The World Belongs to the Corporation.

by | Jun 30, 2022 | Corporate power | 0 comments

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The corporation over the last two centuries has transformed to become the overarching influence which governs all society’s interests. We now live for the corporations which design our future. Until the late 19th century, this was not the case, however. They were only operated for narrowly defined projects, like the buildings of railways, but have since grown to become the economic super-institution which dominates the global market.

From Walmart’s $559 billion revenue in 2021 to the huge influence of Ford, corporate business has shaped the new commercial way of living due to “the increasing role of financial motives, financial actors and financial institutions in the operation of domestic and international economies” (Davis and Kim, 2015; 202) occurring.

Since the late 20th century, it has been clear that technological innovations, like in transport and trade, have globalised the economic sphere. The ‘offshoring’ of production to the cheap labour markets of the southern hemisphere has allowed for massive financial growth for the west and has in contrast made lives worse for the workers of less developed countries worldwide.

With the establishment of The World Trade Organization to enhance free trade through tariffs, important quotas and new ownership regulation this level of economic dominance has beeen controlled to some extent. The emergence of different corporate economic forms has also helped. Democratic co-operatives employ 10% of the employed population and ‘B Corporations’ or Benefit Corps make profit with legally defined goals for positive social and environmental impact to contest corporate power.

The problems of mass corporations can be understood through the Brent Spar oil platform dilemma revolving around Royal Dutch Shell in 1995. Greenpeace activists occupied the platform to prevent it’s sinking, a method of low-cost disposal in the north Atlantic. They decided not to sink the platform, leading to a Greenpeace victory, and representing the growing power of civil society. Via the New Statesman (1997) Robin Grove-White analysed the Brent Spar campaign as “a watershed, marking the emergence of new ways in which markets can be subjected to social disciplining…For the first time, an environmental group had catalysed environmental opinion to bring about the sort of change in policy that unsettled the very basis of executive authority.”

The growth of market campaigns to limit corporate domination continued throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Shell published a Corporate Social Responsibility report in response, a bid to understand the company’s global reputation. This power shift in favour of the people depicts the growing awareness regarding ill-management and corruption within forceful worldwide corporations and what peaceful mobilisation can determine.

Shell’s adoption of John Elkington’s “triple bottom line” in 1998 emphasises this change in perspective. Now economic, environmental, and social factors must be addressed in administration where they had been previously set aside. It was made clear, however, that further change would be required for many large-scale corporations.

Sixty-nine of the top economic entities consist of corporations rather than states with most being oil companies or banks as of 2017, implying their worldwide consistence and integrity. Due to their large importance in societal life, they should be viewed as a social institution as they reflect the outcomes of mass social struggle over the last two centuries. Markets are inherently both political and social as they function through the regulations of the state whilst employing workers who can contest corporations through worker’s groups like labour unions and environmental groups.

All economies, as stated by Bolton and Laaser (2013) are “moral economies”, built from sustained social hardship endured in earlier periods. America, for example, ran its agriculture on the institution of slavery before it’s late abolition in 1865 via the 13th amendment. The UK is not too dissimilar, with colonial slavery continuing well into the 1800s for the benefit of economic growth at the cost of the objectification of slaves and their removal from society’s social order.

We are now in a better place in terms of civil rights and equality, but we still have a long way to go. Nike is an example. They have been accused vigorously for using both sweatshops and the abuse of workers to produce their clothing and footwear in East Asia. The growing influence of both the media and human right’s movements has allowed for this to not be swept under the carpet, but to be understood by the hardship endured by the poor whilst the rich owners of corporations indulge in upper class activity.




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