Saad’s Death and the Super-Power Status of Corporations in Our Lives

Posted on August 31, 2009
Filed Under >Sabeen Mahmud, Economy & Development, Law & Justice, Society
24 Comments
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Sabeen Mahmud

ATP’s earlier post What Happened to Saad Khan, coherently summarizes the tragedy of a young man’s death during the filming of a reality TV show for a Unilever product. Elsewhere, Farrukh Ahmed raises a number of critical questions and has focused on demanding a response, from the multinational giants, Unilever and Mindshare.

I did a lot of multimedia and technology work for Unilever between 2000-2005 and my colleagues and I spent many nights there to get projects completed on time. There was a lot of camaraderie and we got the opportunity to observe almost all the departments in action, practically as insiders. Some of the key people who worked there during that time were fantastic and those were heady days. But I do remember commenting one day, rather wryly, that if someone were to drop dead in the next cubicle, it would probably take a week for anyone to notice.

‘The Corporation’ is a soulless machine, dedicated to the pursuit of profit. Vision statements, ethical guidelines, and corporate social responsibility programs are merely legal requirements that have no practical bearing on how companies do business. I’ll never forget the “wise” words of an intern who flippantly said one day that business and personal life have nothing to do with each other. This is what the kids are taught at business school and this is the dream that plays out in the corporate world.

Some blog commenters have questioned Saad’s sense of (ir)responsibility for participating in a potentially dangerous reality show. Others have spun conspiracy theories around the fact that Unilever’s Corporate Affairs Manager is married to the head of Geo, and hence the media silence. Facebook groups are springing up each day demanding explanations. A magazine editor has urged people to stop jumping to conclusions and has dissed online crusaders. A satirical comic strip has emerged. Twitter is abuzz with the #SaadKhan hashtag. Irrespective of points of view, people are speaking up and most of them are enraged.

While Big Media is relatively quiet, possibly in connivance with the country’s largest advertiser and media agency, the online airwaves are on fire. Hopefully, Unilever will soon have a PR crisis on its hands, because “the people” are only just getting started.

I have a single demand.

Multiple third-party vendors were involved in the Clear Shampoo reality TV show. However, the project was commissioned by Unilever, and therefore, they owe the public an explanation, supported by documentary evidence. Once they do that, next steps can be determined. The public has a “right to know” and has a responsibility to demand accountability. Right now, the facts have to be brought out into the open.

It takes a tragedy that affects people personally for a shift in perception to occur and I hope that after this, people will start thinking, even just a little bit, about the “military-industrial complex” and questioning the super-power status of corporations in our lives.

Anyone who thinks “The Corporation” genuinely gives a damn about people is naive and needs to read a lot more and watch documentaries such as “The Corporation.” This is not about Unilever but about capitalism, collusion, and greed.

For those who choose to work at behemoth corporations and consume mindlessly, of course it’s a choice. Unfortunately, peer pressure, parental pressure, and societal pressure make a lot of hapless young people believe the MNC is the only career option and that the acquisition of the latest Nike sneaker is the path to coolness and acceptance. So, relentless advocacy and activism is needed to help people understand that there are alternatives.

When I wrote my original note on my facebook page, one commenter accused me of bringing up side agendas. There was no way I was going to give up the opportunity to bring up the military-industrial complex and the status of corporations. Hardly a side-agenda, it’s central to the issue.

The flippant use of phrases such as “collateral damage” is abhorrent and just has to stop. On a side note, we have to reclaim language from corporations, advertising agencies, journos, and the Pentagon.

A lot of people discredit online activism and ask for “action”. This is a step towards action. These discussions need to be kept alive; they contribute towards building a critical mass of “resistance”. This is not about “publicity”, it’s about demanding accountability, it’s about asking questions, it’s about saying NO, we will not sit back and allow <insert appropriate invective here> to walk all over us.

Whatever we do, it will be a pitiful drop in the ocean, perhaps with no tangible effect. We have, however, started a conversation – and that means something. We need to ramp it up and take it to the next level now and that is something the community needs to brainstorm and figure out together.

As far as reality TV shows go, I despise the genre, especially the current fear flavour that appears to be all the rage. The contribution of television to the overall dumbing down of society is bad enough, but this awful content, often premeditated and misleading, nurtures mindless competitiveness and humiliates losers. And … is often extremely dangerous.

Having said that, I agree that the show that took Saad Khan’s life was in a completely controlled environment and the tragedy could have been avoided. It does indeed smell like a case of total negligence.

Whatever comes to pass in the case of Saad Khan, there is a dire need to condemn these horrific reality shows, get people like Waqar Zaka off the air before more lives are lost, and at the risk of repetition, to analyze the super-power status of corporations!!

Sabeen Mahmud is the moving spirit behind T2F (The Second Floor) and PeaceNiche. This post is based on an original note Sabeen had written on her Facebook page, the second half of the post is new and was written in response to the many comments that came on the original note.

24 responses to “Saad’s Death and the Super-Power Status of Corporations in Our Lives”

  1. Xubair says:

    You raise important issues. But these work in a society that is already well balanced. Ours is not. Corporate responsibility is important but when we do not even have basic law and order how do we expect corproations to be regulated properly. With globalization this exploitation by corporations will only increase.

  2. I’ve been following the developments in the mainstream media and also on the online media.A series of dead issues had been brought to life by some rogue elements and the mainstream media (read GEO cuz everyone else simply follows the lead) have been simply trying to hyper-escalate those issues even while the two main parties are trying to re conciliate.Its apparent from the incendiary questions that the anchor persons asks from the parties’ spokesmen as to what their motives are, as a consequence escalating the rift. This might have something to do with the fact that GEO is protecting the Corporation by way of imparting mindlessness to keep people riveted to who said what and who met who and who did what.Utterly useless details that we all could do without. Especially since the online vigilantes reaction has been so vociferous, the Corporate-Media alliance is fighting a credibility battle which if they win will mean that the masses ,who are not online, wouldn’t ever get the wind of the incident, and as a consequence there wouldn’t be a natural progress towards accountability of those responsible for the young man’s death.But if this online movement can coerce the Media-Corporation alliance to publicly spell out the details of the accident,accept responsibility for gore negligence and hence apologize for this gross misconduct, and offer lifetime support for the wife and children of the departed soul,only than would this movement would have reached its logical conclusion.

  3. Sikander Hayat says:

    Perhaps it is time for action from inside these corporations to seek answers to the questions you have raised.

    http://real-politique.blogspot.com

  4. Ayesha says:

    so waqar zaka is being pointed out because?

    No one has died while participating in his show mainly BECAUSE of the safety percautions taken.

    I personally, am not a huge fan of the reality tv genre however i know many who are, and so i see no need to sit here and point fingers at ALL reality shows because of one incident and becuase of the irresponsibility of one Corporation .
    i agreed with pretty much all of it until i came across the line where Waqar Zaka is specifically pointed out and had to take a step back.

    For such a well written article, a biased end, ruins it for the readers, or atleast it did for me.

  5. Saeeduzzaman says:

    Unfortunately, nothing is going to happen.

    I really think the only way is for courts to take suo motto action.

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