A New Purpose for Corporations?

by Carla Ilten

The recent Business Roundtable “declaration” of corporate responsibility to stakeholders is a curious document. In good American-exceptionalist fashion, it is perfectly ahistorical, ignores international practice, and purports to be innovative while including mostly commonplace small business values.

A wider horizon.

The declaration reads as if “shareholder primacy” were the natural baseline for businesses, and attention to stakeholders beyond shareholders were a whole new idea, surprisingly brought forth by CEOs. The “shareholder value myth” has been debunked by Lynn Stout in 2012, so maybe this is just a particularly slow corporate response to the insight that shareholder value “primacy” – an obsession of corporate strategy with stock price as the single measure of success – has always been undermining both the public and the shareholders’ interests.

At the same time, the shareholder value fixation hasn’t even been around for more than a few decades, when large corporations became central to the U.S. economy and the consolidation games began. Traditional proprietor owned, small businesses have never lost sight of their communities or long-term viability. So we’re talking about solving a home-made, big corporate problem, stoked by CEO careers built on share price incentives.

The declaration reads as if these CEOs had never even heard of corporate governance in international comparison. While the statement mentions only the “purpose” of a corporation, many other societies have successfully implemented structural safeguards that enforce stakeholder representation in corporations.

Purpose,” or structure?

The Business Roundtable’s statement vaguely discusses goals or ends, when what we need to know is how these ends will be achieved. That’s what governance is good for: defining goals and making sure they’re being pursued. But why should we assume that CEOs get to redefine the purpose of the corporation? Aren’t CEOs hired by Boards, who represent shareholders? Are CEOs essentially saying that they’re redefining who they’re accountable to? It seems so – but such a fiat is only a speech act, unless structures and rights are reconfigured.

So it’s useful to be a little more systematic and distinguish between various pathways to stakeholder accountability: There are different ownership models, there is codetermination in governance, there are multi-stakeholder models, and the good old labor representation via unions. Though I suspect our modernized CEOs at the BRT weren’t thinking of unions when they wrote their declaration. Let’s walk through these structurally different ways to approach stakeholder representation.


You can redefine the “shareholder” term all day long, but the voting rights in public corporations are still with the shareholders, the people or institutions who own equity. So who owns a company is crucial to who it will be accountable to. This is also the assumption that Employee Ownership advocates have been working from for decades. Joseph Blasi, the J. Robert Beyster Distinguished Professor at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, has dedicated his career to fostering the structural alignment of interests of the firm with employees through actual Employee Ownership, where employees own the shares. The latest success in the story of Employee Ownership in the U.S. is the founding of the Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing. Employee owned businesses are, unsurprisingly, more stable than outsider-owned companies, pursue long-term goals, and can boast higher employee satisfaction and wealth.


Companies outside the U.S. have achieved similar outcomes with a different structural approach that does not rely on ownership – which is also a financial risk to employees – but on shared decision making in companies. Having employees directly represented in decision making bodies is called codetermination. Codetermination results in long-term strategy and stability, as well as a fairer distribution of profits. Codetermination is legally required for companies of a certain size in Germany, a hallmark of its “Social Market Economy.” Here, stakeholder representation is ensured by regulation, rather than left to CEO visions or fashions. Of course, a crucial actor in a Social Market Economy are unions, who organize the representation of employees systematically and are political actors in their own right. In societies dominated by large organizations, it is clear that individuals cannot represent their own interests. Stakeholders must be defined as classes and represented by bodies as powerful as the corporations themselves.

Mixed models.

There are organizations that are structurally built to facilitate both ownership by the stakeholders who economically rely on the organization, and democratic decision making. In his response to the Business Roundtable’s statement, Doug O’Brien of the National Cooperative Business Association points out these built-in accountability mechanisms in cooperatives. Cooperatives are owned by the people who use the company, either as producers, consumers, or workers. There can even be more than one class of stakeholders defined as owners of a cooperative, which is then run as a multi-stakeholder cooperative. The start-up Resonate, for example, has devised three classes for its music streaming platform cooperative: musicians, listeners, and workers. All of these groups have an interest in the utility of the organization, or what it produces and how, rather than in sheer monetary gains unrelated to operations. In the cooperative “one member, one vote” governance structure, all of these shareholders – natural persons, not institutions – have equal voting rights for the Board of Directors, regardless of their investment.

Show me the money.

So, in light of these already existing organizational mechanisms to ensure stakeholder representation, what does the Business Roundtable offer? A reliance on “purpose” – one of the most variable and easily shifted dimensions of organizational activity, if it comes from the managerial top. And a list of fair business practices that indeed many of the undersigned are actively violating. Unless stakeholder representation is structurally inscribed into organizations, we don’t need to consider statements about purpose anything more than PR stunts and social-washing. But a real debate or a political window of opportunity might arise, where the already existing models for stakeholder accountability become more visible, and shareholder corporations’ externalities more unacceptable. Maybe the declaration can also be read as a more desparate attempt to restore the reputation of CEOs as “charismatic saviors” and of corporations as citizens in an era of large corporation decline and challenge and disruption from tech entrepreneurs who claim to have neither employees nor stakeholders. It’s about nothing less than what the Business Roundtable refers to as “America’s economic model:” reliance on businesses as “engines” of a society’s success – where somehow the horse and the cart got disconnected, and maybe even confused to begin with.


Posted in Carla Ilten, econ soc, org soc, soc mov, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Marketing is being revolutionized by the beauty industry

by Alejandra Reyes, UIC senior

The beauty industry is growing at an incredible rate and shows no signs of stopping. In 2016, the United States was awarded with “the most valuable beauty and personal care market” in the world, racking in revenue of approximately $84.4 billion U.S dollars in cosmetics, fragrances, and personal care products alone. This booming industry has given makeup lovers the opportunity to self-start their entrepreneur journey, seeking the success of self-made brands like IT cosmetics, whose creator Jamie Kern Lima nets an estimated $410 million as of 2016 (Sorvino, 2017).


