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Feb 01

Third World Attitude Toward Multinational Corporations

Arab News

Third World Attitude Toward Multinational Corporations

by Manuel L. Quezon III

There used to be something called the “Multinational Credo,” which some expat managers displayed in their offices.

The Multinational Credo basically stated that multinationals were around not to help the environment, or promote social justice, or improve the stability and fiscal health of the countries they operated in, but to make a profit. The bigger the profit, the better. Nothing less, nothing more.

This was the attitude that resulted in the demonization of multinational corporations in the eyes of Third World nationalists, and for good reason. The hatred aimed at multinationals was all the more justifiable in the case of agricultural companies, particularly banana growers whose legacy to political science lies in the term “banana republic.”

It always became clear that people involved in those businesses had priorities totally different from that of the ordinary Filipino. Friends whose parents were in the banana-growing business said they never understood why the company their parents worked for were so disliked. The companies provided jobs, they gave benefits unheard of among their local competitors, they ran a healthy profit and so had resources to invest in more jobs and new technologies: Why was success being rewarded with near-persecution?

I would tell them that the conventional belief was that foreign companies were successful because they had two things going for them: Access to global resources impossible to match on the part of Filipino companies, and total support from the government which was hungry for foreign investment. They would reply that it was impossible to think that (for example) one of their largest competitors, whose operations were running deeply in the red, hadn’t had extensive government support considering that the man was a Marcos crony; besides which foreign companies paid their taxes religiously while some Filipino companies exerted political pressure in order not to pay their taxes — or simply cheated on filing of their taxes.

On that point I would be somewhat in sympathy with them. Of course they know the belief common in some quarters. That the proper attitude to adopt when dealing with multinationals, or transnationals, is to milk them for all that they’re worth: A variation of the class conflict evident among Filipinos themselves.

The banana company that my friend’s parents worked for, which I liked best among the banana companies for the simple reason that it preferred not to own land, choosing instead to buy bananas from contract growers, decided to support land reform — a contentious issue in the 1980s up to now, in the Philippines. Fantastic: A company that was already ahead because it preferred honest contracts with Filipino land owners now put itself squarely on the side of enabling the tenants of these land owners to purchase their plots and become contract growers themselves. This was the case in DAPCO. First having committed to turn over all improvements to landowners in 1998, Stanfilco (the Banana division of Dole Philippines) helped the farmers who were tenants of the original owners of DAPCO to have the plantation subjected to land reform. The farmers organized themselves into a group called SEARBAI, with which Stanfilco agreed to contract the growing of bananas.

A success story. But the honeymoon didn’t last too long. The farmers, now entrepreneurs themselves, found themselves in a position to hire helpers themselves. Apparently at one point or another, the farmer-landowners thought it more to their advantage to (re)assume work they had started giving to hired hands. So hired hands started getting fired. Naturally this did not please the hired hands, who then engaged in labor agitation to protect their newly acquired livelihood.

Result: DAPCO was wracked by labor trouble. The farmers ended up seeking advice from their old landlords as to how to fight their former hired hands. The hired hands fought back tooth and nail. Stanfilco, which all along had to fulfill its quotas, was dragged in, trying to arbitrate between the two sides.

All this was still ahead when I went to DAPCO a few years ago. At the time, all seemed calm and cheerful, and so progressive. We watched banana plants get “defingered” and “deflowered”, learned how a banana plantation is run. It was so very hopeful. Unknown to us, as we waved away the brilliantly green beetles that droned around us, storm clouds were on the horizon.

Progress is never easy: Ain’t that an obvious truth. The issues were eventually settled; but the initial optimism of those years has never returned.

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