|"WHAT IS RESEARCH?"
"Research is digging facts.
Digging facts is as hard a job as mining coal
It means blowing them out from underground,
pushing them to the surface,
and then turning them loose on the public for fuel,
for light and heat.
Facts make a fire which cannot by put out.
To get coal requires miners.
To get facts requires miners too:
--- John Brophy, Pennsylvania miner,
United Mine Workers Association 1921 Convention
Former Democratic U.S. Senator from Oklahoma Fred Harris was always fond of saying that you can't make corporations responsible because they have no soul to save nor butt to kick, but you can make them accountable. Not only should that be the primary goal of worthwhile and accurate corporate research, but also research that can educate remembering the words of Fred Ross Sr. "you educate to organize, not organize to educate."
By examining current corporate ownership patterns in agribusiness, identifying those patterns through data, research and analysis one can establish a framework of corporate accountability and how best to use that framework in the process of organizing family farmers and other relevant coalitions.
An essential first step is to identify the type of ownership: sole proprietorships, partnerships and corporations --- the latter usually either private "closely held" corporations or "public" corporations, those corporations which sell stock on the open market.
Because the primary purpose of private corporations, i.e., Cargill, Inc., the nation's largest private corporation, is to conceal their financial affairs from public scrutiny it is often difficult to gather facts on their operations from a single source, rather it requries assembling facts from a variety of sources.
By law, U.S. public corporations must make reports periodically to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Unlike corporate annual reports, designed to convince the company's shareholders that they have made a wise and profitable investment, the reports corporations make to the SEC must be truthful. One should not ignore, however, the annual reports because often in boasting about the company's operations one can learn some interesting facts.
Reports that corporations must make to the SEC include:
> an annual 10-K report, a comprehensive description of the corporations financial affairs, properties it owns, products it produces, subsidiaries, legal proceedings that it might be involved in that would affect its value and other valued information;
> an 8-K report which must be filed with the SEC within 15 days after any event which may effect the value of the corporation's stock,
> the DEF 14A report or the proxy statement, which is basically a notification to the stockholders concerning an upcoming stockholder's meeting, what the agenda for the meeting will be, what resolutions will be put before the stockholders, who are the candidates for the corporate board of directors and the incumbant directors. It is this latter information that makes the DEF14A report so valuable for it not only lists the corporation's directors, the corporate stock they own, their financial compensation (as well as the financial remuneration of management), possible conflicts of interest in stock ownership and a brief resume of each board member's service on other corporate boards, professional and\or academic positions.
These reports are available on the Internet at:
There are also a number of publications which can be extremely helpful in gathering corporate research.
FORBES MAGAZINE throughout the course of each year publishes a number of important lists. In late April it lists the top 500 U.S, corporations in sales, assets, profits and market value in addition to a corporate directory listing all the addresses and other relevant numbers of each corporation in the top 500. All such information can also be accessed at:
Usually the first issue of FORBES each year carries a listing of all the top corporations profitability (return on stockholder's investment) and related figures by industrial sector. A late November, early December issue usually lists the top 500 private corporations in the U.S. while an early October issue presents "America's Richest 400" with brief individual and family biographies and net worth. An early November issue publishes the nation's top 200 small businesses, an early July issue lists the world's top billionaires, and a late July issue carries a list of the leading corporations throughout the entire world.
Another valuable source of daily information is the WALL STREET JOURNAL. In addition to purchasing and\or subscribing to the printed edition the JOURNAL, it can also be accessed on the Internet --- for a price! However, considering the newsstand price of the JOURNAL the Internet edition is a real bargain --- $4.95 per month. Not only does one get all the news that is printed in JOURNAL, but also all the Dow Jones Newswire and Barron's copy. In addition, one can assemble their own personal edition, selecting five key subject areas, then listing within each subject area a number of key words. Each day then when one goes to their own personal JOURNAL all the articles that are available in their subject areas are ready for reading and\or downloading. To subscribe and access the JOURNAL go to:
Another valuable international source of information is available through the EDITOR & PUBLISHER magazine web site. Here is an international directory of all the newspapers, radio and television stations, periodicals and magazines which have web sites. It can be accessed at:
Specifically, there are a number of daily newspapers that should be checked on a daily basis. They include:
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE WASHINGTON POST
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
THE FINANCIAL TIMES OF LONDON
While there are a a variety of different trade publications dealing with agribusiness, corporate agribusiness and agriculture in general that can be accessed individually there is one web site --- AGRIBIZ NEWS HEADLINES --- which provides a comprehensive overview of all such publications and can be accessed at:
Another valuable source of progressive-thinking news and opinion on those issues relevant to agribusiness and agriculture --- COMMON DREAMS NEWS CENTER --- can be accessed at:
In addition to newspapers and periodicals valuable corporate information can also be gleamed from the local County Tax Assessor's Office, the State Secretary of State's Register of Deeds, the Federal Election Commission, Funk & Scott's Index of Corporations and Industries, Standard & Poor's Corporate Register, Dun & Bradstreet's Million Dollar Directory, and Moody's Manuals.
Most major corporations today also have their own webs sites and can be a valuable source of information. By purchasing a share of stock in a particular target company one is entitled to all the privileges that come with being a shareholder, including receiving all the corporate mailings and attending the annual stockholder's meeting. Stockholders, no matter how many shares they own, are entitled also to bring two people with them to the annual meeting (ostensibly their "lawyer" and their"accountant").
In conducting corporate accountabilty research it is always wise to remember the words of William Sloan Coffin:
"It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos,
`let justice roll down like mighty waters,'
and quite another to work out the irrigation system."