Source: Forbes.com

The steady success of the beauty industry reveals more than just the superficial importance of good looks but an evolving marketing business aiming to grow their targeted audience through a higher level of engagement. One of the main strategies the beauty industry has introduced to this new era of marketing is the transition from heavy print and TV sponsorship to the use of social media personalities and not celebrities to increase consumption at a larger scale (Coresight Research). Beauty companies have used the recent growth in social media consumption to their full advantage, harnessing the psychological effect of ‘snowballing’ to influence others to buy their products. By carefully choosing beauty bloggers and beauty influencers through the level of engagement in their social media platforms (in the form of followers of subscribers), companies can reach a larger audience that is more susceptible to purchase the products being promoted because of the trust they have developed with the influencer.

Influencer marketing has become a key to “brand storytelling,” becoming a more effective technique of engaging the audience to the companies mission and creative goals (Forbes, 2016). For example, Neutrogena, a cosmetic brand with a focus on products that help acne prone skin can use this marketing strategy to boost their revenue. The selected beauty bloggers are sent free Neutrogena products in exchange for positively promoting their products to their audience. Beauty bloggers then create content like “Daytime and Nighttime Skincare Routine,” where they show their audience how they use those products, claiming that the Neutrogena products have been responsible for their clear skin. Depending on the beauty bloggers audience, the opinions they express in their content will heavily influence viewers who suffer from acne to try the Neutrogena products (Have, 2017).

YouTube has become one of the main platforms for influencer marketing, showing the highest levels of engagement with viewers and beauty brands (Forbes, 2016). Some of the most popular type of beauty related videos are PR unboxing videos, opening cosmetics that have been sent to the beauty blogger by prominent beauty brands or even small ones looking for any form of promotion. However, there is a science behind creating this type of content. The beauty blogger has to creatively make the video to engage and keep the interest of the viewers for most of the duration of the video. This way, the beauty blogger gets paid more for the engagement present with their videos and more engagement means beauty brands will notice them and offer them other opportunities, such as collaboration with the brand (Kelly, 2014).

Within the influencer marketing technique comes a more complex form of competition that is built between beauty influencers in the benefit of the cosmetic companies. More beauty lovers try to achieve the prosperity that famous self-made beauty personalities have done. This result in a larger number of people starting their own beauty related accounts and posting similar content trying to stand out. Approximately in 2016 there were 5.3 million beauty related videos on YouTube, with 55 billion views collectively. In doing so, they are more open to participating in sponsored videos or promoting makeup brands when asked as a way to climb up the ranks in beauty influencing. Companies therefore have a larger source of influencers that can do their public relations for them, further cutting the work they have to do to appeal and generate and engaging audience for their products.

The beauty industry is a hidden gem of marketing genius. They have revolutionized the way in which companies target and expand their audience with minimal propaganda stemming from the brand itself. Other companies outside of the beauty industry have followed suit to this successful form of marketing, clothing companies and app developers have begun to reach out to social media personalities to further promote their products-looking for the same revenue growth that the beauty industry has experienced. This sparks an interest to see what future marketing strategies will companies come up with to remain relevant in a constantly changing and competitive industry.


Coresight Research. “Deep Dive: The Rise of Social Media Influencers and Their Brands.” Retrieved May 8, 2018 (https://www.fungglobalretailtech.com/research/deep-dive-rise-social-media-influencers-brands/).

Forbes, Kristen. 2016. “Examining the Beauty Industry’s Use of Social Influencers.” Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications 7(2):78–87. Retrieved May 8, 2018 (https://www.elon.edu/u/academics/communications/journal/wp-content/uploads/sites/153/2017/06/08_Kristen_Forbes.pdf).

Forbes. “Top Influencers of 2017: Beauty.” Retrieved May 8, 2018 (https://www.forbes.com/top-influencers/beauty/#59149bbc3378).

Have, C.E. 2017. “Beauty Vloggers and Their Influence on Consumer-Buying Intentions.” Master Thesis, Master Media Studies: Media, Culture, & Society, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Kelly, Heather. 2014. “The Bizarre, Lucrative World of ‘Unboxing’ Videos.” CNN. Retrieved May 8, 2018 (https://www.cnn.com/2014/02/13/tech/web/youtube-unboxing-videos/index.html ).

Sorvino, Chloe. 2017. “Why The $445 Billion Beauty Industry Is A Gold Mine For Self-Made Women.” Forbes. Retrieved May 8, 2018 (https://www.forbes.com/sites/chloesorvino/2017/05/18/self-made-women-wealth-beauty-gold-mine/#65c2a5282a3a).

Statista. 2017. “Leading Cosmetics & Personal Care Products Markets Worldwide by Revenue 2016 | Statistic.” Retrieved May 8, 2018 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/717673/cosmetics-personal-care-products-markets-revenue/).

Statista. “YouTube: Annual Beauty Content Views 2017 | Statistic.” Retrieved May 8, 2018 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/294655/youtube-monthly-beauty-content-views/).

Posted in econ soc, teaching, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Apples and oranges: comparing similar, but different organizations

by Carla Ilten

The fruit question #1: Cooperatives

For my dissertation project, I study meso-level dynamics in the field of food co-ops, as well as in the emerging platform co-op field. I am interested both in the internal dynamics of “cooperation among cooperatives” in the two fields, and in how their dynamics compare. Notice how both contain the word “co-op” – cooperative organizational form? Yet, from the inception of the project, I have been asked time and again how the two “compare” – what is it that makes these cases comparative, what is held constant? What am I hoping to gain from this comparison? Am I maybe comparing apples and oranges?

