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SEPTEMBER 29, 2015

An Overview

The Corporation: Documentary1

The Corporation is Canadian documentary film which was released in 2003 in Canada and 2004
in U.S.A. The documentary revolves around the critical analysis of modern day corporation
focusing on the psyche of their operations and the roles they play as an active part of the society.
The central theme of film is to assess the personality of corporate person from a psychiatrist
point of view.
The films starts with an overview of corporations, how they got incorporated in the society, and
14th amendment in U.S constitution law giving corporations the status of a person, and the
analysis of corporations as a person and psychological behavior of that person towards the
society. It also features interviews from CEOs to top managers in large corporations and
commentators to discuss the corporate practices and behavior.


I see the corporation as part of a jigsaw in society as a whole, which if you remove it, the
pictures incomplete. But equally, if its the only part, its not going to work. 2

A sports team. Some of us are blocking and tackling. Some of us are running the ball.
Some of us are throwing the ball. But we all have a common purpose, which is to succeed
as an organization.3

A corporations like a family unit. People in a corporation work together for a common

1 A film by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott & Joel Bakan

2 Mark Moody Stuart
3 Hank Mckinell
4 Wigand

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.5

Corporations are artificial creations. You might say theyre monsters trying to devour as
much profit as possible at anyones expense.6

Its a group of individuals working together to serve a variety of objectives the principal
one of which is earning large, growing, sustained, legal returns for the people who own
the business.7

I think of a whale. A gentle, big fish, which could swallow you in an instant. 8

The Corporation, in todays world, has emerged to be a dominant institution, which

creates great wealth as well as great harms.

A corporation is an externalizing machine in the same way a shark is a killing machine.

(Whereas; externality is defined as the effect of transaction between two individuals on a third
party which is not involved in carrying out of that transaction)

Corporations came into being after the dawn of industrial age. Particularly after the invention of
steam engine, need for productivity per hour increased.
Corporation were initially association of people who were chartered by the state law to perform
some particular functions. Their time and capital all was listed, and the tasks they were supposed
to do all was listed in the chartered. They did not and could not own any other corporations.
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
5 Ira Jackson
6 Howard Zinn
7 oe Badaracco,Professor of Business Ethics,Harvard Business School
8 Michael Moore

shouldnt be misled by it, its not as if those were the halcyon days, when all corporations
served the public trust, but theres a lot to learn from that. 9

After the Civil War, USA legislation took a new shape when 14 th amendment was passed. The
purpose of that amendment was to protect the lives of colored people and ensure them of their
freedom & property rights. But the smart corporate lawyers realized the fact they could use the
same law to claim same rights for the corporations. The US Supreme Court approved the claim
thus corporations were entitled as separate entities with the status of a person having right to life,
liberty and property. Now the corporations could enjoy same rights as of a legal person. It could
buy and sell property, sue and could be sued and borrow money.

When corporations have acquired the status of an immortal person, the question arises what kind
of person they would turn out to be.
The film show cases case studies showing that these corporate persons have no moral
conscience. They are concerned only for the benefit of their shareholders and least careful
towards the stake holders which would be directly or indirectly affected by any of its actions.
Legally it might seem legit as well because corporations are designed in such a way that their
only purpose is to serve the interests of the shareholders and maximize its profits.
When asked people, what image they get when talk about large corporations, it shows the people
hold an opposite perception of these corporations and think them of entities just like them with
care for people and society. Below are the misconceptions about big brands people hold when
asked them to define these brands as person;


Kind old man with lots of stories

3.2 NIKE
Young, energetic
9 Richard Grossman, Cofounder, Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy


Young, Outgoing, Enthusiastic

Immaculately dressed





The film showcases some of the incidents bringing in light the true picture of these corporations


Bolivian nationals protested when the Bolivian Government approved water privatization as the
World Bank wanted it. People were not even allowed to collect rain water and store it for their
use when the water was privatized. This resulted in outrage among the locals and revolt


Bovine Injections

A large U.S company namely Monsanto developed injection for cows used heavily at national
level in all the dairy farms. The injections were made to increase milk production in cows but the
side effects of these injections caused serious health issues to the dairy cows which were also
passed on in the milk and to the consumers of these dairy products. The issue was discovered by

two young workers affiliated with Fox News and they tried to bring the issue in media, but the
channels was threatened and then bought by the Monsanto group and reporters had to face
troubles to not to cover the issue.
(Showcase: No concern for the safety of others)

Hybrid Seeds

Further Monsanto had hybrid seeds. The seeds would grow and lead to harvest for a season but
the seeds from that harvest were such developed that they prohibited farmers from catching
and keeping seed from their harvest. So that the seeds would last only for a single harvest and
then self-destruct themselves for the next harvest making them not useable.i
(Showcase: Lack of conscience)


Charles Kernighan, (Director of the National Labor Committee) discussed sweatshops
worldwide deployed by famous brands and their exploitation of labor. He quoted a Liz Claiborne
jacket made in El Salvador which was sold at $178 per piece worldwide, but the workers there
were paid 74 cents for each jacket they made.
(Showcases: Exploitation of labor, under-paying of labor, high charge retail to low wage


