SILENCES IN ANNUAL REPORTS
MICHELE CHWASTIAK AND JONI J. YOUNG
Anderson Schools of Management, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
In this paper, we show how annual reports rely upon the silencing of injustices in order to make profit appear to be an unproblematic measure of success. In particular, we examine the ways in which corporations silence the negative impact of their activities upon the earth, the hell of war and the beauty of peace, the spiritual, human and social impoverishment arising from excessive consumption, and the dehumanization of workers. Only by breaking silence and counter-posing corporate values with alternatives can we hope to free humankind from the limitations of profit maximization and promote a world in which peace, happiness, respect for diversity, etc. take precedence to capital accumulation.
Corporate annual reports are filled with accounts which celebrate corporate ac- tions such as acquisitions, downsizing, spin-offs, globalization, increased market share, new and innovative technologies, outsourcing and the reduction of labor costs through relocating manufacturing facilities. Each of these strategies is justified in terms of increased profit, irrespective of the consequences to others or the envi- ronment. The market imperative impels corporations to aggressively pursue capital realization and accumulation with minimal concern for social consequences. Ac- cordingly, the negative repercussions from corporate profit maximization activities are seldom discussed in annual reports. No mention is made of the growing trash heaps of unneeded goods that result from corporate marketing efforts that encour- age incessant consumption. No pictures are found of the children starving in urban and rural ghettos worldwide as a result of corporate actions that contribute to an increasing inequity in the distribution of wealth. Similarly, the pollution of our waters and the poisoning of our foods with pesticides are never highlighted. Such things are treated as externalities, as costs that fall upon society as a whole, rather than as the responsibility of the entities that create them (Parenti, 1995).
Further, the ways in which costs are socially constructed under capitalism reduce labor and things to their instrumental identity as means to profit. In conceptualizing workers and the environment as abstract cost or resource categories, corporations can separate the harmful effects of their activities from the lives they impact. They are not eliminating the jobs of mothers and fathers, they are reducing an expense. They are not destroying a pristine landscape, they are increasing revenues. Thus, the dictates of profit maximization require that the social and environmental costs of corporate actions be masked in order to increase the acceptability of such acts. In this paper, we examine how corporate successes are built upon such silenced losses by counterposing the corporate voice in annual reports with other voices. In so doing, we highlight the unreported and unremarked in an effort to make it more difficult, if not impossible, to engage in actions that harm and stunt life.
In exploring the messages and silences in annual reports, we are building upon previous research. Neimark (1992), Neimark and Tinker (1986) and Tinker and Neimark (1987, 1988) examined how General Motors’ annual reports constructed gender roles, rationalized the globalization of production, manufactured the rela- tionship between the company and the State, and disciplined labor. Graves et al. (1996) demonstrated that images in annual reports bolstered the truth claims of cor- porate financial statements. Preston et al. (1996) explored different “ways of seeing” images in corporate reports in terms of their representational, ideological and con- stitutive roles. Each of these papers contributed to our understanding of the role annual reports play in sustaining the corporate economy. However, none of these papers addressed the silences contained in annual reports. Before examining these silences in detail, we provide a synopsis of the theory underlying the empirical work.
Through language we interpret the world. Language, however, is not a passive mir- ror which represents a concrete objective reality external to the social and historical conditions of a particular time and place. Rather, language actively assists in con- structing the circumstances in which we live. Language also acts to restrain and limit these conditions as it is embedded in and embeds dominant discourses. Dom- inant discourses promote beliefs and values congenial to legitimating the prevailing power groups in society by making the basic principles which sustain their power the framework for thinkable thought rather than the objects of rational consideration (Chomsky, 1987; Eagleton, 1991). Further, dominant discourses are a mechanism through which the injustices arising from an unequal distribution of wealth and power are rationalized and justified. They do so by shaping our understanding of the world in such a way that we are led to believe that “injustices are en route to being amended, or that they are counterbalanced by greater benefits, or that they are inevitable, or that they are not really injustices at all” (Eagleton, 1991, p. 27). In constructing injus- tices as natural or equally beneficial, the dominant discourses increase the difficulty of questioning the underlying systems of power, as well as who gains and who loses from these systems (Hall, 1982; McLaren & Giroux, 1997).
To illustrate the functioning of a dominant discourse, Galeano (2000, p. 19) re- counts how a 1998 UNICEF report describes the problem of child hunger: “The lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet costs some countries the equivalent of more than 5% of their gross national product in lives lost, disability, and lower productivity.” With this description, child hunger exists only as a problem because it has an economic impact and interferes with capital accumulation. Capital, not children, are seen as the losers from child hunger. Constructing the problem in this way directs our at- tention away from asking why children are hungry and how existing conditions have contributed to this hunger. As a result, actions that further the interests of the status quo (e.g. increase the GNP in other arenas to make up for the unhealthy children) are the ones that will receive the most attention. Solutions such as redistribute wealth so that children need not starve will rarely be considered.
If continually confronted with the injustices created by the existing systems of power, it would be very difficult for us to participate in reproducing these systems. That is why injustices are silenced by the dominant discourses (DeLamotte, 1998; hooks, 1984; McKenna, 1992; Scott, 1988). These silences allow us to ignore more easily the distasteful and objectionable aspects of the systems in which we live.
