The Illusion of Choice

by Laura Vilaça

Two years ago, the Occupy Movement made a stand with the slogan “We are the 99%”. They were referring to, as Wikipedia puts it, “the concentration of income and wealth among the top earning 1%, which reflected an opinion that the “99%” are paying the price for the mistakes of a tiny minority within the upper class”. Though this was an American movement, their protest expanded around the world, with Europeans feeling this inequality as well.

The world is run by a few – that we all start to realize. But how few are they? And how do they become so big? Well, dear reader, not only but also, because of you. We are part of the oil that makes these giant, transnational corporations run smoothly, earn market power and, consequently, political influence. An example: Breakfast. You have a Nescafe coffee. Then a shower, using L’Oréal to wash your hair and Garnier to cleanse your face. Moving on, you moisturize your body with products from The Body Shop, put on your Diesel jeans and grab a KitKat for the way. In a simple, standard morning routine, all things used are owned by Nestlé.

William True - "Nestlé's Milk Project" (1901)

William True – “Nestlé’s Milk Project” (1901)

“The $200 billion-corporation Nestlé — famous for chocolate, but which is the biggest food company in the world — owns nearly 8,000 different brands worldwide, and takes stake in or is partnered with a swath of others. Included in this network is shampoo company L’Oréal, baby food giant Gerber, clothing brand Diesel, and pet food makers Purina and Friskies”, says Chris Miles of Policy Mic. And this is just one of the few giants of the world.

Around a year ago, Reddit published a chart called “The Illusion of Choice”. This graph shows how only “ten mega corporations control the output of almost everything you buy”, so anything from candy bars to clothing, from pet food to household products – they own it. These companies hold control of most of the commonly bought products, which makes their empires a bit more solid.



Mostly based on the US, these companies are fairly vital for the economic strength of the United States, as Matthew J. Slaughter, a professor of Management at Dartmouth College, points out in a report written for the US Department of Commerce: “U.S. multinationals (…) enhance the nation’s economy by their capital investment, research and development. (…) Their ability to strengthen the U.S. economy is enhanced, not reduced, by their global engagement.” And the success of the US transnationals also plays on the political influence of the country, which leads me to my next point: how unhealthy can it be to have so much money and so much power in the hand of so few?

The political agenda may be influenced by the interests of the “1%”, since economic power and political power go hand in hand. There is a risk of manipulation of information, which can be managed to avoid bad publicity. There is also a risk of having laws created or changed according to the most beneficial options for the producer – the companies, but not necessarily for the consumer.

Ultimately, the products of these giants may be of good quality and the brands reliable for decades of service, but there’s a need to change habits. Without being completely idealistic, one can make small efforts. Being aware of this reality is the first move, since it will bring out a more attentive eye on the moves of these corporations. They hold a monopoly of control of supermarkets and retail stores, and there’s little one can do about it. Trying to shop more alternatively may be a way to go, looking for local products or generic brands that may not be as easy to find, but it surely help balance the scale a bit more.

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