“Trans-national corporations are the most tyrannical and totalitarian institutions society has yet devised.” Professor Noam Chomsky
A great feature of centralisation of power and the erosion of democracy and the power of nation states, is the trans-national corporation (TNC). These have largely been a development of the last 50 years or so. A constant drive to cut costs, maximise profits and expand markets and market share has led to buy outs, take-overs and amalgamations that have produced ever larger conglomerates. Today Corporations pretty much determine the basics of modern life. Corporate elites decide what most of us will read, what we see in cinemas, theatres and on TV, what subjects are public issues acceptable for discussion and debate, what ideas our children are taught in the classroom, how our food will be grown processed and marketed, what consumer products will be made with what technologies, whether or not we have widely available affordable health care, how work will be defined organised and compensated, what forms of energy will be available to us, how much toxic contamination there will be in our air water soil and food, who will have enough money to run an election campaign and who will not…
A typical TNC straddles state boundaries with manufacturing operations spread throughout the world – its head office, where major decisions are taken, is located in a particular state, but TNC’s today have no loyalty to any state. They can effectively dictate to governments, as they rush around the globe to locate their operations, in the third world in states with the cheapest labour, the least stringent employment and environmental laws, or in the developed world, where they can extract the largest subsidies and tax free incentives.
Highly subsidised grain production in the U.S.A., and EU food surpluses are sold to third world countries, undercutting local production, creating dependence and destroying the livelihood of local producers. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is a global body of appointees which emerged in 1997 out of GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). Armed with supra-national legislative and judicial powers, it has a mandate to press forward with the elimination of barriers to the free movement of goods and capital. The section of the GATT agreement setting it up, ran to 2000 pages, ensuring few would have had the chance to study what the real implications were, before national legislatures ratified it.
Member countries must ensure that their laws comply with a mass of obligations and “international standards”. One member country can seek redress against another, if it considers that the law of another deprives it of the benefit it expects to receive from the new trade rules. In reality it is a TNC’s charter - such initiation is very likely to come from a TNC believing itself to be disadvantaged by a particular law in one country, and can find another country dependent on its presence, to put forward its case. For example Austria found itself unable to operate a ban on the import of tropical hardwoods from unsustainable sources, the U.S. is being forced to lower its requirements for the protection of dolphins in tuna fishing, the EU is facing demands to stop giving preferential treatment to small banana producers on Caribbean islands, which are highly dependent on banana exports, and also to lift a ban on beef from cattle from the U.S.A. raised with growth hormones, and now Canada is facing a challenge over a ban on the import of dangerous pesticides containing lindane. A panel of just 3 so called experts decide on disputes initially, with no right of appeal beyond the WTO itself.
The WTO, the European Union “single market”, NAFTA, APEC etc. are all based on the sacrosanct principle of “free trade”, but free trade is not fair trade. Many now see it for what it is - the freedom for the rich and strong to exploit the poor and weak, as more and more states are forced under these new rules, to remove tariffs designed to protect smaller local producers, local markets and the livelihoods of people associated with them and dependent on them. A most recent example is India where domestic production of edible vegetable oil has been virtually wiped out with the import of subsidised US soya oil and palm oil from Malaysia, following the dramatic lowering of import duties.
People are now recognising that, globally, “free trade”, still hailed as the means to promote beneficial growth, trade and employment, has in fact ravaged the environment and destroyed traditional manufacturing industries and communities throughout the West. It has also helped spawn ghettos, slums and shanties in cities throughout Latin America, Asia and Africa, by creating conditions that force people off the land, as wealthy elites and big corporations have taken over the means of production. For example, in the last 15 years or so, Indonesia has become very popular with big corporations, especially sportswear manufacturers such as Adidas and Nike. Wages are rock bottom and work conditions often atrocious because of weak union organisation and a lack of safety and environmental standards under a corrupt military dictatorship.
The WTO free trade rules actually operate to the detriment of all reasonable employment, environmental and safety standards because such standards are considered to be obstacles to free trade - i.e. if one country adopts higher standards that restrict another country from exporting goods or produce that undermine them, based on industry that is more polluting, more dangerous and has lower paid jobs. It is regarded as “protectionist” to try to give preference to local businesses that hire local people at a decent living wage, produce things that local people need, pay their full share of local taxes, play by local rules and contribute to the livelihood and well being of the community.
