I bought a packet of custard creams the other day, and saw that they were made by a company called Crawfords. I wondered who Crawfords were and who ultimately owns custard creams. I have a general feeling that a small cartel of giant corporations owns more-or-less everything branded, but I’ve never really looked into the details. Why I chose custard creams I don’t know. Maybe because they remind me of being a child in the Midlands.
Growing up, Crawfords sounded to me like a family firm where everyone knows everyone else, and they have a little door with a bell on it when you walk in – somewhere like Rochdale or Wigan, maybe.
Perhaps that was once the case, but now they’re owned by United Biscuits. United Biscuits is a Godzilla of a company. Most of the biscuits you’ve ever eaten were probably produced by United Biscuits – wherever you are in the world. Their annual revenue is over £1 billion.
But it doesn’t stop at United Biscuits. A little research shows that in 2000 United Biscuits were bought by ‘a consortium of financial investors’, and then in 2006 by the Blackstone Group – a private equity and investment banking group with a skyscraper in Manhattan, managing funds of over £300 billion (since then UB has been sold to a smaller holding company worth ‘only’ around £20 billion).
What interest do global financial institutions have in biscuits? Is it because they enjoy baking? I’ll let you answer that.
So then I thought about another childhood favourite – Heinz tomato soup. In my mind’s eye, Heinz was already a bigger company than Crawfords, but who was it ultimately owned by? It didn’t take much research at all, this one. Heinz merged with Kraft and is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, an American multinational conglomerate holding company, with over £500 billion in assets (that’s billion, not million – that’s more money than you could possibly imagine), and 3G, another multi-billion dollar global investment firm (private equity, hedge funds), who own Burger King.
My God, do we really need the global financial sector to make soup and biscuits? Surely if there’s anything we can make for ourselves in our communities it’s soup and biscuits? Does every spoonful of soup or every biscuit we eat really have to suck money out of our communities to pay the shareholders of £500 billion finance corporations? Really?
This stuff is not difficult to find – it’s a game you can play with other brands, that will amuse and horrify you in equal measure. You begin to see just how far the money men have their talons into us.
What else do the money men own? I did a bit more research, and remembered a study carried out by Swiss researchers in 2011 that blew me away at the time. You may or may not have seen it first time round, but I thought I’d mention it again here. The study was by Stefania Vitali, James Glattfelder and Stefano Battiston, and was called ‘the Network of Global Corporate Control’.
It’s the first serious attempt to look at the overall corporate control of the global economy. Concentrations of wealth in individuals and families have been studied, but not control of other organisations. In their introduction they say:
Certainly, it is intuitive that every large corporation has a pyramid of subsidiaries below and a number of shareholders above. However, economic theory does not offer models that predict how TNCs globally connect to each other.
They looked at the ability of certain shareholders to impose their decisions on a portfolio of multinational corporations, and how concentrated this power is. Here’s a summary of what they found:
- The Orbis database identifies 30 million global economic actors, of which 43,000 are identified by the OECD as transnational corporations.
- Transnational corporations form a giant ‘bow-tie’ structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic “super-entity”.
- The strongly connected component, or core, is very small compared to the other sections of the bow-tie.
- About 3/4 of the ownership of firms in the core remains in the hands of firms of the core itself. In other words, this is a tightly-knit group of corporations that cumulatively hold the majority share of each other.
- Only 737 top holders accumulate 80% of the control over the value of all TNCs. This represents around 0.1% of the total, and is comprised mainly of US / UK financial institutions.
- Within this group of 737, 40% of the control over the economic value of TNCs in the world is held, via a complicated web of ownership relations, by a group of 147 TNCs in the core, which has almost full control over itself. This represents 0.02% of the total.
- 75% of the core are financial institutions.
- Network control is much more unequally distributed than wealth. In particular, the top ranked actors hold a control ten times bigger than what could be expected based on their wealth.
- When a financial network is very densely connected it is prone to systemic risk. Indeed, while in good times the network is seemingly robust, in bad times firms go into distress simultaneously. This knife-edge property was witnessed during the recent financial turmoil.
- Antitrust institutions around the world (e.g., the UK Office of Fair Trade) closely monitor complex ownership structures within their national borders. The fact that international data sets as well as methods to handle large networks became available only very recently, may explain how this finding could go unnoticed for so long.
