Global Mono-culture & Clone Town Britain


Scurrilous Viral ad circulated 21 January 2004 (from


Corporate Mono-culture

"... brands dominate our lives as workers, citizens and consumers. As workers we are in a 'branding economy' in which the strongest brands are the ones generating the worst jobs. It is branding that forces firms to sever their traditional ties to steady job creation, seek out youth culture for more aggressive branding, and use 'real-live youth' to pioneer 'a new kind of disposable workforce'. It is brands, defended by lawyers, which restrict our choice of writing, music, movies and internet content. It is not state regulations, but brands that limit civil liberties and call free speech and democratic society into question..."
('Brands: Don't Buy the Hype' by James Woudhuysen)


Same author on every shelf. Same film on every screen. Same song on every radio. Same story on all the news. Same editorial in all the papers. Same shops on every street. Same coffee in every cup...

The power, concentration and international reach of big business is at its zenith. Landlords now set such astronomical high street rents that only multinationals can afford them.

But economic systems that favour the large, remote and uniform threaten local economies and communities, diversity and choice.

In recent years biologists have begun talking about the fact that we are now living through a global mass extinction event with environmental degradation and over-consumption driving countless plant and animal species to extinction.

Now, a mass extinction event looms that will affect the character of the places we live, work and shop and the diversity of all the films, music, books and other media we 'consume'...

A global mono-culture where aesthetic, architectural, agricultural, natural, and civic diversity is being lost as the combines spread across the globe.

A global mono-culture where you can participate in the same 'consumer experience' from Los Angeles to Lagos.

A global mono-culture forged in: "Corporate Cathedrals during which the company's deepest values are shared and explored [to build] corporate soul"; where "focus circles for excellent team visioning sessions tell the mythical tale a company's destiny "; where "impactful meetings culminate in a strong and meaningful finish"; where "the full spectrum of intelligences and learning modalities have been awakened helping people align their personal commitment with the goals of the company"...



Why is [St*rbucks] the target of such violent criticism? The chain, which opened its first outlet in Seattle in 1971, advertises itself as the descendent of the 19th-century coffee house, a vaguely romantic ideal that encompasses notions of the French salon but with latte.

Culturally, it stands opposed to the McDonald's model of chain catering - a model its customers despise as nasty and the lowest common denominator - but in terms of corporate infrastructure, there is little to tell them apart.

Last year, Starbucks reaped approximately £1.1bn in revenue and opened a further 625 stores, taking the grand total, worldwide, to 2,500. It is growing at a rate of roughly 25% a year and has made Howard Schultz, the man who founded it, an estimated £156m.

Members of the company's board include figureheads of corporate culture such as Greg Maffei, chief financial officer of Microsoft, and Craig Weatherup, chief executive of Pepsi-Cola.

"Starbucks is a type of capitalism that pretends not to be capitalism," says the cultural commentator Peter York. "Culturally, it is different from McDonald's, but at the end of the day it's a profit-maximised business which makes returns to shareholders."

To the Seattle rioters, this makes it something of a wolf in sheep's clothing. To business analysts, it is an admirably executed magic trick which leaves everybody happy - the customers, the shareholders, and even the staff: at the chain's UK outlets they start at an hourly rate of £4.25, better than average for the sector, and they are beginning to be granted stock options in the firm, a practice which is now the norm in the US.

If there is an inconsistency in all this, Howard Schultz is not shy about confronting it. In an interview earlier this year, he admitted that the business model he most admires is none other than that of McDonald's. "We have 2,520 stores worldwide, serving 10 million customers a week. McDonald's now has 25,000 stores worldwide. That's where I want to be with Starbucks."

The first outlet was opened in Seattle's open-air farmer's market in 1971, but it was 1984 before Schultz persuaded its founders to mould it along the lines of the Italian espresso bars he had seen during a visit to Milan the previous year. In 1985, he founded the company Il Giornale, and in 1987 Il Giornale took over Starbucks.

By 1995 Schultz's vision of his coffee house as a "third place" between home and work - the absurdly Blairite moniker for the sort of venue that the cast of Friends hang out in, a place with sofas and nice smells and very expensive coffee - had taken off.

