Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Giant food monopolies and their disenfranchised customers

I will admit to being a fan of Perrier. I have family and friends who are, too. When we go shopping, we see Perrier side by side with San Pellegrino in the same shelf space. We are given the impression that there is competition between the brands on the shelf. They look different enough for us to think that they are competing brands, but they are not. Both are owned by Nestle, one of the largest food corporations in the world.

Worldwide, Nestle owns 87 brands of bottled water alone. This list has them all. The brands that are familiar to me are Arrowhead, Gerber, Perrier and San Pellegrino. All of these brands would seem to be from different companies but they have one parent company. Unfortunately, this is not real competition and this is not an isolated exception. This is the norm.

While researching this article, I found another article that I would never expect to see on the FOX News website. They offer a nice description of the 10 companies that make 90% of what we see on the store shelves. It gets more interesting. FOX News actually cite an OXFAM report as one of the sources for their article. Surprise, surprise. It's called the Behind the Brands Report and OXFAM is doing some great work to help protect workers and the environment. Their website actually shows you how you can influence the behavior of the 10 largest food corporations in the world.

There is one more aspect to this "norm" of doing business. When 10 large corporations produce 90% of what we see on the store shelves, we often find ourselves supporting an entity with our purchase that does not support our political views when we buy food. In America, there is serious debate over whether corporations should have the right to make political contributions to political campaigns. But few of our representatives are willing to take action against corporate money in politics. They're on the corporate dole and that gravy train is just too good to stop.

We know this because extensive studies have been done to show that despite what the polls say, Congress does the opposite of what the people say they want. We also know that 99% of us have zero influence on public policy even if we wrote to our representative in Congress. In a sense, we are being told to accept our position as disenfranchised voters and hope for the best, to trust that really big corporations will promote public policy for the rest of us, not just for them.

This is why corporations should not be allowed to give to political campaigns of any kind. It is one thing for me to buy a product I like. It is quite another for that corporation to use profits from my purchase against me and the causes I support.

Not only do we have an illusion of competition in the marketplace, we have corporate influence in public policy that is so strong, most of cannot even hope to be heard. That is what modern disenfranchisement looks like.

I know that this may seem like it's all gloom and doom, it's not. There are forces mounting to change the norm. Bernie Sanders is running for president and is gaining support quickly. While visiting Iowa, he spoke to rooms overflowing with voters who wanted to hear what he had to say. There is now a strong and visible movement to pass anti-corruption laws to eliminate the favors for money industry. And there is a companion movement to get big money out of politics with two very well known groups spearheading the effort to do so: Mayday.us and the Friends of Democracy.

The message should be loud and clear: just because you're wealthy doesn't mean you get to run the country to further your own interests at the expense of everyone else. We want democracy, not oligarchy.
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