Arguments and Evidence that Transnational Corporations Harm Developing Countries

Marxists are generally critical of the role of TNCs in developing countries. They basically argue that they are part of the neo-colonial project and their main focus is to maximize profit by extracting resources from poor countries as cheaply as possible, paying workers in poor countries as little as possible and externalizing as much of the costs of production of possible (basically not cleaning up after themselves.

The Corporation’ documentary provides an excellent analysis of why corporations commit so much damage against people and plant in the pursuit of profit – they are basically legally obliged to maximise the profits of their share-holders – profit comes first, everything else second, and simply put, it is cheaper to extract, pollute and exploit than to use resources wisely, pay people decent wages or clear up your pollution.

Criticisms of TNCs

Bakan (2004) argues that TNCs exercise power without responsibility. Bakan makes several criticisms of Corporations including:

  1. They pay workers low wages – as with sweat shop labour
  2. They pollute the environment – as with the case of Shell in Nigeria.
  3. They take risks with health and safety, which can result in worker injury and death – as with the case of Union Carbide in Bhopal
  4. They profit from human rights abuses – as with Coca Cola in Columbia.

Transnational Corporations pay workers low wages

This is probably the best known criticism to be leveled at well-known Corporations such as Nike, Adidas and Primark is that they profit from ‘sweatshop labour’ – with the workers who manufacture their products working extremely long hours in poor conditions and for extremely low wages.

In chapter 5 of The Corporation, one researcher calculates that workers at one of Nike’s factories in Indonesia were earning 0.3% of the final selling price of the products they were making. Now, I know there are middle men, but in classic Marxist terms, this is surely the extraction of surplus value taken to the extreme! The anti- sweat shop campaigns are several years old now, but still ongoing.

Of course sweat shop labour is not limited to the clothing industry – the BBC3 series ‘Blood Sweat and T shirts/ Takeaways/ Luxuries’, (3) in which young Brits travel to developing countries to work alongside people in a wide range of jobs, clearly demonstrates how workers in many stages of the productive process, including rice sowing, prawn farming, gold mining, and coffee packing, suffer poor pay and conditions. Many of the goods focused on in this series end up being bought and the sold in the West by Transnational Corporations for a huge mark up, and it is extremely interesting to see the Brits abroad struggling with the injustice of this.

The Daily Mail recently conducted some undercover journalism in a Chinese factory that makes the i-pad – where the report they ‘encountered a strange, disturbing world where new recruits are drilled along military lines, ordered to stand for the company song and kept in barracks like battery hens – all for little more than £20 a week.’ Apparently workers have to endure shifts up to 34 hour s long, and the factory has been dubbed the ‘i nightmare factory’.

Corporations are responsible for causing ecological decline and damage

The evil Coca-Cola corporation is a good example of a company causing environmental decline in India:

It takes 2.72 litres of water to produce 1 litre of coca cola. Now this may sound like a reasonable ratio for such a deliciously sweet beverage, but not if you happen to be a farmer living close by to Coca Cola’s Kaladera plant in Rajasthan, North East India. According to recent independent report, commissioned by coca cola, “[the factory’s] presence in this area would continue to be one of the contributors to a worsening water situation and a source of stress to the communities around,” concluding that the company should find alternative water supplies, relocate or shut down the plant.

The result of coke’s presence in the water depleted region is that local farmers who have lived in the area for decades now have inadequate water supplies to keep their crops watered and there appears to be a clear link between the coca cola Corporation moving into the region and the destruction of the livelihood of the farmers living nearby. Coca Cola, which had an advertising budget of $2.6 billion in 2006, is clearly in a position to compensate these farmers, or relocate to a more water rich area, but chooses not to. Coca Cola’s priority clearly lies in maintaining its sickly sweet image while generating famine and poverty for those living in proximity to its factory.

Another example of a company causing environmental damage is Shell in Nigeria. Watch the brief clip from the Video ‘Poison Fire’ and note down the scale of environmental damage caused by Britain’s biggest company.

Corporations cause illness and death in the pursuit of profit

Union Carbide in Bhopal India is easily the most horrendous example of this…..

In December 1984, an explosion at a pesticide plant in Bhopal India, then owned by the American multi-national Union Carbide, lead to deadly gas fumes leaking into the surrounding atmosphere and toxic chemicals into the ground. That was more than 25 years, but, according to the Bhopal Medical Appeal (1), a toxic legacy still remains.  In addition to the 3000 people that died almost immediately, over the last two and a half decades, there have been a further 20,000 deaths and 120 000 cases of people suffering from health problems, including severe deformities and blindness, as a result of the toxic seepage into the surrounding area from the plant.

Since the disaster, survivors have been plagued with an epidemic of cancers, menstrual disorders and what one doctor described as “monstrous births” and victims of the gas attack eke out a perilous existence – 50,000 Bhopalis can’t work due to their injuries and some can’t even muster the strength to move. The lucky survivors have relatives to look after them; many survivors have no family left.

apparent root cause of the accident was that the plant had not been properly maintained following the ceasing of production, although tons of toxic chemicals still remained on the site.

