the daily stirrer

Faceless Corporations That Drive The Global Economy

by Ian R Thorpe
Some of the most powerful corporations in the world, not the biggest in terms of turnover, profit or numbers of staff employed, but powrful in terms of the amount of control they exercise in global markets, are barely known outside their own industries. You should find out all you can about corporations that affect your life on a daily basis, from the food you eat to your underpants. Here is a good place to start. Contact us:

Faceless Corporations That Drive The Global Economy

by Ian R Thorpe

It is unusual in this era to find large corporations that can shun the stock markets which offer so many financial vehilcles for raising cash to fund investments or takeover activities. The opportunities to pick the poikets of small investors with the complicity of trust (there's a misapplied word if ever there was one) managers who are charged with wisely and prudently investing the pension funds and life savings of ordinary punters. The attractions of collateralised debt oblication packages and such are, like when you find a naked hooker or gigolo in your hotel bedroom, the tempation just too hard to resist.

For a few businesses however the prospect of having market regulators' light shone on their activities outweighs the temptation to make a quick buck. Stock in such companies is privately owned which is why they are known as private companies. Firs whose shares are traded in the stock markets are public companies in the sense that anybody with sufficient funds can buy a share of their business.

Obviously to own the company rarther than it being owned by an army of anonymous, dividend hungry shareholders is an attraction in certain circumstances. The shareholders can function like the membership of a private club, accountable to no-one but themselves.

The next advantage is that the value of your company is not subject to the vagiaries of the markets; because stocks and shares are not traded openly but can only be sold with the approval of other shareholders the owners can exercise tight control over who is allowed to join their club.

Probably the best part of keeping your company private however is the balance sheet is not required by law to be published in the public domain. Annual figures cannot be be pulled to pieces by analysts whose criteria for deciding whether your company is a good investment will cover little more than assessing sales and profit targets.

A more positive view is a private company can operate long-term strategies, freed from the constraints imposed by the short termism of high finance. To those more naturally disposed to scepticism it also means activities are less subject to legal and regulatory scrutiny. Thus private corporations can be involved in activities rivals whose stocks are publicly traded may not get away with.

Most private companies are perfectly innocent, small businesses that seek limited liability status only to protect the partners' homes and personal holdings from creditors should the business go tits up. Some however have been spectacularly successful and achieved global influence, some say control, within and sometimes beyond the sphere of their core activities.

The chances are if you have heard of them at all you will know litle of their activities and how powerrful they truly are, but they are very very big players in the New World Order agenda. Here are a few details.

Cargill Cargill began as a grain storage facility in the US state of Iowa in the 1860s and has grown to become America's biggest private firm, employing more than 130,000 people across 66 countries. Last year Cargill pulled in revenues of $108bn - more than US car giant General Motors.

Cargill is difficult to engage with on environmental issues, says Greenpeace Today, the company is involved in many areas of businesses, but its core trade remains agriculture. The food supply. You name it, if it is edible Cargill trades it - meat, grains, sugar, beans, pork bellies (to be honest I don't know about pork bellies but I have been fascinated with the trade in pork bellies futures since reading of an investment bubble in the commodity prior the the entry of the USA into World War 1.) Cargill are also into cotton, fuel, biofuel, and many other non food products.

Popular legend suggests as many as one in three ingredients found in western consumers' cupboards has passed through Cargill's hands at some time between farm and dinner table. That may or may not be true but we can be sure that much of the food we all eat throughout the developed world has been bought and sold by this US leviathan.

Cargill's ability to influence global market has inevitably led to questions being asked about the extent of the company's power and influence, particularly in the light of recent rises in global food prices that are hitting poor people in both developed and third world nations. There is also the emotive issue of deforestation, particularly with respect to soya and palm oil.

It was only in repose to lobbying by major customers such as McDonald's that Cargill signed up to a moratorium on Amazonian soya. A spokesperson for Cargill told the BBC at the time; "The company has always had a commitment to sustainability. It's better to focus on what has been accomplished, and the [soya] moratorium is a good thing".

Well they would say that, wouldn't they?

On similar controversial issues Cargill is often seen to resist pressure to change. In the words of John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK the company "drags its feet and is difficult to engage with."


US construction giant Bechtel has been involved in some of the world's best-known and biggest engineering and energy projects. Airports and seaports, power plants, pipelines, tunnels, roads and rail systems, mines and ... well you name it and Bechtel has built it.