Surely, both cases are cases of “fruit,” not only are they fields of organizations, but both are organizational fields using the cooperative repertoire. But there are differences between food co-ops and platform co-ops that seem to make it hard to compare them, and that makes one form apple and the other orange. One obvious difference is “food” and “platform” – the operational concern that is to be organized. Cooperatives may share 7 principles, but they operate in different markets, industries, or sectors – pick your favorite term for whatever input and materials the organization works with to produce a certain output or situation. I believe that I am actually getting theoretical leverage by comparing apple fruit with orange fruit, but the comparison is messy – and because I know I need to justify this time and again, here is how I am thinking about framing it: as a hybrid between same-case and across-case comparison.

What are you looking for, similarities or differences?

Diane Vaughan has written about the merit of different kinds of comparisons in her work on analogical theorizing (Vaughan 2014). She found herself engaging in analogical, cross-case theorizing intuitively when she moved between cases at different levels of analysis, but was able to recognize common processes that explained outcomes, for example “what went wrong” in organizations and in intimate relationships (similarity: chain of failure of communication). Analogical theorizing, or the “flash of recognition” across cases of social life, is relevant for Sociology because theorizing across units/levels of analysis helps articulate more generalizable theory. It also means crossing internal disciplinary boundaries, often constructed around substantive areas of interest, which make it increasingly harder to abstract from social phenomena given the specialized knowledge and concepts each field develops.

Analogical theorizing seems to rest on serendipity quite a bit, or on the ability of a researcher to engage in successive research projects and to wander – to journey as a “theoros” and gain perspective by traveling phenomena, implying a degree of distance (Reed 2011). Those conditions are not commonly present in doctoral research projects (it’s usually the researcher’s first big one), and the institution of the dissertation proposal suggests that promising serendipity is not enough.

Alternative organizations: same in being different, different in being same

Yet, I am seeing themes emerge from my data precisely on the basis of the odd comparison, where it is the relationship between what is same and what is across that gets some traction. First, similarities: comparing different types of cooperatives makes sense because, as far as organizational forms go, cooperatives have relatively strong norms and principles that define a cooperative identity, rather than just an organizational structure. Most cooperatives have adopted the International Cooperative Alliance’s 1995 definition of the 7 Cooperative Principles. Principle #2, Democratic Member Control, is not just “myth and ceremony” (Meyer & Rowan 1977), but is institutionalized in most cooperatives through one member, one vote bylaws and annual elections of governance bodies. In other words, “cooperative” is meaningful beyond the legal form of incorporation, and one can assume that similarities flow from those principles – this makes two cooperatives a “same-case comparison.” The cooperative form is an attempt to be structurally different from, say, shareholder corporations. So cooperatives are same in being different!

Which brings us to the discoveries of difference in being same: holding organizational form constant highlights the differences between cooperatives – I am finding this useful and not confounding, because it has forcefully drawn my attention to operational content/sector/industry as a second variable in the organizational form equation. What drives organizations’ practice, the cooperative form or the demands of the sector they operate in? Both, of course, but in what ways? I would not be able to “see” sector if I focused on same-case comparisons within the food co-op field.

Comparing different types of cooperatives thus brings same-case and across-case elements to the table. The comparison even calls into question which elements are really same-case, and which ones are across! One may end up with a whole fruit salad, but what becomes clearer throughout is the definition of “cases,” what the phenomena are cases of and what not, in a way that a clean-cut same-case comparison may not be able to shed light on its own assumptions. The play with same-case and across-case features may be particularly useful for the study of alternative organizations, as I have argued for cooperatives above. Another example from the field of employee ownership highlights how inspecting fruit salad can also inform practitioners’ strategies in fostering alternative organizations:

Fruit puzzle #2: Is there an Employee Ownership market?

A very interesting and useful article by Sarah Stranahan from Democracy Collaborative’s Fifty by Fifty initative discusses the question how Employee Ownership can be expanded, especially in the U.S., and how public policies and market developments interact in providing support for Employee Ownership – or not. In other words, we are confronted with the ever-fascinating question what kinds of infrastructure are needed to grow niches of alternative socio-technical or organizational systems. The goal is to reach a certain point of stability, where a niche, which is challenging dominant regimes, can survive based on its own resources and networks, instead of being dependent on those volatile policy protections. Note that “alternatives” are by definition different from dominant forms. But does that mean by extension that they are also similar? And does that similarity help building those niches?

The article on expanding employee ownership uses examples from the UK and the U.S. to show how the emergence of “stakeholders, including manufacturers, national suppliers, local installers, utilities, and state legislatures” has supported a fledgling solar panel market – an alternative in the energy sector. So why hasn’t the “employee owned sector” grown in a similar fashion? The author describes one obstacle as the “geographically dispersed and politically splintered” field of employee ownership, “resulting in a weak and disorganized market.” We can disentangle some of these concepts further by applying the apples and oranges heuristic from above.

Does Employee Ownership constitute a market? Similarly to cooperatives, the feature of being employee owned describes an aspect of an organization’s form, or structure. There is a spectrum of employee ownership types, ranging from worker cooperatives (similarity alert!) to companies with Employee Stock Ownership Plans. Also similarly to cooperatives, policy environments are relevant to organizations that share such form aspects, because they become regulated favorably or unfavorably.

