London Indymedia

Protest outside Ethical Corporation Conference 2004-5-11

pescaofritos | 14.05.2004 04:44 | London

Protest in North London on Tuesday outside the corporate greenwash conference entitled "WHAT'S THE POINT OF CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY?" (sponsored by Ethical Corporation magazine - minimum entrance £295 + VAT)


Protest outside Ethical Corporation Conference 2004-5-11


Protest in North London on Tuesday outside the corporate greenwash conference entitled "WHAT'S THE POINT OF CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY?" (sponsored by Ethical Corporation magazine - minimum entrance £295 + VAT)


Seminars at this conference, which was attended by the likes of Shell, BP, Gap, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and Marks & Spencer, included discussion-topics such as "Why should Chief Executives take Corporate Responsibility seriously?", "Is Corporate Responsibility simply another management fad?" and "How smart companies are using CR for commercial objectives." The Chairman's Address, given at 9.30am, was appropriately titled "Profits and Corporate Responsibility," which just about sums up where these guys are coming from.

So, late afternoon around sixty demonstrators congregated outside the Marriott Hotel in Swiss Cottage, where the conference was taking place, and engaged in some good, old-fashioned, frivolous fun and games, taking the piss out of the absurd proposition that corporations actually want to be held accountable. The message loud-hailed by Andy Higginbottom from Colombia Solidarity Campaign, which helped co-organise the protest, was "Corporate Responsibility? You're Having A Laugh!" Unfortunately the police prevented protesters from unfurling a banner which had those very words on it. Nonetheless, the crowd found a good pitch with their laugh-in, as everybody howled at delegates inside for pretending to ignore this blatant sub-text of 'greenwash' spin-mongering.

Comedian Mark Thomas blagged his way inside for one of the seminars before the protest started, where he asked the panel a question from the floor: As it's inevitable that a corporation working within the free market is driven to increase profits and minimise costs, which results in human rights abuses and lack of trade union recognition, surely the rhetoric of claiming to adhere to human rights and environmental standards is actually just window-dressing and greenwashing? While a McDonalds employee on the panel answered this with the dubious claim that shareholders do indeed take account of human rights as much as they do profits margins, his co-panelist, a litigation lawyer, conceded that this was only partly true.

Mark Thomas also corrected one of the panelists who stated in defense of Coca-Cola that the Colombian company which owns and operates the infamous Bucaramanga bottling plant, which is currently being sued by representatives of trade unionists murdered there by paramilitaries who are allegedly in collusion with management, was "independent" and not owned by Coca-Cola. However, as Mark pointed out, Coca-Cola in fact owns a 46% share in the company. The legal action in the US is being conducted under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which is an old piece of legislation recently rediscovered and used in several similar high-profile lawsuits.

Outside, Andy explained how Coca-Cola had contributed to the terror in Colombia as well as stealing and polluting vast quantities of water in India. BP has forced thousands of people off their own land in Colombia to make way for a pipeline and also refuses to let its workers there organise into unions. Between speeches and "subvertising" chants (eg "Baby Gap - if they're old enough to wear 'em, they're old enough to make 'em") the samba band kept everyone's spirits high while suited 'corporate pigs' went round telling people to "get a job!" When asked what the atmosphere was like inside the hotel Mark Thomas gleefully revealed, "As soon as they heard the drummers start the shiver of fear went through the audience!" Let's hope they hold on to that feeling.



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mp3 & transcript of mark thomas' speech

15.05.2004 01:33

Download: - mp3 879K

Andy Higginbottom: We have a young man here who was a corporate person inside the conference! (to Mark) You've got to do a lot of talking to win this audience round, they really don't trust corporations! Mark Thomas, he's been inside.

Mark Thomas: I'd just like to say that you're a rabble and you should all be battened! And I've actually asked the police if they'll do that but they don't have the right equipment.

