It_s the Corporations, Stupid!

The BBC’s excellent radio show Talking Points recently focused a full hour of discussion and call-ins from all over the world on the collapse of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancún, Mexico. Dozens of callers representing a wide range of views posed questions to various experts, including the former head of the WTO Michael Moore. Yet not once did the many participants use the name of the institution that controls most of the trade in the world: transnational corporations. You can verify this myopia by checking press accounts from the past few weeks and see what percentage of the reporting notes the fact that trade is done mostly by large corporations, NOT nations. Yet most of the discussion in the media is framed as if nations do the trading. National governments may be involved in negotiating the rules of trade, but they do not trade much‹corporations do that. And the corporations are also the dominant influence in the WTO. Because some of us were able to obtain security badges to get inside the WTO meetings, it was easy to see the close relationship between the government officials and the hundreds of corporate lobbyists hovering about, pitching their narrow, profit-seeking agenda. To illustrate the confusion, you can find press references to the astonishing fact that China sells more computer equipment and electronics to the United States than the U.S. sells to China. But it is not China selling that mountain of plastic and metal, it is Dell, Compaq, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and other corporations. In recent years they have shut down facilities in the United States and moved them to China because they can pay workers a fraction of U.S. wages and they can save piles of money by polluting China’s environment in ways that would be illegal here. What motivates a transnational corporation to invest in a country or engage in trade? Only when a company has reason to believe it can take away more wealth than it puts in will it invest money in a given place. This is why the areas of the world with the greatest natural resources also suffer the worst inequality and environmental destruction. Doubt it? Look at Nigeria with all that oil. The worst suffering and pollution is right in the Niger River delta where most of the oil is. Look at what half the world¹s gold in South Africa produced: apartheid. Or you can visit the old mining towns of the Rockies or the California Sierras and see how they became ghost towns once the corporations had sucked out all the mineral wealth. Or go to one of the poorest sections of America‹Appalachia‹and consider how many billions of dollars of coal were extracted from that region by companies that got fat off the misery they left behind. The notion that international trade is some rising tide that will lift all boats ignores the simple fact that most people in the world can¹t afford boats or they have boats with holes in them. So a rising tide means greater inequality between them and the yacht owners who control both the global economy and the global rule-making institutions such as the WTO, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. These secretive global governing institutions are run by very wealthy people. Some of them may come from `poor countries’ but they are far better off than the majority of people in the world, and that poor majority has no true representation in this fledgling global government that is being created behind closed doors. And that is why it is good that the so-called trade talks in Cancún collapsed. The WTO is not just creating trade rules. It is expanding into areas such as water, healthcare, electricity, education, and is steadily creating a global constitution that will subordinate local and national democracy to the profit needs of transnational capital. The WTO seeks to subordinate life (human rights and the environment) to commerce.

Ask people on the street, which is sacred, commerce or life, and see how skewed the answers will be. Most people know that life is sacred and commerce is just an activity, like sport or entertainment. It is a necessary activity, for sure, but it is just an activity and is not sacred like life is. The WTO must be subordinated to the multilateral environmental and human rights accords that give higher priority to meeting social needs and protecting Mother Nature than to maximizing corporate profits. In creating a global constitution, we can either subordinate life values to money values or we can subordinate the money cycle to the life cycle. This choice now confronting us will determine whether future generations thank us or curse us. Let¹s not blow it. Dr. Kevin Danaher and Jason Mark are coauthors of Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power (Routledge, 2003).

Kevin Danaher can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected] and 415 255 7296 X223. Jason Mark can be reached at [email protected] or 510 551 9685 or 415 558 9690

Leave a comment