E-commerce proposals at the WTO: a recipe for corporate greed

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A new report commissioned by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and authored by the New Economic Foundation warns that proposals, currently on hold, for a WTO “e-commerce” agreement would further exacerbate inequality and division at a time when the world needs to work as one.

“Digital technology holds enormous potential for tackling the world’s most pressing problems on climate, poverty, inequality, health, education and much more. It has a massive role to play in tackling the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its consequences. It is now even more important that governments focus their efforts on harnessing technology for the common good, rather than simply being conduits for an agenda that would entrench corporate power and deepen inequality and mistrust. Governments are promoting new rules that would further reduce their own authority to regulate in the interests of people, to the extent that they are behaving more as captives of corporations, including giant tech monopolies, than as guardians of the public interest”, said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

The report, released during the “e-commerce week” of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), also sets out how clauses in existing trade agreements put power in the hands of corporations and limit the authority of governments to govern in the interests of people.

“Control of data is at the heart of the proposals, and through that control of data, the power of digital behemoths, such as Amazon, would reach new heights. Their power is already far-reaching, due to the failure of governments to apply competition policy to prevent them dominating markets. This market dominance is set to grow even more if governments fail to ensure that the role tech companies play in the COVID-19 crisis in digital tracing and many other areas is done in the public interest with full respect for rights, instead of on the companies’ terms. Proposals for a new agreement on this basis should be shelved, and clauses in existing agreements should be revised,” said Burrow.

Read the report: e-Commerce: Free Trade Agreements, Digital Chapters and the impact on Labour