Let’s look for differences. A quick survey of employee owned enterprises shows that they operate across different markets – just like cooperatives. At the recent Beyster 2018 conference on Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing, a panel featured employee owned firms whose activities ranged from space technology engineering (ATA Partners) to providing crucial infrastructure to the film and entertainment industry (Entertainment Partners) – talk about apples and oranges! In short, these two firms will not be able to share market-based “stakeholders” such as business partners and leverage scale in this way. Aside from the policy environment, the two firms operate in distinct economic ecosystems (location, operations, suppliers, customers, employees etc.), such that growth of employee ownership in one place does not necessarily help further its stability or growth in another (market)place. These two employee-owned firms are doing well regardless, and being employee-owned has contributed to their success by strengthening relationships within the firms and even with clients. But  Stranahan’s assessment that employee owned firms remain dispersed is correct – because most of them operate in distinct markets. So how could their similarity be mobilized?

Mobilizing similarities and differences

Imagine a market for employee ownership: this could mean a number of things, for example a labor market, where employees choose firms for the employee ownership feature. This would indeed be a sign of great advance of the cause, because it would mean competition over who does employee ownership best! Another possibility would be – similar to the solar market emergence – a market that emerges around business-to-business relationships, where preference is given to employee owned firms along the supply chain. Something similar has been attempted in the field of cooperatives, where this approach to leveraging similarity is called “cooperation among cooperatives” and is actually a cooperative principle (#6)! But what employee owned firms share beyond their form, at this time, is only an imaginary or potential market, as well as a shared exposure to policy.

A crucial question that emerges from this disentanglement is: how can organizations link across ecosystems? No links, no density – no “scaling”! How can one organization’s success (its stakeholders, its network, its ecosystem) be used to benefit other organizations that operate in distant markets, but share the same form and values? One current response to this challenge is the certification program for employee owned companies, which hopes to establish the EO “difference” as a competitive edge in consumer-facing markets. This strategy links organizations symbolically and renders their similarity visible to the public, creating a market category of sorts.

Same-case and across-case theorizing, in other words, can inform same-case and across-case mobilizing: whether it is “cooperation among cooperatives” or among employee owned firms, understanding how similarities and differences affect the opportunities for leveraging scale is key to building that infrastructure.


Meyer, John W. and Brian Rowan. 1977. “Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony.” American Journal of Sociology 83(2):340–63.

Reed, Isaac Ariail. 2011. Interpretation and Social Knowledge: On the Use of Theory in the Human Sciences. University of Chicago Press.

Vaughan, Diane. 2014. “Analogy, Cases, and Comparative Social Organization.” in Theorizing in Social Science: The Context of Discovery, edited by R. Swedberg. Stanford, California: Stanford Social Sciences.

Posted in Carla Ilten, econ soc, method, org soc, soc mov, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Your Shopping Habits Are Affecting the Environment

by Diane Pacheco, UIC senior

The disposable cheap clothing available to the public seeking the never-ending latest trends they saw on social media or Gucci’s Fall 2018 ready-to-wear show, with models holding baby dragons and replicas of their own heads, is creating intense competition between fast fashion retailers such as Zara, one of the largest fast fashion retailers in the world, and newer online retailers like Boohoo and Missguided. These companies are racing to satisfy consumers desires by presenting new items in stores and online as fast as their supply chain allows them to do so, with minimal regard to the waste and pollution their apparel imminently produces. Prototyping and turnaround times have become quicker, going from six months to a matter of weeks, low wage labor and production is being outsourced, and large amounts of resources are being depleted to keep profits high.

Considered the pioneer of fast fashion, Zara has remained at the top of the fast fashion world by separating itself from top competitors through its supply chain owned under their management, Inditex. More than half of Zara’s apparel production is locally manufactured in Spain and Portugal, compared to other competitors whose production remains mainly is Asia due to low labor costs. This allows the fast fashion retailer the flexibility of keeping up with consumer demands for the newest trends, from design to production to the sales floors, in as little as 15 days. To avoid an oversupply, apparel is manufactured in small batches and just-in-time production is employed to keep up with items that are selling quickly. Zara headquarters even receives daily feedback from their stores about what shoppers are interested in seeing the next time they visit.

However, UK based online retailers Boohoo and Missguided have caught up with Zara. Boohoo scours social media to see what trends their customers are currently lusting over. Like Zara, Boohoo produces small batches and reorder fast-selling items. Also, half of their sourcing comes locally from the UK. It takes Boohoo at least two weeks to introduce new items to their website whereas Missguided can take as little as a week. Missguided adds 1,000 new items a month. Both online retailers rely on social media, social media influencers, and celebrities to sell their trendy clothing. Boohoo and Missguided grew in revenue by 49% and 75% in 2017 compared to Zara’s 10%. The companies that have the shortest supply chain cycles have demonstrated the most growth in the fast fashion world.

Yet, there was a time when retailers followed 2 to 4 fashion cycles a year, in contrast to the 50 to 100 cycles a year that is now seen from fast fashion retailers. Fast fashion’s focus on speed and profits has superseded sustainability. The clothes that we consume accounts for more than half of the textiles produced by the textiles industry, which generates more greenhouse gases than the combination produced by the aviation and shipping industries. If the fashion industry does not implement any changes to reduce waste and pollution, the industry’s water consumption is expected to rise by 50%, energy emissions and annual waste from both production and consumer disposal is expected to rise by 60%, and yearly reported injuries by 15% by 2030. With a growing global middle class, fashion consumption is expected to increase from 62 million tons in 2015 to 102 million tons in 2030. In fact, 60% more clothing was purchased in 2014 than in 2000, with consumers only keeping the apparel about half as long.

