Globalisation: the products but not the ethics


One of the ‘Quotes of the day’ in Time Magazine on the 21st of April 2010 was:

“They have made the mistake of letting the Marlboro Man into the country. “

A photo is featured alongside the quote. In the photo, there is a billboard advertising L.A. Lights cigarettes and an upcoming Kelly Clarkson concert in Indonesia. The Tapei Times writes: “Just a few kilometers after passing a towering Marlboro Man ad, a second billboard off the highway promotes cigarettes with a new American face: Kelly Clarkson.” Radiosophie report: “The marketing ploy comes two years after Alicia Keys objected to a similar tobacco-fuelled sponsorship deal in Indonesia.” The Los Angeles Times and Jakarta Globe also covered the story.

Since the scandal, Kelly Clarkson has allegedly cancelled her tour and her Tobacco-company sponsorship, but the same cannot be said for the Tobacco-company sponsored tours of Incubus (Jakarta, 5 March 2008), James Blunt (Jakarta21 May 2008), or Jamiroquai (Bogor, 8 April, 2009). Tickets to these concerts cost little more than Four US dollars ($US4), so it is clear that without huge sponsorship deals from Tobacco companies, the big artists simply would not perform in Indonesia. It makes me wonder, how many other Pop artists escape the Paparazzi radar and perform with Tobacco-company sponsorship in Indonesia?

For me, these billboards exemplify what globalisation brings and what it doesn’t bring to the developing world. It brings the products but not the ethics. 

One of my early fieldwork conversations was with a middle aged gentleman who was explaining to me why so many people smoke in his country. “It’s to help our economy,” he said, “People in the developed world are buying less cigarettes and a lot of our economy depends on Tobacco. So we have to buy more cigarettes because you are buying less.” 

From this man’s words, it suddenly became apparent to me that the widespread middle-class ethics that encourage people in the developed world not to smoke had effects in the developing world that I had never thought of before. Packets of cigarettes in Indonesia may have a wrapper that states “Merokok dapat menyebabkan kanker” (Smoking can cause cancer), but the shere quantity of smokers in Indonesia indicates that these few words have little effect on cultural habits. As the developed world weens itself off nicotine, is the developing world compensating for our lack of demand?

I remembering talking more with this gentleman as we walked down a busy litter-filled street. I unwrapped a snack and looked for a rubbish bin but saw none in sight. I pocketed the plastic wrapper and continued attending to the conversation. My companion stopped. “I love that about foreigners,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“I love that foreigners look after their environment like you just did and don’t throw their rubbish everywhere. Us, we don’t do that. I really admire that you kept your rubbish.”
I really didn’t know what to say because keeping the wrapper until I could dispose of it appropriately seemed so natural to me. In fact, I was surprised that this man even noticed my behaviour. Judging by the amount of rubbish around the streets, in public parks and even in rice paddies, I just assumed that littering was not something they really thought about. I would have liked to know more about this gentleman’s thoughts on the matter but unfortunately I didn’t find the right question to ask. We started to talk about other matters. After a short while, the gentleman pulled out a packet of cigarettes to have a smoke. He peeled off the plastic wrapping and threw it on the ground by the side of the road. Products may be expediently transported and consumed through the global economy, but ethical behaviour takes a longer time to adopt.

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Paul Mason

I am a biomedically trained social anthropologist interested in biological and cultural diversity.

7 thoughts on “Globalisation: the products but not the ethics

  1. Hi Paul Mason,

    Nice Post.

    Many anthropologists (for instance Stebbins, Singer, Marshal to name a few) have looked at the expanding nature of transnational tobacco companies. Influencing state aparatus of developing countries to have a favourable health policy is one of the strategies TCs employ. For example warning such as “Smoking can cause cancer”, it does not represent any immidiate denger, some people may not have even enough idea what the cancer is. Without any pictorial warning makes the situation even worse. Although people in developed countries have reduced tobacco consumption, it did not affect the profits of multinational tobacco companies because of their expanding market in poor countries.
    The question is how globalisation is actually performing a role as an excuse to allow the expansion of transnational tobacco companies. How millions of people who are already being suffered of hunger and malnutritions are being thrown into another danger? This danger will show up after a decade or so because the symptoms of this danger (tobacco use) takes time to be occured. Are the developed countries creating a future market for their medical advancements and pharmaceuticals?


    1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply Anupom!

      You share some really interesting ideas about the future effects of tobacco consumption in the developing world and the horrid development of a niche market for medical treatments for diseases we know will be on the cards…

      I did not know that multinational tobacco coporations were able to sustain and actually increase their profits by expanding their markets into the developing world. Incredible! Am I to understand that this activity is state-assisted?

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