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The Corporation (2003) Poster

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Robert Monks: Again and again we have the problem that whether you obey the law or not is a matter of whether it's cost effective. If the chance of getting caught and the penalties are less than it costs to comply, people think of it as just a business decision.

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[last lines]

Michael Moore: You know, I've often thought it's very ironic that I'm able to do all this and yet what am I on? I'm on networks. I'm distributed by studios that are owned by large corporate entities. Now, why would they put me out there when I am opposed to everything that they stand for? And I spend my time on their dime opposing what they believe in. Well, it's because they don't believe in anything. They put me on there because they know that there's millions of people that want to see my film or watch the TV show, and so they're gonna make money. And I've been able to get my stuff out there because I'm driving my truck through this incredible flaw in capitalism, the greed flaw. The thing that says that the rich man will sell you the rope to hang himself with if he thinks he make a buck off it. Well, I'm the rope. I hope. I'm part of the rope. And they also believe that when people watch my stuff, or maybe watch this film, or whatever, they think that, you know, they'll watch this and they won't do anything because we've done such a good job of numbing their minds and dumbing them down, you know. People aren't gonna leave the couch and go an do something political. They're convinced of that. I'm convinced of the opposite. I'm convinced that a few people are gonna leave this movie theatre or get up off the couch and go and do something, anything, to get this world back in our hands.

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Ray Anderson: Drawing the metaphor of the early attempts to fly. The man going off of a very high cliff in his airplane, with the wings flapping, and the guys flapping the wings and the wind is in his face, and this poor fool thinks he's flying, but, in fact, he's in free fall, and he just doesn't know it yet because the ground is so far away, but, of course, the craft is doomed to crash. That's the way our civilization is, the very high cliff represents the virtually unlimited resources we seem to have when we began this journey. The craft isn't flying because it's not built according to the laws of aerodynamics and it's subject to the law of gravity. Our civilization is not flying because it's not built according to the laws of aerodynamics for civilizations that would fly. And, of course, the ground is still a long way away, but some people have seen that ground rushing up sooner than the rest of us have. The visionaries have seen it and have told us it's coming. There's not a single scientific, peer-reviewed paper published in the last 25 years that would contradict this scenario: every living system of earth is in decline, every life support system of earth is in decline, and these together constitute the biosphere, the biosphere that supports and nurtures all of life, and not just our life but perhaps 30 million other species that share this planet with us. The typical company of the 20th century: extractive, wasteful, abusive, linear in all of its processes, taking from the earth, making, wasting, sending its products back to the biosphere, waste to a landfill. I, myself, was amazed to learn just how much stuff the earth has to produce through our extraction process to produce a dollar of revenue for our company. When I learned, I was flabbergasted. We are leaving a terrible legacy of poison and diminishment of the environment for our grandchildren's grandchildren, generations not yet born. Some people have called that intergeneration tyranny, a form of taxation without representation, levied by us on generations yet to be. It's the wrong thing to do.

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Jeremy Rifkin: The Chakrabarty case is one of the great judicial moments in world history. And the public was totally unaware it was actually happening as a process was being engaged. General Electric and Professor Chakrabarty went to the patent office with a little microbe that eats up oil spills. They said they had modified this microbe in the laboratory, and therefore it was an invention. The patent office and the U.S. Government took at look at this "invention"; they said, 'No way. The patent statutes don't cover living things. This is not an invention". Turned down. Then, General Electric and Doctor Chakrabarty appealed to the U.S. Customs Court of Appeal. And, to everyone's surprise, by a 3-to-2 decision, they overrode the patent office. They said, 'This microbe looks more like a detergent, or a reagent, than a horse or a honeybee". I laugh because they didn't understand basic biology; it looked like a chemical to them. Had it had an antenna, or eyes, or wings, or legs, it would never have crossed their table and been patented. Then the patent office appealed. And what the public should realise now is the patent office was very clear that you can't patent life. My organisation provided the main amicus curiae brief. "If you allow the patent on this microbe," we argued, "it means that without any congressional guidance or public discussion, corporations will own the blueprints of life". When they made the decision, we lost by 5-to-4, and Chief Justice Warren Berger said, "Sure, some of these are big issues but we think this is a small decision". 7 Years later the U.S. Patent Office issued a 1 sentence decree, "You can patent anything in the world that's alive, except a full-birth human being". We've all been hearing about the announcement that we have mapped the human genome. But what the public doesn't know is now there's this great race by genomic companies and biotech companies and life science companies to find the treasure in the map. The treasure are the individual genes that make up the blueprint of the human race. Every time they capture a gene and isolate it, these biotech companies claim it as intellectual property. The breast cancer gene, the cystic fibrosis gene, it goes on and on and on. If this goes unchallenged in the world community within less than 10 years a handful of global companies will own, directly, or through license, the actual genes that make up the evolution of our species. And they're now beginning to patent the genomes of every other creature on this planet. In the age of biology the politics is going to sort out between those who believe life first has intrinsic value, and therefore we should choose technologies and commercial venues that honour the intrinsic value. And then we're going to have people who believe, "Look, life is a simple utility, it's commercial fare", and they will line up with the idea to let the marketplace be the ultimate arbiter of all of the age of biology.

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Narrator: It should not surprise us that corporate allegiance to profit will trump their allegiance to any flag. A recent U.S. Treasury Department report revealed in one week alone, 57 U.S. corporations were fined for trading with official enemies of the United States, including terrorists, tyrants and despotic regimes.

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[first lines]

Narrator: 150 years ago, the business corporation was a relatively insignificant institution. Today, it is all-pervasive. Like the Church, the Monarchy and the Communist Party in other times and places, the corporation is today's dominant institution. This documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts, and possible futures of the modern business corporation. Initially given a narrow legal mandate, what has allowed today's corporation to achieve such extraordinary power and influence over our lives? We begin our inquiry as scandals threaten to trigger a wide debate about the lack of public control over big corporations.

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Noam Chomsky: The dominant role of corporations in our lives is essentially a product of roughly the past century. Corporations were originally associations of people who were chartered by a state to perform some particular function. Like a group of people want to build a bridge over the Charles River, or something like that.