With rising competition in the fast fashion world and consumers appetite for new items every time they visit these online or in-stores retailers, it is unlikely that companies will favor sustainable practices over profits. Not only are these practices affecting the environment but also workers in countries were production is outsourced, such as Turkey and India. Many factories were production is outsourced have high non-compliance rates, as high as 51%, of paying workers minimum wage. Even though Zara produces most of their clothing locally, 13% of their basics are still produced in China and Turkey, where workers have issued complaints about not being compensated for their labor in the latter. But only Zara, out of the three, have pledged to transition out of a linear model into a circular fashion system by 2020. In a circular system, instead of materials being disposed as they would be in the linear model, materials will be repurposed into new items. If the pledges are kept by the 64 companies that have signed on, including Zara, it could revolutionize the fashion world. But not only is there a lot of work ahead for the fast fashion world to improve practices, but consumers also need to reevaluate how their pursuits for the latest trends are impacting the world.


Annamma, J., Sherry, J., Venkatesh, A., Wang, J. and Chan, R. 2013. Www3.nd.edu. Accessed 11 May 2018. https://www3.nd.edu/~jsherry/pdf/2012/FastFashionSustainability.pdf

Drew, D. 2017. The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics | World Resources Institute. Wri.org. Accessed 11 May 2018. http://www.wri.org/blog/2017/07/apparel-industrys-environmental-impact-6-graphics

Fungglobalretailtech.com. 2017. Accessed 11 May 2018. https://www.fungglobalretailtech.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Fast-Fashion-Speeding-Toward-Ultrafast-Fashion-May-19_2017-DF.pdf

Globalfashionagenda.com. 2018. 2020 Commitment. Accessed 11 May 2018. http://www.globalfashionagenda.com/commitment/

Hanbury, M. 2017. Zara is facing a massive threat that could jeopardize the business. Business Insider. Accessed 11 May 2018. http://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-is-getting-faster-2017-5

https://www.bcg.com. 2017. How Innovation and Collaboration Can Accelerate Sustainability in Fashion. Accessed 11 May 2018. https://www.bcg.com/publications/2017/retail-how-innovation-collaboration-accelerate-sustainability-fashion.aspx

Jenkins, A. 2017. Workers Making Zara Clothes Found a Bold Way to Let You Know They Haven’t Been Paid. Fortune. Accessed 11 May 2018. http://fortune.com/2017/11/03/zara-clothes-istanbul-turkey/

Loeb, W. 2015. Forbes Welcome. Forbes.com. Accessed 11 May 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/walterloeb/2015/03/30/zara-leads-in-fast-fashion/2/#41a50220259f

Lu, C. 2014. Zara supply chain analysis – the secret behind Zara’s retail success. Tradegecko.com. Accessed 11 May 2018. https://www.tradegecko.com/blog/zara-supply-chain-its-secret-to-retail-success

NPR.org. 2013. The Reclusive Spanish Billionaire Behind Zara’s Fast Fashion Empire. Accessed 11 May 2018. https://www.npr.org/2013/03/12/173461375/the-recluse-spanish-billionaire-behind-zaras-fast-fashion-empire

Remy, N., Spielman, E. and Swartz, S. 2016. Style that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula. McKinsey & Company. Accessed 11 May 2018. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability-and-resource-productivity/our-insights/style-thats-sustainable-a-new-fast-fashion-formula

YouTube. 2018. Fashion’s Crippling Impact On The Environment Is Only Getting Worse (HBO). Accessed 11 May 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECkLgq2W9RU

Posted in econ soc, soc mov, teaching, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Education for Sale: Corporatization of Chicago’s Schooling System

by Nicole Green, UIC senior

With the expansion of the business landscape in the United States, numerous markets have become less controlled and monitored by government, by handing over power to businesses and a corporate-like structure. One of the clearest examples of this transformation is the education system and its movement toward corporatization in Chicago.

The National Education Association defines charter schools as “publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school’s charter” (NEA, 2017). In plain terms, charter schools are publically funded, but privately ran. This makes them out of control from government or public regulation, yet gaining these resources from the very groups who have no say in operations.

The quality and consequences of charter schools are a major concern to many. Charter schools drain the resources of public schools, by reallocating those students and the money they contribute to the system (NEA, 2017). They are also unstable, and create unneeded competition in the market (NEA, 2017). Often, these charter schools operate by making a profit, and can hand select students based on the types of results they are hoping to boast (Reuters, 2013). Charters will screen their applicants based on their academic achievements, behavioral history, family support, and national citizenship, breaching state and federal law (Reuters, 2013). Despite these downsides, charter school enrollment is increasing.

Enrollment in Chicago charter schools has increased tenfold from 2000 to 2014. (Lindemulder, 2017) However, when reviewed for educational differences, it has been found that charter schools are behind traditional schools in math and reading. (Lindemulder, 2017). How is it that charter school growth has happened so quickly, if they are not directly supporting and improving student’s educations?

One of the biggest supporters of this movement in the education space was Arne Duncan, former CEO of the Chicago Public School system. He operated under the belief that mayors should have control of these systems, not school boards or parents or local communities. He also promoted this idea nationally during his time later as the Secretary of Education. Was he following the suggestions of Chicago’s influential corporate elite? Most likely so, as this move also shut out teachers’ unions and disbanded democracy forces such as elections, local control and collective bargaining (Kroll, 2009).

Mayor Daley and Duncan rolled out a program to reorganize school systems, called Renaissance 2010 (Kroll, 2009). This program closes underperforming schools and replaces them with new and smaller charter or “contract” schools. These schools are run by independent organizations which most often eliminate teachers unions and outsource management to a for-profit education management organization (Kroll, 2009).

