7 Sep 2014

The price of trade

The Trans-Atlantic Trade Agreement currently in negotiation will give more power to corporations, including scope to sue governments over anything that hurts profits. I’ve been thinking about what that means in practice, and which laws interfere with profit making. Not being an expert in business or law, I have no idea how much risk there is over any given issue, but the principle of where people and profit clash is an important one. So, what hurts profit?

Any law that requires a company to pay its workers a certain amount, give them maternity leave or other time off, pay them when they are sick and so forth.

Laws that require social and environmental responsibility, not polluting the air or water, cleaning up your mess, not creating excess noise.

Laws that limit the age at which a person can buy something – alcohol, nicotine and gambling for example, are age restricted, reducing the size of the market.

Laws restricting the advertising of certain products (as above).

Any requirement for advertisement to be fair and honest. Trading standards, safety standards over what’s in a product and how it has been tested. ‘Organic’ means something at the moment.

Laws that attempt to control the price (minimum unit pricing for alcohol to restrict purchasing) salt, sugar and fat content, (all been proposed at various times), that require unhealthy products to be labelled as such (nicotine, sugarfests). Laws restricting opening hours restrict profit.

What happens with products that are illegal (drugs are a very lucrative industry, after all) or with products we discover are dangerous and so would like to legislate to have removed? We’ve got the lead out of makeup and toys, the cocaine out of coca cola... Pornography is a big industry too.

There’s also the issue that state run activities remove scope for competition, which hurts profits. I don’t much fancy a for-profit police force, privately owned army units, or a for-profits benefits system. Of course what we’re moving towards is a privately owned democracy, where politicians are just another commodity to be picked up by the highest bidder. We ought to be really worried about following America’s lead on this.

We have laws to protect the less powerful from the predations of the excessively powerful. We have those laws for some very good reasons. If profit becomes the only measure we care about, the majority of us will get to live and die largely for the benefit of someone else’s bottom line.

www.38degrees.org.uk/ttip if you haven’t signed yet.

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