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This week's editor

Constitutional conventions: best practice

openDemocracy contributors chart the past and future for corporations.

We begin with a series of scene setting texts. In Loot, Nick Robins takes a view on the East India Company, one of the first giant multi-nationals; John Kay offers a clever, partly satirical analysis on the business of energy extraction in the developing world; while Friends of the Earth and Diane Coyle slug it out in the ideological battle over corporate regulation.

A detailed timeline on the origins and development of the modern corporation follows with an intereview with John Micklethwait, US editor of The Economist, acting in the company's defence. In reply Deborah Doanne pooh-poohs his free market views: Companies could do more for society, she says, if only they were brave enough.

Then our keynote roundtable between top corporate critics and supporters (featuring Martin Wolf) on subjects of Enron, global regulation and corporate responsibility in developing markets, with a prelude that introduces the speakers and their arguments.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart chairman of Anglo American, and formerly so at Shell, answers back with an agenda for change in Africa, and former top US financial regulator Bill Black draws knives on Enron and the culture that breeds corporate crime in America.

Break big media monopolies and help new journalism projects—poll

Amid saturation media coverage of the coming UK general election, corporate control of big news organisations goes unquestioned. Yet if the public could vote on that, they'd change it.

Settling accounts: what happens after SwissLeaks?

The SwissLeaks scandal around the HSBC bank subsidiary there has highlighted how globalisation can facilitate tax-dodgers. Only a bright spotlight of information can deter them.

Precariat meets Proletariat—tackling labour-market insecurity

The zero-hours contract cleaner might symbolise the insecure netherworld of a global ‘race to the bottom’ in employment. But trade unions are finding ways to link precarious outsiders with more secure, organised workers.

Latin Americans pay price for corporate environmental destruction

As the COP20 conference comes to a close in Lima, can the corporations whose ‘externalities’ foster climate change ever be brought to book?

Business as usual in Mexico despite 43 murdered students

The Mexican government has shown remarkable inertia since the apparent police abduction and subsequent gang murder of students in Guerrero. Now it hopes capital will not prove a coward as it denationalises oil reserves.

Twenty-first century protest: social media and surveillance

The internet is a two-edged sword—a vehicle for mass surveillance on the one hand and the organisation of civil-society protest on the other.

The 'equality economy': tackling labour-market insecurity in Europe

While since '9/11' a militarised conception of security has dominated the world, the global economic crisis has seen insecurity in the labour market mushroom. Marking international workers' day, could Europe lead the way to a more secure 'equality economy'?

Rana Plaza: the struggle continues

A year after the huge loss of mainly-female Bangladeshi garment workers’ lives at Rana Plaza, unions are still fighting for compensation for the victims, safety at work and a living wage

Rethinking security: from projecting power to preventing problems

The embrace of corporate partners by science and technology departments and the erosion of distinctions between the military and the police have been at the heart of disturbing security trends in the UK and elsewhere. The root causes of insecurity meanwhile go unaddressed.

Why Businesses Should Learn to Govern

Many businesses are larger economic entities then most states. Therefore it is important for them to act responsibly in every way. Businesses should in fact learn to govern, not forced by law but by a positive sense of duty

Giant strides or fairy footsteps

How much progress can be made in tackling climate change without a global deal?

Armed conflict, land grabs and big business: Colombia’s deadly pact

The recent assassination of Colombian marxist insurgent group leader Alfonso Cano has been hailed internationally as an advance towards peace, giving Colombia a boost down the path to becoming the latest emerging market of Latin America. A closer look at the history and nature of Colombia's nearly 50 year-long armed struggle, however, tells us otherwise.

A well-being world

The measuring of official policy by its impact on the quality of human life is progress. But only if the governments that proclaim the idea are serious, says David Boyle.

Interview with James Galbraith

James Galbraith talks about Paul Krugman's NYT article, "How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?",  the academic discipline after the crash, the forgotten traditions in economics, the economics and law of fraud and much else over breakfast at the Goodenough Club

Business and human rights: the next big thing

The economic recession is imposing intense strains on people and communities worldwide. The growing power of business can intensify their problems. A human-rights perspective offers both a means of self-defence and a route-map to a fairer world, says Annabel Short.

Where is soft power?

The soft power of nations is exercised through a complex web of relationships -- often at junior levels --  in multi-lateral institutions, academic centres, think tanks, NGOs and the media. The good news is that the proper exercise fo soft power requires an open approach to power domestically.

Companionism: enlarging democracy

Both capitalism and democracy are in trouble. The heart of a solution lies in the way corporations operate and are governed, says Madoc Batcup.

Responsibility and neo-liberalism

The triumph of neo-liberal globalisation is also the imposition of a new mode of governance of institutions and individuals, to which the idea of responsibility is central. Grahame Thompson examines this achievement and assesses what can be done to address it.

The bird-flu bonanza

"Backyard" sellers and wild birds have been blamed for the spread of the deadly virus. The real culprits are industrial poultry farms and others who profit from the global trade, says a report from Grain, an NGO that carries out research into issues around biodiversity.

