Monday, June 25, 2012

Corporate Responsibility

Corporate behavior is nothing new, it's just more powerful thanks to technology:
The Netherlands United East India Company, or Voc, was the world's first multinational corporation. And just as corporations today seek to monopolise plant genes in the developing world, the Voc set about seizing total control of spice production.

In 1652, after displacing the Portuguese and Spanish, the Dutch introduced a policy known as extirpatie: extirpation. All clove trees not controlled by the Voc were uprooted and burned. Anyone caught growing, stealing or possessing clove plants without authorisation faced the death penalty. On the Banda Islands, to the south - the world's only source of nutmeg - the Dutch used Japanese mercenaries to slaughter almost the entire male population.

Like Opec today, the Voc also limited supply to keep prices high. Only 800-1,000 tonnes of cloves were exported per year. The rest of the harvest was burned or dumped in the sea. Somehow, Afo managed to slip through the net. A rogue clove. A guerrilla plant waging a secret war of resistance. Afo would eventually bring down the Dutch monopoly on cloves.

In 1770, a Frenchman, appropriately named Poivre, stole some of Afo's seedlings. This Monsieur Pepper took them to France, then the Seychelles Islands and, eventually, Zanzibar, which is today the world's largest producer of cloves.
The World's Oldest Clove Tree (BBC)


  1. Yeah, I Tweeted and Facebooked that piece with the preface 'Part of The Secret History of Capitalism'.

  2. There are many examples. It's funny how you always here how 'corporations only make money by serving people and giving them what they want' as a way to make them into warm-and-fuzzy do-gooders. It takes an almost complete ignorance of economic history to believe that (which is what we have).


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