Cover page

Title page

Copyright page


For Kara, Annika, and Erin


Over lunch one Arctic winter's day in 2013, while I was on sabbatical as a Visiting Fellow at Durham University, David Held suggested I should write a book on the political power of global corporations. My Handbook of Global Companies was on the verge of being released, and he thought I might be in a good position to say something about the topic. “You know: theory, framework, key examples, that kind of thing,” he said. It seemed like too big a topic for one book, and while I was flattered to be asked I was less than enthusiastic about the possibility of writing it at the time. Without his encouragement I doubt I would have taken on the task, and the idea grew on me until four years later the result is this book.

On the way, the central themes emerged primarily as a result of discussions with students. For me teaching is a joy, and actually my main source of intellectual stimulation. I hope it is for my students as well. It seems wrong to single out any individuals, yet I feel I owe Harry Maher a debt of gratitude. He took my senior undergraduate globalization subject in 2015, and in one tutorial I found myself responding to his well-informed critique of neoliberal globalization with the exclamation: “I don't need neoliberalism, I don't need to talk about markets, market forces and marketization to understand the power of the world's major corporations! I know who they are, I know their names, I know where they come from, I know where they go to, and I know what they do!” Everyone laughed at how surprisingly (including to me) worked up I had got. Some agreed with my impassioned response while others disagreed, but at that moment I realized what had to be at the core of a book on the political power of global corporations: an explicit focus on them as political actors, and re-territorializing them as reflecting geopolitical patterns of power rather than stressing their transnationality.

There are so many people to thank in the writing and completion of this book, I am bound to leave somebody out. I hope they will forgive me if I do.

Before the invitation to write this book and the 2015 “eureka” moment mentioned above, I have found the work of Stephen Wilks and Doris Fuchs hugely influential. They are not the only ones to speak truth to the political power of global corporations, but for me they do so with flair and clarity. They are nothing less than the inspiration behind this book.

For making the project a possibility, and enabling it, Louise Knight, Nekane Tanaka Galdos, and all the team at Polity cannot be thanked enough for their support, advice, and encouragement at every stage.

So often the focus for academic research is on sources of funding, when what is most valuable is time. I am grateful to the University of Sydney for granting me a six-month sabbatical to complete the book in 2016. I am also particularly appreciative of the understanding and support of Colin Wight and Simon Tormey as respective Heads of the Department of Government and International Relations and School of Social and Political Sciences.

For reading and commenting on drafts of the entire manuscript I am grateful to my wife, Kara, and Ainsley Elbra. Ainsley also deserves thanks for her research assistance, and especially her remarkably extensive knowledge of the literature on private governance, as well as its practice. For their invaluable advice and suggestions, I am grateful to Linda Weiss, Nicola Phillips, Graeme Gill, Tony Payne, Tom Hunt, Genevieve LeBaron, Adam Barber, Damien Cahill, Jason Sharman, Richard Eccleston, Anika Gauja, Rodney Smith, Madison Cartwright, Tabitha Benney, Shahar Hameiri, Stephen Bell, Andrew Hindmoor, Elizabeth Thurbon, Wes Widmaier, Karsten Ronit, Susan Engel, Susan Park, Matthias Hofferberth, Delphine Rabet, Hannah Murphy-Gregory, James van Alstine, Duncan Wigan, Aynsley Kellow, Jan Fichtner, David Held, Eva-Maria Nag, Caner Bakir, Fred Gale, Laure Astill, Lyne Latulippe, Alison Christians, and Stewart Jackson.

For their stimulating discussions and insights that have informed, and indeed changed, the book's contents, Sophie Roberts, Brian Coughlan, Imogen Fountain, Rob Clark, Rachel Holden, Danny Bielik, Ellis Zilka, Gillian Ramsay, Sundran Rajendra, Jill Greatorex, Chris Anastopoulos, Ken Engsmyr, and Teresa Moffett deserve thanks. And of course, the Wednesday-night tennis crew: Paul Thurloe, Belinda Mullen, Jim Leeper, Joanne Corcoran, Lachlan Habgood, Paul Sanderson, and Ben Clarke. Not only have they been supportive and offered their opinions, but they have put up with my post-match diatribes on a weekly basis when they had every right to feel entitled to enjoy a quiet beer. My thanks also go to friends in the corporate world for their insights, advice, and suggestions, particularly Stephen Ferris, Ian Taylor and Rob Grierson. Our long discussions, which I tell colleagues constitute fieldwork, are always a pleasure. To friends and family I have not named, please know that without your love and support completing this project would have been impossible.