"Starbucks, and all of these coffee houses, sell themselves as aids to contemplation," says Peter York. "Notice how the Seattle Coffee Co. used to post up daily 'thoughts' in the window before Starbucks took them over. The idea is that these places put you in touch with higher civilisation."

They also allow you to congratulate yourself for your ethical consumption: customers are invited to recycle their plastic cups and can knock 10p off the price of a coffee if they supply their own mug. Earlier this month, Blair and Brown posed for the cameras in the Villiers Street outlet in central London, presenting the coffee chain as an example of the perfect employer.

A significant swathe of north American opinion seems to be nearing the end of its tolerance of Starbucks' unstoppable rise. Far from creating an entirely new order of social space, they say, the chain has colonised existing "third places" with a zeal bordering on ferocity, forcing many independent coffee houses to the wall.

Some have taken on the giant and won. When customers of Dooley's - an 18-year-old coffee shop in the bohemian Annex district of Toronto - learned that Starbucks was planning a takeover in 1996, they erupted in fury. Within days, 400 regulars had inaugurated an action group and the following weekend 200 protestors marched on a branch of Starbucks in the Canadian city. The chain took out advertising in the Toronto Star in a bid to assuage public opinion. But it did not succeed, and eventually backed down. Now, it sublets the outlet to the original Dooley's.

Starbucks may have helped make coffee drinking fashionable again - but the benefits seem outweighed by the downsides. "Starbucks has had a negative effect on my business - soon, people won't even realise I'm here," says Paul Nevi, owner of Pickles Coffee Shop in Marylebone, London. "And it is even worse now that these coffee houses are selling food. With so many big brands to choose from, the smaller ones get lost."

The hostility towards Starbucks is more than the stock set of complaints about cultural imperialism. "It's sort of an illusion of choice that is being offered, rather than real choice," says design guru Stephen Bayley. "They are offering a higher level of beverage, but there is something slightly sinister about it, because they offer a simulacrum of choice, a simulacrum of domesticity and intimacy - but you really are just being manipulated by a large corporation."

Guardian, December 3 1999


Corporate Psychopathology

Joel Bakan, award-winning filmmaker and author of The Corporation: "The corporation as an institution, and in particular, the large publicly traded Anglo-American corporation... does one thing very well: create wealth for its shareholders. But it does that at the expense of other interests ­ human and environmental.

Governments have to recognise that the corporation is a policy tool, not an end in itself. Governments have to ensure an appropriate balance between wealth creation and other interests. They have to immunise themselves to the undue influence of corporations on public policy, and revitalise and re-democratise the systems that protect public interests from corporate harms.
The corporate 'person' (the law recognises the corporation to be a "person") is legally programmed always and only to serve its own interests. In a human, that would lead to a psychopathic diagnosis. Today, pension funds own much corporate stock. The pension funds are legally required to advance the financial interests of the beneficiaries. This leads to the odd scenario where people have little choice but to sacrifice, say, clean air for their children, safe and healthy workplaces, and so on, for their retirements.

We need to regain democratic control of the corporation... we need to work on revitalising the public regulatory sphere, reversing the trend towards privatising and commercialising every aspect of our lives, and reconstituting our international institutions, like the World Trade Organisation in ways that foster fair trade rather than blindly following neo-liberal ideology.
We need to reactivate ourselves as citizens to ensure governments do what they are supposed to be doing. Mine is a call for deepening democracy - there's plenty of room for innovation and creativity and entrepreneurial vigour within that... our democratic institutions should be in control of the corporations... As we move to a society based on a kind of market fundamentalism we ironically come to resemble those totalitarian orders that we think we disdain." (Rhys Blakely, Sunday Times October 18, 2004)


Answering back

The New Economic Foundation's 'Local Works' coalition has launched a Parliamentary Bill that would give local communities and authorities in Britain given much more power over local decisions and more control over the types of shops and services that move into their areas.

Examples abound of communities and local authorities taking steps to create and maintain diversity and the environment of their choice: In France, and now Poland, local authorities can veto any new shopping centre or supermarket over a given size.

The town of Carmel, California, passed a by-law banning "formula" restaurants.

