Transnational corporations -- those corporations which operate in more than one country or nation at a time -- have become some of the most powerful economic and political entities in the world today. From Joshua Karliner, in his book, The Corporate Planet: Ecology and Politics in the Age of Globalization [Sierra Club Books, 1997], we can gleam a host of fundamental realizations, including the fact that many of these companies have far more power than the nation-states across whose borders they operate.
For example, the combined revenues of just General Motors and Ford -- the two largest automobile corporations in the world -- exceed the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for all of sub-Saharan Africa. The combined sales of Mitsubishi, Mitsui, ITOCHU, Sumitomo, Marubeni, and Nissho Iwai, Japan’s top six Sogo Sosha or trading companies, are nearly equivalent to the combined GDP of all of South America. Overall, fifty-one of the largest one-hundred economies in the world are corporations. The revenues of the top 500 corporations in the U.S. equal about 60 percent of the country’s GDP. Transnational corporations hold ninety percent of all technology and product patents worldwide, and are involved in 70 percent of world trade. More than thirty percent of this trade is “intra- firm”; in other words, it occurs between units of the same corporation.
The number of transnational corporations in the world has jumped from 7,000 in 1970 to 40,000 in 1995. While global in reach, these corporations’ home bases are concentrated in the Northern industrialized countries, where ninety percent of all transnationals are based. More than half come from just five nations: France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and the United States. But despite their growing numbers, power is concentrated at the top. i.e., the 300 largest corporations account for one-quarter of the world’s productive assets.
The United Nations has justly described these corporations as “the productive core of the globalizing world economy.” Their 250,000 foreign affiliates account for most of the world's industrial capacity, technological knowledge, international financial transactions, and ultimately the power of control. In terms of energy, they mine, refine and distribute most of the world’s oil, gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, as well as build most of the world’s oil, coal, gas, hydroelectric and nuclear power plants. They extract most of the world’s minerals from the ground. They manufacture and sell most of the world’s automobiles, airplanes, communications satellites, computers, home electronics, chemicals, medicines and biotechnology products. They harvest much of the world’s wood and make most of its paper. They grow many of the world’s major agricultural crops, while processing and distributing much of its food.
Given their dominance of politics, economics and technology, it is not surprising to find the big transnationals deeply involved in most of the world’s serious environmental crises.
Transnational corporations exert significant influence over the domestic and foreign policies of the Northern industrialized government that host them. Surprise! Indeed, the interests of the most powerful governments in the world are often intimately intertwined with the expanding pursuits of the transnationals that they charter. At the same time, transnational corporations are moving to circumvent national governments. The borders and regulatory agencies of most governments are caving in (or being paid off) to the New World Order of globalization, allowing corporations to assume an ever more stateless quality, leaving them less and less accountable to any government anywhere.
New World Order of globalization, allowing corporations to assume an ever more stateless quality, leaving them less and less accountable to any government anywhere.
These corporations, together with their host governments, are reorganizing the world economic structures -- and thus the balance of political power -- through a series of intergovernmental trade and investment accords. These treaties serve as the frameworks within which globalization is evolving -- allowing international corporate investment and trade to flourish across the Earth. They include:
· The Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
· The World Trade Organization, which was created to enforce the GATT's rules.
· The proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment. (MAI)
· The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
· The European Union (EU).
These international trade and investment agreements allow corporations to circumvent the power and authority of national governments and local communities, thus endangering workers’ rights, the environment and democratic political processes.
A legitimate question is: Is the World Trade Organization an arm of the United Nations?
In a “Substantive session”, 16 July 1996, the United Nations provided a discussion and a “draft decision submitted by the President of the Council on the basis of informal consultations” on the topic of one item on their agenda, i.e. “Non-Governmental Organizations” (i.e. Transnational and National Corporations):
“The Economic and Social Council, reaffirming the importance of the contributions of non-governmental organizations to the work of the United Nations, taking into account the contributions made by non-governmental organizations to recent international conferences, [emphasis added]
“Decides to recommend that the General Assembly examine, at its fifty-first session, the question of the participation of non-governmental organizations in all areas of the work of the United Nations, in the light of the experience gained through the arrangements for consultation between non-governmental organizations and the Economic and Social Council.”
