COMMUNICATION IN BUSINESS 100 (311353)Monsanto
Monsanto is the world largest-grossing seed company and the leader in biotechnology within the agriculture sector (Emerging Leaders In Science 2014). It has had the most successful commercialisation and penetration of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and is expected to lead the world in its adoption of GMO within the next decade (History of GM Foods 2014). Monsanto’s global presence and its significant influence over the world’s food sources have attracted a multitude of different expectations from society. In the contemporary business world companies are expected to perform well beyond the traditional economic measure of just profit (Romani2013). Society & stakeholders at large, position expectations in regards to improving the environment, being open and honest with consumers about practices, and generally improving the world. This paper will examine and critique how Monsanto has navigated its social expectations in regards to balancing the needs of its customers, owners and the public. It will examine three areas, the first is its seeding business, the second its history of chemical supplies in warfare and lastly Monsanto’s direct advertising with the public. By exploring these issues this paper will also discuss how Monsanto’s actions have directly impacted its own stakeholders and society at large.
As a species, humans have developed an innate need to ensure that they can gain required nutrients from food. Society has, therefore, set expectations that are informal and formal on companies to produce high quality products that are safe and reliable for consumption (Szabo,Laszlo and Tolnay2013). Farmers are expected to produce the highest quality produce whilst innovating to feed a growing population (Karp 1971). It has also been recognised that society must create more sustainable ways of producing raw materials (Mouysset 2014). Monsanto’s business is in providing farmers with resources to “make agriculture more productive and sustainable. Monsanto’s technologies enable farmers to get more from every acre of farmland.” (Our Commitment 2014) The company has produced, amongst others, two products to achieve this goal. The first product is Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup that “can be used as part of an environmentally responsible weed control program.” (Roundup 2014) and the second is a GMO seed that is“tolerant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup brand herbicides” (Monsanto 2014). Together the two products help farmers reduce expensive costs and “fit with (Monsanto’s) vision of sustainable agriculture and environmental protection” (Roundup 2014). Society’s expectations are that Monsanto’s seeds produce safe and reliable food for consumption. Within Australia, The Australian Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) evaluated 400 studies and approved many ‘Roundup Ready’ GMO products. Other independent studies, however, have shown glyphosate to be linked to toxicity amongst specific fish causing concern amongst scientists about its effects on humans (Uren Webster, 2014). Over the course of GMO production, Monsanto has fulfilled many individuals’ expectations of innovation within farming. As many of Monsanto’s products are raw materials the impact and implications of GMO on stakeholders has had a multiplying effect (Bucur 2013). Shareholders have seen the strongest growth of the company in the recent 5 years with shares increasing over 200 percent over that time (Monsanto Big Promises). For consumers, the cost of production of input goods has decreased, allowing stakeholders to purchase goods and services at lower prices (Ramasundaram 2014). With GMO adoption increasing, society will continue to place a heavy burden on its expectations from the company.
Warfare has existed almost as long as society has; however, contemporary ideologies of how other humans should be treated in a ‘just war’ have evolved preceding the end of World War II (Lee 2009). Expectations from society surrounding chemical weapons were formally formed through the Geneva Protocol, whereby society limited both the use and, in some cases, the development of chemical weapons (Bugnion 2000). Monsanto attracts much of its criticism for its role in the Vietnam War (Gough 1991). Whilst Monsanto distances itself as “one of nine wartime government contractors,” (Agent Orange Background 2014) the company developed a herbicide that was used as a chemical weapon by the United States (U.S.) Military. The chemical was “dumped over jungles to kill vegetation and rout communist forces.” (Monsanto Returns to Vietnam 2012). Whilst yet to be proven, Monsanto’s product, Agent Orange, was especially harmful to the people of Vietnam as it contaminated water supply and food sources that, according to victims, caused deaths, birth defects and widespread chronic diseases including cancers seen to the present day (Schecter 1995). Monsanto’s researchers have argued against these lines of thought but Gough refuted “How paltry, self-serving, and churlish of chemical companies and some scientists to argue that… the evidence for dioxin causing chronic diseases in humans constantly weakens.” (Gough 1991). Monsanto’s main claim to ethical standing is on its website, where it claims it was working in the interests of the U.S. to “protect and save the lives of U.S. and allied soldiers.” (Agent Orange Background 2014). Monsanto may not have fulfilled societies expectations to act in the interests of a just war, however, it did assist in societies other expectations that wars are entered into to be won. Many would argue that Monsanto’s Agent Orange cost Vietnam greatly and assisted the U.S. in ways that would not have been otherwise possible (Lipschutz 2010). Numerous stakeholders felt the implications and impacts of Monsanto’s actions. The U.S. as a stakeholder was provided a weapon that was effective and mobilised their army, the Vietnam people as stakeholders were impacted through the loss of lives, communities and vegetation that the Agent Orange destroyed and, lastly, the United States civilians were affected through the association of a ruthless, unforgiving and murderous people (Lipschutz 2010). Whilst Monsanto no longer produces sells or distributes Agent Orange, it continues litigation to remain out of a liability to its victims (Fawthorp 2004).