This plan was not their own creation, however. The Commercial Club in Chicago had found an interest in Chicago’s school systems long before 2010. A series of policy changes in the 1990s reformed the structure of decision-makers involved in public schools and placed education systems on the social and corporate agenda (Shipps, 1997). This “System Wide Reconstructing” continued, and by 1995 of the 47 largest education systems stated that for funding, business was the most helpful source, over the government, over colleges, or advocacy groups or elected officials (Shipps, 1997). This pipeline of funding for schooling supported by businesses led to the power and decision making that took place afterwards.

CPS was suffering during this time, with declining enrollment, increasing minority populations, crumbling buildings, low performance and high dropout rates. Minority populations were increasing, which policy makers indicated to be a problem (Shipps, 1997). The graphs below indicate the transforming racial composition of Chicago Public Schools, or CPS schools:


Charter schools are often highly segregated, as well. A UCLA study found that 7 out of 10 Black students attending charter schools are enrolled in schools that have 90% or more minority population (Anderson, 2010).


Another concern of charter schools is the inequality in funds given to charter schools versus public schools. With less funding coming in for public education, schools are now even more underserving in staffing capacity, physical upkeep and program offerings (NEA, 2017). Lack of funding undoubtedly influences the quality of education received. It is common in low funded schools for teachers without a background or degree in the subject, be a designated teacher in that subject:


The truth lies in the numbers. According to the CPS budget, charter schools received $483 million of funding in 2013. (CPS, 2013). In the meantime, CPS unionized teachers went on strike, demanding pay for their longer workdays as well as relief from the under resourced environment they are working in: including classes of 30-40 students, the threat of standardized testing, and job security (Lydersen, 2012). Rahm Emanuel called this a “strike of choice”, ignoring any injustices present in the current system (Lydersen, 2012).

Betsy DeVos, our current Secretary of Education selected by Donald Trump has pushed for charter schools and their adoption across the nation. Her argument is based on the idea that charter schools provide choices for students, and that current traditional systems are failing students, especially in cities with high minority populations (Strauss, 2017). Trump has also called out public schools, calling them “American Carnage” and wants to promote this type of change throughout the country (Strauss, 2017).

We need to remember that charter schools still leave gaps in education, since they can select and regulate who is let into their doors. They also advocate for low regulation and accountability, like many other corporate entities. In fact, it has been proven that this system is already being mismanaged. The Akron Beacon Journal published in 2015 that Ohio charter schools misspent public money nearly 4 times more than other publicly funded organizations (Strauss, 2017). Corporations and politicians would like to believe that growth of education marketplaces is an indicator of economic wellbeing (Shipps, 1997). However, charter schools simply redirect power and resources in a way that benefits should-be outsiders in the education system. Where is the emphasis on educational development in all of these matters? Why split a broken system and corporatize it, instead of repairing an all-serving public offering? Must we treat education as a commodity, with students as the consumers? It’s essential to ask these questions and face the facts when it comes to taking another public commodity and corporatizing it.
Anderson, N. (2010). Study: Charter School Growth Accompanied by Racial Imbalance. The Washington Post. Retrieved May 1, 2018 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2010/02/03/AR2010020303959.html

Chicago Public Schools Fiscal Year 2013 Amended Budget. (2013). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from http://www.cps.edu/fy13budget/Pages/Schoolsandnetworks.aspx

Kroll, A. (2009, April 15). The Corporatization of Public Education. Retrieved April 25, 2018, from http://truth-out.org/archive/component/k2/item/83572-the-corporatization-of-public-education

Lindemulder, M. D. (2017, January 30). CALCULATING SUCCESS: UNDERSTANDING DATA IN CHICAGO’S CHARTER SCHOOLS. Child & Family, Research in Brief. Retrieved April 20, 2018, from http://chicagopolicyreview.org/2017/01/30/calculating-success-understanding-data-in-chicagos-charter-schools/

Lydersen, K. (2012). Chicago Teachers vs. Rahm Emanuel and Corporatized Education. The Progressive. Retrieved April 28, 2018, from http://progressive.org/dispatches/chicago-teachers-vs.-rahm-emanuel-corporatized-education/

Shipps, D. (1997). The Invisible Hand: Big Business and Chicago School Reform. Teachers College Record. Retrieved April 15, 2018.

Simon, S. (2013). Special Report: Class Struggle – How charter schools get students they want (Publication). Reuters. Retrieved April 25, 2018, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-charters-admissions/special-report-class-struggle-how-charter-schools-get-students-they-want-idUSBRE91E0HF20130216.

Strauss, V. (2017). What School Choice Means in the Era of Trump and DeVos. The Washington Post. Retreieved May 1, 2018 from

The National Education Association: Charter Schools. (2017). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from http://www.nea.org/home/16332.htm

Posted in econ soc, org soc, soc mov, teaching, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Store swiping to at home button pressing: online advertising is getting more dangerous by the day

by Robert Campbell, UIC senior

When the first television commercial was broadcasted on television back in the 50s, our society was heading for a big change in marketing and advertising of products. Since then, there have been millions of commercials, newspapers, internet ads, billboards, radio ads, etc. Capitalism has never been more powerful than it is today. You hear of all these companies coming out with new products, and in 2018 there are no signs of advertisements slowing down. It has never been easier for companies to put an ad out there for the whole world to see, and it makes it even more convenient for the average shopper to use all sorts of technology from the comfort of their own home to find a good price for necessities and wanted luxuries. You supply what people need, and they will respond.

However, how much longer until advertisements can control or influence our decisions on what we use them for all together? Being a product of this generation’s youth, I’ve come to the realization that things people do are influenced by convenience, or technological comfort. As a generation of the future, we are letting technology control what it is we say or do. How much longer until we can be controlled by the very things such as shopping or being influenced by advertisements to shop for something we may not need? Being a victim of this myself, it’s a scary thought to think that someone can be influenced to buy something just by looking at a picture. According to O’Keefe (2011) advertising websites can influence a decision to shop based upon interests and hobbies information put in a social media profile. Once you put something in a social media site or application i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, it is out there for everyone to see. Even when you think you deleted everything, there is still something left over from years prior you didn’t even realize was still there.