The Malaysian government placed a 5 year ban on new hypermarket development in certain areas.

Across Britain, and internationally, there are many community groups fighting planning applications by supermarkets and other chain retailers...

Also, two of the country's richest landowners now actively discriminate against the corporates.

The Mercers Company, one of London's biggest landlords (it has owned much of Covent Garden and eight acres of the City since the 16th century), forbids chain stores on its streets. It is wooing independent shops by offering them incentives, such as a 15% rent reduction. "If we allow Covent Garden to be another high street, we would be competing with every other street in Britain" Michael Soames, the company's surveyor, said recently.

Howard De Walden, the estate that owns much of London's Marylebone, is also spurning the chains. Andrew Ashenden, De Walden's chief executive, has accused councils of ruining their high streets by favouring the highest bidder and not promoting individuality: "The multiples have become so dominant that they have ruined the high streets and taken away their character," he says. "The high street should be a mix and that is something that most local authorities ignore."

Ashenden has also criticised greedy landlords: "They want the strongest covenant and the highest rent, they want instant results and there's no vision. What they fail to realise is that an old-fashioned butcher is a very attractive tenant these days . . . the big landowners are in a position to change things."


The Institute for Local Self Reliance

Stacy Mitchell, Will Wal-Mart Eat Britain? "Arcada in northern California can place a cap on the number of "formula restaurants" (no more than the existing nine), Los Angeles can restrict the size of superstores, and other neighbourhoods can ban them entirely elsewhere in the US, why can't councils in Britain follow suit?"


New Economics Foundation

NEF is an award-winning independent think-and-do tank. NEF aims to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environmental and social issues.

NEF works with all sections of society in the UK and internationally - civil society, government, individuals, businesses and academia - to create more understanding and strategies for change.

NEF was founded in 1986 by the leaders of The Other Economic Summit (TOES) which forced issues such as international debt onto the agenda of the G7 and G8 summits.


NEF Manifesto

  • Community veto of chain stores
    Local communities and authorities should have the ability, following other international experiences, to ban new chain stores from high street.


  • Support the Sustainable Communities Bill
    Based on a bottom-up philosophy, the Bill would create a coherent framework for pro-local policies. This would give local authorities, communities and citizens a powerful voice in planning their future to guarantee dynamic and environmentally sustainable local economies. Towards the end of 2003, the Bill had won the support of over one third of members of parliament at Westminster.


  • Rate relief for small retailers
    Priority assistance should be given to locally owned high-street shops contending with out-of-town and edge-of-town superstores.


  • Local competition policy
    Competition policy, normal at the national level, could be applied at the local level to prevent market abuse by big name retailers. The UK Government could also enact legislation to ensure that local communities have the final word in any decision on whether to allow the construction of a large shopping centre exceeding a certain size.


  • Mandatory code of conduct for supermarkets
    A mandatory code of conduct could be introduced and enforced by a food retail regulator. This would scrutinise both the supermarkets' relationships with their suppliers and the degree of market control which the large multiple chains hold over the food retail-market.


  • Local money flow analysis
    Local authorities and public agencies should use tools such as those developed by NEF to track local spending, and then favour local retailers whose businesses ultimately leave more money recirculating in the local economy of especially poor areas. This would provide an indication of how different types of retail planning and/or public procurement strategies can reduce or augment money flows within the local economy ­ to keep more where it is needed in poor neighbourhoods.


  • Local retail plans
    These could be along the lines of regulations in the Republic of Ireland, which cap the size of supermarkets, ensure that town centres are the primary focus for development, and require local authorities to develop retail plans for their area.


  • Support for Community Development Finance Initiatives (CDFIs)
    Particular attention needs to be paid to those who face barriers to accessing start-up and growth credit.


  • Community banking
    This idea has received the support of academics and banking experts. Steps should be taken to develop pilot schemes in communities currently without a bank, or those facing the closure of their sole remaining branch.


  • National inventory of community buildings
    There's an urgent need to establish a mechanism to undertake such an exercise and track it on an annual basis. Greater support to local authorities to maintain public open spaces: Local authorities need greater power and resources to better protect and maintain these spaces, and to help them instigate enforcement against illegal encroachment on common land.



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