chapter  10
28 Pages

Business, development, and inequality


Since the 1990s, major global development institutions, led by the United Nations, have endorsed a policy of proactively engaging business in development. The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) is one of the primary examples of this policy (UN, 2000; Witte and Reinicke, 2005; UNGC, 2009a). It draws on notions such as corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate citizenship, and emphasizes how self-regulation by businesses and their voluntary adherence to certain values and standards can play a vital role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). More recently, a somewhat different set of initiatives such as the Growing Inclusive Markets Initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have come into being.1 Premised on the notion that business can foster development by serving the “bottom of the pyramid,” they focus on “inclusive business models” which can “integrate the poor” into the market (Prahalad, 2005; see also UNDP, 2008). Both these sets of initiatives, for instance those that seek socially responsible behavior through voluntary regulation and those that seek inclusive business models, are quite closely aligned to the initiatives launched by the corporate community itself, such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) (WBCSD, 2009). Civil society actors, however, have always been critical about the role

of business in development, especially since the 1980s as effects of globalization became increasingly apparent. For one, the recent years have seen a marked increase in the imbalance of economic power between business and states. Data from the Forbes list of the world’s biggest 2,000 companies (Forbes, 2009), compared to the gross domestic product (GDP) of countries in the IMF World Economic Outlook database (IMF, 2008), which provides national GDP data for 179 countries, gives us some critical indicators. The aggregate sales of the top 50 corporations amount to US$8 trillion approximately-which is double the GDP of

China and eight times the GDP of India. The aggregate sales of the top three companies, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, and Wal-Mart exceed the GDP of the entire African continent (US$1.289 trillion and US$1.281 trillion for 2008 respectively). The combined sales of these largest 2,000 companies (US$29.78 trillion) equal the GDP of the five richest countries: the USA, Japan, China, Germany, and France. Alternatively, it equals the GDP of all 179 countries taken together minus the richest five.2