Hearts and Minds

Hearts and Minds:

The Corporate Battle

Article by Wayne Visser

Since the War on Iraq began, one of the mantras that has been repeatedly chanted by the US and UK military and media alike is the so-called “battle for the hearts and minds” of the Iraqi population. The more cynical commentators have dubbed this the “propaganda war”. It strikes me that today’s multinationals are engaged in a very similar battle – to win over the hearts and minds of a growing number of sceptics and critics who are not convinced of the justice of their corporate crusade, the appropriateness of their tactics, or the acceptability of the causalities incurred along the way. This article examines these parallels in more detail.

Conflicting ideologies

At the very root of the War on Iraq are the competing ideologies of the West and the Middle East. America and Britain see the war as an evangelical mission to free Iraq of the dictatorial Saddam Hussein and introduce democracy, which, they believe, has triumphed over communism as the superior and most desirable political system for the world today.

Much of Iraq and the Middle East, on the other hand, believe that the Western brand of democracy is bankrupt of the very values and social mechanisms on which their Islam-based culture is founded. For them, admitting to communism’s failure does not automatically imply embracing Western-style democracy.

Likewise, multinationals are zealously preaching the spread of the economic ideology of free-market capitalism, smug in their superiority since the collapse of socialist economies. And yet the growing anti-globalisation movement is unconvinced. For them, the fact that socialism failed in practice does not automatically imply that capitalism is beyond reproach.

It is worth pointing out that many of the Marxist critiques of capitalism, such as the tendency for wealth and power to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands, have been vindicated in practice since then. Hence, socialism may not be viable, but unfettered capitalism has still failed to address to problems of social equity and environmental sustainability.

David and Goliath

The War on Iraq is a classic David versus Goliath scenario. The United States, the world’s only remaining superpower, joined by Britain, the original imperial empire, are seen as the aggressors abusing their superior power to impose their will on smaller, weaker nations. Even if the smaller kid provoked a response, the big kid who bullies him will always be seen to be wrong.

Such big-brother tactics, acting in the self-appointed role of global policemen, are the rule rather than the exception, according to the critics of the US and the UK. Iraq is just the latest in a long line of bullying by America, with Vietnam, Cuba and Afghanistan being among numerous former victims, while Britain has a long history of colonialism.

Multinationals find themselves in a similar position. Their economic might and lobby power is unparalleled in history. Of the largest 100 “economies” in the world, more than half are companies. With that size comes the ability to act more or less unilaterally in pursuit of their overriding profit objective, directing capital, people and resources around the globe more or less at their whim …

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/business-frontiers”]Page[/button] Business Frontiers (book)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2003) Hearts and Minds: The Corporate Battle. Ethical Corporation, 6 April.

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