Mary Zepernick: There were very few chartered corporations in early United States history. And the ones that existed had clear stipulations in their state issued charters, how long they could operate, the amount of capitalisation, what they made or did or maintained, a turnpike or whatever was in their charter and they didn't do anything else. They didn't own or couldn't own another corporation. Their shareholders were liable. And so on.

Richard Grossman: In both law and the culture, the corporation was considered a subordinate entity that was a gift from the people in order to serve the public good. So you have that history, and we shouldn't be misled by it, it's not as if these were the halcyon days, when all corporations served the public trust, but there's a lot to learn from that.

Narrator: Having acquired the legal rights and protections of a person, the question arises - what kind of person is the corporation?

Noam Chomsky: Corporations were given the rights of immortal persons. But then special kinds of persons, persons who had no moral conscience. These are a special kind of persons, which are designed by law, to be concerned only for their stockholders. And not, say, what are sometimes called their stakeholders, like the community or the work force or whatever.

Robert Monks: The great problem of having corporate citizens is that they aren't like the rest of us. As Baron Thurlow in England is supposed to have said, "They have no soul to save, and they have no body to incarcerate."

Michael Moore: I believe the mistake that a lot of people make when they think about corporations, is they think you know, corporations are like us. They think they have feelings, they have politics, they have belief systems, they really only have one thing, the bottom line - how to make as much money as they can in any given quarter. That's it.

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Naomi Klein: Well, the whole idea of the Export Processing Zone is that it will be the first step towards this wonderful new development, through the investment that's attracted to these countries there will be a trickle-down effect into the communities. But because so many countries are now in the game of creating these free-trade enclaves they have to keep providing more and more incentives for companies to come to their little denationalised pocket. And the tax holidays get longer. So the workers rarely make enough money to buy three meals a day, let alone feed their local economy.

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Samuel Epstein M.D.: Something happened in 1940, which marked the beginning of a new era. The era of the ability to synthesise and create, on an unlimited scale, new chemicals that had never existed before in the world. So, suddenly it became possible to produce any new synthetic chemical, the like of which had never existed before in the world, for any purpose and at virtually no cost. For instance, if you wanted to go to a chemist and say, 'Look, I want to have chemical, say a pesticide that will persist throughout the food chain and I don't want to have to renew it very, very often, I'd like it to be relatively non-destructible', and then he'd put 2 benzene molecules on the blackboard and add a chlorine here, and a chlorine there, that was DDT! As the petrochemical era grew and grew, warning signs emerged that some of these chemicals could pose hazards. The data initially were trivial, anecdotal, but gradually, a body of data started accumulating to the extent that we now know that the synthetic chemicals, which have permeated our workplace, our consumer products, our air, our water, produced cancer, and also birth defects and some other toxic effects. Furthermore, industry has known about this, at least most industries have known about this, and have attempted to trivialise these risks. If I take a gun and shoot you, that's criminal. If I expose you to some chemicals, which knowingly are going to kill you, what difference is there? The difference is that it takes longer to kill you. We are now in the midst of a major cancer epidemic and I have no doubt and I have documented the basis for this, that industry is largely responsible for this overwhelming epidemic of cancer, in which 1 in every two men get cancer in their lifetimes, and 1 in every 3 women get cancer in their lifetimes.

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Samuel Epstein M.D.: Towards the end of 1989, a great box of documents arrived at my office, without any indication where they came from. And I opened them, and found in it a complete set of Monsanto files, particularly dealing with toxicological testing of cows that'd been given RBGH. And at that time Monsanto was saying, 'There's no evidence whatsoever of any adverse effects. We don't use antibiotics'. And this clearly showed that they had lied through their teeth. The files described areas of chronic inflammation in the heart, lungs, kidneys, spleen, also reproductive effects, also a whole series of other problems.

Jeremy Rifkin: It is a silly product. The industrial world is awash in milk. We're overproducing milk. We actually have governments around the world who pay farmers not to produce milk. So the first product Monsanto comes up with is a product that produces more of what we don't need.

Steve Wilson: But the problem was that use of the artificial hormone caused all kinds of problems for the cows. It caused something called mastitis, which is a very painful infection of the udders. When you milk the cow, if the cow has bad mastitis, some of the, and I don't know how to say this in a, you know, I hope people aren't watching at dinnertime but the pus from the infection of the udders ends up in the milk... And the somatic cell count, they call it, the bacteria count, inside your milk goes up.

Jane Akre: There's a cost to the cows. The cows get sicker when they're infected with RBGH. They're injected with antibiotics. We know that people are consuming antibiotics through their food and we that that's contributing to antibiotic resistant bacteria and diseases. And we know we're at a crisis when somebody can go into a hospital and get a staff infection and it can't be cured and they die. That's a crisis.

Jeremy Rifkin: Bad for the cow. Bad for the farmer. Bad potentially for the consumer. The jury is out; we see a lot of conflicting evidence about potential health risk. And, of course, as a consumer, my belief is why should I take any risk?

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Narrator: Factory farm cows have not been the only victims of Monsanto products. Large areas of Vietnam were deforested by the US military using Monsanto's Agent Orange. The toxic herbicide reportedly caused over 50,00 birth defects and hundreds of thousands of cancers in Vietnamese civilians and soldiers, and in former American troops serving in South-East Asia. Unlike the Vietnamese victims, US Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange were able to sue Monsanto for causing their illnesses. Monsanto settled out of court, paying $80 million in damages. But it never admitted guilt.

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Carlton Brown: The traders who are involved in the market are not guys whose moral fibre when it comes to environmental conditions are going to be rattled at all. They seeing dollars and they're making money. Brokers don't say away from copper because it violates their religious beliefs, or your environmental policies. There are times when you think about it but it's fleeting. It really is a fleeting moment. It's like well, a town is being polluted down there in Peru but, hey, this guy needs to buy some copper. I'm getting paid a commission too. The information that we receive does not include anything about the environmental conditions because until the environmental conditions become a commodity themselves or are being traded then, obviously, we will not have anything to do with that. It doesn't come into our psyche at all. It's so far away and you hardly hear anything about it. I mean, keep in mind there things going on right in our backyards. We trade live hogs. I mean, there are so many pigs in the state of Carolina and they're polluting the rivers but how often do you find out about that?