The Channel Tunnel between Britain and France is one of Bechtel's management projects. Another highly visible triumph the company's for civil engineering skills is Hong Kong International Airport. There a $20bn expansion project involved reclaiming 10 square kilometres of sea to build two runways, two terminal buildings, a high-speed rail system, two tunnels, two bridges and a six-lane motorway.

The company has a glorious history too, having overseen the construction of the Hoover Dam in the USA along with other major infrastructure work throughout most of the last century. In the UK, Bechtel managed the modernisation of the West Coast Main Line railway and is currently overseeing the 21km tunnel under London that will form the centrepiece of Crossrail, the new commuter rail line connecting the east and west of the capital.

The company also claims it built or designed more than half the nuclear power plants operating in the US. From my own experience in the nuclear industry I can say this is a tad exaggerated. It would be true to say however that Bechtel was involved in the design and construction of more than half the UK's nuclear power plants.

Bechtel has also become involved in the reconstruction of Iraq, although questions were raised over the company's alleged close ties with the Bush administration and the awarding of contracts. Despite these accusations, when it comes to so-called construction megaprojects, few companies can compete with Bechtel, which posted revenues of $31bn in 2009, generated by a workforce of more than 50,000 working on projects in almost 50 countries.

Not bad for a firm started in the 1890s by dissatisfied railway worker Warren Bechtel.

Mediterranean Shipping Company

MSC is a relative newbie among the faceless giants, founded only in 1970 In three decades it has become the world's second-largest shipping company, with 40,000 employees generating revenues last year of $12bn. Most of the world's goods are transported by massive container ships. How ironic then that Mediterranean lives up to it's name by having its headquarters in land locked Switzerland. The company operates about 450 container ships constantly ferrying around the world those easily recognisable metal boxes full of all manner of things from tinnted soup to televisions, computers to cheese, brass tacks and brassieres.

In terms of cargoes we have come a long way since John Masefield wrote these lines :

Quinquereme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing to a home port in sunny Palestine
With a cargo of ivory
And apes and peacocks
Sandalwood, cedarwood and sweet white wine.

The principle is the same however. Anyone who wants to move bulk goods around the world needs ships and that puts people who own ships in a strong position.

Almost anything that can be packed in a container and if it will go in a container MSC will ship it. Specialised products such as oil, gas, ore and bulk grain it leaves to specialists.

Techieheads may find the idea of moving goods around by ship slow and outdated. The fact is, if an item in non perishable and the majority of the world's traded goods are, it is just not economically viable to shift it any other way than by sea. The cost of getting heavy objects or large consignments of small objects off the ground is phenomenal and the logistics a nightmare given the small payload of a cargo aircraft, making ships absolutely essential to the the global economy.

The only sensible alternative on the horizon would be to construct a network of high speed mag - lev railways but that technology is not yet advanced enough and given the lurch into political instability in many regions is looking a more distant possibility that it did a few years ago.

So there's a good chance the computer or phone you're reading this on, the chair you're sitting on, even the clothes you are wearing, were delivered by MSC.

Koch Industries

Koch Industries or Big Koch as I like to call them, is another US conglomerate which, like Cargill, has its hands in many pies.

Its various divisions cover commodities trading, oil exploration and refining, fertiliser manufacturing and distribution, chemicals and financial services.

It also owns Invista, which is the world's largest manufacturer of Nylon and the maker of Lycra.

Through its ownership of Lycra, many of us will have helped to swell the coffers of the Koch brothers These activities brought them annual revenues of around $100bn last year - more than computer giant IBM - making it the second largest private firm in the US behind Cargill.

Driving this corporate monster are two billionaire brothers, David and Charles Koch. Philanthropists both, they have donated tens of millions of dollars to various causes in the United States and yet at the same time made themselves hate figures for the political left through their efforts to expose the science behind the global warming scare as fraudulent.

Some US media have dubbed the firm Kochtopus, a nod to the fact that its tentacles spread well beyond the realms of business. According to Greenpeace, Koch Industries has taken over from Exxon Mobil as the biggest underwriter of campaigns to reduce government action on climate change.

The watchdog group Center for Public Integrity said Koch spends on average $10m a year on lobbying for tax breaks and the anti-climate change agenda, although Big Koch has questioned the objectivity of the group's findings.

