While it seems that the general public is paying more attention to the environmental issues plaguing the planet, there is also a tendency to forget the role corporate entities play in these issues and to focus on the role of the individual consumer instead.
Scrolling through Instagram or walking around campus, you will likely encounter numerous appeals to reduce meat consumption, switch to metal straws, reuse water bottles, etc. And undoubtedly, these are all helpful suggestions that we should consider adopting. Yet despite this, it is only possible to hold individual consumers accountable for environmental efforts to a certain point before we must begin to recognize the much larger impact corporate greed has.
It is no secret that for the most part, the chief aim as far as corporations and CEOs are concerned is to maximize profit. These figures often only adhere to ethical guidelines (environmentally and otherwise) as long as they are of minimal impact to their total monetary gain. Often, they want to appear environmentally conscious just so consumers will feel justified in purchasing their product.
Take, for example, massive companies like Hershey and Nestle, whose main profits come from cocoa-based products. Approximately 20 years ago, these companies came under fire for the presence of West African child labor in their cocoa supply chain. While the companies promised to eradicate it, putting out numerous statements and reports, accounts as recent as June of 2019 have found that child labor still plays a large role in their production process. And as if that isn’t bad enough, these same accounts have found that the companies are driving massive deforestation in West Africa as well.
Furthermore, even supposing these companies do actually embrace environmentally sound practices, they ironically can cause more damage than they would have originally done. Look at the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example. As a region that is particularly rich in cobalt, it lures companies like BMW who need the material for their electric car batteries. But because the companies mining for cobalt are not concerned about the environment, just capital gain, they have ravaged both the land and people of the region, even though, from our perspective, they’re doing a “good” thing by making electric cars.
This is the ultimate issue with our current neoliberal system of prioritizing the maximization of profit over the health of both people and the planet. Under a structure in which the only thing that is rewarded is profit, corporations will exploit whatever and whoever is necessary to make said profit. And at this point, this is simply no longer compatible with our planet’s well-being.
And contrary to the people like Jeff Bezos who suggest we simply move humanity to space colonies instead of recognizing the pressures Amazon’s massive growth has put on the planet, most of us would prefer to remain residents of our planet. In order to do so, we must realize that corporations are the central agents in environmental destruction, and hopefully, in doing that, find a new system in which the health of people and the planet are put first. And though this is an issue in which it is difficult for the individual person to make a change on their own, there are still many ways to stand up to corporate power. Collectivizing and educating others to understand the power corporations hold is a solid place to start, and as recognition among the public grows, is something that will hopefully lead to large-scale change.
Ajay Davis is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.