through language we learn to influence
others’ consciousnesses, make sense of the consciousnesses around us, and gain
tools for the development of our own minds or consciousness. With literacy
we have more extended, contemplative, and potentially eclectic resources
for the formation of consciousness. Just as we make up our minds in talking
through our impulses and ideas, we make up even more elaborate states of mind
through the writing of extended texts that also potentially influence the states
of consciousness of others, insofar as they attend to those texts as part of some
activity of their own, an activity that may be part of a conjoint project with us.
Because we transform our world and ourselves through our labor, and the
labor of language is particularly transformative of our consciousnesses and
interactions, language work is essential to what we have become as a species
and as individuals. Further literate interactions facilitate more sustained
engagement of consciousness, are a major means of aggregating and making
accessible the historical products of cultural evolution, and are also implicated
1. Marxian critical analysis of language is most often directed at false consciousness, where
individuals are interpellated into ideologies serving the interests of others, leaving no room for
agency (Althusser, 1970). These forms of critical rhetorical analysis typically consider such issues
as the power to control discourse, the interests served by various ideological structures, silencing,
and other means of enlisting and coercing people into discursive formations not of their
own making and not of their own interests, so as to be deprived of their own linguistic instruments
of self-making (Derrida, 1981; Foucault, 1970). Marx however had an agentive view of
individuals working within available circumstance and of forming ideals and objects and goals
within and from their circumstances, so constantly inventing/creating an ideological sphere of
their own making, not necessarily false except insofar as they have been alienated from their own
true interests, desires, and concerns. Without alienation language can be seen as a realization of
human potential, a realization of ways of being. A Marxian rhetorical analysis of non-alienated
language would be phenomenological and ideational, considering the situated forms of self and
social realization made possible within circumstances and available linguistic tools. These forms
of expression have the potential to serve as fulfillments of the individual and group’s impulses
towards self-expression and actualization, as Volosinov began to sketch out (1973).
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in the formation of complex modern human institutions which change our
relations and attentions and goals. Consequently, any rhetoric and theory of
literacy need to be attuned to the history of consciousness and the history of
social organization and interaction. Each literate interaction is embedded within
particular moments in the changing possibilities of human consciousness and
Although Marx is generally recognized as the primary vehicle of historically
evolving consciousness seated in material conditions, and therefore this stance
towards language and consciousness is generally associated with socialist political
positions, the same perspective was equally present in the founding of western
democratic capitalist thought. Adam Smith expressed a similar thought almost a
century earlier, when he noted that the knowledge and experience of each person
was shaped by the conditions of work (Smith, 1976, 1978). Smith further notes
the modes of thought available to each was conditioned by that experience, and
further this was differentiated and organized socially and economically through
the division of labor and formation of classes. Smith’s observation grew out of
Locke and Hume’s recognition of the individuality of formation of mind out of
each person’s history of experiences that underlay the set of associations. Smith,
as a rhetorician and social theorist, was early on concerned with the difficulty
of communication given that we had such individuality of experience and
association; he then took that recognition of variety as a resource in building
understanding. Only by sympathetic reconstruction of the position of the
other and understanding of their situated state of mind could one begin to be
persuasive to others (see his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, Smith, 1983),
understand human reasoning and knowledge (see his History of Astronomy,
Smith, 1980), or begin to act responsibly and morally with relation to others
(see his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith, 1986).
Smith, along with the other Scottish moralists sees the ground of morality
as seeing ourselves as others would see us (as his contemporary Scot Robert
Burns put it), even though there are limits to how much anyone could put
oneself in another’s positions, so that ultimately we are thrown back on our
own reconstruction of how others might see it if they knew all that we knew
and saw it from our position. Yet it is the generally available patterns of
experience that at least provide a beginning of understanding of the range of
experiences and positions likely—and thus class, trade, social group, and other
large forms of social and economic order can tell us much about the range of
experience, thought, and position of individuals in a society. More particular
understandings of individuals then grow out of the particulars of their lives.
Thus we understand, as best we can and within limits of knowability, each
other’s minds as historically located within life interests and conditions. This
Chapter 1 The Symbolic Animal
is the beginning of communication, social order, and production of humanly
useful knowledge. By becoming reflexively aware of these operations of society,
Smith argues, we can philosophically order and make improvements on human
arrangements. In all these perspectives he is very close to Marx, and together
they point to a historical understanding of consciousness constantly emerging
in the changing conditions and arrangements of life and the forms of work
by which we attempt to meet the necessities of and improve our lives. (See
Bazerman, 1993b for a more detailed analysis of Smith’s understanding of
language and rhetoric).
The rhetorical need to understand ourselves and others to communicate and
cooperate locates the consciousness formed by reading and writing even more
within social and historical circumstances. Each text comes from a moment in
cultural and social history—a history of interactions in pursuit of human life as
it is then currently organized, as conceived through the forms of consciousness
of writers and readers in their moments. These forms of consciousness are
expressed in and through the forms and typifications of language as used
in realizable projects in those historical circumstances. Similarly, each
utterance is located within the history of each person’s life, within located
activities within that life, and it is received by equally situated people. For
people’s consciousnesses to meet over meaning, therefore, some recognizable
mediational place must be established in which minds may find a common
ground, across time and space. People, to paraphrase Marx (1963), make their
own utterances but not in linguistic, historical, and material circumstances of
their own making. However, through linguistic invention they are able to create
new communicative circumstances at some levels of remove or abstraction or
extension from their current immediate circumstances, thereby transforming
their own immediate sense of place, sublating or transforming it to be viewed
and communicated with from some more idea-lized position. They are also
able, therefore, to form new social relations through the mediation of language.
As we will explore throughout this work, literate use of language provides more
extensive tools for the transformation of circumstances and the institutions that
develop on the bases of these texts. Literate use of language also provides greater
opportunities for contemplative and reflective understanding of our utterances
and more extensive possibilities for the elaboration of consciousness, as well
as for the material circulation and persistence of texts.2
Thus, the history of
2. The themes of literacy supporting reflection, elaboration, and durability were initially
explored by the first generation of theorists of literacy and orality, including Goody (1977),
Havelock (1981) and Ong (1982). More technologically determinist versions of this argument
have been criticized as “the autonomous model of literacy” by Street (1985), on the grounds
that different societies use literacy in different ways, no particular consequence is pre-
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literacy and sites of literate interaction are an important part of the history of
consciousness and therefore the transformative work of making human life.
But before considering the transformations of human life and the creation
of new locales and situations of interaction accomplished through writing, it is
worth examining more deeply the early biological and cultural transformations
that were part of developing the language capacity.
The view of the effects of language use and literacy presented in this chapter
is evolutionary and follows in a Darwinian mode, but sees cultural evolution
as an extension of and intertwined with biological evolution. It is only because
of the social and cultural nature of humans, the possibility of which is a result
of biological evolution, that cultural evolution is possible. Human learning and
symbol making allow us to transform our experience of nature and create novel
relations to both nature and each other. Learning, symbols, and consciousness
also allow the transformation of goals and activity, so that we pursue novel
ends (not directly determined by our biological inheritance though indirectly
supported by our inherited biologic capacities) with respect to nature and
each other, thereby further transforming culture, society, and nature. Finally
our ability to create artifacts and employ them as part of our transformative
work with each other gives a robustness to cultural evolution and an elaborative
complexity to our learning, as each generation grows up into changed material
conditions incorporating the new artifacts of the prior generation and the
changed social and material practices and relations employing those artifacts.
Language and literacy are major elements in this cultural evolution creating
artifacts of great power to change consciousness, social relations, and material
Cole (1996), Deacon (1997), and Donald (1991) among others have
integrated the literatures of psychology, neural and brain science, anthropology,
paleontology, archeology, and biological evolution, to create accounts of the
intertwining of biological and cultural evolution. Their accounts suggest that
not only did biological evolution set the conditions for cultural evolution but is
determined, and many of the functions attributed to literacy can and are carried out in oral
cultures. Nonetheless, not all versions of the transformations of literacy argument require
determinism, uniform uptake, or absolute divides. Rather, the needs, desires, and opportunities
of societies shape how they will see and use the potential affordances of writing to facilitate
and extend prior functions, eventually to establish new modes of social organization and new
potentialities of meaning.
Chapter 1 The Symbolic Animal
intertwined with it, as earlier forms of sociality and culture proved biologically
advantageous setting the stage for primates to become biologically equipped for
increasingly complex social interaction and cultural production, in a spiral of
cultural-biological change of at least two million years.
Deacon and Donald both tie the development of language to prior
developments of symbolic behavior that serve, among other things, to
transform social relations. Deacon particularly ties symbolic behavior to
the marking of social roles and hierarchies serving to transform the natural
order in social constructions that carry organizational weight even when they
cannot be recreated at every moment. That is, a mate does not have to be there
every moment to announce the attachment if the relationship is memorably
defined through ritual and symbolic markings. The symbolic not only copies
or represents nature—it transforms it and creates meanings. Deacon’s account
of how the brain selects, reinforces, and strengthens connections between
perceived objects and their symbolic remarking or transformation suggests how
the human brain adapted to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the
new means of language to elaborate and reorganize social life. This suggests the
neural mechanisms by individual as they develop internalize cultural tools, as
proposed by Vygotsky (discussed in Chapters 2 and 3.)3
This transformation of perception and meaning facilitated by language
marks the here-and-now in new symbolic ways and allows the development
of more intricate forms of cooperation and social organization and identity
and role within the group—and the ability to operate within larger social
groupings. Even more, language facilitates the representation of distant objects
3. Donald emphasizes more the mimetic transformation of episodes as prior to further
semantic transformation. This semantic mimesis allows us to give particular meanings to our
life, meanings that reshape our perception, behavior, and decision making, transforming and
to some degree obscuring our own pre-verbal means of knowing. Deacon, on the other hand,
sees us as idiot savants of language, with the expansion of the prefrontal cortex which we
then largely organize for symbolic activity and symbolic transformation of preverbal activity.
Previously nonsymbolic, unreflective neural activity is then controlled through conscious
reflection in language. Both are very close to Vygotsky in seeing language as the means of
reflection and in transforming prior forms of cognition. All three see the language capacity
as developed phylogenetically and ontogenetically (as species-wide competence develops over
many generations and as individual skill develops during a lifetime) in social conditions for
social purposes, creating social meanings that become part of enculturation as people learn to
work with these terms to mediate their social interactions.
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in the intersubjective here-and-now of talk. That is, an ape when confronting
a task may remember a previous moment seen as similar and may search for a
tool that is part of that memory. A dog may remember a spot where a bone is
buried. But neither can enlist another creature in that memory and in the search
for the object. It cannot represent that non-present or non-simultaneous object,
cannot call it to the consciousness of another, and thus cannot bring something
distant into the current activity, short of somehow bringing the other and
placing the distant object in front of them, as ants compel their peers through
pheromones to visit the site of food. The fact that a few species have developed
elaborate but limited symbolic means to direct the attention of peers to distant
objects, such as the honey bee dance, only indicates the great value of having a
flexible ways of expressing the nature and location of distant objects and events,
and the development of neural means of processing these varied and flexible
symbolic representations.
With the development of language, what then becomes considered relevant
to the here-and-now is constructed by participants through language. Through
talk, one person calls objects and events to mutual attention through symbolic
marking. The terms and concepts in which these accounts are cast themselves
mark out categories, ontologies, ideologies, perceptions, and perspectives on
activities and the world. These terms and concepts put us into symbolic and
reflective relation to the world, and this reflective relation is socially shared
and confirmed. Just as body markings or adornments mark someone as a
mated partner or a tribal chief, so words begin marking out an idea-saturated
landscape in a process that has come to be called the social construction of
reality (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Through talk we become interpellated
into each other’s accounts of reality, in pursuit of the activities we share. That
is, people tell each other things and evoke in others’ imaginations objects and
events presented as locally relevant, thereby enlisting, orienting, and providing
necessary information for the other person(s) to take part in a shared activity.
Others can of course challenge the relevancy or accuracy of any account, or
can distance themselves from the activity they are being enlisted into. They can
even attempt to negotiate the task and activities by putting forward their own
accounts and assembling their own set of relevancies to place before others.
They can as well recount the events and relevancies in different terms, so as
to make the setting and its assembled context different, thereby making it a
different situation. Eighteenth century Scottish philosophers (including Smith,
as discussed earlier) in particular noted the role of peoples’ accounts of their
situations as a means to sympathetic understanding of their positions and the
beginning of cooperation and social cohesion. This was a theme picked up by
the American pragmatist school of social sciences including Dewey, James,
Chapter 1 The Symbolic Animal
Sullivan, and Mead—each of which provided the foundations of developments
in education, psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, and sociology (see Chapter 5).
Nonetheless, these representations of the extended world not otherwise
visible and pressing in the here-and-now are only brought to attention in the
here-and-now of the participants, as perceived relevant to the here-and-now
situation. With awareness that society grows out of the action of participants in
the local here-and-now constructed by the participants, conversational analysts
begin their examination in the micro-interactions of social talk, first of all in
the turn-taking system—who gets the floor to assert his or her activities, his or
her version of the world and relevancies—and then next in the membership
categorization devices that assert the ideologically relevant world invoked
by participants. Similarly, the linguistic anthropologist Hanks (1990) sees
the deictic system of language as central in constructing the perceivable and
attended-to world that participants think and work in, particularly in socially
cooperative or socially organized systems. Even more, he (along with a number
of other sociolinguists and linguistic anthropologists) sees the very meanings
of all terms as indexical, tied to the mutually accepted and constructed hereand-now
of the communicative situation; the meaning of words cannot be tied
down except within the situation as perceived by the participants (Collins,
2011; Gumperz, 1982, 1992). Thus both linguistic anthropologists and
conversational analysts only find meaning in the unfolding interaction which
attributes meanings to what has been said, and takes those meanings as given in
further actions both linguistically and in the material world acted on. (Clark,
1996 provides a psychologist’s version of the same theme.)
These socially constructed meanings through symbols serve to displace and
transform our existing forms of non-symbolic cognition, though they do not
erase them entirely. Research on color-coding for example has had two kinds
of findings. Most salient is Rosch’s (1977) findings that our prototypical colors
encoded in language and understood by the users of those many languages tend
to be organized around the colors made biologically salient through our visual
receptors. Even earlier it had been noted that while culturally encoded colors aid
recall of colors, we are able in real time to perceive and match colors for which
we have no name. That is, we can immediately perceive in ways that do not rely
on symbolic transformation, but without the support of symbols the immediate
physical representations fade rapidly. Further we can act in immediate physical
and social coordination without symbols. The newborn infant and mother
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coordinate care-giving activities without symbols through mutual recognition
of presence and sensory experience and bodily coordination with each other.
In our daily life we engage in many non-symbolic acts of motor coordination
and instinctive adjustment, too quick for conscious thought or for which we
have only weak and pale vocabularies that cannot capture all we experience.
Experiences of food often go well beyond the vocabulary of the eater.
As we develop experiences in the human symbol-saturated world, these
moments of non-symbolic cognition become limited, often embedded and
called upon within complexes of symbolically constructed social realities.
A person playing soccer engages with non-symbolic embodied thinking in
response to the ball entirely in a private perceptual-motor kind of thinking, but
if the player has been coached, even that immediate activity becomes influenced
by self-regulatory words. Even more, to organize such individual activities in a
game and to focus one’s energies on developing these embodied skills over time
require a large set of social meanings enacted in language that give reality to the
game and establish social value and rewards for participating in the game. This
symbolic work establishes the here-and-now of the playing field during the time
of action of the game and the times of practice, confirming the camaraderie
of players on and off fields, creating meanings for victory and defeat, and
establishing the social prestige and economic rewards which have meanings well
beyond the time and place of the game.
As our more embodied experiences, actions, and thoughts become
enculturated into social frames of meaning offered by available language and
other symbolic systems, our very experience becomes transformed, as the
taste experience of a trained chef or an oenologist has become transformed by
internalization of elaborate systems of taste categorization and knowledge of
the components and production of the food and wine. Enculturation of a child
is also part of the process of cultural terms becoming salient in monitoring
behavior, directing attention and perception, sizing up situations and initiating
responsive action. Learning language is part of learning to do things, and using
language is part of entering into the available and desirable social activities
in which language is implicated. The child’s request for “more” or “no more”
facilitates feeding as well as creates a child who learns to use language to assert
needs, desires, and preferences. Learning to tell jokes is an extension of sociality
and bonding among family and associates; it also forms a new kind of activity
that could not be carried out without language.
Yet, even while symbols refigure and transform much of our experience,
symbols are still created within embodied motives and experience through
talk or other significative physical action to another human to whom we are
orienting. Language emerges as part of human beings in co-presence, attending
Chapter 1 The Symbolic Animal
to each other, and doing things together. Speech, though symbolic, engages
large parts of our biology in its production and the entire body’s orientation and
participation in a situation—cries for help as one is struggling in ocean waves or
the coordination of a work task through rhythmic instructions. Equally, though
more subtly, people engaged in as abstract a symbolic activity as arguing over the
truth of a proposition can enact all the passions and postures of opposition—
though transformed through the etiquettes of literate civility.
Literate symbolic activity is no less a total body experience, though often it
is not accomplished in the presence of other humans, and although much of the
external forms of behavior fade away as the distanced world of the text overtake
the orientation of one’s nervous system and one’s attention turns away from the
immediate world surrounding the arm chair. The history of writing and reading
is filled with traditional embodiment. Many early texts were memory aids for
spoken events to be re-enacted, whether by a nuntio reading aloud the words
of a king to a distant governor, or the script of a speech to be memorized and
performed, or the words of a legal code invocable in court, or the words of a god
to be regularly read aloud as part of liturgy and study.
Even without oral performance of the read text, literacy is still associated
with the vocal apparatus of speech. Whatever the first act of silent reading
may be (whether as some folklore has it by Alexander the Great wanting to
keep a message secret from his troops or Ambrose witnessed by Augustine in
fourth century Milan, or some other unrecorded occasion), it clearly was not
a general practice until the time of monasteries. Until the medieval script of
Carolingian miniscule, reading Roman scripts required reconstruction of words
from a text without spaces to aid word recognition. Similarly consonant-only
scripts (Abjads) such as Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, require reconstruction of
the oral word from memory. Reading aloud to children and children learning
to read aloud themselves remain crucial parts of literacy education—with a
particular emphasis on reading with expression or feeling as an indication that
one gets the meaning of the words. Disability such as deafness or blindness
which interferes with the association of written and spoken words creates special
challenges in learning to read and write (Albertini, 2008).
Animating meaning of words in one’s mind is an act of animating oneself,
as one’s imagination, emotions, and anticipations become engaged in creating
meaning as a writer or reader. No matter how much the activity is carried out
internally in seeming bodily repose, various parts of the nervous system are
influenced by even the most calming text. Moreover, even the most civilized
readers or writers find moments when anger or pleasure arises, when they can’t
keep their bodies from tensing or they burst out in laughter. If you watch younger
readers and writers who have not yet learned to hold most of the literate action
A Theory of Literate Action
inward you can read the somaticism of literacy in the postures and movements.
And if you watch writer’s struggling with their words, getting up for cups of
coffee or muttering to themselves, you get some indication of the insuppressible
engagement of the neural system in the production and processing of text.
This view of the capacity to use language places meaning at the center
of the language competence, makes the value of language inseparable from
meaning, and places meaning in the minds, motives, and actions of people.
Even Saussure recognizes the centrality of meaning for understanding language
when he defines the sign as a unity of the signifier and signified. Yet for analytic
purposes Saussure distinguishes langue (a system of language) from parole (the
motivated uses of language in situations), and then makes langue the object of
linguistic study. While this move has been successful in creating an extensive
linguistics, it ultimately is misleading about language, for language exists only
in the utterance, and any attempt to abstract a language apart from its uses
obscures the concrete functioning of language in evoking meaning as well as
those complex processes by which we come to understand each other (this point
is elaborated in Chapters 7 and 8 of this volume). Saussure’s related move of
distinguishing the historical change of language from an abstracted system of
contemporary langue (the diachronic/synchronic split) obscures the historical
emergence of language as a regulated system (through social negotiation and
through such inventions as schools and grammar books).
The view I adopt here places societal and individual language development
as part and parcel of our other activities in providing a new tool for their
realization, thereby transforming them. Understanding language in this view
requires understanding the activities it is part of and the meaning systems that
evolve as part of the language-using activities. It also suggests plasticity of the
brain and language processing as the person’s language and brain develop as
part of social participation mediated through language. Further, individuality
(of experience, social situations, momentary needs, and motives) results in
individuality of each person’s experience of language and developing language
competence, even as all individuals may orient towards the quasi-stabilized
socially available forms of language they encounter. Neurologically and
evolutionary plausible accounts present syntax itself being the consequence of
the growth of semantic knowledge (Elman et al., 1996), with syntactic learning
of the available ordering and morphology of the sentence predictably occurring
only when vocabulary reaches a certain size, of around two hundred words—
Chapter 1 The Symbolic Animal
so that far from language being characterized and led by a pre-programmed
syntactic competence, that syntactic competence is a situational way of ordering
and using an extended vocabulary within activity-based utterances.
Wherever the debate may go over the nature and origin of language and
associated human capacities, the formation of a semantic relation to the world
around one is clearly formed within the social interaction, the activity contexts
where one begins to exchange symbols with each other as part of conjoint
activities, ultimately emerging as something like conversation. Further,
language develops to fit the use of people in real circumstances in relation to
material contexts. As a number of commentators have pointed out the problem
of reference cannot be overcome by an autonomous language within itself, but
must be attached to perceptions of concrete objects (Goodwin, 1994).
Whatever parameters of language are set by our neural apparatus, language
evolves to fit these constraints and opportunities. If it is biologically hard for us
to work with a linguistic structure, or a means of pronunciation, or a conceptual
structure, we will search out a linguistic means that makes communication easier
to produce and process. Each child in learning the language transforms it to
meet his or her needs and capacities. Similarly, as material conditions and social
projects change such that new terms are needed, new activities and operations
need to be indexed, or new complex structures need to be elaborated to carry
out the actions, linguistic means will be invented to facilitate these needs. If old
linguistic practices are no longer intelligible because of change in social activities
(the vanishing of oral epic or qualitative verse) or material circumstances (the
need to coordinate several people in the capture and harnessing of wild horses)
the particular linguistic means associated with them will wane or become
transformed to have new meanings useful in the evolving social world. Political
speeches, for example, may become transformed to rely on the linguistic
techniques and tropes of mass media entertainment and advertising instead of
the heroic cadences of epic.
