MAC: Mines and Communities

Gordon brown-noses global business

Published by MAC on 2006-06-15

Gordon brown-noses global business

Matthew Lea, Red Pepper

June 2006

The ‘globalisation advisory committee’ set up by Gordon Brown consists solely of big business representatives.

Gordon Brown has gone to great lengths over the past couple of years to promote himself as a global statesman, making his feelings known on issues ranging from global warming to the joys of fatherhood. These pale into insignificance, however, in comparison to the gusto with which he has championed the fight against global poverty.

So just how serious is he about tackling inequality? Judging by the members of his ‘globalisation advisory committee’, not very.

While it was inevitable that corporate interests would feature highly on the chancellor’s committee, the fact that these are the only interests represented is astounding. Brown seems to have little interest in the trade justice/anti-globalisation movement critique of how world trade and investment rules promote poverty and environmental destruction, nor the direct role played by many of the companies represented on his committee.

Despite, for example, BP’s claim that it operates according to ‘clear ethical standards for ourselves and our contractors, ensuring that the whole of the local communities benefit from our presence’, the company’s behaviour in Colombia tells a different story. Local people who have dared to protest against the environmental damage resulting from BP’s operations have been ‘singled out for persecution, harassment and death threats’, according to Human Rights Watch. Such threats are far from idle – one group, the El Morro Association, has had six members murdered since it began its campaign against damage done by BP to the local road and water supply.

Despite re-branding itself as ‘the supermajor of choice for the environmentally-aware motorist’, BP’s actions continue to make a mockery of its ‘beyond petroleum’ claims. The controversial BP-led Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline has been built through some of the world’s most earthquake-prone and conflict-ridden areas. Farmland has been flooded, oil leaks are common and water supplies to villages on the pipeline’s route have been cut off. Taken in conjunction with the company’s continuing attempts to gain access to Alaska’s last remaining pristine wilderness, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it’s unsurprising that BP has been awarded Corporate Watch’s ‘greenwash’ award, while its CEO Lord Browne had the honour of walking off with Greenpeace USA’s award for the ‘best impression of an environmentalist’.

GlaxoSmithKline, meanwhile, was taken to task – though not to court – by a BBC documentary in 2004 exposing the practice of conducting drugs trials for the anti-retroviral drugs, AZT and Nervaprine, on HIV-positive orphans in New York. Despite causing a series of adverse reactions, including painful and bloody flaking of the skin in children and spontaneous abortion in pregnant mothers, the trials continued.

Estimated annual profits of $5 billion in the worldwide market for AIDS medications did not deter GSK from suing the South African government in 2001 for its attempts to supply affordable generic drugs. The company also blocked the import of generic AIDS drugs to Ghana in 2000.

Wal-Mart, of course, needs no introduction here. Despite taking home $17.5 million during 2004, CEO Lee Scott continues to preside over a company that pays on average 20 per cent less than the industry standard, while insisting that all managers must reduce labour costs at their stores by 0.2 per cent each year. In August 2002, supermarket chain Asda, which is wholly owned by Wal-Mart, sparked a banana retail price war when it signed an exclusive deal with Del Monte at what industry experts described as a ‘ridiculously low price’. Asda is now supplied with bananas grown and harvested under the world’s worst labour and environmental conditions.

Such examples are neither rare nor difficult to find. Less commonly known are the sums ‘invested’ by some of the companies represented on Brown’s committee in order to encourage favourable legislation. Just one example was the £12 million donated by Tesco to the Millennium Dome. The donation was suggested by lobbying firm LLM, who at the time were involved in a campaign on behalf of Tesco to block plans for a tax on shopping centre car parks. When the government’s white paper on transport subsequently appeared, the planned tax had been dropped. The estimated cost of the car park tax to Tesco would have been £40 million per year.

If one company can lobby effectively in defence of its commercial interests, collective lobbying carries even greater weight. At least five of the companies represented on Gordon Brown’s committee are members of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). The ICC is one of the most powerful – and secretive – of the international corporate lobby groups whose primary goal is continued deregulation in global trade and investment rules.

The globalisation committee also includes several members of Business Action for Africa. This lobbies hard for the enforced ‘liberalisation’ of African economies in return for debt relief, ignoring the critiques of forced-trade liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation in Africa made by development NGOs.

These are nowhere to be seen on Brown’s panel. Neither are environmental NGOs, aid agencies, trade unions or human rights groups. Their lack of representation must call into question the kind of advice that Gordon Brown is seeking, and the commitment of the man-who-would-be-prime-minister to tackle corporate power where it stands in the way of alleviating world poverty or slowing down the rate of environmental destruction.

Lord Browne, group chief executive, BP, member of the international Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and Business Action for Africa (BAA)

Dr Jean-Pierre Garnier, CEO, GlaxoSmithKline, ICC and BAA

Bill Gates, chariman, Microsoft Corp., ICC and BAA

Sir Ka-Shing Li, chairman, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd

Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO, LVMH Sir Terry Leahy, CEO, Rolls Royce

Robert Rubin, chairman, Citigroup, ICC and BAA

Lee Scott, CEO, Wal-Mart

Ratan Tata, chairman, Tata Group, ICC

Meg Whitman, CEO, eBay

James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank Research by Chris Grimshaw

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