While silences are embedded in all forms of communication, we choose to exam- ine the silences in annual reports in particular because the values of capitalism are blatantly celebrated in this space. These values drive corporate decisions concern- ing what and how we will eat, where and how we will sleep, our level of healthcare, etc. Within the pages of annual reports, we are mainly given the subject positions of supporters of capitalism in the role of worker, manager, shareholder or consumer. Other ways of being (e.g. parent, concerned citizen) are silenced and kept from our view. Because reality is not co-extensive with the categories of discourse provided in annual reports, we can prevent the dominant discourses from being further em- bedded within our consciousness by breaking the silences and adding alternative voices. With different accounts, the “non-natural” status of regarding labor as an ex- pense and nature as a resource, for instance, would be more readily seen (McLaren & Giroux, 1997).
It is by breaking or highlighting silence that previously closeted and unexpressed subjects become openly political. Without books like The Feminine Mystique by Friedan (1963) or Silent Spring by Carson (1962) the mute plight of white middle class housewives or our polluted lakes and rivers might never have been constructed as problematic and political movements which continue to reshape relations between men and women and between humans and the earth might not have been realized. Thus, breaking these silences began to open alternative possibilities and enhanced our imaginative capabilities. While we have no illusions of having the political impact of these women, we believe the silences in annual reports must be addressed if we are to open a future of new possibilities. Only by breaking silence and counter-posing corporate values with alternatives can we hope to free humankind from the limitations of profit maximization and promote a world in which peace, happiness, respect for diversity, etc. take precedence to capital accumulation. We acknowledge that this paper alone is not enough to effect change. However, it is a beginning and we must begin somewhere.
Corporations will not be the agents for change for their owners are the primary beneficiaries from a capitalistic society and must reproduce it if they are to thrive. Similarly calls for social or environmental accounting that attempt to reconstruct corporate values within the dominant discourses are unlikely to succeed (Birkin, 1996; Cooper, 1992; Hines, 1991; Puxty, 1991). As noted earlier, these discourses reproduce the existing systems of power and, as a consequence, cannot be used to reflect critically upon them (Horkheimer & Adorno, 1993). As Lorde (1984, p. 112) states, “... the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
In the following sections, we examine the ways in which corporations silence the negative impact of their activities upon the earth, the hell of war and the beauty of peace, the spiritual, human, and social impoverishment arising from excessive con- sumption, and the dehumanization of workers. These silences are not intended to be exhaustive, but rather are illustrative. Our objective is not to reveal every silence in annual reports, but rather to demonstrate how injustices are sustained through silence. To show this the unmasking of any injustice would have sufficed. While other silences might have been more salient for another researcher, these are the injus- tices that significantly concern us. If war and environmental destruction are not stopped, the planet will no longer be able to sustain life. As teachers, we see and experience the repercussions of training youth to be private consumers rather than public citizens, and as workers ourselves we feel the limitations placed upon hu- manity from being disposable cogs in a bureaucratic wheel. In confronting such injustices and harms, it is difficult to suppress passion and maintain a neutral tone and, to some, the paper may sound angry.
To explore earth silences, we examined the annual reports of companies in in- dustries that are frequently associated with extracting resources from the earth and using plants and animals as commodities: mining, property development, energy, agribusiness, meat, and food processing. For peace and war, we chose companies that benefit most directly from the business of war, defense contractors. For silences related to consumption, we looked at media, consumer product, financial service, waste management, pharmaceutical, and airline companies. For worker silences, we considered the references to workers contained within the reports of the compa- nies selected for other silences. Again, we did not intend to provide an exhaustive or comprehensive survey of industries or companies that we believed would perpetuate particular silences. Instead, we sought sufficient empirical evidence to illustrate our main point: the celebration of market share, profit, etc. depends upon the silencing of other things of equal value. While we expected to find, for instance, consumption silences permeating the annual reports of media companies, we also encountered other silences—demonstrating how there is no one-to-one correlation between si- lences and industries. We present our empirical results in the remaining sections of the paper.
Earth as commodity
In order for industrialization to become a way of life, our conception of the earth had to be radically transformed from that of a living, generous mother to dead, exploitable matter (Berry, 1988; Merchant, 1983). With this transformation, nature no longer had needs of its own, but was rather a limitless provider for human kind (Plumwood, 1993). In order to maintain this alienated relationship, a discourse of dissociation and domination had to permeate our consciousness. We consider our- selves no longer of nature and this perspective has led, in part, to our failure to care for the planet (Plumwood, 1993). Instead, as illustrated by the following quotes from annual reports, the earth is bought, sold, and stripped of its resources in the name of progress and the search for profit:
BHI has a large and varied inventory of land with a low cost-basis. The company continually strives to employ each parcel at its highest and best potential use. In some cases, this is agricultural. In others, consistent with the demands of the marketplaces, development activities are pursued to add value. (Alexander & Baldwin, 1991, p. 12)
Upon completion of these processes, and assuming no delays caused by legal appeals, aggressive development programs will be undertaken to bring these new properties into production. (Battle Mountain Gold Company, 1995, p. 7)
This objectification of the land denies the fact that we need nature to stay alive. We do not stand apart from nature but are part of it. So as we strip the earth of its resources, we not only scar it, but scar ourselves as well (Berry, 1998; Griffin, 1978; Suzuki & McConnell, 1997). By polluting the earth, spoiling its streams, devastating its forests and farmlands, we destroy our home and impair its ability to sustain us in the future. Even though, we are on the brink of ecological disaster, we seem to believe that it will never come, that somehow the very earth we desecrate will save us (Griffin, 1992). However, unless we change our ways, the free air we breathe and water we drink will be unfit for life, and clean water and air will become a luxury only the rich can afford (Plumwood, 1993).
