“Don’t be evil” is Google’s famous motto. For many years, it portrayed the image of a progressive Silicon Valley enterprise. Companies run by young people who want to change the world for the better. Apple, founded by famous hippie Steve Jobs, always tried to keep its counter-culture image.
Recently however, real progressives have shown these corporations the unfortunate reality. There’s no such thing as ‘liberal corporations’.
Anti-capitalist activists have always protested the usual suspects, banks and oil companies. It came as a shock to Google and other Silicon Valley tech employees to find themselves at the wrong end of a lefty San Francisco protest.
The actual protest, being left wing, is irrelevant. The real news is the reaction of the Silicon Valley employees. “I thought we were the good guys”, and “we’re trying to save the world too”, etc.
Many companies like Starbucks, Whole Foods and Hollywood studios have a liberal and progressive self-image. The keyword is self-image. The kids at Silicon Valley especially so. These companies try to hide their profit-maximizing, tax-avoiding capitalist practices. Not to mention their low-wage Asian factories, labor union prevention, pollution, etc. If consumers only knew that these liberal corporations were no more ‘ethical’ than Wal-Mart and Chevron.
The unfortunate and hidden reality is that all corporations are profit maximizing. If they’re not, their managers should be fired.
Liberal corporations typically use Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to distract attention from their profiteering and towards their charity. Of course CSR usually fails to appease critics. Despite Procter and Gamble’s (P&G) CSR campaigns, Greenpeace unveiled large banners at P&G’s headquarters, pointing out its deforestation.
No matter how hard a company tries to be liberal and progressive, it will never be liberal enough for critics.
And there are many criticisms. Apple, Google and Starbucks avoid taxes like the plague. Coming up with complex overseas tactics to pay minimal taxes. Apple even had a wave of suicides in its outsourced Chinese factories. Whole Foods is anti-union, and was attacked by Occupy protesters. Hollywood studios glorify guns and violence. These corporations see themselves as progressive unicorns, or at least market themselves as such. However, CSR campaigns and self-righteousness won’t protect them from criticism. Corporations need to stop denying capitalism. The kids at Silicon Valley should quit the pretense of trying to make the world a better place. They’re in it for the money, like everyone else.
American Apparel: Model of Liberal Corporations
American Apparel Inc., started by Dov Charney, quickly became a pinup of progressives. The firm is famously against sweatshop labor, producing it’s fashion in the United States. Charney never misses an opportunity to condemn ‘slave labor’ in developing countries. In addition to proposing a ‘Global Garment Workers Minimum Wage’. Since green is in style, the company also takes pride in it’s environmental credentials, with a ‘Sustainable’ label.
However, just because a business follows the progressive politics of its founder, doesn’t mean it’s ethical. Dov Charney himself has been the subject of numerous sexual harassment lawsuits. For all the pro-worker rhetoric, many of the plaintiffs are former employees.
American Apparel has been accused of sexism in its controversial advertising. Some of their ads have even been banned. 1,500 of their workers were fired after it was discovered that they were undocumented immigrants. Again, in spite of pro-worker talk, the company is viciously anti-union.
Most importantly, the anti-sweatshop rhetoric loses its halo once put in proper perspective. American Apparel makes it’s product in the more expensive US. Of course it doesn’t want to compete with cheap Asian imports. This is typical of ‘liberal corporations’, masking business strategy as progressive values.