By The People, For The Money
by Shay McHale | published Mar. 2nd, 2018
Businesses have been and always will be for profit. In most situations, their ultimate goal must be to make more money, or else they will cease to exist. Despite all of its simplicity, the repercussion of this goal is that it will always leave some people behind. Time and time again, despite how numbing the repetitiveness can be, there will be a public outcry over the mistakes these companies make, in regards to the people and the environment they have harmed.
For the most part, these outcries gain and lose popularity like any current event. Once some other controversial story pops up on CNN, the masses have turned to a new event to express their outrage about. Thanks to this, many companies can still profit despite these PR setbacks.
Those We Left Behind
A key example of this was the situation in Flint, Mich. that left the city without safe water. After significant attention from the local community and even a national declaration of emergency from President Obama, the situation reached peak attention, and after that, the focus faded. The election came around, and the city of Flint was off the hook as people moved on to the toupéed dumpster fire that has captivated every major news agency since.
Flint received some level of recognition, but even after the coverage died down in the summer of 2016, there was still no drinkable water. It took until January 2017 for the lead levels to go back to safe amounts, and even so, the residents have been advised to continue drinking only bottled water until they replace all the pipes, which will be in 2020 at the earliest.
Even though the city of Flint itself is technically not a business, it still shows these same effects, especially since the entire reason for the water crisis was switching to the cheaper water supply of the infamously polluted Flint river. Without having any say in their water supply, the people were being exploited and undervalued — similar to how many auto workers were undervalued by one entity still looming over the city, General Motors (GM).
GM was born and raised in Flint, but much like a teenager eager to leave the house, it did not stay there. The biggest difference between GM and an angsty teen, however, is that where the teen might take a single car, GM took all of them, and the jobs, the money and the prestige of the town with it.
The entirety of GM’s desertion of Flint was well documented, in particular by Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me,” a 1989 documentary in which ex-journalist Michael Moore tries to investigate the effects of GM abandoning many of its factories in the city in favor of cheaper labor elsewhere. He finds plenty of examples of how this is hurting his hometown, but GM remains silent and rejects his requests to speak with CEO Roger Smith.
Although an older documentary, it is still important, both as an example of investigative journalism into businesses, but also as an example of the corporate negligence that can happen when companies strive for profit alone. The effects of this initial blow to Flint still echo today. The town is still trying to get by without the profits of GM, which now has nearly completely cut ties from their birthplace, a cutthroat business practice that continues to hurt its people and local economy.
“Everyone in Flint has a story about General Motors,” wrote journalist Ryan Felton in an article for Jalopnik. He goes on to discuss how the water crisis itself was partly due to GM, despite its attempts to remove itself from the city.
“Years of dumping from the auto plants contributed to the pollution in the river," Felton wrote. "And as GM drastically reduced its Flint footprint over time ... the city’s tax revenue evaporated in tandem.”
Flint is not the only place in the U.S. that has been hurt by this kind of corporate negligence. Rochester was also hit hard after Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb all minimized their presence here. Over the course of the past 30 years, these three companies have gone from employing over half of the city to nearly six percent. With the decline of such a large part of their commerce, Rochester has struggled to stay afloat, much like Flint.
The fact that many companies leave behind towns is not surprising, and honestly, it really does financially benefit the companies. They get cheaper labor, tax exemptions and all sorts of benefits from leaving people behind. The hardest part about making a company care about the community is that eventually there will be a more attractive option elsewhere, especially when an entity's only real goal is to make money
Moving Toward a "Better" Future
The biggest change to this behavior is that companies are beginning to give back to their communities — perhaps not always with jobs, but by giving back to the environment. This has given a better face to corporate expansion, but it does not fully fix the problem — just puts a tree-print bandaid on it.
This is not to say that companies aren’t doing more for the communities they are in by making sure the ecosystems of these communities are still safe. For companies that continue to provide jobs and expand in conscious manners like IKEA, for example, becoming more environmentally conscious is great.
The alternative to this is companies trying to give back by starting programs or charities, which is helpful when their goal is to actually help rather than just serve as a distraction from whatever recent scandal the company has been accused of recently. It is better to have a company put money toward scholarships for children in poor neighborhoods than to have, say, BP run a workshop on how to clean oil off of animals. Most of the time it isn’t quite as literal, but the idea remains the same. Companies need to focus more on the sake of helping for helping’s sake, not helping so that people stop yelling at them for disasters they cause or the human rights violations they hide in South-East Asia.
Companies need money to survive and please shareholders so they are incentivized to try to obtain more, even if it costs a few people their livelihoods. Rather than talk about what they could do better, a more productive option is to encourage and reward them for helping. It seems pretty bleak that literally paying companies to help is a viable and logical option, but that’s how it has to be sometimes. As personable as companies' social media accounts get, the businesses behind them are not actually people.
Companies will never stop screwing people over. Sure they can try to help, or try to cover it up, but in the end they will always be and have always been entities made solely for money. If the money isn’t there, they won’t care. Changing this would require changing the way that companies operate as a whole. In the end, is it not better to support more ethical companies, even if they are more expensive, to make sure that there isn’t another community left behind like Flint or Rochester?