David Koch also co-founded the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, an organisation that backed some candidates of the tea-party movement but which was attacked by Goldman - Sach's houseboy President Barack Obama last year for being part of "a corporate takeover of our democracy".

Boehringer Ingelheim

Boehringer Ingelheim is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Boehringer produces a number of important drugs for humans and animals It may not be a household name to rival Glaxo or Pfizer, but this German family-owned group nonetheless produces a number of important drugs - enough to generate revenues of $13bn last year.

If you suffer from severe stress - what is known clinically as hypertension - or have heart disease, there is a good chance that you will have taken one of Boehringer's drugs. In fact, if you've had a heart attack, you may well owe your life to them.

The market for these heart drugs has dwindled rapidly in the past few years, with surgery now the preferred option for treating clogged arteries.

For this reason, Boeringher has ploughed huge sums of cash into developing what it hopes will be the next blockbuster blood-clotting drug - Pradaxa.

According to those in the industry, it could get a licence for treating heart disease any day and stands a good chance of becoming hugely successful, both medically and commercially.

Even those in perfect health may have cause to thank Boehringer - they also produce drugs to relieve pain in dogs and to help pigs gain weight.

For investors looking for a quick profit, this could be a fantastic opportunity. Or at least it would be if Boeringher was listed.

Carlson Group

You may not know it, but if you live in a developed economy chances are that you will have been served at some point by the Carlson Group.

Carlson-owned TGI Friday's runs almost 1,000 restaurants in 60 countries Founded by Curtis Carlson in 1938 with a $55 loan, his company has grown into a hospitality and travel giant generating tens of billions of dollars in revenue from a workforce of 150,000.

The group operates more than 1,000 hotels in about 80 countries under various brand names - the best-known being Radisson.

It also operates more than 900 TGI Friday's restaurants in 60 countries, and runs one of the biggest business travel firms in the world - Carlson Wagonlit.

But the group's influence stretches far beyond even these global enterprises.

The Carlson empire began life as the Gold Bond Stamp Company in Minnesota, offering local stores collectible stamps to reward customer loyalty.

This may not be the first example of its type, but Carlson was a pioneer of the now ubiquitous loyalty reward schemes that retailers across the world have embraced with such abandon in recent years.

So, next time you're cashing in your reward points at Tesco, spare a thought for Curtis.

Or if you prefer to shun clubcards and their ilk, you can always spare him something else when your friendly cashier begins the sales pitch

Other Corporations That Are On The Stock Exchange But Are Very Secretive About Their Activities include Monsanto, the market leaders who are stealthily creating a monopoly on Genetically Modified seed and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

Try finding any critical analysis of what these people get up to on the great democratic source of all information, the world wide web. Actually I'm joking. If you do go hunting for ADM's critics tead vary carefully. When I tried to dig some dirt on them, searching for criticism of their business methods all the seach results I followed led to pages that had been redirected to a hijacker site (no prob, I was a computer pro for 30 years).

So what are ADM about?

Based in Decatur, Illinois, Archer Daniels Midland is one of the world's largest agricultural conglomerates. Its business is centred on the processing and trading of oilseeds (e.g. soy, palm), corn, wheat and cocoa. ADM is also a leading manufacturer of protein meal, corn sweeteners, flour, ethanol and vegetable oil. The company has an extensive grain elevator and transportation network, which it uses to collect, store, clean, process and transport crop related commodities.

In 1996 ADM pled guilty and paid a record $100 million fine for price-fixing in the lysine market, a case that was the factual basis for the 2009 film "The Informant". The massive wave of adverse publicity and related lawsuits that resulted from the charges ultimately ended the reign of CEO and Chairman Dwayne Andreas (who was never charged with a crime) and his son Michael (who went to jail).

CorpWatch have created a case study of the ADM price-fixing scandal depicted in the movie, called "The Story Behind The Informant!".

Over a decade later, ADM remains one of the largest manufacturers of sweeteners and other food processing ingredients, as well as a leading producer of ethanol and other biofuels. Although the Andreas family and its allies no longer control the company, ADM's board is notably lacking any independent directors.

These are a few of the faceless corporations that have come close to controlling our world. Add to them the mysterious entities that have no physical manifestation other than a pigeon hole at a mail drop address in some obscure tax haven but on investigation are found to be the parent company of many corporations trading as household names and you see that the problem is bigger than our rather dim - witted politicians are ever going to be able to deal with.

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