Global Stratification - Uncommon Thought Journal

Global Stratification

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By M.H.

There are many different types of stratification within a society. A societies' particular value system based on their cultures ideology of how power, wealth, and prestige are allocated determine where a person is placed in their stratification system. These basic stratification processes can also be used to categorize countries around the world where the distribution of wealth, power and prestige is extremely unequal. An individual country's position in the stratification process is established by its relationship to other countries and its ability to achieve economic power. This is global stratification.

Global stratification can be traced back as far as the 1750s when Great Britain and other countries in Western Europe began sailing around the world, conquering weaker countries and colonizing them. After invading the country, they would subdue the people and leave a "governing force" in place who would exploit the indigenous people and the resources for their own economic benefit.

This global stratification process is still going on today but the Western European countries have been replaced by multinational corporations. These corporations "sail" around the world and find the least expensive labor they can, set up shop (just as the colonists did), and begin exploiting the indigenous people and their resources. Third world countries are a particularly easy target because the people there live in extreme poverty. Any offer, no matter how meager, is usually better than what they currently have available to them.

Many people defend multinational corporations, and "globalization" saying they create jobs, transfer technology, and help a countries economic development. This can be true, but what we are finding today is that the main goal of the huge multinational corporations is to maximize profits, not to try and help the local population in their plight for a better life. These multinational corporations operate without any respect for the people, the environment, or even the government of the country in which they operate. They continuously break laws with no consequence. They exploit workers with no consequence. They pollute the land with no consequence. And they do all this to earn bigger profits for Wall Street.

Some of the biggest multinational corporations are oil companies. These corporations have had a long history of bad behavior in which they exploit the local population for their own economic gain. One example of this is ExxonMobil. This is an American company based in Irving, Texas. They were operating a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Lhokseumawe, Ache (A special territory of Indonesia located on the northern tip of Sumatra). MobilExxon paid the Indonesian government (a centralized, military-dominated government) 30% of its total oil and gas revenues in order to operate there; however, the local population did not receive any benefits from this arrangement. (Collingsworth) When the natural gas was discovered there in the 1970s the local villagers were immediately displaced and forced to move from their land without any compensation.

After beginning operations, ExxonMobil separated themselves from the local population by building their own "compounds" that were fenced off from the local villagers. These compounds included luxurious living quarters for their corporate staff. The ExxonMobil elite even had their own paved road (the only paved one in the area) which the locals were not allowed to drive on. The locals had to constantly put up with natural gas flair ups and chemical spills. These spills caused many health problems in the nearby villages. The industrial waste from the plant polluted rice paddies (their main source of food) and fishing ponds. The villagers who organized themselves and tried to speak out against MobilExxon were routinely raped, tortured, and even murdered by Indonesian Military soldiers who were hired by ExxonMobil Corporation to provide security for them. These atrocities were reported by human rights groups, international human rights organizations, and the U.S. Department of State, to no avail. Many of the people were tortured by the security forces inside the ExxonMobil compound itself. The facilities had special areas built inside the compound to accommodate the military forces needs, such as barracks and holding rooms. Additionally, ExxonMobil provided these security forces with heavy equipment to cover mass burials after a conflict with locals who were protesting against conditions there.

Even though ExxonMobil knew of these human rights violations, they kept providing the Indonesian military with money and resources. Clearly, ExxonMobil believed the people of Ache were a separate underclass that did not deserve to be treated the same as their corporate "elite" who were mostly American. The ExxonMobil officers and management did not care about the land, environment, or the people of Ache, they just wanted to extract natural gas and make very large profits even if it was at the expense of the locals and the environment.

Another multinational corporation who definitely stratifies the country they operate in and the local people is Coca-Cola. In the late 1990s, Coca-Cola (Nestle Corporation participated in this too) was accused of bringing in paramilitaries to intimidate, kidnap, torture and then ultimately murder union leaders who were trying to improve working conditions at the bottling plant in Columbia. Coca-Cola wanted to keep wages low and orchestrated these events to keep the unions from gaining power. In fact, the multinational corporations have so much power in Columbia, that more union leaders are murdered there than anywhere else in the word.

In India, Coca-Cola is accused of polluting groundwater and soil, causing water shortages and having high levels of pesticide in its soft drinks. Amit Srivastava, of the India Resource Centre stated, "We are profiling a series of community struggles against Coca-Cola in India, all of which point to a pattern in the company's operations. The communities are left thirsting as Coca-Cola draws water from the common water resources. . ."