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Dr Robert Hare: One of the questions that comes up periodically is to what extent could a corporation be considered to be psychopathic. And if we look at a corporation as a legal person, that it may not be that difficult to actually draw the transition between psychopathy in the individual to psychopathy in the corporation. We could go through the characteristics that define this disorder, one by one, to how they might apply to corporations. They would have all the characteristics, and, in fact, in many respects, the corporation of that sort is the proto-typical of a psychopath.

Narrator: If the dominant institution of our time has been created in the image of a psychopath, who bears the moral responsibility for it's actions?

Milton Friedman: Can a building have moral opinions? Can a building have social responsibility? If a building can't have social responsibility, what does it mean to say that a corporation can? A corporation is simply an artificial legal structure. But the people who are engaged in it, whether the stockholders, whether the executives in it, whether the employees, they all have moral responsibilities.

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Noam Chomsky: It's a fair assumption that every human being, real human beings, flesh and blood ones, not corporations, but every flesh and blood human being is a moral person. You know, we've got the same genes, we're more or less the same, but our nature, the nature of humans, allows all kinds of behaviour. I mean, every one of us under some circumstances could be a gas chamber attendant and a saint.

Sam Gibara: No job, in my experience with Goodyear, has been as frustrating as the CEO job. Because even though the perception is that you have absolute power to do whatever you want, the reality is you don't have that power, and sometimes, if you had really a free hand, if you really did what you wanted to do that suits you personal thoughts and you're personal priorities, you'd act differently. But as a CEO you cannot do that. Layoffs have become so widespread that people tend to believe that CEOs make these decisions without any consideration to the human implications of their decisions. It is never a decision that any CEO makes lightly. It is a tough decision. But it is the consequence of modern capitalism.

Noam Chomsky: When you look at a corporation, just like when you look at a slave owner, you want to distinguish between the insitution and the individual. So slavery, for example, or other forms of tyranny, are inherently monstrous, but the individuals participating in them may be the nicest guys you could imagine. Benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves, caring about other people. I mean, as individuals they may be anything. In their institutional role they're monsters because the institution is monstrous. The same is true here. So an individual CEO, let's say, may really care about the environment and, in fact, since they have such extraordinary resources, they can even devote some of their resources to that without violating their responsibility to be totally inhuman.

Narrator: Which is thy, as the Moody-Stuarts serve tea to protestors, Shell Nigeria can flare unrivalled amounts of gas, making it one of the world's single worst sources of pollution. And all the professed concerns about the environment do not spare Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 other activists from being hanged for opposing Shell's environmental practices in the Niger Delta.

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Vandana Shiva: A corporation is not a person. It doesn't think. People in it think and for them it is legitimate to create terminator technology, so that farmers are not able to save their seeds. Seeds that will destroy themselves through a suicide gene. Seeds that are designed to only produce crop in one season. You really need to have a brutal mind. It's a war against evolution to even think in those terms. But quite clearly profifs are so much higher in their minds.

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Ray Anderson: For 21 years I never gave a thought to what we were taking from the Earth or doing to the Earth in the making of our products. And then in the summer of 1994 we began to hear questions from our customers we had never heard before: 'What's your Company doing for the Environment?' And we didn't have answers. The real answer was not very much. And it really disturbed many of our people, not me so much as them, and a group in our research department decided to convene a taskforce and bring people from our businesses around the world to come together to assess our company's worldwide environment position to begin to frame answers for those customers. They asked me if I would come and speak to that group and give them a kick-off speech and launch this new task force with an environmental vision, and I didn't have an environmental position, and I did not want to make that speech. And sort of the propitious moment, this book landed on my desk. It was Paul Hawkins' book, The Ecology of Commerce and I began to read The Ecology of Commerce, really desperate for inspiration, and very quickly into that book I found the phrase, "The Death of Birth". It was E.O. Wilson's expression for species extinction, "The Death of Birth," and it was a point of a spear into my chest, and I read on, and the spear went deeper, and it became an epiphanal experience, a total change of mindset for myself and a change of paradigm. Can any product be made sustainably? Well, not any and every product. Can you make landmines sustainably? Well, I don't think so. There's a more fundamental question than that about landmines. Some products ought not to be made at all. Unless we can make carpets sustainably, you know, perhaps we don't have a place in a sustainable world, but neither does anybody else, making products unsustainably. One day early in this journey it dawned on me that the way I'd been running Interface is the way of the plunderer; plundering something that's not mine, something that belongs to every creature on earth. And I said to myself, "my goodness, the day must come when this is illegal, when plundering is not allowed. It must come". So, I said to myself, "my goodness, some day people like me will end up in jail".

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Carlton Brown: I've got to be honest with you. When the September 11th situation happened, and I must say, and I wanna say this because I don't want to take it lightly. It's not a light situation. It was a devastating act. It was really a bad thing. It was one of the worst things I've seen in my lifetime, you know. But, I will tell you and every trade will tell you, who was not in that building and who was buying gold and who owned gold and silver, that when it happened, the first thing you thought about was, "well, how much is gold up?" The first thing that came to mind was, "my God, gold must be exploding". Fortunately, for us, all our clients were in gold. So when it went up they all doubled their money. Everybody doubled their money. It was a blessing in disguise. Devastating, crushing, heart shattering, but on the financial sense, for my clients that were in the market, they all made money. Now, I wasn't looking for this type of help, but it happened. When the USA bombed Iraq back in 1991 the price of oil went from $13 to £40 a barrel, for cying out loud! Now, we couldn't wait for the bombs to start raining down on Saddam Hussein. We were all excited. We wanted Saddam to really create problems. "Do whatever you have to do, set fire to some more oil wells, because the price is going to go higher." Every broker was chanting that. There was not a broker that I know of that wasn't excited about that. This was a disaster. This was something that was, you know, catastrophe happening. Bombing. Wars. In devastation there is opportunity.

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Narrator: The pursuit of property is an old story but there was a time when many things were regarded either as too sacred or too essential for the public good to be considered business opportunities. They were protected by tradition and public regulation.

