SHOBHA SHUKLA, BOBBY RAMAKANT – CNS
When 99% of the people worldwide were reeling under the severe COVID-19 pandemic and cascading humanitarian crises, 1% of the corporate elites continued to sinisterly push for privatisation of public services and minted even more profits. More shocking is the fact that corporate plunder peaked (even in healthcare) during the severest of public health emergencies in recent times.
When lockdown was clamped in many countries worldwide, several activists who have been fighting against privatisation of public health services since several years, had to go online to expose the corporate loot. They connected online from Latin American nations to the southeast Asian nations, and leveraged upon a wide array of digital tools to expose corporate capture of healthcare, and produced powerful online comics, digital animation videos and e-campaigns and media events.
Two of such inspiring activists, Maha Abdallah of Palestine and Debbie Stothard of ATSEAN Burma, are among the nominees of the coveted 2023 Unite Health COVID-19 Social Media Influencers Awards (www.socmedawards.com). Both of them (along with both authors of this article) are part of the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net).
Corporate capture of government decision-making on healthcare poses one of the most dangerous threats to people’s right to health. For decades, under the guise of liberalisation of the market, innovation, and safety, corporate and economic elites have lobbied national and international decision-making spaces to influence legislation and policy making towards profit. While governments are obligated under international law to ensure the right to health for all people without discrimination, the privatization of healthcare – as a result of corporate capture – is leading to the dismantling of public healthcare at the expense of health workers, who are disproportionately women, and ultimately, of people’s equitable access to healthcare.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a staggering example of how corporate capture is at the heart of the inherent failure of healthcare systems globally. At a time when sharing scientific knowledge, including patents, could save millions of lives – several pharmaceutical corporations and governments have opposed this, resulting in inequitable distribution of vaccines.
Digital comic series on corporate capture launched in 2021
ESCR-Net members of the Corporate Accountability Working Group had collectively worked online with the art studio Zago Brothers on the digital comic series “The Power of the 99% to Stop Corporate Capture”, to shed light on the widespread global phenomenon of how corporations are capturing government institutions and decision-making, including in international spaces such as the United Nations.
The comic series was launched online on 22 February 2021 on www.escr-net.org, coinciding with the start of the 46th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC).
The message in this comic series is clear: “if we – the 99% – work together, we can overcome corporate capture and build a new normal.”
Online video animation on corporate capture
A year before the pandemic had struck, members of ESCR-Net had collectively developed a powerful online video animation on corporate capture in several languages (English, Spanish, French, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese).
During the pandemic this animation video was screened online in several civil society and intergovernmental side-meetings, hosted by a range of organisations, to show four main symptoms of corporate capture and the severe impact on people’s right to health:
1) The privatization of healthcare;
2) The lack of transparency
3) The protection of intellectual property
4) The theft of emergency funds by the wealthiest 1%
The demand worldwide from people’s struggles and social movements was loud and clear: end corporate capture; adopt and implement intersectional approaches in health financing; guarantee the universal, equal right to healthcare; use maximum available resources, as well as international assistance and cooperation, to realize the highest attainable standard of healthcare; protect healthcare and other essential workers; implement full labour protections for all workers; nationalize healthcare systems and medical supply chains; invest in strengthening country-level capacity for monitoring and analyzing relevant disaggregated data throughout the healthcare system; among others.
Legally binding treaty on human rights and business: will it work?
As a result of this global push, in 2014 the UN Human Rights Council passed Resolution 26/9, which established an open-ended intergovernmental working group (IGWG) with a mandate to develop an international legally binding human rights treaty to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
But several governments in the Global North are prioritizing corporate interests that would undermine the very purposes of the treaty process. Moreover, as hundreds of social movements and organizations have repeatedly denounced, the treaty process is threatened by corporate capture, often through the inclusion of corporate lobbyists and associations in the negotiations, who present faulty and biased arguments to weaken the text and the process.
Global South must champion the process to stop corporate impunity
The Global South can champion the process to help stop human rights and environmental abuses and violations caused by business. The currently negotiated draft of this treaty must ensure access to justice for individuals and communities facing business-related abuses and violations such as land grabbing, destruction of natural resources, and slave-like and risky working conditions.
Because of their economic predominance and growing influence on government decision-making, corporate elites and especially transnational corporations (TNCs) often escape accountability. This existing state of impunity has led social movements and civil society organizations around the world to seek legal liability for corporate acts and omissions and ensure that robust international legislation is in place to protect people’s rights over economic interests and corporate power.
Voluntary measures are not enough. We have to ensure that individuals and communities affected by business activities – including indigenous peoples, human rights and environmental defenders – have effective mechanisms to access justice and reparations where abuses and violations occur. The primacy of human rights over trade and investment agreements must be respected.
Shobha Shukla, Bobby Ramakant – CNS (Citizen News Service)
(Shobha Shukla and Bobby Ramakant are part of CNS editorial team)
– Shared under Creative Commons (CC)