Alliance between corporate and political elites undermines human rights in the US

Publish Date: 
Monday, January 6, 2020

ESCR-Net member, Center for Constitutional Rights recently released a new report (in English only) on corporate capture in the USA in collaboration with Dream Defenders, Palestine Legal, The Red Nation, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

Corporate capture as understood by ESCR-Net members refers to the means by which an economic elite undermine the realization of human rights and the environment by exerting undue influence over domestic and international decision-makers and public institutions.

The report reveals the influence exercised by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on US politics and its negative impacts on the human rights of marginalized communities. ALEC is an alliance between corporations, religious fundamentalists and conservative political elites in the US that arose in response to the relative success of progressive movements in the country.

During its existence, ALEC has worked to promote controversial model legislation to promote corporate and conservative interests mainly to the detriment of minority groups in the US. Model legislation is essentially a pre-packaged project that elected representatives can then put forward in their jurisdictions in order to have it voted into law. Among the controversial laws promoted by ALEC is the so-called “stand your ground” law, which allows a person to use deadly force if they feel their safety is threatened. The “right to work” law also backed by ALEC, despite its positive name, undermines workers’ rights restricting the power of unions. Likewise, ALEC has engaged in efforts to restrict abortion rights and lobbied against environmental regulations.   

In 2016, an indigenous led resistance against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) emerged due to concerns of environmental impacts that could result from a breach of the oil pipeline. This was met by a backlash by politicians looking to criminalize protest. Citing the protests around DAPL, the state of Oklahoma introduced a law to “protect critical infrastructure”, which imposes harsh penalties for trespassing or causing damage to “a critical infrastructure facility”, which largely refers to  energy-related industrial manufacturing facilities. Based on the legislation from Oklahoma, ALEC drafted model legislation to criminalize resistance to “critical infrastructure”, which has since been adopted in several states in the US.

These efforts are not just occuring in the USA. They are part of a global trend of closing civic space in which governments, often in collusion with corporate actors, look to increasingly limit public participation in decision making processes and punish those that resist the political and economic agenda being promoted by these actors.

The report ends with suggestions on how to fight corporate capture using political advocacy, legislative measures and through engaging in the process to develop a UN Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises as well as concrete recommendations regarding ALEC.