The particular interactions, activities, symbolic resources, interactive and
material challenges in which people learn to use language are inscribed within
the neural system of the growing child, as human brains strengthen and pare
neural connections over the life of the person (Gogtay et al., 2004; Petanjek
et al., 2011). Further the acceleration of myelination particularly within
left hemisphere prefrontal cortex during adolescence (Paus et al., 1999) is
especially associated with many of the intellectual functions of language that
are introduced in writing instruction at this age in some social and educational
settings. Our brains form in interaction with the material, social, and symbolic
environments. Our minds grow to be able to use the tools of language, and
more recently writing, just as they grow in learning to manipulate the legs and
A Theory of Literate Action
hands or the attention and coordination of the eyes. Thus the child in a sense
builds itself, or neurologically adapts itself, in relation to the current moment
of culture, society, and economy that it finds itself in.
As Smith, Hegel, and Marx suggested, consciousness indeed changes
throughout history in relation to the material, social, economic, and cultural
arrangements, as our minds form to cope with the world we are born into.
Modern neuroscience is starting to show us indeed how this changing
consciousness forms itself into the very organization of the brain. It is at this
point that Marx and Darwin meet.
When we first do start to discover the power of symbolic communication,
much of our social interaction and material perception has already developed
along particular pathways which our language then enters into—to elaborate,
work with, and to transform it, but always in interaction. Thus the child who
is color-blind has extra work to accomplish and arcane adjustments to make
in order to learn to speak in the standard language of colors suggested by the
society (Sacks, 1996). The child who has a playful interaction with parents is
likely to develop a playful and creative linguistic repertoire to elaborate that
play. The child whose parents allow their gaze and attention to be influenced
by the child’s gaze and attention is likely then to be able to build linguistic
techniques of sharing experience and entering into conjoint activity that
include the child’s state of being and interests, in contrast to a child who can
only gain the attention of the parent by learning to align themselves with the
parent’s gaze. On the other hand, in some cases the development of language
provides means for the realization of activities that were not possible through
previous means—such as playing rule-governed instead of ad hoc games. The
child’s learning of the word no is well-known as providing great power to selfdefinition
and choice making—though the cultural opportunities to explore
and extend the applicability and range of this aspect of consciousness and social
behavior is very much shaped by the cultural practices and behaviors of the
people surrounding the child. That is indeed why in western nations there has
been a cultural campaign in recent decades to valorize the child’s learning of no
as an important developmental task instead of treating it as a sign of willfulness
and disobedience.
Although emergent literacy experiences, such as playing with paper
and talking about books may happen as early as talk initiates, actual visual
recognition of words and meaningful inscription usually happen a few years
Chapter 1 The Symbolic Animal
later, when many of the fundamental pathways of behavior and language
use are already well established. This means that literacy sits as an add-on to
an already developed cognitive architecture, which it can draw on from the
beginning. The presence of books around the house, the integration of literate
activities into daily acts, the way in which this occurs are important to the
ways in which literacy becomes deeply embedded within the child’s notion of
the life the child is developing into. How a child relates to the world indexed
in the text is dependent on the earliest and most fundamental ontologies and
relationships the child establishes with the world and with other people (Heath,
1983). Children with wide experiences with many people of many views and
personalities can more readily recognize a range of views represented in reading,
while those who experience only an adult-authoritative rule-governed world
may find it harder to explore the range of worlds texts have to offer. Further,
if literacy and books are part of daily life, children will be better prepared to
see the power of literacy and to adapt it to multiple circumstances, while those
who experience literacy only within the school walls for formal educational
activities will not immediately see the purposes of reading and writing beyond
the fulfillment of school requirements. Later experiences may extend their
experience, and transform their understanding of use and literacy, but this
means moving beyond patterns that have already taken hold.
Much can be said for the kinds of social bond developed around the hearth,
or the forms of social interaction and physical health fostered by a youth spent
wandering the woods or on the baseball diamond. These are possibilities of life
world and deep values to be expressed through human development. But insofar
as the world appears to children to be permeated with books or computers
which offer attractive sites of interaction, then an early literate environment
is likely to have deep transformative effect in children’s organizations of their
minds so as to make sense of and interact through these symbolic media. If we
wish to promote these as mediating tools appropriate to the adult way of life of
our society, the early and deeper the participation, the more pervasively the full
range of the child’s experience is likely to integrate and be transformed by these
symbolic communicative opportunities.
The rest of this volume examines theory and research that help us understand
more fully the way language and literacy mediate the development of our minds,
experience of life, social activity, social goals, and social organization. The first
half presents three social science traditions that emerged in the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries—Russian sociocultural psychology, European
phenomenological sociology, and North American pragmatism. The latter half
of the volume, building on these three traditions and enlisting more recent
social thought, examines the kinds of order we create, participate in, and use to
A Theory of Literate Action
make meaning in our writing: social order, interactional order, linguistic order,
temporal order, and intertextual order. These various orders converge in genre
as a recognizable invocation of these multiple orders and recognizable place
that each of our utterances take within them to assert our unique, situationally
relevant meanings. In the companion volume A Rhetoric of Literate Action,
directed towards our immediate practical needs as writers, genre appears front
and center as it focuses the location of our work as writers. Here, however, in
order to show why genre is such an important concept for writing, we must
first examine the underlying conditions of human cognition, sociality, activity,
and communication that pose the need for recognizable and familiar locations
for literate interchange and then how that recognizable location organizes the
work that happens in that place. This broader theoretical groundwork for genre
supports a more comprehensive understanding of genre recognition as a human
communicative process. Thus genre lurks everywhere underneath this volume,
to regularly poke its head above the surface (particularly in Chapters 3 and 4),
but only to take topical centrality in the final three chapters.

Lev SemyonovichVygotsky’s examination of the processes and effects of symbolic
participation on the formation of the human mind provides insight into how the
symbolic organization of human consciousness is part of our integration into
socially shared forms of expression, meaning, and activity. Vygotsky’s work, carried
out in the early years of the Soviet Union, was neglected in the West and elements
were suppressed under Stalin, but since the 1960s the power and significance of his
work has been increasingly evident both in Russia and the West. There have been
numerous explications and interpretations of his work, which I will not attempt to
reproduce here (See, for examples, Daniels, 1996; Daniels, Wertsch & Cole, 2007;
Kozulin, 1990; Van der Veer, 2007; Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991; Veresev, 1999;
Wertsch, 1985). Rather, I will explore how his approach to psychology connects
individual cognition and affect to social role, activity, and consciousness as a social
being—and therefore one’s reflective engagement with the world, particularly as
that engagement is mediated by language and writing.
The work of Vygotsky will provide a meeting point for much of the work I
will describe in the ensuing chapters, but not because that work follows directly
from Vygotsky. Only a distinct part of it was done with any significant awareness
of Vygotsky or even working from common sources. But rather Vygotsky’s
interdisciplinary style and the particulars of his ideas invite the synthesis of social,
psychological, linguistic, and historical concerns. I have over many years found
his work to be ever fresh because it is so open—despite many aspects of the work
undeveloped, others barely gestured at, and others inaccurate about particulars
we have later discovered as we have gained more data about sequences of child
development and the cognitive capacities of other animals. Nonetheless, his
ideas allow us to move back from the largest issue of society, culture, and history
back into the complexity of human selves, thoughts, feeling, and development
as we engage with the world. From the point of view of teaching, learning, and
development, his theory respects students’ motivated and autonomous selves,
yet recognizes how deeply those selves are saturated with social interactions and
resources and how those selves grow into the possibilities of the worlds available
to them. Similarly, from the point of view of writing, his theory provides a way
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of understanding the formation of deep interiority and individuality of meaning
within a world of communicative interaction and social exigency, and it provides
a means for accounting for meaning that arises in forms not yet attached to
words and then becomes transformed as it takes shape in meaningful language—
without resorting to ill-defined wells of thought entirely separate from language.
In the turmoil of Russia between revolutions, Vygotsky simultaneously
attended two universities, gaining a degree in law following a traditional
curriculum at Moscow State University while simultaneously earning a degree
in literature and aesthetics at the alternative Shanyavskii People’s University
(Wertsch, 1985, p. 6). Then taking a position teaching language and literature
in a high school in his home village of Gomel, during the early years of the
revolution he became an active member of cultural life, publishing widely on
cultural matters (Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991; Veresev, 1999). Vygotsky
became interested in the psychological effects of literary works, in particular the
relationship between the literary structure of the work and affective states aroused
in the reader. Even as an undergraduate student of literature he saw a crisis in
aesthetics torn on one side by a purely individualist psychology of perceptions
and imagination of the audience and on the other by an idealist philosophy
that considered the “nature of the soul” and not the material facts of reader
response. When he returned for an advanced degree in psychology in the early
1920s, he continued to work on the same problem, arguing in his dissertation
on the Psychology of Art for a more situated and embodied view of the response
evoked by texts that are historically situated within ideological structures of
their time. In this work (Vygotsky, 1971), he himself does not provide any
concrete socio-historic analysis; in fact, at this point he sees the sociological and
historical study of ideology as distinct from psychology. He, nonetheless, does
pursue detailed analyses of how texts can evoke particular states of emotion,
and thus mediate experience. While he was later to see ideology as bearing on
the material conditions that shape psychological response, for the time being
he was content to consider the audience located in the act of reading the text
or witnessing a play as the right level of analysis to understand affect. Indeed
throughout his career he was to maintain focus on the individual acting within
a limited situation, usually mediated by specific available artifacts.
In the primary example of a psychology of art, a detailed analysis of Bunin’s
story “A Gentle Breath,” Vygotsky directs our attention toward the contradictions
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built in the story between the dismal facts of life of a young woman and the
light-hearted, though misguided, spirit that carries her attractively through life.
The narrative rearrangement and selection of events and the movement through
the consciousnesses of several characters brings to poignancy the attractive
delusions that lie behind the woman’s dismal fate. It is in the affective poignancy
of the tension that the story achieves its aesthetic power.
Similarly, in considering Hamlet (reworked from an earlier school essay on
the subject) he looks for the logic of Hamlet’s wavering and erratic behavior not
in a psychological explanation of the protagonist’s character, but in an aesthetic
of motive and digression that places the audience in a state of emotional tension
and contradiction. The words, the logos, of the play do not present a coherent
logic of an argument but rather comprise a device to arouse the audience’s
emotion. He points to an additional level of affect that arises when we look on
or reflect on this character who seems so to tease our emotions and not resolve
them: we are left in a state of puzzlement. Most critics pursue this puzzlement
directly by trying to find an answer to the “Hamlet problem,” the explanation of
Hamlet’s behavior. Vygotsky sees these critics as responding to an external logic
imposed on the play’s events rather than understanding it. He would rather we
ended where the play ends, overwhelmed with the contradictions and conflicts
that resolve only in a tumble of conflicting and absurd actions.
Vygotsky considers his wedding of formalist, structural accounts of texts
with an analysis of the affective states of the audience evoked by these structures
as a theory of catharsis—“a discharge of nervous energy” resolving conflicting
affect aroused by the work of art. Consciousness is not directly dictated by
the ideological contents of texts, but rather consciousness is activated and
placed in troubled spaces. Consciousness and the affect that infuses it arise in
the problematic tensions the mind struggles with; thus he finds a way to link
consciousness with the material structures of language and the materiality of
the cognizing being, yet nonetheless granting the individual a personal place
of responsive consciousness which is not a mysterious other arising from in an
ineffable core of individuality. Although he is concerned with response, he is
careful to note that since we do not know the minds and affects of readers and
writers we can only attempt to understand the emotion-evoking devices in the
texts. We do not necessarily feel what Shakespeare felt, or Bunin, or what any
onlooker now or in the intervening centuries may have felt, yet if the play or
story does affect us, it is by the devices in the artistic artifact designed to arouse
our embodied emotions.
In this early work, we can already see Vygotsky’s interest in states of
consciousness as influenced by textual devices; he sees language mediating
experiences. He sees his psychology of art as a materialist form of interpretation
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rather than an idealistic one, a realistic psychologically serious correction of
the purely intellectualized symbolic analysis of the formalists. For Vygotsky the
symbolic constructs of ideas serve to arouse bodily sensation of emotion rather
than simply evoking more ideas. He includes introspective observations of his
own breathing rates in reading the story, and was soon, in his first psychological
experiments, to measure breathing rates of subjects reading the Bunin story
(Van der Veer, 2007).
At about the same time Vygotsky completed the Psychology of Art as his
Ph.D. dissertation in psychology in 1925, he was delivering his first papers at
psychological conferences, arguing for the need to study consciousness, but with
the behaviorist caveat that language was itself not to be interpreted as a direct and
reliable introspective report of consciousness, but rather as part of the process of
reactions involving consciousness (Vygotsky 1925, 1999). That is, language and
utterance were to be considered as behaviors in relationship to consciousness,
rather than as the contents of consciousness. Just as he had considered the
lack of attention to the affective states aroused by art as the cause of a crisis in
aesthetics, he viewed the lack of attention to states of consciousness in relation to
behavior the cause of the crisis in psychology. Further he argued for practice, the
application of psychology to real world problems, as the necessary motive and
test of psychological theory and research. That is, the human needs confronted
in application call into question abstracted theory and unrealistic findings by
re-embedding research into the complex and concrete processes of life, at the
same time as people engaged in practice need strong theory and research to guide
their work. The result of the interaction of research and practice will be stronger,
more useful, and more concretely grounded theory. Vygotsky’s own thinking
was deeply influenced by his foray into practice, in the area of defectology (a
term jarring to contemporary sensitivity about stigmatization), the field we
would now call disability studies or special education. He was deeply engaged in
practical work in this field from 1924 until 1930, when the institutional base of
his fieldwork collapsed in the face of political decisions (Veresev, 1999, p. 127).
Vygotsky’s attention to consciousness and the tensions within it helped him
cast a new perspective on the fate and struggles of the disabled in attempting to
live their lives. Rather than seeing the psychology of the disabled as just a matter
of what capacities they had and didn’t have, LSV paid attention to the way in
which people reacted to their limited abilities and the kinds of social positions
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they were cast into by their disability. At this point in his intellectual journey, he
was also particularly attracted to the work and thought of Alfred Adler who was
concerned with people’s desires to reach their goals and to overcome obstacles
or frustrations in reaching those goals. Adler considered people as active agents:
you could not understand people’s behavior only on the basis of biology
and history. Rather you had to know what they wanted and then what they
understood they needed to do or overcome in order to get what they wanted.
Adler as well posited a general developmental desire of all individuals to gain
increasing power over situations, particularly in comparison to others who might
be viewed as potential competitors, models, comparators, or obstacles. This is
especially true of children who seem relatively more powerless than other people
around them, but are biologically, neurologically, and cognitively in a period of
development—with the promise of them becoming more capable and more able
to equal or best those around them. This modeling and competition has a strong
sociological component, as the developing child draws the range of desirable
goals, opportunities, possible means of action, and possible competences from
what she sees around her. The child develops into the social relations and socioculturally
formed situations and roles around her (Adler, 1907).
These issues of desire for competence and power over one’s life are particularly
poignant in relation to the disabled who find themselves in a world designed
by and for the typically abled, and a social world that additionally stigmatizes
and creates limited roles for the disabled, as Vygotsky began noticing. While
the disabled may directly attempt to compensate for or overcome their disability
by other means (whether by appliance like the blind man’s stick, increased
attentiveness and reliance on other faculties, or social cooperation), Vygotsky
noted they also needed to overcome the kinds of social roles they were cast
into by others—whether as objects of scorn, pity, or paternalism, all of which
limited and framed the possibilities of action, relations, and situations they
could participate in. Further the disabled need to overcome the difficulties of
a world designed for the convenience of the abled—a world that puts curbs on
roads, places steps at the entrance of buildings, and organizes space and activities
through visual cues such as street signs and traffic lights (Vygotsky. 1993).
In line with these observations about social roles and material obstacles, Vygotsky
recognized that the desire for power to participate competently was not driven so
much by a generalized sense of desire or lack, but more drawn by the concrete
opportunities available in one’s society. People set their goals and possibilities from
the available choices, and thus frustrations occur when people cannot be part of
what is going on around them. This is very much in line with what sociologists
would consider reference group behavior and social modeling (Merton, 1968b)
and what Bourdieu (1993) would consider the social field of action.
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While Vygotsky first held more closely to an Adlerian view of direct supercompensation
for perceived inferiority which would lead the disabled person to
try to overachieve in just those areas they found themselves most challenged, he
moved to a broader view of the restructuring of mind, personality, and organism
around the conditions and opportunities the person found themselves in. Thus
over-compensation (finding alternative pathways to the same goals that others
have) became not the only possible dynamic, but rather a reorganization of
the self to deal with the circumstances one found oneself in. As more recent
neuroscience has suggested this can be seen even at the most basic level of
neurocognitive organization developing in the young child. As will be discussed
in the next chapter, Vygotsky had an interest in the neurological foundations
of what he was noting and with his colleague Luria began to study medical
neurology. Luria was to become one of the pioneers of modern neurology
in which he was to take what he called a “romantic” view (Luria, 1979) not
just as biological facts, but of the organization of a personality coping with
circumstances and neurological conditions.
Some of these means of reorganization could entail organizing new tools
into consciousness, as the blind person learns to gain visual information
through a stick, or through collaboration with the seeing-eye dog, or through
alliance with others with a different range of skills. Here we can start to see the
growth of Vygotsky’s awareness of how much the mind grows in relation to
mediating tools and relations. These extensions of the self he saw as becoming
part of the organization of the self. This went beyond his earlier recognitions in
the psychology of art that cultural artifacts such as poems can create temporary
states of consciousness that then activate bodily sensations or reactions. Here the
tools and relationships are actively taken on and employed in pursuit of one’s
desires and life, empowering, but also organizing consciousness and personality.
One learns not only how to attend to and control the stick or dog, one learns to
sense through them, to perceive the world through them, and to think through
knowledge gained via these media. We just don’t pass through a poem for a
temporary sensation; insofar as that artifact becomes a long term mediating
tool in our life, we come to live through it, making it part of our fundamental
orientation, activity, means of sensing, and acting.
All these issues poignantly and strikingly evident in relation to the disabled
provided Vygotsky a way to rethink the development of the more typically
abled. In the early 1920’s at the beginning of his career as a psychologist while
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he was still learning the field he had written a volume on paedology (excerpted
in Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1994). Toward the end of the decade he returned
to issues of development and education, in a series of publications that were to
come to stand for his cultural historical theory and his distinctive contribution.
This work has been extensively summarized and is available in English through
several translations of Thought and Language, and the collection Mind in
Society and in a less refined version in Studies on the History of Behavior: Ape,
Primitive, and Child (Vygotsky & Luria, 1993). My discussion of this work will
emphasize particular lines growing out of the earlier work and pointing towards
its relevance for symbolic communication, cultural evolution, formation of the
cognition in relation to social communication, and particularly literacy.
In this more fully developed theory he took an interest in cognitive tools that
extended or externalized our thought, allowing us to carry on symbolic activity
outside of ourselves: the knot tied around the finger to stimulate memory,
the abacus to keep track of and manipulate numbers, the South American
quipo used to record messages and history, and ultimately language, spoken
and written. To investigate how we used these external symbolic tools to carry
out cognitive tasks, he conducted experiments using the technique he called
double stimulation, in which the original task stimulus was supplemented by
a secondary set of stimuli which the experimental subjects could use to help
carry out the primary task. For example, in the forbidden colors task, children
were asked a series of questions about the color of objects, but in their answers
told they could not mention two colors nor could they repeat a color used to
answer a previous question. When they were given a deck of color cards to
assist them in the task, children of age five to six years either did not use these
cards, or if they did, the cards distracted them from the primary task. Children
of eight or nine years old used the cards to identify the color names that were
used and forbidden or to identify the colors still available for answers, but they
were inconsistent (or not fully disciplined) in using them. Children of ten to
thirteen years used the cards in a consistent, disciplined strategy and made few
errors. Adults made few errors whether or not the cards were available, as they
were able to keep track mentally of the disallowed and allowable color names
(Vygotsky, 1978, p. 41).
From such experiments Vygotsky identified what he called the second
stimulus system, the set of signs which we learned to use to regulate our
behavior. The process by which these signs were internalized was observed
through watching how young children seemed to talk to themselves. Earlier
such private speech had been thought as simply egocentric, but Vygotsky noted
how the utterances coordinated with the tasks that the child was carrying out
as well as imitated prior conversations with others as together they carried out
Chapter 2 Symbolic Selves in Society
similar tasks. That is, the child was drawing on remembered social resources to
reenact privately an activity coordinated or directed through language. Just as
an adult had attempted to direct the child’s behavior through language, now the
child directed his or her own attention and activity through similar language,
though increasingly fragmented over time as the fuller forms of language
no longer seemed necessary for self-direction. With time the reliance on the
external device of language seemed to vanish as the child could carry out the
task without spoken self-regulation. Vygotsky hypothesized that the language
turned inward and became the basis of symbolic thought, changing its form as
it became internalized.
By such mechanisms we can see how prior experiences of language become
formative elements in the development of individual thought—not by direct
importation of a language symbol or ideological system, but because the child
first interacts with the language in the course of activity and then redeploys that
language as part of self-regulation in tasks including his or her own interactions
with others. That is, language becomes the child’s own as he or she uses it
in particular circumstances of life, fulfilling individual needs at the moment.
Out of this process the individual creates personal meanings. In use, language
becomes transformed into meanings which influence perceptions and actions
and which become the bases of novel communications with others, so that the
individual populates those words with his or her own intentions, as Bakhtin was
to write later (Bakhtin, 1981). Personal use of language, however, is saved from
solipsism because when it is used again to communicate with others, the need
to be understood by others disciplines it towards social norms of meaning, as
George Herbert Mead was pointing out on another continent a few years before
(Mead, 1913).
