Corporations and Global Health Governance

Kelley Lee

Abstract

This is an interdisciplinary collaboration among researchers analyzing corporate activities and global health governance that will produce a complementary set of two books: a practical research guide and a collection of case studies across various industries and health issues. Transnational corporations now dominate the global economy and there is growing evidence that their activities are having profound impacts on patterns of health and disease worldwide. Further, corporations have also become powerful political actors, influencing and even shaping policy making in ways that further their interests. Efforts to strengthen GHG to address these impacts thus require a more informed understanding of corporations and the collective actions needed to protect and promote population health. Project Description: This collaboration is prompted by major concerns about the public health consequences of corporate actors in an increasingly globalized world. Since the early twentieth century, indicators of health and wellness have steadily improved around the world. However, there is recent evidence of an unprecedented reversal in life expectancy among some populations since the late twentieth century, largely attributed to the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, cancers and heart disease which some research suggests has resulted from the global spread of unhealthful products and practices promoted by corporations. The increase of these diseases is observed across almost all countries, as well as all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, suggesting a problem of global magnitude. During this same period, there have been profound structural changes to the world economy. A major component of this transformation is the growth in size, number and reach of corporations that are diverse in form and in the degree to which they impact on public health. Some produce health-related goods and services (e.g. pharmaceuticals, medical technologies), some produce goods and services that directly impact on health (e.g. food and drink, tobacco, alcohol), and most make decisions which have consequences for the social determinants of health (e.g. socioeconomic inequalities, employment, environment). There is thus a growing literature interrogating the links between corporate actors and global health (defined as the increasingly transboundary nature of health determinants and outcomes) which seeks to understand the extent to which heightened corporate power in the global political economy is linked to declining health indicators, and the rapid rise of non-communicable disease in particular, worldwide. While considerable attention has been paid to strengthening the evidence base on the impacts of corporations in selected industries on global patterns of health and disease, there has been limited analysis of two key related concerns: the forms of collective action needed to effectively address these impacts; and the implications of increasing corporate involvement in policy making processes designed to address this growing health crisis. Given that global health governance (GHG) concerns “the range of formal and informal institutional arrangements and processes operating among state and non-state actors that orient collective action on health issues which affect populations worldwide”, the need to address this research gap is apparent.