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Elaine Bernard: With deregulation, privatisation, free trade, what we're seeing is yet another enclosure and, if you like, private taking of the commons. One of the things I find very interesting in our current debates is this concept of who creates wealth. That wealth is only created when it's owned privately. What would you call clean water, fresh air, a safe environment? Are they not a form of wealth? And why does it only become wealth when some entity puts a fence around it and declares it private property? Well, you know, that's not wealth creation. That's wealth usurpation.

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Noam Chomsky: Privatisation does not mean you take a public institution and give it to some nice person. It means you take a public institution and give it to an unaccountable tyranny. Public institutions have many side benefits. For one thing they may purposely run at a loss. They're not out for profit. They may purposely run at a loss because of the side benefits. So, for example if a public steel industry runs at a loss it's providing cheap steel to other industries. Maybe that's a good thing. Public institutions can have a counter cyclic property. So that means that they can maintain employment in periods of recession, which increases demand, which helps you to get out of recession. Private companies can't do that in a recession. Throw out the work force because that's the way you make money.

Maude Barlow: There are those who intend that one day everything will be owned by somebody and we're not just talking goods here. We're talking human rights, human services, essential services for life. Education, public health, social assistance, pensions, housing. We're also talking about the survival of the planet. The areas that we believe must be maintained in the commons or under common control or we will collectively die. Water and air.

Michael Walker: Even in the case of air there's been some progress and that is the trading of pollution permits. And here the idea is to say, "Look, we can't avoid the dumping of carbon dioxide. We can't avoid the dumping of sulphur oxides, at least at the moment afford to stop it so we're dumping a certain amount of stuff into the environment. So we're going to say with the current tonnage of sulphur oxides, for example, we will say that is the limit. And we'll create permits for that amount and give them to the people who've been doing the polluting and now we will permit them to be traded". And so now there's a price attached to polluting the environment. Now, wouldn't it be marvellous if we have one of the prices for everything?

Interviewer: It sounds like you're advocating private ownership of every square inch of the planet. Every cubic foot of air, water.

Michael Walker: Absolutely. It sounds outlandish to say we want to have the whole universe, the whole of the earth owned. That doesn't mean I want to have Joe Bloggs owning this square foot. But it means the interests that are involved in that stream are owned by some group or by some people who have an interest in maintaining it. And that, you know, is not such a loony idea. It's in fact, the solution to a lot of these problems.

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Noam Chomsky: The goal for the corporations is to maximise profit and market share. And they also have a goal for their target, namely the population. They have to be turned into completely mindless consumers of goods that they do not want. You have to develop what are called "Creative Wants". So you have to create wants. You have to impose on people what's called a Philosophy of Futility. You have to focus them on the insignificant things of life, like fashionable consumption. I'm just basically quoting business literature. And it makes perfect sense. The ideal is to have individuals who are totally disassociated from one another. Whose conception of themselves, the sense of value is just, "how many created wants can I satisfy?" We have huge industries, public relations industry, monstrous industry, advertising and so on, which are designed from infancy to mold people into this desired pattern.

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Narrator: Some of the best creative minds are employed to assure our faith in the corporate world view. They seduce us with beguiling illusions. Designed to divert our minds and manufacture our consent.

Richard Grossman: Corporations don't advertise products particularly; they're advertising a way of life. A way of thinking. A story of who we are as people and how we got here and what's the source of our so-called liberty, and so-called freedom. You know, so you have decades and decades and decades of propaganda and education teaching us to think in a certain way. When applied to the large corporation, it's that the corporation was inevitable, that it's indispensable, that it's somehow remarkably efficient, and that it's responsible for progress and the good life. They're selling themselves, they're selling their domination, they're selling they're rule, and they're creating an image for themselves, as just regular folks down the block. It's tough, you know, they're putting some taxpayer shareholder money into helping and who can say? But that money should be going to the taxpayers to decide what to do. And while they're doing these sorts of nice things, they're also playing a role in lowering taxes for corporations and lowering taxes for wealthy people, and reconfiguring public policy. And what we don't see is all that reconfiguring going on; we don't see all that vacuuming up of money, vacuuming out the insides of public processes, but we do see the nice facade.

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Narrator: In a world economy where information is filtered by global media corporations, keenly attuned to their powerful advertisers, who will defend the public's right to know? And what price must be paid to preserve our ability to make informed choices?

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Steve Wilson: One of the first stories that Jane came up with was the revelation that most of the milk in the state of Florida and throughout most of the country was adulterated with the effects of bovine growth hormone.

Jane Akre: With Monsanto, I didn't realise how effectively a corporation could work to get something on the marketplace. The levels of coordination they had to have. They had to get university professors into the fold. They had to get experts into the fold. They had to get reporters into the fold. They had to get the public into the fold and of course the FDA, let's not leave them out. They had to get the federal regulators convinced that this was a fine and safe product to get it onto the marketplace. And they did that, they did that very, very well. The federal government basically rubber stamped it before they put it on the marketplace. The longest test they did for human toxicity was 90 days on 30 rats. And then either Monsanto misreported the results to the FDA, or the FDA didn't bother to look in depth at Monsanto's own studies.

Steve Wilson: The scientists within Health Canada looked very carefully at bovine growth hormone and come to very different conclusions than the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. did.

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Jane Akre: Monsanto sent the second letter, and this was more strongly worded. And it said there will be dire consequences for Fox News if the story airs in Florida. And this time they freaked. They were afraid of being sued and they were also afraid of losing advertising dollars. And all of the stations owned by Rupert Murdoch. And he owned more television stations than any other group in America. That's 22 television stations. That's a lot of advertising dollars. For Round-Up, Aspartame, Nutra Sweet and other products.

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Steve Wilson: I said, "You know, this is news, this is important. This is stuff people need to know". And I'll never forget, he didn't pause a beat and he said, "We just paid $3 billion for these television stations. We'll tell you what the news is. The news is what we say it is". I said, "I'm not doing that", and he said, "Well, if you refuse to present this story the way think it should be presented you'll be fired for insubordination". I said, "I will go to the Federal Communications Commission and I will report that I was fired from my job by you, the licensee of these public airwaves because I refused to lie to people on the air".