While Vygotsky considered the expression of personal meaning within the
social sphere in the last chapter of Thought and Language, his psychological
interest in the development of mind was more directed toward how language
moved inward as signs to direct self-regulation and self-organization. Because
of this interest he distinguished signs as different from tools, because he saw
language as most significant in regulating the self as signs became internalized.
Following this interest and characterization of language as sign rather than
tool (See Vygotsky, 1978, 19-30), he was able to develop a rich system of selfdirected,
self-monitored consciousness based on the internalization of socially
received language which comes to transform the self. Because of Vygotsky’s
concern with the development of the self, he does not develop as fully the ways in
which our mind continually is transformed in more mature social interactions,
how we come to develop our impulses and thoughts by externalizing them
and thereby become socially committed to them in our identities and actions,
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and how our participation changes the social field. Nonetheless, much of his
evidence is drawn from how people deploy their symbolic resources within
tasks. Further, his analysis of a child’s learning scientific (or schooled or socially
disciplined) concepts examines how children’s spontaneous concepts come
to be transformed by organized interaction with received knowledge coming
from a history of cultural and communal testing, validation, organization
and reasoning (Vygotsky, 1986, Chapter 6). However, he tends to treat that
scientific knowledge as fairly fixed—neither reinvigorated nor transformed by
new participation. He did not yet make the link between individual personal
development and larger cultural development, though he does recognize culture
itself as resulting from a human history of invention.
Yet even from Vygotsky’s limited social and cultural account of knowledge
formation, we can see the importance of the particular symbolic systems and
activities one participates in and internalizes in shaping the kinds of tasks one
can carry out and in the organization of one’s mind in relation to the tools and
tasks. The historical accomplishment of a culture is made available to each new
child as he or she finds meaning and use in the available tools and artifacts
which can be redeployed for the child’s own purposes in the social settings and
activities he or she finds themselves in. The discursive and activity landscape the
child perceives provides an opportunity space for the child’s development and
participation. While Vygotsky largely seems to be thinking only of broad sociohistorical
cultural movements as shaping the available forms of cognitive growth
available to the child, he seems at times to be aware of the multiplicity of socially
organized positions people find themselves in, as he considers for example the
role of stigmatization in shaping the interactions of the disabled and thereby
channeling cognitive growth along particular paths (Vygotsky, 1993).
More fully, however, we may consider the effect of having available specific
kinds of cognitive tools associated with particular groups or professions, in
carrying out specialized tasks. People who engage in the legal tasks of corporate
law in the United States in the early twenty-first century carry out substantially
different tasks and thinking than biochemists working for those very same
corporations. Their tasks require them to do different things; the cognitive
tools they must learn and think with support different kinds of work and are
themselves differently organized; the kinds of symbolic interactions with their
interlocutors are significantly different; and they organize their own thinking
in different ways in relation to these tasks, tools, and relations. Koranic scholars
in sixteenth century Baghdad, court poets in Elizabethan England, preColombian
Mayan scribes each follow their own line of cognitive development
in relation to tasks, tools, and relations they participate in. We do not need to
look at the highest ends of literacy in radically different circumstances to see the
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impact of differentiation of cognitive development, but need only to consider
the way young children’s engagement with ball sports or drawing or word
games will focus their attention, modes of thinking, and self-reinforcing social
relationships within others engaged in those activities and associated social
arrangements. These experiences, activities, and relationships shape sets of skills
and cognitive orientations that initiate trajectories of competences throughout
their life. Within the worlds of literacy we can see the differing consequences
among the children who have a taste for fiction, a taste for political biographies,
or a taste for books about zoology.
Developed cultural practices and forms, identifiable as distinctive genres,
discourses, disciplinary languages and tasks—the typified practices that
characterize the differentiation of our social and cultural worlds—can be seen
in Vygotskian terms as particular sites of activity deploying particular cognitive
tools and supporting different lines of psychological development. Individuals
in learning and internalizing these cultural forms, use them to regulate their
own perception, thought and ultimately participation with others. Medical
doctors, for example, within the typical settings, events and communicative
forms of consulting office, hospital and professional meetings, use their medical
knowledge to examine, diagnose, and administer treatment to patients who
may have little understanding of medicine.
Alphabetic writing, Vygotsky notes, is a second order symbol system that
offers a visual sign for the spoken word, rather than directly representing a
perceivable or an imaginable object. The words in speech provide a symbolic
representation of the events and objects discussed at only one remove, except
for reflexive second order speech that references words as language (“What do
you call this tree?”). Writing, however, creates a second order representation.
That is, written words are symbols of spoken words. This of course is most
pronounced in alphabetic languages where written words record the sound of
a word, which then has an attributable referent or meaning. However, even
pictographic or ideographic or rebus languages use the symbols to represent
the word (despite some possible graphic association with the objects or events
referred to). Pictographs are highly stylized and selected around a limited and
typified vocabulary—that is what distinguishes them from simple drawing.
They then can be used to create hybrid and elaborate complexes, again with
standardized word associations rather than open-ended complexes of non-
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linguistic associations. Even where the immediate language is not spoken,
but visual, as in a sign language, the written representation again provides a
somewhat durable second order representation of the immediate transient word.
Writing’s second order nature abstracts writing out of the immediacy of
perceived, unfolding experience, and creates a need to reconstruct some indexical
relation to an embodied reality, beyond that required in spoken language
which can typically draw on the material context of utterance to ground its
indexicality. That is, what one talks about is often visible or can be pointed
toward or gestured about, but in writing it is typically harder to tell what the
text is talking about. Further, the writing only indexes the spoken language and
thus all meaning must be indicated through the relation to the spoken, with
the spoken further stripped of its material context. Thus the relation of the
written to the spoken presents a problem almost as soon as a writing system
develops beyond the most concretely iconographic. This is perhaps the reason
that one of the earliest forms of knowledge to emerge in most written languages
is some version of linguistics (Bazerman & Rogers, 2008a). Writing transforms
more immediate, situationally and viscerally prompted use of language into
an independent linguistic object that can be more easily and reflectively
manipulated and managed, and is therefore more easily and more pressingly
studied, for purposes of strategic and precise effectiveness.
Writing as a means of reflection and self-regulation can transform the local
in relation to distant situations; even more, writing can create new places for
symbolic participation that transform the participants and provide new venues
for self- and mind-making in interaction with other literate participants. Some
forms of writing do stand in immediate relationship to on-going embodied
experiences, such as the shopping list that guides mall behavior or the series
of instructions that regulates the preparation of pre-packaged food. But other
forms of writing enact social relations and activities that operate at a reflective
distance to our daily activities, such as reporting and commenting on political
events, contemplating principles of effective leadership style, or playing with the
possibilities of imagined romance. Through these second order reflections on
more immediate experience, created in a second order medium already abstracted
from more immediate symbolic practice, writing interaction can enter in and
through consciousness, influencing the writer and readers in ways that may not
be quickly forgotten or dispensed with. Unlike spoken language where words are
inspired or compelled by the immediately unfolding events and then leave no
trace to prompt or constrain memory, writing leaves an external mark for us to
look on later, transforming our attitudes and perceptions of the utterance.
As we get drawn into literate interactions we recognize and seek out the
textual places where they take place. For some these sites of literate interaction
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became major sites of identity and interaction, drawing on increasingly intense
cognitive and affective engagement, thereby shaping their literate minds and
personalities, in accordance with the domain of texts and interactions they find
most engaging. Because of the visibility of the linguistic artifact and the removal
from daily time and space, such spaces are conducive to creating reflective
distances and stances towards material events, the literate events one participates
in as a reader and writer, and the texts that mediate those events. Writing
thereby facilitates interiority as we commune more with other literates than
with the people around us. With interiority we orient toward the interaction
played out in our mental construction and reconstruction of the meaning of
our texts and the texts of others. Additionally, writing facilitates interpretation,
criticism, irony, and other stances that put us at a questioning distance from
our interactions. But interiority and questioning also foster creative behavior,
allowing us to return to our embodied world with fresh perspectives, ideas, and
resources to address life problems and challenges.
Understanding language as both interactive and self-regulatory suggests
an often-confusing dialectic about language. Theorists of language and
particularly writing often see language as deeply personal, formative of
character and expression, tied to our deepest experience and thoughts.
Vygotsky notes how we build our thinking and transform our experiences
(including the kinds of presymbolic experiences and eidetic memory and
thinking available to children prior to development of language) through our
growing linguistic experience, and he himself in the final chapter of Thought
and Language has deeply poetic reflections on language as fragments of our
innermost thoughts. On the other hand, others see language and writing as
rhetorical and interactive, shaped by social purpose and effect, little driven
by anything like an essential expressive self. Vygotsky also suggests such
perspectives when considering how the parent uses language to help the
child solve a puzzle or the blind gain through social means information not
available through eyesight. Finally there are those who suggest that language
is a meaningful system that exists outside any of the participants or particular
utterances or usages, whether that language consists of stable resources and
rules or that language is a locally produced, ad hoc artifactual construction.
These three perspectives align with three major approaches to writing—the
expressive, the rhetorical, and the linguistic.
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Vygotsky gives us a way of understanding how all of these are operative
simultaneously as we develop cognitively through social participation, using the
available language purposefully. Language is simultaneously within, between,
and outside people. Writers need to look externally to the communicative
forms, to the organized relations with others, and the ad hoc communicative
and rhetorical problems of the moment; and internally to the self, organized
and attentive to the evolving discursive situation in order to develop ideas,
communicative intentions, and meanings.
We can see how these issues come together in considering perhaps the most
well-known of Vygotskian concepts—the Zone of Proximal Development (often
called ZPD). In his writings he articulates the concept most clearly in relation
to assessing a child’s capacity for learning. He states the most important thing
to measure is not what the child can do by him or herself (say, in the traditional
paper and pencil IQ or achievement test) but in measuring those things that
the child can do with assistance of an adult or more skilled peer. This identifies
the area of learning a child can engage in leading to development (Vygotsky,
1978, Chapter 6). This ZPD identifies activities where students can enter into
novel or challenging collaborations, guided or regulated by the speech or other
actions of the more skilled other—speech and actions that can then go from
interpersonal regulation to intrapersonal regulation. In this way the child can
learn new practices, principles, concepts, and activities which later he or she
may be able to carry on by him or herself and ultimately internalize within his
or her cognitive repertoire. Further, at some point the elements learned within
the ZPD reorganize and coalesce into a new functional system, changing the
relations and functions of the previously acquired parts, reorganizing perception,
reasoning, and activities. This transformation to a new form of thinking which
reorganizes previous ones constitutes development, in contrast to learning. For
this reason Vygotsky says learning leads development (Vygotsky, 1986). This
process of reorganization based on conceptual development (in Hegelian terms
called sublation or aufhebung) provides a way that both genres and mentorship
can induct one into specialized forms of perception, reasoning, and practice,
such as those associated with scientific and academic reasoning, as well as
professional practice (See Bazerman 2009, 2012).
The more skilled participant in ZPD interactions has already internalized
the disciplined functional system that constitutes expertise in the activity. This
disciplined functional system provides structure to both partners’ contributions,
making available to the less knowledgeable partner hints about a different form
of consciousness available for perception, reasoning, and action. While the
student at first may hear and even heed the comments of the adult or more
skilled partner, these are at first only taken as specific pieces of guidance or
Chapter 2 Symbolic Selves in Society
information. At the moment of development, however, the learner comes
to see events, activities, or relations from the perspective of the more skilled
partner, and the learner reorganizes his or her way of functioning and thinking:
consciousness has been raised. The ZPD can, in theory, identify both what
is next to be learned and the depth or extension of what can be learned (that
is, how far with help the learner may reach beyond him or herself and still
participate in comprehensible activity). Further, awareness of the learner’s
developmental challenges within the ZPD can attune the more skilled partner
to providing the kind of support that may be needed to maintain that learner’s
participation. Even more, the skilled collaborator can become attuned to the
learner’s changing states of awareness, perception, and conceptual grasp (that
is, forms of consciousness) and can recognize whether and when learners have
made developmental leaps—that is, whether the learners have internalized the
higher mode of thinking. Teachers regularly talk about when students show
such moments of insight, or “when the lights go on.” Such moments are often
accompanied by changes in bodily posture, composure, and facial expression.
Writers regularly use the support of cultural tools of genre, of the ideas and
information of others, the challenge presented by others’ ideas, as well as the
constraints of the task at hand to learn how to create the text, which in turn
may bring about a change of personal consciousness. The pressures of the social
situation and availability of cultural resources help writers to extend beyond
what they already have thought, said, or written. Writing under the pressure of
new thoughts composed for the situation out of words and ideas from within
and around the writer can seem a deeply felt personal expression of the self at
the same time as it contributes to social identity and agency, articulating the
writer’s self onto the social stage—a self-creating act. As writers draw on the
common resources of language available to all and familiar to the readers, they
become the writer’s words, words meaningful to the writer. As the challenge of
the interaction stretches the writer, he or she may also reinvent aspects of the
language—seeking new words, phrases and metaphors, combining genres, and
forming new concepts. Further, the organizational and argumentative challenges
of texts that extend over paragraphs, pages, or volumes, can stretch the writer
to reorganize thoughts and knowledge. Additionally, the devices of exposing
textual organization (like outlines, section headings, and transitional statements)
may provide ways to think through organizational problems in composition and
revision, creating new coherences in reasoning. The process of writing, using
common resources, leads writers to make up or compose their minds, sometimes
in ways that bring new thoughts to the social sphere of discussion.
For this dynamic of linguistic, cognitive, and social learning and development
to occur, enriching the social and personal and linguistic resources, the task
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must be neither so humdrum and familiar that repeating familiar formulas is
sufficient nor so difficult to be beyond the writer’s comprehension, articulation,
and participation. The situation, support of others (perhaps teachers, coaches, or
editors), and resources in the culture and language must be sufficient for the writer
to maintain goals and directed activity, while still being able to think new thoughts
and write new things. If the writer is asked to address something beyond what he
or she can even inchoately make sense of, the learning and creation collapses, and
the writer either gives up or reinterprets the task in more familiar terms.
These textual artifacts once produced are commitments of the self: phrases
the writer has worked through and terms for private purposes and social effect.
The textual artifacts are also potential spaces of meaning for others. Writer’s
words can populate other people’s minds with thoughts and associations,
can provide new things for them to consider, and new ways to rearrange and
reorganize what was already available to them. Or writer’s words can simply in
a new context remind them and reinforce thoughts and emotions they have
already held. The text may present a forced march of logic and evidence for
readers or it may open up large areas of speculation and association, tapping
into the readers’ own concerns and meanings. In that or any other event, the
text acts as a potential support and extension of their own thought. But just
as for the writer, for the reader also the task and words must be meaningful—
that is, readers must be able to attribute meaning to the signs, viewing them
as neither too trivial nor too difficult to attend to and enlisting them into
concerns that hold their attention. A text that works to project the writer’s
meanings into the reader’s mental space in a sense then acts as a zone of
proximal development for the reader—a space of symbolic exchange, a space
of participation that activates behavior, sensation, thought, bodily emotional
response, and ultimately new ways of seeing issues and selves. In this process we
can see echoes of Vygotsky’s earliest observations from the psychology of art on
the cathartic effect of literature, where he recognized that the textual structure
in evoking aesthetic response gives release to latent tensions within the reader
created by the sequence of textual meanings.
Vygotsky’s theory of aesthetic catharsis also has its echoes in his later
theory of play (Vygotsky 1978, chapter 7), in that both literature and play
to him set in motion frustrations or unfulfilled motives that are in tension
with one’s circumstances or other motives. Vygotsky particularly notes that
Chapter 2 Symbolic Selves in Society
play is driven by desires for development and empowerment that cannot be yet
realized in worldly activity (that is, world-transforming work), often because of
the child’s lack of developments, skill, capacities, or social role. In Vygotsky’s
characterization of the motives for play we see the influence of his work with
the disabled and his Adlerian recognition of the motive to gain specific forms
of empowerment to participate in the opportunities of the world. Children
play parents or teachers or drivers of automobiles trying on those roles not
available to them in life. Children may also play at being themselves if they
want to mitigate the consequences of their actions, or to explore the regulations
or expectations the self-consciously conceived role seems to impose. LSV cites
the case of two sisters, aged five and seven, who proposed to each other that
they play sisters, and in so doing invoked rules as to how they thought sisters
ought to behave toward each other (Vygotsky 1978, pp. 94-95). The play
involves establishing a set of “as if ” rules that define game obligations and
become guides for regulation of the other and self in the game. Insofar as the
child becomes engaged in the game, the child becomes committed to the rules,
activities, motives, and moves of the game. More developed games in fact have
motives built into the rules, such as “The goal of this game is to place the ball
in the opponent’s net by various legal maneuvers. ” Further, satisfactions are
gained through one’s participation in the game, which take one beyond the
motives that first drew one into the game.
We can see literature, the arts, and other forms of entertainment as particular
places of play, each of which create their own organizations of activity and
consciousness that provide place for enacting frustrations, desires, tensions, or
other emotions transferred from other spheres of life where they cannot be directly
enacted. In the course of play there is not only a release, but a reinvention of the
self, developing into new possibilities of being that seemed blocked at first in other
domains. These new possibilities of being can then be resources brought from
the play domain into non-play situations. These resources can include enhanced
individual skills, confidence, and reworked motives, but also the invention of
new concepts, ideas, and actions that provide useful tools in other domains or
that provide a perspective on other domains transforming conceptualization of
activities. Thus we have the continuing critical roles literature, art, and humor
have played on society and individual lives. We often see new ideas of social and
material possibility tried out, envisioned and communicated through literature,
as in socially projective novels of George Elliot or the worlds of science fiction.
Or we have unpleasant and socially unrecognized realities portrayed under the
playful cover of art, as in late nineteenth century realist literature. In another
vein of social transformation in play, we can see the communal cohesion forged
over a sports team sometimes mobilized to civic or corporate ends. And we
A Theory of Literate Action
see with adults the constant trying on of meaning of life and events through
fictions, as well as fantasies of what might be.
Art and entertainment as well become their own disciplines which individuals
affiliate with and in which they develop identities, modes of thought and feeling,
perceptions, and ways of life. These disciplines and social domains become sites
of transformative work and take on economic and institutional presence in
the form of industries (such as book industries, sports industries, theme park
industries) and socially supported cultural organizations (such as theaters and
schools) which serve the fantasy, projective, and developmental needs of large
publics and become major parts of the cultural landscape, supporting modes of
being and forms of consciousness.
Yet the role of play and imagination, and writing’s role in creating it,
extends beyond the more overtly recognizable imaginative and playful genres
of art. Writing is often produced in situations at some distance from where it is
communicatively presented—that is we can work at our own desk long before
it is presented to readers, or as part of a collaborative team weeks before a report
must be presented to a group of managers. We have time to play around with
possibilities, represent alternative realities and plans, organize and reorganize our
textual goals and plans, interpret and reinterpret data. We can try out alternative
strategies in the face of intractable arguments and resistant audiences. This playing
around with the possibilities of our textual creation means that the process of
writing allows us to explore different possibilities of meanings we can project
into the social world. Indeed many of the disciplines of knowledge and theory
formulation have extensive play spaces for speculations and hypotheses based on
the exploratory possibility of “what if” an idea were true or useful. Hypotheses
and speculations born in the “what if” mode can become the motivation for
gathering evidence, doing experiments, or engaging in other modes of inquiry.
If the speculation turns out to be persuasive, it can turn into the knowledge,
inventions, and projects of the future, transforming the shared life of society.
Although Vygotsky’s approach to communication may suggest that talk and
writing may begin in immediate social and material needs of the individual and
community, it also offers possibilities of writing transforming consciousnesses,
knowledge, and society. A realistic understanding of the role of play in life
and the activity systems built around play, leads us to a more extensive view
of writing in our world, which helps explain why some forms of writing are
associated with extending human imagination, feeling, and perception. Many
of the forms of writing people may think of as mundane have that same
transformative effect, whether to develop a school curriculum, or to project
a corporate financial reorganization, or to develop a rehabilitation plan for a
released prisoner.
Vygotsky’s fertile starting place for understanding the formation of individual
conscious within social activities mediated by the culturally available tools gave
rise in Russia to two direct lines of work of rather different character, developing
different potentials within Vygotsky’s work. One associated with his student and
collaborator A. N. Leont’ev elaborated the idea of individual and group activity.
The other associated with his other major student and collaborator A. R. Luria
pursued the development of individual consciousness within the interaction of
neurobiology, language development, and functional production of behavior.
Each of these traditions brings an important perspective to issues of writing
though neither addresses writing as directly as Vygotsky did. Though Leont’ev
does not consider writing or even language much, beyond his recognition that
language mediates activities and provides a vehicle for social learning, his work
extends and elaborates the notion of activity and its relation to larger systems
of social organization. His framework, particularly as elaborated by Engeström,
helps us articulate the ways in which writing dynamically mediates communally
organized activities. Though Luria specifically focuses on spoken language, he
provides ways of thinking about the interaction of language and brain within
dynamic activity that have consequences for literate production and reception—
writing and reading. Luria’s work suggests the deepest mechanisms by which we
absorb and use language—mechanisms which have continuing currency within
cognitive neuroscience, a field he is recognized as pioneering. These mechanisms
have consequences for how we look on our own language formation and
interpretation processes, including writing and reading, and therefore how we
reflexively manage them. He gives us means for extending Vygotsky’s analysis
of consciousness as acts of agency incorporating and building on our linguistic
experiences, in relation to our material and biological conditions. While Luria
several times identifies writing as beyond his scope of interest by suggesting
that writing opens up entirely new domains and dynamics of consciousness
because of its removal from immediate circumstances and its particularly close
bond with inner speech (Luria, 1959, 1969, 1970, 1976), his analysis of spoken
language and consciousness provides an important basis for understanding how
further structures of consciousness can be formed to deal with the removal of
communication from immediate circumstances.
Chapter 3 Vygotskian Traditions
Alexander N. Leont’ev’s line of activity theory attends to the activity of the
individual and group, which gives focus and meaning to cognition (Leont’ev,
1978). Conscious orientation to an activity distinguishes impulse from
irritation. Cognition is motivated by desire and impulse that fastens upon an
object—that is, a concrete thing or state of affairs one wishes to bring into being.
The realization of this object forms the activity one is engaged in. Because the
activity arises out of fundamental impulses, it is saturated with affect and desire;
it is the very expression of what one wants to have and to be and to do.
