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978 90 6224 978 7


112 pages



Hans Heerings and Ineke Zeldenrust : Elusive Saviours

Transnational corporations and sustainable development



During the preparations for UNCED and the huge environmental conference itself, government representatives were unable to reach clear and binding agreements on the necessary global environmental measures needed to solve the major environmental problems we are facing. There were too many differences in the positions of the North and the South. Against this background of inability to direct global politics, more and more politicians began to look to the corporate community as their saviour in their hour of need. International corporations chose UNCED as the vehicle during which they could present themselves as 'the green alternative'.


Transnational companies, with their tremendous economic power, enormously influence their environment. Undeniably, this puts them in a position to stimulate and develop sustainable development. At the same time they are one of the sources of local and international environmental problems. A result of the UNCED conference was that transnationals and not governments would promote sustainable development. Is this possible? Is their omnipotent economic power an obstacle or a bridge to sustainable development? Using first hand research results, this poignant analysis is uniquely informative and highly readable.

The first chapter discusses which differences in positions between the North and the South hampered agreement being reached at UNCED on binding international environmental measures and environmental control. The role of international corporate life in this stalemate is also discussed. The transnational corporate community argued it would create an effective environmental policy independent of the political community. Mandatory international laws would, they argued, hamper corporate activities to effectuate sustainable development.

The next chapters discuss how likely it is that this promise will be kept. Under inspection are:

  • the degree of participation of transnational corporations in environmentally sensitive branches of industry
  • their important economic position as link between world-wide mining, agricultural, production, trade, distribution and service activities
  • their mobility and freedom in choosing the locations for investments
  • their dominant position in the field of technological application and development
  • their elusiveness in relation to international laws and regulations.

The final chapter discusses the far-reaching consequences of the new GATT and WTO agreements for national environmental policies, and what the consequences will be for placing international environmental management in the hands of transnational corporations.



'"Well written, handy, with a lot of information on recent developments on environmental protection measures." Environment & Ecology - India'


At the time of writing Hans Heerings and Ineke Zeldenrust worked with the Dutch NGO SOMO, Organization for Research into Multinational Companies.

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