The axis of oil: China and Venezuela

China is forging new links with Latin America. But the impact of its "south-south strategy" is more complex than the rhetoric of solidarity and progress suggests, reports Ben Schiller. 

The China model

As Chinese companies “go global”, NGO campaigners are increasingly concerned about Beijing’s model of international development.

Angola’s government, in need of reconstruction funds after the country’s long civil war, was in the process of negotiating a new loan with the International Monetary Fund in 2004. The IMF, aware of Angola’s long history of corruption and poor governance since independence from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975, was keen to include measures to cut corruption and tighten the country’s economic management.

China's route to business responsibility

The Shanghai dialogue of the UN Global Compact Summit suggests to Simon Zadek that a fusion of globalisation and corporate responsibility is becoming essential to China’s transformation.

Corporate super-predators

“Control fraud” is what happens when the person who controls a large company is a criminal. Enron was only the most conspicuous example of a pervasive phenomenon in corporate behaviour, says this white-collar criminologist. The participants in openDemocracy’s roundtable on corporate power and responsibility miss the point: as long as regulators fail to ask the right questions, we are condemned to suffer further crimes.

Getting it right in Africa

What does a real-life captain of industry have to say about corporate power and responsibility? Here, the Chairman of Anglo-American (and former Chairman of Royal Dutch/Shell) responds to openDemocracy‘s roundtable, focussing on the role of multinational corporations in Africa. He says that unless business, civil society and government team up to create sound systems of governance in developing societies, wealth will tear them apart.

'Why this debate matters to me'

Participants in openDemocracy’s roundtable on corporate power and responsibility introduce themselves.

Masters of the universe?

What are the boundaries of corporate power and responsibility in the 21st century? In this key note roundtable discussion, leading activists, analysts and practitioners talk to Iain Ferguson and Caspar Henderson of openDemocracy.

Married to the mob

Ahead of the publication of openDemocracy’s keynote roundtable on Corporate Power & Responsibility, Deborah Doane reflects on the debate so far and concludes that our relationship with modern capitalism and big companies is like a rocky marriage. It needs constant attention and compromise, but can ultimately be beneficial if only we are ready to take responsibility for our own actions.

Talking about revolution: an interview with John Micklethwait

In the age of globalisation, companies are often associated with scandal (Enron), litigation (Microsoft), or overweening power (Wal-Mart). But in the wider historical perspective, the institution is both socially more transforming and politically less powerful than it often appears.

Corporate Timeline

What are the key events in the rise of modern corporations? Why do these institutions matter? Are they more powerful now than before, better behaved or worse? openDemocracy's corporate timeline explores the long, complex and controversial history of this engine of contemporary capitalism.

Business is the victim

‘Get your facts right’ says Diane Coyle to Friends of the Earth (FoE) – business is far from evil or unduly powerful. The bad behaviour of a few companies will be solved by better corporate governance rules. In the fifth of our introductory texts to the debate Corporations: Power and Responsibility, Diane Coyle argues that FoE’s push for heavy regulation on a sector already subject to rising tax burdens would be a spanner in the engine of global growth and prosperity.

The growing power of big business

Business is bigger and ‘badder’ than ever, say two Friends of the Earth (FoE) campaigners, in the opening round of our debate, Corporations: Power and Responsibility. Corporations, FoE argues, evade the flimsy systems of regulation currently in place. The only way to stop them from being destructive is to create a legally binding set of global rules that will force them to care about the consequences of their actions. (Economist Diane Coyle responds next week)

Farewell Agnelli - Figure of Another Age

When Giovanni Agnelli died this year he was still Honorary Chairman of the Fiat group. His extraordinary influence marked the growth of post-war Italy, and is essential to understanding the country now. But is his life achievement a model for future businessmen or a glorious memory of an unviable past?

In Swell Oil we trust

Are transparency and honesty, rather than the fashionable notion of corporate social responsibility, the best ways to business success? Sir Luke Very-Moody, Chairman of the Swell Oil Company thinks so. In the draft of a speech exclusively leaked to John Kay, Sir Luke celebrates the first gush of oil production in the African country of Couldbericha by reasserting the need for business to follow its own values and leave moral standards to be written by the people it serves.

Loot: in search of the East India Company

Concerns about corporate power and responsibility are as old as the corporation itself. In this account of the East India Company, the world's first transnational corporation, Nick Robins argues that an unholy alliance between British government, military and commerce held India in slavery, reversed the flow of trade and cultural influence forever between the East and West and then sunk almost without trace under the weight of colonial guilt.

Psychos in suits: corporate CEOs in need of (an) asylum

Corporate America is mired in scandal, and chief executive officers (CEOs) are in the line of fire. But if the problem lies deeper than just a few rotten apples, so the solution requires a new business model that creates an ethical foundation for CEO behaviour. Behind the headlines, it’s already happening.

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