NEW YORK – Naomi Klein, author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, and Sameena Ahmad, correspondent for The Economist, who wrote an article entitled “Pro Logo: Why Brands Are Good For You,” debated here Sept. 25, at the Society for Ethical Culture.
Klein’s No Logo, published in January 2000, has become an international bestseller, translated into over 20 different languages. It documents the subtle shift that has taken place over the last decade of corporations no longer being production-based entities. Klein argues corporations are mainly concerned with marketing images, lifestyles and aspirations through brands – brand names. This shift, she says, has facilitated a shedding of physical assets like factories and employees, and moving production to third world countries where troublesome production costs like health care and living wages aren’t a priority, and where more surplus value can be extracted from labor.
Ahmad argues that of the 74 top brands “41 declined in value … while the combined value of the 74 fell by $49 billion.” In other words, paraphrasing Ahmad, corporations are the victims and profits are down.
As the debate began, Ahmad suggested that companies are a “force of social good.” And brands are “proof that our economy works.” Adding, “brands help competition,” and “competition weakens a Goliath.”
Klein argued that the corporate paradigm has changed dramatically. Giving the example of Nike, Klein quoted its CEO, Phillip Knight, as saying, “We are no longer a sneaker company. We are selling the idea of empowerment.”
One of the ways this new paradigm has manifested itself is in the search for “ever more obscure” places where labor law regulations can be avoided and NGO’s have little access.
Corporations look for tax-free zones, she said, and then apply for waivers to lower the national minimum wage laws, threatening to stop production and shift resources elsewhere. This makes impoverished nations compete against one another over who can create the best climate for keeping production costs down.
Overall, the debate was entertaining and informative, but gave few concrete suggestions on how best to combat corporate globalization and the branding of our communities. Also lacking was a more full discussion concerning the role of organized labor.
While struggling to weaken corporate globalization the labor movement has built stronger ties to unions and workers in other nations and has been in the forefront of helping to increase their living and working conditions. It has also fought against NAFTA, FTAA, the World Bank, IMF and WTO.
At the end of the debate, Klein summed up “what we are really talking about.” Asking, “What kind of world do we want to live in? What kind of democracy do we want to have?” Adding, social change isn’t about arguing. It is about “power.” And right now corporations have way too much of it.
Owens Wiwa, executive director of the African Environmental and Human Development Agency, and Peter Marber, president of Trust Company of the Atlantic, also participated in the debate.
The author can be reached at email@example.com