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Don’t be fooled by the Corporate Culture in West Michigan

October 11, 2016

Corporate Capitalism is always trying to re-invent itself. This is mostly due to the fact that people don’t fundamentally trust corporations, and for good reason.

When one considers the harm that corporate capitalism has done to workers, communities and ecosystems over the past century, what has been left is an endless stream of corpses and destruction.

This is what makes the recent article on Rapid Growth Media so insidious. 

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The article, entitled, “Civic minded companies,” attempts to make the claim that there are companies in West Michigan, “doing good things.”

The article makes this statement near the beginning:

If you were able to quantify the depth and breadth of community support provided by the private sector in West Michigan, it would be staggering. You would be hard-pressed to find an event or organization that hasn’t been sponsored, supported or funded by a local corporation.”

Such a statement could easily confuse readers by making the equation that sponsoring or funding a organization or event is somehow equated with creating justice. But this is the beauty of the growing trend by non-profits to seek out corporate support, because it provides an easy way for businesses to win PR points with the public, often resulting in not questioning the functioning and nature of such businesses.

The four companies that the Rapid Growth Media features in the article are; Butterball Farms, Steelcase, Rockford Construction and SpartanNash.

Butterball Farms and its is “enrich lives” philosophy is epitomized by by its CEO, Mark Peters. Peters and Butterball Farms works with The Source, a non-profit social service  entity that has a governing board made up entirely of local business representatives, which makes for a convenient way for these companies to recruit new workers. 

Butterball Farms also provides funding for the privately-run Christian School Potter’s House and several other entities like the American Cancer Society. The other major emphasis of the company is to hire people coming out of the prison industrial complex, what they refer to as “returning citizens.” While this seems noble on the part of Butterball, one has to ask the some of the following questions. First, what does the company do to address and prevent mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex? Second, what are the wages and benefits of entry-level workers who are hired by the company? My suspicion is that living wages are not paid, so the company gets to benefit from low wage workers who are desperate to find employment.

Local office furniture giant Steelcase was also featured in the Rapid Growth Media article. The spokesperson for the company primarily talked about donations the company makes through its foundation. The trustees of the Steelcase Foundation are made up of company family members and others who are well connected to the interlocking systems of power in West Michigan – the business, philanthropic, educational, non-profit and arts sectors. 

Steelcase has eliminate over 1,100 in 2001, followed by an additional 150 layoffs in 2002. In 2008, 300 more employees were “let go.” The amount of job loss has been staggering, not to mention that the company has a long history of opposing the unionization of its workers. However, these are not questions or observations raised by the article. Instead we are told about the wondrous work of restoring a Frank Lloyd Wright House in Heritage Hill. screen-shot-2016-06-01-at-3-07-42-am

The third company to be featured for all of its goodness, is ironically one of the major contributors to gentrification in Grand Rapids in recent years. We have written about Rockford’s practices in previous articles, such as the one that focused on an MLive story which talks about the benevolence of its CEO, Mike VanGessel or a more recent story about ongoing plans to expand gentrification and displace working class families and individuals from Grand Rapids westside. .

Lastly, it is worth noting that VanGessel has a close relationship with the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) and through that relationship led Rockford’s boss to the Rehoboth Christian School. Rehoboth Christian School was founded in 1903 as a Christian Ministry to Native American people in the Four Corners region. So let me get this straight, most of the land of the indigenous people in the Four Corners region has been stolen through the process of Settler Colonialism (which includes the churches) and VanGessel got involved in budget planning to improve the missionary schools in that area and we are supposed to celebrate this?

The fourth of four companies highlighted in the Rapid Growth Media article is SpartanNash. The article addresses the company’s numerous volunteers, donations and foundation giving, centered around charity work with entities like Goodwill, Degage and Guiding Light Ministries.

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What is most offensive about SpartanNash, a company built on profiting from the unhealthy and destructive food system we have, claims to be committed to ending hunger.

In the end, these “civic minded” businesses are just the most recent manifestation of Robber Barons like Andrew Carnegie, who figured out over a century ago that you fool people by claiming to be a force for good, when in fact your fundamental existence in based on hierarchical structures that profit from exploitation and environmental destruction.

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