It wasn’t until 1989 that Union Carbide, in a partial settlement with the Indian government, agreed to pay out some $470 million in compensation. The victims weren’t consulted in the settlement discussions, and many felt cheated by their compensation -$300-$500 – or about five years’ worth of medical expenses. Today, those who were awarded compensation are hardly better off than those who weren’t.

TNCs profit from human rights abuses

In 2003 the Trades Union movement pushed for a boycott of Coke because of the company’s alleged use of illegal paramilitaries to intimidate, threaten and kill those workers who wished to set up a Trades Union at a bottling plant in Colombia.

Campaigners for the Killer Coke campaign have documented a ‘gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings and torture of union leaders involved in a daily life and death struggle’ at these plants. The bosses at some of Coke’s factories in Columbia have contacts with right wing paramilitary forces, and use violence and intimidation to force unionised labour out of work, and then hire non-unionised labour on worse contracts for half the pay. There have been more than 100 recorded disappearances of unionised labour at Coke’s factories.

Now the Coca Cola Corporation is obviously not directly to blame for this, as Columbia is one of the more violent countries on the planet, and this culture of violence and intimidation is widespread. The company is, however, responsible for making the conscious decision to choose to invest in a region well known for such practices, and failing to either pull out or protect its workers.

The Role of TNCs in Development – Conclusions

It is clear that TNCs are not particularly interested in helping poor countries to develop. However, it is not the moral responsibility of these corporations to do so; their primary commitment is to maximize profit for their shareholders.

However, we must be careful not to tarnish all TNCs with the same brush – not all of them are as bad as each-other, and some do have ethical codes of conduct which they apply globally. TNCs are also sensitive to their public reputations, and boycotts supported by well-known charities such as Oxfam have the potential to damage corporate profitability.

It would also be a mistake to dismiss all TNC investment in the developing world as exploitative. TNCs can bring innovation and efficiency into developing countries, and the wages they pay are often more than the wages in local industries.

Finally, there is the fact that TNCs probably aren’t going to diminish in power any time soon, so instead of criticizing them, it might be better to focus on what steps we might take to make the immoral ones behave better.

The following barriers exist to making TNCs work more effectively for development

  1. There is a lack of global control by national governments and agencies such as the United Nations. Quite simply, there is no international body or law in place to regulate the activities of these corporations on a global scale, there is no international minimum wage, for example.
  1. Corporations are globally mobile. Local populations are not. Governments are often reluctant to hold Corporations to account because they will simply move their operations to other countries.
  1. Leaders of governments across the world are part of the same global-political elite circle as the CEOs who run TNCs, so it is not in their interests to regulate them.

 

TNCs – Extension work
Watch ‘The Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Kline – a depressing account of how TNCs profit from war and conflict, among other things.

 

 

 

 

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Eight Reasons Why We Should All be Marxists

The third of three posts on Marxism for A2 Sociological Perspectives – Arguments and evidence for the continued relevance of Marxism 

Contemporary Marxists argues that Marxist analysis is still relevant to an understanding of modern society. A considerable amount of contemporary Marxist thought focuses on how Capitalism has become globalised and emphasises the injustices of the global capitalist system; another strand of contemporary Marxist theory focuses on how the values of capitalism (in the form of ‘neo-liberal hegemony’) have penetrated Western culture to the detriment of us all.

You might like to think about what Marxist concepts are illustrated by these cartoons

  1. Some Sociologists argue that a class based analysis of global society is still relevant.

Leslie Sklaire argues that recent decades have seen the emergence of a ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’. These are the leaders of global corporations, certain politicians and their bureaucrats who control billions of dollars of assets and financial flows. They wield their power through undemocratic international economic institutions such as the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund and the G20. These institutions were established after World War Two to help co-ordinate the expanding global economy and facilitate redevelopment after the war. However, many left wing theorists such as Joseph Stiglitz argue that since the 1970s these institutions have forced dozens of developing countries to adopt neo-liberal economic policies. Neo-Liberal policies include such things as privatising public services, cutting taxes and regulating industry less, thus allowing Transnational Corporations to open sweat shops, pollute local areas, and take all the profits away without giving very much back. The basic idea here is that the global economy is run by Corporations and Politicians for the benefit of Corporations and their high powered political supporters (One of whom is ‘Gideon’ Osborn)

  1. There is considerable evidence that exploitation still lies at the heart of the Capitalist system.

Corporations are frequently criticised for exploiting workers and the environment – through sweatshop labour and pollution, where they can get away with it. Some of the most obvious examples include Shell and oil pollution in Nigeria; Coke’s legacy of draining water local water supplies in India to produce Coke, which results in drought in local areas and Apple’s use of sweatshops in China to produce the ipad.

  1. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

Marxist Theory is still relevant because…. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

I should just point out that the point of this post is to provide soundbites that you can use in an exam (or an arguement with a Tory supporter of the neo-liberal state apparatus) rather than a comprehensive or balanced account of evidence for or against (the variety of) Marxist theory.

Evidence of Elite control over the government

By far the best example of state putting the interests of Capital before the interests of the majority of people is how the government has responded to the present ‘economic crisis’. 

