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Critical Perspectives on Accounting (2003) 14, 533552

doi:10.1016/S1045-2354(02)00162-4

SILENCES IN ANNUAL REPORTS


MICHELE CHWASTIAK AND JONI J. YOUNG
Anderson Schools of Management, University of New Mexico,
Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA

In this paper, we show how annual reports rely upon the silencing of injustices
in order to make profit appear to be an unproblematic measure of success. In
particular, we examine the ways in which corporations silence the negative impact of
their activities upon the earth, the hell of war and the beauty of peace, the spiritual,
human and social impoverishment arising from excessive consumption, and the
dehumanization of workers. Only by breaking silence and counter-posing corporate
values with alternatives can we hope to free humankind from the limitations of profit
maximization and promote a world in which peace, happiness, respect for diversity,
etc. take precedence to capital accumulation.
2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Corporate annual reports are filled with accounts which celebrate corporate ac-
tions such as acquisitions, downsizing, spin-offs, globalization, increased market
share, new and innovative technologies, outsourcing and the reduction of labor costs
through relocating manufacturing facilities. Each of these strategies is justified in
terms of increased profit, irrespective of the consequences to others or the envi-
ronment. The market imperative impels corporations to aggressively pursue capital
realization and accumulation with minimal concern for social consequences. Ac-
cordingly, the negative repercussions from corporate profit maximization activities
are seldom discussed in annual reports. No mention is made of the growing trash
heaps of unneeded goods that result from corporate marketing efforts that encour-
age incessant consumption. No pictures are found of the children starving in urban
and rural ghettos worldwide as a result of corporate actions that contribute to an
increasing inequity in the distribution of wealth. Similarly, the pollution of our waters
and the poisoning of our foods with pesticides are never highlighted. Such things
are treated as externalities, as costs that fall upon society as a whole, rather than
as the responsibility of the entities that create them (Parenti, 1995).
Further, the ways in which costs are socially constructed under capitalism reduce
labor and things to their instrumental identity as means to profit. In conceptualizing
workers and the environment as abstract cost or resource categories, corporations

Address for correspondence: Professor Michele Chwastiak, Anderson Schools of Management,


University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA. E-mail: chwastiak@anderson.unm.edu
Received 15 August 2001; accepted 16 January 2002

533
1045-2354/02/$ see front matter 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
534 M. Chwastiak and J. J. Young

can separate the harmful effects of their activities from the lives they impact. They
are not eliminating the jobs of mothers and fathers, they are reducing an expense.
They are not destroying a pristine landscape, they are increasing revenues. Thus,
the dictates of profit maximization require that the social and environmental costs
of corporate actions be masked in order to increase the acceptability of such acts.
In this paper, we examine how corporate successes are built upon such silenced
losses by counterposing the corporate voice in annual reports with other voices. In
so doing, we highlight the unreported and unremarked in an effort to make it more
difficult, if not impossible, to engage in actions that harm and stunt life.
In exploring the messages and silences in annual reports, we are building upon
previous research. Neimark (1992), Neimark and Tinker (1986) and Tinker and
Neimark (1987, 1988) examined how General Motors annual reports constructed
gender roles, rationalized the globalization of production, manufactured the rela-
tionship between the company and the State, and disciplined labor. Graves et al.
(1996) demonstrated that images in annual reports bolstered the truth claims of cor-
porate financial statements. Preston et al. (1996) explored different ways of seeing
images in corporate reports in terms of their representational, ideological and con-
stitutive roles. Each of these papers contributed to our understanding of the role
annual reports play in sustaining the corporate economy. However, none of these
papers addressed the silences contained in annual reports. Before examining these
silences in detail, we provide a synopsis of the theory underlying the empirical work.

Theoretical Overview

Through language we interpret the world. Language, however, is not a passive mir-
ror which represents a concrete objective reality external to the social and historical
conditions of a particular time and place. Rather, language actively assists in con-
structing the circumstances in which we live. Language also acts to restrain and
limit these conditions as it is embedded in and embeds dominant discourses. Dom-
inant discourses promote beliefs and values congenial to legitimating the prevailing
power groups in society by making the basic principles which sustain their power
the framework for thinkable thought rather than the objects of rational consideration
(Chomsky, 1987; Eagleton, 1991). Further, dominant discourses are a mechanism
through which the injustices arising from an unequal distribution of wealth and power
are rationalized and justified. They do so by shaping our understanding of the world in
such a way that we are led to believe that injustices are en route to being amended,
or that they are counterbalanced by greater benefits, or that they are inevitable, or
that they are not really injustices at all (Eagleton, 1991, p. 27). In constructing injus-
tices as natural or equally beneficial, the dominant discourses increase the difficulty
of questioning the underlying systems of power, as well as who gains and who loses
from these systems (Hall, 1982; McLaren & Giroux, 1997).
To illustrate the functioning of a dominant discourse, Galeano (2000, p. 19) re-
counts how a 1998 UNICEF report describes the problem of child hunger: The lack
of vitamins and minerals in the diet costs some countries the equivalent of more than
5% of their gross national product in lives lost, disability, and lower productivity. With
Silence 535

