The Race to the Top

This message was posted to the Independent Media Center web site on December 30, 1999.

Why Not a Race to the Top?

A Proposal for a New and Revised Mission for the WTO
(A Non-Reformist Reform of the WTO)

The idea is to switch the agenda of the WTO from the current one of organizing a "race to the bottom" for standards of corporate labor, environmental and health performance, to a new one of organizing a "race to the top."  This would of course require a 180 degree turn in the direction of the WTO.  The organization may not be capable of such a radical change.  If it is capable, great.  If not, then we'll just have to do it ourselves. 

The means of changing the direction of "the race" would be for the WTO to competitively rate all aspects of labor, environmental and health performance of all transnational corporations, and to make those ratings widely available to consumers throughout the world. 

This would involve first establishing criteria for corporate labor, environmental and health performance.  Second would be developing objective rating systems and standards for data to be used in the ratings.  Third would be farming out all the data gathering and rating work to NGOs that would be certified and paid to do this work.

The ratings should actually be composite ratings based on averages of ratings by multiple NGOs focusing on different industries, and perhaps different aspects of different industries.  For example, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, and Rainforest Action Network might be asked to competitively rate the harvesting practices of forest products corporations.  Global Exchange, Sweatshop Watch, and Verite might be asked to rate the labor performance of clothing manufacturers.

Rating data would be compiled in a standard database format that would be easily used in software programs, magazines and books that would be marketed around the world by private and non-profit organizations.  Rating data would be made available on the Internet and would be continuously updated to encourage continuous improvement in corporate performance. 

Ideally, software programs and websites would be developed to allow users to select and weight their own labor, environmental and health criteria to be used in rating different products and services by different corporations.

With all this information available in easily accessible formats, consumers could make much more informed, conscientious purchasing decisions.  Due to the importance of marginal sales, a relatively small number of conscientious consumers would have a very disproportionate impact on the labor, environmental and health practices of corporations. 

Implementation of this proposal would by no means be a panacea for all the ill effects of corporate power.  But it could be a step forward, especially if it were combined with effective regulatory reforms, plus increased worker and community ownership and control, plus a real effort to make corporate charters conditional upon good labor, environmental and health performance.

Karl Davies
People Against Corporate Takeover = People Allied for Community Transformation (PACT)
Northampton, MA
December, 1999