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Abuses of Financial Power

Fr Donal Dorr

Just a few years ago there was a dreadful oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. The leak which came about largely as a result of several failures by the oil company BP and the companies it employed to make proper use of safety measures in drilling in very deep waters. These failures have left BP liable for many billions of dollars in compensation and as a fine.


It is now reliably reported that BP have used a clever strategy in order to minimize the damages they have to pay. It is reported that in order to silence much of the expert criticism to which they are subject, they offered good jobs to several of the critics. Part of the terms of employment were that the expert critics could no longer publish their criticisms of BP. It is a strategy which was used very effectively by another oil company, at the time the Exxon Valdez oil tanker sank off the coast of Alaska in 1989.


This is just one striking example of how very wealthy companies and individuals can undermine the normal process of democracy, by effectively buying off scientists. Another example is the way in which scientific research has become more and more dependent on sponsorship by big business. This is very dangerous. For instance, much of the work done, even in universities, on genetic modification of plants is now paid for by big companies which make millions from modified plants, so the problems with the process are down played or ignored or not publicised.


Similarly, it is a well-known fact that a very large number of the legislators in the USA have received substantial contributions towards their huge election expenses from the oil companies, the tobacco companies, the health insurance companies, and many others. In order to get re-elected the politicians need this kind of funding. So they are willing to further the interests of the companies who support them, by ensuring that environmental and other laws favour the companies.


Why should all this be of concern to those of us who are not living in the USA? Because the same or similar companies are operating in all the other countries of the world. There is a serious danger that politicians in all countries will become dependent on ‘campaign contributions’ from wealthy companies or individuals. As a result, these politicans would block legislation which would restrict abuses and would favour legislation which favours their ‘sponsors’.


This is an important justice issue at this time. It is an issue that we as Christians need to take up in our conversation and in our direct or indirect contacts with politicians. We must campaign to ensure that legislation gets enacted to put a complete ban on large contributions to politicians and political parties from companies and very wealthy individuals. And we must also campaign to ensure that research and research publications on controversial issues are truly objective and not sponsored and ‘edited’ by powerful corporations.

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