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September 28, 2009


Simon Griffiths

Hi. It seems that this situation is now repeating itself in the call for reparations for IBM's alleged activities in S.Africa during apartheid.


Irving - that's a sad and dismaying tale, not as unusual as one would like to think by any means. Your sharing it is appreciated. As a fellow citizen and x-IBMer I feel like apologizing for the uncivil behavior of people who are unknown to me, in fact. A complete violation of ethics and the norms of civilized behavior - the sort of ends justify the means the leads to the problems they purport to deplore.
This wasn't quite the topic I expected however when popping over to read the post. The question of social responsibility and corporations (or any large organization) is one I hope you return to because it's so critically important and needs to be re-framed. Let me suggest some items to contemplate. First any organization must create value for the society it lives in; in the case of a corporation this is a responsible profit without which there is no fund for future hiring, innovation or long-term survival.
Second, an organization owes it to it's employees, itself and society to create a productive and meaningful workplace environment, if for no other reason than self-interest.
Third - it must contribute to creating a healthy society by a)not doing harm, e.g. polluting, by b) cooperating with other members of its industry to correct such externalities when individual action is not feasible or affordable, e.g. the Auto Industry and Healthcare or the Energy Industry and oil depletion. Finally c)no company, or organization, can thrive when society is dysfunctional, e.g. the deficiencies of American's educational system directly and indirectly impact every business.
In case you're wondering these are channeled from Peter Drucker in his magnum opus Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices written circa 1973!
I highly recommend it obviously, not least because it's the most thorough, comprehensive and analytical consideration of the nature of social responsibility but because his well-reasoned conclusions are far beyond the standard interpretations.

Alex O'Neal

People creating a documentary about questionable ethical behavior should realize that engaging in questionable ethical behavior themselves ultimately undermines their very goal. Particularly when they engage in it while filming.

Thanks for sharing this :-)

John Dickmann


I think you pointed out the fundamental issue at the end of your post, without stating it explicitly: the people who deceived you behaved in exactly the same way that they hypothesize corporations to behave--without conscience.

Mark Achbar

I reject Irving Wladawsky-Berger accusations that before, during, or after my interview with him for The Corporation he was “deceived” by me or anyone involved in making the film. In making The Corporation we sought to treat everyone we interviewed fairly, both out of respect and in order to inform our audience as thoroughly as we could.

The basis of his erroneous allegations is that he was "tricked" because we discussed many issues relating to corporate social responsibility but in the final film used only portions regarding evidence of IBM's role in streamlining the mass slaughter of Jews in WWII.

There was no deception. Our letter of invitation to IBM accurately described the film as a "multi-faceted discussion" addressing the corporation's "history and role in modern society" at a time when "the critics of corporations are increasingly vocal." Mr. Wladawsky-Berger chose to speak as an IBM representative about the responsibilities corporations bear to society. In that context it was reasonable to explore the evidence of IBM's role in the Holocaust and offer IBM the opportunity to address it.

I agree that we were “nicely chatting”, as he suggests, but that did not alter the fundamental nature of the interview that he had agreed to do - namely a professional interview for the purpose of a documentary film and television series. If Mr. Wladawsky-Berger was insufficiently prepared to answer some questions, he was free to say so, suggest we speak with someone else, and leave it at that.

I “high-fived” no one after Mr. Wladawsky-Berger’s interview. We didn't think it went particularly well and neither did IBM. A PR representative for IBM called afterwards asking us not to use the interview – unique in our experience of interviewing numerous, senior, corporate representatives about controversial subjects for The Corporation.

As a filmmaker, I was seeking the strongest, most coherent material. So I offered to drop Mr. Wladawsky-Berger's interview if IBM allowed us, as we initially requested, to speak with IBM's CEO, or to talk to a representative who could more knowledgeably refute or explain the record of IBM’s relationship with Nazi Germany. IBM refused. We used Mr. Wladawsky-Berger's interview because IBM allowed no one else to tell its side of the story. I believe IBM and not the filmmakers let Mr. Wladawsky-Berger down.

Mr. Wladawsky-Berger draws the conclusion that the filmmakers "clearly cared nothing about" the subjects of "medical research, the environment and education" because his comments on them were not used. If he watched the whole film, beyond the part featuring him, he would see others address those subjects.

We were very interested in Mr. Wladawsky-Berger’s responses to all our questions, which were carefully researched and prepared. We did not waste his and our time with an hour-long show knowing in advance which of his answers we would ultimately use.

We worked on the film for six years and interviewed over seventy people for times ranging from thirty-seven minutes to over four hours. Thirty interviews were discarded completely. We asked many interviewees the same questions about corporate responsibility. The most articulate, relevant, revealing, explicit, dynamic, illustrative, incisive answers, both supporting and criticizing corporations, made it into the film. We had no one other than Mr. Wladawsky-Berger to speak for IBM.

Incidentally, we did not say that CBC offered any funding or broadcast for The Corporation. Five other reputable Canadian broadcasters supported the project, four of them educational and one religious, as well as Canadian federal and provincial government agencies.

Despite my original reaction to the interview, in the edited film I found Mr. Wladawsky-Berger helpful in illuminating aspects of the moral morass that surrounds the historical actions of a publicly-traded business corporation. I remain grateful for his participation and am disappointed at his response and allegations.


Mark Achbar

C. Enrique ortiz

Mark Achbar, don't insult Irvin's intelligence or of the readers of this blog.

Don't hide behind the excuse of "multi-faceted discussion".

For a technologist such means the many facets of the company w.r.t. technology.

You used and manipulated the opportunity, thus you behaved exactly (by using the same misleading principles) as the Nazis...

Next time, when asking for an interview, be honest, be civil - yes, it will be much harder to find the people to talk to, but remember, the end doesn't justify the means.




You lose your credibility if you resort to such tactics ("underhand" I may add) for gaining "ammunition" for your film. Even a single piece of misinformation is sufficient to invalidate your 6 yrs of work on the film.

I haven't seen the film but I am glad that the segment involving Mr. Wladawsky-Berger was innocuous.


Lois Slavin


IBM has a long and rich history of doing much good in the world. I wish the film makers had focused on that.


Paul McKeon

Mark, I think you've just proved the point in John Dickmann's comment.


I am happy that Mr. Wladawsky-Berger has got this off his chest, however those who posted comments comparing Achbar's tactics to the Nazis are being ludicrous, the desperate energy used to protect IBM at all costs is typical of people who will never admit that reality doesn't care about our little constructs, about our little ideas of wrong and right, but that we should; Black's work is not discredited, Mr. Wladawsky-Berger as a good corporate soul was never interested enough in the history of his company to get to the bottom of this and IBM's behavior in this context is unsurprising. Corporations have only adopted morals since its coming into fashion, the bottom line and ethical behavior have not been compatible for very long. Getting to the truth is too uncomfortable for the vast majority of us.

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