John Vidal

The Guardian: November 11, 1995

Inside London' Park Lane Hotel, a business summit discusses dominating mega markets. Outside, environment groups protest at the consequences. JOHN VIDAL meets both sides.

WHAT will pounds 3,000 buy? In MacWorld, where business-people live an breathe ways to keep up with competitors, and dominate the global market place, it can buy one person 14 hours of lectures (with accompanying salmon and fine wines). The core of this week's World Management Summit conference has been the talks by Nobel eonomic laureates, global business leaders and US professors - The Guardian, November 11, 1995 gurus of globalism in London to tell lesser businesses how to "penetrate new markets", and "take charge of the world's future". Banks, the car, oil, and nuclear industries expect tips from Paul Preston, president of McDonald's UK on "how to successfully manage the globalisation of corporations". Harvard Business School's Jeffrey Sachs ("probably the most important economist in the world" - Time) is due to spek and Peter Drucker, at 83, the guru of business gurus, is promised in screen link-up.

The speakers are being paid pounds 5,000 to talk for 40 minutes in the ballroom of the Park Lane Hotel. Uninvited, but coming anyway by train and bike from Cambridge,is Patty fromthe Baby Milk Action pressure group. Patty's beef is the Nestle Corporation ($ 42 billion a year turnover). For "penetrating new markets" she reads "selling health-threatening diets to African, Chinese and Indian mothers". The real world, sheand her group say, would be a lot safer without the unaccountable, socially irresponsible global-mega -corporations. They wait on the pavement to greet Mike Garrett, head of Nestle, billed as a speaker. Hoping to see Preston of McDonalds is Dan from the McLibel Support campaign. McDonald's - turnover $ 24 billion a year - are suing two young British environmentalists - combined personal income about pounds 5,000 a year The Guardian, November 11, 1995 - and the case, now 19 months old, will soon be the logest in British civil case history. It will go on to next spring. The giant has spent an estimated pounds 10 million pursuing them through the courts; the McLibel Two pounds 20,000 on five years of self-defence. For Preston's conference fee, Dan could flyin 17 witnesses from the US. Inside the ballroom, 120 suits are buttoned up and Bernard Fournier, MD of Rank Xerox is talking at pounds 2-a-second on "Ensuring your business plan for sustainable profitable growth into the 21st century exploits and leverges your core competences to the maximum". No one knows what it means, least of all the conference organiser who thought it up. "Well, the words are random," she says. "It just gets the suits going."

Outside the hotel, Patty and friends wave more banners and leaflets in brisker English: "Health before profits"; "Stop baby milk death"; "People not profits". The protesters talk to passers-by. They have been linking the death sentence on Ken Saro-Wiwa with people buying Shell petrol in Britain. They thinktansnationalism feeds inequalities and is the source of much oppression of ethnic groups. They talk of community and individual empowerment. They laugh a lot. The Guardian, November 11, 1995 Inside, Fournier is flashing questions on a screen. "Is ther life after thequality journey?" he asks the audience. "What is the Rank Xerox 2000 Vision TeamD?". "Face the truth, live the experience, involve change agents, be flexible," he advises proto-globals. The screen flashes "thank you" three times. Then it' on to Akio Miyabayashi, the MD of Minolta Europe, who sees every future market dominated by four or five global corporations, each "infinitely caring" for billions of customers. "Global corporations must love people," he says.


He tells a story of a Japanese restaurateur who, recognising that acustomer's false teeth were loose, quickly changed the menu to softer food: "That's love." "Successful companies imagine," he says. "Creativity is the key to globalisation. Think local, act global." But doesn' globalisation mean worldwide sameness? "Yes. Loss of old identity. New identities created." As the suits file into the mahogany-panelled gents to adjust red poppies andties before a quick round of canapes, the protesters bring out their wholemeal loave on the pavement. Some head for the Nigerian High Commission, where other groups are gathering to protest at Shell's globalism - and the death sentences. Earth First! go first. Nine people padlock themselves to the Commission railings and are promptly carged for trespassing on diplomatic territory. The give the names of the nine Ogonis ordered to die in Port Harcourt. The police The Guardian, November 11, 1995 lock Nick Jukes and three others in the cells for 26 hours. "It's up to people at the grassroots to protest against companies like Shell," he says. They are followed by International PEN, established writers who fight for imprisoned writers. They are sincere, polite and kissy. Harold Pinter issues a subjunctive-ridden statement by telephone, ad then arrives; Tom Stoppard is concerned; Michael Frayn is charming; Edward Blishen says he last demonstrated in the seventies. Some think that Lord Longford, who has materialised amongst them, is a ghost: "No, I demonstrate every week. I go to prisons,"he says. There's a gentle commotion in the crowd of 150 people. "Shouldn't we chant something?" someone asks. Steve Vizinczey suggests the writers semiotically or metaphorically break a window. "No, no. This is a life or death matter. Keep itpeaceful orwe won't have a demonstration," begs an organiser. A letter is handed over to the High Commission. They shuffle around, uneasily sober. They murmur approval of Yomi Ojetunde, chair of the Society of Nigerian Dentists and other Ogonis who spontaneously sing: "Abacha, he's a thief. He should go." "Who composed that?" asks an elegant, bearded man.

Back in the ballroom, Gary Hammell of Harvard University says US and Britishmanagers have produced people obsessed with "downsizing, delayering, decluttering and diesting". A company, he says "must get to the future not The Guardian, November 11, 1995 only first, but for less". Jeffrey Sachs talks of global integration and a Kodakman tells how his team set new standards using "realtime process feedback systems androbotics". Preston of McDonald's says one downside of globalism may be that local incidents can soon become international crises. The man from Shellis silent. "These companies come and throw confusion in our heads," says Ugandan poet Vincent Magombe, coordinator of the African Literature Forum, standing outside the Commission. "To start with, we think they are good. But they act culturally.They sit in place of our traditions, they change our language, our philosophies,the way we think. It's the indifference that hurts."

No one from the Business Summit is aware of the Ogoni, the writers or Patty and her friends outside. "They're like the homeless, aren't they?" says one senior analyst. "Something that's just there now. We haven't got time to take onevey issue." At another lunch table no one has heard of Ken Saro-Wiwa or the Ogoni. "An Amazon tribe?" asks a Dutchman. "No, a river," says another. "People fear to speak up in this environment," says a woman from Arthur Anderson's, a $ 12-billion-a-year cmpany advising international firms how to compete better in the global market. Anderson's, sponsors of the summit, have developed a "total knowledge base", with everything the company knows on a CD-rom. There are millionsof pages, but there's nothing there about corporate ethics or responsibilities, or how to deal with writers, demonstrations or deathon the orders of military dictatorship. "We feel helpless," says one executive who admits to Greenpeace leanings. "Yes, we are all a bit narrow," adds another. "But then what can we do?"

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