Corporate Power

GOALS: To achieve effective corporate accountability measures to ensure that the goals of social justice, decent work and environmental sustainability are furthered.

TNI believes that the nature of corporate power and continuing corporate violations of human rights and the environment require us to go beyond voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives and work towards binding legal regulations and instruments on transnational corporations. In 2013, the global Stop Corporate Impunity campaign which TNI initiated with several other movements and networks made incredible progress, winning new civil society allies and the support of 84 governments and prompting a major and much needed debate in the international community on corporate power.

Stopping corporate impunity

In 2013, events such as the death of over a thousand clothing workers in Bangladesh and the Marikana massacre in South Africa galvanised public concern about the ethics of transnational corporations and whether voluntary measures are sufficient to address apparent impunity. TNI has consistently exposed the unprecedented protections these companies receive in trade and investment agreements, which have created an architecture of impunity for corporations. These legal protections combined with corporations’ capacity to threaten governments that try to introduce public interest legislation that might reduce their profits, have given further momentum to calls for more accountability.

TNI is at the centre of an international civil society network to stop corporate impunity, which it co-initiated in 2012. 36 new organisations and networks from 19 countries joined the campaign network in 2013, bringing the total number of participating groups to 159 from 35 countries.

The main result of this campaigning work was a petition submitted by the Ecuadorian government to the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of 84 governments from across the South. This is the first time in decades that governments have placed the demand for binding rules for transnational corporations on the UN’s agenda. A subsequent civil society statement supporting this inter-governmental petition was initiated by TNI and its partners, with 160 organisations signing on.

The influence of the campaign was also visible in the report of the Vienna+20 World Conference on Human Rights, hosted by the Austrian government, which recommended that the UN system must “Ensure the accountability of those whose responsibility is engaged in connection with violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, in particular … transnational corporations”. The Austrian government also accepted a statement issued by a parallel civil society event, including TNI and key campaign partners, which called for binding obligations for transnational corporations. The official and civil society reports were forwarded together to the UN General Assembly.

Resources for campaigning

TNI published a range of resources for the campaign in 2013, including the popular State of Power report and infographics and two books, Impunity Inc (together with the Observatory on Debt in Globalisation) and Susan George’s How to Win the Class War. These were widely disseminated online, especially through civil society and alternative media websites, as well as in hard copy at international forums.

TNI has also supported putting in place regional network coordinators in Asia, Latin America and Southern Africa as well as coordinated work on a common website, newsletter and Facebook page, which are used to systematise resources, exchange news and coordinate solidarity and strategy.

“The capacity of alliance building and supporting the alliances by TNI has been crucial in maintaining a clear and radical message in the social movements. TNI’s role of being a ‘bridge’ between different movements with the same direction has been constant and often indispensable…

Paul Nicholson, La Via Campesina