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Empires of Profit

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Empires of Profit

Commerce, Conquest and Corporate Responsibility

Thomson Texere,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Even when multinational corporations try to make a difference in undeveloped nations, they develop mostly trouble.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


If you ever wanted to belly up to the bar with a foreign correspondent, share a cold beer and swap war stories, this is your chance. Daniel Litvin, a former journalist, as well as a former corporate social responsibility (CSR) officer, shares a book full of corporate adventures from the foreign battlefields of business. In this very anecdotal examination of how the arrival of first world companies affects local societies and governments - for good or ill - in third world countries, he sews stories and history together from India to Guatemala to Iran to Manchuria to Africa. He lists the past misdeed of Aramco oil companies in Arabia, of Shell in Nigeria and of Nike’s far flung contractors, seeming to say that they meant no real harm and did less harm than they were accused of doing, but he also contrasts the flawed past with the improved present. Even with responsible policies, he says, multinationals most often fail because they create unexpected dynamics and impossible expectations. recommends this fiscal, social and corporate travelogue to executives, corporate social responsibility officers and field personnel far from home.


How the Global Economy Grows

Corporations invested almost $20 billion a year in non-native businesses in the 1980s and $200 billion by the end of the 1990s. More than 53,000 companies operate in more than one nation-state. This has been going on for a long time. Between 1600 and 1750, the English East India Company successfully traded Southeast Asian goods while competing with the Dutch, French and Portuguese. Things went well for that first 150 years, perhaps because Englishmen in India followed orders to stay out of local government, tribal competition and politics. When they eventually did intrude in local affairs, the Brits were not alone.

Multinationals intruded upon local matters around the globe. United Fruit grew and exported bananas; built homes, schools and hospitals; and supported the coup that killed Guatemala’s democratically-elected president. Nationalism drove the haughty Japanese owners of the South Manchurian Railway Company away from Manchuria, where they were never accepted despite the economic improvements their railroad brought. Belgium’s Union Miniere reverted to imperialist tactics in the African Congo where it mined copper, cobalt and uranium...

About the Author

Daniel Litvin is the former Corporate Social Responsibility agent for Rio Tinto plc, a mining multinational, where he specialized in human rights policy. A former, prize-winning environment and resources correspondent for The Economist, he is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Oxford University, with degrees in anthropology and development, philosophy, politics and economics. He lives in London.

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