As the G8 Business Summit opens today, company heads are lining up to state the importance of really helping African countries out of poverty through trade. This summit is chaired by Mark Moody-Stuart, head of AngloAmerican, the mining giant that has recently been accused of working with warlords on the DR Congo (see Corporate Watch news http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=1808).
Although many of the companies involved in this summit are the same old names that have been exploiting African resources and destroying African society for many decades, the G8 Business Summit comes packaged in a winsome form, designed to seamlessly insert the corporate agenda into the debate over ending poverty. Business Action for Africa (BAA), the corporate coalition that will dominate the G8 Business Summit, declares that its aims is to 'promote a more positive, balanced view of Africa' and Africa's private sector. The 'negative' views of Africa that the BAA wishes to move away from probably includes the view that Africa is dogged by malnutrition (Nestle is one of BAA's core partners), by death squads (as funded in Nigeria by Shell, another BAA stalwart), and by civil wars in areas like Sierra Leone and DR Congo (both of which were fueled by diamond-hungry companies like De Beers, another BAA partner). In fact, the BAA is made up of all the old robbers who have bled Africa white, the roll call continues with names like Rio Tinto, GlaxoSmithKline, Unilever and British American Tobacco. The moves toward 'development' or support for African economies are covered by the inclusion of African companies in BAA. As we have mentioned in the Corporate Watch report on Scotland plc ( http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=1827), corporations have no loyalty to their 'home' country, and enriching 'African' companies is no guarantee of a wealthier society; the BAA's plans for Africa will benefit a tiny corporate elite, in Africa and elsewhere. Arguments about social justice, however, mean little in the context of business policies. What is quite incredible is that these hard-headed business plans are being presented as humanitarian efforts. That fact that they are being so presented is largely due to the eagerness of certain multilateral organisations and big NGOs to offer corporations an ethical umbrella to hide under.
One example is in todays Financial Times article, co-authored by Ibrahim Gambari, under-Secretary at the UN ('Political will, not just aid, can lift Africa out of despair), what stands out are calls by the authors to lower tariffs in Africa and to 'make the private sector the backbone of development', plus the firming up of property rights. This is essentially singing from same hymn sheet as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who used very similar language when opening the G8 Business Summit today. The division between blue-washed UN corporate speak and Nu-Labour neo-liberals speak is that the PM has baldly called for the extension of corporate control through Africa through the use of private-public partnerships, essentially forms of privatisation that will leave African services in the hands of major companies. Of course, if the internal tariffs come down, we may see companies from Nigeria running services in Uganda...this will presumably be progress from the point of view of the PM and UN.
The ethical sugar-coating of neo-liberalism continues in a series of adverts run in major papers yesterday featuring a map of Africa within which are arranged a hundred corporate leaders' names. These worthies -- including Richard Branson, and the ubiquitous Mark Moody-Stuart -- have been organised by the Live8 luvvie Richard Curtis to present their concerns about Afria to a wider public. I say wider, because the business elite traditionally get many clear channels to the G8 leaders before and during the G8 summit, in the CW report we point out that the Confederation of British Industry and International Chamber of Commerce will both be meeting TB before the summit. With the adverts, the aim is for buusiness to express its concern and to be seen to be doing so; hence what the FT has called and unprecendented and 'new approach by the business community'. Curtis and the Live8 organisers have offered the corporations a massive fig leaf to conceal their traditionally cosy relationship within the G8 summit -- company heads are also to be presented as a humanitarian pressure group 'urging' the G8 leaders to act in the right way towards Africa. So we are presented with the specacle of corporations cynically calling for action, safe in the knowledge that their own power will prevent any serious change.