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Don’t be fooled by Wolverine Worldwide’s PR stunt during ArtPrize!

September 27, 2018

Corporations go to great lengths these days to present themselves as being environmentally sustainable or practicing social responsibility. Hell, even oil companies have very slick PR campaigns to communicate to the rest of us that they are a “green” company.

Within the capitalist framework, corporations want to tap into public concerns about hunger, homelessness or environmental sustainability. Within this framework, corporations can encourage consumers to buy their product, which will result in the corporations donating a portion of their profits to some non-profit.

These corporate campaigns tap into a very vulnerable aspect of humanity, in that they want people to feel good, while at the same time contribute to the ongoing consumption of the world’s resources.

Manipulating this kind of public sentiment is very dangerous and it has dangerous consequences. One way that the purchase our way to social justice is dangerous is that it tends to redirect our thinking, even our collective imagination away from what the root cause is of any given social problem. For instance, if I purchase Boxed Water, they will donate a portion of their profits to plant trees. Sounds good on the surface, but it distracts use from the ridiculousness of buying water, when water should be a right that we all have access to. Secondly, buying boxed water distracts us from thinking about all the energy and resources it takes to manufacture the boxes and transport them, when people could just be drinking tap water.

Another way that purchasing to achieve social justice is dangerous, it that it means that we believe that simply donating money will solve our social problems. For instance, the current housing crisis that millions face in the US, cannot simply be fixed by monetary donations. The real housing crisis is a crisis that the so-called free market has creates, which results in millions of people not being able to afford to buy a home or rent an apartment. The market dictates the cost of housing and at the same time (we are told), the market determines what kind of wages that businesses can pay. Not so ironically, this same market, which has forced skyrocketing housing costs and stagnate/low wages also directs billions of dollars to the real estate industry and property management companies.

Lastly, the danger of purchasing our way to social justice thinking also tends to reward the same companies that are responsible for the theft of public funds, racism, homophobia or environmental catastrophes and threats to public health. A great example of this is taking place this Friday, September 29th during ArtPrize.

The Why We Walk project is being sponsored by Wolverine Worldwide where participants will turn their ArtPrize experience into a donation for one of three local charities: Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, Family Promise of Grand Rapids or Western Michigan Center for Arts + Technology.

According to the Facebook event page

Wolverine Worldwide will donate $50,000 but your steps will determine how much money each charity will receive – why we walk. Simply show us why you walk ArtPrize and for every one-mile you walk (or 2,000 steps), you will be given a token to vote for a charity. At the end of the day, the charity with the most votes will receive $25,000; the charity with the 2nd most votes will receive $15,000 and the charity with the 3rd most votes will receive $10,000. While you’re out walking and exploring ArtPrize and the local community use #WhyWeWalk for a chance to win gift baskets filed with Wolverine Worldwide brand product. At 5pm we’ll draw a random winner from all the #WhyWeWalk hashtag users; the more times you use #WhyWeWalk, the better the chances for winning the gift basket. All participants will be given a discount code to use on any Wolverine Worldwide brand product. 

Again, this all sounds good and might even give us some warm fuzzies. However, such charity functions should not distract us from what the real function is of this PR stunt by Wolverine Worldwide.

First, this PR stunt is primarily a way to distract us from or minimize the harsh truth that Wolverine Worldwide has been lying the the public for decades about their environmental contamination in Kent County. Wolverine Worldwide’s toxic dumping is resulting in millions of public money being used for cleanup and massive health costs to families that have been and will suffer from the corporation’s contamination. On top of that, Wolverine Worldwide is still denying most of the damage they have done. (Check out the Facebook page of Michigan Demands Action Group for updates and analysis on the Wolverine Worldwide contamination https://www.facebook.com/groups/demandaction/)

Second, Wolverine Worldwide’s $50,000 donation is insulting when one considers the fact that the company has eliminated over 500 jobs in the last decade and their CEO, Blake Krueger, has a total compensation package (salary, stocks options and bonuses) of nearly $8 million in 2016. The company’s charity during ArtPrize will simply hide the gross inequities that they engage in as a matter of practice. 

Of course there will be people who will be fooled by these corporate hucksters and then there are those that say Wolverine Worldwide’s donation will benefit needy families, so don’t be so hard on them. I say, no amount of charity can hide an injustice and no amount of charity can reverse the systemic harm being perpetrated on the people of Kent County.

Don’t be fooled by Wolverine Worldwide’s PR stunt during ArtPrize!

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