It was surprising to hear, on a France Culture radio programme dealing, among other things, with the influence strategies of certain multinational companies (1), words and expressions that are more appropriate to the political context of a dictatorship: “physical danger,” “psychological danger,” “legal danger,” “muzzling human rights defenders [and] civil society,” “systematic intimidation regardless of your status,” “self-censorship,” or “different strategies that together form a system, a kind of moral harassment.” In the same vein, the radio programme referred to “SLAPPs,” i.e., “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” which are initiated by certain companies against individuals or groups who oppose them (2). Some comments about how to combat these influence strategies could also have been made in an authoritarian political context. Here are two examples. The first one refers to the respect for human rights and the supposed dominant vision in economic and legal matters:

“Today the difficulty is that we have been convinced (because the law is a tool of persuasion) that commercial and corporate law is superior to human rights. And it is this paradigm that must be changed if we are to create a system that is more respectful of human rights.” (3)

The second comment concerns the links between the political and economic spheres, especially the fact that political actors may take on economic roles and vice versa:

“For multinational companies, such an interweaving is a particularly important instrument of influence on public authorities, and it also makes it possible to generate norms which are now rather favourable to companies.” (3)

This is far from the spirit of capitalism which, according to sociologist Eve Chiapello, should lead firms to seek the social legitimacy of their power and actions: “the claim of legitimacy […] characterizes the spirit of capitalism,” she writes (4). This search for justification necessarily goes beyond their material interests. It is all the more so today because the organization of the economy is endangering the planet and those who live on it. The adherence of companies to the CSR movement can thus be understood as an aspect of their legitimacy claim. They tend, in the words of Eve Chiapello, to “incorporate into the justifications of capitalism the social or environmental values in whose name it is criticised.” Indeed, the guests on the France Culture programme did not fit into this framework. The CSR movement was not part of the means they were considering in order to fight the power of some multinational companies. Rather, they advocated the mobilisation of civil society, changes in the law (e.g., to avoid SLAPPs) and the ability of citizens to have access to justice. Let us add means that have not been explicitly mentioned in the context of the radio programme, but which are certainly compatible with the guests’ position: consumerist movements, collaborative consumption (5), modes of exchange driven by the solidarity economy and social business, boycotts, “networks [which] challenge the liberal system and mass consumption” (6), and the emergence of a new society inspired in particular by political ecology. In any case, we remain surprised by the apparent analogy between the practical effects of the influence strategies deployed by some multinational firms and those of totalitarian political regimes. Indeed, the purpose of these firms is not political. Their mission is not to maintain a political regime or ideology, but essentially to defend their own material interests. It is true, however, that these interests have their own logic: “Only let the material interests once get a firm footing, and they are bound to impose the conditions on which alone they can continue to exist,” Joseph Conrad wrote (7). And these “conditions” are also of a political nature. The analogy is also surprising because of an essential aspect of the current ecological and social crisis. With regard to the first, the scientific data collected today has the value of a global warning, to use the title (and pun) of a recent article in the French newspaper Libération (8). In other words, “the warning is written on the wall,” as the French historian René Grousset wrote in 1946 following the horrors of the Second World War and the nuclear threat (9). In this context, how can some economic actors deliberately ignore the “warning that is written on the wall,” it being understood that this warning is also addressed to them, and in particular to their material interests? Finally, the analogy is surprising for a third reason. If it has any truth, then opposition or resistance strategies should also be inspired by those implemented – and being implemented – by opponents of totalitarian political regimes – by dissidents. We will discuss this singular hypothesis in the next post. Alain Anquetil (1) A programme in the “Culture Monde” series on Wednesday 19 September 2018 about “new heroic figures.” (2) See the Wikipedia site and P. Shapiro, “Intent or content? Anti-SLAPP legislation goes international,” Review of European Community and International Environmental Law, 19(1), p. 14-27. (3) These remarks were made by two guests on the programme cited in note 1. (4) E. Chiapello, “Esprit du capitalisme,” in N. Postel and R. Sobel (eds.), Dictionnaire critique de la RSE (p. 182-187), Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2013. (5) On collaborative consumption, see I. Cruz, R. Ganga, and S. Wahlen, Contemporary collaborative consumption: Trust and reciprocity revisited, Springer, 2018 ; and, in French, A. Slim and M. Prieto, Idées reçues sur l’économie collaborative, Le Cavalier Bleu Editions, 2018. (6) I borrow this sentence from the French website of the Institut National de la Consommation. (7) J. Conrad, Nostromo: A tale of the seaboard, Oxford University Press, 2007. See also my article (in French): “Réforme de l’objet social des entreprises (2) : les intérêts matériels” (14 May 2018). (8) See “Réchauffement climatique, le global warning,” Libération, 28 August 2018. (9) R. Grousset, Bilan de l’histoire, Paris, Plon, 1949. He was inspired by the mysterious words written on the plaster cast of a wall of King Belthazzar’s palace (The Bible, Daniel, 5:1-28).

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