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.