Oxfam’s new campaign highlights the effects of corporate sociopaths.

Where there’s poverty there’s brass… and a corporate sociopath!

I recently attended an excellent Financial Services Forum event with Louise Fowler of the Co-operative Bank, Huw Davis of Triodos and Patrick Muir of  Alquity Investment Management speaking about the growth of the ethical finance sector and why consumers are turning to brands with higher moral values.

It was Davis, Head of Personal Banking Sales & Marketing at Triodos, who made us all really think with a simple yet powerful thought. When we unload our organic vegetables at the till along with our free range eggs, Fairtrade coffee, Freedom Foods chicken, local jam and GM free corn flakes, do we think about the ethics of the bank whose credit card we are about to use to buy it all with?

A bank that may well be funding factory farming, chemical companies who pollute, companies that do animal testing…. or worse, funding land grab in Africa or speculating on the price of food and driving up food prices, both resulting in millions starving.

Food poverty is getting worse, and as Oxfam pointed out this week, as part of their food poverty campaign, some financial institutes are literally making money out of poverty. And it can be argued that people are dying as a consequence. For people in poverty food can account for 90% of their daily spend, so when you live on a dollar a day any rise in food prices means you starve.

How can people be so lacking in morals? Is it just greed? Are these companies just plain evil? A psychologist I consult with explains it as a culture that finally becomes a corporate sociopath.

Here are 8 things that identifies a corporate sociopath:

1. They are charming, credible and easily trusted but use their influence when they get caught out

2. They have no shame, guilt or remorse.

3. They lie, twist the truth and spin to get what they want or to silence critics.

4. They seek to dominate, to have power and win over others. They get what they want, whatever it takes.

5. They are very clever and good at beating the system or finding ways around it.

6. They are good with words, able to persuade and win arguments.

7. They are delusional and detached from reality, actually thinking they are doing good when doing wrong, often believing they are a gift to others.

8. They don’t care about people or the planet, just how they can make a killing (an ironic term).

Ok, I can think of many companies not in the financial industry that also fits the bill.

On the back of Oxfam’s campaign, The Metro this week named Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as three of those speculating on food – Barclays have made over £500m over the last 2 years, however, I understand they have now repented. Food speculation almost doubled between 2006 and 2011 from £40bn to £78bn. As a result, another estimated 44million people went hungry.

Despite the powerful influence of financial institutes (see No 1) Oxfam are lobbying the EU to stop food speculation and also calling on Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, to act to stop land grab, which is literally stealing land from families who have lived on it for generations.

In many poor communities there is no legal claim on the land, even though generations may have farmed it for decades. This loophole allows unethical companies to exploit the legal system and claim the land – just as Europeans did in America, stealing all the land belonging to the native Red. The first thing these victims of this situation know is when they wake up to discover they are being evicted with no compensation.  It really is amazing this can go on in this century by so called respectable companies (see No 1 and No 5) .

Trust in banks is not high, only 33% of consumers actually trust them, and even less trust other financial institutes. However, as the media indulges in bank bashing it’s good news for the ethical financial sector who have been seeing a rise in consumers moving over to ethical banks and ethical investment companies – there are now over £10bn invested in ethical funds.

A third area that banks are involved in funding is biofuels. That may sound green and good but this is a classic example of how the EU can get it very wrong by not thinking it through. The EU is demanding Europeans countries try and reach a target of 10% of their fuel use being replaced by biofuels.

But in many poor countries a growing percentage of land (another reason that is driving land grab) is being turned over to biofuel crops, so food is now going into the tanks of Western cars rather than the mouths of children.

When one banker was asked at a cocktail party, “how do you sleep at night?”, with a smug grin he replied, “With my money I can afford the best bed in the world.”


Oxfam Grow – food justice campaign