Back to the Future
Chapter 15: The United Nations and Transnational Corporations: Some Personal Reminiscences
1. INTRODUCTION This chapter reviews and critiques the attitudes and deliberations of, and actions taken by, the United Nations (UN) and its various constituent agencies over the last 40 years or so, with respect to the role of transnational corporations (TNCs)1 in economic development and international relations. This period has seen a number of exciting and far reaching changes in the global, political and economic scenario, and in the objectives and priorities of its constituent institutions and organisations. These, as we shall seek to show, have markedly affected the significance of both TNC related activity and of foreign direct investment (FDI) – the main modality by which such corporations engage in such activity – and also of the perceptions by developing countries of the formers’ contribution to their economic and social goals. This, of course, is a vast and complex subject, and a history of the interface between the UN and TNCs and their foreign affiliates has recently been published.2 This chapter presents a more personal view of one who has worked closely with the UN and several of its agencies since the late 1960s. The chapter takes a chronological perspective. In the next section, I will trace the gradual disillusionment of many host countries, and particularly developing countries, in the late 1960s and 1970s, about the contribution of inbound direct investment to their economic needs and social objectives. Most noticeably, there was a growing perception among ex-colonial economies that they were exchanging one form of metropolitan imperialism for another. This...
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