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Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Callously Targets Children

by Joel Bakan

University of British Columbia law professor Joel Bakan scored a surprise bestseller with The Corporation, the 2003 book developed alongside the feature-film documentary of the same name. Bakan resumes his anti-corporate attack with this account of how unrestrained, psychopathic capitalism exploits the most vulnerable members of our society: children.

For corporations, children constitute a new market to exploit, leading big business to squeeze “childhood into forms and practices designed to yield profit.” Our belief that children should be protected and nurtured has been pushed aside by strategies aimed at maximizing their economic value, even as child labour. And large corporations have no conscience to prevent them from sacrificing the best interests of children to the exigencies of their bottom lines.

While Bakan makes good points about the rise of “kid marketing” and the impact suffered by children from some forms of corporate misbehaviour, it’s fair to say that he overstates the case. In many instances, children are secondary targets or even collateral damage resulting from big business’s more general assault on all of us. Young people are far from the only members of society to suffer the effects of video-game addiction, junk food, the over-medicalization of mental health, and environmental toxins.

Given its broad range of subjects, one sometimes feels a need for greater analytical depth. A bit more historical perspective might have helped as well, since our modern concept of childhood is a fairly recent cultural development.

Arguments urging us to “think of the children,” however, are not new. Indeed, the subject was raised in The Corporation. And Bakan’s suggestions for fighting back against corporate malfeasance through stronger regulations that respect the precautionary principle (erring on the side of caution in cases where full scientific certainty is unavailable) will likely sound familiar to many readers. But the book is nevertheless a useful reminder of real threats, and a call for concerned parents to become concerned citizens.


Reviewer: Alex Good

Publisher: Allen Lane Canada


Price: $32

Page Count: 320 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-0-67006-907-1

Released: Aug.

Issue Date: 2011-10

Categories: Science, Technology & Environment