Profile of a Christian Right Candidate: Dick DeVos (Part Three)
Russ Bellant printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Oct 22, 2006 at 01:10:41 PM EST
Part three of this series focuses on Dick DeVos' invovment in his family's AMWAY corporation.  If you wish to read Part One, click here, Part Two, click here. -- ed.

Amway: The Employer as Cultmeister

A final dimension of the kind of leader DeVos would be is indicated by the very nature of Amway, aka Quixtar. Amway seeks to project itself as a company where hard work and the right attitude can turn you into a wealthy Amway super distributor. Those who fail to succeed are made to think that they failed due to their own "negative" attitudes. If they would just get the right spirit, believe in themselves, believe in the product, read `positive' books, listen to more motivational tapes and lectures, etc., then they might succeed.  The Amway system actually has relatively few successes.

Many people lose money, buying Amway products, attending motivational rallies, buying motivational tapes and books and looking for the elusive breakthrough that always seems to be around the corner. Like the addicted gambler, that cannot see that success is just not in the cards.

As a "multilevel marketing" system, each Amway distributor has someone over them that gets a cut of their sales. The direct distributor is the first supervisory level where they get cuts on all sales below them. Because they have recruited enough people, they just make money off them, usually friends and relatives. As they grow more groups they proceed "upline," becoming ruby, pearl, emerald, diamond, double diamond and finally crown ambassador distributors. Only about 1% make it to the first level or above. The highest level only had two people in the world. So the 99% at the basic level, who average about $130 per month, are providing all the income for the rest of the "upline." The upline's only job is to keep the people at the bottom motivated to keep selling Amway. So the upline folks suck up part of their meager earnings of their distributors by selling them motivational tapes, books and $100 tickets to rallies. One Crown Ambassador earned an estimated $35 million per year, not by selling Amway, but by selling motivation "tools."

Amway rallies are heavily themed with patriotic appeals and /or prosperity gospel ( god wants you to be rich ) and energetic music, so that you come away seeing Amway standing with moral rectitude, righteousness and purpose. When most fail to earn the thousands per month they were lead to believe was realizable, they certainly do not blame Amway - they blame themselves.

Several former mid-level distributors have written books describing the intense levels of control and have described the Amway system as cultic. A number of countercult groups that help victims of destructive cults have criticized the level of control Amway seek to exert as they drive people into exhaustive schedules and daily indoctrination. In The Cult of Free Enterprise, Stephen Butterfield described late night visits for home and wallet inspections to see if Amway products were being used throughout his house. As a former mid level distributor he watched as families transformed themselves under Amway's influence. "The Directs I met, when they reached a certain level in the business, withdrew their children from public schools and sent them into `Christian' schools where they could be taught a fundamentalist version of history and science," wrote Butterfield.

He noted that they became more conservative in their politics after experiencing religious/political revival type Amway rallies. If you wanted to be an Amway "winner" says Butterfield, you "Read only approved books." Eventually, he noted, "homes become Amway homes."

For Amway the more intensive the religious commitment, the more they bonded to Amway's message. The more people were moved in energetic rallies to join Amway's political causes, the more they were family. All this was good for keeping the flock together, selling and uplining. It was good for business. But it also helped Amway with one other business need.

There is still another, less recognized need for the political strength of Amway's money and mobilized flock. The very legality and legitimacy of Amway's activities are unresolved. In Merchants of Deception, former emerald level distributor Eric Scheibeler asserts that Amway has generated billions of dollars fraudulently and that the legality of the Amway marketing system has never been clearly decided. Similar systems, he asserts, have been declared illegal in court decisions. But Amway's has never been tested.

In 2004, NBC's Dateline did a program on the pyramid schemes run by Amway. It confirmed the findings of numerous lawsuits of ex-distributors, that the company makes its money from a hidden pyramid scheme of selling tapes, books and tickets to rallies, all from gullible low level distributors. Selling soap is apparently secondary. According to Dateline, the FBI and IRS are conducting investigations into the schemes.

Scheibeler's book says that the millions that Amway/Devos pay to the Republican Party ( he is a conservative himself ) brings them political protection and favors, including a $283 million federal tax break written into the law specifically for Amway, after they gave Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich a $50,000 "speakers fee" for appearing at an Amway rally. Amway also got tens of millions of dollars from former Governor John Engler for "job training" money at Amway's plant in Ada.

The Federal Trade Commission ( FTC ) investigated Amway and found fraud and deception in Amway's methods in 1979. It was then that Amway kicked off a political action group, Citizens Choice, to oppose government "interference" in business. Supporting this pressure group was expected of all distributors. The Amway network has since given more direct cash to the GOP than any other special interest. Scheibeler, who once worked as a federal auditor, notes that the FTC now has staff favorable to multilevel marketing companies and to Amway.

In 1989, when Amway attempted a hostile takeover of Avon, the cosmetics company rebuffed Amway, calling them in a public letter a company "marked by zealotry" and "morally bankrupt and criminally corrupt," according to the Detroit Free Press.

When Avon called Amway criminally corrupt, they referred to settlements that Amway had to pay for systematically defrauding the Canadian government of customs duties and taxes. Its Canadian subsidiary paid $21 million in fines, while the Ada-based headquarters paid $38.1 million in 1989, the highest in Canadian history. They also referenced the decision of the Federal Trade Commission and the Wisconsin Attorney General's office that charged Amway "with price fixing and misleading claims in connection with the recruitment of distributors." In the takeover attempt, Avon charged that Amway skirted federal law by forming a partnership with a well known "corporate raider" based in Minneapolis.

When Scheibeler sent by certified mail and fax the documentation of massive fraud and deception to Dick DeVos, he believed that the abuse would be corrected. Instead he was ignored. His subsequent interactions with senior management led him to believe that senior management, including Dick DeVos, was complicit in illegal practices.

what AMWAY was like during the DeVos regime. I suspect is says a lot about DeVos management style in addition to the well known far right and absolutely GOP orientation of the company.

A friend of mine was a bartender at a hotel in Washington DC for a regional AMWAY convention in teh 1980s -- which was as she described it, very much like a revival meeting and far right ideology spewing from the podium.  That the coprorate culture was cultic as well as ideological and explicitly partisan was evident at the time.

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