The impending ecological disaster is further exacerbated by the over population of the planet by humans. Yet, in corporate annual reports, population growth is described in terms of expanding market opportunities for their goods and services:
First births represent approximately 40% of total birth, or over 1.5 million births annually, which provide a solid consumer base for our product companies. (Huffy Corporation, 1991, p. 22)
Worldwide, there are 1.7 billion women between the ages of 10 and 49. In 30 years, that fig- ure will surge by nearly 50% to 2.5 billion, with most of the increase occurring in developing countries. (Tambrands, 1996, p. 6)
Population growth may imply economic expansion. However, it also portends defor estation, stresses on the water table, increased energy consumption, overcrowding, less cropland, decreased marine life, destruction of wildlife habitats and more waste. The end result of overpopulation will more likely be global warming, rapid spread of infectious disease, starvation and extinction (Brown et al., 1999; Engelman, 1997; McKibben, 1998) rather than the unlimited market expansion anticipated in corporate annual reports.
Human intervention in nature
We not only believe ourselves to be apart from nature, but we also believe that through active intervention we can improve it (Griffin, 1978; Merchant, 1983).
In addition, rational, technical man presumes that scientifically derived knowledge is always superior to that derived from other means (Aronowitz, 1988; Fox Keller, 1985). We use our scientific discoveries to “improve” the earth by enhancing its short-term productivity with mechanized products and chemicals. This is illustrated in the follow- ing quotes, in which the replacement of traditional farming with industrial agriculture is valorized and made to appear as an inevitable outcome of human progress:
Mr. and Mrs. Cui have cultivated their farm’s soil for 45 years. Initially, they cared for their land with organic material and plowed with oxen. That has changed. Today they rely on a balanced mixture of crop nutrients to replenish the soil and have replaced the oxen with a tractor. ... They are pleased with the progress of their farm. Their story is not unusual. China is able to produce enough food for nearly a quarter of the world’s population with less than 10 percent of the earth’s arable land. China also is the worlds largest importer of concentrated phosphates and potash crop nutrients. (IMC Global, 1995, p. 7)
There are few uncultivated areas that have fertile soils and are not presently forested or subject to erosion. To increase the area of land available for cultivation would require mas- sive clearing of forests, causing vast destruction of wildlife habitat and biodiversity. The short-lived and limited agricultural gains would never justify the environmental damage. We have no alternative but the most vigorous pursuit and development of science-based agriculture. (IMC Global, 1996, p. 3)
These celebratory accounts fail to describe the cumulative effects of agro-industrial innovation: habitat destruction, monocultures, varietal specialization, soil erosion, and pollution of water supplies (Goodman & Redclift, 1991). Subjecting agriculture to return on investment criteria means that natural ways to replenish the soil and protect against pests, such as crop rotation and plant diversity, give way to monocultures and artificial fertilizers in order to maximize the only measure of relevance—profit. Yet, these practices carry unmeasured costs. For example, monocultures with their emphasis upon a single strain of corn, soybean, rice, etc. reduce biodiversity and, as such, invite disease and pests (Shiva, 1997). Artificial fertilizers, like phosphates and potash, may temporarily boost yields, but leave crops nutritionally deficient and leach into water supplies (Fox, 1986). In sum, while technical agriculture may boost a corporation’s bottom line, the long-term consequences for the rest of us may be devastating.
As stated before, subjecting agriculture to return on investment as a measure of value decreases the natural diversity of plants (Shiva, 1997). Thus, what is profitable for corporations in the short-term may impoverish society in the long-term. Consider the following quotes from the biotech (and agribusiness) industry which describe the engineering of life primarily as an opportunity for profit and sales:
The seed strategy calls for increasing sales of the growing number of genetically engineered seeds. These revenues will further complement the company’s core business of selling and applying nutrients and herbicides. Additionally, the sale of genetically altered seeds requires significantly greater agronomic knowledge. IMC AgriBusiness has this knowledge and is able to provide it as a value-added service. (IMC Global, 1996, p. 29)
One such hybrid, Corn Belt Dent (characterized by a depression or indentation in the crown of the kernel), is now the staple of the corn refining industry. And the evolution of corn is far from over. Corn seeds are still being developed and specially tailored to consumer and industrial needs, and it’s a sign of that evolution that American Maize received patents for new genetically engineered strains in 1991. (American Maize-Products Company, 1991, p. 9)
Bio-engineering provides the means for corporations to colonize and monopolize one of the last frontiers—life itself (Rifkin, 1998; Shiva, 1997). While corporations will reap the profits of bio-engineering, it is the rest of society and the natural en- vironment that will pay the costs. Potential risks include health hazards to humans from transgenic crops, “biological pollution,” species domination of the ecosystem and unanticipated gene transfers from one species to another (Fox, 1992; Rifkin,1998; Shiva, 1997). Not only are the biological threats of such a world unknown, but the moral and ethical implications are as well. In a future biotech world, would women and nature simply provide the raw materials to which capital would add value (Mies & Shiva, 1993)? Such issues and possibilities are not discussed within the pages of annual reports that describe biotechnology primarily in terms of its potential contribution to profit.
