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A Tale Of Two Editorials

Sebastian Mallaby, the Washington Post columnist, is the go-to guy for subjects slightly off the mainstream and, while I don’t always agree with him, the man has a brilliant mind. Today he’s writing about company brands and how (in this multinational culture of global markets) they’ve become the most valuable corporate asset. Off the books, that is. They’re not found on the balance sheet.

When a company gets bought or sold for way more than its book-value, branding is what they used to call ‘good-will.’ The main point Mallaby makes is that the old template of supporting Coca Cola or Nike by vast advertising campaigns is now vulnerable, as never before, to blogs. Public opinion, actually, but blogs are how public opinion flashes across time and space. Make a misstep public-relations wise and the net will kill you.

The blistering speed with which Mel Gibson was strung-up for his drunken rant is evidence. Mel dares not lie low. Neither do companies that abuse customers. Not any more. The old days of painting LEMON across the side of your car are gone.

Which is very powerful and, in its best examples, a shortcut to progress. As Mallaby points out,

Wal-Mart has promised to double the efficiency of its vehicle fleet and achieve a 30 percent cut in its stores' energy usage. Its motive is not complicated. Internet-enabled critics have assaulted Wal-Mart, and the firm's polling has suggested that 8 percent of shoppers have quit visiting its outlets because of its stance on social issues. An environmental makeover was essential to the brand.

The second editorial on WaPo’s pages today outlines the massive destruction that’s being done by commercial fishermen outside territorial waters. Outside the waters usually defined by a 200 mile distance to the nearest land, is pretty much no-man’s land. It may be subject to international rules and regulations, but for the most part policing is nonexistent.

‘Fishermen’ is in itself a misnomer, as we think of the word. Fisherman conjures up visions of two or three hardy souls in a thirty or forty-foot boat, with families to feed and limited capital as well as opportunity.

Silvia Earle, marine biologist and the chair for Conservation International in Washington, in her article points out that

Mammoth trawl gear with names such as "canyon buster" indicate the colossal scale of the assault and the damage inflicted. In an action akin to bulldozing forests to catch songbirds and squirrels, nets mounted on massive rollers are dragged across the seabed, strip-mining everything in their paths. Sometimes a single trawl tears away as much as 10,000 pounds of sponges, corals, fish and other life from the sea floor, leaving a stark, sterile undersea desert.

The U.N. Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea has released a report, and that report yaks about the problems being faced and the need for action. Urgent needs and moratoriums are spelled out, as well as critical habitats and conservation.

Earle accurately points out that the United Nations is in a unique position to act before irreparable damage is done and that the moratorium is opposed chiefly by a handful of countries with fleets of very large fishing vessels.

That’s it, Sylvia, case closed. Nothing, absolutely nothing, short of the United States Navy firing a few shots over the bow, is going to stop fleets of very large fishing vessels. Very large fishing vessels are very large investments, with very large crews and very large profits. Today’s fishing fleets are the national equivalent of the seafaring nations that became world powers off the spice-trade of centuries ago.

Unless, of course, Sebastian Mallaby is right.

The way to go after the environmental chaos created by canyon buster ships is to trace down the brand names that benefit from their catch and get on the net. Not the fish-net, the Internet. In a slightly different incarnation of follow the money, what we need to do is follow the catch, to see what brands from that catch end up on Aisle 7 of the supermarket chains.

According to Mallaby, Wendy's has stopped frying its food in trans fats, which have also been banished from Oreo cookies and Frito-Lay snacks; General Mills makes its Cheerios and Wheaties out of whole grain. In all these cases, companies have responded to public sentiment before regulators compelled them to do so.

Enter commercial fishermen in Google Blog Search and you'll come up with 10,056 entries. Wal-Mart fetches 759,479 individual blogs that mention the merchandizing giant by name. You can pretty well bet that if a Wal-Mart brand of seafood traced back to canyon busters and that link was made public, whole fishery practices would change.

Something’s going on here. It seems to me that it may be more powerful than the United Nations.

Submitted by:

Jim Freeman

http://www.opinion-columns.com As a political commentator, Jim Freeman’s op-ed pieces have appeared on the pages of The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The Jon Stewart Daily Show, The New York Review and a number of magazines.




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