book cover

Suiting Themselves

How Corporations Drive the Global Agenda

by Sharon Beder

 

 

Published by:
EARTHSCAN, London, UK Hardback £19.99 ISBN: 1844073319
Publication date: May 2006
224 pages; 234 x 156 mm; figures, index

Best-selling author Sharon Beder unleashes a penetrating exposé of how corporations are crafting the global agenda for their own benefit at the expense of billions of people, the environment and democracy.

In this brilliantly researched exposé, ‘communications Rottweiler’ Sharon Beder blasts open the backrooms and boardrooms to expose how the international corporate elite dictate global politics for their own benefit. Beder shows how they created business associations and ‘think tanks’ in the 1970s to drive public policy, forced the worldwide privatization and deregulation of public services in the 1980s and 1990s (enabling a massive transfer of ownership and control over essential services) and, still not satisfied, have worked relentlessly since the late 1990s to rewrite the very rules of the global economy to funnel wealth and power into their pockets.

Want a globalized and homogenized world of conflict, poverty and massive environmental degradation run by a corporate oligarchy that wipes its feet on democracy? Or a democratic world, where poverty is history, companies work for people and clean water is a right not a privilege you pay for? Beder’s message is clear - it’s your world, and it’s time to fight for it.

Contents
  1. A corporate class: In the 1970s business interests began to mobilise and corporate executives began to act as a class rather than representatives of competing companies with some common interests. An inner clique of executives facilitated the formation of business associations and coalitions that sought to set the political agenda to serve the interests of big business.
  2. National Influence: Rather than just reacting to proposed government policies corporations began to more actively initiate policies in the 1970s and 80s. They have used business lobby groups, think tanks and policy groups to shepherd these policies through the policy-making process till they were implemented as government programs. Corporations not only fund think tanks and policy-discussion groups but also provide free legal, accounting and other services to them and sit on their boards of directors or trustees, from where they can set their direction and select their employees. Download excerpt (pdf)
  3. International Coercion: Corporate-friendly market policy prescriptions, referred to as the ‘Washington Consensus’,  have been enforced in countries around the world. Poor countries have had to adopt them as part of multilateral development bank loan conditions. Acting behind the scenes corporations have ensured that successive US governments have played an active role in advancing their interests abroad, through its World Bank influence and covert operations. More affluent countries adopted the same market-friendly policies so as to please international financial markets following financial deregulation. Such pressures have ensured that major political parties of all persuasions adopt similar policies. However, such policies increase poverty and concentrate wealth in fewer hands. Download excerpt (pdf)
  4. Washington Consensus Down Under: The introduction of market-friendly policies in Australia and New Zealand followed the Washington Consensus manual, beginning with changes of government in the early 1980s. This was followed by the fostering of a sense of economic crisis, then rapid policy change, justified by the crisis, during the new governments’ honeymoon period. At the same time a powerful set of beneficiaries was developed who would oppose any policy reversals once the rest of the population started to react against the changes. In both countries market-oriented reforms followed a template established by international financial markets and the business community. Download excerpt (pdf)
  5. From Public Service to Private Profit: During the 1980s and 90s the privatisation and deregulation of public services around the world created investment opportunities and enabled a massive transfer of ownership and control over essential services, such as water and electricity, to private companies. Governments were coopted by the sophisticated persuasion of corporate-funded think tanks, the less than subtle pressures exerted by international lending organisations, frequent and generous financial contributions to the campaign funds of political parties, and offers of future career opportunities for retired politicians and bureaucrats. Increasingly the companies that have taken over these public services are concentrating— through mergers and acquisitions—into a small group of large conglomerates that dominate the provision of essential services around the world.
  6. The Trade Agenda: In the 1980s and 1990s international business coalitions and a range of US groups have ensured that the negotiating positions of the dominant nations in trade talks reflected business interests rather than a broad spectrum of democratic interests. No other NGOs had the access or influence accorded to business groups. Behind the scenes groups such as the World Economic Forum, the International Chamber of Commerce, The European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) and the US-based MTN (Multilateral Trade Negotiations) Coalition determined the scope and content of the trade agenda. The ‘free trade’ crusade has impacted on the ability of citizens in democratic nations to regulate in the public interest, particularly with respect to environmental protection, working conditions, health and safety issues. Download excerpt (pdf)
  7. Trade in Services: Transnational corporations have successfully expanded the trade agenda to include services. This has facilitated the opening up of large sectors of government services to privatisation and foreign investment. The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) has been promoted by a number of business organisations, the most prominent of which is the US Coalition of Service Industries, originally put together by American Express executives. There are also a number of leading European players, which work closely with key government officials and trade negotiators, including the UK-based Liberalisation of Trade in Services (LOTIS), and the European Services Forum (ESF). Implementation of GATS will result in the loss of democratic control of essential pubic services. Download excerpt (pdf)
  8. Coercing Trade Agreements: Through successive rounds of negotiations, the economically dominant nations, particularly the US and the EU, have bullied and coerced other  nations into accepting rules that suit transnational corporations. They have done this using threats of economic and trade penalties and promises of aid and favoured treatment. The undemocratic nature of decision making in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations has ensured that the trade rules agreed to are skewed in favour of the more affluent nations that are pushing for free trade. Business coalitions have presented a united front through the networking efforts of several key, well-placed people. Transnational corporations such as Pfizer and IBM have been able to utilise the trade negotiations to push for better protection of intellectual property such as patents because of the power that the US and the EU are able to exercise in these negotiations. Download excerpt (pdf)
  9. Deregulating Investment: Transnational corporations have sought new rules for global investment that prevent governments from imposing conditions on foreign investors that protect the public interest. Instead they seek to protect the money they will invest. In order to bypass opposition from developing nations the OECD decided to secretly negotiate a corporate-drafted treaty—the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI)—and then to invite (or coerce) compliance from developing countries. Despite the apparent failure of the MAI to get off the ground due to widespread opposition, negotiations for an investment agreement in the WTO are ongoing.
  10. Globalization versus Democracy: The failure of the MAI negotiations followed by mass protests at the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999 prompted a new barrage of corporate public relations and lobbying to counter the growing anti-globalisation movement. Business coalitions mobilised and their front groups were reactivated. They were particularly keen to counter any moves to allow non-economic issues – environmental, public health, labor, human rights – to enter  the realm of trade. The enlistment of regulators, bureaucrats and politicians in the corporate cause has been a key achievement of those lobbying for various agreements within the WTO. This is made easier by the phenomenon of the revolving door.
  11. Conclusion - The Triumph of Corporate Rights
Author
Dr. Sharon Beder has written 9 books, around 140 articles, book chapters and conference papers, as well as educational monographs, consultancy reports and teaching resources. Her research has focussed on how power relationships are maintained and challenged, particularly by corporations and professions. Her books, some of which have been translated into other languages, include:

She is a qualified professional engineer and worked in this field until a career shift into researching and teaching environmental politics. She has held a number of appointments at Australian universities over the past two decades – most recently as professor in the School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication at the University of Wollongong in Australia.

Reviews

International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development

Natural Resources Journal

Green Left Weekly

Teaching Ecology

Labour & Industry

Availability
Available in the US from Stylus Publishing or Amazon (US$22)

Available in Australia from DA Trade:

648 Whitehorse Road, Mitcham VIC 3132 Phone (03) 9210 7777 Fax (03) 9210 7788 Email: trade@dadirect.com.au