Animals as commodities
As noted before, to corporations, plants are only of value if they can be transformed into a profit making activity. Similarly, animals only have worth if they can be raised and slaughtered efficiently. Our anthropocentric system of thought, which denies nature and animals any intentional and mind like qualities, has removed ethical restraints against treating other creatures cruelly (Devall, 1988; Fox, 1986, 1992; Shiva, 1997). This coupled with capitalism, which reduces everything to its instru- mental value, allows us to construct animals as production units whose well being is secondary to the goal of profit maximization (Fox, 1986). This is evidenced in the following quotations from annual reports:
Additionally, we have the capability to increase our current slaughter from 36 million birds processed per week (our current volume) to 44 million birds per week with minimal capital expenditure. (Tyson Foods, Inc., 1996, p. 4)
Our Bladen County plant, now killing 16,000 hogs a day will expand to 24,000 daily this fall. The Bladen County plant is the most modern facility of its kind. (Smithfield Foods, Inc., 1995, p. 5)
Our raw material is unmatched by anyone in the country for consistency in the muscling and leanness of the animal ... the Company’s vertical integration program means that most of its meat comes from pigs produced on Company-owned farms, or on farms operated by long-term suppliers who use superior genetics and the most advanced and consistent breeding practices, coupled with minimal-medication programs and strict control over feed ingredients. (Smithfield Foods, Inc., 1995, p. 10)
This matter of fact detailing can only occur by silencing the pain and suffering of the animals involved. Selective breeding severely compromises animal welfare. For instance, cows which are bred for superior leg muscle conformation cannot calve except by caesarian section. The legs and lungs of chickens and turkeys raised for meat are severely stressed by their fast growth, leading to respiratory infections and painful ulceration of thighs and breasts (Johnson, 1996).
Further, while the companies blithely indicate their intention to expand their “kill capacities,” they fail to report the experience of the slaughterhouse for the humans that work there and the animals that are killed. Eisnitz (1997) graphically describes the torturous conditions under which the animals are slaughtered. Animals are hung upside down and thrash about as they await their slaughter. Cows may have their heads skinned before they are dead. This violence gets absorbed by the human workers as well. One laborer reported how by the end of the night, everyone in the slaughter house was yelling at everyone else and the abuse did not end at the factory door but was also taken home to the family (Eisnitz, 1997).
Peace and War
Peace is bad for business
In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell, most of the world’s people rejoiced at this historic step towards peace. Yet, this was not celebrated in corporate annual reports of US defense contractors. Instead they discussed the end of the Cold War in terms of its impact on lost contracts, sales, and markets. As illustrated below, a step back from nuclear annihilation was bad for business:
Although the broad diversity of our Defense Electronics business provides significant stren- gths in a time of defense budget cutbacks, there were inevitable contract cancellations this year resulting from the end of the Cold War. These contracts were primarily strategic weapons such as the Small ICBM and classified programs, and were valued at $485 million. Notwithstanding these cancellations, our ICBM guidance and control activity will continue for Peacekeeper program support and Minuteman upgrades. (Rockwell, 1992, p. 9)
The current uncertainties relating to Cold War concerns, coupled with the United States and Soviet efforts to reach an accord on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), may result in a diminishing market for strategic ballistic missiles. However, the near-term outlook remains firm with the Trident II program. (Thiokol Corporation, 1991, p. 12)
These corporations could bemoan the end of the Cold War because it had provided an opportunity to legitimize increased defense budgets which served as a closet subsidy to high tech industry (Caldicott, 1986; Chomsky, 1992; Chwastiak, 1996, 1998; Markusen & Yudken, 1992). To maintain this form of corporate welfare, taxes were increased and social spending was decreased. This transfer of wealth from the people to high tech industry is illustrated by the fact that “For the cost of as single B-2 Bomber ($2.2 billion) ... you could pay the annual health care expenses for about 1.3 million Americans” (Center for Defense Information, 1995, p. 7). As a result of placing corporate welfare above people, the US ranks number one amongst the advanced industrial nations in rates of infant mortality, illiteracy, malnutrition, crime, and poverty (Center for Defense Information, 1994; Schwarz, 1994; Parenti, 1995).
War is good for business
In contrast to complaints about the end of the Cold War with its dampening effect on profits, the US invasion of Iraq was celebrated by some companies as an op- portunity to gain recognition and prestige, as well as sales. Consider the following examples:
CNN began its second decade by covering what CNN President Tom Johnson describes as ‘one of the most significant stories of a generation and one that utilizes ev- ery bit of experience CNN has built over the past decade.’ The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the resulting Persian Gulf War distinguished the 24-hour news network and its com- panion services, Headline News, CNN International, CNN Newsource and CNN radio as no other breaking news story has to date. (Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., 1990, p. 14)
The conflict in the Middle East, Operation Desert Storm, subjected our Tactical motors to actual combat situations. All indications are that our HARM, Patriot, Hellfire, Maverick, and Sidewinder motors performed superbly. We have received very positive feedback from the U.S. military and our system prime contractors regarding the performance of our products. This success should open opportunities for us for added quantities of missiles such as Patriot, HARM, Hellfire, and Maverick. Our products represent American technology at its best. (Thiokol Corporation, 1991, p 16)
While corporate image and profit were enhanced by the war, the lives of the Iraqi people and US soldiers, as well as the local environment, were not. These corporate accounts fail to mention the number of deaths resulting from the conflict, the signif- icant environmental damage inflicted upon the region, the exodus of refugees, as well as the lingering after effects from subjecting US soldiers to depleted uranium (El-Baz, 1992; Ember, 1991; Mesler, 1997; Nairn, 1991; Steele, 1993; Treaster, 1994). Further, the CNN account fails to discuss the questionable contribution of US corporate media to the construction of war as an entertainment spectacle (Center for Defense Information, 1994). Even companies that did not celebrate the Gulf War could only see its impact in terms of their profitability:
Europe’s fragrance sales were affected by three factors: the fallout from the Mideast war, not only because of the cessation of sales in the Gulf region, but because of the war’s effect on travel and sales in the duty-free shops; the economic turbulence in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union; and finally, the economic downturns in several major European countries. (International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., 1991, p. 7)
Reducing the effects of war to lost sales trivializes its horrors.