This impulse to bring something material into being dialectically raises an
emergent consciousness or cognitive awareness of what one desires and how to go
about obtaining it. This state of heightened and directed consciousness oriented
to specific ends makes one particularly receptive to perceptions, information,
relationships, and other intimations of things in one’s environment that are
perceived as somehow relevant to that end. One’s awareness of these relevancies
shapes one’s perception of the situation and one’s opportunities within which one
may frame specific actions that pursue the activity. These instrumental actions
may be at some distance from the initial impulse and the affective drive; they
may be more planned, reasoned, and distant, with perhaps lessened affect. They
are more workmanlike. So an impulse to prepare an exquisite meal for a friend
(perhaps saturated with complex socially and culturally shaped identities and
desires) may lead one (at this historical moment in cultural taste and economic
distribution of goods) to contemplate and plan a menu with awareness of what
hints one has about the friend’s taste and range of gustatory experience, available
new fashions in food that one may have read about, currently available produce,
and a dozen other things that might appear relevant in light of this task. One
may even start writing down menus and shopping lists. One goes shopping,
cleans the kitchen, checks the cookbook, sets the table, chops the garlic, and
undertakes many other actions. While each of these actions are imbued with
motives that have set one in motion, they have a consciously planned aspect
requiring a more instrumental mind set, perhaps affectively surrounded with
pride in one’s workmanlike efficiency and competence.
In the course of these consciously planned and consciously monitored
actions, one employs many habitual behaviors or operations that one needs
hardly think about, such as how to form the letters and spell the words in
making the shopping list. While in chopping an onion one may need to attend
to the particular shape of the onion and the way the outer skin is or is not
pulling off, yet the holding of the knife is likely to take little of one’s attention.
A Theory of Literate Action
The distinction Leont’ev makes among activities, acts, and operations
is a key to the conscious attention and affective load demanded by various
components of activity. Activities arise from impulses that take shape and are
realized through the activity and thus carry the deepest weighting of motive
and affect. While the object realizes the emergence of impulse into action and
crystallizes one’s mental impulses, it may not be fully known and monitored
consciously nor is it necessarily open to complete reflective understanding. The
object may be more of an emergent phenomenon, only coming into conscious
awareness as it coalesces around a knowable project.
The middle level of actions is what we are most aware of and reflect upon, so
as to carry them out in the most effective and efficient way. They can be creative
in the pursuit of goals, drawing on resources we are only dimly aware of, but
as we draw these resources and creative means of accomplishment we become
to some degree aware of what we are doing and how our actions are chosen to
carry out our intentions. By implication, we may also say, though not explicitly
stated by Leont’ev, that the emotions that attend actions are correspondingly
more distant and reflective—somewhat separated from the original motive and
aware of how well we are doing.
Operations—those tasks that are so familiar and routinized within one’s
neural system that one can do them without conscious thought, carry little
creativity beyond immediate adjustment to the local circumstances—the
placement of the chopping block and our fingers as we cut. We are likely to have
little attitude or awareness of what we are doing, and the emotions, if any, will
be such as the comfort of doing the familiar or the tedium of repeated actions
that have become distant from their motivation. Nonetheless, under the right
circumstances, operations can come to our attention, as when we notice the
knife getting a bit too close to our fingers and we readjust.
These categories of activity, action and operation, are fluid ways of
differentiating motivating, focal, and peripheral attention that can change from
person to person, event to event, moment to moment. Learning to transcribe
the alphabet may well be the primary activity of a young child extending the
limits of motor skills, perception, and conscious attention; writing letters may
encompass the child’s total orientation to a situation. Later, the transcribing of
a letter may be an action in spelling a word, with the recording of a cherished
word defining the main activity. Both transcription and spelling later will likely
become thoroughly operationalized, as the child attends to creating a meaning
or making an impression. In the pursuit of goals we may carry out many levels of
work with different levels of intention and complex relations of superordination
and subordination. In each case of writing we need to unpack the work in
relationship to the complex of events and cognitive acts. Often bringing the
Chapter 3 Vygotskian Traditions
textual object into being is the realization of the activity—a realization that one
does not fully grasp until one has realized it as a material object and as a cognitive
commitment. This phenomenon has given rise to the many statements of the
sort “how do I know what I think until I write it.” Sometimes we may not fully
realize the total meaning of a text until long after we have written it, perhaps
months or years. Nonetheless, despite not comprehending the full implications
of what we have written, we can understand each of our sentences and carry
out the larger structures of our text in a workmanlike way. Recognizing the
appropriateness, timing, and techniques of each of the actions of text-building
helps us realize vaguely perceived intentions with some sense of craft, efficiency,
and effectiveness. It is just the total object we have made that escapes our full
comprehension. In a sense we are learning, structured by the work of text
making, but we have not yet developed sufficiently to comprehend what we
have written. Our externalized meaning making has not yet crystallized into
an internalized set of structured relations that would make the text fully and
immediately transparent.
On other occasions, however, the text to be written is easily anticipatable
and can be produced entirely in a workmanlike manner, with no surprises about
what we have made. Perhaps when we write an email to colleagues to arrange
a committee meeting, the email text and meaning is fully predictable. In that
case, perhaps, the activity is only emergent in the work of the committee—we
do not quite know what the committee will end up proposing; nonetheless, we
seem motivated to get there.
To identify just those activities that present the greatest challenges at the
moment, but are most driven by the desire to develop our capacities, identity,
or mode of being, Leont’ev (1981) elaborates Vygotsky’s (1967) concept of
leading activity, particularly with respect to school settings. The leading activity
identifies, within the zone of proximal development, the activity which captures
the imagination of students most, and which they are working most centrally
on mastering. Individually or in a group, we might say this is the thing that we
are trying to work out as we engage in the activity, the particular way we are
working towards expanding (in Engeström’s 1987 formulation).
Leont’ev, from a materialist perspective, was particularly interested in activity
as an external working out of innerly-driven impulses. Even mental activity he
sees originally situated and driven, no matter how distantly, by some material
object in the world, though embedded in cultural history and social practice.
He would dissolve the mind-body distinction by seeing mind as an embodied
capacity we have developed to be better able to cope with a material world. But
mind is not reducible to body, for consciousness having developed then influences
the embodied behaviors; mind brings objects into being through activity.
A Theory of Literate Action
The development of mind and its realization of impulses occur not just
in the material circumstances of individual lives, but in the social life of the
commune. Leont’ev points to the regularized social activity systems that give
meaning, value, and intelligible familiarity to the activities of individuals. He
cites the example of the paleolithic hunt of mastodons, where the activity of
one group of people is to be beaters, making noise and shaking foliage. The
activity of these people seems senseless as a way to capture creatures, which they
are most clearly scaring away. The noise making only makes sense in relation
to the activities of other people, such as those who build corrals and those who
guard and close the corral (Leont’ev, 1981, pp. 210 – 213). Activities emerge in
groups, and actions are negotiated and assigned to individuals, employing their
separate capacities. Operations also occur on the group and individual level, as
people’s response to each other’s signals in coordinating the hunt becomes as
routinized as the technique of hitting the drum for the individual. People learn
to form goals and activities in relation to the activities of others as they emerge
historically in stable and anticipatable forms that allow people to organize work
in ways that coordinate with the work of others. The sense arises within the
system in which individual takes part, getting meaning from participation in
larger collective activity.
The developed functional systems of actions and operations, group and
individual, that regularly pursue repeated activities express regularized orders
of behavior and activity organization that in turn comprise a social order. A
functional system perspective provides a basis for seeing how individual acts
of writing and reading, shaped within the regularities of genre, participate
in larger social systems of activity, rising above individual acts into carrying
out larger social endeavors. Thus we have a link here between the inner
contents of consciousness of people engaged in acts of reading and writing, a
phenomenology of literacy, and the largest social orders of activity within which
we organize our lives.
Yrjo Engeström, starting with problems in the coordination of work in
organizational settings, has elaborated this idea of socially formed activity
systems, functionally organized to carry out particular activities through
conjoint work. The work and coordination of various participants to produce
a shared object is aided and organized, materially and socially, by division of
labor, rules of work and participation, and the tools available to carry out the
work. To help analyze the operations (in the Leont’evian sense of unreflective
Chapter 3 Vygotskian Traditions
automatic practice) of any organization, Engeström has developed a heuristic
diagram, which makes visible and open to reflective readjustment processes
that have been so long in place they are not usually consciously attended to
(Engeström, 1987). Engeström’s model is based on Vygotsky’s triangle which
interposes consciousness in the relation between stimulus and response, or
subject and object.
Engeström, following Leont’ev elaborates consciousness as communally
formed in shared activities, refiguring the triangle accordingly—the individual
working in relation to a community in the functional pursuit of a communal
goal or object.
The subject’s relationship to the community is shaped historically by the
rules that identify roles, responsibilities, transgressions, expectations, rewards,
penalties, exchange arrangements, etc. The subject’s relationship to the object is
mediated by the cultural tools (created through a history of social interactions)
by which the object is produced. And the community’s relationship to the object
is mediated through a division of labor which both distributes and aggregates
the total work in production.
A Theory of Literate Action
This heuristic helps parse the factors usefully brought into consciousness for
intelligent reflective choice-making in what Engeström calls stage III activity
theory. Stage I he considers the unreflective interposition of consciousness
within a stimulus response of an individual, as investigated by Vygotsky. Stage
II activity theory is the placing of individual consciousness within communal
activity, but without reflective understanding of the activity system as a whole
or one’s place within it. Stage III brings to reflective consciousness the social
activity system, so as to allow one’s reflective adjustment of the system and one’s
actions within the system.
In any particular case these arrangements are historically emerged both in
the larger pattern and the local instantiation. Hospitals, courts, schools have
long histories that establish large patterns of arrangements, but each hospital
and perhaps each ward, each court, each school and each classroom have
developed their own particular set of tools, rules, and division of labor in
the formation of local community. Further these are constantly changing in
relation to problems, contingencies, opportunities, changing resources, change
of personnel, new tools, and so on. So an analysis of any given organization
could examine the historical process of emergence of the system to understand
the forces the current arrangements respond to, the operations of the current
system, and the impulses to change the system.
Engeström has been particularly interested in historically emerged
contradictions within activity systems that act as forces to bring about reflection
and change. That is, insofar as organizations operate by ingrained and historically
Chapter 3 Vygotskian Traditions
emerged habits that do not seem to have any sticking points, they have little
motive to change or even to look upon their operations, except as routinely
monitored in the systematic operations. We might take this as an analogue to
Kuhnian normal science, where puzzles are solved, but only as paradigmatic or
made typical and habitualized in the system (Kuhn, 1962). So the management
of a paper clip manufacturing company would likely monitor sales, inventory,
supplies, number of employees, and the like to adjust the level of operations,
but they might not contemplate changing the way of doing business, replacing
the machinery, changing the product line, or any other element that might
reorganize the activity system in a serious way. Only when a contradiction in
the system arises—such as workers being unable or unwilling to follow the work
rules, or when the machinery breaks down and cannot be repaired according
to operating procedures, or when new machinery no longer demands the same
division of labor, or when markets shrink for the product—are participants in
the organization likely to problematize and rearrange the practice in a more
satisfactory way. It is at these moments of emerged contradiction and tension that
organizations become smarter, or learn by expanding their reflective awareness
of their operations (looking on them as actions), perhaps even reconceptualizing
and reorganizing their fundamental object and activity.
Engeström has carried out a number of intervention studies to assist
organizations (or activity systems) to learn by expanding their awareness of their
operations, and thereby rearrange their world to carry out their functions more
effectively or even to adopt more powerful functions. He has had all workers
within a hospital analyze their own activity position within their organization,
using his heuristic triangle as a guide to consider for example, who provides
them the tools, who authorizes the tool purchase and distribution, who sets
rules and who monitors them, who sets the distribution of labor, to whom are
these various procedures are accountable, and so on (Engeström, 1987, 1993).
These questions allow participants to reflect on how the system operates and
whether adjustments may be made. Tensions exist in the organization if, for
example, nurses must request equipment and supplies from a supplies office
which is accountable for holding costs down by a financial office, but they
must take their work orders from doctors who demand certain procedures
requiring supplies be administered, at the same time the nurses are driven by
their perception of the object of patient care. Such discoordination leads to
multiple contradictions that call for reflective understanding and resolution.
Engeström has also studied instances where individuals who are empowered to
initiate reflective actions (such as judges who can revise the rules of procedure in
their own courts) spontaneously note some difficulty in procedures and engage
various participants (opposing lawyers, social workers, other officers of the
A Theory of Literate Action
court) in problem solving to come to novel or flexible arrangements (Engeström
et al., 1997). These reflective activities focus attention on the renegotiation of
practice within the activity system.
Writing occurs within historically emerged, but constantly changing,
circumstances and arrangements. Writing also makes information and textual
objects visible for reflective contemplation, opening possibilities of noticing and
resolving of contradictions. An important functional element of most activity
systems involved with writing is to bring new information or viewpoints into
some kind of group contemplation, information sharing, or coordination
of perspective. Thus writing regularly offers opportunities to attend to
contradictions and tensions, resolving them through wise choice-making
in what to include, how to represent and reason with the inscribed material,
what stances to take toward the material and readers—all of which goes in to
deciding which words to include and how to put them together. The act of
writing also usually affords time for thought, the ability to look on and revise
earlier plans and revisions, and distance from the place of text circulation—all
heightening the opportunities for reflection and process monitoring. Writers
and readers, therefore, are regularly in a position of “learning by expanding”
(to use Engeström’s 1987 term), meeting new challenges of texts and gaining
some sense of the contexts or systems within which their reading and writing
operates. This opportunity, however, is not always taken and contradictions can
remain hidden, often by unthinking adherence to long-standing conventions
and practices. Engeström’s heuristic in such circumstances can help the writer
identify and address the activity contexts it contributes to, and how the text may
be brought into greater coordination and effectiveness, perhaps even resolving
tensions within the system.
Engeström has pursued another aspect of Vygotskian thought as elaborated
by Leont’ev—the emotional attachment we have in the realization of our
objects. Objects engage our committed effort to bring something new in the
world, fulfilling our needs and desires. In particular, Engeström & Escalante
(1995) have studied the systemic contradictions that may arise from the
different emotional attachments people have to an object. In studying an
electronic vending kiosk as produced by an entrepreneurial company, as
actually used by consumers and as considered by other workers at the site of use,
Engeström & Escalante found that participants had different and conflicting
sets of motives, attitudes and emotions. These conflicts ultimately were part of
the failure of the device in becoming a regular consumer tool. The producers
of the sales kiosk were deeply attached to the technology they had developed
under government contract to test for long-term adoption by the post office,
for it was the realization of their designs, plans, and action. They, like most
Chapter 3 Vygotskian Traditions
makers of technology, were in love with what they had made and assumed
others would share those sentiments. Consumers, however, only using the
machine in the course of other daily activities, assessed the machine from a
different perspective, and found it frustrating to operate. The postal workers
at the office, whose good will and cooperation could help support consumer
use and aid the adoption of the system, saw in the kiosk a disruption of their
orderly activities, a reorganization of the distribution of labor, and ultimately a
threat to employment. They became antipathetic. Such systemic understanding
of emotions is applicable in thinking about the attachment or disengagement
people feel for texts they produce and use. Deep attachment is often necessary
both for the production and the effortful recreation of complex meanings,
but writers’ strong attachment to their words are not always matched by the
emotional stance and commitment of their readers. The success of a text is
dependent on how use of the text contributes to the readers’ objects and their
engagement with the text.
If we conceive of each act of writing as a reflective participation in an activity
system, then we can see how each act of writing is an historically embedded act
of coordinating with others. In these acts of literacy our focus of attention, our
objects and goals, may be various but they are directed towards human systems
of communication and activity. A writer may be obsessed with developing the
narrative technique of an unreliable narrator as a distinguishing characteristic
of her fictions or may be most interested in tapping her own depths of
subconscious. On the other hand, the writer may be primarily concerned with
selling a product or asserting new scientific findings. But in all cases these various
literate activities, actions, and operationalized skills only make sense within
socially organized systems—whether of literary entertainment or commerce or
scientific knowledge production.
Genres are designed for social action, designed to bring about changed
material states in the world, transforming our social and material scenes of
existence and being. Thus the genres within which people frame their utterances
can be seen as also being vehicles for participation in historically emerged
activity systems and their ongoing maintenance. By learning to write in the
typified forms available at one’s time and social place, one learns not only means
of participation but the very motives and objects one might have, as Miller
(1984) pointed out. Genre—conceived as the form discursive action takes—
is part of the larger social activity structures within which action takes place.
A Theory of Literate Action
Insofar as those social structures are discursively constituted and maintained by
the circulation of discourse, the genres themselves are major constituents of that
social activity structure, and every individual’s use of those forms carries those
systems forward. Insofar as individuals orient to those structures as the sites of
their actions, and thus find their objects, goals and motives by participation
within those social activity systems, their very forms of action emerge as
meaningful. Genre-shaped utterances themselves become then vehicles of the
production, reproduction, and evolution of the systems within which the genres
are meaningful.
My investigations of the emergence of the experimental report in science
(Bazerman, 1988, 1991) found that the activity of trying to assert what one has
seen—in order to create an empirical account of the material world—required
people to learn to argue for the validity, accuracy, and meaning of their claims
within the emerging social space of scientific correspondence, societies, and
journals. The particular characteristics and dynamics of journal publication
provided rhetorical challenges in terms of the publicness of the audience, the
enduringness of the text, and the temporal sequence and pacing of articles and
responses (contrasted on one side with spontaneous on-the-spot oral response
in a small group and on the other with the appearance of books years apart).
The typical features of the emergent and evolving form of the experimental
report represented rhetorical solutions to the problem of asserting one’s findings
within such a structured and contentious field. This activity was carried out
with great passion and commitment by a number of the early modern natural
philosophers such as Isaac Newton and Joseph Priestley, who themselves were
major rhetorical innovators and influences in shaping the genre. The normative
rules, roles, tools of investigation, production of journals, the positioning of
scientists with respect to other contemporary socio-cultural entities, and other
aspects of the social and activity structure of science evolved simultaneously
with the discursive forms of participation—with major consequences for how
knowledge was produced, what forms it appeared in, and what counted as
Devitt (1991), similarly, was able to identify the activity of working tax
accountants with the production of a set of genres of tax letters that sat in
particular relation to the tax code and the client’s financial records. Each of
the letter types was positioned somewhat differently with respect to client
and government documents and needs, carrying out a different action, in a
distinctive form. Yet together, in comprising a case file, they together defined
the actions taken on behalf of a client in a case. Schryer (1994) similarly has
examined the way alternative reporting forms for veterinary care are tied to basic
alternatively different versions of what the activity of veterinary care is about;
Chapter 3 Vygotskian Traditions
she also notes how adherence to one or another form covers over unresolved
tensions and contradictions in the field.
Certain central documents may take a major role not only in defining the
terms of a social activity system, but in organizing the genres of surrounding
discourse. McCarthy (1991), for example, has examined how in psychiatry
the Diagnostic Statistical Manual in its various editions and revisions was
intended precisely to be such a vehicle of disciplinary organization and has
succeeded in creating a common nomenclature and nosology (taxonomy of
diseases or disorders), and has influenced all other documents of the field from
the production of case notes to admission documents, case write-ups, patient
records, and insurance reporting forms. A follow-up study (McCarthy &
Gerring, 1994), however, also reveals how political negotiation of nomenclature
leaves fundamental medical contradictions unresolved beneath institutional
decisions. This is similar to the findings in Bazerman, 1987a that institutional
regulation of the forms of reporting in experimental psychology achieved
through dominant groups in the American Psychological Association in the
middle of the twentieth century, kept unresolved contradictions in the field that
became visible again in the latter part of the century as theoretical interests in
the field opened.
Related genre work (reviewed in Russell, 1997b and Bazerman, 2008) makes
similar points. In order to provide some theoretical model for these organizational
coherences, I presented a model of how genres stand in recognizable relation
to each other within social groupings, often with implications for typical
and coherent sequences of production of documents within social structural
constraints (Bazerman 1994a, 1994b). Thus, for example, in classrooms,
syllabus sheets assigning readings are typically followed by students reading those
assignments in advance of lectures and discussions; these are then followed by
paper assignment sheets, submission of papers, and teacher comments. All ends
with exams and grade sheets. Any missing or weakly performed component
in this sequence disables the continuation of the genre sequence and learning
activity, and disorganization of sequence can lead to incoherence in the activity.
Russell (1997a) explicitly ties this notion of systems of genre to Engeström’s
model of activity systems, with attention to the particular problem of
understanding the relationship of classroom activity systems with various
public and professional discourses related to the course discipline. My book
on the Languages of Edison’s Light concretely attempts to trace the historical
development of the discourse activity systems Edison must engage in and then
locate his interventions within specific moments and sequences of utterances
within these activity systems (Bazerman, 1999a).
A Theory of Literate Action
Because writing is embedded within social systems, both the activities and
the systems are open for reflection at each juncture. Indeed almost every act of
writing requires reflection and thought—in part because the writing is likely
to occur at some physical and temporal remove from the exigencies that drive
it and the people who are to be influenced by it. Only in very immediate and
brief writing, such as when we are asked to fill in our name on a form by
a clerk standing next to us, might we carry out writing with little thought.
Rather, acting through a second order symbolic system with signs on the page
to contemplate, we are likely to think about what we are doing even though the
depth of contemplation and understanding may vary,
This reflective cognition opens up the opportunity for rethinking our aims
and our place within the activity system. Each new act of reading and writing
reinvigorates and in a sense remakes the activity system, carrying it forward.
The more we are able to reflect on the system, the greater the possibility for
adjustment, change, remaking, and reinvigoration. The reflection may be
directed at any aspect of the activity system, whether the choice between two
near-synonymous words to evoke different sets of associations or the choice
of fundamental strategies to engage audiences in issues they have not been
attending to. Even attempts to transgress, surprise, or disrupt require reflection
on the usual patterns of discursive activities so as to know where one might
most effectively plant one’s provocations and disruptive surprises.
