Welcome to the Corporate Behavior Index

CBI Uncategorized

by B. Dolan

When Sage Francis and I created Knowmore.org in 2005, we were young writers and performers with political beliefs and an aim to control and document corporate power.  We were musicians with an understanding of journalism, raised in the early hip-hop tradition of radical politics and revolutionary thought.  We’d grown up listening to Chuck D snarl: “I like Nike, but wait a minute!” and studiously learned “industry rule #4080” from A Tribe Called Quest.  

It was already clear, in 2005, that private money and wealthy interests had permanently warped electoral politics, and many young activists were looking for ways beyond voting, boycotts and protest to confront the crisis of capitalism gone-off-the-rails.   It was disenchantment from the 2004 election, along with the book “Fast Food Nation,” by Eric Schlosseger, that lead me to the growing millennial movement around ‘ethical consumerism’.  

The idea was that more public investigations into the practices of companies, educating consumers on a large scale, could lead ethical shoppers to ‘vote with their wallet’ and impact corporations.  Armed with (then) new technology used by Wikipedia, we set out to create a website that could serve as an activist-minded search engine for corporate abuse information.  Our initial work taught people about the companies behind thousands of consumer brands for over a decade.  We also rated each company across a custom metric designed to measure their social responsibility.  The five categories were Workers Rights, Human Rights, Environmental Impact, Political Influence, and Business Ethics.    

A generation of journalists and activists were attempting, at that time, to educate people about the true cost of the goods they’d been supporting with their purchase power.  This was three years before the financial collapse of 2008 and #OccupyWallStreet, and five years before the Citzens United vs. FEC decision.  Projects like Knowmore.org, along with the work of countless journalists, scholars and activist organizations, became the reasons companies spent millions in marketing and re-branding.  

Meanwhile, the effectiveness of ‘ethical consumerism’ was put to the test.  “Ethical Shopping Guides” became popular in the years that followed, though their methodology and reasoning often left a lot to be desired.  One popular website urged users to buy from companies that gave money to center-left politicians in order to sway elections, even though these companies had abysmal records and were flooding Washington with lobbyists. Language was co-opted, consumers became overwhelmed and hopeless of ever finding an ethical option.  

As the database grew over the next decade, a larger picture became clear.  The abuses of Corporate Power across the world had gone beyond the ability of any one boycott to control or correct.  In many cases, there simply was no truly ethical shopping option available to consumers.  

In this way, the focus of the project shifted as the depth of reporting in the database increased. At the same time, the realities of our corporate crisis became  steadily more obvious and difficult to ignore.  The rise of the Facebook, Amazon and Uber created new evidence of existing dysfunction in futuristic markets.  Corporate money in politics produced an era of deregulation and unchecked greed; a greed that is now being coded into the technologies we increasingly rely on to communicate with each other.

The privatization of our environment, internet, and now even the COVID vaccine, continue to teach the same lesson nearly two decades later.  Multinational corporations should not be trusted to govern and regulate themselves.  Current law and legal doctrine in the U.S. and elsewhere, as it relates to corporations, needs updating and a radical realignment.  The problem of corporate abuse is global and systemic.  

In 2020 we decided to organize and regroup the Knowmore.org project, due to people’s continuing demand for it.  While the site became impossible to maintain in the early days of Web 2.0–before the existence of crowdsourcing or many of the means people now use to fund independent journalism–we believe it’s been re-tooled and is now poised for a more successful and sustainable launch than ever before.

I’d like to extend my personal thanks to Chris Faraone, editor of The Dig and a veteran New England muckraker, for convincing me of the database’s long-term value as a resource to journalists and scholars.  Our mission is to keep this site free to the public and never behind a paywall, via readers subscriptions and donations.  We also have funds and a payscale in place to create new independent reporting, as well as the fiscal sponsorship and help of the Alternative News Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  We’re excited to be working with trade organization dedicated to watchdog journalism for the first time, and look forward to the possibilities of that partnership.

I also want to shout out Brian Borghum, the lone wolf programmer who rescued the Knowmore.org database, cleaned up entries and removed dead links, and got the site to where it is today.  He’s already donated hundreds of volunteer hours to the project no doubt, and done a great job of bringing us forward in time as a functioning site.  He’s been working hand-in-hand with Dylan Petrohilos, a talented designer, developer, activist & storyteller responsible for our rebranding, renaming, and re-design.  Dylan’s been working overtime on the project for months as well, and will be responsible for our outreach, promotion, and social media presence in the months to come.

We’ve also connected with BlueLena, AKA those pop-ups you keep seeing as you browse the site.  BlueLena was founded by a team of experienced newsmedia executives, with a mission to create “a sustainable future for independent local media through building and supporting subscription, membership and donation models.”  They’re essentially an in house fundraising department, who enable readers who have the means to contribute, helping to fund new reporting and keep the database free for those who can’t.  

Readers, Editors and Board Members can join our mailing list and Discord community for free, where they’ll be updated on new stories we’re working on.  Discord community members can request companies you’d like to see the database cover and ask questions of reporters, while engaging with the project on a number of financial support levels. Eventually we might make a tote bag, who knows?

I’ll remain involved with the project as an advisory board member and ambassador, but I’m hoping that journalists, activists and community members will take the lead in determining the future of the database.  People’s repeated question of “what happened to Knowmore.org?” which I’ve fielded around the world for half a decade, have finally been answered.  Knowmore.org has been relaunched as the Corporate Behavior Index.  The database is back online, and will be rebuilding and updating in the months to come.  Subscribe to the email list!  

I look forward to watching and helping as this site sets out to document–and hopefully influence and change–Corporate Behavior.