Special thanks must go to two people in particular. First, Neil Harrison, with whom I have collaborated on several pieces of research previously, and whose challenging emails and mind-expanding Skype discussions at strange hours (due to him being in the United States and me in Australia) have greatly informed the way I have come to see corporate power over the years. This book has gotten in the way of further collaboration, while helping to inform the contribution I hope to make when we next do so. Second, my colleague Diarmuid Maguire, who not only provided advice on this book, but who has also provided intellectual stimulation, challenging critiques of my ideas, recommended reading, mentoring, and above all else great friendship over the last ten years. He is retiring as this book is published, and the University of Sydney's Department of Government and International Relations will be greatly diminished as a result. So will my lunchtimes.

Finally, none of this would have been possible without the care and support of my family. As always, my wife, Kara, deserves my thanks for her support in so many other ways besides reading drafts. Every time I commence a new project she knows what she is in for but comes on the ride anyway. My daughters, Annika and Erin, have likewise done a sterling job of putting up with me while consumed by writing. Annika, now fifteen years of age, has broadened my appreciation of science fiction to embrace the excellent young adult literature that imagines some of the most dystopian corporate-dominated futures. Erin, at ten years of age, continually challenges me by exclaiming in response to my often turgid dinner-time political pronouncements: “Yes, but what can we do?” For both, and no doubt others of their generation, the idea that big corporations from, and with, powerful countries rule the world seems obvious. In addition, they always remind me of the need to be positive as well as relevant. I hope that this has rubbed off on the contents of the book. As I say in the concluding chapter, it is neither the first nor final word on the subject, but it is my take on it, and I hope it proves useful to the reader.

John Mikler

April 2017

Tables and Figures


1.1: Top 20 Nonfinancial Global Corporations’ Sales versus States’ GDPs and Expenditures, 2013

2.1: IPE Theories and the Three Waves of Conceptualizing Globalization

3.1: Top Ten Headquarters of FT Global 500 Corporations

3.2: Nationality and Transnationality of the World's Top 100 Nonfinancial Corporations, 2013

3.3: Top Ten Headquarters of FT Emerging 500 Corporations, 2015

3.4: Nationality and Transnationality of the World's Top 100 Nonfinancial Corporations from Developing Countries, 2013

3.5: FDI Stocks

3.6: FDI Flows

3.7: FDI Stocks as a Percentage of GDP in Industrialized States, 2013

4.1: LMEs versus CMEs

4.2: State Intervention/Control in Corporate Affairs in Industrialized States

4.3: State Intervention/Control in Corporate Affairs in the BRICs versus Industrialized States

5.1: Global Corporations’ Headquarters, World's Most Admired Companies, and Soft Power, 2015

5.2: Fortune 500 World's Most Admired Companies Ranked by Key Attributes, 2015

5.3: Confidence in Major Companies, the Government, and Charitable or Humanitarian Organizations


1.1: Government Expenditure

1.2: Tax on Corporate Profits

1.3: OECD Average Share of Taxes in Total Tax Revenue

2.1: The Norm Lifecycle


BRICs   Brazil, Russia, India, and China
CFCs   chlorofluorocarbons
CME   coordinated market economy
CSR   corporate social responsibility
EU   European Union
FDI   foreign direct investment
GDP   gross domestic product
GFC   global financial crisis
ICANN   Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
ICC   International Chamber of Commerce
IPC   Intellectual Property Committee
IPE   International Political Economy
ISO   International Organization for Standardization
LME   liberal market economy
M&As   mergers and acquisitions
MNC   multinational corporation
MNE   multinational enterprise
NGO   non-government organization
TNC   transnational corporation
TNI   transnationality index
TPP   Trans-Pacific Partnership
TRIPs   Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
UK   United Kingdom
UNCTAD United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
US   United States
USTR   US Trade Representative
VOC   varieties of capitalism
WBCSD   World Business Council for Sustainable Development
WTO   World Trade Organization