Urhobo Historical Society
Critiquing Corporatism

By Akpobibibo Onduku
Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, United Kingdom

Culled from:
Tuesday, November 25 2003

EVERY state and society has its unique structures. Different societies at equivalent levels of development view the world comparatively, which most times provides an intrinsic human capacity to comprehend the actual transcendant 'difference'.

The changing faces and phases of globalisation, anti-globalisation, and the arising partnerships in these processes tend to impact on the quality of lives of the individual with a sense of relevance in the new millennium. Therefore, there are growing concerns today about world governance and globalisation, mainly stemming from the fact that social scientists feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the world that surrounds them. One aspect of this complexity has to do with the interactions between governments, corporations and civil society in the processes of global governance and policy making.

Our knowledge of the global governance vocabulary makes us to understand that 'statism' is that perspective that the international system is based on, namely, the rule of states, while the idea that corporations have an increasing influence in the global political arena is referred to as 'corporatism'. There is a basic acceptance that the state is necessary, whether or not it is morally justifiable. At the same time, tendencies in politics for legislations and administrations to be dominated by the interests of corporations rather than citizens have become the fundamentals for 'corporativism'. Consequently, dealing with issues of increasing corporate influence in world governance today has dragged along a whole set of problems often considered marginal to international relations theory.

The government-corporate-global relationships is fast witnessing a process of power accumulation by multi-national corporations (MNCs), which tends to go unnoticed by traditional theories of international relations but has deep implications for our understanding of some of the relationships of power and interdependence in the international system. Some critical issues need to be addressed by both scholars and policy makers if we are to deal with the problem of uncontrolled corporate activity.

Of great interest and importance is the issue of changing actors within the international political space. It is now obvious that we can no longer afford to limit our analysis to the actions of nation-states. Therefore, there is now the revelation that the triangle of power sharing between government, civil society and market is no longer sufficient to explain the current state of affairs. This affirms the claim that a process of rounding up of this triangle exists in a world where transnational corporations are sponsoring political elections, civil society organisations, foundations, non-governmental organisations, charities, etc.

The second issue of concern is the changing scope of corporate power. While a few decades ago we could talk of corporations as actors within national borders, today that is no longer the case. Several processes have been at work simultaneously leading to this situation namely: excessive accumulation of wealth by MNCs, globalising economy that supports easy transfer of resources, capital, production, and last but not least, the ideological change within Thatcher's Britain and Reagan's USA towards a neo-liberal thinking.

A third critical issue is that of limited responsibility of MNCs. It is observed that corporations are becoming political actors, but they are not elected and not answerable to electorates. Yet corporations have the power to push forward agendas that affect the lives of many individuals considerably both in the developed and developing world.

The fourth critical issue is that MNCs create more problems than they solve. We may consider the fact that social problems are created such as unemployment; breach of International Labour Organisation regulations regarding 40 hour working week, minimal wage, non-use of child labour; eroding cultural traditions and values of the local population; worsening of environmental conditions due to lowered standards when moving to a country of the developing world; and competition policies which are often moulded to suit the interests of some of the big players in the corporate realm.

The development of most economies is hindered since MNCs often distort or at least affect the development within less developed nations and affect local economies and their ability to react to rapid global transformations. In fact, the presence of multi-nationals has the potential to affect, destabilise fragile political systems. The time is due therefore to reappraise the participation of corporations in domestic affairs especially in the developing world and emerging democracies.

In all these, solutions are difficult to find considering the fact the international system is more interconnected than we have ever imagined it to be. There is a clear and proven convergence between governmental bureaucracies and corporate interests. This ultimately affects the use of expertise and sharing of resources among these institutions, which makes goals like corporate social responsibility, responsiveness, transparency, accountability, people-friendliness almost fade in the distance as a mirage. The key goals of businesses should be facilitating social and environmental ethics and provision of quality services alongside with profit maximisation.

To this end, there is a conclusion by theorists and professionals today that governments are more often than not part of the problem and not part of the solution; but what about international forums? If governments are not powerful enough to deal with MNCs; if international forums reflect MNCs' concerns; and if civil society is funded both by governments and sometimes corporations then who is to get us, the ordinary citizens, out of the whole mess that neo-liberal economics have gotten us into?

We may begin to imagine why most countries in the developing world with great wealth still have not made efforts in understanding the effects of corporatism. The national policies should have enough input from the governed. The thinking of the populace should always dominate the political spectrum. In this way they can gradually influence or turn around the many aspects of the national psyche.