While Charles was in Honduras and some workers came to him, they wanted to share their side
of story and work conditions they had been provided in their factories. A secret meeting was held
since their employers wont approve of any open meeting talking about the working conditions
and wages they are giving to their employees there.
When the meeting was about to start, it was interrupted by three tough looking guys sent by the
factory. The meeting was cancelled but those workers smartly handed over their pay slips to
Charles showing the amount they get paid and the brand they worked for. The brand was of
Kathy Lee Gifford with a statement of A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this garment
will be donated to various childrens charities. It seems ironic of a brand that would hire little

girls as employees and pay them low, make them work in horrible conditions and talk of charities
to the kids at the same time.
(Showcases: Exploitation of labor, under-paying of labor, high charge retail to low wage
percentage, Ironic brand statement for charities)

4.5 NIKE
Further discussing the exploitation of labor, Charles showed the Nike documents they retrieved
from a garbage site in Dominican Republic that stated the workflow and time break for each
garment made in Nike and it was dividing into microseconds for the sake of time assessment per
activity by the workers and the workers were paid based on the same time assessment.
Nike had allotted a time frame of 6.6 mins to workers to produce a shirt and was paying 70cents
an hour to its workers there. Mean the worker was paid 8 cents for the 6.6 mins tasks they
(Showcases: Exploitation of labor, under-paying of labor, high charge retail to low wage

Shell Nigeria releases high amounts of gas in its operations, making it one of the worlds worst
sources of pollution. Apparently Shell might have won many awards for the best environmental
practices on one hand but ironically eight activists were hanged for opposing Shell
environmental practices in the Niger.
(Showcase: Lying and cheating, polluting environment)


The CEO of Interface (A carpet manufacturing corporation) says that he did not used to follow
any environmental vision until he came across Paul Hawkens book, The Ecology of

Commerce. His vision changed now, he says if you cannot made environmentally sustained
products then you should not make them. Environmental sustainability of the products should be
a legal concern. If not sustainable, such products should not be made at all.


A broker talks about real life facts and happenings that are related to financial gains in one way
or other, he says in devastation there is opportunity. He talked about;

9/11 was in fact a blessing in disguise for the investors who had their interests in gold. A

lot of people invested their money in gold and doubled it with this incident.
Bombing in Iraq caused the oil price to rise from 13 USD to 42 USD. This caused a lot of
excitement in the brokers when the incident happened.


He sheds a light on the apathetic behavior of corporations by stating example of firefighters
which started as private companies; one had to have the medallion of that specific firefighter
company on their house for services to put off the fire in case it was required.


He talks about the cons of privatization. Privatization does not mean you take a public
institution and give it to a nice person but it means you give it to an unaccountable tyranny.
Public institutions on the other hand have many side benefits including intentionally running at a
loss to provide subsidy to general public.


Maude talks about the coming time. He says there are some people who aspire that someday,
everything will be owned by someone or something including essential services for life as well
like education, housing, etc.


He says that there should be price tags attached to polluting for corporations. He thinks this is the
solution to address the environmental issues.



Workers in the sweatshops of these large corporations earn low only enough to cover

three meals a day without any possible contribution to the local economy.ii
Corporation have no concern for the safety and protection of environment they operate in.
Large synthetic chemicals and produced by these industries and disposed off without any
waste treatment to the surrounding adding in pollution and risking thousands of lives
affected by the polluted environment. Current epidemic of cancer that we are seeing

worldwide is a result of all this.

Corporations are least concerned about the health implications their products have on
people directly or indirectly. Use of Bovine injections on dairy cows (causing hormone
problems and other health issues), use of Agent Orange (as on Vietnamese people causing
genetic and birth defects in the next generations) are major show cases.


Marketing would be an additional tool these large corporation are using to target and capture the
audience they want to. They are using marketing tactics to manipulate people by:

Creating need for the products that even would be needed at all by creating life style

standards and value people would like to see themselves up to as well

Studying, identifying and using certain behaviours in people that can be used to put
pressure on people into buying products thus manipulating them (use of study on nagging
behavior of children with their parents and using that study to market the products as per

the study facts so that parents are forced to buy it by their children through nagging)
Corporations dont advertise products but they advertise a life style, a story. They have
worked up on a collective propaganda teaching people to think in a certain way. It makes

people think that the corporation is responsible for prosperity and the good life.
Marketists use perception management to build images for their brands in the mind of
people which are not honest to the activities they actually do (e.g. Philip Morris
combating environmental issues in Canada, Pfizer involved in social work)

Corporations spent a good deal of money on Public Relations and Image Building to
cover up their tracks and keep their brands positioned in the mind of people in the shape
they want to e.g. Disney-creating magic.

Corporations as structured in a way that they are concerned with interests of only the stock
holders. Though their claim is same of a person but even if we treat them as a person they have
no souls and no conscience. They are not concerned with the outcomes of any of their social
behavior and its implications but focused only on the purpose for which they were built i.e. to
make as much money as possible.
Still, if a corporation is to be treated as a person and enjoy the same rights as humans, they
should also be subject to the same penalties as humans.
If reviewed closely, the corporations as a person show the below characteristics;

Apathetic behavior and callous unconcern for the feelings of others

Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships with any of the stakeholders
No concern for the safety of others
Deceitfulness, lying and cheating others for profit
Lack of conscience
Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviours

From a psychiatrists point of view all these characteristics show the attributes of a
psychopath. The society generally would not accept at all any such psychopaths to move in
freely between them but the corporation despite having all these personality attributes are still
operating among us unnoticed and unaccountable.

i Dr. Vanda Shiva

ii Commentary by Naomi Klein, author of No Logo