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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Achieving Sustainability Means Changing the Behaviour of Large Multinational Corporations

We live in a world that is increasingly dominated by multinational corporations and global trade. And the actions and activities of these multinationals can, and does lead to, environmental catastrophes. Sometimes these can have impacts beyond national jurisdictions, e.g. the Deep Water Horizon disaster. In addition, some global companies behave in ways that have devastating global consequences, with the most high profile example of this being the casino antics of the financial and banking sector, but there are others of note, such as the telephone hacking scandal at the now defunct News of the Word newspaper (owned by .., yes another global corporation). All over the world, large companies are stripping the world of its natural resources, to fuel a society that is taking more of these resources than it is entitled to. Moreover, the western world is experiencing what is now called an obesity epidemic, with the food industry denying any responsibility for this, and spending billions of euros to resist changes (such as the traffic light food labelling system) that will help consumers to make more informed decisions.

So, is it time to move international law forward, from its current limited scope, to encompass more of the international consequences of business activities? Is it time to enshrine in international law, rights for the unborn – future generations – that will give them the opportunity to call to account, in an international court, those who today would place profit before humanity? Is it time to give other creatures that share our planet, more rights in international law? Is it time to create laws that will render those executives who continually place profit above human health and welfare, liable to criminal prosecution?

What nonsense is this you think! Well, it is exactly the type of nonsense, or care for human rights and for justice that led to the abolition of the slave trade, then of slavery itself. It is the type of nonsense that led to the concept of war crimes, and of the understanding that powerful people in governments can be called to account for their actions, in an international court. It is the type of nonsense that led to laws in the developed world than ban child labour, etc.

What is the difference between a socially acceptable business activity and an unacceptable one? The answer, sadly, is a law; not, you will notice, ethics or morals. Generally, it is not humanitarian or spiritual values that lead companies to stop behaving in damaging ways – it is law!

Let us be in no doubt, that if we want to begin to develop a sustainable civilisation, then we have to change the behaviour of large multinational companies, for they are a significant part of the problem. And one way we can begin to modify their behaviour is by creating international laws that balance the rights of companies to practice, with the rights of others. And then we must begin to replace exploitative values with humanitarian or spiritual ones. These are the first steps to reinventing capitalism. And there can be no objections to this from these companies. Can there? Well no objections if they do not want to be compared with the slave traders of the past, and the British companies that worked the drug trade in the 19th century, and the employers that happily exploited children, all of whom did what they did in the name of the legitimate pursuit of profit.

If you think that the world can just go on as it has in the past, then you need to open your eyes. Just as national law, along with concepts of fairness and justice, have to move forward, then so does international law.  It might well be possible to continue as in the past, but the end result will not be a world worth living in. It is time to draw a line, and for ordinary people to stand up and say enough. Is it time to bring about a legal revolution in the way international business is conducted. We also need to change the nature of capitalism itself, and this is a matter I will be writing about in the future, for this change is already underway, but you will not find much trace of it in most companies, for they, like scientists, engineers and technologists, have become like Prometheus.

And if you have not noticed, once again in writing about sustainability, I find myself referring to behavioural change. So take note – it’s all about behaviour. If someone is talking about sustainability and is not including the words behavioural change, then there is a very high probability that they are not talking about sustainability. Most likely they are just engaging in delusions – there are a lot of deluded people in the world, for it seems as thought this is the way the human mind likes to operate (otherwise called the tale of the emperor’s new clothes, a story of collective denial and delusion).

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