Asda and arms-dealers



ASDA nearly killed me last week. True story. I was driving to work, listening to Radio 4, when an Asda representative ‘revealed’ that he suspected that people didn’t seem to trust big businesses anymore. I laughed so hard I nearly drove into the Thames. Really, mister British representative of one of the most reviled and hated corporations in the world? You think?

Asda’s parent company in America, Walmart, came third in Corporate Accountability International’s Corporate Hall of Shame list of most irresponsible businesses in the world last year (just behind mercenary corporation Blackwater and the world’s leading rainforest destroyer). When a corporation rated less ethical than Nestle by consumers starts talking about restoring trust, that is sort of like the Conservative Party bemoaning the demise of Trades Unions.

The thing is, while supermarkets are particularly damaging to society (their size and structure drive down wages and make it very hard to compete with them if you are an independent store, as the Competition Commission amusingly ruled last week) it is not because the people running them are evil. It is not even, despite what my Marxist agitator friends might say, because the people who own them are evil. It’s because their structure and the category of organisation they fit into carries inside it the potential for great evil. Because they are corporations.

Walmart wants your soulThey exist to make profits. Their priority is growth, even if that growth is environmentally unrealistic or damaging to society, because corporations do not worship Jesus and they don’t worship Satan, they worship Mammon.

In pursuit of lower costs, they will cut wages and pollute the earth, because neither people nor the environment show up on their balance sheets. They will even break the law, as we saw last week as BAE systems was facing fines of up to £1bn for paying bribes to support their business around the world. Such a fine is to be welcomed, but it is only the first step.

Corporations play a massive role in our society and it is only a severely idealistic leftist who believes that can change any time soon. But if they are so inherent to our society then they must be brought back under our control.

A ‘corporate person‘ (for that is what corporations are, under law) that commits crimes again and again should not just be fined any more than human recidivists should be allowed to simply buy their way out of justice. It should be incarcerated, its assets nationalised or handed over to competitors on the understanding that if they break the law (and laws must be made with ordinary citizens, not corporate bottom lines, in mind), they too will be ‘executed’.

Of course, the huge, putrefying dead elephant in the room during discussions of this story is that BAE, the UK’s largest manufacturer, is an arms-manufacturer. They make weapons. To kill people.

The British government is blessed to live in a world so hypocritical that Libya (not even in the top 20 of arms exporters) faces a righteous campaign for restitution from the victims of its weapons, while Britain (the world’s seventh largest arms exporter) does not. Christians need to speak out when businesses harm people (and applaud strong judgements against them). But we also need sometimes to evaluate what those businesses do, even when they are not breaking the law, and speak out prophetically against that too.

Here’s a trailer for a movie about Asda’s parent company. You should really also watch The Corporation, tho.


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