PDF Big Business, Poor Peoples: How Transnational Corporations Damage the Global Poor

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International business enterprises -- Developing countries. International business enterprises -- Social aspects -- Developing countries. Poor -- Developing countries. Developing countries -- Economic conditions -- 20th century. Introduction: the corporate spread -- Why poor countries 'want' the corporations -- The agri-corporations: from production to trade -- Agri-commodities take their toll -- Health: the poor take the corporate pill -- Water: the corporate tap -- Tourism: the great illusion -- Extracting logs and fish -- Mining the poor -- Manufactured goods: poverty amid the glitz -- Energy: no force for the poor -- The corporate persuaders -- Tackling the power: regulation, bypass, action -- Conclusion.

The penetration of transnational companies into Brazil has been rapid, but the tradition of shared and family meals remains strong and is likely to provide protection to national and regional food systems. The Brazilian government, under pressure from civil society organizations, has introduced legislation to protect and improve its traditional food system; by contrast, the governments of many industrialized countries have partly ceded their prime duty to protect public health to transnational companies. The experience of countries in the South that still retain traditional food systems provides a rational basis for policies that protect public health.

This article was commissioned for the PLoS Medicine series on Big Food that examines the activities and influence of the food and beverage industry in the health arena. Throughout human history, traditional food systems and dietary patterns have been intrinsic to social, cultural, and economic life, and to personal, community, and national identity.

Although these long-established dietary patterns are rarely if ever nutritionally ideal, they are linked with low rates of obesity and chronic diseases, and can be readily improved by modifications that respect tradition and culture, and national and local resources. However, the policies and practices of transnational food and drink corporations see Box 1 , most of whose products are ultra-processed and whose headquarters are almost invariably in the US and Europe, are now steadily displacing traditional food systems around the world.

The products are formulated to be intensely palatable and to fool the body's appetite control mechanisms [36] , [37]. Many of these products, while legal, are in effect fakes, made to look and taste like wholesome food. They are formulated and packaged to have a long shelf life and to eliminate the need for culinary preparation. They can be consumed anywhere, immediately or almost immediately, and often dispense with the need for tables, chairs, dishes, cutlery, and cups. Some ultra-processed products, such as breads and sausages, have been part of dietary patterns in many countries since before industrialization.

This process of displacement is not merely commercial, it is also ideological. Economic globalization, systematic privatization, and minimally regulated international capital flow have all shifted the balance between governments and corporations.

The Need for a Universal and Binding Treaty on TNCs and other Big Business

Governments and international institutions now tend to cede their prime duty to protect the public interest to vast transnational corporations whose primary responsibility is to their shareholders. The prevailing political, economic, and commercial policies and practices have also given these corporations freedom to expand across borders [1]. Consequently, the leading food and drink product corporations are now colossal concerns. Their brands sell throughout the world in outlets that range from large supermarkets to filling stations, and from restaurants to kiosks.

The individual annual revenue of the largest corporations is as high as the annual gross domestic product GDP of middle-size countries [2] — [8] and, unlike many national governments, these corporations are able to plan strategically and to divert or invest billions in new technologies and markets.

Big Business, Poor Peoples: How Transnational Corporations Damage the Global Poor | KSA | Souq

Big Food corporations now claim that they work in the public as well as the private interest, and even that they are in the business of protecting public health. In our view, this claim is part of a damage limitation exercise, which is further eroding the duty of governments to protect public health and public goods [10].

The ongoing globalization, privatization, and deregulation of food systems and supplies may have relatively little impact on public health in high-income countries whose dietary patterns are already fully industrialized. We believe that the experience and situation of those countries in the South still retaining their traditional food systems provide a rational and reliable basis for the development of international public health policies related to food.

In this essay, we describe the incursion of Big Food and Big Snack into the South, based upon our experiences in Brazil, a very large country that still retains, at least in part, its traditional food systems. We outline the nature of traditional Brazilian food systems and dietary patterns and the impact of the rapid penetration of the transnational food corporations into Brazil.


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Finally, we propose ways to protect public health and public goods in Brazil and in other countries and regions that still retain traditional food systems and supplies. Analyses of household food expenditure surveys conducted in Brazil over the past 40 years [11] — [13] show that, in common with other Latin American countries, Brazil retains many long-established food systems and dietary patterns.