this description, child hunger exists only as a problem because it has an economic
impact and interferes with capital accumulation. Capital, not children, are seen as
the losers from child hunger. Constructing the problem in this way directs our at-
tention away from asking why children are hungry and how existing conditions have
contributed to this hunger. As a result, actions that further the interests of the status
quo (e.g. increase the GNP in other arenas to make up for the unhealthy children) are
the ones that will receive the most attention. Solutions such as redistribute wealth
so that children need not starve will rarely be considered.
If continually confronted with the injustices created by the existing systems of
power, it would be very difficult for us to participate in reproducing these systems.
That is why injustices are silenced by the dominant discourses (DeLamotte, 1998;
hooks, 1984; McKenna, 1992; Scott, 1988). These silences allow us to ignore more
easily the distasteful and objectionable aspects of the systems in which we live.
While silences are embedded in all forms of communication, we choose to exam-
ine the silences in annual reports in particular because the values of capitalism are
blatantly celebrated in this space. These values drive corporate decisions concern-
ing what and how we will eat, where and how we will sleep, our level of healthcare,
etc. Within the pages of annual reports, we are mainly given the subject positions of
supporters of capitalism in the role of worker, manager, shareholder or consumer.
Other ways of being (e.g. parent, concerned citizen) are silenced and kept from our
view. Because reality is not co-extensive with the categories of discourse provided
in annual reports, we can prevent the dominant discourses from being further em-
bedded within our consciousness by breaking the silences and adding alternative
voices. With different accounts, the non-natural status of regarding labor as an ex-
pense and nature as a resource, for instance, would be more readily seen (McLaren
& Giroux, 1997).
It is by breaking or highlighting silence that previously closeted and unexpressed
subjects become openly political. Without books like The Feminine Mystique by
Friedan (1963) or Silent Spring by Carson (1962) the mute plight of white middle
class housewives or our polluted lakes and rivers might never have been constructed
as problematic and political movements which continue to reshape relations between
men and women and between humans and the earth might not have been realized.
Thus, breaking these silences began to open alternative possibilities and enhanced
our imaginative capabilities. While we have no illusions of having the political impact
of these women, we believe the silences in annual reports must be addressed if we
are to open a future of new possibilities. Only by breaking silence and counter-posing
corporate values with alternatives can we hope to free humankind from the limitations
of profit maximization and promote a world in which peace, happiness, respect for
diversity, etc. take precedence to capital accumulation. We acknowledge that this
paper alone is not enough to effect change. However, it is a beginning and we must
begin somewhere.
Corporations will not be the agents for change for their owners are the primary
beneficiaries from a capitalistic society and must reproduce it if they are to thrive.
Similarly calls for social or environmental accounting that attempt to reconstruct
corporate values within the dominant discourses are unlikely to succeed (Birkin,
1996; Cooper, 1992; Hines, 1991; Puxty, 1991). As noted earlier, these discourses
536 M. Chwastiak and J. J. Young

reproduce the existing systems of power and, as a consequence, cannot be used to


reflect critically upon them (Horkheimer & Adorno, 1993). As Lorde (1984, p. 112)
states, . . . the masters tools will never dismantle the masters house. They may
allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to
bring about genuine change.
In the following sections, we examine the ways in which corporations silence the
negative impact of their activities upon the earth, the hell of war and the beauty of
peace, the spiritual, human, and social impoverishment arising from excessive con-
sumption, and the dehumanization of workers. These silences are not intended to
be exhaustive, but rather are illustrative. Our objective is not to reveal every silence
in annual reports, but rather to demonstrate how injustices are sustained through
silence. To show this the unmasking of any injustice would have sufficed. While other
silences might have been more salient for another researcher, these are the injus-
tices that significantly concern us. If war and environmental destruction are not
stopped, the planet will no longer be able to sustain life. As teachers, we see and
experience the repercussions of training youth to be private consumers rather than
public citizens, and as workers ourselves we feel the limitations placed upon hu-
manity from being disposable cogs in a bureaucratic wheel. In confronting such
injustices and harms, it is difficult to suppress passion and maintain a neutral tone
and, to some, the paper may sound angry.
To explore earth silences, we examined the annual reports of companies in in-
dustries that are frequently associated with extracting resources from the earth and
using plants and animals as commodities: mining, property development, energy,
agribusiness, meat, and food processing. For peace and war, we chose companies
that benefit most directly from the business of war, defense contractors. For silences
related to consumption, we looked at media, consumer product, financial service,
waste management, pharmaceutical, and airline companies. For worker silences,
we considered the references to workers contained within the reports of the compa-
nies selected for other silences. Again, we did not intend to provide an exhaustive or
comprehensive survey of industries or companies that we believed would perpetuate
particular silences. Instead, we sought sufficient empirical evidence to illustrate our
main point: the celebration of market share, profit, etc. depends upon the silencing
of other things of equal value. While we expected to find, for instance, consumption
silences permeating the annual reports of media companies, we also encountered
other silencesdemonstrating how there is no one-to-one correlation between si-
lences and industries. We present our empirical results in the remaining sections of
the paper.

Earth Silences

Earth as commodity
In order for industrialization to become a way of life, our conception of the earth
had to be radically transformed from that of a living, generous mother to dead,
exploitable matter (Berry, 1988; Merchant, 1983). With this transformation, nature
no longer had needs of its own, but was rather a limitless provider for humankind
Silence 537

(Plumwood, 1993). In order to maintain this alienated relationship, a discourse of


dissociation and domination had to permeate our consciousness. We consider our-
selves no longer of nature and this perspective has led, in part, to our failure to care
for the planet (Plumwood, 1993). Instead, as illustrated by the following quotes from
annual reports, the earth is bought, sold, and stripped of its resources in the name
of progress and the search for profit:
BHI has a large and varied inventory of land with a low cost-basis. The company continually
strives to employ each parcel at its highest and best potential use. In some cases, this
is agricultural. In others, consistent with the demands of the marketplaces, development
activities are pursued to add value. (Alexander & Baldwin, 1991, p. 12)

Upon completion of these processes, and assuming no delays caused by legal appeals,
aggressive development programs will be undertaken to bring these new properties into
production. (Battle Mountain Gold Company, 1995, p. 7)

