Monday, April 07, 2008

Tesco - Every Little Helps

Capitalists often tend to claim that capitalism and democracy go hand in hand. That for people to be free from state tyranny, the best option is to reduce the power of the state and put public industry in the hands of capitalists who are free from the constraints of government bureaucracy. This would then, according to Milton Friedman's acolytes, lead to greater economic stability and prosperity. However, as we have seen in countries such as Chile over the years, in order for capitalism to truly thrive, civil liberties must be curtailed and a new authoritarianism must rise up. It is in this context that we see the latest efforts by the corporate world to replace state tyranny with corporate tyranny.

Tesco's operation in Thailand (Tesco Lotus) has taken the rather dangerous step of attempting to shut down the right to free speech in regard to it's operations in the country. According to reports:

Tesco Lotus, one of the biggest retailers in Thailand, has filed two staggering defamation cases against a Thai columnist and a former member of Parliament, sending a strong message to civil society and the press to tread carefully before criticising the retailing giant in Thailand.

Tesco Lotus is suing columnist/academic Kamol Kamoltrakul and former Thai National Legislative Assembly (NLA) member Jit Siratranont for 100 million baht and one billion baht, respectively, after they criticised and questioned the aggressive expansion strategies of Tesco Lotus in Thailand.

Put aside for one moment, the laughable concept that to defend against allegations of aggression, one must act aggressively. What exactly did they say that caused such offence?

Siratranont, currently the secretary general of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, was quoted by British newspaper "The Observer" as saying in a speech to 150 activists: "The large-scale expansion of the big retailers must be exercised with great care – not too aggressively and too rapidly - to reduce the potential tension, which could lead to serious conflict. There is also the need for the small retail traders to adjust to changes. Tesco Lotus must take all of this into account."

Kamol was sued for an article published in the Thai-language "KrungThepTurakit" (BangkokBizNews), which expressed generally the same concerns about Tesco Lotus' aggressiveness, and also what the columnist suggested was the retailing giant's weak social responsibility in Thailand.

Hardly worthy of a defamation case. Slowly but surely, across the globe, a new style of tyranny is spreading. This tyranny protects the rights of the rich whilst destroying civil liberties. Oh yes, they may tempt you with 'competitive prices' and the illusion of 'choice', but they simply want you to buy their goods and shut up. Totalitarianism is back, and we're the ones paying for it.