Minimally processed food staples include rice, a variety of beans, and the root cassava manioc. These staples form the basis of everyday main meals, and are made delicious and attractive by various methods of preparation and cooking, and by the addition of oils, seeds, leaves, herbs, and spices, some of which are rich in nutrients. Wheat is not native to Brazil; processed wheat products such as breads, cakes, and biscuits followed relatively recent immigration of people from the Mediterranean region to the southern states of Brazil, and nationally were uncommon until well into the second half of the last century.

The amount of meat, fish, and other animal products in long-established Brazilian diets depends on availability, price, and income. In the past, these foods were usually eaten only in small amounts on a daily basis, and in large quantities only as part of feasts or other special occasions. More importantly, meals prepared and eaten by the family at home—including the midday meal—and therefore the habit of eating together, remain an integral part of the Brazilian way of life.

Big Business, Poor Peoples: How Transnational Corporations Damage the World's Poor / Edition 2

Notwithstanding intense pressures, which include ubiquitous television and internet propaganda designed to turn eating and drinking into constant individual snacking [10] , food and drink consumption is not yet dislocated and isolated from family and social life in Brazil. This is probably the most important factor protecting national and regional traditional food systems. It would be wrong, however, to romanticize Brazilian traditional food systems and dietary patterns—they are far from ideal.

The influence of the seafaring Portuguese colonizers and the need to preserve animal foods by salting before the widespread availability of refrigeration mean that the typical Brazilian diet is high in salt, which has resulted in high rates of hypertension and stroke in the country [14]. The traditional diet is also sugary, the result of Brazil being for centuries the world's largest producer of sugar, and of table sugar being the cheapest source of calories in the country.


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Further, while a variety of indigenous or established tropical fruits is consumed, commonly at breakfast or as desserts, consumption of green vegetables remains low, particularly among the lowest-income families. More positively, undernutrition is generally uncommon or rare at all stages of life and, as with many Asian, African, and other Latin American countries, rates of obesity in Brazil were low until the late s [15]. Our experience in the workers' restaurant illustrates how transnational food corporations are changing dietary patterns in Brazil. More generally, the opportunities for transnational food and drink corporations to increase the penetration of ultra-processed products in very highly populated countries such as India and China, where until recently most of the populations were rural and on very low incomes, are immense.

In such countries, the strategies these corporations are employing to introduce their products undermine and displace long-established traditional food systems. The impact is not only on nutrition and risk of disease.

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Snacking replaces meals. Commensal family and community life is undermined. Local food producers, distributors, retailers, and caterers are driven out of business. Social networks collapse. Regional and national culture and identity are eroded [23] — [26]. Epidemic obesity and serious chronic diseases can be seen as an integral part of economic development. It is code for the food, drink, and associated industries. Indeed, in practice, the term only refers to the transnational and other large suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors of ultra-processed products and their raw materials, together with allied and associated corporations and institutions.

Indeed, with support from the World Economic Forum and other organisations that represent the interests of transnational industry, food corporations have already engaged in the committees convened by the UN that are tasked to set and develop the global agenda specified in the Political Declaration of the recent UN High-Level Meeting on prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases [28] , [29]. Within countries where food systems are already more or less saturated with ultra-processed products, these committees are mainly focused on proposals to adjust the formulation of ultra-processed products so that they contain, for example, less salt and trans-fats or more synthetic micronutrients.

Moreover, the reformulation strategy of transnational corporations may have the effect of heading off legislation designed, for example, to sharply limit or prohibit the advertising and marketing of ultra-processed products to children. Introduction: the corporate spread 1. Why poor countries 'want' the corporations 2. The agri-corporations: from production to trade 3. Agri-commodities take their toll 4.

Health: the poor take the corporate pill 5. Water: the corporate tap 6. Tourism: the great illusion 7.

Time to stop big corporations from ruling the world

Extracting logs and fish 8. Mining the poor 9. Manufactured goods: poverty amid the glitz more Manufactured goods: poverty amid the glitz Energy: no force for the poor The corporate persuaders Tackling the power: regulation, bypass, action Conclusion. In the Library Request this item to view in the Library's reading rooms using your library card. Details Collect From YY