Monday, January 11, 2010

Can Multinational Companies Play a Diplomatic Role

In the wake of a highly criticized Copenhagen summit, there is growing uncertainty around whether major state leaders have the political will and capacity to develop planet wide agreements. Can business do any better?

The following quotation came from David Vigar, author of Tomorrow's Company's report on global warming and business. He argues that governments lack the cross-cultural expertise that big business tends to have as a result of their transnational operations.

"The input of business would be vital here. Global businesses know how to manage complex multi-billion projects on time and on schedule. They are practised at relationship building because they are at home in many cultures. They handle data and information professionally. They have made a rigorous business discipline out of risk management. And they know how to reach the public. Their capabilities, deployed within a framework for which the UN and politicians take accountability, might break the logjams."

This quotation comes at a time where a growing number of publications are emerging highlighting the political role of the corporation. From Xe's (formerly Blackwater) provision of military service in the Middle East to mining companies building schools and hospitals to large corporations influencing public policy of national governments, we're starting to see more private sector influence on public affairs for the good or for the bad.

There is no question that the Nike's of the world have influence in multiple countries, more influence than the United Nations perhaps. The point is not how much influence in any given country but the influence that spans nation boundaries - something few national governments can claim to have. There's no question that large apparel companies have influenced government policy on labour conditions either directly or indirectly.

The argument in the above quote is that business possesses the complex capabilities that may be helpful in building highly complex agreements that span national boundaries. But what would this mean? Could this influence be curtailed in a way that places business profits above social and ecological objectives? How do we build proper governance into these processes if this were to be pursued?

I invite thoughts...

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