This process is driven and promoted by TNC’s and the political establishment that supports them. It is also promoted by academics, universities and colleges which are increasingly funded by big business - not to mention numerous “foundations” and “think tanks” which are almost entirely funded by the same interests. It is claimed that TNCs create employment – they do provide work for a few - but at the same time they have been a part of a process that has destroyed large numbers of jobs and livelihoods based on small to medium sizes enterprises. In fact they destroy far more jobs, than they create. This entire process of opening up markets to so called free trade and unrestricted movement of capital is somewhat deviously referred to as “deregulation”. It is NOT… it is re-regulation in favour of TNCs., witness the mass of rules and regulations incorporated in the WTO.
The mass media is under corporate ownership, ensuring that the corporate agenda is vigorously promoted. The pharmaceutical industry has a vested interest in drugs, which are often ineffective or have serious side effects. Alternative proven successful treatments for cancer are suppressed in favour of drug based therapies with horrible side effects and little real success. There are constant efforts to get regulations imposed on alternative therapies which are in reality designed to make it near impossible to license these products and so drive them off the market, even though they have been in safe use for years. Then there are mass vaccination programmes – a real money spinner if a government can be persuaded to promote one - in spite of the fact that their effectiveness may be very questionable and the vaccines themselves may have serious side effects in some cases – e.g. measles mumps rubella. And then the food chain - big corporations having control over our most fundamental needs – from the ownership of seed companies to supermarkets, they decide what we eat (or in some cases in the third world whether we eat at all) – add to that the latest macabre twist of seeking to patent seeds and to genetically modify them along with plants and animals, in order, it seems, to begin to take control of the very building blocs of life itself. They claim that genetically modified crops are needed to feed the world, yet they ignore the little understood dangers and risks of cross pollination. They ignore also the fact that, in third world countries in particular, the real problem is poverty – the food is there but people can’t afford to buy it! There are radical technologies for non polluting power generation, such as zero point energy and cold nuclear fusion waiting for funding and development but these have been debunked and suppressed for years .
Corporate power manifests itself in almost every sphere of life nowadays. Control of energy supplies, in particular oil – any state such as Iran, Iraq or Libya which has tried to take control over its own oil resources, has faced severe backlashes from the US and Britain and the big business interests they represent. Here in Britain, our utilities no longer belong to the state, and are now in the hands of private corporations, many of which have since become foreign owned through take-overs and mergers. And of course they stand to increase their profits the more water gas and electricity we consume. Even some of our railway operators are foreign owned - e.g Connex South Central is owned by a French corporation. These principles are dramatically extended in the latest WTO promotion - GATS (the General Agreement on Trade and Services). Services include schools, health care, rubbish collection, libraries, water, gas and electricity. The object is to remove restrictions and internal government regulations considered to be “barriers to trade” in the area of service delivery. Privatisation of such facilities in poor countries has serious consequences – with TNCs seeking to profit from supplying water, health and education, poor people who can’t afford much are losing out. Water privatisation in Puerto Rico saw poor communities going without water whilst US military bases and tourist facilities had unlimited supplies. All these services in a truly democratic society are something in which the people have a say - they are called public services. A most effective way to completely undermine democracy is to hand them all to private power, because private power is basically unaccountable. You can’t really find out what’s going on inside a private corporation – they just tell you that it’s commercially confidential. If you can transfer the public arena into private hands, you can have elections in which the outcome makes no difference.
In his book “The Future of Money – creating new wealth, work and a wiser world” (Century 2001) Bernard Lietaer examines a possible future scenario referred to as the Corporate Millennium – government by big business. It is a world in which private shopping malls, sports facilities, housing developments are available, but only to the better off. With a large, angry and increasingly violent excluded minority, these facilities are fenced off and heavily guarded with access only to those who are issued with smart cards implanted with microchips. Databases contain huge records of profiles on consumer preferences and the end of national government is forecast with everything from education, health, policing, army and security services in private hands. The last prime minister finally relinquishes office, his government has no further function – Securicor is to take over the police franchise for the UK, Executive Solutions has the armed forces contract, and Social Services is run by Sonysoft – a merger of Sony and Microsoft. Consolidated Banks runs the economy, whilst NewsCorp has the education franchise. The Prime Minister will slip into retirement as easily as power has slipped into the hands of big business….