Cannibal capital In June the world's biggest unions launched a multi-fronted campaign to impact sections of the financial industry, with a series of protests and policy proposals at the G8 meeting of industrial nations in Germany. Members of the International Trade Union Confederation, the world's largest union federation representing more than 168 million workers around the world, pressed various ministers about the problems associated with hedge funds and private equity.1 These two forms of financial operator have both boomed in recent years, and each poses different challenges to corporate citizenship, which were becoming clearer during the first half of 2007.
Private equity, public inequity Another segment of the financial industry that received some heat in 2007 was private equity. Also in June, while more than a hundred bankers and investors attended a dealmaker conference at the New York Stock Exchange, two union groups protested the growing and, in their view, 'unchecked power of these well-heeled and secretive investment firms'. Andrew McDonald, director of the private equity campaign for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents 1.8 million workers, told Reuters that 'America is waking up to the fact that private equity is everywhere and it has a huge impact not only on the economy but workers and communities'. In April, the SEIU had unveiled a report highlighting its concerns about buy-outs, which can lead to job cuts, the elimination of pension plans and cuts in health coverage.9
Change the system The connections between the basic models of corporate financing and their potential for creating societal as well as private wealth needs exploring. Currently the focus of initiatives about the regulation of PE and hedge funds focuses on the two Ts: transparency and tax.
Food is going to the dogs A staple of NGO fundraising appeals for years has been to highlight the amount of money Americans spend on pet food compared to the notably smaller amount one is asked to contribute to the cause in question. Americans love their pets. They spend money on their pets as if they were kids. Pet food alone is a $14-billion-a-year industry.27 In fact, it has been said that, for baby-boomers, pets have now become the kids, because people are treating them that way. So we should not be surprised by the stink caused in April by a story of pet food from China that killed furry loved ones in homes across America.
The green media frenzy Mainstream media thrives on catastrophe, shock and misery, so perhaps the notable increase in coverage of green issues and green business issues shouldn't be surprising. The United States has often been seen as behind the rest of the industrialised world in its awareness of environmental issues. In 2007, it became apparent that the trend of featuring environmental issues in the mass media via news, television shows and popular culture was spiralling as never before.
Being consumed Against this backdrop of environmental concern, the topic of sustainable consumption has been aired more often at corporate social responsibility conferences. A twist on the familiar subject occurred in June at Canada's largest oil conference. A representative of the US National Petroleum Council told several hundred oilmen that in order to address worldwide energy needs an abundant new source was needed, and announced the launch of Vivoleum-a fuel made by 'transforming the billions of people who die into oil': all a hoax devised by the Yes Men.52
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