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Narrator: What Fox neglected to report is this: Jane sued Fox under Florida's whistleblower statute, which proects those who try to prevent others from breaking the law. But her Appeal Court judges found that falsifying news isn't actually against the law. So they denied Jane her whistleblower status, overturned the case, and withdrew her $425,000 award. Canada and Europe have upheld the ban on RBGH. Yet it remains hidden in much of the milk supply of the United States.

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Narrator: The prospect that two thirds of the world's population will have no access to fresh drinking water by 2025, has provoked the initial confrontations in a world-wide battle for control over the planet's most basic resource. When Bolivia sought to refinance the public water services of its third largest city, the World Bank required that it be privatised, which is how the Bechtel Corporation of San Francisco gained control over all Cochabamba's water, even that which fell from the sky.

Oscar Olivera: All these laws and contracts also prohibited people from gathering rainwater. So rainwater was also privatised. Unpaid bills gave the company rights to repossess debtors' homes and to auction them off. People had to make choices: from eating less and paying for water and basic services, to not sending their children to school, or not going to the hospital and treating illnesses at home; or, in the case of retired people who have very low incomes, they had to go out and work on the streets. Then, with the slogan: "The Water is Ours, Damn it!" People took to the streets to protest.

Narrator: The price this beleaguered country paid for World Bank loans was the privatision of the state oil industry, and its airline, railroad, electric and phone companies. But the government failed to convince Bolivians that water is a commodity like any other.

Oscar Olivera: Then we witnessed how the government defended the transnational interests of Bechtel. People wanted water not teargas! People wanted justice not bullets!

Narrator: Bolivia was determined to defend the corporation's right to charge families living on $2 a day as much as one-quarter of their income for water. The greater the popular resistance to the water privatisation scheme, the more violent became the standoff.

Oscar Olivera: There were hundreds of young people, 16 or 17-year olds, who lost their arms or legs or who were left handicapped for life by brain injuries and Victor Hugo Daza was killed.

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Narrator: Transnational corporations have a long and dark history of condoning tyrannical governments. Is it narcissism that compels them to seek their reflection in the regimented structures of fascist regimes?

Howard Zinn: There was an interesting connection between the rise of fascism in Europe and the consciousness of politically radical people about corporate power. Because there was a recognition that Fascism rose in Europe with the help of enormous corporations.

Noam Chomsky: Mussolini was greatly admired all across the spectrum, business loved him, investment shot up. Incidentally, when Hitler came in in Germany the same thing happened there, investment shot up in Germany. He had the work force under control. He was getting rid of dangerous left-wing elements. Investment opportunities were improving. There was no problems. These are wonderful countries.

Michael Moore: I think one of the greatest untold stories of the 20th century is the collusion between corporations, especially in America, and Nazi Germany. First, in terms of how the corporations from America helped to essentially rebuild Germany and support the early Nazi regime. And then, when the war broke out, figured out a way to keep everything going. So General Motors was able to keep Opal going, Ford was able to keep their thing going, and companies like Coca-Cola, they couldn't keep the Coca-Cola going, so what they did was they invented Fanta Orange for the Germans. And that's how Coke was able to keep their profits coming in to Coca-Cola. So when you drink Fanta Orange, that's the Nazi drink that was created so that Coke could continue making money while millions of people died.

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Narrator: For big business, despotism was often a useful tool for securing foreign markets and pursuing profits. One of the U.S. Marine Corps' most highly decorated generals, Smedley Darlington Butler, by his own account, helped pacify Mexico for American oil companies, Haiti and Cuba for National City Bank, Nicaragua for the Brown Brothers brokerage, the Dominican Republic for sugar interests, Honduras for U.S. fruit companies, and China for Standard Oil. General Butler's services were also in demand in the United States itself in the 1930s as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought to relieve the misery of the depression through public enterprise and tougher regulation on corporate exploitation and misdeeds. But the country was not entirely behind the populist president. Large parts of the corporate elite despised what Roosevelt's New Deal stood for. And so, in 1934, a group of conspirators sought to involve General Butler in a treasonous plan. But the corporate cabal had picked the wrong man. Butler was fed up being, what he called, "A Gangster for Capitalism". A Congressional Committee ultimately found evidence of a plot to overthrow Roosevelt. According to Butler, the conspiracy included representatives of some of America's top corporations, including J.P. Morgan, Dupont and Goodyear Tire. As today's chairman of Goodyear Tire knows, for corporations to dominate government, a coup is no longer necessary.

Sam Gibara: Corporations have gone global and by going global, the governments have lost some control over corporations regardless of whether corporations can be trusted or cannot be trusted, governments today do not have over the corporations, the power that they had, and the leverage they had 50 or 60 years ago. And that's a major change. So, governments have become powerless compared to what they were before.

Ira Jackson: Capitalism today commands the towering heights, and has displaced politics and politicians as the new high priests, and reigning oligarchs of our system. So capitalism and its principle protagonists and players, corporate CEOs, have been accorded unusual power and access. This is not to deny the signifiance of government and politicians but these are the new high priests.

Marc Barry: I was invited to Washington D.C. to attend this meeting that was being put together by the National Security Agency called, "The Critical Thinking Consortium". I remember standing there in this room and looking over on one side of the room and we had the CIA, NSA, DIA, FBI, Customs, Secret Service. And then on the side of the room we had Coca-Cola, Mobile Oil, GTE and Kodak. And I remember thinking, "I am like in the epicenter of the intelligence industry right now". I mean, the line is not just blurring, it's just not there anymore. And, to me, it spoke volumes as to how industry and government were consulting with each other and working with each other.

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Narrator: As 34 nations of the Western Hemisphere gathered to draft a far reaching trade agreement, one that would lay the groundwork to privatise every resource and service imaginable, thousands of people from hundreds of grassroots organisations joined to oppose it. Canada's top business lobbyists and its chief trade representative discount the dissent in the streets. For them, the America's 800 million citizens speak with one voice.

Thomas D'Aquino: Nice to see you. Well done on your strong advocacy of truth, justice, wisdom and all those things, eh.

Pierre Pettigrew: I was looking yesterday at the statements at the inauguration and opening ceremony. What an extraordinary progress over the last 15 years. When you heard such a common language. Yes, and from the most developed to the least. It was extraordinary that now that we see the benefits of trade, more and more people want to buy in. Because we do realise that it helps everyone. From the poorer to the better off.

