YES! Spring 2003 contained an announcement of “business ethics awards.” This is an oxymoron—business is by its nature contrary to ethics—and I wondered why your magazine was covering this seemingly confused organization. But I decided I'd withhold judgement until I looked at the website of Business Ethics magazine.
My fears were confirmed as I read “The Legacy Problem” by Marjorie Kelly. Without a hint of irony, Ms. Kelly quotes Starbucks CEO Orin Smith, who claims that “When you have social commitments like making a difference for the environment and for farmers, that builds loyalty. It builds a passion for this company.” In fact, Starbucks can get a loyal customer base by pretending to have social commitments, and still gets to cut costs viciously behind the scenes.
Organizations like US LEAP had to pressure Starbucks to develop a code of conduct for its coffee growers, growers known for their despicable treatment of farm workers (www.usleap.org/Coffee/ coffeetemp.html#starbucks). Doug Nielson has reported on Starbucks' union-busting at its Kent roasting plant (www.nevadalabor.com/unews/ starbux.html).
I browsed through past Business Ethics award winners (www.business-ethics.com/annual.htm#Past AwardWinners) and was surprised to see names like Bank of America and General Motors, as well as Merck, Smith-Kline, and Johnson & Johnson (the list goes on). I'm sure these corporations have all done some good things; probably many people wouldn't have been able to buy homes without loans from B of A, and Merck pharmaceuticals have probably saved lives. But the whole purpose of these companies is to make money. Sometimes doing decent things is commensurate with that goal; other times it is not.
To pretend that businesses are capable of acting ethically is foolhardy: they are structured to pursue profit. To make wholly despotic and unaccountable institutions appear salvageable through tweaks and reforms around the edges legitimates these undemocratic institutions and does a disservice to people trying to solve the very real problems of economic inequality and injustice.
The Real Cost of Fuel
I was astonished to read in your “Yes! But How?” section the following statement: “Wood heat, while renewable, contributes more carbon dioxide to our atmosphere than do any of the fossil fuels.”
As any high school chemistry student would be eager to tell you, the carbon in wood has recently been taken from the atmosphere by the action of sunlight on plants, and burning the wood merely puts that carbon back where it came from. Thus, there is no net change in the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from burning wood. Wood is just temporarily stored solar energy.
Burning fossil fuel, on the other hand, puts into our present-day atmosphere carbon that had been taken from the atmosphere many millions of years ago, thus increasing the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. This is why we worry about global warming from burning fossil fuels.
William T. Beale
I was close friends with Rachel Corrie, and I appreciated the entire summer issue. It was the most positive stuff I've seen written about Rachel, and I can't tell you how good it felt to see some of the things I've been thinking put in print.
People kept asking me, “Why did she go there?” It was confusing to me what exactly people wanted to know. I think some had no idea what was going on in Palestine, but I think many others just didn't understand how someone could find the kind of clarity and compassion that Rachel did.
Her story is testament to the ability in all of us to find genuine clarity and compassion and, from that place, to do what we feel is right, instead of reacting out of fear.
I am in Palestine now. I've been in the West Bank, and I'm trying to get to Gaza, although I haven't been allowed in yet. I plan on writing and speaking about my experiences when I get back.
Reading your magazine gives me hope, and so does thinking of all the people who were moved by Rachel's story.