Friday, May 22, 2009

Milgram's Wall

Today I was talking about Stanley Milgram's experiment involving volunteers shocking a subject (an unknown confederate actor) until he passed out. About 65% of people were willing to shock the confederate to the maximum voltage. But once Milgram introduced a wall in the scenario, 90% of the people tested would shock a person to the max.

This fits well with another project we recently finished. I had students compare multinational and local independent companies on various criteria. Aterwards we discussed why people continue to buy products that have a production practice that harms people or the environment. Why do we still buy Mars or Hershey or Cadbury products instead of fair trade chocolate?

It's Milgram's wall. Once that wall goes up, we're willing to do a bit more harm, shock to a bit higher degree, and it doesn't bother us as much. His experiment took place in one room with a divider. Ours takes place over the entire world. If people are harmed on the other side of the world, it simply doesn't hurt us as much to hurt them. It doesn't hurt us enough to stop, at any rate. We know, logically, that we're causing harm, but we're not feeling it.

Here's my handout:

Mini-Project: Multinationals

Topic________________________ _____ Name(s):_____________________________

“The history of luxury could more accurately be read as a record of emotional trauma.” - Alain de Botton in Status Anxiety

Alone or in a small group, research one multinational corporation or their product using the Internet, and then research a similar local company or their product. Use this worksheet to create an outline by following the steps below. You will be presenting your information to the class, and you will learn about the corporations and local businesses they studied also. (Yes, it will be on a test.) The hypothesis of this study is that multi-national corporations are more harmful in general (to the employees, producers, environment...) than independent companies. Let's find out if that's a correct assumption.

Tap and Bottle (Evian, etc.); Colgate and Tom’s of Maine

EMI and Righteous Babe Records; Lush and the Body Shop

Chapters and Wordsworth Books; McDonald's and Harmony Lunch,

Starbucks and Fair Trade Coffee; Walmart and Ten Thousand Villages,

Dominoes Pizza and City Cafe; Nike and Blackspot,

Mattel and Discovery Toys; Loblaws and Vincenzos

Nestle products and Food Co-op products; Dairy Queen and Whole Lotta Gelata

Mars and Fair Trade Chocolate; KFC and Free Range Chicken

Home Depot and Canadian Tire; Cars: Gas and Electric or Solar

American Eagle and Loop; Coke and Jones Soda

Revlon and Mary Kay; Tampax and the Keeper

Kimberly-Clarke and 7th Generation; Gap and Earthwinds clothing

Chiquita/Dole and organic bananas; Paper: Hemp and Trees

Cheese: Kraft and Pine River; Molson-Coors and Brick

or find a match for.... Nortel, Microsoft, Disney, Sprint, Shell, Sony, Mitsubishi, Time Warner, Enron, de Boers, Kraft, Philip-Morris, Tommy Hilfiger, Hanes, Sara Lee…..


1. Research the multi-national corporation on the internet - you'll have to dig!!

(Use the handout called “Useful Website for Finding Dirt on Corporations.)

2. Research the independent company by walking in or calling (or use the internet)

3. Keep all your rough notes - they will be submitted when you present (don't type them)

4. Make a handout or poster as a visual aid - include only the most important points

PRESENTATION DATE:________________________________

FOCUS on the environment, labour practices, employees, producers, etc.

** Where do the profits go? How well are people paid compared to other companies?

** Is anyone or anything (environment, animals, etc.) exploited at any stage in the production or distribution of the product?

** What’s done with wastes? Are any harmful by-products created in production?

DIG deeper than the company’s own website. This site will obviously be full of positives about the company. Research alternative news sources like Adbusters, Z Magazine, Mother Jones, Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Jon Stewart, Fast Food Nation, Whitewash…


1. What other business(es) is involved with this multinational (an owner, a partner, a division of the company....)? Trace the line of linked companies as far as possible.

2. What has the multinational corporation been accused of doing? Have they been formally charge? How does the company justify or deny complaints?

3. Explore its environmental, labour and production practices in depth.


4. How long has this company been in business? How many people own it? How many locations are there?

5. Is it affiliated with any other companies? List any affiliations.

6. Do they ensure environmental responsibility in any way? Explain.

7. How do they ensure they are fair to their employees? Explain.

8. Do their producers get reasonable prices for their labour or products? Explain.

9. What are the benefits and problems of being an independent company?


10. Is your local company/product a better alternative than the multinational? Explain the benefits and problems of buying from each company.


PROCESS (ability to do research during class) ___/10:

You'll be evaluated on the thoroughness of your notes, and the effective use of class time.

EXPLANATIONS (ability to clearly teach ideas to the class) ___/10

Did you capture the essence of the ideas? Was it too wordy or too brief? Were all ideas clear and coherent?

VISUAL AID (ability to use the blackboard, overhead, poster..) ___/10

Was the visual aid clear, readable and useful?


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Anonymous said...

Hi there, I'm happy to finally join! You can see I love Natalie Portman.

We'll chat later with you guys on the boards!