Robert Keyes: A lot of these countries are not saying they want to get off, they want to get on.

Pierre Pettigrew: Exactly, no one wants out, everyone wants in.

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Ray Anderson: I ask myself often times why so many companies subscribe to corporate social responsibility. I'm not sure it's because they necessarily want to be responsible in an ultimate way, but because they want to be identified and seen to be responsible. But who am I to judge? It's better that they belong than not belong. It's better that they make some public profession than the opposite.

Elaine Bernard: Social responsibility isn't a deep shift because it's a voluntary tactic. A tactic, a reaction to a certain market at this point. And as the corporation reads the market differently, it can go back. One day you see Bambi, next day you see Godzilla.

Milton Friedman: How do you define social responsible? What business is it of the corporation to decide what's socially responsible? That isn't their expertise. That isn't what their stockholders ask them to do. So I think they're going out of their range and it certainly is not democratic.

Robert Monks: I don't really care what the chairman of General Motors thinks is an appropriate level of emissions to come out the tailpipe of General Motors' automobiles. He may have a lot of scientists, he may be a very good person, but I didn't elect him to do anything. He doesn't have any power to speak for me. These are decisions that must be made by government and not by corporations.

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Naomi Klein: You take this to its logical conclusion, one would have the image that we are, in fact, the end of the world is nigh. And we are all completely brainwashed and there's no space left. And I don't believe we're there yet. And I think it's really important that we don't overstate the case, and that we admit that there are cracks and fissures in all of these corporate structures. And sometimes when a corporation is concentrating on one particular project they look the other way and all kinds of interesting things happen in the corner.

Vandana Shiva: It is the case in every period of history where injustice based on falsehoods, based on taking away the right and freedoms of people to live and survive with dignity, that, eventually, when you call a bluff, the tables turn.

Elaine Bernard: Ultimately capital puts it foot down somewhere. And anywhere it puts its foot down it can be held accountable.

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Charles Kernaghan: Originally Wal Mart and Kathy Lee Gifford had said, "Why should we believe you that children work in this factory?" What we didn't tell them was that Wendy Dias, in the centre of the picture, was on a plane to the United States. This is Wendy Dias. She comes to the United States. She's unstoppable.

News announcer: Congress heard testimony today from children who testified they were exploited by sweatshops overseas.

Charles Kernaghan: Kathy Lee Gifford apologised to Wendy. It was the most amazing thing I'd seen. This powerful celebrity leans over and says, "Wendy, please believe me, I didn't know these conditions existed. And now that I do, I'm going to work with you. I'm going to work with these other people and it'll never happen again." And that night we signed an agreement with Kathy Lee Gifford.

Kathie Lee Gifford: I thought it would be a relatively easy process, and it isn't. As for every question I have there seem to be five questions that come back at me.

Charles Kernaghan: As far as Wal Mart goes and Kathy Lee, pretty much everything returned to sweatshop conditions but because this was fought out on television for weeks, this incident with Kathy Lee Gifford actually took the sweatshop issue to every single part of the country. And so, frankly, after that, there's hardly a single person in this country who doesn't know about child labour or sweatshops or starvation wages.

Title Card: Several years after the Wal Mart controversy, Kathy Lee handbags were still being made in China by workers paid three cents per hour.

Title Card: Under pressure from the National Labor Committee, Gap Inc. allowed independent monitoring of its El Salvador factories, becoming the first transnational corporation to do so anywhere.

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Elaine Bernard: So what we need to do is to look at the very roots of the legal form that created this beast, and we need to think who can hold them accountable.

Noam Chomsky: They're not graven in stone. They can be dismantled. And, in fact, most states have laws, which require that they be dismantled.

Jim Lafferty: For too long now giant corporations have been allowed to undermine democracy here in the United States and all over the world. But today the National Lawyer's Guild and 29 other groups and individuals are fighting back. We are calling upon State Attorney General, Dan Lungren, to comply with California law and to revoke to the corporate charter of the Union Oil Company of California for its repeated and grevious offences.

Robert Benson: This is a statute that is well known. It has been used. It can be used. What this will mean is the dissolution of the Union Oil Company of California, the sale of its assets under careful court orders to others who will carry on in the public interest.

Jim Lafferty: From its complicity in unspeakable human rights violations overseas against women, gays, labourers and indigenous peoples, to its efforts to subvert U.S. foreign policy and deceive the courts, the public and its own stockholders, Unocal is emblematic of corporate abuse and corporate power run amok.

Don Xui Xziang: Extending a business deal with the Burma army is immoral. Unocal cannot do business in Burma without supporting that hopeless regime.

Title Card: The Attorney General of California refused to revoke the corporate charter of Unocal but did acknowledge his office had the power to do so.

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Michael Moore: The curse for me has been the fact that in making these, you know, documentary films, I've seen that actually can impact change, so I'm just compelled to keep making them. I went to Littleton, Colorado, where the Columbine shooting took place. And, I didn't know this, but when I arrived I learned what the primary job is of the parents of the kids who go to Columbine High School. The number one job in Littleton, Colorado. They work for Lockheed Martin, building weapons of mass destruction. But they don't see the connect between what they do for a living and what their kids do at school, or did at school. And so I'm kind of, you know, up on my high horse, thinking about this, and I thought, you know, I said to my wife, we both are sons and daughters of auto workers in Flint, Michigan. There isn't a single one of us, back in Flint, any of us, including us, who ever stopped to think, this thing we do for a living, the building of automobiles, is probably the single biggest reason why the polar ice caps are going to melt and end civilisation as we know it. There's no connect between, "I'm just an assembler on an assembly line, building a car", which is good for people and society, and it moves them around. But never stop to think about the larger picture, and the larger responsibility, of what we're doing. Ultimately, we have to, as individuals accept responsibility for our collective action and the larger harm that it causes, you know, in our world.