This objectification of the land denies the fact that we need nature to stay alive.
We do not stand apart from nature but are part of it. So as we strip the earth of its
resources, we not only scar it, but scar ourselves as well (Berry, 1998; Griffin, 1978;
Suzuki & McConnell, 1997). By polluting the earth, spoiling its streams, devastating
its forests and farmlands, we destroy our home and impair its ability to sustain us
in the future. Even though, we are on the brink of ecological disaster, we seem to
believe that it will never come, that somehow the very earth we desecrate will save
us (Griffin, 1992). However, unless we change our ways, the free air we breathe and
water we drink will be unfit for life, and clean water and air will become a luxury only
the rich can afford (Plumwood, 1993).
The impending ecological disaster is further exacerbated by the over population
of the planet by humans. Yet, in corporate annual reports, population growth is
described in terms of expanding market opportunities for their goods and services:
First births represent approximately 40% of total birth, or over 1.5 million births annually,
which provide a solid consumer base for our product companies. (Huffy Corporation, 1991,
p. 22)

Worldwide, there are 1.7 billion women between the ages of 10 and 49. In 30 years, that fig-
ure will surge by nearly 50% to 2.5 billion, with most of the increase occurring in developing
countries. (Tambrands, 1996, p. 6)

Population growth may imply economic expansion. However, it also portends defor-
estation, stresses on the water table, increased energy consumption, overcrowding,
less cropland, decreased marine life, destruction of wildlife habitats and more waste.
The end result of overpopulation will more likely be global warming, rapid spread
of infectious disease, starvation and extinction (Brown et al., 1999; Engelman, 1997;
McKibben, 1998) rather than the unlimited market expansion anticipated in corporate
annual reports.

Human intervention in nature

We not only believe ourselves to be apart from nature, but we also believe that
through active intervention we can improve it (Griffin, 1978; Merchant, 1983). In
538 M. Chwastiak and J. J. Young

addition, rational, technical man presumes that scientifically derived knowledge is


always superior to that derived from other means (Aronowitz, 1988; Fox Keller, 1985).
We use our scientific discoveries to improve the earth by enhancing its short-term
productivity with mechanized products and chemicals. This is illustrated in the follow-
ing quotes, in which the replacement of traditional farming with industrial agriculture
is valorized and made to appear as an inevitable outcome of human progress:

Mr. and Mrs. Cui have cultivated their farms soil for 45 years. Initially, they cared for their
land with organic material and plowed with oxen. That has changed. Today they rely on a
balanced mixture of crop nutrients to replenish the soil and have replaced the oxen with
a tractor. . . . They are pleased with the progress of their farm. Their story is not unusual.
China is able to produce enough food for nearly a quarter of the worlds population with
less than 10 percent of the earths arable land. China also is the worlds largest importer of
concentrated phosphates and potash crop nutrients. (IMC Global, 1995, p. 7)

There are few uncultivated areas that have fertile soils and are not presently forested or
subject to erosion. To increase the area of land available for cultivation would require mas-
sive clearing of forests, causing vast destruction of wildlife habitat and biodiversity. The
short-lived and limited agricultural gains would never justify the environmental damage.
We have no alternative but the most vigorous pursuit and development of science-based
agriculture. (IMC Global, 1996, p. 3)

These celebratory accounts fail to describe the cumulative effects of agro-industrial


innovation: habitat destruction, monocultures, varietal specialization, soil erosion,
and pollution of water supplies (Goodman & Redclift, 1991). Subjecting agriculture to
return on investment criteria means that natural ways to replenish the soil and protect
against pests, such as crop rotation and plant diversity, give way to monocultures
and artificial fertilizers in order to maximize the only measure of relevanceprofit.
Yet, these practices carry unmeasured costs. For example, monocultures with their
emphasis upon a single strain of corn, soybean, rice, etc. reduce biodiversity and,
as such, invite disease and pests (Shiva, 1997). Artificial fertilizers, like phosphates
and potash, may temporarily boost yields, but leave crops nutritionally deficient and
leach into water supplies (Fox, 1986). In sum, while technical agriculture may boost
a corporations bottom line, the long-term consequences for the rest of us may be
devastating.

Engineering life

As stated before, subjecting agriculture to return on investment as a measure of value


decreases the natural diversity of plants (Shiva, 1997). Thus, what is profitable for
corporations in the short-term may impoverish society in the long-term. Consider
the following quotes from the biotech (and agribusiness) industry which describe
the engineering of life primarily as an opportunity for profit and sales:

The seed strategy calls for increasing sales of the growing number of genetically engineered
seeds. These revenues will further complement the companys core business of selling and
applying nutrients and herbicides. Additionally, the sale of genetically altered seeds requires
significantly greater agronomic knowledge. IMC AgriBusiness has this knowledge and is
able to provide it as a value-added service. (IMC Global, 1996, p. 29)
Silence 539

One such hybrid, Corn Belt Dent (characterized by a depression or indentation in the crown
of the kernel), is now the staple of the corn refining industry. And the evolution of corn is
far from over. Corn seeds are still being developed and specially tailored to consumer and
industrial needs, and its a sign of that evolution that American Maize received patents for
new genetically engineered strains in 1991. (American Maize-Products Company, 1991,
p. 9)

Bio-engineering provides the means for corporations to colonize and monopolize


one of the last frontierslife itself (Rifkin, 1998; Shiva, 1997). While corporations
will reap the profits of bio-engineering, it is the rest of society and the natural en-
vironment that will pay the costs. Potential risks include health hazards to humans
from transgenic crops, biological pollution, species domination of the ecosystem
and unanticipated gene transfers from one species to another (Fox, 1992; Rifkin,
1998; Shiva, 1997). Not only are the biological threats of such a world unknown,
but the moral and ethical implications are as well. In a future biotech world, would
women and nature simply provide the raw materials to which capital would add
value (Mies & Shiva, 1993)? Such issues and possibilities are not discussed within
the pages of annual reports that describe biotechnology primarily in terms of its
potential contribution to profit.

