Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kids vs Corporations: Kids lose by 1000 to 0 everytime

By Joel Bakan, New York Times, August 21, 2011
Joel Bakan, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, is the author of “Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children.”

.....In 1959, the United Nations issued its Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Children were now legal persons; the “best interests of the child” became a touchstone for legal reform.

But the 20th century also witnessed another momentous shift, one that would ultimately threaten the welfare of children: the rise of the for-profit corporation. Lawyers, policy makers and business lobbied successfully for various rights and entitlements traditionally connected, legally, with personhood. New laws recognized corporations as legal — albeit artificial — “persons,” granting them many of the same legal rights and privileges as human beings. In an eerie parallel with the child-protective efforts, “the best interests of the corporation” was soon introduced as a legal precept.
A clash between these two newly created legal entities — children and corporations — was, perhaps, inevitable. Century-of-the-child reformers sought to resolve conflicts in favor of children. But over the last 30 years there has been a dramatic reversal: corporate interests now prevail. Deregulation, privatization, weak enforcement of existing regulations and legal and political resistance to new regulations have eroded our ability, as a society, to protect children.
Childhood obesity mounts as junk food purveyors bombard children with advertising, even at school. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study reports that children spend more hours engaging with various electronic media — TV, games, videos and other online entertainments — than they spend in school. Much of what children watch involves violent, sexual imagery, and yet children’s media remain largely unregulated. Attempts to curb excesses — like California’s ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors — have been struck down by courts as free speech violations.
Another area of concern: we medicate increasing numbers of children with potentially harmful psychotropic drugs, a trend fueled in part by questionable and under-regulated pharmaceutical industry practices. In the early 2000s, for example, drug companies withheld data suggesting that such drugs were more dangerous and less effective for children and teenagers than parents had been led to believe. The law now requires “black box” warnings on those drugs’ labels, but regulators have done little more to protect children from sometimes unneeded and dangerous drug treatments.
Children today are also exposed to increasing quantities of toxic chemicals. We know that children, because their biological systems are still developing, are uniquely vulnerable to the dangers posed by many common chemical compounds. We also know that corporations often use such chemicals as key ingredients in children’s products, saturating their environments. Yet these chemicals remain in circulation, as current federal laws demand unreasonably high proof of harm before curbing a chemical’s use.
The challenge before us is to reignite the guiding ethos and practices of the century of the child. As Nelson Mandela has said, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” By that measure, our current failure to provide stronger protection of children in the face of corporate-caused harm reveals a sickness in our societal soul. The good news is that we can — and should — work as citizens, through democratic channels and institutions, to bring about change.
Joel Bakan, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, is the author of “Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children.”
While much of the evidence cited by Professor Bakan is American, Canada is not far behind our southern neightbour in placing the needs, rights and "best interests" of the corporations far ahead of those needs, rights and "best interests" of children.
School cafeterias have included soda in far larger proportions than milk, salt-filled snacks in far larger proportions than fresh fruits and vegetables, and even in many jurisdictions, Physical Education has been removed from the curriculum, and replaced with...what?...more time on the computer...another of the voracious appetites of the corporation to dispense digital hard and software to the school boards, "in the politically driven race to stay abreast of the times...
In 1993, I visited the high school from which I graduated in 1959, where the principal was now a former classmate, graduating from our alma mater in the same graduation class. His current, and likely most significant claim to both fame and a legacy was that he converted much of the former cafeteria into computer labs, complete with millions of  dollars of hardware, and the necessary software to ensure the current crop of students were "up to date" with the rest of the province.
|Unfortunately, a significant group of First Nations students had to be withdrawn from that same school, under that same administration, and bussed some forty miles out of town to a private school, becuase  their experience of sanctioned racism made their life in that school intolerable.
So long as the computers were shiny and new, who cared about the culture in which students were expected to learn.
Students, in one of the grade twelve classes to whom I taught English, totalled their combined income from parttime jobs during the school, in the early 1980's. With approximately 30 students, the combined annual income was well over $18,000; today those figures would likely top $50,000, thereby making those same students ideal targets for the marketing seductions of the corporations for everything from the latest smart phone, I-Pad, I-pod, Tablet, laptop, head-sets, calculators and even  desk-top computers, not to mention the invasive and equally seductive ploys to induce the purchase of the latest fashions, the latest music, the latest make-up, hair fashions, shoes, and even motorcycles and autos.
This is a huge, relatively affluent and innocent population, whose buying habits are formed at a very early age, with or without their parents mature interventions.
There is no doubt that I feel sorry and saddened by the "rape of the innocents" committed "ethically" by many of the largest and most successful corporations, under our noses, our eyes, our ears and our sleeping consciences.
This dynamic is neither normal nor unstoppable and it will take all adults resisting together, with the cooperation of the hundreds of school boards across North America, to reduce the pillage and seduction of adolescents for the benefit and "best interests" of the mighty corporations.

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