A New Social Contract for the 21st century

Allen White


In 2007, the author, being well aware of the overwhelming power and influence of corporations over societies, their governments, the daily lives of the citizenry and the sustainability of the planet, pondered over the need to pursue a new agreement that integrates corporations to the social contract between citizens and the governments they elect. A decade later, he revisits the issue, with the conviction that in a world fraught with ample discord in practically all spheres of human relations, a new social contract that integrates corporations to shape their influence is more than ever urgently needed. White argues that the asymmetry between the beneficiaries and the burdened of globalisation has catalysed rising discontent among those left behind. Nonetheless, he senses that a new tripartite social contract, built on an ethos of collaboration, civility and inclusiveness, is poised to emerge.


Is it time to rewrite the social contract?

In the midst of BHP Billiton’s assessment of the consequences of its massive and dramatically successful effort to reverse malaria in the region surrounding its aluminum smelter in Mozambique, the general manager of the smelter commented, “you can imagine, it was huge disaster. We could not deal with that level of absenteeism, and we would have had more fatalities. If we didn’t treat malaria we could not operate.”

Not long ago, such an intervention on the part of a private firm in a traditionally governmental function like public health was a rarity. Today, interventions are increasingly commonplace, both in instances where a business case is evident (as in Mozambique) and in instances where the economics are less than compelling but the moral high ground is unambiguous.

Examples of corporate activities that impinge upon public goods abound: pharmaceutical companies providing affordable HIV/AIDS drugs to battle the pandemic worldwide; beverage companies controversially extracting potable water resources in India; multinationals assuming control over public water supplies in Bolivia; and privatisation of mass transit in the UK and roadways in India.

For a full review of this essay, click here or on the picture to download the pdf file.




The missing third party:

Corporations and the new Social Contract

A decade ago, in a moment of impatience with the progress of the sustainable business movement, I paused to ask: Is it time to rewrite the social contract? My response: an unequivocal “Yes."

Why? Because the corporation cannot be ignored in defining the 21st century social order in a world fraught with geopolitical turbulence, multiple ecological crises, social discord, the question of the corporation as a party to the social contract looms larger than ever.

For a full review of this brief, click here or on the picture to download the pdf file.

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