The influence of corporations on our lives, the planet and human possibilities for the future is immense. At the UN Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, civil society aimed to highlight the role of corporations in undermining the life support systems of the planet. Instead, the corporations succeeded in making themselves invisible and removing themselves from being the target of criticism. This process continues and is currently gathering pace both in climate and biodiversity negotiations. Here more and more mechanisms are emerging that allow corporations to expand their resource and profit base with few environmental or human rights obligations attached.
Corporations are legally obliged to prioritise profits for their shareholders over all other considerations. The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was invented in the 1960s as a means to promote corporations as good citizens. But CSR is not legally binding. And citizens in general have no say over what the company has to do to show Responsibility. Whilst access to information is widely regarded as a citizen’s right, only a few countries have made legal provisions for public access. Even so, corporations can and do prevent or delay disclosure. They do this by claiming, for example that details about a pesticide are Confidential Business Information (CBI) and cannot be disclosed. As a consequence, the public increasingly has to resort to legal proceedings – where such legal frameworks exist - and go to court in an attempt to force disclosure.
Falling revenues from property and banking have led to investors, speculators and companies seeking new sources of profit from land, agriculture, the climate markets and biodiversity. Thus instead of tackling climate change, they seek to profit from it, as discussed in Carbon markets – a distraction from the real priority . This diverts attention from what we really need: to reduce the destructive consumption of energy, water, soil, minerals and biodiversity.
EcoNexus has produced and stimulated the production of materials that tell the history of the corporation, analyse areas of particular concern, plus possible means of addressing corporate power.
A brief outline of the development of the corporation and some of the major problems can be found in Who’s in Charge? , a guest paper for EcoNexus.
Analysis and examples focusing on agriculture, food and seed from around the world can be found in the book Hungry Corporations – transnational biotech companies colonise the food chain which is available for download as individual chapters.