One of the earliest critiques of Amway and American Imperialism – 1971

Those of us living in West Michigan are not used to any substantive critique of the most powerful company in the area, Amway. Indeed, the only real critiques have been found in alternative news source or Indy Media.

While working on a project to look at anti-Vietnam War organizing in Grand Rapids, we came across this article in a January, 1971 issue of the Calvin College Student newspaper, The Chimes, entitled, Cleaning Out the Third World.

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The student who wrote the article, Hubert VanTol, attended a business luncheon on Calvin’s campus and heard both Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel speak. VanTol provides a summary of the Amway philosophy early on in the article, but in the last third states the following:

The most important issue in maintaining a wealthy economy is maintaining the control of the raw materials needed by American industries to keep producing the finished products. The United States simply does not have the raw materials to maintain its wealthy economy. Almost every significant raw industrial resource that American industries use is imported from poverty-stricken Third World countries in African, South America and Asia. Thus, the American Way has a vested interest in maintaining control over the countries from which the resources come. The continuation might be maintained by sheer economic brute force, by political manipulation or rewarding governments which are friendly to us, by CIA-inspired coups who are not cooperative with us or by wars to “maintain freedom” and to “prevent the spread of communism.” The United States has a vested interest in keeping these Third World countries in developing their own industries because their is only a limited amount of raw materials available and the United States needs nearly all of it to keep its monster economy moving. So, the American Way, or more specifically the leaders of the American Way, the large corporations and the government leaders have vested interests in keeping those Third World countries poverty-stricken so they cannot gain economic power to resist American economic exploitation.

The student writer then connects this larger critique of capitalism and US Imperialism to Amway by stating:

….because of its name and because of what the purpose of the company seems to be – to sell and promote the excellence of the American Way – the company has become an adequate symbol for every United States business. And Amway stands for those same ideals which have made world-wide exploitation of the poor possible. A fantastic belief in free enterprise without governmental or “socialistic” controls is logically consistent with the outlook that the United States has the right to use the world’s resources indiscriminately. A belief in scientific progress is logically consistent with the belief that solutions will always be found for the world’s problems before a crisis explodes. A belief that economic strength is the ultimate test of the “rightness” of a system is logically consistent with producing suicidal weaponry at tremendous cost to protect the system, with polluting the world to a slow death, with maintaining slaveholder control over much of the rest of the world in order to maintain the strong economy.

Hubert VanTol may not have envisioned the ongoing growth and political influence that Amway and its founding families would wield in West Michigan or in US domestic and foreign policy, but he certainly had a fairly accurate understanding of the power dynamics that have allowed the Ada-based company to grow. The past is the present.

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