Big Ideas on Corporate Accountability and Global Sustainability
and Robert Weissman
it is important to think big.
an era where corporations trample across the globe with minimal restraint, and
citizen movements around the world are on their heels, it is natural -- and
necessary -- for those trying to check corporate power to think defensively and,
when they do reflect on affirmative proposals, incrementally.
it is important not to be overly constrained by the existing balance of forces.
If they are to engage, energize and mobilize large numbers of people, citizen
movements need to be animated by positive visions, as well. And while there is a
role for utopian outlines in suggesting what society could be, even more
important are concrete medium-term proposals that suggest attainable aspirations
and purposeful direction.
would not ordinarily look to the U.S. Congress for such ideas, but two members
of the U.S. House of Representatives have stepped forward to offer sweeping
proposals to regulate U.S.-based multinational corporations' global operations
and to reorient the global economy to the pursuit of sustainable development,
not corporate greed.
Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia, has introduced the Corporate Code of Conduct Act
(H.R. 4596) and Representative Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, has
introduced the Global Sustainable Development Resolution (H.Res 479). (You can
find the bills at http://thomas.loc.gov.)
is time we reclaim the global economy for the people who make it work,"
insists McKinney, "and stop pandering to corporate interests who build
their empires on the backs of the innocent."
globalization is forcing men and women around the world to run a destructive
race to the bottom -- a competition in which workers, communities and entire
countries are forced to cut wages, environmental protections, and social
programs to attract footloose capital," says Sanders.
address these ills, McKinney's bill would require all U.S.-based corporations
with more than 20 employees abroad to enact a code of conduct. Significantly,
the code also would apply to the companies' subsidiaries, subcontractors,
affiliates, joint ventures, partners, or licensees -- meaning companies like
Nike would not be able to disdain responsibility for the practices of their
code would establish a floor for corporate behavior, requiring companies in
their overseas operations to:
a living wage and ban specific practices, such as mandatory overtime for
workers under 18, pregnancy testing and retaliation against whistleblowers;
identified international labor standards (including the right to organize,
minimum wage guarantees and protections for occupational safety and health);
to both international environmental standards and U.S. federal environmental
laws and regulations;
public documentation of where they are doing business directly or through
subsidiaries or contractors, and extensive information on employment and
bill would enforce the code of conduct through two mechanisms. First, the U.S.
government would give preference to complying corporations in contracts and in
export assistance. The bill would include certification and reporting
requirements for companies, and would also establish an investigative process,
open to citizen initiation, to determine compliance. Second, victims of
violations of the bill -- including non-U.S. citizens -- would be empowered to
sue U.S. companies in U.S. courts.
Sanders resolution covers more territory than the McKinney bill. It too includes
a corporate code of conduct, to be negotiated internationally, that contains
many of the principles included in the McKinney bill. But the heart of the
Sanders resolution addresses the institutions regulating international commerce.
of the key mechanisms for developing its proposals is the creation of U.S. and
United Nations Commissions on the Global Economy. The U.S. commission would hold
town meetings and open hearings around the country to investigate the effect of
globalization on the workers, industry and environment of the United States. The
UN panel would both encourage other nations to hold their own series of town
meetings and would initiate a global North-South dialogue aiming for negotiation
of an international agreement for global sustainable development.
provisions that the Sanders resolution seeks to have enacted through global
negotiation or U.S. mandate include:
tax on international currency transactions, designed to stem financial
of a global investment fund, to heighten demand and meet pressing needs in
of the debts of the poorest countries, with no structural adjustment
conditions (the package of Contract with America-style deregulatiory
remaking of the World Bank, so that it ends support for destructive
megaprojects and instead supports development of poor countries' renewable
energy capacity and food security;
shrinking of the International Monetary Fund; and
agreements that "remove labor and environmental rights and conditions
and social protections as factors of competition, such as by international
agreements to avoid competitive cuts in the social safety nets" and
guarantee "the right of nations and localities to plan for local
economic development objectives such as raising employment levels, enhancing
employment opportunities for targeted populations, raising wage levels in
specific industries, dignified work and healthy communities."
the McKinney bill nor the Sanders resolution will be enacted any time soon.
"This Congress is too beholden to corporate money to challenge its
corporate masters," explains Sanders.
stronger grassroots movements offer the prospect of changing Congress's primary
allegiance. The importance of initiatives like McKinney's and Sanders' is that,
by offering concrete proposals of steps to a better future, they can help
generate and develop those movements.
Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.
Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor.
Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for
MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press,
Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman