Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Friday, July 31, 2015

Here We Go Again

I almost always read two newspapers a day, and sometimes as many as four. Among them are the NY Times and WS Journal. Both are very excellent newspapers, renowned for their degree of objectivity—though of course being who they are, the selections of stories does seem sometimes to support their relative political stances—NYT a more  liberal view, the WSJ, a more fiscally conservative stance. But I regularly read them both feeling that somewhere in the middle I'll get a sense of the real story on a particular world or domestic event.

In today's Wall Street Journal, though was a story that appalled me, both for what it said about a major international corporation, as well as for the fact that a respected newspaper dodged meaningful discussion of ethical problems inherent in the story.

Diageo PLC, the world's largest manufacturer of spirit liquors, in an effort to expand their business, has now created and is offering for sale dirt-cheap variations of whiskey and other spirits aimed specifically at making money from the poorest citizens of Africa. Small shops have been set up in neighborhood African slums that offer liquor that costs roughly $.10 a shot, entire bottles for $2.00. These products are held back from stores in the more affluent neighborhoods, where educated and well employed citizens can afford more expensive liquor. It is only the poor that get the gut-rot.

The article is a profile piece presented as an example of corporate ingenuity in seeking expansion in the third world, and runs almost 80 column inches. Yet the ethical problems with such business practice is confined to two small paragraphs, barely 60 words in an article that runs at least 2,500. One paragraph merely acknowledges that there are detractors to the strategy of fostering excessive drinking in poor neighborhoods.  The impact of the piece is primarily a celebration of the cleverness of Diageo and other liquor manufacturers as they find ways to expand business in the African continent.

Says Charles Ireland, chief executive of the East Africa branch of London-based Diageo:  "It's our turf, and we fight hard to protect it."

The whole thing smacks a little of the immorality that caused Nestle corporation to sell substandard infant formulas in Africa in the 1970's, until the World Health Organization called them on it.  Or the same twisted logic by which drug manufacturers dispose of drugs banned in the West  to third world nations. Or that causes Dupont to erect unsafe chemical processing plants in India, proclaiming their benevolence to the local labor force.  The concept of white man's burden and privilege seems to be alive and well in the international corporate landscape.  It's not like Dupont ever built a death-trap chemical factory in Ontario.

By the way, within its arsenal, Diageo produces Guinness, Johnny Walker scotch, Smirnoff, and Captain Bailey's.

I may think twice about buying these in the future.  It also means I'll likely have to give up a favorite smokey Scotch, Craggenmore, as it is a prime component of the JW blends. I haven't yet decided on the Wall Street Journal.


  1. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I am a former WSJ subscriber, finding that in retirement I did not need the daily input. I read them from time to time and pick up pieces on line for from correspondents who email them to me. I had not read this piece and I have a reaction similar to yours.

    I'm disappointed that I am a Guinness fan but that is nothing compared to the predatory and despicable practice described in your account. That is offensive and indeed immoral.

    Sadly, however, it is a logical outcome of a bottom line minded, for profit corporate strategy. There is no morality in capitalism. To whom can an offended citizenry turn? Regulatory agencies barely exist and in this case we encounter foreign nationals to further complicate any attempt at remediation. Governments in most nations have suffered the fate we have in the US, a commercialization of process and function. Government is now a business.

    Your response of boycotting product is a possible strategy, but only if the pressure is massive. The matter of the WSJ is more complicated. While it appears more copy on the "morality" of such a strategy or the implication of cheap liquor in slums would be appreciated, that was not the skew of the piece, apparently. Any journalistic enterprise can peg stories as they wish and are under no obligation to consider moral implications. That they gave it any copy is something. I would hope that there will be a response or even a follow up piece on the way such a strategy is being received or the impact it is having on people. Still we must admit the WSJ did alert us to the practice and is responsible for the indignation and criticism that you and I have voiced. Until I read your alert I was ignorant to the matter. I intend to do my bit in sharing the matter with others, and will read more about it.

  2. I too read the NY Times most days, and I'm afraid I missed this one. Like this example, industry, the major constituent of government, is looking at the money the poor and disenfranchised are spending on things like local food and housing as a missed opportunity.
    I also thank you for bringing it to a wider audience.

  3. Thanks for bringing this to light--it is a diespicable practice that is probably too common