Even those of us well aware of the viciousness with which corporate power is wielded still get taken in by PR stuff. We really want to believe that people want to do good, so somewhere inside we think corporations would like to mitigate the damage they do.
So we try to ethically consume - and let's be clear that Fair Trade is a fucksight better than its alternative, slave trade. But so much of the ethical choices are a gloss to shine the surface of something foul, a smokescreen to haze our clear view of what these fuckers really are.
Corporate Social Responsibility was conceived by the most anti-social corporations like Shell, whose core business does not change in the light of their CSR programmes. CSR is, therefore, just window dressing.
Moreover, one of the main points that Corporate Watch's report is built upon is the inability and illegality of a corporation acting in a genuinely responsible way. They are legally obliged to maximise the returns for shareholders, so responsible actions can only be done if they are also profitable. Which they usually aren't.
Slimy oraganisations have been set up to help the destructive corporations and co-opt to castrate the campaigners, NGOs and activists that would undermine them. They give themselves cuddly names likes like AccountAbility, the Environment Council and the ReAssurance Network.
In their 'What We Believe' page, the ReAssurance Network inform us
Despite the production of over 100 annual social reports in the UK each year, big business is still largely mistrusted. Readers often perceive these reports as clever public relations exercises that fail to give a true insight into how an organisation thinks and behaves
They continue with an explanation that corporate responsibility is a good idea as it
supports business strategy, for it is these very qualities that determine how successful an organisation is at managing risk, strengthening relationships, building trust, enhancing reputation and developing new business opportunities.
In other words, as their earlier paragraph disimplied, it is good PR.
They know there's no defending sweatshops. They know there's no defending unsustainability. So they have to pretend they're not really doing it.
The oldest and simplest method is to lie outright, but that can backfire. When activists showed that Nike's denials about its sweatshop factories were false, Nike were reduced to defending it by saying they could lie if they wanted to as the American Constitution guarantees freedom of speech.
Imagine trying that defence for, say, an Enron accounting scandal, and you see how much they regard money as important and environmental and human rights as piffling.
So as a second option they can do a few nice things that make us feel they're not so bad really, and we leave them to carry on. This false legitimacy is quite cheaply bought. The cost of BP sponsoring a few art galleries is nothing compared to the profits they make from massively exacerbating climate change.
And the gall of some of it - Shell sponsoring the Wildlife Photographer of The Year! Makes me glad that language isn't inter-species. I'd hate to tell that one to the thousands of types of plants and animals being decimated and obliterated by oil-induced climate change.
There's a third tactic too, which is to adopt the language of your detractors as claim it as your own. The most important environmental word is 'sustainability', so it should come as no surprise that it is the most abused.
According to the UN Division for Sustainable Development, the definition is 'to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'.
Don't take so much that those who come later won't have enough.
Seems clear and obvious enough, doesn't it?
But that's not what it means in a post-CSR world. It means sustaining profits and economic growth. In other words - to return one more time to the clearest reason why our entire society is suicidally insane - it means finding a way to eternally consume finite resources.
And any talk of not impinging on future generations ability to use resources is right out.
When the European Bank For Reconstruction and Development said it'd finance the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, many people took exception. Here was an undemocratic organisation funded by our taxes putting an oil pipeline through half a dozen war zones to deliver exacerbation of climate change.
Activists paid a visit to EBRD's headquarters. The EBRD's finance man disputed the activists' assertion that the pipeline is unsustainable.
As oil, once burned, ceases to exist, and once a well is drilled dry it doesn't replenish, and the oil fields the pipeline exploits will run dry within 50 years, his response looks completely mad at first.
But when you realise that he's talking about BP's short to medium term ability to sustain current profit levels, you realise where he's coming from.
Unsustainable companies such as Lafarge Cement have to concur with the EBRD's stance. Lafarge's Sustainability policy opens with the line
For Lafarge in the UK, sustainability means fulfilling our commitments to our customers, our employees, our communities and our shareholders.
In what way does that have anything whatsoever to do with anything you could ever call sustainability?
It doesn't. It's that sustainability is now a synonym for profitability.
So they can cluck about, offering nice cuddly adverts saying things about 'sustainability' in soft reassuring voices; they even employ ReAssurance Network to do their reassuring for them.
Just as you can easily see the truth in their propaganda by changing 'War On Drugs' to 'War on Some Drugs', and 'War on Terror' to 'War on Peace', so you can get clarity from CSR and eco-ads by changing 'sustainable' for 'profitable'.