Here’s the study, here’s a write-up about it in New Scientist, and below is a TED talk by one of the researchers, James Glattfelder, entitled ‘Who Controls the World?’ (note – the write-up and the talk are much easier to understand than the study).
So what can you do? Here are some suggestions:
- Bake your own biscuits.
- Make your own soup.
- Understand how control of the global economy is concentrated in an extremely small number of financial institutions, and what this means for democracy.
- Don’t fall for conspiracy theories about specific families, Jews or Illuminati (especially lizard-related theories); the problem is the system – if key people are removed, others will replace them.
- If at all possible, buy things that are unbranded. Keep money in your community rather than having it siphoned out to strengthen the corporate sector.
- Talk to other people about this / blog it / put it on social media – some people will think you’re a bit mad at first (trust me on this one), but more and more people are getting it.
- Move your mortgage from a corporate bank to a mutual society (e.g. a building society like the Nationwide), or if you’re looking to buy, approach a mutual rather than a bank.
- Move your money.
- Change your life.
- Join our network.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Paul Jennings February 8th, 2016
Nice piece, Dave. The crucial point of course is that if we all had time to bake our own biscuits and make our own soup, not just time mind you, but a bit of good cooking gear and the know-how, then we’d no longer be such hapless victims of a system built to do exactly what you say, extract wealth from every single community in the world. The process of proletarianisation does not stop with us losing our little bit of land or the tools of independent trade, it continues into the deepest recesses of our culture, leaving us buying biscuits and soup when there should be nothing more natural than baking biscuits and making soup, but how do you bake biscuits and make soup when your life and soul belong to work, when the product of your labour is stolen by your employer and then what’s left is looted by the state? There’s no reformist solution to this for the mass of folks.
2nane February 8th, 2016
what on earth were you doing buying custard creams?
3Dave Darby February 8th, 2016
I know (hangs head in shame). They just reminded me of my lost youth.
4Dave Darby February 8th, 2016
Agree entirely. No matter how excited people might get by Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn (and they really do talk like humans rather than politicians), their approach is not revolutionary and therefore won’t work. It would go something like this: Sanders wins. He makes corporations pay their taxes properly. Corporations move out of the US, taking jobs with them. Chinese and other corporations have an advantage. The US economy suffers. Trump wins the next election. And so on – forever. Nothing works with this system.
5sunhivebees February 8th, 2016
….. you did it in the name of research, and we can all be grateful for a great illuminating article, thank you for getting those custard creams!!!
6Dave Darby February 8th, 2016
Thanks! I won’t be doing it again though.
7Dave Darby February 8th, 2016
By the way, Blackstone and other private equity corporations appear to be struggling – http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/02/stock-market-investors-abandon-private-equity-expect-no-profits-overall-from-companies-now-owned.html
8Stacey McRee February 9th, 2016
Thanks for the profile of facts … the anthroposophical mind immediately flashes to “Why?” and “How?” as background to the facts.
(Touching briefly on several points below in a condensed manner)
To blindly accept that all of this is caused by simple will to dominate the world would be unworthy of anyone who studied Steiner. One obvious explanation would be the violation of the separation of the economic sphere and the rights sphere — anthropop-speak for gov’t invasion of markets and financial enterprises. Once this boundary has been breached by the State, businesses are forced to grow and consolidate in self-defense. Small entities cannot survive the onslaught of gov’t regulation. Only a large corporation can afford the extra departments needed to deal with proliferating new rules and with unending red tape.
The “How?” follows on the gov’t-meddling: businesses’ natural response to the threats of gov’t control is to get in there and influence how much damage that control inflicts. Lobbyists are born from every new territory attacked by gov’t bureaucracy. And once you have lobbyists, then you have the full dance of gov’t corruption.
Corporations are not intrinsically harmful – in fact, more people are provided with a higher quality of life through the work of the individuals in these corporations.
… remember to resist the popular antagonism toward profit: that is a deceit perpetrated by Marxists who base their philosophy on materialism. An anthroposophist recognizes how materialism leads inevitably to false conclusions, and how actions predicated on falsehoods serve those opposed to humanity. So the fact that corporations are turning a profit does not translate into proof of corruption ! …
Power wielded to harm others, to steal from them and line the pockets of the powerful: this is indeed a problem in the world.
