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The People’s Corporations

LONDON – Two big power shifts are occurring around the world today. First, corporate power is growing relative to that of governments. Second, ordinary people are also gaining greater influence. What does it mean that these seemingly contradictory shifts are happening simultaneously?

There is, no doubt, more power in the hands of companies than ever before. People who have not been popularly elected control more and more of our daily lives – from entertainment and energy supplies to schools, railways, and postal services. At the same time, the speed of technological innovation is outpacing that of legislation, meaning that corporate activities are routinely entering seemingly gray areas devoid of regulation.

But, counterbalancing this trend, people now have the means and opportunities to ensure that companies’ behavior does not go unchecked. They are becoming more educated and aware of how companies operate, and they are more proactive and outspoken when they believe a company has crossed the line. The public increasingly acts as the conscience of companies and industries, asking hard questions and holding them to account.

In the past several years, more effective means of collective action – such as social media, open publishing platforms, and online video sharing – have given people more levers to pull. As people pursue boycotts and disinvestment, lobby for legislation, and activate social-media campaigns with growing sophistication, they are increasingly able to influence companies’ operational and strategic decision-making, thereby imposing checks and balances on today’s enormous accretions of private power.