TED Talk Tuesday: Charmian Gooch: Meet global corruption’s hidden players

So this is not the kind of talk we normally post here at Minus The Box, it is not light-hearted or uplifting, but it is inspirational and informative.

Charmian Gooch is the co-founder of Global Witness, an organization dedicated to uncovering covert corruption that links global trade and business.  In this talk she describes how corruption is not a practice exclusive to Eastern Europe or Africa but also includes many democratic Western Countries. In a sordid affair, big Western companies conduct barely legal trades with shell companies in the Caribbean that are backed by illegal business dealings and corrupt governments somewhere across the world.

This is an interesting talk that calls into question what we think we know about some of our favorite household brands.

So it’s easy to think that corruption happens somewhere over there, carried out by a bunch of greedy despots and individuals up to no good in countries that we, personally, may know very little about and feel really unconnected to and unaffected by what might be going on.But does it just happen over there?

So a few years later, and it’s now 1997, and I’m in Angola undercover investigating blood diamonds. Perhaps you saw the film, the Hollywood film “Blood Diamond,” the one with Leonardo DiCaprio. Well, some of that sprang from our work. Luanda, it was full of land mine victims who were struggling to survive on the streets and war orphans living in sewers under the streets, and a tiny, very wealthy elite who gossiped about shopping trips to Brazil and Portugal. And it was a slightly crazy place.

So I’m sitting in a hot and very stuffy hotel room feeling just totally overwhelmed. But it wasn’t about blood diamonds. Because I’d been speaking to lots of people there who, well, they talked about a different problem: that of a massive web of corruption on a global scaleand millions of oil dollars going missing.

And in the years that I’ve been, and we’ve all been campaigning and investigating, I’ve repeatedly seen that what makes corruption on a global, massive scale possible, well it isn’t just greed or the misuse of power or that nebulous phrase “weak governance.” I mean, yes, it’s all of those, but corruption, it’s made possible by the actionsof global facilitators.

So let’s go back to some of those people I talked about earlier. Now, they’re all people we’ve investigated, and they’re all people who couldn’t do what they do alone. Take Obiang junior. Well, he didn’t end up with high-end art and luxury houses without help. He did business with global banks. A bank in Paris held accounts of companies controlled by him,one of which was used to buy the art, and American banks, well, they funneled 73 million dollars into the States, some of which was used to buy that California mansion. And he didn’t do all of this in his own name either. He used shell companies. He used one to buy the property, and another, which was in somebody else’s name, to pay the huge bills it cost to run the place.

And then there’s Dan Etete. Well, when he was oil minister, he awarded an oil block now worth over a billion dollars to a company that, guess what, yeah, he was the hidden owner of. Now, it was then much later traded on with the kind assistance of the Nigerian government — now I have to be careful what I say here — to subsidiaries of Shell and the Italian Eni, two of the biggest oil companies around.

So the reality is, is that the engine of corruption, well, it exists far beyond the shores of countries like Equatorial Guinea or Nigeria or Turkmenistan. This engine, well, it’s driven by our international banking system, by the problem of anonymous shell companies, and by the secrecy that we have afforded big oil, gas and mining operations, and, most of all, by the failure of our politicians to back up their rhetoric and do something really meaningful and systemic to tackle this stuff.

So this is change happening. This is progress. But we’re not there yet, by far. Because it really isn’t about corruption somewhere over there, is it? In a globalized world, corruption is a truly globalized business, and one that needs global solutions, supported and pushed by us all, as global citizens, right here.

2 thoughts on “TED Talk Tuesday: Charmian Gooch: Meet global corruption’s hidden players

  1. Pingback: To be or not to be…corrupt. « Post-Punk Perception

  2. Pingback: To be or not to be…corrupt. | boredroomsocialscene

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