Global Viewpoint — Protests show inadequacy of corporate responsibility initiatives
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/10/2011 (4125 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
What do the Occupy (fill in the blank) Street demonstrators, rioters in Greece and violent protesters in the U.K. in July all have in common?They are all said to be manifestations of a pot of frustration that’s fast reaching the boiling point over government-imposed austerity measures, social inequalities and a general outrage over the multimillion-dollar pay packets global bankers continue to collect while everyone else is living with less in the wake of the economic disasters of 2008.
In the case of Occupy Wall Street, what began a few weeks ago as an effete protest of disparate interests in the bowels of America’s financial epicentre has mushroomed into a high-profile movement of marches under the umbrella Occupy Together that has spread to about 1,000 U.S. cities and towns.
By occupying the sidewalks and parks near major banks and investment firms in Lower Manhattan, the protesters have clearly identified the financial industry as the villain. It used to be that business was the means to staunch rising unemployment, promote upward social mobility, and an escape from wage disparity.
Apparently, the cosy ties between business and government and the perceived lack of accountability have blown that notion away. The taxpayer-funded bailouts of many U.S. financial institutions in 2008, which helped trigger the recession, coupled with the multimillion-dollar Wall Street CEO pay packets that didn’t skip a beat, has fomented an anger not seen since the anti-capitalist marches in the late 1990s.
The Arab Spring in America is largely fuelled by the injustice of unemployment, corporate greed, wage disparities and the inequalities they have created.
To that end, student activists, academics and groups representing a coalition of interests have gathered in peaceful protest to proclaim their anger about their struggles to make ends meet, and of the sacrifices they’ve made on the shop floor while the folks in the executive suites take home millions. To wit, the wealthiest one per cent of households averaged 125 times the wealth of the median household in 1962. By 2004, the wealth gap was 190 times more.
Thus, they occupy sidewalks and set up tent cities.
Inevitably, the Occupy movement has expanded into Canada. A number of demonstrations, the largest expected in Toronto, are scheduled for Saturday.
So far, it’s a mystery figuring out who’ll be targeted as the culprits of the Canadian protests. The Occupy Bay Street group is running a stealth operation, shrouding its intentions in secrecy while calling on folks to gather for peaceful demonstrations.
Given that bank bashing is the second national sport in this country makes those businesses easy prey. To that end, the banks have mobilized contingency plans: emergency response teams to keep their businesses running, and extra security courtesy of the property managers who own the bricks and mortar of the bank towers and the branches.
In the meantime, it’s instructive to remember there were no taxpayer-funded bailouts, the pay packet of Canadian bank CEOs are a fraction of their U.S. and European counterparts, Canada’s financial regulation is the envy of the world, wage disparity isn’t the yawning gap as it is south of the border, the unemployment rate is relatively stable and the economy is among the most stable of all G20 industrialized countries.
Still, no country is without its problems.
Knowing that a rally cry for such broad issues as bank accountability and corporate responsibility isn’t exactly likely to inspire thousands of angry Canadians into the streets, Democracy Watch, a coalition of 140 citizens groups, has offered to sharpen the agenda.
“Canada’s bank accountability and corporate responsibility laws and enforcement systems are full of loopholes and are weakly enforced and so allow for irresponsible actions by the biggest businesses across the country,” the group’s founding director, Duff Conacher, declared in a release.
Politicians and business leaders have begun to take notice of the protests in the U.S. Expect the Canadian cries for greater social justice to garner attention too.
Still, if nothing else, the Occupy movement lays to waste expensive corporate-responsibility initiatives. Millions of dollars spent annually, mostly by large businesses, in an attempt to burnish their reputations by being, or being seen to be, more socially and environmentally conscious have either failed — or worse, don’t matter.
If these protests are about overhauling the rules that govern business, then it’s unlikely that any amount spent on recycling schemes and such are enough to make any difference.
» Theresa Tedesco is a Postmedia News columnist.