In many respects, the logic is inescapable. If as few as 300 Transnational Corporations (TNCs) do indeed represent 51% of the largest one-hundred economies, then it is basic economic (and therefore political) logic that the TNCs should be represented at the United Nations!!! Or else, one needs to remove from the General Assembly all the smaller economies (countries). But then this also implies that at some point a TNC or two will become a member of the Economic and Social Councils, and then, perhaps, the General Assembly. And then, of course, the Security Council?
Is this altogether bad news? If we are replacing tyrannical, autocratic, or undemocratic member nations with TNCs (who are theoretically answerable to shareholders, and where anyone in the world can become a shareholder), then it might not sound so bad. However, there are shareholders and there are shareholders. Holding a hundred shares of stock does not count for quite as much as holding ten million shares. And the reality is that if TNCs do become effectively sovereign nations, then it’s inevitable that the rich shareholders will use their power to take over the TNCs and become the world’s elite governing force. What the United Nations is perhaps not taking into account, is the unequal distribution of control over the destiny of a TNC. The fact that CEOs and high executive officers have been taking any and most all corporate shareholders to the cleaners for decades is just more fuel to the raging inferno of the lack of corporate accountability.
To counter this trend, Dave Hartley has suggested “four wisdoms of de-globalization”:
Think for Yourself
There is a slight problem, however. The TNCs and domestic major corporations already control the governments of the United States and most of the industrialized nations. This is done by Corporate Politics, and the wholesale purchase of politicians. Already in place is a Corporate State, which wields the economic power of Money. This, by the way, is not a new development. Even in the United States, the dye was cast by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution for the United States of America, whereby private corporations were given the status of persons -- and thus allowed to enjoy the benefits of the Bill of Rights, without the commensurate unlimited liabilities of life. In other words, it’s pretty much a done deal.
The problem, of course, is not merely the greed, power-hungry, and irresponsible actions of certain CEOs and the elite of the TNCs -- but also those who support them. The latter clearly includes bribed governments, but they also include the average person who buys the products and uses the services that these corporations provide. The fact that there is seemingly little choice -- due to governmental intervention -- makes it less of a charge of negligence to the average individual. But these same individuals also often take the path of least resistance, and choose the quality of life which includes telephones, Inter net connections, utilities and services at their beck and call, easy transportation, vacations at remote locations, and so forth and so on. An intriguing discussion of this idea is included in One World Order -- a conservation among several interested observers.
E.g., one highlight of the One World Order is the number of allegedly “high-ranking” individuals who have made it clear that there are forces in the world (potentially for the last several hundred years) that control the destiny of the planet. That there’s a Hierarchy which far transcends the mundane, worldly powers. These forces may have initiated all manner of questionable acts -- from initiating wars and famines to encouraging plagues and other members of the Four Horsemen. Are they have simply responded to these incidents, but in a way that mundane ethics and morality might have found shocking.
If we assume TNCs are simply a portion of the problem, that there are in fact powers far in excess of the average multi-billion dollar corporate CEOs, and that these higher powers are intent upon a One World Order, then we have to wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, this is a good thing in the grander scheme of things. If one was in an overcrowded lifeboat, for example, and in order to save everyone else, the toughest dude in the boat tossed three of the weaker members overboard and allowed them to drown... what would you do?
Being in charge sometimes requires tough decisions. The key is the deeper intentions of whoever is in charge. If, for example, someone or some group has much more power than President George Bush, would this be all that bad? Would that perhaps be wonderful news? Doesn’t it depend upon what the tougher dude’s intentions are? And how those stack up to Bush’s intentions (which seems to be clearly: “more money through O.I.L.”)? Let’s face it: Could things be worse than having John Ashcroft as Attorney General?
Conspiracies do not generally have a great deal of credibility with the average individual. But there is just the possibility that the “Mother of Conspiracies” may be one that has an agenda that is not all that bad. Perhaps, in our Creating Reality, we can manifest exactly that sort of situation.
So, how about getting on that project immediately!
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