US firms like Microsoft and Amazon ranked low on transparency | 

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?

Flickr, Sosialistisk Ungdom

Burning oil fields, Nigeria

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.

Critics say World Health Organization too cozy with corporate interests | 

world health organization logo


World Health Organization

A number of civil society and non-profit organizations are claiming that the World Health Organization is overly influenced by commercial and corporate interests.

At this week’s World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, Corporate Accountability International, which represents 100 organizations from 24 countries, claims the WHO is compromising its independence and mission of improving global health. The critics say:

The group is concerned about the influence companies could have on the WHO as it implements its Millennium Development Goals, which set benchmarks for improving access to drinking water and sanitation, and the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

The umbrella organization delivered a formal letter to WHO director general Margaret Chan asking that the UN agency reject corporate influence and maintain its independence.

The AFP reports on another group, Council of Canadians, which contends WHO’s policy on water has favored the interest of corporations who seek to privatize many public water sources. The AFP quotes the Council chair Maude Barlow:

“The concern is that the relationship between the highest levels of the United Nations and the private water sector legitimizes the growing influence of these corporations on policy, both at the UN and at the nation-state level, which in turn promotes a private market system for water delivery and access at the expense of the public and the poor.”

Corporate philanthropy: good or bad? | 

Should corporations — and not just the wealthy individuals running them — be expected to do good?

Here are two views, one from a banker who says they should and another from a journalist who says they shouldn’t.

HSBC Chairman Stephen Green, paraphrasing Churchill:

“The market is the worst system of economic and social development – except for all the others that have been tried from time to time … There is a very real place for corporate philanthropy.”

Writer Chrystia Freeland:

“Corporate social responsibility sounds as unobjectionable as motherhood and apple pie … [But this] asks us to believe that the interests of an individual company and those of the wider community are fully aligned. They aren’t.

What do you think?