Animals as commodities

As noted before, to corporations, plants are only of value if they can be transformed
into a profit making activity. Similarly, animals only have worth if they can be raised
and slaughtered efficiently. Our anthropocentric system of thought, which denies
nature and animals any intentional and mind like qualities, has removed ethical
restraints against treating other creatures cruelly (Devall, 1988; Fox, 1986, 1992;
Shiva, 1997). This coupled with capitalism, which reduces everything to its instru-
mental value, allows us to construct animals as production units whose well being
is secondary to the goal of profit maximization (Fox, 1986). This is evidenced in the
following quotations from annual reports:
Additionally, we have the capability to increase our current slaughter from 36 million birds
processed per week (our current volume) to 44 million birds per week with minimal capital
expenditure. (Tyson Foods, Inc., 1996, p. 4)

Our Bladen County plant, now killing 16,000 hogs a day will expand to 24,000 daily this
fall. The Bladen County plant is the most modern facility of its kind. (Smithfield Foods, Inc.,
1995, p. 5)

Our raw material is unmatched by anyone in the country for consistency in the muscling and
leanness of the animal . . . the Companys vertical integration program means that most of
its meat comes from pigs produced on Company-owned farms, or on farms operated by
long-term suppliers who use superior genetics and the most advanced and consistent
breeding practices, coupled with minimal-medication programs and strict control over feed
ingredients. (Smithfield Foods, Inc., 1995, p. 10)

This matter of fact detailing can only occur by silencing the pain and suffering of
the animals involved. Selective breeding severely compromises animal welfare. For
instance, cows which are bred for superior leg muscle conformation cannot calve
except by caesarian section. The legs and lungs of chickens and turkeys raised for
540 M. Chwastiak and J. J. Young

meat are severely stressed by their fast growth, leading to respiratory infections and
painful ulceration of thighs and breasts (Johnson, 1996).
Further, while the companies blithely indicate their intention to expand their kill
capacities, they fail to report the experience of the slaughterhouse for the humans
that work there and the animals that are killed. Eisnitz (1997) graphically describes
the torturous conditions under which the animals are slaughtered. Animals are hung
upside down and thrash about as they await their slaughter. Cows may have their
heads skinned before they are dead. This violence gets absorbed by the human
workers as well. One laborer reported how by the end of the night, everyone in the
slaughter house was yelling at everyone else and the abuse did not end at the factory
door but was also taken home to the family (Eisnitz, 1997).

Peace and War

Peace is bad for business

In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell, most of the worlds people rejoiced at this historic
step towards peace. Yet, this was not celebrated in corporate annual reports of US
defense contractors. Instead they discussed the end of the Cold War in terms of its
impact on lost contracts, sales, and markets. As illustrated below, a step back from
nuclear annihilation was bad for business:

Although the broad diversity of our Defense Electronics business provides significant stren-
gths in a time of defense budget cutbacks, there were inevitable contract cancellations
this year resulting from the end of the Cold War. These contracts were primarily strategic
weapons such as the Small ICBM and classified programs, and were valued at $485 million.
Notwithstanding these cancellations, our ICBM guidance and control activity will continue
for Peacekeeper program support and Minuteman upgrades. (Rockwell, 1992, p. 9)

The current uncertainties relating to Cold War concerns, coupled with the United States
and Soviet efforts to reach an accord on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START),
may result in a diminishing market for strategic ballistic missiles. However, the near-term
outlook remains firm with the Trident II program. (Thiokol Corporation, 1991, p. 12)

These corporations could bemoan the end of the Cold War because it had provided
an opportunity to legitimize increased defense budgets which served as a closet
subsidy to high tech industry (Caldicott, 1986; Chomsky, 1992; Chwastiak, 1996,
1998; Markusen & Yudken, 1992). To maintain this form of corporate welfare, taxes
were increased and social spending was decreased. This transfer of wealth from
the people to high tech industry is illustrated by the fact that For the cost of as
single B-2 Bomber ($2.2 billion) . . . you could pay the annual health care expenses
for about 1.3 million Americans (Center for Defense Information, 1995, p. 7). As a
result of placing corporate welfare above people, the US ranks number one amongst
the advanced industrial nations in rates of infant mortality, illiteracy, malnutrition,
crime, and poverty (Center for Defense Information, 1994; Schwarz, 1994; Parenti,
1995).
Silence 541

War is good for business

In contrast to complaints about the end of the Cold War with its dampening effect
on profits, the US invasion of Iraq was celebrated by some companies as an op-
portunity to gain recognition and prestige, as well as sales. Consider the following
examples:

CNN began its second decade by covering what CNN President Tom Johnson
describes as one of the most significant stories of a generation and one that utilizes ev-
ery bit of experience CNN has built over the past decade. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait
and the resulting Persian Gulf War distinguished the 24-hour news network and its com-
panion services, Headline News, CNN International, CNN Newsource and CNN radio
as no other breaking news story has to date. (Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., 1990,
p. 14)

The conflict in the Middle East, Operation Desert Storm, subjected our Tactical motors to
actual combat situations. All indications are that our HARM, Patriot, Hellfire, Maverick, and
Sidewinder motors performed superbly. We have received very positive feedback from the
U.S. military and our system prime contractors regarding the performance of our products.
This success should open opportunities for us for added quantities of missiles such as
Patriot, HARM, Hellfire, and Maverick. Our products represent American technology at its
best. (Thiokol Corporation, 1991, p 16)

While corporate image and profit were enhanced by the war, the lives of the Iraqi
people and US soldiers, as well as the local environment, were not. These corporate
accounts fail to mention the number of deaths resulting from the conflict, the signif-
icant environmental damage inflicted upon the region, the exodus of refugees, as
well as the lingering after effects from subjecting US soldiers to depleted uranium
(El-Baz, 1992; Ember, 1991; Mesler, 1997; Nairn, 1991; Steele, 1993; Treaster,
1994). Further, the CNN account fails to discuss the questionable contribution of US
corporate media to the construction of war as an entertainment spectacle (Center
for Defense Information, 1994). Even companies that did not celebrate the Gulf War
could only see its impact in terms of their profitability:

Europes fragrance sales were affected by three factors: the fallout from the Mideast war,
not only because of the cessation of sales in the Gulf region, but because of the wars effect
on travel and sales in the duty-free shops; the economic turbulence in Eastern Europe and
the former Soviet Union; and finally, the economic downturns in several major European
countries. (International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., 1991, p. 7)

Reducing the effects of war to lost sales trivializes its horrors.