The path to solving this is freedom: recognize the necessity to roll back gov’t power. Confine gov’t again to the rights sphere. Pull its tentacles off of the cultural sphere (nix public education, gov’t health care; and remember the abuses of the Soviet Cultural Ministry which dictated which books could be published, which symphonies or ballets could be performed? That would be another example of State control of culture). Remove gov’t from the economic process (free market, minimal federal taxes). This kind of liberty cannot help but create prosperity. Steiner details exactly how this takes place in his 14 lectures “World Economy”.
In fact, re-reading those lectures today, global corporations are seen to be logical and proper in a global economy …
Standing on anthroposophical principles, as found in “World Economy” and related books, and further principles of right and good as found, for instance, in “The Work of the Angels in Man’s Astral Body” one realizes: The U.S.Constitution is a genius framework for a Threefold Social Order. It confines the government to the rights sphere.
Most of what is wrong with American society can be traced to abandonment of American principles, abandonment of the Constitutional confines for gov’t.
And, of course, this abandonment began with the Progressives in the early 1900’s. (Steiner cannot sufficiently describe his contempt for Woodrow Wilson, in numerous speeches).
9Dave Darby February 9th, 2016
It sounds like Steiner was a libertarian. Would that be fair? I didn’t know that.
I do know that he thought that light-skinned people were more intelligent than dark-skinned people: ‘If the blonds and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense. Blond hair actually bestows intelligence. In the case of fair people, less nourishment is driven into the eyes and hair; it remains instead in the brain and endows it with intelligence. Brown and dark-skinned people drive the substances into their eyes and hair that the fair people retain in their brains.’ (Health and Illness, vol 1, pp 85-86).
And that mammals evolved from humans: ‘You see from this that man did not descend from apes. Man was there, and all the mammals really descended from him.’ (The Evolution of the Earth and Man and the Influence of the Stars, p 54-55).
And that ‘the earth was not in existence 20 million years ago’ (Karmic Relationships, Vol 6, p 16).
He also said that the sun was a vacuum, rather than gaseous – and so on. So I’m not surprised that he mistakenly thought power lies with government rather than with money. We have puppet governments in the West at the moment, at the behest of a corporate empire. Of course there’s lots of overlap – very obvious if Trump wins the presidency, for example – but the revolving door exists already. Probably better to call it a corporate-state alliance.
10Susy Freelove February 9th, 2016
making our own biscuits and soup is valid time spent where as working in a job is contributing to the problem. consumerism, production and work as we know it are all things which must change to create a sustainable society. I make my own soup and cakes and my work is my way of life. x
11Dave Darby February 9th, 2016
I’m with you Susy.
12Helen Kinsey February 9th, 2016
What an interesting debate ! As someone who relates to anthroposophy, my first thoughts are, Stacey, you have forgotten to mention the responsibility that comes with making a profit. In world economy it can be deduced that there are three things that can be done with money, buy, invest or donate it. The donation bit is equally important in Steiners view of the economy and making a profit is no good if you keep more than you need. He also speaks scathingly of land ownership, which as we all know is a huge adjunct to profitable business.
To Dave, a deeper study of Steiners work reveals that Steiner genuinely and truly believes that human beings are equal and there is a possibility of redemption. Teaching in a Steiner school my personal view is that far too much emphasis is put on intellectual intelligence and that there are some incredibly talented children and people with heartfelt emotional intelligence and intelligence in their bodies, many of them may become artists, dancers, crafts people rather than doctors or lawyers, there is no discrimination. I do admit that some of his expressions are unfortunate but to the audience he was addressing and the time in which he was speaking, the information he imparted gave a picture to work with for the whole of humankind. He mentions these things not to discriminate, the discrimination comes from the listener or interpreter. He also had an enormous amount of respect for science; he was a scientist himself, however he was not keen on extrapolated conclusions. His mission was to bring the Spititual into the material. Without deeper study this seems odd to our heavily material society.
Anyway, take it or leave it, your investigation into custard creams, I imagine, would be just up Steiners street, going back to the real facts, come to think of it he was very interested in lies ! The Karma of untruthfulness is a heavy read but very revealing if you take it in the right spirit.
