Sunday, September 30, 2012

Beer and Tangled Choices in an Era of Hidden Ownership

By Gary Berg-Cross

OK I’ve known about political and ideological divides on beers for a long time.  Coors Brewing Company has been funding conservative causes for decades.  Now comes  charts from the National Journal, based on Scarborough Research’s 200,000 interviews with American. The bubble chart results shows where various brew falls along the political spectrum on one dimension and measures likelihood of voter turnout along the other.  Sure Coors Light is there for Republicans, but so is one of my favorites Blue Moon. Oh wait that’s also a Coors Brewery product.  Heineken is more of a lefty brew, most strongly associates with Democratic stance.  Check for it at your neighbor’s next party. But the charts show it doesn’t associate with voters likely to turnout! More potent left-leaning beers include Corona, and of course the Canadian Molson is associated with high voter turn out. But wait Coors merged with Canadian brewer Molson in 2005!  You can’t easily escape those Coors tentacles. Maybe it helps to know about union made beers.

OK, so that's what we know about voters.  What do we know about companies that own products like beer?  So many product brands with only a hint of who is behind the ownership curtain and what their values are.  It does raise an uncomfortable question in a “free market” system - who am I implicitly supporting when I buy something? Or perhaps what values, like a decent wage or worker’s rights am I supporting when I buy something?

It’s not a simple question with a single item or arithmetic value answer. Coors Brewing Company consciously "greenwashes"  itself in some progressive concepts that belie deep, conservative behavior. So it was one of the first corporations in America to offer same-sex partner benefits, and it makes corporate donations to a variety of African American, Asian American and Hispanic organizations.
But it is also is in the  union-busting as it steamrolled a serious boycott of its products when the union at the Coor’s flagship Colorado facility went on strike.

There’s clearly a lack of transparency about the products we buy and who’s behind then, but with conglomerates there’ not exactly easy knowledge of who is behind the products we buy. 

Which leads me to Bain Capital (I could have equally asked about Koch Industries) .

What products that we buy are at least partly owned by Bain?  Since its inception, Bain has invested in or acquired hundreds of companies. Among them are some ones that we see and frequently in a normal week.  These include: 

Burger King, Clear Channel Communications, Domino's Pizza, Dunkin' Donuts, The Sports Authority, Staples, Toys R Us, Warner Music Group and The Weather Channel.
Sure some, like Clear Channel are clearly illiberal, but others seem neutral.  But according to a recent report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), many of the fifty largest minimum wage employers in the country are either currently owned or have been owned by Bain Capital in recent years. These include:

#17: Dunkin’ Brands, which owns Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins and is currently owned by Bain Capital. U.S. workforce: 132,000 employees.
#25: Bloomin’ Brands, which owns Outback Steakhouse among other causal-dining restaurant chains and is currently owned by Bain Capital. U.S. workforce: 85,200 employees. Incidentally, this company is reportedly  trying to lower the minimum wage in Florida.
#45: Staples, Inc., for which Romney provided investment funds back in 1985 and served on the board for over a decade. U.S. workforce: 32,991. It’s often cited as one of Bain’s success employment and turn around stories.
#20: Domino’s Pizza, Inc., owned by Bain Capital from 1998-2010. U.S. workforce: 98,220.
#7: Burger King, acquired by Bain Capital from 2002-2010. U.S. workforce: 191,815.

According to the article Romney Economy: Too Few (American) Jobs, Too Little Pay these 5 companies alone account for about half a million workers.  — part of the 47% perhaps who work for around  $7.25 often with little or no benefits, like sick days. Sure, they grow companies profits which are funneled to Bain Capital investors like Romney and they produce “wealth’ there.   

But is that good enough for a humanist, opportunity society? Does it affirm an open, pluralistic, upwardly mobile and democracy society?  One might doubt it reading something like Russ Bellant's The Coors Connection How Coors Family Philanthopy Undermines Democratic Pluralism.
 Does it help to guarantee a protection of human rights from wealthy,  authoritarian 1% elites? All part of the mix of values tangled in our choices of beer, burgers, blooming onions and climate forecasts in our free society.

Image Credits
Coors Connection undermining pluralism: 
union busting:

1 comment:

Edd.Doerr said...

Excellent column. I suppose I will have to switch to Office Depot. Bain is the bane of our existence. By the way, who manufactures the Mormon magic underwear? A third world sweat shop?