On the flight into Melbourne I read Anita Roddick‘s latest Globalisation – Take it Personally. (It comes in two editions, I bought the more matter of fact version; there’s also a more lavishly illustrated version).
It’s a (slightly chaotic) assembly of short articles by different authors and pocket bios of many of the organisations challenging the status quo. I can easily forgive the slight messiness – in fact, faced with such problems it would be hard to have a simple, neat and ordered response. Much of it is distinctly thought-provoking, and certainly left me feeling better informed about the anti-globalisation movement. And it also made me feel less comfortable about the state of the world – as well as pointing to a few things any of us can do about it.
Roddick pulls no punches, as is apparent from her introduction where she details the birth of children living near tobacco fields in Mexico with no genitals.
Scientists had tracked down the cause to the pesticides but the American tobacco companies that bought the crops grown there wouldn’t accept responsibility, because they said the fields didn’t belong to them. And knowing that representatives of these companies would be in a Cancun conference I spoke at about it, I showed them the slides.
This kind of confrontation isn’t always the best way of going about creating change. But there was absolutely no reaction from them at all: no embarassment, no outrage, just a bloodless sense of good manners.
I’m occasionally accused of seeing these issues too personally. As if being in business was necessarily a cold-hearted, objective, pseudo-scientific project to manipulate consumers. But I’ve also learnt over the years that it can’t be that anymore.
It’s a shocking story, and I admire Roddick for her passion and courage in confronting it. The book as a whole is robust challenge to the idea the current form of capitalism is the only and inevitable system for us to operate under. (And I say current model to deflect the tiresome punch-and-judy accusation of undermining capitalism, as if capitalism is a rigidly fixed system rather than one that can evolve.)
And my next read, Natural Capitalism, looks like an impressive – and optimistic – suggestion for an alternative model.