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Vandana Shiva: Over the past decade we have been gaining ground. And when I say "we", I mean ordinary people committed to the welfare of all humanity. All people irrespective of gender and class and race and religion. All species on the planet. We managed to take the biggest government and one of the largest chemical companies to court on the case of Neem and win a case against them. W.R. Grace and the US government's patent on Neem was revoked by a case we brought along with the Greens of the European Parliament and the International Organic Agricultural Movement. We won because we worked together. We have overturned nearly 99% of the basmati patent of Ricetek. Again, because we worked as a worldwide coalition, old women in Texas, scientists in India, activists sitting in Vancouver, a little basmati action group. We stopped the 3rd World being viewed as the pirate and we showed the corporations were the pirate. Look how little it took for Gandhi to work against the salt laws of the British where the British decided the way they would make their armies and police forces bigger is just tax the salt. And all that Gandhi did was walk to the beach, pick up the salt and say, "Nature gives it for free. We need it. We've always made it. We will violate your laws. We will continue to make salt". We've had a similar commitment for the last decade in India. That any law that makes it illegal to save seed is a law not worth following. We will violate it because saving seed is a duty to the earth and to future generations. We thought it would really be symbolic. It is more than symbolic. It is becoming a survival option. Farmers who grow their own seeds, save their own seeds, don't buy pesticides, have three-fold more incomes than farmers who are locked into the chemical treadmill, depending on Monsanto and Cargill. We have managed to created alternatives that work for people.

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Jeremy Rifkin: There are many tools for bringing back community. But the importance is not the tools. I mean, there's litigation, there's legislation, there's direct action, there's education, boycotts, social investment. There's many, many ways to address issues of corporate power. But in the final analysis, what's really important is the vision. You have to have a better story.

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Ray Anderson: [Speech to Civic and Business Leaders, North Carolina State U] Do I know you well enough to call you fellow plunderers? There is not an industrial company on earth, not an institution of any kind, not mine, not yours, not anyone's that is sustainable. I stand convicted by me, myself alone, not by anyone else, as a plunderer of the earth, but not by our civilisation's definition. By our civilisation's definition, I'm a captain of industry. In the eyes of many a kind of modern day hero. But really, really, the first industrial revolution is flawed, it is not working. It is unsustainable. It is the mistake and we must move on to another and better industrial revolution and get it right this time.

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Ray Anderson: When I think of what could be I visualise an organisation of people committed to a purpose and the purpose is doing no harm. I see a company that has severed the umbilical cord to earth for its raw materials, taking raw materials that have already been extracted and using them over and over again, driving that process with renewable energy. It is our plan, it remains our plan to climb Mount Sustainability, that mountain that is higher than Everest, infinitely higher than Everest, far more difficult to scale. That point at the top symbolising zero footprint...

Title Card: Since 1995, Interface has reduced its ecological footprint by one third. Its stated goal is to be sustainable by 2020.

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Richard Grossman: So we've got to undo a lot of things in order to be smart enough to do this really dangerous and risky and difficult work, you know, the best way that we possibly can. And that means coming together and learning a whole lot of stuff that we just don't know, that has been driven out of the culture, driven out of the society, driven out of our minds. That, to me, is the most exciting thing. That is happening, it's happening all over the world now.

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Charles Kernaghan: Sometimes is surprises me how effective you can actually be. After we beat the Gap I walked past these Gap stores and I looked at them and I think, "My goodness, there's like 2,000 of these stores across the country. Look at all that concrete, look at the glass, look at all the staff people, look at all the clothing. Look at that power". You can still reach these companies. You can still have an effect.

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Oscar Olivera: Small battles are being won around the world, but, I think people are losing. I do see the present and the future of our children as very dark. But I trust the people's capacity for reflection, rage and rebellion.

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Richard Grossman: We can change the government. That's the only way we're going to re-design, re-think, re-constitute what capital and property can do.

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Vandana Shiva: Fifteen corporations would like to control the conditions of our life, and millions of people are saying, "Not only do we not need you, we can do it better. We are going to create systems that nourish the earth and nourish human beings". And these are not marginal experiments. They are the mainstay of large numbers of communities across the world. That is where the future lies.

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Robert Monks: In our search for wealth and prosperity, we created something that's gonna destroy us.

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Narrator: Through the voices of CEOs, whistle blowers, brokers, gurus and spies, insiders and outsiders, we present the corporation as a paradox, an institution that creates great wealth, but causes enormous, and often hidden harms.

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Ira Jackson: The eagle, soaring, clear-eyed, competitive, prepared to strike, but not a vulture. Noble, visionary, majestic, that people can believe in and be inspired by, that creates such a lift that it soars. I can see that being a good logo for the principled company. Okay, guys, enough bullshit.

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Robert Keyes: The word corporate gets attached in almost, you know, in a pejorative sense to and gets married with the word "a-gen-da." And one hears a lot about the corporate a-gen-da as though it is evil, as though it is an agenda, which is trying to take over the world. Personally, I don't use the word "corporation." I use the word "business." I will use the word... use the word "company." I will use the words "business community" because I think that is a much fairer representation than zeroing in on just this word "corporation."

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Ray Anderson: The modern corporation has grown out of the industrial age. The industrial age began in 1712 when an Englishman named Thomas Newcomen invented a steam driven pump to pump water out of the English coal mine, so the English coal miners could get more coal to mine, rather than hauling buckets of water out of the mine. It was all about productivity, more coal per man-hour. That was the dawn of the industrial age. And then it became more steel per man-hour, more textiles per man-hour, more automobiles per man-hour, and today, it's more chips per man-hour, more gizmos per man-hour. The system is basically the same, producing more sophisticated products today.

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Narrator: To determine the kind of personality that drives the corporation to behave like an externalising machine, we can analyse it like a psychiatrist would a patient. We can even formulate a diagnosis, on the basis of typical case histories of harm it has inflicted on others selected from a universe of corporate activity.

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Sir Mark Moody-Stuart: People accuse us of only paying attention to the economic leg, because they think that's what a business person's mindset is, it's just money. And it's not so, because we, as business people, know that we need to certainly address the environment, but also we need to be seen as constructive members of society.

Michael Moore: There are companies that do good for the communities. They produce services and goods that are of value to all of us, that make our lives better, and that's a good thing. The problem comes in the profit motivation here, because for these people, there's no such thing as enough.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart: And I always counterpoint out, there's no organisation on this planet that can neglect its economic foundation. Even someone living under a banyan tree is dependent on support from someone. Economic leg has to be addressed by everyone. It's not just a business issue.

