Earlier this week I concluded that globalisation is bad for the environment. I also considered how geographical boundaries are becoming increasingly less relevant in a world that demands global solutions to global problems.
If individual countries are becoming powerless to respond effectively to problems such as global warming, who can help?
One answer, unlikely as it sounds, lies in the large corporations that have become prominent as the push towards globalisation has gathered pace.
The Tech Titans are perfect examples. I decided to research the top ten tech companies and was astonished at their size and power. Apple alone has a market capitalisation of $330 billion and a cash hoard of $76.2 billion. This is more money than the U.S. government. Just think about the implications of this. Apple has more cash on hand than the most powerful country in the world! Microsoft is not far behind, with $63.7 billion sitting in the bank.
Collectively, the Big Ten have a total market capitalisation of $1.445 trillion. That’s a sum greater than the annual GDPs of 11 countries. Moreover, more than 170 countries (depending on how you count) have a smaller GDP than the combined market value of those ten Tech Titans. And that’s not even including the cash reserves of these corporate giants, which amount to some $290.89 Billion.
There are bigger companies still. If Walmart was a country, its revenues would put it on a par with the GDP of the 25th largest economy in the world, surpassing 157 smaller countries. That means it would actually be bigger than Norway, which has a GDP of $414.46 billion.
For me, this puts our worldwide problems into perspective. When we discuss countries, we seem to forget about cash and talk instead in terms of debt. I suppose that’s little wonder, given that in July 2011 the UK public sector net debt was standing at £940.1 billion. But this distinction does a lot to highlight the difference between companies and countries: cash makes companies powerful and a lack of it makes countries weak.
Given the clear power of these companies, perhaps we should be exacting a greater commitment from them to the environment and our other worldwide problems. They are clearly more “global” in their outlook than countries, because they are the drivers of the global marketplace. Their goods and services are usually conceived, manufactured, marketed and sold across borders. Their employees are spread across the globe and their brands resonate with citizens across the globe.
I have always maintained that companies have a responsibility to the environment, but now I am beginning to revise that level of responsibility upwards. Given their vast size and power, it’s clear that these companies need to be driving their green agendas far more aggressively than they appear to do at present. As I have previously noted, there is money to be made from pursuing a corporate green agenda. Sometimes, however, these companies need a push in that direction.
And then it occurred to me…
Ironically, this push towards a green agenda is where countries – those same countries that I had written off – could make a significant difference. They could oblige these corporate giants to focus on the environment and our worldwide problems, by means of regulation and legislation. By incorporating an environmental tax, for example, and investing money from companies into a global green agenda, we could begin to see real changes.
So perhaps countries still have their parts to play after all. Any thoughts?