Beware the corporation!

By Roger Childs        

blairHanging bankers at the end of the street would not help solve problems with the economy. — Tony Blair (left), during the mid 2012 financial crisis. (As reported by John Stevens Mail Online 24 July 2012)

New Zealand, along with other nations, is currently involved in global trade talks.

Negotiations are happening behind closed doors and Prime Minister John Key is not letting on how things are going. It is as well to remember that Key himself, made his millions working for the big American financial institution Merill Lynch.

In the news for the wrong reasons

Business corporations and their kindred spirits, the financial institutions, are regularly in the news. Often it’s because they have been guilty of

  • breaking laws
  • overcharging customers
  • paying their CEOs obscene salaries
  • exploiting foreign labour
  • polluting the environment
  • underpaying tax
  • plundering resources.

Sometimes they get off Scott free, but not in the case of Tony Blair’s comment. Tom Scott did a classic cartoon showing two workmen eating their lunch while reading the paper. One says to the other after spotting the ‘hanging bankers’ comment, Maybe it’s worth a try.

Recently the huge American bank, JP Morgan Chase, has been before the courts over failure to report the Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scam. The bank will pay about $2.4 billion to  settle charges made by the US government. Sometimes the law does catch up with the corporations.

Documenting corporate manipulation, intimidation and corruption

Some readers will remember the 2003 Canadian documentary The Corporation.the corporation It chronicled the growing influence of big business, especially through the process of globalisation. A major element of the film was the way in which multi-nationals get a stake in foreign economies, gain influence over governments and extract both resources and special rights for themselves.

Four case studies, selected from a wealth of corporate activity world-wide, clearly demonstrated harm to

  • workers
  • human health
  • animals
  • the biosphere.

The film also looked at the corporation as if it was a person and on the basis of detailed analysis and expert opinion, the verdict was that the corporation is the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism and fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a “psychopath.”

Then there was the 2008 movie Food Inc which examined how corporations dominate the American crop and meat industries with scant regard for small farmers, safety standards or animal welfare.

A major focus was on the enormous power of US biochemical and agricultural multinational Monsanto and how it has

  • spearheaded genetically altered seed production
  • tried to monopolise the corn seed industry
  • taken legal action against farmers producing their own seeds
  • infiltrated government, and federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.

Increasing their power in the USA

1a eisenhowerfIn January 1961, Outgoing US President Dwight Eisenhower said in his farewell speech to Congress … we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex.

He was right to give the warning and would be appalled to see how the power and influence of the military, the corporations and financial institutions have grown exponentially in the last 50 years.

In 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges wrote the book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. His central thesis was that America was no longer a democracy because a minority of very powerful people had taken over the running of the country.

While they kept the power, the majority were kept happy with spectacle: mindless television and other entertainment, sport, pornography and a huge range of consumer goods.

The influence of big companies over government

To illustrate the way in which the military–industrial complex has become dominant, Hedges analyses the electoral process. To be a politician in the US requires huge amounts of money so the vast majority of the people are excluded.

Finance companies and corporations are willing to contribute to political campaigns and fund universities, but for a price. The price is the enhancement of their power and influence.

This process, plus the failure of most major businesses to pay their fair share of taxation, was the central thesis of the 2012 documentary We’re Not Broke.

There is a growing feeling amongst serious political observers that so called “democracy” in America is now government of the people, by the elites, for the corporations.

Danger time for New Zealand and the world as trade talks proceed

1a trade talks

So, as  mentioned at the beginning, New Zealand, is currently in global trade talks.

But negotiations are happening in secret, so the media is not able to  scrutinize and report on what’s happening.

For New Zealand, the discussions centre on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

This will be linked to the larger Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which will produce a Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TFTA).

If big businesses in the US and European Union (EU) get their way, according to Lori Wallach, columnist for Counterpunch, … existing legislation on both sides of the Atlantic will have to conform to the free trade norms established by and for large US and EU corporations, with failure to do so punishable by trade sanctions or the payment of millions of compensation to corporations. 

No wonder the discussions are being held in secret! 

Corporations are big players in the negotiations

At the TTIP/TFTA negotiations the US delegations have more than 600 corporate advisers. European negotiators also have business representatives advising them. Counterpunch estimates that these advisers represent about 75,000 corporations and subsidiaries.

Negotiating deals may take up to two years and the press and the public need to remain vigilant. There are already laws in place in the US which have forced taxpayers to pay more than $US45 million of compensation to companies over toxic bans and rules on the use of land, water and timber resources.

There is a great danger that without government regulations and public protection, corporations would be able to

  • evade food safety regulations
  • avoid paying for carbon emissions
  • sue governments for lost earnings because of labour laws and environmental protection
  • use extrajudicial tribunals to get compensation from countries because of their health, public safety and financial policies.

All this could happen in the name of so-called free trade.

New Zealand and the corporations

In recent years we have had reminders of the power of overseas corporations. Special legislation was passed, with generous taxpayer support, so that Hollywood interests would back on-going film making here. 

Then there is the infamous Sky City deal, which according to the New Zealand Herald includes a clause that means future governments would have to compensate Sky City if certain gambling laws were changed.

Also the ludicrous invasion of Kim Dotcom’s mansion in January 2012 shows the influence American business interests and the FBI can have over New Zealand government action.

As the trade talks proceed, it’s vital that the public interest and New Zealand’s sovereignty is not threatened.

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