A World of Consumers

Consumption equals happiness

After World War II, in order for corporations to dispose of the enormous productivity of
the US economy, they actively participated in the creation of a culture of consumption
by generating new desires and wants and by advancing a single definition of the good
life, material opulence (Barber, 1996; Korten, 1995; Leach, 1993). Consumption has
542 M. Chwastiak and J. J. Young

become so embedded in the US culture that statements such as the following appear
unproblematic:
There is something noble and truly great about Heinz and its people. As the Founder said,
we make and sell pure foods and do the common thing uncommonly well. We bring
pleasure every day to millions of people, making their lives a little bit better amidst all the
stresses and strains of the modern world. (H.J. Heinz Company, 1998, p. 4)

An emergent global middle class is a driving force in todays world economy. Growing in so-
phistication as well as size, this consumer population has the same aspirations worldwide
to buy houses, cars and appliances; to send their children to college; to ensure a comfortable
retirement. (Citicorp, 1997, p. 8)

Most gratifying perhaps was the strong flavor sales growth in North America. It confirmed
our belief that in anxious times, well-flavored food and drink can lessen economic stress
and bring special pleasure to individuals and to the family table. (International Flavors &
Fragrances Inc., 1991, p. 14)

Whether in books or magazines, or on stage or screen, or on laser disc or records or


cassettes, or by satellite or cable, the more people have, the more people want. (Time,
1990, p. 8)

If consumption brought us happiness, then we should be living in the best of times


given the vast quantities of consumer goods offered by corporations. However, in
the US, at least, increasing consumption has been accompanied by increasing con-
sumer debt, longer working hours as well as the production of gated communities
to keep things in and thieves out (Frank, 1999; Galeano, 2000). On an individual
level, far from bringing lasting happiness, consumption as the ultimate purpose of
life creates emptiness and angst. This is due to the fact that the fulfillment of de-
sire is non-cumulative and temporary and therefore, is immediately succeeded by
a sense of emptiness. This sense of emptiness stimulates a craving for more con-
sumption leading to a vicious cycle of desire which can never be satiated (Frank,
1999; Huyghe & Ikeda, 1991; OSullivan, 1999). On a societal level, collective iden-
tities cannot be created within a market economy that is dependent upon individual
excess consumption for its survival. As such, our sense of separation from others
is heightened and we are denied the spiritual fulfillment derivable from the sense of
oneness with society. Thus, within this consumer society that we have created, the
things we long for most of allsecurity, beauty, happy families and friendselude
us (Schumacher, 1973).
And the end result of all this consumption is trash. We throw out an incredible
amount of garbage each year, with tonnage nearly equaling the amount of corn we
grow and exceeding that of wheat and rice (Twitchell, 1999). Many of our so-called
disposable products will either remain with us forever in ever-growing land fills or will
release toxins into the environment when destroyed (Berry, 1988). Yet, according to
the discourse in annual reports, trash is just another profit making opportunity:
As the companys core solid waste operations continued a pattern of steady growth in
commercial, industrial, and residential collection and disposal, other elements of BFI dis-
tinguished themselves with larger strides. Recycling revenues grew dramatically, Medical
waste revenues increased 102% over last year. International operations broadened con-
siderably, including acquisitions in Holland, Spain, the United Kingdom, Australia and Italy.
(Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., 1989, p. 9)
Silence 543

Training new consumers

While corporations have always targeted young people as consumers, increasingly


this targeting occurs within schools. According to Mark Evans, a senior vice presi-
dent of Scholastic, Inc., More and more companies see educational marketing as
the most compelling, memorable, and cost-effective way to build share of mind and
market into the 21st century (Korten, 1995, p. 156). Ads in Advertising Age offer to
develop custom-made learning materials which will enable corporations to entrap
youthful consumers during otherwise off-limits school hours with educational pack-
ages that advertise corporate products (Molnar, 1996). In response, companies have
flooded teachers with videos, posters and other materials in order to direct young
people to acquire their goods and services (Sandel, 1997). The following are several
examples of corporate educational efforts taken from annual reports:
Time Warner supports local community service activities such as:

Time to read, a volunteer literacy program.

United way.

Adopt-a-school.

Cable in the classroom an industry-sponsored effort to make available all of cables


educational and informational programming to secondary students. (Time, 1990, p. 40)

The company distributed 172,000 educational science packets produced by Disney to


fourth-graders nationwide. The packets support the new syndicated show Disney Presents
Bill Nye the Science Guy. (The Walt Disney Company, 1993, p. 14)

We are particularly proud of our unique Tampax Education program. In 1995 alone, we
helped teach over two million girls in twenty countries the fundamentals of puberty and
menstruation through direct school visits and educational materials sent free of charge to
their schools. This is also an excellent opportunity to acquaint young women around the
world with Tampax products. (Tambrands, 1995, p. 11)