Narrator: But, unlike someone under a banyan tree, all publicly traded corporations have been structured, through a series of legal decisions, to have a peculiar and disturbing characteristic. They are required, by law, to place the financial interests of their owners above competing interests. In fact, the corporation is legally bound to put its bottom line ahead of everything else, even the public good.

Noam Chomsky: That's not a law of nature, that's a very specific decision. In fact, a judicial decision. So they're concerned only for the short-term profit of their stockholders who are very highly concentrated.

Robert Monks: To whom do these companies owe loyalty? What does loyalty mean? Well, it turns out that that was a rather naïve concept anyways as corporations are always owed obligation to themselves to get large and to get profitable. In doing this, it tends to be more profitable to the extent that it can make other people pay the bills for its impact on society. There's a terrible word that economists use for this called 'externalities'.

Milton Friedman: An externality is the effect of a transaction between two individuals on a third party who has not consented to, or played any role in the carrying out of that transaction. And there are real problems in that area. There's no doubt about it.

Ray Anderson: Running a business is a tough proposition. There are costs to be minimised a every turn, and at some point the corporation says, you know, let somebody else deal with that. Let's let somebody else supply the military power to the Middle East to protect the oil at its source. Let's let somebody else build the roads that we can drive these automobiles on. Let's let somebody else have these problems. And that is where externalities come from, that notion of let somebody else deal with that. I got all I can handle myself.

Robert Monks: A corporation is an externalising machine in the same way that a shark is a killing machine. Each one is designed in a very efficient way, to accomplish particular objectives. In the achievement of those objectives there isn't any question of malevolence or of will. The enterprise has within it, and the shark has within it, those characteristics that enable it to do that for which it was designed.

Ray Anderson: The pressure is on the corporation to deliver results now and to externalise any cost that this unwary or uncaring public will allow it to externalise.

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Charles Kernaghan: To make this stuff as concrete as possible, we purchase all of the products from the factories that we're talking about. This shirt sells for $14.99, and the women who made this shirt got paid $0.03. Liz Claiborne jackets, made in El Salvador. The jackets cost $178 dollars, and the workers were paid $0.74 for every jacket they made. Alpine car stereos, $0.31 an hour. It's not just sneakers. It's not just apparel. It's everything.

Michael Walker: Let's look at it from a different point of view. Let's look at from the point of view of the people of Bangladesh who are starving to death. The people in China who are starving to death, and the only thing that they have to offer to anybody that is worth anything is their low cost labour. And, in effect, what they're saying to the world is they have this big flag that says, 'Come over and hire us. We will work for $0.10 an hour. Because $0.10 an hour will buy us the rice that we need not to starve. And come and rescue us from our circumstance.' And so when Nike comes in they are regarded by everybody in the community as an enormous godsend.

Charles Kernaghan: One day in the Dominican Republic we found a big pile of Nike's internal pricing documents. Nike assigns a timeframe to each operation. They don't talk about minutes. They break the timeframe into ten thousandths of a second. You get to the bottom of all 22 operations; they give the workers 6.6 minutes to make the shirt. It's $0.70 an hour in the Dominican Republic. 6.6 minutes equals $0.08. These are Nike's documents. That means the wages come to three tenths of one percent of the retail price. This is the reality. It's the science of exploitation.

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Michael Walker: What happens in the areas where the corporations go in and are successful? They soon find that they cannot do anymore in that country because the wages are too high now. And what's that another way of saying, well, the people are no longer desperate. So, okay, we've used up all the desperate people there, they're all plump and healthy and wealthy. Let's move on to the next desperate lot and employ them and raise their level up.

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Marc Barry: We're predators. It about competition, it's about market share, it's about being aggressive, it's about shareholder value. What is your stock at today? If you're a CEO, do you think your shareholders really care whether you're Billy Buttercup or not? Do you think that they really would prefer you to be a nice guy? Over having money in their pocket? I don't think so. I think people want money. That's the bottom line.

Michael Moore: The fact that most of these companies white rich men, means that they are out of touch with what the majority of the world is. Because the majority of this planet are not a bunch of rich white guys. They are people of other colours, they are the majority. Women are the majority, the poor, and working poor make up the majority of this planet. So the decisions they make come from not the reality that exists throughout the world.

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Naomi Klein: When I was researching the takeover of public space when I started off I thought, "Okay, this is just advertising. We've always had advertising. It's just more advertising". But what I started to understand and what I understand now is that branding is not advertising; it's production. The very successful corporations, the corporations of the future do not produce products. They produce brand meaning. The dissemination of the idea of themselves is their act of production. And the dissemination of the idea of themselves is an enormously invasive project, so how do you make a brand idea real? Well, a good place to start is by building a 3-dimensional manifestation of your brand. For a company like Disney, it goes even further where it's actually building a town: Celebration, Florida. Their inspiration, they're brand image is the all-American family. And this sort of bygone American town. And that's where you see the truly imperialist aspirations of branding, which is about building these privatised branded cocoons. Which maybe you start by shopping in and then you continue by holidaying in but eventually, "Why not just move in?"

Jeremy Rifkin: What happens if we wake up one day, and we find out that virutally all of our relationships that are mediated between us and our fellow human beings are commercial? We find out that virtually every relationship we have is a commercially arbitrated relationship with our fellow human beings. Can civilisation survive on that narrow a definition of how we interact with each other?

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Robert Keyes: Does there need to be some measure of accountability? Yes. And, I think the business community recognises that. But that accountability is in the marketplace, it's with their shareholders. It's with the public perception and the public image that they are projecting. If companies don't do what they should be doing, they're going to be punished in the marketplace, and that's not what any company wants.

Ira Jackson: There's a new market. These guys and gals aren't out there because government's putting a gun to their head. Or because they've suddenly read a book about transcendental meditation and global morality. They're there because they understand the market requires them to be there. That there's competitive advantage to be there.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart: I'm listening to your concerns. I worry about climate. I worry about pollution. I do not have all the answers to this, but we are prepared to work with you, with society, with NGOs, with governments to address it. So you rebuild the trust, so that you come back to a new kind of trust, and then the ultimate goal is then to become the corporation of choice.

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