A World of Consumers
Consumption equals happiness
After World War II, in order for corporations to dispose of the enormous productivity of the US economy, they actively participated in the creation of a culture of consumption by generating new desires and wants and by advancing a single definition of the good life, material opulence (Barber, 1996; Korten, 1995; Leach, 1993). Consumption has become so embedded in the US culture that statements such as the following appear unproblematic:
There is something noble and truly great about Heinz and its people. As the Founder said, we make and sell ‘pure foods’ and ‘do the common thing uncommonly well.’ We bring pleasure every day to millions of people, making their lives a little bit better amidst all the stresses and strains of the modern world. (H.J. Heinz Company, 1998, p. 4)
An emergent global middle class is a driving force in today’s world economy. Growing in so- phistication as well as size, this consumer population has the same aspirations worldwide— to buy houses, cars and appliances; to send their children to college; to ensure a comfortable retirement. (Citicorp, 1997, p. 8)
Most gratifying perhaps was the strong flavor sales growth in North America. It confirmed our belief that in anxious times, well-flavored food and drink can lessen economic stress and bring special pleasure to individuals and to the family table. (International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., 1991, p. 14)
Whether in books or magazines, or on stage or screen, or on laser disc or records or cassettes, or by satellite or cable, the more people have, the more people want. (Time, 1990, p. 8)
If consumption brought us happiness, then we should be living in the best of times given the vast quantities of consumer goods offered by corporations. However, in the US, at least, increasing consumption has been accompanied by increasing con- sumer debt, longer working hours as well as the production of gated communities to keep things in and thieves out (Frank, 1999; Galeano, 2000). On an individual level, far from bringing lasting happiness, consumption as the ultimate purpose of life creates emptiness and angst. This is due to the fact that the fulfillment of de- sire is non-cumulative and temporary and therefore, is immediately succeeded by a sense of emptiness. This sense of emptiness stimulates a craving for more con- sumption leading to a vicious cycle of desire which can never be satiated (Frank,1999; Huyghe & Ikeda, 1991; O’Sullivan, 1999). On a societal level, collective iden- tities cannot be created within a market economy that is dependent upon individual excess consumption for its survival. As such, our sense of separation from others is heightened and we are denied the spiritual fulfillment derivable from the sense of oneness with society. Thus, within this consumer society that we have created, the things we long for most of all—security, beauty, happy families and friends—elude us (Schumacher, 1973).
And the end result of all this consumption is trash. We throw out an incredible amount of garbage each year, with tonnage nearly equaling the amount of corn we grow and exceeding that of wheat and rice (Twitchell, 1999). Many of our so-called disposable products will either remain with us forever in ever-growing land fills or will release toxins into the environment when destroyed (Berry, 1988). Yet, according to the discourse in annual reports, trash is just another profit making opportunity:
As the company’s core solid waste operations continued a pattern of steady growth in commercial, industrial, and residential collection and disposal, other elements of BFI dis- tinguished themselves with larger strides. Recycling revenues grew dramatically, Medical waste revenues increased 102% over last year. International operations broadened con- siderably, including acquisitions in Holland, Spain, the United Kingdom, Australia and Italy. (Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., 1989, p. 9)
Training new consumers
While corporations have always targeted young people as consumers, increasingly this targeting occurs within schools. According to Mark Evans, a senior vice presi- dent of Scholastic, Inc., “More and more companies see educational marketing as the most compelling, memorable, and cost-effective way to build share of mind and market into the 21st century” (Korten, 1995, p. 156). Ads in Advertising Age offer to develop custom-made learning materials which will enable corporations to entrap youthful consumers during otherwise off-limits school hours with educational pack- ages that advertise corporate products (Molnar, 1996). In response, companies have flooded teachers with videos, posters and other materials in order to direct young people to acquire their goods and services (Sandel, 1997). The following are several examples of corporate educational efforts taken from annual reports:
Time Warner supports local community service activities such as:
• Time to read, a volunteer literacy program.
• United way.
• Cable in the classroom an industry-sponsored effort to make available all of cable’s educational and informational programming to secondary students. (Time, 1990, p. 40)
The company distributed 172,000 educational science packets produced by Disney to fourth-graders nationwide. The packets support the new syndicated show “Disney Presents Bill Nye the Science Guy.” (The Walt Disney Company, 1993, p. 14)
We are particularly proud of our unique Tampax Education program. In 1995 alone, we helped teach over two million girls in twenty countries the fundamentals of puberty and menstruation through direct school visits and educational materials sent free of charge to their schools. This is also an excellent opportunity to acquaint young women around the world with Tampax products. (Tambrands, 1995, p. 11)
Funding cuts have left many educators with few alternatives but to take corpo- rate offers of supposedly “free” materials (Molnar, 1996). What is silenced is that frequently these funding cuts are a result of corporations seeking tax relief. In the absence of this activity, schools would not be under funded and better educational materials would be more readily available (Consumers’ Union, 1995; Molnar, 1996; Sandel, 1997). With adequate budgets, teachers would not be forced to turn their classrooms into marketing forums for various companies’ products.