Thanks for the custard cream investigation! The next question is what do we do now ? The www is a little like the advent of printing and the reformation, we can read for ourselves and draw our own conclusions, share information and donate to projects we believe in. Somewhere along the line, I think, we have to experience something more than the material and truly believe that as human beings we can overcome this “evil” by working together and making it our business to expose it and work in the right way…..
13Dave Darby February 9th, 2016
I’ve met lots of Steiner folk, and I like them. I reject their ideas around biodynamics (and homeopathy) though, because of the absurdity of the concept of succussion. However, it results in things being grown without pesticides, which works for me.
You say: ‘He mentions these things not to discriminate, the discrimination comes from the listener or interpreter.’, but he says that dark skin reduces intelligence, which is nonsense (please tell me you think it’s nonsense).
You say: ‘He also had an enormous amount of respect for science’, but he said that mammals evolved from humans, that the sun is a vaccuum – and a lot more that shows that he must have had very little respect for science.
But, as I said, I tend to like Steiner folk, just think Steiner was wrong about a lot of stuff. So with a very limited lifespan, and an almost limitless amount of stuff to read, Steiner doesn’t make it onto my list I’m afraid.
You say: ‘we can read for ourselves and draw our own conclusions, share information and donate to projects we believe in. Somewhere along the line, I think, we have to experience something more than the material and truly believe that as human beings we can overcome this “evil” by working together and making it our business to expose it and work in the right way…..’
Absolutely. Lowimpact.org is (up to now) all about what individuals can do, and as a means to bring about change, that approach is limited, because so few people will do it. Plus it will happen in a corporate system that is inherently unsustainable. There are lots of very good people working on fantastic projects that help take the economy back from the corporate world – co-ops, community energy, open source, credit unions, to name a few. I think the trick is to co-ordinate their efforts to produce a united front. We’ll be working on more systemic projects in future, and will be happy to work with anyone who understands the damage being done by our current system.
Debate is good I think – we can disagree about details whilst working towards a better system.
14carol February 9th, 2016
It is irrelevant what Steiner thought then – what matters is that we do not think that today as we know different. But avoiding the globalisation in as many ways as possible makes sense – so do bake your own biscuits and make your own soup – and bank with your local building society, Nationwide is fine.
15Dave Darby February 9th, 2016
Nationwide is very fine. They have a clause for members that means they cannot make any money at all if the Nationwide is de-mutualised, as happened with other ex-building societies.
16John February 10th, 2016
Paul: calculate the costs in time and goods, add “the joy of cooking” your health, and your time at home, sprinkle in the appreciation of others (there must be others to make all life worthwhile), and, there is no way a “to go ” soup can be as good or as economical. Simple recipes abound on-line. Stay home, rest, renew, enjoy.
17ianji February 11th, 2016
Strange coincidence seeing this in my feed today as only last night I learned about a looming custard cream shortage due to flooding of the United Biscuits factory in Carlisle as a result of storms Desmond and Eva. Apparently some supermarkets are already running low on ginger nuts.
18Dave Darby February 11th, 2016
We need teams of grannies (sorry, people – sexist and ageist), knocking out contraband custard creams and ginger nuts. They’d taste better, and they wouldn’t involve giving money to the evil ones. They’d cost more though, but the grannies (sorry again), would then have more money to buy things from the local furniture-maker, who would have more money to buy things from the local brewer, who would have more money to buy things from the local market gardener, who would have more money to buy things from the local renewables installer. You get the idea.
19Helen February 19th, 2016
Thanks for the reply Dave ! Of course I don’t think the colour of you skin makes you more or less intelligent ! Dare I say it neither did Steiner but hey, it’s not my job to convince you so happy to agree to differ. Steiner was a scientist, he took his degree in Physics but then branched out. He championed Goethe’s way of viewing science and spent years in Weimar having been asked to do a synopsis on Goethe ‘s scientific writings. He also had a lot of time for Faraday. I have a science degree myself and I understand how limited the thinking of the scientific world is, as limited Economic thinking ! There are more wholesome ways of viewing science other than the ways we are taught by school, media and government, just like there are more wholesome ways to view the Economy ! Problem is we are brainwashed and unless we make the effort to dig deeper and study, quotations out of context seem outrageous. The tabloid press are fine examples !
Here’s to working for a better world, in thinking, feeling and doing.