The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, April 13, 2003

The homogenous world of brand culture
D. R. Chaudhry

No Logo
by Naomi Klein. Flamingo, London.
`A38.99. Pages XXI+490.

No LogoGLOBALISATION is a buzzword these days. A lot many books have appeared on it and many more are in the pipeline. However, the book under review by a young Canadian journalist is an empirical work of a high order and it takes a reader on a harrowing jaunt of the world of international companies and lays bare with clinical precision their modus operandi that entails unimaginable profits for them and unspeakable misery for the workers in the Third World.

Successful corporations like Nike, Wal-Mart, Starbucks and many more no longer produce products, but buy products and brand them. Each one of them has designed a logo that sells. The title of the book No Logo is a slogan, an attempt to make people aware of a logo-linked globe where the economic divide is widening and cultural choices narrowing.

An image around a particular brand name is built with massive advertising campaigns. Corporate sponsorship has ballooned from $7 billion-a-year industry to 19.2 billion in 1999. Schoolchildren and other vulnerable sections of the consumerist society are targeted with marketing activities ranging from guidebooks and posters to contests and coupons. The $200-million culture industry, now America’s big export with regular supply of street styles, edgy music videos and rainbow of colours creates a homogenised world as ancient differences in national tastes disappear. Diversity has no place in the market-driven globalisation. National habits, local brands and distinctive national tastes are the enemies on the hit list. The mega chains undersell all their competitors, blitzing out all competition.


Image is everything. Resources are not to be spent on factories or machines but on building brands through sponsorship and advertising. There is a total shift to contracted, mostly offshore, manufacturing, with specific instructions about made-to-order design, materials, delivery dates and rock-bottom prices.

Manufacturing is concentrated in a zone. There are 52 economic zones in Philippines employing 459,000 people. In all there are about 1,000 zones in 70 countries, employing roughly 27 million workers. The workday is long—14 hours in Sri Lanka, 12 in Indonesia, 16 in Southern China, 12 in Philippines. The contractors fill orders for companies based in the USA, Britain, Japan, or Canada. The actual wage is about 87 cents per hour, as compared to $10 in the USA. Some pay as little as 13 cents an hour. The management is military style. These sweatshops are cordoned of like leper colonies.

As the economy grows, the percentage of people directly employed by the world’s largest corporations is decreasing. These corporations account for 33 per cent of the world’s productive assets but account for only 5 per cent of the world’s direct employment. Total assets of the world’s largest corporations increased by 288 per cent between 1990 and 1997 while the number of people employed by them grew by less than 9 per cent.

There is no abstract theorising in the book. Every formulation is illustrated by concrete facts and figures. Some of the statistics send a chill down the spine. An example or two would do. As many as 50,000 workers at Yue Yen Nike factory in China would have to work for 19 years to earn what Nike spends on advertising in one year. It would take a Haitian worker 16.8 years to earn an hourly income of the CEO of Disney. It costs Nike only $5 to make a shoe that sells for $100 to 150.

The powerful thrust of globalisation leads to destruction of local cultures with the help of mass-produced corporate logos and slogans. The author rightly characterises it as a cultural fascism leading to erosion of democratic rights and ethos.

The book has a simple hypothesis: as more people discover the brand-name secrets of the global logo web, their outrage will fuel the next big political movement targeting multinational corporations.

No Logo is an activism that is sowing the seeds of a genuine alternative to corporate rule. Several instances of protest movements are cited from the developed world. However, it is difficult to share the optimism resting on the developed part of the world. It is the victims of the Third World who have to work out their salvation.

Naomi Klein’s book is a fascinating treatise that throws open the shady operations of the mega corporations the world over. The young journalist has shown remarkable courage and perseverance to penetrate the seamy world of the "economic zones."