Corporations do not stop at using schools as a vehicle for advertisement. As implied by the following quotes, they are also attempting to influence educational content and its delivery in order to instill normalcy and a taken-for-grantedness to the conditions which reproduce the economic system that fuels their growth and profits:
... creating quality educational products to prepare young people for an increasingly com- petitive global environment. (Raytheon, 1991, p. 31)
Banking on Education is a $25 million, decade-long commitment to create ‘smarter class- rooms’ and ‘smarter schools.’ Grants support the local development and use of new learning technologies from Miami, Sioux Falls and Washington, D.C., to Prague, Johannesburg and Hong Kong. (Citicorp, 1997, p. 8)
The quotations above suggest that many corporations assign a single purpose to education, the preparation of future generations for their roles as laborers and consumers. However, the purpose of education is not to create consumers and docile workers, but rather critical minded citizens who can actively shape their own futures (Molnar, 1996; O’Sullivan, 1999; Sandel, 1997). Corporate funding of edu- cation compromises this more radical possibility, and thereby forecloses alternative futures (Consumers’ Union, 1995; Molnar, 1996). Rather than allowing corporate interests to use public education to further their own ends, education must remain a public good that benefits all, preparing students to govern rather than be governed (Giroux, 1994).
In the youth obsessed culture of the West, the signs of aging, such as wrinkles and gray or no hair, are equated with physical unattractiveness, disease, and senility, rather than wisdom, experience, and forms of beauty beyond a fresh face and hard body. The following quotes illustrate how corporations attempt to profit from the insecurities created by such a limited view of aging:
And the desire to appear young could spur the growth of personal care products intended to mollify time’s damage: moisturizing and anti-wrinkle creams for the skin, haircolorings to hide or highlight graying hair, cosmetics designed to look better on an aging face. (Bristol-Myers Company, 1988, p. 22)
While some 40 percent of all women in the U.S. color their hair, only about 10 percent of men do. With more men staying in the workforce longer, the opportunities to keep men looking younger with effective gray coverage products are expanding. The key is improved product performance, to make gray coverage products for men simpler to use and more effective. (Bristol-Myers, 1988, p. 13)
And we are looking to turn the graying of the developed world to the advantage of our weight control business. (H.J. Heinz Company, 1998, p. 7)
The impact of constructing age as a beauty deficit which profitable products can ostensibly fix is very costly to society. It encourages those people with the most life experience to uselessly expend their creative capacities in pursuing a youthful (and unobtainable) notion of beauty. Further, it distracts people from working towards achievable goals which will make old age more enjoyable such as a healthy diet, decent muscle tone and good posture. Thus, in the search for profits, corporations pervert aging from a time of potential growth and development of the human spirit to a useless quest for youthful appearance.
In addition to wrinkles and gray hair, aging also impacts the reproductive process and this is another arena in which corporations attempt to alter how we experi- ence our changing bodies in order to convert them into profit making activities. As an example, menopause is characterized as a disease, treatable with appropri- ate drug therapies, rather than as a life passage (Cobb, 1991; Logothetis, 1991; Northrup, 2001). Notice how the following corporate account emphasizes the symp- toms and risks of menopause:
As life expectancy increases, greater numbers of women are experiencing the discomforting symptoms and risks that often accompany menopause. Hot flashes (flushes), night sweats and depression are some of the short-term symptoms of menopause but, in the long-term, the risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases increases.
Ogen and Provera provide hormone replacement therapy, decrease the risk of these two diseases as well as relieve hot flashes and other vasomotor symptoms. (Pharmacia & Upjohn, Inc., 1996, p. 27)
Menopausal risks of osteoporosis and heart disease are mentioned while those associated with these drug therapies, such as increased incidences of breast, uter- ine and ovarian cancers, are silenced (Mickelson, 1991). Equally significant, these therapies are presented as the “rational” and normal response to an “undesirable” condition. Menopause becomes constructed as a time of anxiety and worry about deteriorating bodies and minds as well as crumbling bones rather than a time of freedom, growth and wisdom (Doress-Worters & Siegal, 1994). Under such a con- struction of menopause, women who choose not to undergo hormonal replacement therapy but instead follow the natural rhythms of their bodies are labeled as irra- tional. Furthermore, no consideration is given to the potential social and cultural consequences of constructing a natural process women have experienced for ages as disease (Kelsea, 1991; Mickelson, 1991).
It is not only women who are subject to drug intervention for normal aging pro- cesses. While corporations have, in the past, focused primarily on lowering the self esteem of women in order to promote their products, they have also begun to problematize male aging in the quest for market growth (Melamed, 1983; Wolf, 1991). Male erectile dysfunction has also become medicalized and subject to ther- apy (Morgentaler, 1999; Schiavi, 1999) as illustrated in the following quote:
A man’s ability to perform sexually is not simply a question of being able to reproduce; it also can affect his sense of self-worth, his relationships and the richness of his life. Millions of men, particularly those over the age of 40, cannot consistently and reliably obtain a natural erection. Diabetes, cardiovascular problems, injuries and aging are just some of the factors that may contribute to this condition.
