In 1996 the NI put the burly, plain-spoken Helmut Maucher ‘In the Dock’ for his crimes as Chief Executive Officer of Nestlé, including the pushing of babymilk formula to mothers in the South. In conditions of low literacy and poor water quality this often resulted in life-threatening cases of diarrhoea.
Last year Helmut officially hung up the corporate boxing gloves – though he remains a steadfast champion of the right of corporations to do exactly as they please. Amidst rumours that Helmut wouldn’t mind a statue of himself erected by his former colleagues, we thought we’d take the opportunity to nominate him for a lifetime’s achievement award in the service of the global corporate agenda.
Born in southwest Bavaria in 1927, the young Maucher paid for his studies at the University of Frankfurt by working part-time at Nestlé, and in a true ‘starting on the ground floor’ story rose to become Chief Executive Officer for 19 of the 50 years he spent with the company. His preferred leadership style is ‘management by provocation’. And over the years he has certainly managed to provoke. His book, Leadership in Action: Tough-minded Strategies from the Global Giant, gets right to the point: ‘Ethical decisions that injure a firm’s ability to compete are actually immoral.’
Maucher’s last few years have been dedicated to making the world safe for corporate interests. From his perch as President of the shadowy Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) – described by Corporate Europe Observatory as ‘probably the most powerful lobby group on earth’ – he joins with corporations like Microsoft, Monsanto, Shell, McDonald’s and Time Warner in pushing the globalization agenda. Maucher makes the astonishing claim that the ICC is ‘the only global economic voice without any special interests’.
With the arrival of uber-globalizer Helmut in 1996 the ICC brilliantly positioned itself to fill the governance vacuum in a rapidly globalizing world through strategic partnerships with international bodies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the G8 and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Indeed, the ICC helped craft the corporate-friendly rules behind the infamous Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which is currently on ice thanks to effective activist resistance. This little treaty would have given corporations the right to sue nation-states and prevent them from enacting laws to control corporate behaviour. And where did it come from? Under Maucher’s rule the ICC produced a document called Multilateral Rules for Investment: in effect a blueprint handed to the OECD that later became the draft text of the controversial treaty.
Maucher also served as head of Europe’s prime corporate lobby group, the European Round Table of Industrialists, and was one of the 12 founding members of the World Economic Forum, a body of – you guessed it – the most powerful corporate and state leaders on earth.
Then there was his controversial hook-up with the UN. Many see the 1998 Geneva Business Dialogues as Maucher’s finest hour. It was here that he declared to an array of corporate and UN heavyweights that: ‘Globalization is already a success. There will always be losers, like everywhere in life, but globalization is almost win-win.’ He got Kofi Annan to pledge ‘close ties between the UN and the ICC’, earning the Secretary-General the dubious title of ‘Nes-Kofi’. Since then the UN has embraced such corporate ‘do-gooders’ as Nike, Shell, Bayer and the mining company Rio Tinto, who all get to use the UN logo on their corporate communications just for agreeing to a Global Compact of Corporate Behaviour which is voluntary, non-binding and non-enforceable – in a word, toothless.
But Maucher spoke prophetically of a terrible shadow on the horizon. ‘Globaphobia,’ he warned, ‘must be opposed by improving understanding of globalization and its true impact on jobs and wealth.’ He described activist groups criticizing corporate-led globalization as ‘single-issue groups that know nothing and have no responsibilities’, warning that ‘the emergence of activist pressure groups risks weakening the effectiveness of public laws, legitimate rules and democratic processes’. In a 1998 private briefing with Tony Blair, then host of the G8 summit, Maucher (possibly spooked by the 70,000 Jubilee 2000 anti-debt campaigners outside) urged a ‘weeding out’ of the more troublesome NGOs.
Maucher has gained accolades on his German home turf, winning the1997 Worst New Word of the Year Award for coining the phrase ‘welfare scum’ to describe people on social security. The judges felt this was ‘the last straw in the cynical evaluation of people exclusively by their market value’. But Maucher is not without his sympathetic side. For example, he bailed out scandal-ridden former German Chancellor President Helmut Kohl, to the tune of $250,000 to help pay back illegal campaign contributions. This sparked a renewal of the Nestlé boycott in Germany. And Maucher is also a staunch defender of free speech: in response to a European Union ban on tobacco advertising, he campaigned passionately for the inalienable right of ‘industry to speak freely about products’.
Wherever the chill wind of corporate-led globalization has blown, Maucher seems to have been somehow involved. It is important for ‘globaphobics’ to remember that even as Helmut relaxes into dignified retirement, the lobby groups he helped create are vigorously carrying on his legacy.
If infamous or not-so-famous big shots are beating up