Challenging inequality? Assert people’s collective rights and sovereignty: Page 2 of 3
to Pesticide Action Network-Asia Pacific. Leading the list is the elite-led state of the Philippines. The land conflicts often involved mining companies, plantations, or infrastructure and energy companies.
Economic inequality is an effect of this political-economic status quo. TNCs are this system’s agents, attacking people’s collective rights and capturing economic resources. Economic inequality, at the grassroots, means persisting landlessness of small farmers due to agribusiness land grabs, through “legal” means or militarism. It means the loss of indigenous peoples’ ancestral domains due to extractive TNCs’ mining of minerals. It means seas and fishing zones dominated by the ships of big companies; workers forced either to engage in unjust employment in their countries or being migrant workers.
Economic inequality is when Freeport Indonesia (an Indonesian subsidiary of the US firm Freeport-McMoran) gets to plunder West Papua through mining, or when the Swiss TNC Glencore (top 16 in the Fortune Global 500) does it in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Brazil, where the top 3% owns almost two-thirds of arable land, and the US insurance firm TIAA has linked up with a Brazilian sugarcane company to convert farmland into even more sugar plantations.
The news about widening inequality sprung in time for the gathering of big business and state bigwigs in Davos. People’s movements must not stop there, for there is a need to focus on how neoliberal finance institutions still play big roles today. The IMF and the WBG continue to hold their regular meetings with the same neoliberal model at their core, despite admissions of faults (by IMF economists) or a rhetorical appeal to combat inequality (by both).
The institutions of the WBG continue to empower TNCs and big private sector. Its International Finance Corporation (IFC) has promoted so-called “public-private partnerships” for infrastructure and utilities, which is a de facto privatisation of what should have been public services. This is aside from the IFC’s role in pro-TNC policy advice, on pretexts of creating “attractive investment climates” in the Global South.
The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) continues to function as protection of corporations’ profits in times of political crisis through insurance. The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) continues to be a go-to body in free trade agreements, with investor-state dispute settlement clauses that give TNCs the scandalous power to sue governments for profit losses.
Shifting away from the interference of these neoliberal institutions, and neoliberal policy in general, is needed to combat poverty and inequality. There is also the need to pull at inequality’s more systemic roots: the activities of monopoly capital in the Global South through TNCs, with the complicity of elite-led governments from the Global South and North, as strengthened by the norms set by international finance institutions.
We do need greater regulation, but we also need more drastic changes in Southern economies, towards land reform and rural development along with strategic industrial policy that is not centred on foreign investors and TNCs. Needless to say, development should be people-led and people-centred, with communities and grassroots organisations in the Global South at the core. Those who