At the same time as refection allows potentially broad-ranging contemplation,
creativity, and reconfiguration of activities, the orderliness of activity systems serves
to reduce the necessary sphere of contemplation, perception, and cognition—as
suggested by Edwin Hutchins’ (1995) study of navigation techniques in traditional
cultures and modern naval systems. In the cases Hutchins studies, the techniques
and tools of navigations focus the individual navigators carrying out specific
limited tasks which are then collected and coordinated by other collaborating
individuals. Each person only has limited tasks to accomplish. For a deckhand on
a naval aircraft carrier this may mean aligning an identified site point to a cross
hair in a sighting tool and then at designated moments calling out a number
indicating the placement of the crosshair on a scale on the navigational tool. Such
numbers permit the captain to align a caliper-like tool on a map, marking the
position of the ship and setting a line for the continuing course of the ship.
For writers, the orderliness of genres constrains and focuses the writing
task. A person writing a research report on a psychological experiment knows
Chapter 3 Vygotskian Traditions
specific things should be attended to and specific kinds of information should
be reported in the text according to a fairly stable and recognizable organization,
deploying standard formulations, techniques, and phrases. One hardly has to
create a text ex nihilo or search the whole world for relevant material and phrases.
Similarly, someone reading that report can approach it with a fairly focused set
of expectations of what to look for and what interpretive and critical techniques
that need to be deployed (Bazerman, 1985, 1987a). Writers and readers can,
therefore, limit their conscious reflection and choice-making to a few issues,
unless they uncover serious contradictions, problems, or limitations that
challenge the standard way of doing things and taken-for-granted knowledge.
Such contradictions and disruptions may lead writers and readers into what are
considered the deeper questions of the field. In research and knowledge-producing
fields these deeper questions concern assumptions, standard investigative and
argumentative procedures, the codified knowledge relied on from the literature,
theoretical predispositions, and the very social organization of the epistemic or
activity field. Each of these questions has consequences for writing. Similarly, in
business fields such issues as basic economic relations, marketing and production
strategies, organization and task structure, and representation of products all
have consequences for reshaping writing and organizational collaborative writing
practices to carry out one’s business effectively.
The third member of Vygotsky’s troika, Alexander Romanovich Luria,
focused on functional systems within the individual rather than within the
social activity system, as Leont’ev had. Luria became widely known in the West
for his work on cognitive neuroscience, which grew out of his work on brain
damage and aphasias. But his work was directed by interests that preceded his
work on brain physiology, and his findings in neuroscience are consistent with
his findings from psychological and developmental studies. He viewed the brain
not as the aggregate of specific locales each with discrete knowledge or directing
a discrete skill (nor did he take the extreme opposite view that the brain operated
only and always as a whole), but rather he viewed the brain as the differentiated
neural ground on which functional systems developed as the child grew through
activity-driven social experience and learned language which mediated most
social activities. The development of spoken language was particularly crucial
for the development of higher mental processes and functions. These functional
systems brought into dynamic relation multiple parts of the differentiated
brain directed from the cortical regions. Spoken language provides the means
A Theory of Literate Action
for conscious and voluntary action and is implicated in all higher mental
functioning (see Vocate, 1987).
We can see Luria’s interest in role of language most explicitly in the twin
study (Luria, 1979; Luria & Yudovitch, 1959). A pair of five-year-old male
twins, as a consequence of delayed phonological development, had only limited
and idiosyncratic language development, and largely communicated only with
each other. They mostly played with each other in embodied action, rather
than language-guided interaction. When entering a kindergarten they did not
play much with peers and had limited abilities in such creative tasks as blockbuilding
or role playing. They had almost no narrative or planning speech. After
investigators separated the twins to aid in their social, linguistic, and intellectual
development, the one with the least language development was given special
instruction in discriminating and articulating sounds and in engaging in adult
speech. After ten months of separation both children had developed in their
general use of language and in their use of narrative and planning speech. Even
more strikingly, the more backward child who received special instruction
wound up using more narrative and about the same amount of planning
speech as the child who was originally more advanced linguistically. Both the
planning speech and narrative speech of the child with extra training were
more likely to apply to objects not in the immediate environment. Further, this
child had a greater ability to comprehend complex grammatical constructions
and inflections. The growth in language of both twins correlated with major
changes in their play incorporating objects into their plans and game rules. The
play became restructured around verbally formulated projects and articulated
objectives. The child with additional training, although previously the follower
in the twins’ play, had become the leader, learned more rapidly, and assimilated
more easily new learning into his activity.
Throughout his career Luria carried out a number of similar studies, from
his early studies with Vygotsky on the use of signs to aid in the organization
and regulation of tasks to work in the 1950s on verbal regulation and inhibition
of behavior. In these latter experiments, for example, two-year-olds, holding a
rubber bulb, when told to squeeze the bulb when a red light appeared, would
immediately squeeze upon hearing the word “squeeze.” Further, they would not
squeeze when the red light appeared. Children at age three and four, however,
were able to follow instructions, regulating their behavior accordingly. Further
complications appeared when children were given two differently colored
lights to respond to or were given instructions not to press. Not until age six
could the children consistently regulate their behavior according to complex
verbal instructions, although even the youngest child subjects could repeat
the instructions and apparently understood them at a verbal level. Children
Chapter 3 Vygotskian Traditions
with learning disabilities had greater specific problems with these tasks through
later ages. Luria interpreted his results around the development of higher
order regulation of complex behaviors based on the internalized meanings of
words gradually overtaking “natural” responses regulated by immediate stimuli
(whether material or verbal) (Luria, 1961).
These studies provide some insight into Luria’s longitudinal study of
someone with an extraordinary memory begun in the 1920s and continuing
into the 1950s (Luria, 1968). The subject’s powerful eidetic memory worked
through direct images, associating words with verbal images, synesthesia, and
direct sensory perceptions or associations, but the memory seemed unordered,
unregulated and undirected by verbal means. At times the subject even failed to
notice the sense, meaning, or logical sequencing of material he memorized. He
constructed complex eidetic schemes where a simple noticing of symbols, such as
a numerical or alphabetic sequence, would serve. His typical method of ordering
was to place various images along a mentally imagined road or a hallway, and
then to mentally walk down the road calling out what he saw. These memories
were so powerfully planted as direct sense perception, as eidetic memory, that his
mind became cluttered with unforgettable images, particularly as he earned his
living as an entertainer performing prodigious feats of memory. He tried various
devices of sensory imagination to expunge these memories, such as erasing a
mental blackboard or covering it over with a canvas. However, such devices
frequently failed and memories of images from previous memory performances
would return. He then attempted to write the material down which he wished to
forget, under the reasoning that if it were written down he would no longer need
to remember. But even this did not work. Only when he noticed that a memory
did not appear and he was able to tell himself it was because he didn’t want it
to appear that he was no longer bothered with unwanted memory. Although
this process, as Luria notes, is somewhat mysterious, the verbal regulation of his
mental process, announcing to himself that he did not want to remember these
images, was an important part of the process.
The role of consciousness as substantive parts of people’s life is thematic
in Luria’s work. Investigating the role of consciousness in a person’s mental
operations and behavior led Luria to what he called a romantic science, which
attempts to understand human mind and behavior in all its richness rather than
to reduce psychology to abstracted principles. Thus his study of a man with a
war-time brain injury (Luria, 1972) was not so much the story of a reduced
capacity as of how the person coped with the new conditions of mental life he
found himself living with. Within the capacity and tools available to the self, a
person must create functional systems to carry out the operations, actions, and
activities of life. Under normal circumstances many of the functional systems
A Theory of Literate Action
arise in a preconscious coordination of the parts of brain and behavior—
though complex functional systems may develop later in life, building on
early established functional systems and integrating tools, artifacts, and social
organization. Under more extraordinary conditions, the individual must
consciously create new functional systems to do what other people do without
conscious thought, such as relearning to read after parts of the visual processing
mechanisms having been destroyed by brain injury. In recent decades Oliver
Sacks has pursued romantic science exploring individual personalities coming
to live with atypical neuropsychological or perceptual conditions (See O. Sacks,
1985, 1989, 1995, 1996).
One of the important implications of functional systems and their
reconstruction incorporating tools, artifacts, and social organization is that the
specific cognitive functional systems involved in reading and writing need not
have evolved over a long biological heritage nor be present and activated in the
early development of embryo and infant. Rather, they may develop late within
human history in concert with the historical emergence and elaboration of the
potentials of written language over the last five thousand years, although built
on upon earlier and longer-standing human biological capacities and social
inventions, such as language. The functional systems associated with language
become transformed and reconfigured as they are applied to written language.
Thus, while directives and even principles of justice could be articulated in purely
oral conditions, only with the emergence of written laws could the relationship
of large and complex sets of laws be readily examined, compared, regulated, and
ordered. The cognitive functional systems of modern legal thought would not
only be of little use under oral conditions, they would have little occasion to be
used and therefore to develop.
Similarly, in each child organized approaches to reading and writing emerge
only well into a child’s development, typically at the fourth or fifth year or
later, building on earlier biological capacities, cultural resources, and social
experiences. Even at the level of visual perception, eyes need to be trained to
focus on small marks on a page (which the young child notices older children and
adults orienting towards), scan in the organized path of the particular writing
system (such as right to left and then down the page), make fine discriminations
between letters, organize letter perceptions within words, and then regulate it all
by assigning meaning to the collections of marks. Similarly, learning to inscribe
letters requires the development of functional systems that are dependent on
cultural practices embodied in the writing system (such as alphabetic, syllabic,
or ideographic), the technologies of inscription (stylus, pencil or keyboard),
and the associated motor skills. Beyond these most basic skills are the many
systems of interpretation, contemplation, personal association, evaluation,
Chapter 3 Vygotskian Traditions
stance taking, synthesis, and idea building which may occur largely internally
(though having their origin in some interpersonal experience and training). The
development of our cognitive capacities employing literacy is a major theme of
the entire educational system.
Since literacy is such a late arrival in human evolution, it is unlikely
there are biologically determined pathways for the cognitive development of
the fully functional systems of literate participation, although some lowerlevel
components such as visual discrimination and motor control do have
biological substrates. Consequently there is no biological guarantee that literate
systems will regularly develop in different individuals in the same way. That
is, individuals may address the challenges and solutions of meaning making
from signs differently. Each person building on biological constraints and
affordances, must innovatively build their own functional cognitive systems out
of their experiences, instructions, and the existing prior relevant systems they
can bring to bear to the task.
Because literacy involves such a later-adopted restructuring of consciousness
around newly developed functional systems that embody and adapt to new
cultural tools, Luria clearly distinguished between spoken and written language
and had only limited comments on writing, primarily to distinguish it from
spoken language and to identify its onset as a new stage in development. In
an early article, from 1929 (Luria, 1978), he points out that children first
learn writing only as a series of scrawls, thinking that this external practice
is the full extent of what is entailed in writing, and only later does the child
start to develop an understanding of how signs are distinguished and meaning
mediated by them. Thus the process of understanding meaning transmission
and construction within literacy does not flow directly and naturally from
an understanding and use of spoken language, but develops through the
formation of new functional systems. Writing near the end of his short life
Vygotsky (1978) has similar but more developed comments about the way in
which children move from a sense of writing as an external practice to a sense
of graphic symbolic communication through drawing and then only after the
transcription of sounds that themselves convey meaning—a sign of a sign, as
Vygotsky says. That is, in alphabetic languages the letters signify sounds and
then the sounds are the vehicles of the meaning.
Following this perception that different functional systems must be developed
to process meanings embodied in written language, Luria says that higher mental
processes have two distinctive components that differ in origin, function, and
structure. Among the differences that Luria notes between learning speech and
writing is that the embodied physical context that usually accompanies spoken
language aids in its interpretation, whereas written language must typically
A Theory of Literate Action
carry more of its situation and meaning through its own verbal presentation—
thus adding a conceptual abstraction of situation to the abstraction of phonetic
expression and the relation of phonetic expression to meaning.
Because of this removal from the immediate situation and the engagement
with texts that seem to draw us out of our immediate behavioral contexts,
written language is much more deeply implicated with inner speech than
spoken language. While reading and writing may originally have been associated
with spoken performance and rehearsal of texts—scripting of speeches and
communication of personal messages through letters read aloud—yet over time
written language use moved inward as people read extended texts to themselves
whether or not they vocalized the words or adopted the later practice of silent
reading. Similarly, writers as they gain in skill develop ever more extended texts,
prepared at their isolated desks to be delivered for other people’s contemplation.
The semi-privacy and delayed release of writing has created extended space for
composing processes of interaction with one’s own emerging text, available for
planning, reflection, evaluation, self-censorship, revision and refinement. These
composing activities support the development of more elaborated and extended
consciousnesses. Luria noted this very close association between written
language and inner speech, and suggested this as another reason writing needed
to be considered separate from spoken language in its effects on cognition and
consciousness (Luria, 1970).
In order to explore this new level of consciousness that Luria and Vygotsky
associated with the onset of literacy, they undertook some expeditions in the
1930s to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in central Asia in order to understand the
reasoning processes of peasants with little experience of schooling or literacy.
Using ethnography, interviews, and puzzle tasks, they found that those with
less schooling tended to answer questions and solve puzzles more on the basis
of their own experience and immediate knowledge than on logical abstractions,
deductive reasoning, superordinate categorization, and similar devices associated
with uses of literacy in schooling. While they attributed the differences primarily
to the acquisition of literacy, there was no attempt to disentangle the effects of
cultural experience of schooling from the learning of literacy, nor was there any
attempt to document the particular experiences and uses of literacy within the
lives of the communities and individual studies. Rather literacy was treated as
an undifferentiated new stage of consciousness. The studies of Scribner and
Cole (1981) disentangle these effects more precisely, and point toward how
culturally specific the uses and practices of literacy are and correspondingly how
specific and varying the cognitive consequences are.
Scribner and Cole’s studies were in response to a large number of studies
during the sixties and seventies that explored the cognitive consequences of
Chapter 3 Vygotskian Traditions
literacy (by such people as Goody, 1977; Havelock, 1971, 1981; Ong, 1958,
1982) that considered the consequences of literacy to be general and uniform.
When this earlier work is reinterpreted through lenses of cultural specificity and
social history (as Goody began to do in the Logic of Writing and the Organization
of Society, 1986), this opens up an analysis of how human cognition has changed
in relation to the emerging functional social systems of literacy (Bazerman,
2006) as well as the cognitive functional systems of individuals (Bazerman,
Since literacy itself is an historical cultural accomplishment, we would
expect cultural practices to loom large in guiding individual development, such
as the Jewish practice of placing honey on letters so the child can associate
written words with basic biological pleasures. The frequent ritual oral repetition
of certain communal texts in public can shape the functional systems of literacy
as can extensive, structured phonics instruction, or the ambient profusion of
texts incorporated in daily life activities. Our ways of incorporating literacy
into our cognitive practices can be influenced by a cultural expectation that
we use literacy to memorize and hold texts precisely fixed or that we use it
for creative projection of personal meanings. Equally, social environments of
argument over texts, or of fear of the power of words to control one’s life, or
of irreverent humor supporting heterodox culture will all influence how the
individual orients toward literate activity and constructs functional systems to
Our functional systems of literacy develop in relation to social circumstances
and practices and in relation to our capacities evoked in such circumstances.
Even within homogenous cultures, individuals may come to interpret texts
differently and to write different texts, both within the bounds of orthodoxy
and on the transgressive edge of heterodoxy. When cultures support profusion
of experiences and novelty of expression, the individuality of development
flowers into great differences of interpretation and expression in many
domains, from poetry to business plans to theories of fundamental particles.
The styles, relations to audiences, text organizations and processes proliferate
as individuality of literate experiences is supported and rewarded. Writing
development, rather than moving towards a single ideal, proliferates differences
and the most developed writers write the most uniquely, even though some
limited aspects (such as spelling, grammar, or even preferred style) may be
regulated by cultural norms. The importance of both culture and individual
experience in writing development bring together Leont’ev’s social approach to
functional activity systems and Luria’s more individual approach to functional
systems. Individuals develop their internal functional systems of reading
and writing while participating and establishing roles within the communal
A Theory of Literate Action
functional activity systems in evolving societies. This interconnection between
individual and social development should caution us against over-generalizing
about the cognitive systems engaged in literacy, even though reading and writing
are fundamentally cognitive acts of meaning making.
The elaboration of Vygotsky’s work by his collaborators and heirs, Leont’ev
and Luria, helps give further shape to our understanding of humans as active
social symbolic selves, developing consciousness in relation to language uses
that arise within our organized social lives and employing our historically
developed cultural tools. Spoken language and then written language transform
consciousness and allow us to participate in more complex and reflective
activities and actions. In the next two chapters we will explore some parallel
developments in European and American social science that provide different
perspectives on the forms of expression, consciousness, and social organization
that have been intertwined with the development of literacy.

By reading and writing, people act socially and symbolically, constituting
themselves, their orientations, attention, relevancies, and consciousnesses in
relation to social communicative interactions. The Soviet Russian psychological
tradition, as we have seen in the previous two chapters, provides some means for
understanding how the individual within social interaction develops the means
for self-regulation of behavior and for carrying out social interaction, forming a
cognitive organization and a consciousness built upon the neurobiology of the
brain that becomes elaborated through participation in social activity systems.
In the course of developing such social selves individuals are also building a
social world, a world saturated with meaning and human activity. Reading and
writing are means not only of building individual consciousness and shaping
individual action of the literate person, they are also means of the developing the
collective thoughts and interactive organizations of the societies within which
individuals develop their lives and consciousnesses. Thus there is a dialectical
relationship between the psychological and sociological.
For example, the texts of popular political parody, government constitution,
political theory and analysis, and the like provide the terms within which
politically oriented youth develop their personal thoughts and in which
politically engaged groups develop their ideas and plans. They are also the
means by which individuals and groups engage in political action, attempting
to influence candidates and issues. Politically oriented youths affiliate with
groups, extend their awareness of the texts viewed relevant, and seek to
make their ideas more widely known and directly realized in the workings of
government. In doing all this they contribute to a climate within which further
new generations will form their political consciousnesses and engagements. Of
course, immediate face-to-face interaction, experience, need, and passion are
important shapers and drivers of political culture. Nonetheless, in a literate
world through texts individuals learn facts about situations occurring outside
their immediate observation and gain access to ideas and experiences of nonpresent
others. Texts, additionally, can be used to plan and coordinate work
of local and more extended groups. Further, modes of thought and analysis
Chapter 4 The Phenomenological Sociology Tradition
characteristic of literacy are likely to influence political stances and shared texts
are likely to be discussed and form common bonds among the politically active.
Even more, the reach and delivery of political words and news of actions are
extended and transformed through the circulation of texts, so that individuals
and groups orient to larger political units beyond the local town such as the
province, nation, or international bodies. Thus the nature of political individuals
and political culture change through the communicative means which form the
medium of knowledge, thought, expression and action for both individual and
The next four chapters explore some theoretic grounds for understanding
the relation of psychology and sociology by examining several related traditions
of European and American sociology arising out of phenomenology and
pragmatism. Along the way we will draw some connections with Russian sociocultural
psychology. The aim of examining these several traditions remains
the understanding of the modes of being that are developed, carried out and
transformed through the inventive means of written language. While this account
may at times appear to extend some distance beyond writing, we will regularly
return to consider implications for literate modes of interaction and being.
Miller’s (1984) move to see genre as an instance of Schutz’s typification
process (Schutz 1967b; Schutz & Luckmann, 1973) provided a key link in
our understanding of text as social action and as constitutive of the social
order. Miller’s recognition was paralleled independently by Schutz’s followers
who considered genre as a typifying force. Here we will be looking into the
problems and reasoning that led Schutz to his central concept of typification
and to some of the extensions and implications he drew. This examination of
Schutz will provide resources for understanding genre as typification and its
role in constituting individual consciousness and social order. This examination
will also provide a vehicle for understanding the relation of contemporary
genre studies to the several lines of sociological research that have been deeply
influenced by Schutz.
Alfred Schutz (1899—1959) was a banker, economist, and social
philosopher, first in Vienna and then migrating to New York in 1938 when
Germany annexed Austria. As a member of the Austrian school of economics
he was much concerned with grounding issues of economic behavior and,
by extension, grounding issues of the social sciences. After immigrating to
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the United States he continued his career as a banker but also affiliated with
the New School, becoming the foremost spokesman for phenomenology
and phenomenological sociology in the post war period, influencing many
developments in microsociology, ethnomethodology, conversational analysis,
and interactional analysis (Heritage, 1984), to be examined in Chapter 7.
While most commentators see Schutz’s career in banking and economics
as separate from his philosophic interests, Prendergast (1986) persuasively
identifies the roots of Schutz’s interest in processes in social typification lying
within problems of economic behavior that troubled him and his colleagues
in Austria at the start of his career. The problem may be stated as follows: The
principle of marginal utility (the most distinctive contribution of Austrian
economics) rests on a simplified model of human behavior as dictated by a
rational calculation of self-interest, based on knowledge of markets in relevant
goods with few extra-economic, extra-market considerations. This model
is the well-known homo economicus acting with other rational self-interested
individuals in a market which contains all information necessary for acting
within it. The concept of homo economicus stands behind much of modern
economics and dates back at least to the time of Adam Smith: it has also been
from the beginning regularly critiqued as a narrow fiction. Schutz wondered
how it was that this clearly fictive assumption that reduces the complexities of
human behavior in patently unrealistic ways still produces accounts of behavior
that are highly predictive for economic behavior within markets. Further, he
wondered, given that we have no direct and unmediated access to the thoughts
of others, how can we with any confidence make any assumption about their
motives and the meaning of their choice making.
In grappling with these problems, Schutz turned to Husserl’s phenomenology
(1964). In so doing Schutz transformed phenomenology from a philosophic
inquiry into a sociological method and ontology, as a way to understand how
individuals came to act and attribute meaning according to socially constructed
ideas and structures. One of the major vehicles for this transformation was a
synthesis with Max Weber’s sociological method of ideal types, which Weber saw
as the fundamental method of sociology. Schutz (1967a) argued that ideal types
were not only an analytical method of sociologists but also the practical method
by which individuals made sense of their social world, developed guidelines for
their own choices and behavior, and came to attribute meaning to their own
actions and the actions of others. In proposing a solution to the problem of
economic behavior using a general philosophic method of phenomenology and
a general sociological method of ideal types, Schutz developed an approach to
understanding all forms of social behavior and a general model for a unified
social science.
