"... 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..."
Don't Buy the Hype' by James Woudhuysen)
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...
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.
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'...
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
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
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
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.
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)
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.
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"
government placed a 5 year ban on new hypermarket development
in certain areas.
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
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
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
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.
veto of chain stores
Local communities and authorities should have the ability, following
other international experiences, to ban new chain stores from
- 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
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.
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
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
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.
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.