Funding cuts have left many educators with few alternatives but to take corpo-
rate offers of supposedly free materials (Molnar, 1996). What is silenced is that
frequently these funding cuts are a result of corporations seeking tax relief. In the
absence of this activity, schools would not be under funded and better educational
materials would be more readily available (Consumers Union, 1995; Molnar, 1996;
Sandel, 1997). With adequate budgets, teachers would not be forced to turn their
classrooms into marketing forums for various companies products.
Corporations do not stop at using schools as a vehicle for advertisement. As
implied by the following quotes, they are also attempting to influence educational
content and its delivery in order to instill normalcy and a taken-for-grantedness to
the conditions which reproduce the economic system that fuels their growth and
profits:
. . . creating quality educational products to prepare young people for an increasingly com-
petitive global environment. (Raytheon, 1991, p. 31)

Banking on Education is a $25 million, decade-long commitment to create smarter class-


rooms and smarter schools. Grants support the local development and use of new learning
544 M. Chwastiak and J. J. Young

technologies from Miami, Sioux Falls and Washington, D.C., to Prague, Johannesburg and
Hong Kong. (Citicorp, 1997, p. 8)

The quotations above suggest that many corporations assign a single purpose
to education, the preparation of future generations for their roles as laborers and
consumers. However, the purpose of education is not to create consumers and
docile workers, but rather critical minded citizens who can actively shape their own
futures (Molnar, 1996; OSullivan, 1999; Sandel, 1997). Corporate funding of edu-
cation compromises this more radical possibility, and thereby forecloses alternative
futures (Consumers Union, 1995; Molnar, 1996). Rather than allowing corporate
interests to use public education to further their own ends, education must remain a
public good that benefits all, preparing students to govern rather than be governed
(Giroux, 1994).

Signicance of aging

In the youth obsessed culture of the West, the signs of aging, such as wrinkles and
gray or no hair, are equated with physical unattractiveness, disease, and senility,
rather than wisdom, experience, and forms of beauty beyond a fresh face and hard
body. The following quotes illustrate how corporations attempt to profit from the
insecurities created by such a limited view of aging:

And the desire to appear young could spur the growth of personal care products intended
to mollify times damage: moisturizing and anti-wrinkle creams for the skin, haircolorings
to hide or highlight graying hair, cosmetics designed to look better on an aging face.
(Bristol-Myers Company, 1988, p. 22)

While some 40 percent of all women in the U.S. color their hair, only about 10 percent of
men do. With more men staying in the workforce longer, the opportunities to keep men
looking younger with effective gray coverage products are expanding. The key is improved
product performance, to make gray coverage products for men simpler to use and more
effective. (Bristol-Myers, 1988, p. 13)

And we are looking to turn the graying of the developed world to the advantage of our weight
control business. (H.J. Heinz Company, 1998, p. 7)

The impact of constructing age as a beauty deficit which profitable products can
ostensibly fix is very costly to society. It encourages those people with the most life
experience to uselessly expend their creative capacities in pursuing a youthful (and
unobtainable) notion of beauty. Further, it distracts people from working towards
achievable goals which will make old age more enjoyable such as a healthy diet,
decent muscle tone and good posture. Thus, in the search for profits, corporations
pervert aging from a time of potential growth and development of the human spirit
to a useless quest for youthful appearance.
In addition to wrinkles and gray hair, aging also impacts the reproductive process
and this is another arena in which corporations attempt to alter how we experi-
ence our changing bodies in order to convert them into profit making activities.
As an example, menopause is characterized as a disease, treatable with appropri-
ate drug therapies, rather than as a life passage (Cobb, 1991; Logothetis, 1991;
Silence 545

Northrup, 2001). Notice how the following corporate account emphasizes the symp-
toms and risks of menopause:
As life expectancy increases, greater numbers of women are experiencing the discomforting
symptoms and risks that often accompany menopause. Hot flashes (flushes), night sweats
and depression are some of the short-term symptoms of menopause but, in the long-term,
the risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases increases.

Ogen and Provera provide hormone replacement therapy, decrease the risk of these two
diseases as well as relieve hot flashes and other vasomotor symptoms. (Pharmacia &
Upjohn, Inc., 1996, p. 27)

Menopausal risks of osteoporosis and heart disease are mentioned while those
associated with these drug therapies, such as increased incidences of breast, uter-
ine and ovarian cancers, are silenced (Mickelson, 1991). Equally significant, these
therapies are presented as the rational and normal response to an undesirable
condition. Menopause becomes constructed as a time of anxiety and worry about
deteriorating bodies and minds as well as crumbling bones rather than a time of
freedom, growth and wisdom (Doress-Worters & Siegal, 1994). Under such a con-
struction of menopause, women who choose not to undergo hormonal replacement
therapy but instead follow the natural rhythms of their bodies are labeled as irra-
tional. Furthermore, no consideration is given to the potential social and cultural
consequences of constructing a natural process women have experienced for ages
as disease (Kelsea, 1991; Mickelson, 1991).
It is not only women who are subject to drug intervention for normal aging pro-
cesses. While corporations have, in the past, focused primarily on lowering the
self esteem of women in order to promote their products, they have also begun
to problematize male aging in the quest for market growth (Melamed, 1983; Wolf,
1991). Male erectile dysfunction has also become medicalized and subject to ther-
apy (Morgentaler, 1999; Schiavi, 1999) as illustrated in the following quote:
A mans ability to perform sexually is not simply a question of being able to reproduce; it also
can affect his sense of self-worth, his relationships and the richness of his life. Millions of
men, particularly those over the age of 40, cannot consistently and reliably obtain a natural
erection. Diabetes, cardiovascular problems, injuries and aging are just some of the factors
that may contribute to this condition.

