“Who the hell do we think we are?”

By Yasmin Ahmad
(Transcribed by Murtaza A. Tajbhoy, from the recording he made on his mobile phone of the speech Yasmin gave to Sri Lankan business community)

Who the hell do we think we are?

In today’s world, ‘business’ is rapidly becoming a dirty word. And worse, people , ordinary people are starting to see us for who we are.

Doing something in the name of business, is often used as license to be greedy, and to cheatthe common person for as much as you can get away with.

One product is put in three different bottles, and given three different names. The objective is, triple sales.

But when sales are merely doubled, shareholders jump, heads roll, people lose their jobs and families are left without incomes.

Subesequently, better cheaters are hired.

The rich must be made richer, at all costs,even if it is at the expense of the poor. As far as im concerned, cheating is cheating, whichever way you look at it.

After 20 years in an industry which lubricates the cogs and wheels of ‘business’, I see thinggs for what they are.

And i find myself gravitating towards business corporations that have tetained at least some respects for the common folk – I refuse to call them ‘consumers’

When the sales of product dip, we put housewives into little rooms with two way mirrors. We prod them with various sti uli. We tick boxes. The housewife is no longer a housewife, but rhesus monkey, or a guinea pig, or Pavlovian dog.

Who the hell do we think we are?

Housewives are our mothers, our sisters, and our daughters. It cantake me a lifetime to know my mother, but a large corporations believes it can know her intimately, tihin a couple of hours.

Who the hell do we think we are?

Make no mistake – I’m not against competition. Only i feel that competition can and should be conducted fairly, humanely , and in a gentlemeanly manner. In a competition like this, products have to be made better. There must be no cutting corners. And yet by all means, make a profit. But woth some consideration for the incomes of the people you are selling to.

Recently, an American company wanted to patent basmati rice. The people of India cried foul. Well and good.

The people of Thailand, apparently, weren’t so lucky. Having exported tonnes of catfish to the States for decades,mthey woke up one morning and were told they could no longer export catfish to anybody, because an American company had patented the name ‘catfish’.

Recently, i attended one of those research sessions where you put our mothers into small rooms with two way mirrors. Our so called C and D class housewives were veryvocal. And very articulate about how packaged food items looked much better in advertisements than they do in real life.

Well then, bloody good ! The worm has turned !


In the past, international petroleum companies would go to underdeveloped countries, dig up their oil and gas, fence up their staff quarters, guard their knowledge jealously, pay royalty, and ciao!

Today, Malaysia’s very own oil & gas company, PETRONAS, goes to developing countries. Help them to dig up their oil and gas. Teaches them how to do it. Sends their best students to the PETRONAS Petroleum Technology University (UTP) in Tronoh. builds hospital, clinics, and schoolsfor their common folk. Sends their own children there, and populates local offices with more locals than Malaysian s.

by doing all this, they have been winning oil and gas exploration contracts from underthe noses of those old school companies who now spend millions on advertising, claiming that they are clean.

Could this be why Malaysia has been emarked as a potential terrorist country?

The time has come for business men to think differently. Act differently. So taht when we speak differently, people would believe us.

So that when we ask ourselves the question, “Who the hell do we think we are?” – we can sincerely answer, we are decent folks, trying to earn a decent living, by selling decent products at decent prices, to our own mothers, sisters and daughters.