“Less hand that destroys the environment means more hands preserving it”.
I don’t know if it is right to attribute this to the education system and societal values but the most important thing that is sought after in life is ‘career’ and ‘money’. Because let’s face it, it is only after possession of this that you can afford the most sought after livelihood, you can enrol your child into the most expensive school (apparently good education is expensive), get your dream car (Is it Audi or Merc?), sponsor that most awaited dream holiday to Greece, celebrate your daughter’s fifth birthday anniversary in The Taj, buy your son a RTR 200 after he managed to clear his 10th grade, fund your ward’s higher education (Ivy leagues, IIMs etc.) so that he can make something for himself- a six figure salary package, a promising career, name and fame. Finally his salary package will make him eligible to find love and her dowry will make them eligible to get married.
There is a feeling associated with ‘possession’ of these consumerist vanities and that feeling is ‘gratification’, ‘happiness’, ‘pride’, and ‘societal acceptance’. We all are working to realize ‘true happiness’ and if a person is raised within these value systems, it won’t be a shock that he will make ‘choices’ that will help him attain this ‘vain happiness’. No matter what the ‘cost is’.
The choices available to him comes down to employment or entrepreneurial opportunities in extraction industry- gold, iron, coal copper or other mineral mining, quarrying, oil and gas industry or related industries like automobile industry, FMCG, pharmaceutical industry, power industry, manufacturing, logging, textile, plastics, construction, weaponry, nuclear etc or in the service sector created to facilitate uninterrupted operations of the aforementioned industries, namely Big 4 accounting firms, consulting firm, marketing, IT firms, graphic designing, banking, share markets, banks, entertainment etc. Organizations are run by people and the sole objective of these organizations is to create value and profits for their shareholders, for themselves. And they are doing it pretty well. No matter what the ‘cost is‘.
Lesser is the operational expenses, more is the profit an organization can make. And the techniques an organization uses to reduce operational expenses are somewhat similar to what East India Company used to do. It doesn’t matter if you are a CEO or manager from a premium management institute (IIM, XLRI, ISB etc.). The techniques like bribing of bureaucrats, land encroachment, overutilization of land and water resources, complete disregard for environmental and safety norms, ecocide- destroying ecosystems or harming the health and well-being of a species, bonded labour, child labour, and in some cases even slavery. Even if a reputable organization is not committing these atrocities by themselves, they might be supporting it by purchasing raw material or services from suppliers who are engaged in it. For example Hershey, Nestle, Mars -who allegedly procure cocoa beans harvested by children (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/business/hershey-nestle-mars-chocolate-child-labor-west-africa/), Mica extraction and cosmetic industry.
“Anything for moolah” – CEO’s anthem
Can you name one ethical organization? Are you associated with any profit making organization that gives prior importance to interests of community, people and ecology before its own profit? Can you do the same? What is the limit to profit? Is profit at the expense of ecocide justified? All the big names you can think from oil exploration and refining industry, beverage manufacturers, FMCGs, social media etc. have exploited or are exploiting environment, natural resources or the rights of local/indigenous community for their own profits. It’s no wonder that average pay package of CEO of the largest US firms is $17.2 million. And a CEO has to justify his salary, has to persistently create value for its shareholder, beat the competition and increase the annual profit percentage. In order to do so has to incessantly work to acquire more of people’s land, resources and also their ‘spirits’ and ‘health’.
A prevalent truth:
And it is a prevalent truth, the situation is sordid. We can respond in absolute dismal or abysmal shock but that just validates our ignorance. A nation’s judicial system which is installed to protect the rights of minorities, to oversee that interests of all communities are protected and to ensure there is no bullying by rich and powerful corporation is often found to be lopsided towards the high-powered. Rich corporate have lot of resources- money, power and influential political contacts at their disposal. Nation’s best lawyers and legal firms are known to represent these goliaths against the persecuted, under resourced and suppressed communities. Seeking justice in the present legal framework is bit cumbersome, harassing and dreadful for the latter. A nation’s legal process characterised by inordinate delays, lawyer’s exorbitant fees, travelling expenses, and on top of that a looming threat to life is enough to break spirits of even the most determined of the plaintiff. The aftermath i.e. complete acquittal of the culprit (a prominent actor of Bollywood), a paltry punishment that too after decades of wait (Bhopal gas tragedy), endorses the immoral actions, encourages the malicious behaviour and makes persecuted accept the intolerable status quo.