Pharmacia & Upjohns frontline therapy, Caverject, has proved to be an effective answer,
overcoming the limitations of vacuum constriction devices and the surgical risks of prosthetic
implants. (Pharmacia & Upjohn, Inc., 1996, p. 15)

Prots before people

Corporations attempt to control our perceptions of life processes in order to develop


markets. They also attempt to expand markets by reaching into other countries and
urging people there to adopt American consumption habits. This is illustrated by the
following quotes taken from the annual reports of transnational corporations:
Johnsons Pure Essentials is a specially formulated, safe and uncomplicated line of toiletries
targeted at females 1325 years old, an age group that makes up more than half of all
females in the Philippines. Backed by extensive marketing research and advertising, and
546 M. Chwastiak and J. J. Young

a recognition of the special needs of young Filipino women, the products are reliable and
readily accessible to the target market. (Johnson & Johnson, 1997, p. 10)

Brazil is hot. According to market research firm IDC, the Brazilian PC market segment
(largest in South America) grew 42 percent in units sold from 1994 to 1995. Intel is focusing
on the 70% of Brazilians under age 30, a generation hungry for powerful PC technology.
Our promotional programs are having a strong effectdistributors report vigorous demand
for Intel processor-based PCs. (Intel, 1996, p. 15)

In the above-mentioned examples, corporations attempted to construct demand


for their products in countries where the basic necessities of life are frequently not
met (Millen & Holtz, 2000). In the Philippines, where Johnson and Johnson is trying
to create a market for its toiletries, one-third of the population lives in poverty and
even middle-class individuals like civil servants and teachers frequently live in
slums (Mydans, 2000; Tiglao, 1999; Wallerstein, 1999). Thousands of wretchedly
poor Filipinos live in squatters communities that sprawl across the garbage dumps
outside of Manila (Mydans, 2000; Sheehan, 2000). Health conditions within the
slums are so poor that some predict 90% of the population could be infected with
tuberculosis within the next 40 years (Wallerstein, 1999).
In Brazil many young people are indeed hungry, but not for technology. Most Brazil-
ians live in extreme poverty; 43.5% of Brazils population lives on less than two US
dollars per day (Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development, 2001). As a re-
sult, approximately 10 million of Brazils children live on the streets, making it first and
foremost in the number of street children in Latin America (Novartis Foundation for
Sustainable Development, 2001). These children live from hand to mouth, working
as shoeshine boys, street vendors and at times thieves, prostitutes and drug dealers
(McCreery, 2001; Rota, 1997; Time, 1993). As social outcasts, they are harried by
constant violence, with an estimated four per day killed by police in 1993 (Galeano,
2000; Peoples Weekly, 1993).
The routine silencing of human suffering arising from poverty, disease, and hunger
is further evidenced by the following quotes from annual reports regarding the Asian
financial crisis:
Unocal has flagship operations in Thailand and Indonesia, two of the countries that have
been hard hit by economic turmoil in the region. There has been little impact to date on our
operations. Most of our operating revenues are protected from foreign currency fluctuations
through our existing contracts. (Unocal Corporation, 1997, p. 7)

What the painful market shocks of recent months clearly demonstrate, however, is that
Asias ability to attract capital had outpaced the ability of the regions markets to inter-
mediateto price and allocate resources effectively. The Asian markets have begun to
undergo the difficult adjustments necessary to help the region resume rapid growth, most
likely by the year 2000. Far from being discouraged by the setbacks in these markets, we
are convinced that the resulting process of market reform, strengthening and liberalization
will benefit all of Asia, while enhancing the value of our investments in Merrill Lynchs Asian
presence. (Merrill Lynch, 1997, p. 9)

The calamity is described above solely in terms of its effects upon disembodied
investments, market prices and the allocation of resources. No mention is made of
the impact of the crisis upon the lives of those living in Indonesia, Thailand, and
other affected countries. For example, spiraling inflation combined with massive
Silence 547

unemployment as a result of the crisis caused 48% of Indonesians to fall below


the poverty line (Gershman & Irwin, 2000). Food prices increased 35% in the first 3
months of 1998 (Gupta et al., 1998). With these dramatic increases, the malnutrition
of Indonesian children, a problem that had been virtually eliminated, arose once
more (Gershman & Irwin, 2000).

Workers

The subordination of human lives to economic imperatives is also evident in the


way labor is discussed in annual reports. Consider the following quotes in which the
health and safety of workers are of concern only in so far as these impact corporate
profit:
In 1994, we began a major company-wide initiative to improve safety. Our goal was to
reduce the rate of lost workdays due to job-related illness or accident by 50 percent in two
years. (The Boeing Company, 1995, p. 23)

Cobras occasionally find their way into the rubber rooms in Malaysian factories and disrupt
the workers, affecting the mix time of outsole components. (Nike, Inc. 1991, p. 1)

In each of these quotes, worker safety is matter-of-factly made inferior to corporate


productivity. In neither instance is any consideration given to the laborers experience
of unsafe working conditions or accidents on the job. The prioritization of productivity
over people could only occur in an economic system in which corporate imperatives
take precedence over living beings (Chomsky, 1987; Herman, 1995; Korten, 1995).
Not only is worker safety of secondary importance to corporate goals, so too is the
right of human beings to gainful employment. Throughout the 1990s, restructurings,
down-sizings and right-sizings resulted in thousands of workers losing their jobs,
all justified as cost reduction measures (Faludi, 1999; Korten, 1995; Wolman &
Colamosca, 1997). The weighting of corporate goals over the lives of those shed is
illustrated by the following:
While financially successful, 1997 was another difficult year for many CNG employees as
we continued to reorganize operations and cut costs. (CNG, 1997, p. 6)

After 19 months on strike, the unions made an unconditional offer to return to work in
February 1997. When Detroit Newspapers (DN) agreed to rehire their members on priority
basisbut not to fire the replacement workers and take them back all at oncethe unions
sought an injunction to force the companys hand. In August, a federal District Court judge
denied the injunction. DN continues to rehire about 50 former strikers a month. Approxi-
mately 900 remain on the preferential hiring list, and we expect it will take about a year to
make offers to the entire list. Meanwhile, advertising continues to rebuild. (Knight Ridder,
1997, p. 12)

