Putting Democracy Above the Bottom Line

BOSTON – This month, we will have a chance to chart a course toward a stronger, safer global society, where power belongs to the many, not to the few, and where those who have run roughshod over our environment, human rights, and public health will be held accountable. I am not talking about the United States’ presidential election.

To be sure, the US election will be immensely consequential; but endless punditry and horserace politics have obscured two groundbreaking events that begin on November 7: meetings of the parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Superficially, international law lacks the drama of a presidential race, and can undoubtedly seem stuffy at best, and irrelevant at worst. But if one digs a little deeper, one finds an almost Shakespearean struggle between democracy and unbridled greed. At each conference this month, the international community will make decisions that will affect the outcome of this struggle, and which could begin to solve some of today’s most vexing global issues.

Both the FCTC and the UNFCCC allow for governments to rein in global corporations’ unchecked power, which is a root cause of many other problems, from economic inequality to social injustice and broken democratic systems. Global corporations are enormous, and their influence affects almost every aspect of our lives. To understand the reach of their power, one must look no further than the billions of dollars they spend on elections; their lobbying to gut worker and environmental protections in trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; and fossil-fuel corporations’ relentless drive to derail climate-change policy.