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His proposal, in short, was that individuals, in order to participate in what
they see as a meaningful or useful social arena, take on what they believe to be
principles of that arena. They then use those principles to guide their own behavior
and to make their behavior meaningful and intelligible to other participants.
Whatever their underlying motives and thoughts are, as the impulses become
realized within social action, impulses take on the forms of social types. Those
types in turn provide a cognitive orientation for the individual, establishing
patterns and principles of thought and identifying relevant knowledge that the
individual brings to bear on the circumstances. Thus if you depend on a market
where you trade goods and money based on their perceived value to you, you
will begin to adopt a perspective of marginal utility, calculating which goods
would grant you the greatest satisfaction of desires, given the relative prices
of goods, the amount you already own, and the additional cost and pleasure
attached to each increment under current market conditions. Further, you
will gather information relating to goods, desires, the desires of others with
whom you would buy and sell, and so on. In short, you would develop the
consciousness of a rational economic actor in the market in the course of
making choices within that market. The principles of economic behavior are
therefore not essential and unchangeable facts of human psychology—they are
rather patterns of behavior associated with particular market formations which
individuals orient towards and adapt themselves to by acting typically within
such markets. Even if individuals are not at first oriented towards markets but
find themselves living within market economies, where to meet their needs and
desires they by necessity must adopt a market orientation, they are drawn into
a nexus of economic reasoning which may come to dominate their life-world.
Thus laborers as much as capitalists are drawn into the cash nexus. In a cash
economy, monks are freed to contemplate other matters only if they have a
protective institution that takes care of economic matters for them.
Although Schutz seemed unaware of it, Adam Smith, a century and half
before, advocated the idea of rational economic behavior as a social fiction that
if adopted by all people would provide a basis for an economic socio-political
order. Thus Smith attempted to enlist people into the very capitalist system
of economic behavior that Schutz was grappling with. Smith hardly believed
that humans naturally operated as homo economicus; rather, he followed Locke
and Hume in seeing individuals having idiosyncratic experiences leading them
to developing idiosyncratic sets of associations, with consequent divergent
perceptions, desires, beliefs, behaviors, and guiding principles. Smith did,
however, note that the general patterns of life and economic circumstances—
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the activities and forms of production one engaged in as well as the particular
circumstances and dilemmas of individual lives—provided some clues on
which to construct a sympathetic understanding of the range of thought and
knowledge as well as the particular choices they might make. He further noted
that humans had the unfortunate tendency to affiliate with and be deferential to
those whom they perceived to “be their betters,” those who stood hierarchically
above them in contemporary systems of social order. People, nonetheless, also
had a tendency to want to better themselves within those same circumstances
and orders. Humans in Smith’s eyes were hardly rational creatures. They
tended to remain committed to hierarchical societies dominated by church
and monarchy, despite the exploitation and lack of needs satisfaction they
experienced within those social orders. He did feel, however, that they would be
more likely to pursue their own interests more consistently and rationally (and
therefore participate in a society more directed by local knowledge and providing
for a greater satisfaction of their perceived needs), if they were convinced to
pursue their impulse to better themselves and if there were available a universal
mechanism of exchange that would allow them to pursue their own individual
notions of betterment (Smith, 1978).
Money and markets were to be that mechanism. If people could be convinced
to see money as the universal means to satisfy their diverse needs, desires, and
interests, then they would all pursue those interests through economic exchange
within markets, which would then provide a universal site of social ordering
and affiliation. As Marx (1909) would say, all would be drawn into the cash
nexus once they adopted this economic attitude, and this nexus would be selfregulating
and universally motivating, and thereby be so powerful as to provide
a compelling alternative to hierarchical forms of social domination.
Smith’s project to enlist people into market behavior directly implied
the Schutzian concept of typifications. The types of behavior appropriate to
markets would frame modes of consciousness, into which desire and motive
would be channeled. Schutz, however, generalized this idea beyond the
economic rationality that one engages in to participate in markets to the forms
of consciousness one develops in participating in any specialized domain. Thus a
chess player in entering into a chess game adopts certain motives and principles
of choice-making that comprise the typical attitude of the chess player. As a
person becomes more serious in their orientation and psychic commitment to
the game, that person takes on the typical motives and consciousness of a chess
player. We can readily specify the kinds of things the player wonders about, the
kinds of plans they make, and the kinds of choices they confront. As the person
moves through various levels of skill, we can even begin to specify some of the
different levels of consideration they are likely to process rapidly or even know
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automatically. We can as well identify some of the new areas of consideration
where they are likely to attend to more consciously and intently as they advance
in their skill. Indeed learning at the higher levels in part means learning to
attend to the kinds of considerations the better players attend to. These levels
are historically emergent as newly discovered principles of useful strategy; thus
the history of chess thought is usually recounted by the types of strategic and
tactical thinking introduced in each period. Further, as chess becomes a larger
part of a player’s life, such as among professionals, we can specify the kinds of
concerns and orientations they adopt in building a chess career and adopting
the chess way of life.
Equally we can say that the fourteenth century Venetian entering into the
world of courtiers, or the late nineteenth century educated New Englander
entering into the world of poetry, or the twenty-first century web designer
entering the competitive workplace each absorb the modes of thought and
action they perceive as typical of those domains, even as they attempt to innovate
in their interests and establish their distinctive qualities within the criteria of
excellence of their times. This is the insight developed by Bourdieu in analyzing
the fields of artistic production and the ways one distinguishes oneself to adopt
a unique position within a structured field of endeavor (Bourdieu, 1984, 1993).
Insofar as the person is immersed within a specific domain and activity system,
we can begin to describe the orientation, motives, organization, and typical
contents of her or his consciousness, and describe her or his individuality in
dialectic with the typicality of the time, place, and domain.
Further, our familiarity with that domain and the cognitive orientation of
the other participants allows us to understand and appreciate what others do.
People in an economic market can make deals with each other because they know
reliably what kinds of actions the other will take along with their motives and
reasonings. Thus they can shake hands on a deal, knowing paperwork, products,
and payments will follow in what is considered a timely and appropriate way.
Of course, they are also aware of the kinds of ways others may attempt to take
advantage of them and are on the lookout for the forms of cheating that have
developed in those domains. At the same time, experienced practitioners will
be in a position to recognize what might count as a reliable partner and a good
deal. They can also appreciate the truly novel or clever move in their world in
the way outsiders cannot. Similarly, skilled chess players are able to understand
the moves of players at or just above their level, and even appreciate a move
that pushes the play to a new level or escapes the bounds of the expected to
gain an unanticipated advantage. The meaning or value of that admirable move
would escape players at a level that has not yet introduced them to the way if
thinking that makes the move intelligible. Courtiers can understand what other
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courtiers are doing, as can people initiated into particular poetic worlds best
understand what poets in that world are doing, and experienced web designers
can understand the meaning and motive of an innovation.
The many practical guides to participating in a field (whether how to invest
in the stock market, be a courtier, play the middle game in chess, or design web
sites) provide information for people entering into a domain, before they have
internalized these typical orientations and guidelines into their own practice.
Such guidebooks attest to the strong impulse we have to reflexively understand
and articulate the principles of acting within particular spheres and the need for
training in specialized modes of thought to maximize performance. Similarly,
the many interpretations and appreciations—whether accounts of exemplary
courtiers, analyses of chess games, interpretations of poems, or critiques of
web-designs—suggest how specialized knowledge of the typified act aids
understanding and appreciation, thereby expanding our consciousness within
the realm, giving us more resources to think with when engaged in that realm.
This understanding of typifications never lets us into the full stream of
consciousness of the individual, as Schutz points out. Rather, it only lets us
anticipate the general outlines of consciousness, and then read back from
the particulars of public performance, behavior, or accomplishments what
the individual was likely to have contemplated and intended specifically. The
thoughts that the person rejected as irrelevant or the thinking about other
things (worrying about Uncle Joe’s health while playing the chess game) that do
not obviously derive from the activity or resources translated from outside the
domain are opaque and invisible. In the emergent production earlier thought,
contemplated behavior, and mood fall away, and we are only left with what the
person brings into the public arena in the form they bring it. The individual
acting too is left with the emergent public product as a public commitment and
identity. Ultimately all that mediates between us is what has been externalized
(See Thomason, 1982).
Our prospective motives of what we might desire to do, furthermore, are
directed by our understanding of the way the action realm works and what
actions are typically successful. We can only anticipate going to market to sell
our agricultural produce if a marketplace exists, and we can only desire to learn
the musical instruments we have seen and heard. Even if we are to innovate
in organizing a public square to transform prior irregular trades or to create
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a new stringed instrument, we still work from what we have seen and heard
before to imagine improved possibilities. Just as we form our own participation
and orientation out of what we internalize from the activity world around us,
what we add to that world is only what we manage to externalize. It is those
externalizations that provide information for others to understand our behavior
within its typified realms, and for them to construct their constantly evolving
and emergent notions of what is typical in those realms, thus orienting their
own behaviors and consciousness. They now can organize their lives to come
to the regular Tuesday market, or they can learn to play a new instrument and
explore its musical potential. Further, our own reflexive awareness of our actions
within that typified realm provide us information about our own identities,
commitments, and actions, upon which we may base our after-the-fact accounts
of motives. We become merchants or mayors, violin players or composers, as we
participate and succeed in our activities and carry on future actions based on
our experiences and successes.
This dynamic dialectic of internalization of existing social forms to provide
the grounds of action and the externalization of material actions with material
consequences that remain after the evanescence of our internal processes creates
some of the deepest puzzles and tensions of writing. This dialectic is in the
difficulty we have in locating or composing the state of mind from which our
meanings will flow; it is in the feeling that our words do not fully reflect what
we feel; it is in the surprise we find to read what we have written; and it is in
the surprise we have when we find others understand something different in our
words than we intended. This dialectic is also in the contradiction between the
conviction we may have that the meanings we get from texts seem so profound
and robust and yet the recognition that written language is a fragile vessel for
evanescent cargos of internally perceived meanings. (For an elaboration of
internalization and externalization processes from a Vygotskian perspective,
with specific attention to the role of concepts and concept language in writing,
see Bazerman, 2012).
The specific resources, knowledges, memories, and other contents we bring
to bear in constructing these externalizations and that we represent within these
externalizations are driven by our sense of relevance for the project at hand. We
assemble what we think we need, based on what we think we are doing, shaped
by the typified project and the typified rules that we adopt as part of engaging in
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and understanding the project. Of all those things that might potentially come
to our mind or that we might search out in the library and world, our attention
focuses on just those things we view as enabling us to do what we are doing, as
we understand what we are doing (see Bazerman, 1985 for an example of how
writing intentions influence reading choices), and it is just those things that are
then available as we assemble our actions. For the process of writing this means
what we bring to bear as we assemble the text and what we display in the text
arises from a project-shaped consciousness. We are thinking to write and we are
writing with the contents we have mentally assembled as relevant within the
typified understandings of our projects.
A second kind of motive for identifying relevance occurs after the fact when
we need to give an account of our actions and the conditions that gave rise to
it, to justify or explain or take lessons from our actions. What is considered
relevant in such accounts, both in what enters our consciousness and emerges
within our externalized accounts, is what we understand to be relevant to such
accounts and which we believe our audiences will accept as relevant—and
thus we are accountable in typified ways. In our original projects, in fact, we
may anticipate such accountability needs by acting so as to provide evidence
of the “appropriateness” or “reasonableness” of our actions. Some projects
within their typifications already establish the need for such accounts of their
coming into being, as a scientific experimental paper requires an account of the
theory, previous findings, experimental methods, and laboratory events that are
claimed to have brought the experimental investigation and consequent paper
into being. That these are cleaned up to make more coherent and acceptable
accounts in the final externalized version (see Medawar, 1964; and Bazerman,
1988) is precisely to be anticipated given the Schutzian observation about the
emergent shape of typified behavior and consciousness, and the slipping away of
those things viewed as irrelevant, outside the project, or non-normative within
the activity world. Typifications in this way control our horizon of attention
and what is viewed as unproblematically appropriate to such actions, and
accordingly obscure those things that might be perceived as not worth thinking
about or being discussed as part of the project we are engaged in.
Typification and relevance are so strong in shaping our consciousness and
horizons of attention as we are drawn into realms of activity and relationship,
that it is hard to remember that we could be thinking, perceiving, or doing
Chapter 4 The Phenomenological Sociology Tradition
in any other way. Berger and Luckmann (1966) elaborate the reconstructive
nature of autobiography and memory to make sense of our lives. Further,
we tend to see things from the normalized perspective of their after-thefact
accomplishment rather than their in-the-making assemblage. Latour
(1987) in considering the difference between accounts of science-in-themaking
and science-already-made shows how much is obscured by viewing
completed projects as accomplishments rather than still open puzzles. What
we patch together through contingent choices thus comes to appear as the full
recognizable, natural, and complete acts rather than shaped by an historical
process of social construction of typifications.
This inability to see beyond the habituated typified order has been called the
natural attitude by Husserl (1964). This is particularly true of socially pervasive
practices which we are drawn into from earliest childhood, such as systems
of morality or family relationship or street navigation or communication
through language. Only through some unusual experience, reflective position,
or intentional inquiry are people able to step out of their naturalized world
to begin to perceive its arbitrariness, to see that there can be fundamentally
different ways of going about things, and to recognize those other ways are not a
priori inferior or unnatural. When a person starts to learn another language and
then finds in it different potentials of meaning, for example, then that person
can start to see the limits and particularity of the first language. Similarly for
writing there are many understandings and expectations of writing so deeply
tied to our primary places of learning of written language and reproduced in
institutions and practices of literacy throughout our society, it is hard to see
them as anything but natural, the only and right way to proceed with writing
and reading—whether at the level of spelling uniformity and adherence to
prescriptive grammars or at the level of what constitutes proper topics and selfrepresentation.
The practices, situations, and evaluative criteria of schooling
have been especially influential in creating our naturalized view of writing.
It is not only the early and pervasively engrained that can be the basis of
the natural attitude. When we spend a long time engaged in any practice it is
easy to forget that things could be otherwise. Even if in some moods we know
that alternative practices, projects, and relevancies are possible, an impassioned
commitment to a community or project may foster intolerance of alternative
domains of meaning that can be evoked by other approaches to writing. Many
scientists, lawyers, or even poets, so clearly engaged in historically emerged
literate practices which they themselves only learn in adolescence or later, believe
there is only one right and natural way to pursue their projects. Their views of
writing correspond to what they believe they ought to be doing as competent
practitioners, despite doubts that they cannot in every or any instance live up
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to the normative typified expectation. Self-castigation against an extreme and
inflexible typification of competence and the way things ought to be is rampant
in many domains of writing. Developing a comparative or historical interest, or
engaging in wide and varied practical experiences writing in multiple domains,
however, provides a way out of the “naturalness” of current modes of practice to
understand the arbitrariness and historical choice making that make expected
practices something other than eternal moral truths.
This process of taking culturally developed principles and typifications
as commitments for actions and thereby making them concrete in their
consequences is the process of reification (Thomason, 1982)—making the ideal
or ideological or conceptual materially consequential and factual within life.
Reifications of social practices become social facts. This social construction of
reified, naturalized orders, however, need not be taken as creating delusions,
although in some cases social facts may obscure facts readily apparent to those
adopting other perspectives. Reification only means our orienting to, taking
part in, and therefore bringing further into being some regime of activity,
relations, consciousness, and meaning associated with the invoked world.
We need not be blind to what is happening and how we construct the world
we live in. I can be quite well aware that I am entering into a world of chessplaying
or music making or legal argument, can be aware of the principles,
beliefs, and commitments I take on, and can notice the shifting weights of
relevance associated with this world. Equally I can notice the changes that
happen to my experience and thoughts as I become more heavily involved in
those domains. Indeed, people often reflectively notice and comment on just
those changes in themselves and their experiences at moments of transition. On
the other hand, we may enter into many regimes of reification long before we
have the reflective tools to notice, that we forget our prior states and moments
of transition as we move into compelling and encompassing regimes. Or we
may lack the motive, opportunity, or position to reflect upon our position.
Under such conditions our worldview may become so dominated by the artifice
of the regime and is so supported by the perceptions of co-participants, that
we become blind to the fact that our investment in this world was elective or
accidental. Rather, we attribute those investments and meanings as something
natural and eternal, grounded in a moral order that is beyond the human.
Violations of the expectations of such unreflective reified practices can be seen
as moral outrages and those who commit them as uncivilized, uneducated, or
otherwise seriously faulted and needing correction. A reflexive awareness of the
reification and naturalization processes that have established school practices
and social beliefs about writing can relieve us much of the sense of rectitude and
moral outrage that surrounds our view of our own and others’ writing.
Chapter 4 The Phenomenological Sociology Tradition
Nonetheless, the whole idea of social construction has been met by some
with a kind of moral outrage, that it is akin to anarchy and nihilism, casting
us into radical relativism, throwing all meanings into skeptical disbelief (Sokal
& Bricmont, 1999). Even worse, recognition that all statements of knowledge
are socially constructed raises the fear that the material world is unknowable,
or rather that adherents of social construction are enemies of the scientific and
philosophic projects that attempt to know the world outside of our constructed
meanings. There have of course been many books and articles written on this
epistemological debate, both throughout the history of philosophy (starting
with Plato’s quarrel with the Sophists in the Gorgias) and more recently in
what have been called the science wars. Without engaging this full debate and
sidetracking the concerns of this volume, I just point out that Schutz was very
careful to make his concept of reification only a methodological principle, an
extension of the phenomenological epoché—a bracketing to hold in suspension
those things we take as natural so as to investigate how we take them to be
natural. He remained avowedly agnostic on the actually knowability of social
and material reality (Schutz, 1967a). The pragmatist tradition, the topic of the
next chapter, provides another way of conceiving this issue that get us outside of
dichotomies between socially constructed language and the experienced world
outside the world of representations. Pragmatism recognizes that we use language
as part of our living in material and social worlds with which we have extended
experience and in which we have continuing interests. This issue of how we
represent our experience of the world is for writing more than a philosophic
worry about the status of knowledge; it is a practical problem, as much writing
aims at some representation of the world around us. More particularly, writing
often draws its force and authority from its claimed accuracy or truthfulness of
representation of the world about us. Much writing, moreover, is specifically
driven by the attempt to create useful or accurate or truthful accounts of the
world we live in and experience.
Finally, it is sometimes claimed that reification (as further obscured by
naturalization) necessarily puts a wedge between the created meanings we
commit ourselves to and our true natures, creating a false consciousness and
giving rise to alienation. However, the view of reification here provides pathways
for the realization and development of ourselves; through participating in
socially typified projects, adopting the associated reifications, we realize social
and cultural possibilities. Reification threatens alienation only if we are drawn
into or compelled into typified actions that are not the realization of our
own impulses, but the impulses of others at odds with or inattentive to our
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needs and desires. The problem is not in the making of social meaning and
the participation in the socially constructed meaningful activities; it is in the
relationship between that activity and our own impulses and development, or
the organic evolution of social groupings we are part of to respond to changing
situations, needs, and possibilities.
Being able to articulate our own position and interests within available
genres and the associated activity systems can make those genres and associated
activity systems continuing sites for our own articulation, development
and expression of motives, thereby decreasing alienation from the ensuing
discourse. In articulating our interests we bring the particularity of our selves,
situations, knowledges, and resources to bear, which introduces novelty in the
genre. Participation in many discursive regimes may even require some degree
of novelty; it is one of the expectations of newspapers that they make us aware
of recent previously unreported events and of scientific papers that they propose
fresh findings or ideas to advance communal knowledge. Certain discursive
orders may cause us to bring in other resources, other thoughts into the activity
in ways appropriate to and intelligible within the type of the activity system
and mode of consciousness associated with it. Thus the novelist may draw on
personal experiences or historical accounts or new literary theories to make the
new novel fresh and different, while still being intelligible and marketable as a
novel. However, in becoming part of the world of the novel the original material
takes on rules, meanings, and functions appropriate to the world of the novel.
Yet no matter what combination of regimes is drawn on, no matter
how individual and subtle these are, they are nonetheless dependent on our
mechanisms for meaning making and interpretation in concrete circumstances.
This kind of complexity of multiple systems and specific contents is what
Geertz considered in his thick description (Geertz, 1980). The building of
complexity and novelty of meaning from the fundamental mechanisms of
situated understanding is also most relevant in understanding the particularity
of individual written statements. People are constantly doing new things
through writing, and readers are, with varying levels of motivation and success
grappling with new meanings, while still drawing on typifications. Schutz,
however, in a number of his most prominent publications has only a single
vaguely described mechanism for moving beyond the most gross and distant
typifications: getting to know an individual more personally and intimately. He
Chapter 4 The Phenomenological Sociology Tradition
characterizes personal knowledge as something entirely different from typified
knowledge, eventually displacing typifications in cases of personal relationship.
He sees our relationships on a spectrum ranging from the most typified and
anonymous to the most individual and personal, with the great majority of our
relationships in the world as being highly typified and anonymous. We know
the postal clerk as a postal clerk and relate to that person as a postal clerk. In
our office we adopt the role of our professional position and relate to others
through those roles. As we develop more personal relationships with others and
move out of the realm of the anonymous, we treat them and understand them
in less typified ways.
While there is a general descriptive truth to this, I find it unfortunate in
implying that in getting to know people, situations, and utterances in greater
detail, we put aside our systems of meaning making, rather than invoking them
more complexly and with higher degrees of locally relevant information. As a
teacher, for example, my knowledge of most students does remain typified in
terms of the teacher-student role within educational activities, though when I go
from one university to another, I need to develop new models of what kinds of
students each campus has, what moves and motivates them, what projects they
are engaged in, what backgrounds and skills they have, what local sub-cultures
they divide into and are part of. Further I need to learn more about the culture
of the classrooms in each place, what students expect to do and experience
in different types of a class, how they attend to different activities, and how
they evaluate and relate to various kinds of instructors, instructor personalities,
instructor statements, and instructor interventions. So getting to know what it
means to be a good teacher on a campus means developing through experience
and observation a more finely tuned set of typifications which helps me to relate
better and more closely with students even if I do not know the particulars of
any one of their lives.
