My mind is swirling about corporations and supermarkets after reading ‘Shopped‘ by Joanna Blythman over the weekend so be prepared for a series of supermarket based rantings. They might be a pile of rubbish but I’m just trying to work out why supermarkets and corporations wind me up so much while at the same time being impotent to escape their clutches and also often enjoying their products and services, or even earning some money from them.
However I find there is something particularly creepy about the way supermarkets conduct their business, something which gets me worked up in ways I don’t really understand.
I realised tonight that it may have something to do with supermarkets dealing and trading with one of the essentials of life, food. Supermarkets have a huge say in the distribution of ‘our daily bread’, they provide for us and would like to be seen in that way by their grateful subjects. They want to be seen and worshipped as our benefactors, as the ones who provided manna at dirt cheap price, or an artisan olive manna at affordable prices. Which I find a bit creepy, especially from a Christian point of view. Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, Marks and Spencer literally want us to look to them to provide our daily bread. They want to be seen as our providers, our benefactors. Ultimately they want to take the place of God. If that sounds a bit melodramatic then you should listen to what a supermarket like Tesco freely admits is it’s core purpose.
‘Our Core Purpose is to create value for customers
to earn their lifetime loyalty.‘
They want my lifetime loyalty and they want your lifetime loyalty. That is their core purpose in life, to do whatever it takes to make little Tesco disciples.
Is it going to be any different with any supermarket or any corporation? And we probably have to remember that the core values, mission statements, visions of companies are made for a reason, which is basically to make the company as profitable as possible, which more than likely means ‘make as much money as possible for whoever owns the company’. As the introduction to ‘Shopped’ mentions
‘Let’s be clear that large supermarket chains are companies whose aim is not, first and foremost, to meet society’s interests…The bottom line is that they are stock market-driven corporations whose overarching goal is to keep their shareholders happy’
Surely the god at the top is Mammon, or money which drives the whole thing from top to bottom, bottom to top?
At the top you have the supermarket trying to get more and more profit/money each year, growing and growing.
At the bottom you have someone like me who might be impressed that I can save money and get more and more profit by shopping in a big chain. Money is driving the whole thing. I think Coolio said it best
‘power and the money
money and the power
minute after minute
hour after hour’
Or maybe not. More some other day when I’ve chilled out a bit. Maybe not:)
‘It is also true that many corporations are efficient and well managed.
But they are, by definition, managed in interests at variance with those of the public. Their directors have a ‘fiduciary duty’ towards the shareholders: they must place their concerns above all others. The state, by contrast, has a duty towards all members of the public…’
George Monbiot, Captive State
I’ve been thinking about corporations and shareholders for years now and wondering how I am supposed to react to them as a Christian.
Obviously it would be very hard, if not impossible to function in our society without coming into contact with corporations.
Right now as I type this I can see a ‘Dell’ logo staring back at me and another ‘Samsung’ logo on my mobile phone.
But there is a problem as I see it from a Christian or church going point of view.
As George Monbiot mentions above or as this clip from ‘The Corporation’ shows they are required (by law?) to place the bottom line of it’s owners above the public good.
Or to put it another way, public corporations operate by favouritism at the expense of other people. They favour (by law?) those who are the shareholders. The financial interests of its owners (whoever they are) are more important than the public interest.
The problem from the Christian point of view, or for someone who is trying to follow Jesus with their whole life (not just the Sunday morning church going life) is that Jesus doesn’t do favourites.
Or at least that’s the official line on Sunday mornings from the pulpits and on the pages of the New Testament even though we fail miserably at living it out.
Surely it should be fundamental that the Christian doesn’t favour one group of people over another group of people? If Jesus loved and died for everyone and we’re called to follow him then that means that we’re to show self sacrificial love to everyone, not just a select group of people such as the shareholders of a company.
This is not the way the good news should operate if it’s really the counter-cultural kingdom it’s supposed to be and not some made up myth.
When I worked for that well known DIY company with the black and orange shirts there was different levels I worked on.
On one level I was simply working to earn money for rent and food, for clothes and the occasional trip to the cinema. This is the basic survival level, the level at which you would do nearly anything to make sure you’ve enough money to keep going and function in society.
But it was the other bigger picture level that always troubled me.
Who was I working for?
Who where these shareholders that I was earning money for each time I hauled 20 boxes of polished porcelain tiles into a Nissan Micra?
Perhaps there are other bigger things to worry about but our work matters and who we are ultimately working for matters as well. If this stuff is really true then my whole being has been redeemed and every minute of every day matters. Is there any point in me or any Christian singing something like ‘Only by Grace’ on a Sunday morning then going out on Monday morning to try and win the biggest gains for the company competition?
With a company such as B&Q it was nigh on impossible and far too complicated to ever know who I was ultimately working for. That used to really trouble me.
The bigger picture beyond my monthly wage was that I was contributing to shareholders profits and playing along with ideal of competition that seems to be the way the world works and is designed to work. I wasn’t just selling tile grout, I was using my body to do devils work and trying to grow the company at the expense of smaller companies and my neighbour. I was playing along the strong arm tactics of world leaders and trying to help them build Babel.
Is that too dramatic? I don’t know, I’m only saying this stuff out loud as that’s how I feel about stuff but can never express it when asked about it on the spot.
It’s the whole question of how we’re supposed to live our lives if we’re following Jesus. The way of favouritism and working for a select group of people at the expense of another group of people, doesn’t seem to gel with the truth that we are too love our neighbour as our self. And neighbour means anyone, not just those who are on our side and in our group.
So, there you go. In one way it seems pointless to even mention stuff like this as that’s just the way the world is and sure we have to eat and earn a living and it’s messy, sometimes (or most times) we just have to do stuff we don’t like doing in the race of survival. It’s seem impossible to live without leaving a trail of destruction and death around the place.
I’m using energy writing this that will pollute the atmosphere, who knows how the materials for this computer were mined, who knows how the person who made my fleece and shorts was treated while making them. I guess that’s the way the world has always been as well. Perhaps the last and best bit of advice for making sense of it are the words of a Buddy Miller song I’ve been listening to the last few days
This old world just stays the same
one man wants what the other man gained
one man’s greedy one man’s not
you can’t worship money and god
Cain killed abel that was his brother
sons of abraham still killing each other
c’mon children understand
Jesus washed all away the sins of man
time to love every man woman and child
just forgive and let live for a little while