Yeah, a couple of us have got inside there and seen what's going on and essentially this is, as we might expect, a self-congratulatory festival of people sort-of hand-wringing over a few changes in the law. The session that we were involved, or that we sat in, was called "Litigation Risk". So, what they're actually worried about, what they perceive as "ethics", is actually about damage to their brand. They're not concerned with making ethical changes, they're not concerned with making social changes, what they're concerned about is minimising any litigation unto themselves.

Fortunately for us, the panel, which included a guy who was working at McDonalds, mentioned Coca-Cola and Colombia. And mentioned that there were "problems with an independent bottler in Colombia". And we did manage to get the microphone and correct them on their factual misinformation, that in fact Coca-Cola in Colombia are accused of conspiring and hiring with the death squads [and the bottling company] is in fact 46% owned by Coca-Cola. So what we're actually looking at is something that's far from independent.

But a question that we put forward to them was this: Isn't it inevitable that in a corporation working within the free market, that the drive to increase profits and minimise the costs is going to result in human rights abuse, lack of trade union recognition, and what you're doing here is just actually window-dressing, what you're actually doing is just greenwash? To which, the McDonalds man replied, "No, because the shareholders will disinvest if they believe that it is not socially valuable."

So, I think the slogan of, "You're having a fucking laugh!" is completely appropriate!


is this resistance?

17.05.2004 11:17

my first reaction at looking at this article was "oh good", but then i read the finer details. it seems to me that activism is at an all time low in this country. it seems that a smashed window causes total controversy, that a banner outside the house of an arms dealer is treated as "terrorism". people have even become so weary of squatting social centres that there's talk of RENTING them in the build up to the G8!
and then i hear that the police successfully stopped the unfurling of a banner at a 60 people protest!
if we are to maintain direct action as a tool to effectively use against those that are destroying the earth and it's inhabitants then we need not to struggle a bit to keep that space open. we're not going to get shot for insisting on a banner going up! i felt disempowered just reading about this.
come on kids, these corporations should make us angry not complacent.
love and rage,
anne bonney.x

anne bonney


18.05.2004 22:33

Are we sure that this is not counter productive? Are we sure that we don't want to actually be encouraging corporations to learn about why corporate accountability is absolutely essential?

Is there a list of the various talks/workshops/whatever and their content? Because I sure think corporate accountability is definitely the way forward. If the talks were about green-washing and marketing then fuck it but if the talks were about ensuring consumer happiness, health and well-being then I'm not sure I support your protest in this instance.




i agree sean

19.05.2004 09:38

a focus on an event that is supposed to be looking at accountability seems odd. Would it not be more constructive to engage with those who set up the event and try and be heard on the inside? Mark Thomas could have at least gave a better explanation of how the corporations are planning on making changes - and make some suggestions himself? If 60 people banging drums outside is as far as dissent goes we will be waiting an awful long time for corporate responsibility to become a reality. Suppose we are waiting for all the corporations to be overthrown and destroyed though right. (Yawn)


I'm also wondering

23.05.2004 14:12

It's easy to be cynical about a group of companies getting together to talk about corporate responsibility ('as if' etc. etc.), but I have a feeling the truly radical approach would actually be to take them at their word - the corporations are often cynical enough for all of us. At the moment it is important to the corporations to placate nervous shareholders; this is a terrific opportunity to push them into delivering what they say they want by taking them seriously. Forget their 'real motives', the fact they're declaring a desire for ethical conduct is the important thing and can be used to produce genuine change. Hold them fiercely to it! After all, everyone knows that a corporation that made a serious and thoroughgoing attempt to ethical practice would almost certainly cease to be.



forward thinking

26.05.2004 20:37

Bizzare to see all the comments on this article question the wisdom of
the percieved same old protest mentality, which mainstream media ALWAYS
switches of to unless it is violent. I am also in favour of an attitude which
holds these corporations to their word and encourages them in their tentative
steps towards corporate responsibility. It would be nice to find some way
of holding Bush and Blair to their promise to return Iraq to the Iraqi people
too. I am in favour of change. I believe we have to experiment with new ways of
making it happen. Hope to see you all this summer at Stanstead



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