July/August 2001 - VOLUME 22 - NUMBER 7& 8
An Interview with Kathryn Mulvey
Kathryn Mulvey is the Executive Director of Infact. Since 1977, Infact has been exposing life-threatening abuses by transnational corporations and organizing grassroots campaigns to hold corporations accountable to consumers and society at large. From the Nestlé Boycott of the 1970s and 1980s over infant formula marketing to todays boycott of Kraft Foods owned by tobacco giant Philip Morris Infact organizes to win concrete changes in corporate policy and practice.
Multinational Monitor: Why did Infact target GE?
MM: When did you start the campaign?
MM: When did the campaign stop?
MM: What had they done along the way to lessen their involvement?
MM: Why did you pick out GE as opposed to another nuclear weapons
MM: Given the huge stake the company had in the nuclear weapons
business, why do you think they got out of it?
A corporate campaign like Infacts that includes a consumer boycott
is geared toward changing the cost-benefit ratio for a corporation to
engage in abusive practices. At the time our campaign started, GE was
seeing enormous benefits from their involvement in the nuclear weapons
business, and the costs were low. Although many grassroots groups had
been fighting the nuclear weapons buildup for some time, there wasnt
a coordinated national or international campaign focused on the industry.
When a campaign like this takes off, it increases a corporations
costs to do business.
One of the most effective tactics is to affect a corporations image.
For GE, the slogan We Bring Good Things To Life is the core
of their identity and image, and tied in with Jack Welchs tenure
as the head of GE. We were able, through grassroots techniques and the
Academy Award-winning film, Deadly Deception, to expose the
reality behind that image.
Corporations are also responsive to their own internal conditions. Fundamentally,
it is individuals who are making the decisions either to push for more
and more nuclear weapons, or to peddle tobacco to kids. When people inside
the corporation are challenged personally over those decisions, it influences
the entire company. In our campaign, we targeted the medical equipment
division, because the contradiction between life-saving medical equipment
and deadly nuclear weapons was particularly apparent. This corporation
was simultaneously polluting the environment with radioactive and toxic
waste from nuclear weapons production and selling medical systems to help
diagnose and treat sick people, including people poisoned by environmental
contamination. We worked to hold people in the companys medical
division accountable for the companys overall policies. That created
tension within the business.
During our campaign, the Cold War ended. So GE was in a place where they
foresaw the potential for a shrinking weapons market. However, analysts
looking at the corporation said that even if the market was shrinking,
GE was in a position to take an expanding share of that market. That GE
didnt pursue its ongoing involvement in the nuclear weapons side
of the business shows that Infacts campaign helped to change the
cost and benefit ratio.
MM: How did you target the medical equipment division?
MM: Do you have an idea how much the campaign cut into sales?
MM: How did GE respond to the campaign?
Another way they responded is by training people all the way down the
line everyone from operators at their toll-free consume hotline
to retail reps who might have to deal with the stores that were being
pressured to take GE products off the shelves and ensuring that
they had a prepared response to boycotters.
MM: Did they respond directly to the arguments you were putting
MM: Did they ever meet with you?
MM: Were you ever contacted by people inside?
MM: Reflecting back on the campaign, what are some of the key lessons
for similar kinds of campaigns?
Corporations learn from folks who do grassroots organizing, but they
dont have the human passion that really drives a campaign like this.
That person-to-person contact is fueled by the experiences of people directly
harmed and affected by the abusive practices of these corporations.
When we have that and the capacity to reach people at the grassroots,
we can change the cost-benefit ratio for a corporation like GE or Philip
Morris. We can affect their image and cause them to spend millions of
dollars to try to repair it. We can create tensions inside the corporation,
making it difficult for them to recruit the most qualified employees,
and diverting their attention from their own business strategies to deal
with our campaign.
Its crucial that we learn and continue to develop our strategies
at the grassroots because these corporations are certainly learning from
each other. One of the big advantages that we have had in challenging
the tobacco industry and Philip Morris is the millions of pages of internal
documents that theyve been forced to release to the public.
We know now, looking back at the early phases of our tobacco campaign, back in May of 1993, that Philip Morris was already contacting GE and looking to see what they could learn from a corporation that had been the subject of one of our previous campaigns. We activists also need to keep learning and developing our strategies.
We Bring Good Things To Life
is the core of
Through grassroots techniques
and the award-
Deadly Deception, we were able
behind that image.
to hold all
the business accountable
for the behavior
of the parent
|Back in 1993, Philip
and looking to see what they could learn from a
had been the
subject of one
of our previous campaigns.
We activists also need to keep
developing our strategies