Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (March 2013)|
|Key people||Ronald Gijsbertsen (managing director)|
The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), is an independent, non-profit research and network organisation working on social, ecological and economic issues related to sustainable development. Since 1973, the organisation investigates multinational corporations and the consequences of their activities for people and the environment around the world.
SOMO has expertise in:
- Sectors and value chains
- Corporate research
- Corporate accountability
- Economic reform
In the early 1970s, large groups of Dutch people declared themselves in solidarity with the reform politics of the Chilean President Allende. At the time, the process of democratising the Chilean economy was threatened by the manipulations of multinational - mainly American - corporations with interests in Chile. The violent overthrow of the Allende government in 1973 elicited mass fury against the multinationals. Several Third World organisations and sympathisers decided to establish a research bureau to monitor the activities and interests of these multinational companies. This led, in 1973, to the establishment of Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). Two of the organisations involved in setting up SOMO were X-Y Beweging and Sjaloom.
X-Y and Sjaloom originally financed the wages and other costs of the first researcher. Later on, the growing SOMO organisation was funded for many years partly by subsidies from NCO (now NCDO).
In its early days, SOMO’s main focus was on developing countries. However, from 1975 on, SOMO carried out research in support of workers in the Netherlands who were employed by multinational companies. SOMO provided publications and training for works councils and trade union executive groups of almost all the major multinationals which had their head offices in the Netherlands. Many SOMO employees acted as experts for works councils of Dutch companies during restructuring, mergers and reorganisations.
The rise of European Works Councils (EWCs) meant that – logically – SOMO had acquired a new, related, field of operation. Drawing up company profiles of multinational companies and providing support in setting up EWCs became a core field of SOMO in the 1980s and 1990s. Research into multinational companies and the business sectors dominated by them was also becoming an important field for research.
Change of work
Around the turn of the millennium, work for the works councils decreased, leaving primarily the work focusing on developing countries. Since the end of the 1990s, research work has focused primarily on the themes of Corporate Social Responsibility, labour relationships in developing countries and international trade and investment. Commissions are obtained via subsidies issued by the Dutch government and European government bodies. SOMO’s commissioning parties are trade unions, development organisations and other social organisations.
The development of the internet is ensuring a wide availability of information, which has meant that the role of SOMO has changed since the 1990s. The added value of SOMO is, on the one hand, carrying out (or commissioning) research into production and labour conditions in various production chains, and on the other on strengthening cooperation between organisations which want to influence businesses and policymakers. By combining research and network coordination, SOMO wants to promote the integration of knowledge and action. SOMO coordinates various networks (CSR Platform, OECD Watch, Coalition for Trade and Development, GoodElectronics). SOMO also represents various consortia (makeITfair and Towards Tax Justice) and is also involved in the European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ) and Tax Justice Network NL. As an extension of its research and network coordination, SOMO is also focusing more and more on increasing the capacity of southern NGOs (by organising workshops, training courses and developing research methods) and coordinating lobbying and influencing policy.
In the period 2005-2010, the focus was on working conditions and the environment in production sectors, along with initiatives covering economic themes, such as ‘tax justice’ and reforming the financial markets.
The intended objectives of SOMO were reformulated in 2010:
- The influence of social organisations on multinationals is growing.
- The policy and practice of businesses serve sustainable and social development.
- Government regulation is targeted at a fair distribution of prosperity and sustainability.
SOMO strives toward global economic development that is sustainable and fair and toward the elimination of the structural causes of poverty, environmental problems, exploitation and inequality. Through research targeted at achieving sustainable change and strengthening cooperation, SOMO seeks to offer social organisations worldwide, especially those in developing countries, the opportunity to promote sustainable alternatives and to provide a counterweight to unsustainable strategies and practices of multinational corporations.
In SOMO's vision, strong civil society organisations are the initiators and drivers of positive change. Such change is initiated on the basis of reliable information and close cooperation and is guided by the principles of social and economic justice, sustainable development, transparency and fair distribution of power.
In order to realise its mission, SOMO aims to strengthen the position of civil society organisations, workers and local communities. SOMO achieves this by integrating knowledge and action with regard to multinational corporations.
SOMO presumes that in order to affect positive social change, it must employ four interrelated strategies.
- provide civil society with access to reliable alternative information;
- strengthen networks between like-minded organisations to create a broad societal base;
- build the capacity of civil society organisations to conduct critical research and integrate the resulting knowledge with action and
- engage relevant target groups with prospects for action.
SOMO’s research, network coordination, training and advice contribute to sustainable development. Highlights of the impact SOMO has had include:
- Electronics companies have acknowledged their responsibility for the mining of minerals in developing countries. This is thanks to pressure from the European makeITfair campaign, a project initiated by SOMO.
- The framework of international CSR standards has been strengthened through an update of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Key in this process was OECD Watch, a global network of NGOs set up and hosted by SOMO.
- The need for improvements to regulations in the pharmaceutical industry has been put on the agenda at the EU level. SOMO joined forces with the Dutch NGO Wemos in this work aimed at increasing protection for patients involved in the testing of medicines in developing countries.
- The Dutch government’s sustainability criteria have improved as a result of pressure from the MVO Platform (CSR Platform), a network coordinated and hosted by SOMO.
- The Netherlands’ position as a tax haven (and the problems this creates for developing countries) is now on the public agenda due to the work of Tax Justice Network Netherlands, of which SOMO is a founding member.
- For the first time ever, major tea producers have publicly acknowledged their responsibility for the abuses identified in the SOMO report Sustainability Issues in the Tea Sector. Several major tea producers now use sustainability certification schemes.
- SOMO’s research on the energy sector and its collaboration with other NGOs such as Greenpeace has generated a political and public debate about the necessity and sustainability of new coal-fired power stations in the Netherlands. As a result, several planned coal-fired plants have had their construction delayed or been completely scrapped.
Networks coordinated by SOMO
Campaigns coordinated by SOMO
Member of steering committee
Networks in which SOMO participates
- Agribusiness Accountability Initiative
- Clean Clothes Campaign
- Dutch Working Group on Sustainable Natural Stone
- GATS Platform
- European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI)
- European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ)
- Our World is Not For Sale
- Red Puentes
- Regulate Global Finance Now
- Seattle to Brussels Network
- Sociaal Forum Nederland
- The Global Union Research Network
- The Northern Alliance for Sustainability (ANPED)
- Tropical Commodity Coalition
- Werkgroep Duurzame Natuursteen