Corporate diplomacy – Forget geopolitics, think ecopolitics

12 02 2010


In 2009, Exxon Mobil and Wal Mart revenues surpassed Sweden’s GDP – the 22nd wealthiest country in terms of GDP. Companies like Google publicly challenged China in a human rights debate more powerfully than any developed country had ever dared to. With the economic clout of a develop country and a time horizon set on quarterly earnings, large corporations turned century-old diplomatic protocols upside down like a bull in a china shop. As I see it, large corporations’ government affairs will soon start to look like a Foreign Affairs Ministry with a clear diplomatic agenda to uphold.

When you start to think about it, it is already the case. Corporations in America leverage lobbying to shape the political environment the same way a┬ádiplomatic┬ámission would do in a foreign country. Building on the analogy, the World Economic Forum at Davos is the equivalent of the UN where traditional diplomats come to negotiate with their corporate counterparts. If this is already happening, quid novi sub sole? Well, I expect corporations to become bolder in setting and communicating their diplomatic agenda. By doing so, they will redefine the power map – shifting international relations from geopolitics to ecopolitics.

One may then argue that economics are already driving foreign relations. Diplomacy and companies’ interests tend to go hand in hand. Watch a presidential plane from a Western country land in China and we will see a clique of CEOs mixing with the usual diplomatic aides. The line gets blurred between old-fashioned diplomats and global business leaders. Though now, there is still an implicit deference to the old system with the business world trying to piggy-back on the old diplomatic channels to support their interest. This is where I see a branching point: will corporations still defer to diplomatic channels to make them case or will they develop their own, running the risk of clashing with the traditional diplomatic world? Read the rest of this entry »