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Corporate power and accountability

Together with Oxfam, fight corporate-driven inequality and restore the power of people.

Corporate power is out of control. For far too long, we’ve let giant corporations determine how the rest of us live. Who holds power today affects whether workers earn enough to feed their families, whether we act effectively to combat the climate crisis, whether women have the same opportunities as men, whether we invest enough in schools and hospitals, and whether lawmakers in Washington, DC, actually listen when we speak.

Today these corporations exercise economic and political power at magnitudes that would frighten and bewilder the founding architects of our democracy. But the promise of America, in reality, is that We the People hold the power.

That’s why Oxfam’s mission is to fight inequality to end poverty and injustice. Together with our supporters, we reject the extreme concentration of wealth and power that drives inequality, and we challenge billionaires, corporations, governments, and international financial institutions every day to do better.

How does corporate power affect our lives?

Corporations have been fundamental to American prosperity. When they play by the rules, businesses have been vehicles for idea generation, risk-taking, and economic dynamism that have increased living standards in the US and the world over.

But the troubling recent growth in corporate power and profits is not natural or inevitable. Elected political leaders have made policy choices that worsen inequality and strip power away from people.

We can reclaim that power. By working together, we can ensure that companies:

  • Play by the same rules, rather than skirting or bending them in their favor.
  • Empower workers, including by paying them a living wage and ensuring they have a role in board governance.
  • Treat farmers, migrant workers, racial minorities, women, and other marginalized groups with respect and dignity.
  • Pay their fair share of corporate taxes to support education, healthcare, and public services for us all.
  • Protect the natural environment and take urgent steps to halt the climate crisis.

What is Oxfam doing to hold corporations accountable?

Oxfam fights for corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, for companies to provide a living wage, and for financial institutions to invest in shared equity and prosperity. We harness the power of consumers to advocate for climate action, for a healthy and sustainable food system, and for the rights of workers, women, and farmers.

Oxfam America President and CEO Abby Maxman speaks at a rally calling for a People's Vaccine to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oxfam America President and CEO Abby Maxman speaks at a rally calling for a People's Vaccine to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Becky Davis/Oxfam America

Changing corporate policy and practice

From engaging pharmaceutical companies on vaccine equity to food companies on human rights in their supply chains, and extractive industries on natural resource management, Oxfam works to change how corporations do business.

  • Our People’s Vaccine Campaign is working to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Corporations that have developed coronavirus vaccines simply cannot produce the necessary doses for everyone on the planet, especially with new mutations emerging in hotspots around the world. There’s been a mad dash to grab whatever doses are available, leaving the rest of the world—especially the poorest—fighting for the crumbs. The spread of variants that are more easily transmissible and potentially more deadly make the need for more vaccine doses even more pressing. That’s why we’re demanding that Big Pharma share vaccine technologies to help ramp up production toward vaccinating as many people as possible.

  • Our Behind the Brands program engages food companies, retailers, and agri-commodity traders to work for more equitable global food value chains that require urgent, systemic change. This means moving away from current business models that maximize short-term profits to more holistic business models that reward social and environmental performance and good governance. We must make progress on the systemic drivers of this inequality to protect the only planet we have and to ensure that small-scale farmers and workers get their fair share of the value they create in the food we all eat.

  • Our Extractive Industries Program helps organizations in communities affected by oil, gas, and mining industries. The cost of all direct and indirect subsidies going to the fossil fuel industry globally total $5.9 trillion. With Oxfam’s help, communities and people affected by oil, gas, and mining projects in more than 30 countries are fighting inequality and holding corporations accountable.
An activist reviews an accountability board outside of the district assembly building in Shama, Ghana. The board, funded by Oxfam and partners, lists the projected and actual costs of local government projects to prevent fraud and corruption.
An activist reviews an accountability board outside of the district assembly building in Shama, Ghana. The board, funded by Oxfam and partners, lists the projected and actual costs of local government projects to prevent fraud and corruption. Photo: Andrew Bogrand/Oxfam America

Changing the rules of the game to create fair economies

We push governments to protect people against human rights abuses and worsening inequality driven by corporations. We fight to ensure that government officials work on behalf of the public, and not private special interests. At the same time, we promote laws and regulations that help to create more equitable economies that put people and planet before profits.

Oxfam joined a group of sustainably responsible investors at Amazon's 2019 annual general meeting of shareholders in Seattle.
Oxfam joined a group of sustainably responsible investors at Amazon's 2019 annual general meeting of shareholders in Seattle. Photo: Paloma Muñoz

Moving capital markets for a just and sustainable economy

The financial sector provides capital to companies in various forms. These providers of capital have considerable influence over whether a corporation plays a role in reducing inequality, respecting human rights, and acting on climate change. We work to ensure that the capital they provide is used to create real-world positive impact. By providing investors with information about how companies actually operate or by using our own investments to file shareholder resolutions to spur positive change for people and the planet, we steer markets toward sustainable business practices and equitable growth.

Khwas Blov (left) and Sol Preng lost their family farms when the government of Cambodia conceded a massive area of agricultural and forest land to a Vietnamese company. They and other women in their town, an indigenous Toumpoun village called Malik, gathered the evidence they needed to file a complaint with the World Bank, which helped provide some of the financing to the company.
Khwas Blov (left) and Sol Preng lost their family farms when the government of Cambodia conceded a massive area of agricultural and forest land to a Vietnamese company. They and other women in their town, an indigenous Toumpoun village called Malik, gathered the evidence they needed to file a complaint with the World Bank, which helped provide some of the financing to the company. Photo: Savann Oeurm/Oxfam

Empowering workers, farmers, and communities

For decades, communities all around the world have demanded respect for their rights in the face of major investment projects. For example, the rights of Indigenous Peoples to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent as recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are often violated in the context of large-scale oil, gas, and mining investment projects. In many countries, human rights defenders also have been threatened and harmed when claiming their rights.

That’s why Oxfam promotes community-based human rights impact assessments as powerful tools to address this power imbalance between rights-holders, governments, and corporations. By putting communities at the center of the process, these assessments seek to ensure people affected by investment projects have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.

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