These types of actions create feelings of job insecurity, which corporations have
used to engender a climate of fear. If human welfare was deemed more important
than that of capital, then full employment would be an unquestioned right. How-
ever, as suggested below, the responsibility for maintaining employment is shifted
to the workers who are expected either to contribute to corporate success or be
downsized:
548 M. Chwastiak and J. J. Young

Our peoples ability to produce profits in bad, as well as good, economic times has rewarded
them with job security and increasing prosperity. (Southwest Airlines Co., 1997, p. 2)

It was an excellent year for our employees, who enjoyed stable working conditions in spite of
these uncertain economic times. But of paramount importance, it was an excellent year for
our investors, who saw our earnings climb to $1.94 per share from $1.63 in 1991. (National
Fuel Gas Company, 1992, p. 2)

These quotes illustrate how the economic elite characterizes jobs as earned priv-
ileges rather than rights. With this characterization, workers with jobs can be said to
be lucky, no matter how tedious, mundane, or dehumanizing the job is. In a corpo-
rate economy, jobs are not a site where creativity and inventiveness are valued as
much as the ability to follow orders from the top:

I had found over my career that managing your way out of failure is often easier than
managing sustained success. I wanted to get control of the seven-year itch before it became
a rashwanted to be decisive. I wanted to give specific direction to our employees.

It was like a parenting conversation. You know (kind of) what your children should do, (kind
of) the direction they should go, and how to (kind of) explain new math. But you have to do
it with authority and confidence. (The Walt Disney Company, 1996, p. 3)

Weve added pictorial guides at each kitchen workstation to illustrate how to prepare our food
and how our sandwiches should be built, making crew training much easier. (McDonalds,
1996, p. 11)

Upper managements power over work and the workforce is only possible in a
society in which human hierarchies have been normalized, in which some people
are perceived as having more value simply because of the position they hold. Fear,
control, manipulation, and coercion are the primary forces that hold such a society
together (Eisler, 1987). Under this model, work is mainly a means for survival. What
is silenced is the possibility that work could provide much more than a paycheck. It
could also be a means for human growth and spiritual development and economic
contribution to the community (Schumacher, 1973).

Conclusion

In this paper, we demonstrated how annual reports rely upon the silencing of injus-
tices in order to make profit appear to be an unproblematic measure of success.
Annual reports reproduce the dominant discourses which take as given the basic
principles that sustain an unequal distribution of wealth and power and make such
arrangements seem natural and therefore, unchangeable. In order to facilitate trans-
formation, the silenced assumptions which promote inequities and injustices must
be revealed and in so doing politicized.
In the previous sections, we contrasted quotes from annual reports with the is-
sues that need to be silenced in order to make such statements appear reasonable.
First, we discussed how our dependency on the earth and nature for survival must
be silenced for profit to be an unproblematic measure of success. The profitability
of the extractive and development industries requires objectifying the earth as a
Silence 549

resource and silencing alternative representations of it as an autonomous living be-


ing. Presenting overpopulation as a market opportunity for consumer product firms
masks the threat to environmental sustainability. Agribusiness thrives by ignoring
the long-term risks of supplanting natural processes with artificial ones, and the
profitability of the animal processing industry depends upon the silencing of the
underlying violence.
Second, we described the way in which annual reports make war appear to be
a productive endeavor and peace an unproductive one and the silences required
for this representation to be sustained. To present war as good for business, the
actual horror of war must be removed from consideration. To present peace as bad
for business, we must assume that corporate subsidies are more important than
human welfare.
Third, we examined the silences necessary to characterize and promote con-
sumption as the ultimate way of life. Such a promotion depends upon ignoring the
angst and emptiness that arises from anchoring our happiness on an act that can
only bring fleeting pleasure. Further, corporate educational efforts can only be ac-
ceptable if we believe the function of education is to create docile laborers and
consumers, not public oriented people. In addition, corporate profitability depends
upon constructing natural processes such as aging as undesirable in order to sell
products to ostensibly counteract it, irrespective of the physical and emotional well
being of the consumers. Finally, to rationalize the creation of markets in developing
countries, corporations silence the poverty, disease and hunger experienced by a
majority of the people.
Fourth and lastly, corporate celebrations of productivity depend upon silencing any
corporate responsibility for job creation, as well as the potential for work to serve as
a creative and spiritual practice.
In sum, the earths role in sustaining life, our kinship with animals, the horrors of
war and starving children, the emptiness of consumption, the drudgery of work, all
must be silenced in order for annual reports to read as success stories. Profit is
up, costs are down, productivity has increased. For us to accept these measures
as indicators of success, environmental damage, poverty, estrangement from other
beings, etc. cannot be regarded as important. However, if we were to regard these
latter factors as having greater or equal importance to profit, then many apparent
corporate successes would become dismal failures.
The people of the Western world must decide whether the benefits we receive
from a corporate economy (e.g. improved health technology, convenience, etc.) are
worth this pain and damage. Do mindless consumption and the production of waste
bring us happiness? Should children and the earth be sacrificed in order for a few
to be exorbitantly rich? Only by exploring silences do such questions surface and
can we begin to discuss how to restructure society and the economy in a more
compassionate and egalitarian way.
And these questions must be asked for as Rich (2001) so eloquently states:
We do have choices. Were living through a certain part of history that needs us to live it
and make it and write it. . . . We have to keep on asking the questions still being defined as
non-questionsthe ones beginning Why . . . ?What if . . . ? We will be told these are childish,
nave, pre-postmodern questions. They are the imaginations questions. (2001, p. 167)
550 M. Chwastiak and J. J. Young

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Tom Mouck, Alistair Preston and two anonymous
reviewers for their comments.

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