Additionally, Coca-Cola has illegally occupied some private property that belonged to local villages and has not even paid for it. The villagers took Coca-Cola to court and the company was ordered to pay the villagers for the property, but they were never paid. When they protested the Coca-Cola plant hoping to get their money, they were met by 200 law enforcement officers who were sent to the plant to protect Coca-Cola. The demonstrators were then badly beaten by the police and sent away. (Srivastava, 2003) Furthermore, when Coca-Cola set up bottling plants in India, they agreed to divest a forty-nine percent stake in the company to Indian entities within five years of operation. Coca-Cola no longer wants to do this, and the government of India became worried that Coca-Cola may leave India, so they will accommodate Coca-Cola by accepting a new arrangement which includes some ownership without any voting rights.

I personally know several people who have worked for Coca-Cola in America. The workers there were treated like numbers, not people. The employees were never happy and had many quotas set on them. I can only imagine how the employees in other countries are treated without the protections that are afforded workers in the United States. It is evident that the Coca-Cola Corporation thinks they can do what they please to laborers in other countries. They feel the people in third world countries are beneath them and they will continue to exploit them in order to keep soft drinks cheap, and earn Coca Cola large profits.

Another example of multinational corporations exploiting a country and the people is Chiquita Brands. They are headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. They produce fresh fruits, vegetables and juices which are sold all over the world. Chiquita's exploitation of workers began in the 1950s when it used it political power to convince the U.S. government to overthrow the government of Guatemala. Over 100,000 people we killed or went missing as a result of this action. Additionally, they used a pesticide called Nemagon that is so toxic it had been banned in the United States since the 1970s. They would spray Nemagon on their crops without any type of protection for the field workers. Sometimes the workers were still in the fields picking bananas when the spraying occurred. Nemagon has been proven to cause many medical problems including migraines, vision loss, liver and kidney damage, infertility, cancer, miscarriage and birth defects. Additionally, Chiquita brands admitted in Federal Court that it had for years paid terrorists to protect its banana fields in Columbia. According to U.S. Officials familiar with the case, the terrorists that had been paid were involved in torture, kidnapping, rape, beatings, extortion, drug trafficking, and the killing of thousands of rural Columbians.

Lastly, is the Gap which is headquartered in San Francisco, California. The Gap has manufacturing facilities all over the world, including some that are in American territories. All the countries where the Gap operates have reported human rights abuses. In October 2007, Indian authorities raided manufacturing facilities in New Delhi and found children as young as 10 years old who had been sold to the factory by their parents working there as slaves - they were not even earning a salary. Another factory reported three deaths in 2007 because management refused to allow the employees to leave when they became seriously ill at work.

Just like the early European colonists, these corporations have no regard for the people, or the government of the country where they operate. They move in to these countries in order to exploit the people and get valuable resources to benefit only themselves. They do not build infrastructure, offer medical plans, or try to enhance the indigenous people's life in any way. They are arrogant, powerful, and many times can be more powerful than the governments where they operate. If multinational corporations are going to continue to expand around the world, perhaps we should consider a "world minimum wage" and world "working conditions" reforms that all the companies must abide by. The wages do not have to be as high as they are in the United States, but they should be high enough that the people can work a normal workday and live comfortably. If these multinational companies had these types of regulations put on them, they may even think twice about moving into another country and interfering with their culture and traditions. Maybe it will slow down the pace of their expansion around the world and their exploitation of the people, their resources, and governments to get what they want - corporate profits at the expense of everyone.
Works Cited:

1. Henslin, James M. 2009. Essentials of Sociology A down-to-Earth Approach. Allyn and Bacon: Boston MA

2. Collingsworth, Terry. "Using the Alien Tort Claims to Act to Introduce the Rule of Law to the Global Economy"
http://wwwlaborrights.org

3. Leech, Gay M. "Coca-Cola Accused of Using Death Squads to Target Union Leaders" 2001
http://www6.svsu.edu/~boles/index/coca-coladeath.htm

4. Srivastava, Amit "Communities Reject Coca-Cola in India" India Resource Center. 2003
http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=7508/

5. Krebs, A.V. "Chiquita, Dole, & Del Monte Sued for Poisoning Banana Workers in Costa Rica" The
http://www.organicconsumers.org/corp/chiquita100804.cfm

6. Staff, "Chiquita pleads guilty in terrorism probe" The Associated Press 2007
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17688439/

7. Staff, "Nicaragua: International Action Day in Support of Banana Workers!" Report from Nicaragua Network. 2003
http://www.labournet.net/world/0311/nicarag1.html

8. Cisneros, Noel "Gap Sweatshop Videos Cause Uproar" ABC7. 2007
http://www. abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=business&id=5732845

9. McVeigh, Karen "Third death in a year at Indian factory that supplies Gap" Guardian. 2007
http://www.guardian.co.uk/india/story/0,,2191399,00.html