In fact, I do gradually learn a certain number of particulars about all of
the students, and a great number of particulars about some as our studentteacher
relationship develops. We become familiar in the ways appropriate to
students and teachers, filtered through our understanding of the expanded types
of mentoring relationships. I also learn particulars of their lives that extend
beyond the classroom—family difficulties that may interfere with their school
work, experiences that motivate them, ambitions shaped over many years, the
multiple factors that influence their career choices, the underlying interests
that motivate a particular research project. Similarly students learn particulars
of my life and interests as I make reference in instruction and more informal
circumstances. They may learn about ideas I have had, things I have written,
trips I have taken, career choices and struggles—these all may come out in
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direct interchange in classroom examples, advising, or mentoring situations.
Or students may find out more on their own as part of personal curiosity about
what kinds of persons professors are or about this one individual that is taking
a role in their lives. This familiarity framed and motivated by the typifications
of teacher-student relationship—a set of typifications that I think it ethical to
keep strictly in force and not to confuse with other forms of relationship that
would be tainted by the powers and motives inherent in and generated by the
teacher-student relationship. All the personalized elaborations of it employ
sense-making mechanisms built on typifications of an increasingly refined sort.
How do I make sense of a student’s motivations in light of their autobiography?
How do they make sense of being a student as they recount their lives to me?
How do we orient toward each other’s comments so as to provide direction for
continuing dialogue that carries each of us further down the path of growth and
learning that gives meaning to educational relationships?
In his essay on “Making Music Together: A Study in Social Relationships,”
however, Schutz (1951) provides us a more profound insight into how we become
attuned to the most novel and subtle sharing of the contents of consciousness
with each other. The processes of deep and particular understanding he
describes depends on much socially shared typified knowledge at the same time
as allowing particular communion over an intricate and moving object that
inhabits our mutual consciousnesses to provoke similar attentions, meanings,
and motives. Although Schutz draws his examples from nineteenth century
classical music culture, his arguments are easily extended to musical traditions
even without transmission of written scores, and then to many other forms of
Schutz points out that a skilled pianist trained in the European tradition,
even when playing an unfamiliar nineteenth century sonata from a written
score totally new to her, relies on familiarity with sonata form, piano music
of the period, and many other typifications to begin to make sense of the
piece and express an understanding in performance. The pianist brings out the
particularity of the music by relying on a large stock of culturally developed
knowledge concerning the structure, sound, and movement of music of the sort
she is performing as well as on the embodied technique of piano performance.
The more the pianist locates the music within its traditions, the more tools for
understanding and interpreting she has, as well as for noticing and bringing
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out what is thematically new or striking in the piece. Thus the pianist with
familiarity can heighten the particular character, sound, or pleasure to be found
within each piece. The more, in fact, performers work on music of similar
types—whether  of the same decade, genre, and nationality or of the same
composer, or even period in the composer’s life—the more precisely she can
develop an interpretation in and against the typical motifs and organization of
these more finely tuned types. Even increasing familiarity with that one piece of
music and its performance by different artists creates a most local type within
which theme and variation, foregrounding and backgrounding can take on local
shape against expectations and the environment created across the moments of
the piece.
Equally we can say in any music tradition every learning of novel pieces relies
on training within the tradition, learning its types, organization, techniques,
thematizations, and structuring of the sound space and temporal experience.
The more the performer gets to know what the music sounds like and how to
produce it, of course the better she can play the most typical of music, but even
more, the more refined, complex, surprising, pleasing and interesting effects she
can bring to being within the type of music. The typification is not only in the
overt forms that can be described abstractly, but within the complex realm of
practices of listening, understanding, and performing.
The listener of each kind of music also engages in a process of learning to
attune to this music, learning what to listen for, how the sound is organized,
what the formal rhythms are (as might be described in a music appreciation
book), but also in actual embodied experience of listening to the music—
actually immersing oneself in the sound of the kind of thing that is going
on, and letting that hearing shape one’s consciousness. In that process one
becomes in a sense a typical listener, an anonymous listener, but a fully
formed anonymous listener, able to hear the music with all that is produced
following the motives and motifs and intentions put into the music by the
composer and performer. The more one learns to listen to a kind of music,
and a particular piece, the better able one is to experience a special moment,
different and evocative the way no other moment has been, deeply interesting
in its particularity, even seeming to evoke one’s own most personal of internal
sentiments and meanings.
The result of this production and listening of music by the culturally
knowledgeable musician and listener is the joint attention over a period of
time—not only the externally clocked time of performance, but over the
internally experienced time of the music. Indeed, within the range of variations
of attunement and experience and knowledge an entire audience can share these
moments of attention and the shared sensation of the passage of consciousness
A Theory of Literate Action
through time. This is as true of villagers gathered in a temple in Bali to hear a
monkey chant as it is of a modern American teenagers attending a rock concert
or of King Friederich listening to Bach’s latest organ invention.
It is not a far analogy to apply Schutz’s analysis of music to literacy,
which also calls for mutual alignment to produced meanings and the giving
over of consciousness to performances that draw on detailed knowledge of
typified realms. The more refined the writer’s and the reader’s knowledge
of the communicative domain, the greater the potential for refinement of
meaning and experience. One of the great powers of literacy is the handing
over of our consciousnesses to meanings evoked by others, the re-creation of
others meanings in our own minds. Nonetheless, some differences between
music and writing might limit the analogy. First, music as an activity is often
taken as an activity in itself. We listen to music to enjoy it, to appreciate
the performance, to give ourselves over to it (though it may be secondarily
embedded in other social occasions, whether of personal relationships
or nationalist bonding, where participating in a musically induced state
of consciousness has implications for participating in other systems and
activities.) While some reading is as purely for enjoyment as listening to
music, our reading is often more subordinate to other projects we may have,
whether keeping up with the news as part of political engagement or looking
at consumer information to decide which car to buy. Thus in reading we are
less likely to be entering into an autonomous area of activity whose meanings
are primarily embedded within that activity; rather we are likely to be engaged
in any aspect of life, from health or the spirit to work or recreation. As we
read in those domains, words will call on our knowledge and experiences of
those domains and will expand and reconfigure our understanding of those
parts of the world, whether of law or insurance, of geology or international
relations, of entertainment celebrities or personal relations. Even in reading
for enjoyment we engage our knowledge of the world and its domains, and
our thoughts and feelings relevant to those domains.
Writing’s complex interplay of typification, social and cultural knowledge,
experience with the world, and the making of individual meaning is powerfully
at play in the experience of poetry, where the common linguistic medium
is precisely chosen and shaped to evoke powerful personal meanings and
emotions—such as the way a Shakespearean sonnet in its well-crafted words
become the container for the reader’s individualized sentiments of loves and
longings as well as perhaps memories of specific moments and relationships
we associate with it. Equally, such seemingly different languages as that of law
or scientific specialties, evoke experiences of the social and historical worlds in
which the individual develops and acts.
Chapter 4 The Phenomenological Sociology Tradition
Schutz provides us a philosophic understanding of the relation of individual
consciousness and meaning to socially patterned structures of meaning.
Although Schutz started out with the problem of specialized economic behavior,
he generalized to the everyday world which we are socialized into before our
reflexive understanding develops. This everyday sense of what is natural is so
deeply habitual that we don’t realize the social understandings and practices
that create it. His students such as Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann who
co-authored the widely influential Social Construction of Reality (1966), took
the inquiry in a more sociological direction, examining the processes and
patterns of social organization that create structures of individual consciousness
and individual’s perceptions of their lives and themselves that in turn influence
They have since pursued the practices of forming life accounts, by examining
what reconstructive genres, where individuals create public memories of
events that have allegedly previously occurred. Gossip and story telling
are reconstructive genres, and we may note have some relation to fictional
literary narratives. Bergmann has explored genres of gossip at some depth in
his book Discreet Indiscretions (1993), where he notes that gossip is filled with
ambivalences, denials and ploys to cope with its dangerous violations of the
public and the private, the discreet and the indiscreet, the taboo and the envied,
the intimate and the condemnatory, and other social boundaries. In doing so,
the social genres of gossip create a special recognizable social discursive place
where gossip occurs and into which gossip partners must make entry, even
as the person gossiped about must be excluded. Nonetheless, the creation of
this holiday from usual social norms reconfirms the speaker’s commitment to
everyday morality about which the gossip so carefully plays. Moreover, gossip
creates accounts that evaluate everyday behavior and to which the gossipers
thereby make themselves accountable. Here we see the importance of genres
for formation of attitudes and we see how social relations and groups are built
around the moral recounting of daily life. These are issues of some interest for
the practice of literature.
More broadly, Luckmann (1995) has specifically drawn the connection
between genre and the construction of daily life:
The elementary function of communicative genres in
social life is to organize, routinize, and render (more or
less) obligatory the solutions to recurrent communicative
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problems. The communicative problems for which such
solutions are socially established and deposited in the social
stock of knowledge tend to be those which touch upon the
communicative aspects of those kinds of social interactions
which are important for the maintenance of a given social
order. . . . Different societies therefore do not have the same
repertoire of communicative genres, and the communicative
genres of one epoch may dissolve into more “spontaneous”
communicative processes, while heretofore unbound
communicative genres congeal into new genres. . . .
At any particular time in any particular society the repertoire of
communicative genres constitutes the “hard core” of the communicative
dimensions of social life (Bergmann, p. 182; see also Bergmann & Luckmann,
Günthner and Knoblauch (1995) further refine the idea of repertoire of
communicative genres to a communicative budget which attends not only
to the available range of genres, but how these genres are socially distributed
(according to characteristics such as gender, caste or office; according to
institutional domain such as gender or religion; and according to heterogeneous
groupings such as family and leisure groups). The communicative budget gives
concrete form to Bourdieu’s more general notion of a linguistic field (1991),
specifying the kinds of linguistic acts available to the various participants, thus
shaping their roles and forms of interaction, and contributing to the formation
of their habitus.
Schutz’s phenomenology also stands behind other recent micro-sociological
examinations of social order created by mechanisms of meaning and sensemaking
in concrete interactions, including ethnomethodology, conversational
analysis and Goffman’s presentation of self, as we will examine in later chapters.
In all these approaches social structure can be seen as concretely enacted in
micro-events created by individual agents, acting in typified circumstances.
Genre thus can be seen as a way of bridging traditional macro-sociology of
roles, norms, and classes with more recent micro-sociology, which in looking at
the details of concrete interactions has been skeptical about traditional macrocategories
that are not easily identifiable at the level of unique encounters among
Genre provides a means for individuals to orient toward and enact
4. Conversational analysis, for example, in trying to give a precise empirical grounding to social
observations, has tended to set aside any abstractions about context, event, or organization
that individuals may bring with them to situations. They have attended to the smallest details
which might indicate a kind of syntax of interaction, with most attention to the way in which
Chapter 4 The Phenomenological Sociology Tradition
situations in recognizable ways with recognizable consequences. Genre thereby
establishes a concrete mechanism for structurational theories, that suggest that
social structure is constantly remade in every interaction which reenacts ordered
relations (Giddens, 1984). Luhmann (1983, 1995) has further suggested that
society exists in the communications that go between individuals rather than
in the aggregation of individuals, who always act as individual agents, and thus
social structure is to be found in the structuring of communications, which in
turn structure social relations.
Schutz’s phenomenology provides a philosophic means for understanding
how we achieve mutual orientations and attitudes towards meaningful
utterances and their contexts, giving shape to our motives. But just as it has been
the task of sociologists to see how these communicative practices concretely
shape social relations and give rise to social structure, it is the task of specialists
in rhetoric and writing to understand the production, reception, and use of
texts within concrete social circumstances in order to produce specific socially
shared meanings and knowledge. Because text production and use are so deeply
enmeshed in the formation of individual and group consciousness, Schutz
provides us a fundamental means for considering the ways in which texts orient
our minds towards social worlds of action.
To put it another way, texts are vehicles of articulating meanings within social
spaces, externalizing inwardly conceived impulses and relationships into social
actions to influence the consciousness of readers through the meanings conveyed.
The typifications and social-symbolic understandings that are brought to bear
in the course of externalizing and internalizing meanings are strengthened (in
both a neural network sense and a personal identity sense) in the course of their
active rehearsal. Each time we invoke sets of social understandings, we become
that much more engaged with, oriented towards, and committed to those
social arrangements, practices, and forms of consciousness being rehearsed. We
turn them into stronger social and phenomenological realities. We strengthen
the reification. This is a view consistent with and elaborating Vygotsky’s
understanding of the role of language in shaping mind and regulating activity
(see also Russell, 2010). Through participation in social spheres of discursive
action, attending to the objects of that sphere in the ways appropriate to that
sphere, we develop our minds and modes of thought in socially mediated ways.
turn taking is negotiated. However, in examining how people manage to gain the floor for
longer turns, Schegloff (1996) considers larger recognizable turn units—which are something
like recognizable genres. If someone is telling a joke, you know to let her continue until the
American pragmatism developed contemporaneously with the Vygotskian
activity theory tradition and the phenomenological sociology tradition, and
has many affinities with both. Historically, there were some connections
among them: all had common roots in Hegel; Vygotsky read and cited James
and Dewey; Simmel and Husserl read and cited James; Thomas and Park did
dissertation work under Simmel in Germany; Schutz interpreted James’s theories
(see Joas, 1993). Nonetheless, each pursued its own path. Each developed
different dimensions of a picture applicable to understanding what it means
to write; yet, the pictures they draw can be usefully brought together to create
a multidimensional portrait. The connections will also reveal why researchers
and theorists from these several traditions have been increasingly finding each
other’s work of interest.
The Soviet Vygotskian interests are in psychology, creating an understanding
of socializing individual development and the development of meaning and
consciousness in relation to the publicly available activities and mediating
symbols and tools. The European phenomenological tradition highlights the
formation of socially evolving typified meaning systems that help individuals
make sense of situations and frame individual actions which others can make
sense of through the socially available repertoires of types. This phenomenological
perspective forms an alliance with Wittgenstein’s (1958) ideas of meaning
representations being parts of active forms of life.
American pragmatism, rather than looking inward to the mind, locates
meaning and communication in creative problem solving by people responding
to the changing contingencies of their times. Starting as a philosophic
response to a crisis in traditional meaning systems, pragmatism directs our
attention to detailed historical and social knowledge of the conditions and
perceptions of groups that give meaning to their orientations and choices.
Philosophic pragmatism has influenced the formation of a number of the
social sciences in North America, leading most directly to social psychology
and symbolic interactionism in sociology. The approach methodologically
Chapter 5 The Pragmatic Tradition
fostered ethnographic sociology that attempts to recover the meanings and
intentions among people acting within particular social systems. Pragmatism
also influenced the formation of anthropology and linguistic anthropology,
was instrumental in progressive social activism, and was in dialogue with
interpersonal psychiatry. Each of these disciplines has important things to say
about the act of writing, the social forums and activities within which we write,
how we make sense of our own and other people’s writing, and the relation of
writing, emotions, and identity.
Pragmatism has its roots in philosophic crises of the nineteenth centuries
and many scholars still see pragmatism primarily as a philosophic movement,
to be discussed and evaluated within philosophic discourse. The founders of
pragmatism, Charles Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and George Herbert
Mead all at some point found their employment in philosophy departments.
For all of them, the social upheavals of the latter half of the nineteenth century
in the United States—the Civil War, industrialization, and urbanization—
upset the sense of continuities and verities which underlay North American
values, belief, and security in the world (Menand, 2001). While pragmatism
went into an eclipse within philosophy departments in the middle of the
twentieth century, it reemerged in the closing decades of that century as a way
out of epistemological battles fought on the shifting, alleged border between
modernism and postmodernism (see, for example, Rorty, 1979).
Insofar as pragmatism is represented as a way out of philosophic and
theologic dilemmas—issues that certainly motivated Peirce, James and Mead
throughout their careers, and Dewey for the earlier part of his career—it is
caught up in complicated arguments and semantic wrangles within those
highly conceptual domains. The irony in being caught up in theologic and
philosophic terms is that pragmatism suggests there is no ultimate epistemic
authority to be found in theologic or philosophic abstractions. Rather
pragmatists see these endeavors, as they see all human endeavors, as emergent
historical creations to serve human needs. A further irony to being shackled to
existing philosophic and theologic terms is that pragmatism values exploration
and sees the human practical and intellectual worlds as experiments. It therefore
reflexively encourages reaching towards ideas through only partly formulated
and unstable terms. Dewey, James, Peirce, and Mead have all been accused of
slippery terms. Moreover, each is highly exploratory in different directions,
taking the starting point of a loosely related set of orientations and applying
A Theory of Literate Action
them to a range of projects and problems. Each of these versions of pragmatism
has its particular set of concerns and attempts its own form of argument. None
has a strong motive to create a stable, coherent set of rock-solid claims, in part
because the pragmatist approach suggests the futility of coming to knowledge
that rises beyond human time and situations. Pragmatism as a philosophy is a
loose and baggy universe.
My interest here is not, however, in the philosophic arguments that go under
the banners of pragmatism and anti-pragmatism, whether at the beginning or
the end of the twentieth century. Rather I am interested in pragmatism as the
source of a number of fairly straightforward premises that underlay many of
the developments in American social science, which are directly applicable to
literate rhetoric. Although rhetoricians, in their millennia-old skirmishes with
philosophy, are ever tempted to see philosophic issues as their own (see for
example Gross & Keith, 1996; and Harris, 2005), philosophy can be applied
to rhetoric in a more practical way through the visions various philosophies
propose about who we are, how we communicate, and what the consequences
of communication are. In particular, pragmatism orients our attention to
concrete human actions and communication as action, formative for human
thought, interaction, and social organization.
The founders of pragmatism and their early associates were engaged with
forms of practice and research in the social sciences and social services: Charles
Peirce with language studies; William James with psychology; John Dewey
with politics, psychology, and education; Jane Addams in the formation of
settlement houses and community development; George Herbert Mead with
sociology; and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., with the law. Dewey and Mead
particularly were influential in fostering the climate within the new University
of Chicago (opening in 1892) that was to be so generative for all the American
social sciences, even though the strongly identifiable “Chicago schools” in
only some of disciplines (notably sociology and anthropology) showed direct
affinity to pragmatist understandings. Dewey’s prominence in education and
as a public figure also brought his ideas into a general climate of understanding
under the banner of progressivism that far exceeded any clearly defined lines of
direct influence, and indeed a number of Chicago departments became known
for their community involvement, from the time of Jane Adam’s Hull House
Chapter 5 The Pragmatic Tradition
Although historians of philosophy debate who was the proper founder
of pragmatism, pragmatism was already a climate before it was formally
articulated by Peirce, James, Dewey, or anyone else. The facts that Dewey was
able to gather so rapidly so many like-minded people when in 1894 he became
chair of the department of philosophy at Chicago and that he and Mead were
able to establish so many interdisciplinary connections suggest just how fully
their orientation was compatible with many then in the U.S. academic world.
Pragmatism has been reasonably said to grow out of interrelated developments
in nineteenth century US: the forging of a new society, great opportunities for
action and social change, belief in individuality and optimism, technological
transformation, economic growth which was bringing about new social roles
and forms of organization, the many religious and communal experiments, the
great depredations that came along with the assertion of the new economic
power, the newly made social wrongs that needed so visibly to be righted, the
many immigrant cultures mixing in new cities, and the practical orientation
of this society on the make. When new more democratic universities arose
in the post-Civil War American Midwest (such as the land grants under the
Morrill Act and the independent University of Chicago) they confronted the
domination of European thought with a research culture tied to practical
needs of a rapidly growing society instead of reproduction of social elites. The
intellectual conditions, needs, and opportunities of the time made a pragmatic
orientation easily imaginable and attractive.
The various philosophic issues, research, and practical projects, and spiritual
and ethical concerns that gathered in and around pragmatism drew on a cluster
of related premises:
• that human knowledge and belief depended on the humans who were
making them;
• that human belief, knowledge, and perception were always interpretive;
• that the interpretations come not only from the social and historical
position of the person, but from their engagement in projects to satisfy
their needs, desires, and value-laden senses of fulfillment;
• that these projects were shaped by perceived problems and sought
• that these projects and the perceived problems were always necessarily
social and material;
• that ideas, discussions, and reasoning developed within situations appearing
as problematic;
A Theory of Literate Action
• that values, beliefs, knowledge, perception, interpretations, and identities
arose out of material and social projects, and were consequential for
their solution;
• that there were ethical choices to be made about projects, based on the
kinds of consequences that we might project flowing from those choices.
Thus, pragmatism saw history and knowledge as emergent and never fully
absolute or predictable, but rather exploratory and creative. These views have
significant consequences for how we understand how people communicate, how
they use language, what language in fact is, and how language influences how
individuals and groups develop. Writing, in particular, provides new potentials
for creative communicative, enduring and transportable linguistic artifacts, and
restructuring of group relations.
Charles Peirce, among the founding generation of pragmatists, looked most
directly at language and semiotics, making some first steps towards articulating the
implications of a pragmatist view for language and language use. Most importantly,
he recognized a major role for the interpreting speaker and interpreting hearer
in the meanings conveyed by communication, rather than assuming meaning
was immanent in an abstracted language system (Peirce, 1958). It is people who
attach meanings to experienced worlds and issues of concern. This recognition
of the importance of interpretive processes might lead to an investigation of how
differences in individuals and groups of individuals might influence the bases and
procedures of interpretation within specific situations (potentially a psychological,
sociological, anthropological and even historical inquiry). Peirce, however, chose
to seek clarity through a semiotic taxonomy of the relations among signs, objects,
and interpretants (that is, interpreted meanings), a taxonomy that he kept
adjusting throughout his life. His account does suggest some of the instability of
semiosis, as meanings are dynamically produced through interpretation, which
is potentially infinite; nonetheless, he seems to believe that this instability can be
contained by establishing an abstract philosophic vocabulary about the relations
of signs, objects, and interpretants. His taxonomy does not provide any specific
leads about how we might inquire into the psychological or sociological variables
of meaning making and interpretation. In not pursuing the motives of the
individual nor the development of the individual in satisfying needs within the
social and material worlds, Peirce leaves us with a mystery of the individuality of
interpretation creating indeterminacy of meaning, with no way to get back to the
sources, needs, and mechanisms for meaning making. Yet it is these underlying
Chapter 5 The Pragmatic Tradition
forces that drive all utterances including writing and lead to the proliferation of
new texts, new genres, and new fields of literate interaction. Pierce, therefore, does
not yet provide us with an understanding of how and why people use language to
produce the creative inventions that are at the heart of the pragmatic worldview.
