The Cookie Thieves

Fewer People at the Top Means a Less Sustainable Future
Not everything about the cookie industry is sweet – in fact, the recent trials and tribulations of union workers at the Stella D’Oro and Archway & Mother’s cookie brands bring this stark reality into focus, and point to a necessary bridge to the future of business in America: We need to be a country of owners, not a country of employees.

The New Yorker’s recent article “Out of the Bronx“, recounts the sad tales of Stella D’Oro and Archway – both bought out and ping-ponged back and forth by private equity firms in the Bronx and in Ohio. Both companies employed between 150-200 community members, boosting the local economy. In 2006, coincidentally, both private equity firms announced pay cuts and managerial decisions that would affect all employees negatively. The result was union strikes. Eventually, the National Labor Relations Board reinstated previous benefits and wages. One of the companies went bankrupt and both were sold to Lance, Inc. They were dismantled and moved. Employees were terminated.

This is what happens when the few decide for the many. This disturbing practice and trend must stop.

The truth can get us closer to developing solutions. Look at other large corporations like Lance, Inc. and think about the power they possess and the endless possibilities they have. My daughter recommended a site to me the other day. It’s called They Rule and it gives you a sense for the small number of people running America’s boardrooms.

It’s also unique in that it gives viewers a taste of relationships in the U.S. ruling class. The website lists the top 1,000 companies and their board members. Click and create your own map to large U.S. companies and you will discover how interrelated some of them can be. Some individuals sit on 5, 6, or even 7 boards of these top companies. There is something clearly wrong with this picture.

Fewer people, fewer choices – a less sustainable future. And, never has it been more urgent that we turn the tables. If we continue on this path, our future looks a little like this:

“As the global population grows from 7 billion to almost 9 billion by 2040, and the number of middle-class consumers increases by 3 billion over the next 20 years, the demand for resources will rise exponentially. By 2030, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 percent more water — all at a time when environmental boundaries are throwing up new limits to supply. This is true not least for climate change, which affects all aspects of human and planetary health.”

Those numbers are from the report “Resilient People Resilient Planet A Future Worth Choosing,” a result of the United Nations Secretary General’s high-level panel on global sustainability, which argues for a “new political economy” focused on sustainable development.

The environment and climate we live in has a maximization point at which it will fail and the way to prevent that from happening is by regulating what we do to our economy and our environment. The Panel discusses costs of actions and inactions, innovation and new technologies, and international cooperation. Requiring international agencies, national governments and private corporations to report annual sustainable development performance compared to agreed upon sustainability measures is a start to this process of creating a sustainable development paradigm.

Outlined in The Panel’s report are 56 recommendations for working toward its vision of a sustainable planet and a growing economy. What recommendations intrigue you – and what are yours?