Commodity Activism and Whole Foods Co-opts Revolutionary Rhetoric

From Truthout by Alice Merrill: Whole Foods Co-opts Revolutionary Rhetoric but Mistreats Employees.
....So what happens when "conscious capitalism" turns out to be nothing more than a well-executed marketing strategy grafted onto business as usual?

Whole Foods' recent mass layoff of many tenured buyers, marketers and other administrative wageworkers was rationalized in a statement by the company as a measure taken to "lower prices for its customers and invest in technology upgrades" and stay competitive in the grocery retail market - a motive that has troubled remaining employees.

"I gave my notice because I don't agree with the tactics they use in order to grow," a Memphis-area Whole Foods employee told Truthout, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. "Unlike Whole Foods Market, my values actually matter," she added, referencing the "Values Matter" ad campaign put out by the company earlier this year. The campaign highlighted the company's supposed "Core Values," which include a promise to "support Team Member happiness.".........

....Whole Foods cofounder and staunch libertarian John Mackey extols the ostensible virtues of his capitalist praxis in his 2013 memoir-cum-manifestoConscious Capitalism. In Mackey's neoliberal utopia, profits reaped by businesses operating under "authentic" (i.e. "conscious") capitalism that prioritize people and planet before profit are assuredly greater than those generated by conventional business practice, yet he argues that profit inevitably follows these ethical missions....

...................I use the term "commodity activism" to describe the current "buy stuff to save the world" zeitgeist - the way in which "doing good" and being a good consumer are collapsed into the activity of ritual consumption at places like Whole Foods. The commodity, in this case, is elevated by the corporation to be a tool of activism, provided one buys the right kind of commodities from the right kind of company: that is to say, organic, fair trade bell peppers from your local Whole Foods.Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek contextualizes the phenomenon of commodity activism in his book First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, as excerpted extensively in a captivating video by RSA Animate. He explains that in cultural capitalism - the contemporary trend toward corporate social responsibility or "conscious" capitalism - "more and more the tendency is to bring [profit and charity] together in one and the same cluster, so that when you buy something, your anticonsumerist duty to do something for others, for the environment and so on, is already included into it." Žižek posits that when you spend your money on fair trade coffee from Starbucks or bell peppers from Whole Foods, you also "buy redemption for being only a consumerist."This means that the average Whole Foods customer might be aware enough of things like global poverty or exploitation of agricultural workers to feel guilty about their purchase of luxury commodities, and thus feel a need to perform a charitable act to negate it. "If this is not enough, if your ethical needs are still unsatisfied and you continue to worry about Third World misery, then there are additional products you can buy," Žižek determines, as if narrating Whole Foods' newest and bleakest ad campaign.

Source: Whole Foods Co-opts Revolutionary Rhetoric but Mistreats Employees


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