Shame on Barclays, shame on corporate power

Shame on Barclays, shame on corporate power

Date: 11 January 2012

Guest post by James Angel, used to be campaigns intern

Because of its role as Britain’s biggest player in food speculation, Barclays has earned itself a place in the shortlist for the 2012 Public Eye ‘shame award’. Barclays makes up to an estimated £340 million a year from betting on food prices. In doing so, it is profiting from hunger and poverty. Research by WDM has exposed the role of financial speculation on food futures markets in pushing up food prices, leaving the world’s poorest people unable to afford to eat.

But despite Barclays’ clear irresponsibility, it will have its work cut out in reaching the top spot in the ‘shame awards’ as it faces very tough competition. Barclays is one of six shortlisted corporations and a good case can be made in favour of any of these taking home the award, which will be given by an expert jury to the corporation with the most deplorable practices.

Barclays’ rivals include:

Freeport, a US mining corporation that has, for 45 years, operated the largest gold and copper mine in West Papua. The mine has polluted the local environment, covering 200 square miles in a blanket of copper-laden waste, and opposition to the mine has been met by death threats and killings.

Samsung, a South Korean gadget company whose usage of illegal toxic substances in their factories has resulted in 140 workers being diagnosed with cancer, 50 of which have died.

Syngenta, a Swiss agrochemical producer that is aggressively selling its toxic paraquat herbicide in the global south, despite its being banned in Europe. This is resulting in severe health problems for the farmers exposed to the substance.

Tepco, Japan’s largest energy company, whose profit-driven decision to cut costs by ignoring flaws and risk appraisals in the design of its atomic power plants, resulted in the Fukushima catastrophe.

Vale, the second biggest corporation in Brazil, whose construction of the Belo-Monte-Dam in the Amazon rainforest is threatening the forced eviction of 40,000 indigenous people and the destruction of the riverine ecosystem that is at the basis of these people’s survival.

In each of these cases we see unaccountable, wealthy institutions relentlessly pursuing profit, irrespective of the social and environmental costs. What the ‘shame awards’ highlight, as well as the specific horrors of individual corporate abuses, is a deeper problem of the power maintained by corporations over our political and economic systems, our planet and its inhabitants. As long as these profit-driven institutions maintain their power, and as long as there is profit to be made in exploitation, people and the environment will continue to be exploited.

It is crucial to maintain pressure on individual cases of corporate irresponsibility. Doing so changes corporate practices and, in-so-doing, makes an immediate positive difference. WDM has won many campaigns this way, and this is a key reason why we are targeting Barclays and their cashing in on hunger.

However, whether or not Barclays bags the top spot in the ‘shame awards’, WDM’s cause of economic justice will be advanced. For whichever case of corporate irresponsibility ends up ‘winning’, we will be reminded that as long as corporate power goes unchallenged, people and the environment will lose.