US firms like Microsoft and Amazon ranked low on transparency

Burning oil fields, Nigeria

Many American corporations, including tech giants like Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, score poorly in a new report by Transparency International which ranks the world’s top 105 corporations according to their accountability and transparency.

Why would a news site that covers global health and the fight against poverty care about corporate transparency?

Burning oil fields, Nigeria
Flickr, Sosialistisk Ungdom

Well, for example, think about what the oil industry has done to improve the health and well-being of most Nigerians.

I’ll give you a hint: Not much. Arguably, the global oil industry has even undermined the health and welfare of most Nigerians. It has been rife with charges of corruption (foreign and national), despoiled the environment in many oil-producing communities and enriched the elite in Nigeria. Little of Nigeria’s oil wealth ever seems to ‘trickle down’ to average citizens or into basic government programs aimed at improving health or welfare.

Recently, in fact, the life expectancy in Nigeria actually declined to 47 years, one of the lowest in West Africa.

Nigeria is a great example of how overall economic growth and wealth does not necessarily translate into overall improvements for the people of a nation experiencing such growth.

So how best to make sure private enterprise and economic development are actually serving the interests of the people?

Corporate transparency. It is really the only “market-based” solution to keeping big firms accountable and reducing government corruption when it comes to the kind of deals made at this level of commerce.

Today, mega-corporations are often cutting deals with developing country governments to, say, build a bridge, start a manufacturing plant or buy up land for ‘agricultural reform projects’ (the latter which often seems to involve kicking smallholder farmers off their land).

So corporate transparency is actually central to the humanitarian enterprise, especially with the growth of ‘public-private partnerships’ and the push for market-based solutions to problems of poverty and inequity. The Guardian has published a graphic illustrating the latest Corporate Transparency Index rankings of the world’s top 105 countries.

Norway’s oil  company Statoil breaks from the pack as the world’s most transparent mega-corporation and Bank of China is least transparent. Lovable old Warren Buffett and his Berkshire Hathaway firm doesn’t look too good actually. Surprisingly perhaps, many of the top international pharmaceutical firms score pretty high.

Below is just a screen grab from The Guardian. Go to their site for the interactive map and data.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.