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A Dangerous Corporate Culture

Michael Borucke

Whether you’re driving on the highway and accosted with Joe Camel ads, or you live in Kenmore Square and are prompted to go to the GAP to pick up some Tommy Hilfiger pants every time you step out of your house, it’s unavoidable. You can’t live in America without acknowledging the overwhelming presence of corporations in our culture.

Even Boston landmarks are nothing but corporate monikers. Every night, from dusk to midnight, all motorists in the Boston area are beckoned in neon to fill up their tanks with Citgo gas. The most blatant examples of corporate domination are the renaming of concert venues and athletic fields (Tweeter Center, Fleet Center, Bank Boston Pavilion). I just wait for the time when the entire Back Bay is bought out by a corporation and becomes USTrust Bay.

And of course, MIT has been unable to avoid the lure of corporate money. Looking at the list of corporations who have alliances with (donate to) MIT, I feel sick about my school.

But why should I care where the money comes from? Tuition only covers a fraction of my education and without corporate sponsorship, I probably wouldn’t even be here. I would be biting the hand that feeds me if I pointed out the horrible deeds of these sponsors. I should just shut up and be thankful. No, I shouldn’t.

DuPont has recently signed into an alliance with MIT (they manufactured napalm during Vietnam). Exxon is also a corporate sponsor (they’re planning to install a 200 mile-long pipeline in Africa, which would wreak havoc on the environment in Chad and Cameroon ), as is The Ford Motor Company (they currently manufacture five of the ten worst polluting vehicles on the market). There are so many other corporations that have relations with MIT that MIT has become more a corporate resource than an institution of higher learning.

I find it very unsettling that students no longer work and learn for themselves. They work to produce new technologies for the sponsoring corporation, and they learn only to become another cog in the machine of the corporations. My concern is greater when the sponsoring corporation has a known history of destroying the environment, and no one seems to care.

Not only have corporations infiltrated the media and the nation’s top universities so thoroughly that we accept it as a fact of life, they have also invaded the realm of politics. Large campaign contributions from corporations have been manipulating politicians’ decisions for years. If some senator wants to be re-elected, his rational move would be to vote the way his biggest contributor wants him to vote. It’s pretty obvious that constituents don’t contribute to campaigns nearly as much as special interests. Is it any wonder then why multi-million dollar corporations get tax breaks, or why the government pays more than four hundred billion dollars a year in corporate welfare? It’s no wonder at all once you accept that corporations are running Capitol Hill. Corporations have not only consumers and technology on their side, they also have the government. Frightened yet?

Since America offers protections to its workers, corporations understand that they can only grow so large here. They still have to provide the American worker with a decent wage and humane working conditions. These requirements, however, are not compatible with a corporation’s fundamental goal, which, in this capitalistic society, is to maximize profits. Corporations have since learned to move operations to other countries where they don’t have to pay a decent wage, where they don’t have to provide humane working conditions, and where profits will definitely increase for the corporation (read executives). Corporations go so far as to get guarantees from a government that the workers there are prohibited from organizing. Corporations like The GAP and Nike have made billions using cheap labor tactics such as these.

Corporations don’t want to stop with exploiting the human resources of foreign countries, they also want to exploit the natural resources of those countries. With the threat of corporate globalization, the worldwide exploitation of human and natural resources may be near at hand. As mentioned before, Exxon wants to drill for oil in Africa. Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum company is working with the Colombian government to drill for oil in the rain forests of Colombia which would not only destroy the fragile environment there, but would also displace the U’wa natives, an indigenous people who have lived in the forests for centuries. Corporate domination means that wealth will inevitably be concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer people. If you don’t plan on being one of those few people (of course, as an MIT graduate, you just might) this picture may seem pretty undemocratic.

To counteract the expansion of corporations, we need to get corporate influence out of government. Campaigns don’t need reform, they need revolution. Special interests will be able to manipulate politics, and corporations will be able to maximize profits without regard to the environment or human life as long as they are allowed to make contributions to political campaigns.

People, as consumers, can begin to combat corporate domination simply by becoming more conscious of the consumption decisions they make. If a company’s product is known to be made in sweatshops, the person can opt to buy from a different manufacturer. And students can start to affect change by pressing their university to consider the source of funds they receive.