Pharmacia & Upjohn’s frontline therapy, Caverject, has proved to be an effective answer, overcoming the limitations of vacuum constriction devices and the surgical risks of prosthetic implants. (Pharmacia & Upjohn, Inc., 1996, p. 15)
Proﬁts before people
Corporations attempt to control our perceptions of life processes in order to develop markets. They also attempt to expand markets by reaching into other countries and urging people there to adopt American consumption habits. This is illustrated by the following quotes taken from the annual reports of transnational corporations:
Johnson’s Pure Essentials is a specially formulated, safe and uncomplicated line of toiletries targeted at females 13–25 years old, an age group that makes up more than half of all females in the Philippines. Backed by extensive marketing research and advertising, and a recognition of the special needs of young Filipino women, the products are reliable and readily accessible to the target market. (Johnson & Johnson, 1997, p. 10)
Brazil is hot. According to market research firm IDC, the Brazilian PC market segment (largest in South America) grew 42 percent in units sold from 1994 to 1995. Intel is focusing on the 70% of Brazilians under age 30, a generation hungry for powerful PC technology. Our promotional programs are having a strong effect—distributors report vigorous demand for Intel processor-based PC’s. (Intel, 1996, p. 15)
In the above-mentioned examples, corporations attempted to construct demand for their products in countries where the basic necessities of life are frequently not met (Millen & Holtz, 2000). In the Philippines, where Johnson and Johnson is trying to create a market for its toiletries, one-third of the population lives in poverty and even “middle-class” individuals like civil servants and teachers frequently live in slums (Mydans, 2000; Tiglao, 1999; Wallerstein, 1999). Thousands of wretchedly poor Filipinos live in squatters communities that sprawl across the garbage dumps outside of Manila (Mydans, 2000; Sheehan, 2000). Health conditions within the slums are so poor that some predict 90% of the population could be infected with tuberculosis within the next 40 years (Wallerstein, 1999).
In Brazil many young people are indeed hungry, but not for technology. Most Brazil- ians live in extreme poverty; 43.5% of Brazil’s population lives on less than two US dollars per day (Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development, 2001). As a re- sult, approximately 10 million of Brazil’s children live on the streets, making it first and foremost in the number of street children in Latin America (Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development, 2001). These children live from hand to mouth, working as shoeshine boys, street vendors and at times thieves, prostitutes and drug dealers (McCreery, 2001; Rota, 1997; Time, 1993). As social outcasts, they are harried by constant violence, with an estimated four per day killed by police in 1993 (Galeano, 2000; People’s Weekly, 1993).
The routine silencing of human suffering arising from poverty, disease, and hunger is further evidenced by the following quotes from annual reports regarding the Asian financial crisis:
Unocal has flagship operations in Thailand and Indonesia, two of the countries that have been hard hit by economic turmoil in the region. There has been little impact to date on our operations. Most of our operating revenues are protected from foreign currency fluctuations through our existing contracts. (Unocal Corporation, 1997, p. 7)
What the painful market shocks of recent months clearly demonstrate, however, is that Asia’s ability to attract capital had outpaced the ability of the region’s markets to inter- mediate—to price and allocate resources effectively. The Asian markets have begun to undergo the difficult adjustments necessary to help the region resume rapid growth, most likely by the year 2000. Far from being discouraged by the setbacks in these markets, we are convinced that the resulting process of market reform, strengthening and liberalization will benefit all of Asia, while enhancing the value of our investments in Merrill Lynch’s Asian presence. (Merrill Lynch, 1997, p. 9)
The calamity is described above solely in terms of its effects upon disembodied investments, market prices and the allocation of resources. No mention is made of the impact of the crisis upon the lives of those living in Indonesia, Thailand, and other affected countries. For example, spiraling inflation combined with massive unemployment as a result of the crisis caused 48% of Indonesians to fall below the poverty line (Gershman & Irwin, 2000). Food prices increased 35% in the first 3 months of 1998 (Gupta et al., 1998). With these dramatic increases, the malnutrition of Indonesian children, a problem that had been virtually eliminated, arose once more (Gershman & Irwin, 2000).
The subordination of human lives to economic imperatives is also evident in the way labor is discussed in annual reports. Consider the following quotes in which the health and safety of workers are of concern only in so far as these impact corporate profit:
In 1994, we began a major company-wide initiative to improve safety. Our goal was to reduce the rate of lost workdays due to job-related illness or accident by 50 percent in two years. (The Boeing Company, 1995, p. 23)
Cobras occasionally find their way into the rubber rooms in Malaysian factories and disrupt the workers, affecting the mix time of outsole components. (Nike, Inc. 1991, p. 1)
In each of these quotes, worker safety is matter-of-factly made inferior to corporate productivity. In neither instance is any consideration given to the laborer’s experience of unsafe working conditions or accidents on the job. The prioritization of productivity over people could only occur in an economic system in which corporate imperatives take precedence over living beings (Chomsky, 1987; Herman, 1995; Korten, 1995). Not only is worker safety of secondary importance to corporate goals, so too is the right of human beings to gainful employment. Throughout the 1990s, restructurings, down-sizings and right-sizings resulted in thousands of workers losing their jobs, all justified as cost reduction measures (Faludi, 1999; Korten, 1995; Wolman & Colamosca, 1997). The weighting of corporate goals over the lives of those shed is illustrated by the following:
While financially successful, 1997 was another difficult year for many CNG employees as we continued to reorganize operations and cut costs. (CNG, 1997, p. 6)
After 19 months on strike, the unions made an unconditional offer to return to work in February 1997. When Detroit Newspapers (DN) agreed to rehire their members on priority basis—but not to fire the replacement workers and take them back all at once—the unions sought an injunction to force the company’s hand. In August, a federal District Court judge denied the injunction. DN continues to rehire about 50 former strikers a month. Approxi- mately 900 remain on the preferential hiring list, and we expect it will take about a year to make offers to the entire list. Meanwhile, advertising continues to rebuild. (Knight Ridder,1997, p. 12)
These types of actions create feelings of job insecurity, which corporations have used to engender a climate of fear. If human welfare was deemed more important than that of capital, then full employment would be an unquestioned right. How- ever, as suggested below, the responsibility for maintaining employment is shifted to the workers who are expected either to contribute to corporate success or be “downsized”:
Our people’s ability to produce profits in bad, as well as good, economic times has rewarded them with job security and increasing prosperity. (Southwest Airlines Co., 1997, p. 2)
It was an excellent year for our employees, who enjoyed stable working conditions in spite of these uncertain economic times. But of paramount importance, it was an excellent year for our investors, who saw our earnings climb to $1.94 per share from $1.63 in 1991. (National Fuel Gas Company, 1992, p. 2)
These quotes illustrate how the economic elite characterizes jobs as earned priv- ileges rather than rights. With this characterization, workers with jobs can be said to be lucky, no matter how tedious, mundane, or dehumanizing the job is. In a corpo- rate economy, jobs are not a site where creativity and inventiveness are valued as much as the ability to follow orders from the top:
I had found over my career that managing your way out of failure is often easier than managing sustained success. I wanted to get control of the seven-year itch before it became a rash—wanted to be decisive. I wanted to give specific direction to our employees.
