Democratic Information in an Age of Corporate Power

by Olivier Petitjean

Independent information on big business and corporate power has never been more critical to our democracy. Whether from trade secrets protection, media concentration or because of the general erosion of workers’ and civil society’s rights to challenge business practices, independent information is under threat. The Multinationals Observatory, along with French NGO Ritimo, publishes a special issue of the Passerelle collection dedicated to this challenge, which includes contributions from many French and European organisations.

Without information, democracy cannot exist. We are being confronted with the emergence of new forms of power – economic powers – that largely escape traditional democratic mechanisms and counter-powers (including the media): transnational corporations. They are having an increasing influence on the world, on our lives and our societies, but we – ordinary citizens, civil society and even public authorities – often lack the relevant information that is required to prompt a genuine democratic discussion on their power, formulate adequate strategies and regulations, and imagine alternative solutions.

Democratic Information in an Age of Corporate Power, the latest issue of the Passerelle series, explores the many issues around the production and dissemination of “democratic information” on corporations, for the benefit of citizens and society at large. The articles in this collection outline the many obstacles that hinder the production of such information (trade secrets, the repression of whistleblowers, media concentration, to name just a few) and illustrate the limitations of transparency mechanisms and reporting obligations that transnational corporations are currently subjected to – i.e., tax systems, lobbying, public subsidies and product labelling. This Passerelle also explores the use of critical information within the companies themselves, particularly among unions. Lastly, it provides an overview of the history and work of a number of organisations, networks and initiatives in Europe and throughout the world seeking to build “information counter-powers” to transnational corporations.

When it comes to confronting corporate power, “fighting by informing” is perhaps just as important as ensuring corporations submit to binding regulations and legal sanction. Not only because all these battles are ultimately inseparable, but also because information allows us to go even further, beyond a purely negative position, by highlighting alternatives to corporations. It is possible to take a different route, and we can do it without them.

Ritimo, the Publisher
The organisation Ritimo is in charge of Coredem and publishes the Passerelle Collection. Ritimo is a network for information and documentation on international solidarity and sustainable development. In 90 locations throughout France, Ritimo manages public information centres on global issues, organises civil society campaigns and hosts awareness-raising and training sessions. Ritimo is actively involved in the production and dissemination of plural and critical information through its website:

Multinationals Observatory
The Multinationals Observatory aims to provide independent online news resources and in-depth investigations on the social, ecological and political impact of French transnational corporations, in a way that is useful for the action of civil society, MPs, businesspeople and communities. The website is published by Alter-médias, a French non-profit organisation that also runs the news website

Democratic Information in an Age of Corporate Power is published by Observatoire des multinationales and Ritimo. Other contributors include: Corporate Europe Observatory, Sciences citoyennes, Anya Schiffrin, CFIE, CCFD- Terre solidaire, Basta !, Bernard Saincy, Public Eye / Déclaration de Berne, SOMO, Transnational Institute, OMAL, Cetim, Gresea, Amis de la terre, BankTrack, Inf’OGM, Le Basic.

The full PDF version of the publication is available for download here (2 Mo). (Please contact us for a paper copy.)

Also read :
- Introduction : Information, Democracy and Corporate Power
- An interview with Anya Schiffrin: “The link between advocacy and journalism is older than many of us think.”