Corporate colonialism

From Academic Kids

Corporate colonialism relates to the involvement of corporate bodies in the practice of colonialism or imperialism.

Economic incentives to colonise have long existed, and the structures and methods of state colonialism have not always prevailed. In many cases the Victorian dictum that trade follows the flag has played out in reverse form.

The Viking appropriation and settlement of areas such as Varangian Rus' may appear to modern eyes as colonisation at the behest of small bodies of freebooters: a takeover by the crew of a trading ship rather than an exercise in statecraft.

Later in the Middle Ages, the Hansa controlled a colonial empire dotted around the shores of the Baltic and the North Seas. Its trade-based structure and its insignificant-in-area holdings belied its influence.

In the age of exploration a corporation often became the favoured vessel for trading activity: merchant adventurers clubbed together to profit. Some of them gained theoretical monopolies from nascent states. While the Muscovy Company and the Levant Company in Elizabethan England failed to parlay their charters into colonial empires, the British East India Company and the Hudson's Bay Company succeeded spectacularly in acquiring vast wealth and territories, taking over the government of India and of much of Canada over the centuries. The Dutch East India Company and the French East India Company rivalled them in scope and profit in an age before their holdings underwent nationalisation.

Colonisation with an emphasis on settlement also often took on a corporate tinge. In North America the Virginia Companies, the Massachusetts Bay Company and its predecessors exemplify the process; the two New Zealand Companies played a major role in setting up New Zealand.

While state colonialism predominated in the later 19th century, a return to corporate foreign activity did occur. German colonies in Togoland, Samoa, South-West Africa and New Guinea had corporate commercial roots, while the equivalent German-dominated areas in East Africa and China owed more to political motives.

The twentieth century saw the era of the banana republics, whereby corporations such as United Fruit dominated the economies and sometimes the politics of parts of Latin America. Oil companies such as BP and Royal Dutch/Shell held sway in "key" areas such as parts of Iran and of Nigeria, despite the preservation of fictional independence. The activities of Halliburton in 21st century Iraq may compare with this pattern.

Various degrees of inter-relationship may pertain between corporate colonisers and their home governments. The protection of trade, the interests of monopoly and mercantilism, and the role of plausible deniability may all play their part. National defence, cultural outreach and the evangelisation of the benighted may not appear on corporate balance sheets, but still may impel and inspire directors and officials.

Other chartered companies engaging in colonial pursuits include:

A fictional depiction of corporate colonialism with privateering elements appears in Peter F. Hamilton's Fallen Dragon.

Compare cultural imperialism, new imperialism


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