Advertising is the primary medium companies use to communicate their intellectual message to consumers and stakeholders (Luo and Pieter de Jong 2012). In a growing trend for companies to increase their transparency (Anderberg 2006), society is setting expectations on what they believe to be appropriate advertising. Society’s sets expectationson the company, the marketer and the media in their role in the marketing message (Hong-Youl 2013). Primarily stakeholders require that the marketing message is authentic and truthful in its content (Penaloza 1999). The company’s role is to provide relevant information to the marketer to be able to explain and build a selling point for the organisation (Hong-Youl 2013). The expectations for the marketer can be a grey area in that stakeholders expect a bias, however, spin is almost always not encouraged (Andrews 2006). The media and the expectations for them are set to be neutral and it is the media role to report independently on their findings (Hong-Youl 2013). Within marketing, Monsanto most notably did not meet societies expectations with its advertising of Roundup. The product was originally sold to consumers and promoted as a product that was ‘biodegradable.’ (Monsanto’s Roundup 2013) In reality the product had traits that made is almost completely not the case (Monsanto’s Roundup 2013). BBC News reported that in several courts around the world Monsanto was proven to have deliberately hidden its findings in providing the marketer with insufficient evidence and even created illegitimate research to back its biodegradable claim (Monsanto Guilty 2009). Monsanto argued that the interpretation of the word was intended to be less literal and that all substances eventually biodegrade. (Monsanto Guilty 2009) Lastly, it was obvious that they had also manipulated the media to report positively on their products with Monsanto Public Relations department writing articles that were later published by major newspapers (Corporate Watch UK 2003). These actions did not meet societies expectations. Other expectations it may have met were its responsibility to its shareholders to maximise its profits with some analysts arguing that for the bottom line, it was economically smarter to market Roundup incorrectly and then accept the fines and consumer backlash action for doing so then to forfeit the income in the first place (Monsanto’s Shameful Advertising 2012). The impact and implications of these actions can be seen on two groups, consumers and shareholders. Consumers were uninformed from Monsanto advertising and mislead in their buying power. This resulted in income Monsanto may not otherwise have incurred. Shareholders profited from this deceit and were the direct beneficiaries to Monsanto’s actions. Monsanto now markets its Roundup product without the biodegradable tag and it is the most successful herbicide in the agricultural market (Roundup 2014).
In conclusion, Monsanto’s corporate history has had a myriad of reasons that have contributed to consumers vividly describing the organisation as, “the most evil company is all of history” (Adams 2013). In reality it seems apparent that Monsanto’s primary goal, above all other ethics, is to benefit its shareholders and influence its long-term profits. In an environment and economy that requires corporations to develop a stronger corporate social responsibility Monsanto resoundingly has a long way to go to meet these higher expectations. However, as a company focused on profit and determined to chase success in each of its markets, it far exceeds the expectations of its customers and its shareholders and therefore could be seen as a company determined to do what is right for the stakeholders that matter most to its survival.
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