Simply put, the state is making the poor pay for the economic problems caused by the Transnational Capitalist Class. The average guy on the street is getting poorer while the rich are still getting richer! Consider also the recent case of Ireland, where the minimum wage is being cut by one euro, VAT is being increase, and public sector jobs axed, while Corporation Tax remains at an incredibly low 12.5%  

Getting back to the cuts in Britain, this is no surprise if you actually look at the characteristics of those who make up the cabinet and the wider Tory Party; you actually find that many of them are themselves extremely wealthy. The prime minister, deputy prime minister and Chancellor are all millionaires – They are the Transnational Capitalist Class – and they are hardly likely to hurt themselves.

Evidence of Elite control over the Criminal Justice System

Another example of the elite class having control over the superstructure lies in the differential treatment of white collar crime and street crime. Even though White Collar Crime costs more to the economy than street crime, White Collar Criminals are still less likely to get punished. According to Tombs and Whyte, this is partly because the government invests fewer resources into investigating fraud and health and safety crimes (the types of crime Corporations are most likely to be guilty of) than it does into working class street crime.

Evidence of Elite Control over the mainstream Media

Greg Philo argues that it is simply crazy it is that the agenda in the media is about ‘what services should the government cut’ rather than ’should we tax the wealthy or make cuts.[1] Philo points[2] out that there are other solutions to the current economic crisis – there is enough property wealth in the country – we could just take it off them, but the government is making the average man on the street pay instead. In his film, 

Evidence of Elite Control of the Education system

Evidence for elite control of the education system lies in the fact that if you are wealthy, you can buy your children a private education, which gives them a much greater chance of getting into a top university and high getting a highly paid, prestigious job.  The statistics make for extremely uncomfortable reading… Intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%’.Looked at another way, of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year.[3]

People from upper middle class, public school backgrounds dominate every economic sector except those – such as sport and hard science – in which only raw ability counts. Through networking, confidence, unpaid internships, most importantly through our attendance at the top universities, we run the media, politics, the civil service, the arts, the City, law, medicine, big business, the armed forces, even, in many cases, the protest movements challenging these powers. The Milburn report, published last year, shows that 45% of top civil servants, 53% of top journalists, 32% of MPs, 70% of finance directors and 75% of judges come from the 7% of the population who went to private schools.’[4]

  1. There is evidence that we are still under ideological control – but we don’t realise it.

Antonio Gramsci, A humanist Marxist writing in the early twentieth century first pointed out that what he called ‘Hegemonic Control’ plays an ever important role in advanced Capitalist societies. Hegemonic control occurs when the intellectual and moral leadership provided by the dominant class provides the fundamental outlook for the whole of society.

Greg Philo points to one very good recent example of this in recent years – the fact that we are so willing to accept cuts to public services when the richest ten percent of the country own so much wealth that if we just took one fifth of their wealth we would clear the national deficit, yet this idea doesn’t not even appear in the media. Agenda Setting has removed it and so we do not even consider it.

  1. Capitalism is kept going by creating ‘false needs’

Successful companies today spend billions on advertising campaigns to convince us that we need the products that they make. Looked at objectively much of what we buy we don’t need, yet the Capitalist class invests billions convincing us to buy things that we do not need.

Worse that ideological control – More generally, numerous Sociologists such as Richard Wilkinson and David Garland point out that the more unequal a country, and the more a country has adopted neo-liberal policies – the higher the prison population. It would appear that the closer a country is to ‘pure capitalism’ the more punitive the elite class is.

  1. Alienation and Commodity Fetishism

We in west have become so obsessed with consumer culture that we end up defining ourselves through the products we consume, and how we ‘pick and mix them’ (this means fashion, holidays, houses, cars, mobile phones). From a Marxist point of view this is incredibly shallow – Marx believed that we are only fully human when we are fully engaged with the political and economic processes of our society. From the Marxist point of view, Capitalism just encourages us to be childlike and define ourselves through our styles and our hobbies and to forget about politics and economics. In the truest sense we are alienated from our productive base while our identities become more and more dependent on material goods.

  1. David Harvey argues that economic crises are inherent to the Capitalist system and that in recent years these crises have become more severe and more frequent.

Harvey argues that any sane person should join an anti-capitalist movement because the root problems of Capitalism are the same as they were in Marx’s day – click here for his analysis of the problems of Modern Capitalism

  1. Capitalist exploitation is so bad in some parts of the world that there is vehement resistance to it – especially in Latin America – President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, for example, perceives himself as an anti-Capitalist, as do many people of Latin America. The Zapatistas in Mexico is another good example and the World Development Movement also has Marxist undertones.

  • See the first 20 mins or so of John Pilger’s ‘War on Democracy’ to here Hugo Chavez talk in Marxist terms – on stream

  1. Although you don’t see it in the media there are tens of thousands of people who call themselves Communists and who sympathise with Marxism and the wider anti-capitalist movement. Left Wing criticisms and the anti-capitalist movement are still very much alive today.

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Eight Criticisms of Traditional Marxism