Today, I think I reached a breaking point; I have truly realized how close-minded so many business classes can be. To sit in an eighty-minute class scheduled to discuss a shoe company’s exploitative outsourcing methods and have a professor leave only twenty-five minutes for the case made me furious. That case could have been discussed for hours upon hours more than its designated time frame. Twenty-five minutes seemed like a sad joke. But according to my professor, it’s only a small case, so it doesn’t really matter.
“A small case.”
Really? A case about a corporation’s excessive use of sweatshops and their failure to see the wrong in that hardly seems like a small case to me. The class that was covering this case is one of the only mandatory classes for Ivey students. It is meant to teach students about managing the inconsistencies between the pursuit of profit and the public interest. Of all the courses at Ivey, shouldn’t this be the one class where issues like unethical labour practices can actually be talked about beyond shareholder value and profit? This is the course that should teach students about the duty that corporations have to society. But today, it failed to do that.
I don’t mean to get caught up with the diction here. It wasn’t the word “small” that upset me; it wasn’t even the professor who was teaching that class. In fact, he is one of the few people who actually recognizes the bigger picture. What upset me was the normalcy of thinking of these huge social issues as minor cases, as issues that don’t need to be worried about too much.
The shoe company’s greed for more money at the expense of the people who make their products is mind-boggling to me and deserves to be analyzed for more than twenty-five minutes. An in-depth discussion is especially important considering that the main arguments cited in the company’s defense came from a blatantly false and poorly researched report. This report’s proven inaccuracies were not mentioned in the case or in our assignment instructions. I did my own research to realize the inaccuracies, but other students may not have realized the distortion of information. These distortions shape students’ understanding of the situation and if students believe everything in those cases, they may think that problems like sweatshops aren’t as bad as people like me make them out to be.
My favourite point from my fellow classmates during this class was that at least by outsourcing manufacturing to developing countries, we are giving them jobs. This argument is like saying “Here, let me give you a pile of shit. At least I’m feeding you.” Meanwhile, wealthy Western corporations exploit factory workers in countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam left and right while those same corporations sit down to 5 star meals every night. Why aren’t 4 star meals good enough? At least this way, that pile of shit becomes a bowl of nutrients to help foster strength and growth. Corporations make so much money and yet they are still trying to cut costs – at the expense of the worker – in any way they can. Higher wages or better working conditions are simply too much to ask. Why is it too much to ask? It’s because all of those people in power, those who control these giant corporations went to schools where “shareholder value” is religion and to go against that is blasphemy.
Despite all of this, Ivey actually does make the occasional attempt to show that there is more to business than shareholder value. Unfortunately, these attempts have proven to be ineffective and ignored.
Last week, Ivey brought in a world-renowned business law professor from Cornell. I was pleasantly surprised. She talked about how the notion that corporations’ only role is to increase shareholder value is flawed, that this only promotes short-term growth and not long-term impact. Companies think “why invest in making the world better if it hurts our quarterly reports?” Nothing else matters other than those quarterly reports.
I didn’t agree with everything else she said, but that’s okay. Disagreement can be good but ignorance is not and ignorance is what I saw in that giant auditorium. I sat in a sea of other Ivey students whose level of disrespect was unbearable. The number of phones I saw being used to text friends or in some cases, play Tetris, were uncountable, and the volume of conversations I heard were overwhelming and rude. Here is someone who is posing an alternative view to Ivey’s way of thinking and no one listens. The people who are supposed to be “tomorrow’s leaders” won’t even consider that successful business can exist even when profit isn’t placed above everything else.
Don’t get me wrong, not every aspect of Ivey infuriates me. There is a class about social enterprise. There are some professors who bring these issues I have discussed into their classrooms. There are even a handful of students who criticize Ivey as much as I do for these same reasons. But it isn’t enough because there’s only one social enterprise class, only one or two professors who teach about these issues, and the students who criticize Ivey are vastly outnumbered by those who don’t. These things are treated like the “token other side.” They may exist in Ivey, but they have little influence.
I am frustrated with Ivey but I still go to school every day even when the thought of it makes my heart race and my hands shake. I know that in order to fix the problems I see in the world, I need to understand them first, even if it means learning about balance sheets, competitive risks, and returns on investment. If I ignore that side of the argument, then I am just as bad. But if I can understand the language that business schools teach in, then maybe I can influence them to change.
Something in me snapped today – maybe that’s a good thing – but I think it needs to happen to more people. There are an astounding number of complicated problems in the world and sometimes thinking about them, plus all the unknown problems I have yet to discover, makes me want to pretend they don’t exist. But then I go to class and realize there are already too many people doing that. With every graduating class, another flock of “leaders” go out into the world with a close-minded perspective that they learned from Ivey. Are we happy with what that mentality means for the world? I’m not. I want that mindset to change. It needs to change.