In the old days, back in the 20th Century, most discussions on unfair trade focused on how World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and corporate monopolies placed Third World countries and their people at a severe and unfair disadvantage. It was assumed the bad guys, those who profited, were us, via our governments. After all, those big corporations making enormous profits at the expense of poor and hungry people in the Global South all had their head offices in rich countries – and so must be ours.
But they really aren’t, are they? Whether it’s the way big corporations now constantly outsource to the cheapest location, use tax havens to avoid paying taxes, or play regions off against one another, multinationals show no allegiance to countries or communities.
Actually, it’s much more serious than that. There is an enormous and deliberate power shift taking place, away from the control of nation states and into the hands of an increasingly interconnected web of multinational corporations.
How interconnected? By analyzing the Orbis Data Bank of 30 million shareholders, a landmark 2011 Swiss study found that 147 corporations held control of 40% of the world’s 43,000 multinational corporations. Given that three quarters of these 147 corporations were financial, it’s highly probable their real power to control is much greater.
Investor-state “trade” agreements: Corporate Empire’s most powerful toolSo, why talk about this growing corporate empire on World Fair Trade Day? Because trade agreements are one of the principal tools corporations are using to usurp the power of nation-states and democratically elected governments.
It’s becoming more and more obvious that the real reason for the existence of trade agreements is to establish corporate friendly rules. These rules are carefully drafted to limit governments’ ability to pass legislation that in any way interferes with corporate profits and corporate empire building. The enforcement weapon is Investor-State clauses that allow corporations to sue governments in offshore tribunals where national laws have no weight. For more information on just how biased and slanted in favour of corporations this whole process is, read Corporate Europe Observatory’s 2012 report, “Profiting from Injustice”. It’s an eye-opener.
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