It was like a parenting conversation. You know (kind of) what your children should do, (kind of) the direction they should go, and how to (kind of) explain new math. But you have to do it with authority and confidence. (The Walt Disney Company, 1996, p. 3)
We’ve added pictorial guides at each kitchen workstation to illustrate how to prepare our food and how our sandwiches should be built, making crew training much easier. (McDonalds,
1996, p. 11)
Upper management’s power over work and the workforce is only possible in a society in which human hierarchies have been normalized, in which some people are perceived as having more value simply because of the position they hold. Fear, control, manipulation, and coercion are the primary forces that hold such a society together (Eisler, 1987). Under this model, work is mainly a means for survival. What is silenced is the possibility that work could provide much more than a paycheck. It could also be a means for human growth and spiritual development and economic contribution to the community (Schumacher, 1973).
In this paper, we demonstrated how annual reports rely upon the silencing of injus- tices in order to make profit appear to be an unproblematic measure of success. Annual reports reproduce the dominant discourses which take as given the basic principles that sustain an unequal distribution of wealth and power and make such arrangements seem natural and therefore, unchangeable. In order to facilitate trans- formation, the silenced assumptions which promote inequities and injustices must be revealed and in so doing politicized.
In the previous sections, we contrasted quotes from annual reports with the is- sues that need to be silenced in order to make such statements appear reasonable. First, we discussed how our dependency on the earth and nature for survival must be silenced for profit to be an unproblematic measure of success. The profitability of the extractive and development industries requires objectifying the earth as a resource and silencing alternative representations of it as an autonomous living be- ing. Presenting overpopulation as a market opportunity for consumer product firms masks the threat to environmental sustainability. Agribusiness thrives by ignoring the long-term risks of supplanting natural processes with artificial ones, and the profitability of the animal processing industry depends upon the silencing of the underlying violence.
Second, we described the way in which annual reports make war appear to be a productive endeavor and peace an unproductive one and the silences required for this representation to be sustained. To present war as good for business, the actual horror of war must be removed from consideration. To present peace as bad for business, we must assume that corporate subsidies are more important than human welfare.
Third, we examined the silences necessary to characterize and promote con- sumption as the ultimate way of life. Such a promotion depends upon ignoring the angst and emptiness that arises from anchoring our happiness on an act that can only bring fleeting pleasure. Further, corporate educational efforts can only be ac- ceptable if we believe the function of education is to create docile laborers and consumers, not public oriented people. In addition, corporate profitability depends upon constructing natural processes such as aging as undesirable in order to sell products to ostensibly counteract it, irrespective of the physical and emotional well being of the consumers. Finally, to rationalize the creation of markets in developing countries, corporations silence the poverty, disease and hunger experienced by a majority of the people.
Fourth and lastly, corporate celebrations of productivity depend upon silencing any corporate responsibility for job creation, as well as the potential for work to serve as a creative and spiritual practice.
In sum, the earth’s role in sustaining life, our kinship with animals, the horrors of war and starving children, the emptiness of consumption, the drudgery of work, all must be silenced in order for annual reports to read as success stories. Profit is up, costs are down, productivity has increased. For us to accept these measures as indicators of success, environmental damage, poverty, estrangement from other beings, etc. cannot be regarded as important. However, if we were to regard these latter factors as having greater or equal importance to profit, then many apparent corporate successes would become dismal failures.
The people of the Western world must decide whether the benefits we receive from a corporate economy (e.g. improved health technology, convenience, etc.) are worth this pain and damage. Do mindless consumption and the production of waste bring us happiness? Should children and the earth be sacrificed in order for a few to be exorbitantly rich? Only by exploring silences do such questions surface and can we begin to discuss how to restructure society and the economy in a more compassionate and egalitarian way. And these questions must be asked for as Rich (2001) so eloquently states:
We do have choices. We’re living through a certain part of history that needs us to live it and make it and write it. ... We have to keep on asking the questions still being defined as non-questions—the ones beginning Why ... ?What if ... ? We will be told these are childish, na¨ıve, “pre-postmodern” questions. They are the imagination’s questions. (2001, p. 167)