“Corporations seek not only to influence legislation and regulation but also to define the agenda”
Sharon Beder (1956-) is an author and researcher whose work challenges the false version of reality pumped out by the industrial capitalist system.
Beder’s research has exposed corporate PR and its “greenwashing” rhetoric around so-called sustainable development and she has also critiqued various manifestations of neoliberalism such as privatisation and the promotion of market “solutions” to social problems.
In her book Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism, first published in 1997, Beder cited evidence that – despite the constant propaganda with which they are bombarded – the majority of people in most countries regard the protection of nature as more important than the permanent capitalist demand for economic growth.
“Yet this widespread public concern is not translating into government action because of the activities of large corporations that are seeking to subvert or manipulate the popular will”, (1) she added.
Beder described a corporate subversion of the green movement, using “greenwashing” spin and phoney “astroturf” (rather than grassroots) campaigns, that she regarded as being “a response to the effective exercise of democratic power by citizen and environmental activists two decades earlier”. (2)
She explained: “Corporations clearly have far greater financial resources at their disposal. As pressure groups, they can invest millions of dollars into grassroots organising, polls, lawyers, computer and satellite technology, video news releases, and professional advice to put their case directly to politicians and government officials and to garner public support”. (3)
She identified a covert form of power which is one of the goals of this corporate conspiracy – the ability to set the political agenda and shape perceptions.
“Corporations seek not only to influence legislation and regulation but also to define the agenda – what it is legitimate for government to consider and what can be discussed in the political arena – thereby rendering those groups who have other agendas ineffective”. (4)
Thus, she said, the capitalist system did not try to persuade us that our environment was not important, because it knew that such an attempt would not only fail, but would also expose to us the unpalatable reality of its stance on the issue.
Instead, it set firm limits as to how far we can go in challenging industrialism, in terms of what we believe is not just feasible, but even imaginable.
Wrote Beder: “The aim is not to eliminate debate or prevent controversy, because controversy reinforces the perception of a healthy democracy. What is important is the power to limit the subject, scope and boundaries of the controversy”. (5)
Her other books include Selling the Work Ethic: From Puritan Pulpit to Corporate PR (2000), Suiting Themselves: How Corporations Drive the Global Agenda (2006) and (with Wendy Varney and Richard Gosden) This Little Kiddy Went to Market: The Corporate Capture of Childhood (2009).
Video link: Interview with Sharon Beder – The Corporate Manipulation of Community Values (29 mins)
1. Sharon Beder, Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism (Totnes: Green Books, 2002), p. 275.
2. Beder, p. 276.
3. Beder, pp. 278-79.
4. Beder, p. 281.
5. Beder, pp. 282-83.