William James in his psychology does, however, provide first steps towards
a way of understanding individual sense-making, choice-making, and language
use. His psychology is founded upon experience rather than separate sensations,
systematic thought, or a rationalized view of language as a stable meaning
system. He presents people as embodied creatures acting in the world, with
horizons of interests, knowledge, and attention. People he sees as responding
in the moment to situations driven by desires and immersed in feelings (1890,
1, chapter 10). Thus people’s ideas and perceptions are typically vague in a
philosophic sense, only sharpened and clarified insofar as it is necessary to
act in the world (1890, 1, p. 218). The implication is that use of language
is only precise as it needs to be—perhaps to elicit cooperation, or to sort out
action paths, or whatever other purpose is at hand. Language does not have
any meaning apart from people’s uses and uses are only precise as the situation
and interaction with others require it to be. Whatever degree of communal
precision and clarity of language that does exist results from a communal history
of developing linguistic practices. Individuals then each have a developmental
history of linguistic practices in interaction with members of the community,
within the accomplishment of those tasks available and motivating within that
world of practice (James, 1912). Those specialized domains seeking clarity of
sensation and reasoning, such as science or philosophy are equally driven by our
sense of the problematic and are limited by our stance of perception and action
in the world, even as they rely on written language to reflect on, sort through,
and evaluate claims.
Dewey pursues this situated action perspective by arguing our perception and
reason are based on our sense of being in the world and the projects we pursue
as creatures in the world. We do not have a pure, disengaged consciousness;
our stream of consciousness is not random. Our powers of consciousness only
arise as a means to reflect on and resolve situations where we perceive a problem
A Theory of Literate Action
(1896, 1910). Communal thought and action he sees equally as arising from
perceived problem situations that are seen as needing response. While James
finds in vagueness a space for intimations of religious experience outside the
realm of science, Dewey finds in vagueness a creative force for the constant
invention and change of human experience and increasing clarity, as we address
perceived problems and try to look more intently and coherently at those
things we sense as problematic (1910). Thus Dewey and his followers tend to
be politically and socially progressive, insistent that individuals and societies
address problems and seek improvement of the conditions and practices of life.
They believe that in resolving problems, individuals and societies will grow
toward more satisfying modes of existence.
Dewey himself was so forward looking, ready to seek social change to
resolve felt difficulties in society, that he spent less attention than he might
have on the particular forms and relations embodied in existing conditions,
the history of how they got to be that way, or the mechanisms by which social,
economic practices occurred. In retrospect he seemed to have a political naïveté
about the degree and speed at which change could be brought about and
suffered a chastening and withdrawal from activists (Feffer, 1993). Similarly
in his own work there is little detailed analysis of the social mechanisms of
the current world or the historical processes by which current problems and
tensions emerged, although he often called for such analysis and emphasized
the importance of studying history in the schools. He also talked about the
importance of knowledge, existing disciplines, and human accomplishment as
basis for building on and transforming. As the progressive education movement
developed he was distressed to find that there was not always adequate attention
to the available resources already developed by humans, and he often had to
explain in later years his commitment to discipline and knowledge. However,
his own discourse provided few examples of how that integration of knowledge
of the past and new action might occur, and his own advocacy for change rarely
included such close attention to the complex of things that have already come
into being. Nevertheless, he saw that the motive for action, perceived problems
calling for solution, and the felt discomforts of life all came from the social
understandings, practices, and histories that informed people’s motives and
views of situations.
Because Dewey saw education as forming the individual with the skills,
knowledge, and disposition to participate in activities and problems to be solved
Chapter 5 The Pragmatic Tradition
in society, he saw education as the most important site for social intervention and
contribution to society. Dewey saw learning as motivated growth arising out of
the situation and experiences of the child, which educational projects needed to
speak to if they hoped to enlist the most active engagement of the child (1897,
1947). Thus he argued for a substantive connection between the activities of the
school and the life in the community from which the students came. He and
his followers advocated project-based education addressing the perceived needs
and opportunities of the time and place (Kilpatrick, 1951; McMurry, 1920;
Tanner, 1997). For Dewey, in education as in life, the key to activity, growth, and
accomplishment is motivation, for knowledge and growth and projects have to
speak to the possibilities, opportunities, and needs in front of one.
If motivated agency is located in the possibilities one can identify in the
moment, and successful agency requires a responsiveness of the material and
social situation, then understanding one’s situation is an appropriate object for
educational inquiry so as to be able to evaluate potential action. Further, if
learning depends on motivation and perceived problem—that is, felt need for
action—then learning occurs within the tensions of perceived problems. The
learner and the researcher are driven by the urge to intervene and transform—
no matter how much the inquirer distances him or herself from the object
studied through canons of objective study, under a belief, often well-founded,
that to act too soon is to act with inadequate understanding. Yet, we should
not mistake the distancing of responsible inquiry for total disengagement from
future benefit. Rather Dewey would have us think of a deferred engagement
(1896). With a total disengagement or perfect objectivity, objects lose all
interest, value, and desire.
Dewey’s views on problem-solving, agency, motivation, and learning are
directly applicable to writing, and in fact have been repeatedly applied over the
last century in various inquiry, project, and discipline-based writing pedagogies
and the thematic orientation towards authentic writing tasks which engage
students’ interests and concerns (Russell 1991, 1993). Once the connection
of personal engagement in meaningful problems is made, the task becomes an
expression and development of the self, even if no overtly personal material is
discussed and even if the writing task seems objective, technical, or professionally
cool. After all, no one is as passionate about statistics as a statistician. Outside
formal educational contexts, Dewey’s construction of learning through
problem-solving means that writers continue to grow as writers through the
various challenging tasks they take on throughout their lives in the domains of
importance to their lives.
Dewey’s educational philosophy met two kinds of criticism: on the
conservative side from those who felt that education should pass on the
A Theory of Literate Action
tools of knowledge already developed and on the progressive side who saw
him providing a rationale for accommodating people to the existing way of
life, preparing them for factory and office work of industrial corporatism. In
response to the conservative critique, Dewey regularly insisted on a middle way,
respecting and passing on the historical legacy, but always harnessing that to the
needs and motives and situations of people, for that was the very mechanism by
which people were motivated and grew. In response to the progressive critique
he argued that effective and meaningful change must be situated in the reality
of situations and the problems situations present. Accordingly, he believed
change was evolutionary within the continuing forces of life and that there is
no absolute of value or of practice that could warrant a radical rupture from
current ways of life.
Dewey’s principles stood behind his collaboration with Ella Flagg Young in
creating the University of Chicago Laboratory School (Tanner, 1997). Young
was to continue to actively shape education on these principles as principal of
the Chicago Normal School and later Superintendent of the Chicago public
schools, and eventually president of the National Educational Association.
George Herbert Mead, a colleague of Dewey, both at Michigan and
then at Chicago, also saw how people addressed the problems of life as core
to understanding and improving society. Mead aimed to understand how
individuals came to see themselves within the social relations and social
understandings of their times, particularly through learning of gesture and
language. In coming to learn to use meaningful symbols, the individual has
to be able to anticipate how others might perceive the symbols and perceive
him or herself in using the symbols. Skilled communication requires that a
person needs to learn to anticipate how others might take meaning from any
word or gesture, and how that meaning might prompt response and consequent
actions. Further, as a person observes the response of others to comments and
behaviors the person gets further data to help project how one is seen by others
and thus understand the social self one is projecting. That is, in learning to use
meaningful symbols, the person learns to take the perspective of the other, both
particularized others and a generalized other. This perception of how others
see one forms a sense of the self. Mead sees taking the part of others as part
of learning to be in society and as a major theme in children’s play. Thus, in
learning to live within society we learn to see ourselves and judge our own
behavior as others might—a process that might be considered internalization
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of social norms. Yet, since we are constantly solving novel problems in novel
circumstances and our motives extend far beyond just fitting in, or being
secure our learning to take the part of the other hardly limits our creativity and
originality. It simply maximizes the possibility that others will understand and
cooperate with us without misunderstandings that lead to violence or other
forms of social control (Mead, 1913, 1934, 1936).
This formation of the self and articulation of identity within the social field
applies precisely to writing as we come to understand the force and meaning of
our writing in the presence it creates for others. The process of seeing what sense
others make of our writing helps us understand what our texts do and do not
accomplish and what social presence we are creating for ourselves through our
texts. The response of others also gives us information about how we can revise
or reshape our statements, or create new statements, so as to bring that presence
more in line with our desires. Simultaneously we become committed to the
intelligible presence we have taken on in our writing. We can examine our
texts apart from ourselves and learn to take the part of the other in evaluating
and improving our text as we become more experienced writers, with less naïve
attachment to our first sketchy formulations. Yet we also come to understand
that the texts represent us to others and therefore they become an extended part
of ourselves. Especially as we write to people at a greater temporal, geographic,
and social distance from ourselves, to create an intelligible presence we must
use the common language recognizable to others, but through that language we
create the individuality of our statement.
Just as Dewey worked with the Laboratory School, Mead worked with Jane
Addams in Hull House. Addams (1997) viewed the settlement house as a way
of being of an entire community to change people’s view of themselves and
capabilities to act in society. It was aimed at social change based on people
being empowered to identify and act on problems in their lives through
jobs, education, and access to social services and other forms of support. The
settlement house in many ways was the concrete realization of Mead’s thinking
about the formation of ourselves as actors in society.
In some senses Mead was following on the heels of the Scottish moralists
(such as Francis Hutcheson, Dugald Stewart, and Adam Smith. Smith’s Theory
of Moral Sentiments (1986), in particular, described the conscience which guided
moral behavior as a perception of how others might perceive and evaluate one’s
actions if others were to have the full knowledge of the situation as oneself (or
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see the situation as one perceived it). Mead apparently was familiar with Smith’s
writings and had written an undergraduate paper on Smith while at Harvard (T.
V. Smith, 1931; see also Blasi, 1998). Mead, like Smith, recognizes that no two
people have the same set of experiences or knowledge so they never quite see
the circumstances exactly like another—thus there is always an individuality of
judgment, evaluation, decision, and action. Mead, like Smith, equally recognizes
that one’s judgment, perception, thoughts, and capacities are very much
influenced by things like education, occupation, class, cultural background,
family organization, prosperity, and historical moment—and these influences
might conflict with an unencumbered understanding of one’s interests.
In the years between Smith and Mead, Hegel and Marx also noted the
influence of social ideology on beliefs and actions. Marx sees the socializing
impulses to be so strong as to potentially blind oneself to one’s needs, desires,
and impulses in favor of fitting in with the reigning thoughts and formulations,
or ideology (Marx & Engels, 1971). Smith similarly recognized a tendency of
people to admire hierarchy and the perceived power of the dominant class,
which can obscure perception of one’s best interests; nonetheless, Smith
suggests that the individual is in the best position to know what he or she
needs and wants and what the local opportunities are, if they are freed to make
unencumbered judgments in one’s own interest. Mead characterizes this tension
between social belief and individual perception of interest in a different way.
Mead sets the socialized me in tension with an impulsive I (like Freud’s id and
ego) which regularly surprises oneself by its spontaneous assertions of desires
and perceptions, with a result that individuality and agency cannot be fully
suppressed. This agency sometimes acts within the bounds of the socialized self,
but always is ready to push beyond the bounds of what one might anticipate
others seeing as acceptable or intelligible (1934).
Thus both Smith and Mead see great variety within the socialized selves
of any time and place, arising from the variety of positions, experiences, and
spontaneous expressions of interests and desires. Consequently both saw
institutional and other organized aggregations of activity as complex, embodying
the multiple motives and activities of participants. Mead, along with other
pragmatists, was particularly interested in the creativity of problem solving, as
each person brought new resources, perceptions, and problem definitions to
situations to remake the social order. Smith, on the whole, was more cautious,
even pessimistic about change, in light of what he saw as peoples’ desire to
stick to older ways and to respect the elites who had an interest in maintaining
arrangements that granted them privilege.
Mead’s recognition of the role of language processes in the formation of
the socialized self and the mind, however, clearly sets him apart from the
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Scottish Moralists or Marx, and puts him nearer to Vygotsky. Mead sees the
mind formed in learning to make meaning with and for others, as one sees the
effects of communications on others. For both Mead and Vygotsky, though in
slightly different ways, self and mind are products of language use in society.
For Vygotsky and Mead, speech is a form of act, not a disembodied meaning or
truth, but always formulated in action, as part of action, and therefore acting
in the world. Thus the meanings we develop in interaction and the thoughts
we ponder are saturated with the shades of prior action and the anticipations of
new actions. The formulas of unconsidered, unproblematic, habitual utterances
are part of those activities we think we know so well that we don’t have to think
about or contemplate—all we need to do is produce the prefabricated words
that carry out the old solution (though we may well find ourselves wrong, or we
might do better if we stopped to think afresh). Thoughtful speech—the words
that make us think or that we feel we need to think about before we speak—is
a creative action prompted by a perceived unresolved problem to which we
are responding (Blasi, 1998, p. 167; Mead, 1934). Writing is paradigmatic of
thoughtful speech as it readily affords planning, examination of alternatives,
choice-making, and review and revision.
This problem-solving activity, however, does not necessarily put us in the
realm of pure individualistic utilitarian instrumentalism as a number of the
critics of pragmatism have asserted, for Mead’s communicative mechanism of
learning to take the part of the other draws us into social relations as part of our
participating in the world. In learning to talk with each other we learn about
common values and norms. We develop social consciousness and orient towards
the maintenance of the group. We learn our own interpersonal needs and the
ways other persons enter into our own needs. We learn of the importance
and power of social bonds, and we learn to recognize those who think well
or poorly of us—and adjust our behavior and relations depending on how we
evaluate their opinions. We recognize whom we can talk to about what, with
what kind of support and seriousness. Obtaining and maintaining the positive
opinions of others, particularly those on whom our daily life depends and who
are partners in our daily life and daily needs satisfactions, becomes itself a social
motive—as elaborated by Harry Stack Sullivan, discussed later in this chapter.
Similarly we learn to enter into the larger orders of publicly organized systems
of meaning and community, such as investigated by Durkheim. While Mead
does not pursue this line of reasoning, and Durkheim even sees pragmatism as
threatening to obscure the social production of values by being too individual
and instrumentalist, there is no necessary incompatibility between Durkheim’s
more macrosociological considerations and the ethnographic tradition, as
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numerous ethnographic studies have since recognized, starting with RadcliffeBrown
(1922, 1931) and Mauss (1922) (see also Joas, 1993).
Further, typification processes, as discussed in the previous chapter, allow
individuals to build senses of more or less generalized others who operate within
recognizable systems of typifications (for discussions of Mead’s relations with
phenomenology see Natanson, 1956; Pfuetze, 1954; Rosenthal & Bourgeois,
1991). Micro-processes of self-recognition in interaction thus have the potential
to scale up into larger social orders, particularly as the interactions are mediated
by the more enduring and transportable means of writing (as will be examined
in Chapter 6, see also Bazerman, 2006). Indeed, as Joas (1985) discusses, there
is no necessary incompatibility between Meadian processes of self-formation
and certain forms of structural functional sociology, which often are built
upon mechanisms of orientation to the other, such as role theory and reference
group theory, as to be discussed in Chapter 6. Indeed orientation to others
is one of the areas that there is much cross citation and cross acceptance of
findings between symbolic interactionists and structural functionalists. We may
indeed see in such hybrid researchers as Erving Goffman, discussed in Chapter
7, the power of such conjunctions of micro and macro considerations around
phenomenologically drawn individual problem solving.
Mead’s understanding of the formation of the social self is the direct
antecedent of those branches of sociology that emphasize meanings people
attribute to situations, themselves, others, and actions. Social psychology and
symbolic interaction see themselves as direct heirs of the Meadian tradition
(see Bulmer, 1986; Faris, 1979; Matthews, 1977; Tomasi, 1998; but Joas,
1985; T. V. Smith, 1931 and others argue that far too much has been made of
Mead’s influence). As we will see in the next chapter, other concepts of other
aspects of American sociology are grounded on Mead’s view of the socialized
self-perceiving its own position through the eyes of others, or at least what it
can glean of the eyes of others. Participants’ definition of situations (which
involves their definitions of selves and others within particular action contexts)
has become a key element in most programs of empirical and theoretical
As both Blasi (1998) and Joas (1993) point out, Chicago sociology has had
a widespread, diffuse but pervasive approach on interpretive, qualitative and
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empirical sociologies that examine the individual’s perceptions of self within
social groupings and activities. The sociology department in the University of
Chicago dominated American sociology in the field’s formative years. Prior to
the Second World War that department produced the majority of PhDs in the
field and many of the most prominent. The American Journal of Sociology
(founded at Chicago in 1895 and still there) was until 1921 the only major
journal in sociology and remains one of the dominant journals of the field.
Chicago sociologists were instrumental in founding the American Sociology
Association in 1924, and of the first twenty-five presidents of that organization,
fifteen either taught at Chicago or obtained their PhD’s there. The relevance for
this study is to suggest that many of the assumptions underlying the profession
of sociology have their roots in a pragmatic orientation, even though only some
schools claim an explicit descent, and others seem to arise from polar theoretical
To the usual quartet of founders of pragmatism, Menand (1997, 2001)
adds a fifth: the jurist and legal theorist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who is
known as the founder of legal pragmatism. But his presence in this group is
contested, not least by his own followers who rightfully draw many distinctions
between legal pragmatism and philosophic pragmatism and further find longdeveloping
roots of legal pragmatism within the legal system (see for example,
the essays by Posner, Grey, and Luban in Dickstein, 1998). Indeed, although
Holmes as a youth did sit at some meetings of the Metaphysical Club 1870-
1872 in Cambridge with the young Peirce and James, and where presumably
some proto-pragmatist ideas were discussed (Howe, 1957, p. 152), Holmes did
not have kind things to say later about either Peirce or James (Pohlman 163-
164). Yet there remain some striking homologies between legal pragmatism
and philosophic pragmatism, as Menand (1997) argues. Holmes considers
law a continuing and changing experiment that shapes all the conditions of
our life, just as the philosophic pragmatists consider life and society ongoing
experiments. Holmes sees law as a series of uncertain actions trying to anticipate
judgments to be made in the future. Law offers no final truths or ultimate
principles to Holmes, only anticipation of what might be taken as determinative
principle by the magistrate, or future magistrates. Yet history and precedent
have created models and patterns that future individuals are likely to adhere to,
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particularly as they themselves are held accountable by others to the common
body of precedent.
Situations and people, nonetheless, are always different; and actions speak
to the perceptions of the moment. Further, the future brings unanticipated
changes, with new meanings and precedents. For such reasons, to foster
experiment, Holmes was a great advocate of the freedom of expression and the
first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He spoke of the importance of the
marketplace of ideas and of limiting judicial interference in even apparently
unwise actions so as to let experiments to run their course. The law only sets the
conditions for social experiment, but does not judge it. Further he was willing
to change precedent whose only continuing warrant was that it was precedent,
as conditions change and make prior wise decisions irrelevant to changing ways
of life. Yet these changes and new experiments are always accountable to the
realistic conditions of the new way of life. Experiments have to pay their costs
in the marketplaces of life, and judicial wisdom comes in seeing the conditions
of life that warrant reevaluation of precedents. All these views are consistent
with philosophic pragmatism and the social activism of the pragmatists, though
Holmes’ politics were more conservative than reformers like Dewey.
Holmes views on freedom of expression to address changing conditions of
life and propose new directions for society speak directly to the importance of
writing as a mode of reasoning about current conditions, developing new ideas,
and arguing for new social arrangements. He provides a warrant for the writing
within the public sphere, both in its more traditional forms of journalism,
commentary, and advocacy publications and in the newly evolving forms
of digital public discussion. From his perspective this work does not simply
represent, rehearse, and persuade fixed interests and views, but rather provides
the medium for social innovation, new relations, and novel solutions. As we are
seeing with new technologies, this innovation goes beyond specific ideas and
arguments to the very organization of public community, the kinds of bonds
that may be formed among citizens, and the ways they may act individually
and as groups to influence public discussion eventuating in policy. But Holmes
also points out that public discourse and proposals have to face the judgment
of the marketplace of ideas and survive only if they seem attractive and useful
to others.
Holmes’ views also bear on the more specialized communicative domain of
lawyers. As a practical lawyer and jurist, he is concerned with the preparation of
briefs and opinions, concrete utterances, concrete symbolic acts, filed on pieces
of paper as the very material out of which the law is composed. His organic view
of the law invites analysis of the preparation, presentation, and circulation of
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concrete communicative acts in the formation of the law and its life in shaping
and adjudicating life actions.
Holmes’ views are significant for communication because of the kind of
practical influence he has had on the development of one of the overridingly
important institutions in the United States, and on the attitudes many people,
lawyers and citizens, take toward the law. Thus reflexively, pragmatic beliefs
about the evolution of law and society are now built into the views of many
lawyers, legislators, and citizens, and have gone into the constructing of legal,
governmental and political action, despite others who hold more essentialist
views about law. Thus the very way of life studied by American social scientists
itself is being built in part on pragmatic assumptions. If law and society are living
and evolving as the pragmatists believe, then reflexive understanding of this
allows an even greater monitoring, evaluation, and support of these processes,
as well as a climate of public belief that favors pragmatic formulations and thus
a public ideology of change and experiment. Such pervasive views support a
view of legal texts and texts within all domains of society influenced by the law
as contingent, situated, and evolving in meaning as conditions change.
The pragmatist approach to understanding socialized individuals, individual
and group action, the role of language in individual and group formation,
and thought within situated activity also influenced several other parallel
lines of development within American social science (See Bulmer, 1986,
Chapter 11), including anthropology and linguistics. Edward Sapir, the
linguistic anthropologist, is the most direct vehicle of that influence in both
fields. After fifteen years as the chief of the Division of Anthropology for the
Canadian government in Ottawa, he arrived in 1925 in the small combined
department of anthropology and sociology at the University of Chicago, where
he remained until 1931 when he went to Yale to found the department of
anthropology the