Understanding our role:
It is important to understand our role in the present status quo. Ignorance is the greatest virtue, but it comes at a ‘cost’- it makes us accomplice. After all we are the consumers, the employees, the employers, service provider, the beneficiaries, the decision makers, the entrepreneurs, the CEOs, the law makers, the law keepers, the culprits and the persecuted.
It is important to understand that no matter what side you are on the present growth model, the policies, the opportunities and the banking system renders us partners in crime. You might not support the malevolent activities of the corporate or you might have waged a war against climate change, exploitation of indigenous communities or the atrocities committed against inexpressible flora and fauna, but the ‘choices’ you are making are annihilating the very same cause.
The choices come down to ‘funding’ and ‘contribution’. Every organization needs ‘money’ to be in operation. The funds are obtained via loans, investments, initial public offerings (IPOs)/shares and selling of products/services. If the same funds are utilized to confiscate resources and ultimately lives, then not only the corporation but the sources of aforementioned funds are equally culprit. The contribution can be in the form of involvement, either at the capacity of customer, business partner, and banking partner or as an employee. If we are purchasing any product that is unethically sourced, or investing in a firm which is confiscating the rights of ecology or carrying out immoral operations by ourselves (employee), then the contributors are equally culprits.
“Means are as responsible as the end”.
But what if we don’t want ‘guilt’ of ecocide on our conscience? What’s the alternate path? The only path I could envisage is to be more informed about the choices we are making:
- To become more conscious of the decisions in terms of investments or purchase. May be the next time you are out for buying groceries you can opt for organic alternatives, or purchase products that comes with a green certification, or purchase only from organizations, co-operatives that operates on the principle of fair trade. You can refrain from purchasing products that are bad for the environment like plastics, cosmetics with microbeads, oxybenzone laden sunscreens, wet wipes etc or try to use products/services cautiously like fossil fuels- LPG, natural gas, power, and gasoline.
- To become more conscious of the organizations we are part of. Let’s look at the profile of an organization before choosing to be a part of it. Let’s choose the organizations on the basis of morality and not on packages. Let’s not keep any kind of professional relationship with any organization engaged in unfair or immoral trade practices. And most importantly let’s not defend misdeeds of such corporations in front of law. Let’s keep our principles and maintain our integrity.
- To divest from ‘culprit’ organizations. Let’s refrain from giving ‘more power’ to such organizations. Even a single share we possess of these organizations makes us an accomplice in wrongdoing. In the past, ‘divestment’ was instrumental in ending an age-old iniquitous practice of racial segregation- ‘apartheid’. Presently, it is giving impetus to the fight against climate change which is corroborated by the fact that hitherto April 2020, a total of 1,192 institutions and over 58,000 individuals representing $14 trillion in assets worldwide had begun or committed to a divestment from fossil fuels.
These choices will not only affect the financial standings of the culprit firms but will also spur investments in green fund, that is imperative to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change As more and more people start to resonate with the cause, the profit will start to dwindle and the culprit corporations will have no other alternative other than to undergo metamorphosis or transform into a green and an ethical organization.
This will lead to creation of plethora of green jobs. Now a person who is raised with capitalist values will have a choice to work in a malefactor firm or to work towards development of society. And the people if given a choice, will choose to survive on a path of least harm.
“Less hand that destroys the environment means more hands preserving it”.
A Process Engineer (Chemical) and Co-Convenor of Eco-Socialist Front