The increased push for neoliberalism economics, with resulting globalization and free markets, privatization of government assets and decreased protection for citizens and environments, has resulted in mega-corporations with mega power. For those readers unfamiliar with neoliberalism, read a description in Wikipedia, or this article in CorpWatch.
Briefly summarized here, the main points of neoliberalism are: a self-regulating market free from government restrictions; reduced government spending on social services (education, welfare, health care, environment, etc.); privatization of public enterprises (schools, infrastructure, water, electric, gas, hospitals, railroads, etc.); elimination of the concept of public responsibility with the shift to individual responsibility (individual heath care vs. public heath care, individual retirement accounts vs. social security, etc.)
As neoliberalism increasing takes hold, or is pushed upon countries whether they desire it or not, the result will be a decrease in government roles and power, with a greater de-emphasis on environmental issues and social welfare, while the role of trade takes greater importance. Already we have seen the shift here in America while other countries have seen increased poverty and a decline in health and education. Increasing powerful companies will be free to do as they will regardless of harm to the individual or environment.
Maybe. There is a rising concern among shareholders concerning the way companies are doing business while riding roughshod over people and the environment. CorpWatch in this article titled A Proxy Battle: Shareholders vs. CEO's, reports that shareholder proxy votes on issues concerning human rights, environmental responsibility and corporate governance are rising.
Corporate arrogance toward shareholder resolutions aren't new. And if anything, it's only spurring shareholders to be more determined. The Social Investment Forum estimated that the number of social and environmental resolutions in the first half of 2006 rose 7 percent to 180, while governance-related resolutions rose 4 percent to 400. And while the bulk of proposals are being rejected, they are serving an important purpose: jarring stonewalling companies into a dialog about social and governance issues.
Could this be the new model for the future: Shareholders, threating with the stick and dangling the carrot, maintaining the delicate balance between corporate greed and the need to grow in order to stay afloat in a free market, and societies need for social and environmental concerns?
Certainly businesses are worrying about the clout of shareholders as portrayed in this article by Reuters, US business group vows fight over labor organizing.
A brief quote from the article shows the fears held by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce "...union pension funds could abuse any legislation to give shareholders more clout in corporate boardrooms and setting executive pay."
The article goes on to say: "Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission have attempted before to set new rules making boardrooms--where executive pay is set-- more accessible to shareholders. Corporate America has opposed such measures, often arguing that union pension funds, owners of millions of corporate shares, could abuse increased boardroom power to pursue political agendas unrelated to the corporation."
BusinessWeek (http://www.businessweek.com/) has an article titled, This Proxy Season, Expect a Brawl, a title that says it all.
While companies are spouting abuse of boardroom power, the term abuse could be applied both ways. It may well be that shareholder proxy will be the only source of control for increasing powerful and arrogant mega-powers. After all, shareholders have the ability to make or break a company, and if a company refuses to negotiate or compromise, shareholders can take their money and go to a more obliging corporation. Times Argus (http://www.timesargus.com/) has an article titled, Mutual funds offer options along political lines, which talks about mutual funds invested based on partisan lines.
This, too, may be the way of the future. The power of individuals banding together to insist their 401k money be placed in companies which support a pet project is not to be ignored. Imagine the impact of the churches calling for all members to withdraw stock from companies supporting stem cell research. Some may consider the flexibility, the volatility, of the stock market, that factor which make it flow and bend with every change, an asset. Others may deem it a worthy tool useful in balancing the scales of trade and social needs.
Companies, in their race for increased trade, expansion and the all-mighty stock market must never forget that real people, with real concerns, stand behind those stocks.