Most websites require some sort of information to be put into their system. You need to put in your email address, your residence, your phone number, etc. This is just to have the convenience of shopping online, the next thing you know you have 20 emails from Dick’s Sporting Goods about a weekend sale on shoes. What’s even scarier, is that it’s not just from one store anymore, you get random recommendations from all sorts of websites based upon shopping at one store or on one website. When you shop at a certain type of store, online or not, they tend to give someone offers that allows for a lot of repeat business. For example, emails with discounts for a limited time, a new apparel has come out and is in limited stock, or companies can just simply send coupons via email. When you tend to shop at the same store more than once, companies tend to realize it and take advantage of your repeat business. Most shopping is done online for people who don’t feel like getting up and going to the store, and they are required to put in their demographic information to know where to send the items, so the bottom line is they have your personal information in their system and they plan to take advantage of your information by send you all these discounts and junk to get you to come back and spend money.

For example, you went through a punk rock phase in high school, and you put that some of your favorite bands were Blink 182, Breaking Benjamin, and the next thing you know you see an ad for rock apparel on Facebook. You buy a shirt, then it pops up a week later telling you there is a deal for buy one shirt, get the other one free. Even though I speak from personal experience, this is a very common occurrence in most social media sites. According to Papasolomou (2012) most companies now are developing some sort of social media account to connect with their customers. With the exception of people who choose not to engage on social media, those of us that do know our favorite stores have social media accounts and what kind of promotions they have going on too. Not just our favorite stores, but our favorite bars, restaurants, clubs, music festivals, radio stations, etc. It seems as if the possibilities are endless for staying connected. Businesses used to have to go put out ads in the newspaper, just to get people to come to their shops or restaurants. Now, all you have to do is post a few pictures, send a link to Facebook which takes all of thirty seconds, and voila you’re done. That’s what worries me, is it too easy for something to be posted on the internet for everyone to see? Most people do know that once something is posted on the internet it is here forever, and yes I say most people because there is a rare breed of individuals that do not give in to the influences of technology or do not live in a society that affords them the luxury of having technology.

People will use online shopping for years to come, that’s the good and bad of online shopping. According to Garver (2012), there are a lot of risks people take by using online shopping, especially when the great deals are happening. That is when people are targeted the most. When having to enter in credit card information, it can cause some trouble. What if one online shopping site gets hacked, and the next thing you know your account has been racked up on charges you never authorized, then what? People use their personal information quite often online, and it wouldn’t surprise me if someone was a victim of information theft. I remember one time I paid for same day delivery for an amazon order, and it took over a week to arrive. I asked for my money back, and it didn’t arrive in my account for over a month. Let’s not forget the extra money spent on extra stuff needed for certain products.

When I bought my PS4 online it said my PS4 was only $299, but when the system arrived in the mail, that was just one controller and the system. That didn’t include the games, accessories, extras controller, so in reality, when I bought the games, the extra controller and head set, the total came out to something like $500! Or when I bought my laptop a few years ago, I wasn’t told about the insurance, or the extra accessories such as Microsoft office that would be included in the cost later on. My MacBook Pro came out to be over $1,700. The listed price was only $1,330. At the same time this isn’t exactly a surprise that there are extra costs to luxury items such as laptops and gaming systems, but at the same time it’s how they allow people to have their cake and eat it too. They simply don’t tell you the prices of the extra items due to the fact that they know regardless you will buy the extra items anyway. It’s the blind loyalty to the product, or the supply and demand of the product that makes it deceiving when the price is listed.

The point is, everyone has some problems in their life with using online ads, shopping online, or simply putting their personal information on their computer and most often used shopping or social media websites. Using any sort of site where people can enter in their personal information can be very dangerous. The more people use the internet for personal use, the more dangerous it becomes for people to become victims of stolen identity, credit fraud, social media fraud, etc. There is no going back to the way things were before social media came into the picture, and that’s just the ugly truth of everything. As years pass, possibly ten years down the line, who knows where we will be. It might be easier to post about a place of business if its good or bad. It might be the same, it might be more technologically advanced. For our sake, that’s the best-case scenario, there is no telling what could or will happen in ten years to a lot of local businesses that aren’t a chain, and unless the apocalypse is in our near future social media will still be around for years to come.

Papasolomou, I., & Melanthiou, Y. (2012). Social Media: Marketing Public Relations’ New Best

Friend. Journal of Promotion Management, 18(3), 319-328. doi:10.1080/10496491.2012.696458

O’Keeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800-804. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-0054

Gerhards, E. V. (2013, April). Your Store Is Gross! How Recent Cases, the FTC, and State Consumer Protection Laws Can Impact A Franchise System’s Response to Negative, Defamatory, or Fake Online Reviews. Retrieved April 6, 2018, from http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/fchlj34&div=33&id=&page=

Garver, A. (2012, November 26). Top 5 Dangers Of Online Shopping And Precautions To Take On Cyber Monday. Retrieved April 17, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/abegarver/2012/09/11/the-top-five-dangers-of-online-shopping-precautions-to-take/


Posted in econ soc, STS, teaching, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Amazon Makes Headlines

by Michael Berrios, UIC senior

Recently, Amazon has been making headlines for a variety of reasons. From the announcement that Amazon would be entering the health services field, to the news that Amazon will be increasing their Prime memberships, there is no shortage of Amazon related discussions. Amazon holds the title of being the largest Internet retailer in the world. It is only natural that the tech giant’s news be widely broadcasted.

Amazon has recently been targeted for its tax practices. In 2017, Amazon had reportedly paid $957 million towards income taxes. This total is a combination of what should’ve been paid in state, federal, and foreign taxes. However, according to an analysis, all of this income went towards only state and foreign taxes, stating Amazon had paid no federal tax on $5.6 billion of U.S. profits (Gardner, 2018).

Amazon has built themselves a strategy around avoiding taxes. As of May 2nd, the company has halted its plans for expansion within the city of Seattle. Seattle’s City Council is currently considering on passing a new tax in order to counteract its increasing housing rates. The tax specifically targets companies with at least $20 million or more in taxable gross, as these companies are being factored into these increasing rates. This tax would charge the larger employers around $500 per employee. Drew Herdener, Amazon’s Vice President, has stated that “pending the outcome of the head tax vote by City Council, Amazon has paused all construction planning” and that Amazon would be “evaluating options” to sublease space it had recently leased in a building currently being built in downtown Seattle. The new tax would cost Amazon $20 million to $30 million annually. The company is currently searching for a location in North America for its second headquarters, and has announced expansion plans for both Vancouver and Boston.

Beginning May 11th, Amazon will be increasing the price of its annual prime membership by 20%, from $100 to $120, and on June 16th for continuing members. Monthly members and students pricing will remain the same. With this announcement came the first ever reveal that there are over 100 million prime members. On April 26th, Amazon reported its net income of $1.6 billion, up from $724 million. Overall revenue had risen to $51 billion, from 35.7 billion. With this surge of income, Amazon’s CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, found himself adding over $12 billion into his fortune. The median annual salary for an Amazon employee is around $28,000. Bezos earns this amount in about 10 seconds. He is the richest person on the planet, with a reported net worth of around $134 billion.

Jeff Bezos says that he sees no reason to hold onto his fortune for personal use. He states his plans are to spend his fortune on what he claims to be his most important project, his privately-owned aerospace company, Blue Origin. Currently, Bezos funnels around $1 billion of Amazon stock annually to fund his aerospace company (Michaels, 2018). Bezos’s Blue Origin has set its sights on space exploration and settlement.

Industry giants Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase are currently in the process of forming an independent health care company. This alliance was sparked due to huge increases in medical treatment. Their goal is to reduce the increasing rates and quality of healthcare provided for their employees. This service is claimed to be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints”, but it is unsure if this company would go non-profit. JPMorgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, states that this undertaking could eventually be expanded and offered to all United States citizens. The announcement of the health care company, stocks of healthcare providers, such as UnitedHealth Group, Humana Inc. and CVS Health Corp, fell around four to five percent. Critics argue that the three partners will struggle with getting lower rates from hospitals and doctors (Wingfield et al., 2018). With their combined access to consumer data, the partners believe they can create a successful system. The partners are currently in the process of appointing a CEO for their healthcare company, and expect to have an announcement in the coming months.

Amazon holds the position of the world’s largest electronic commerce. The company has shown to be dominating in most markets, such as books, electronics, and toys, playing a role in the closure of traditional retail stores and chains. The organization is so massive and successful that it has an influence in politics. This leaves us to question if this sort of influence should even be possible. If not, what can be done? Should a movement be made against an organization which attempts to form better healthcare coverage for its employees, yet lines the pockets of its CEO even further while the average worker saw no increase in their wage? It’s hard to say, and there just seems to be no outrage on the matter(s). Amazon attempts to do so much good, but this maybe just on the behalf of the shareholders. There’s a reason why Bezos is the largest majority shareholder for Amazon, and this is exactly why his fortune, as well as other majority shareholders’, continues to grow exponentially. It should be expected that we see more profitable innovations come from Amazon in the coming years. 2017 was a year that everyone demanded President Trump release his tax information, but when it comes to Amazon the outrage seems non-existent. As Amazon continues to grow so will its expenditures. It makes me wonder what Amazon related news we’ll receive in the near future.

Works Cited

Bhattarai, Abha. “Amazon Doubles Its Profit – and Hikes Prime Membership Fee 20%.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 26 Apr. 2018, http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/amazon-doubles-its-profit—and-hikes-prime-membership-by-20/2018/04/26/31f5a14c-489a-11e8-827e-190efaf1f1ee_story.html?utm_term=.00d7e02355b1.

Buffett: Berkshire-Amazon-JPMorgan Healthcare Initiative to Have a CEO in ‘a Couple of Months’.” Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo!, 5 May 2018, finance.yahoo.com/news/buffett-expect-ceo-healthcare-company-amazon-jpmorgan-couple-months-171828017.html.

Metcalf, Tom, and Jack Witzig. “Jeff Bezos Boosts Fortune by $12 Billion in a Day on Amazon Surge.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 26 Apr. 2018, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-26/bezos-pads-fortune-by-12-billion-in-a-day-as-amazon-sales-surge.

Michaels, Matthew. “Jeff Bezos, the Richest Person in the World, Thinks It’s Possible to Blow through His Entire $131 Billion Fortune – and He Has One Big Purchase He Plans to Spend It On.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 2 May 2018, http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-ceo-jeff-bezos-plans-to-spend-fortune-space-travel-2018-5.

Weise, Elizabeth. “Amazon’s Fight with Seattle Gives Second Headquarters Cities a Taste of Their Future.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 4 May 2018, http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2018/05/03/amazons-fight-seattle-over-housing-gives-cities-taste-future/578474002/.

Wingfield, Nick, et al. “Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Team Up to Try to Disrupt Health Care.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Jan. 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/30/technology/amazon-berkshire-hathaway-jpmorgan-health-care.html.


Posted in econ soc, org soc, soc mov, teaching, Uncategorized | Leave a comment