Center for Research on Multinational Corporations

The Center for Research on Multinational Corporations ( SOMO – Dutch : Stichting Onderzoek Multinational Ondernemingen ), is an independent, non-profit research and network organization working on social, ecological and economic issues related to sustainable development. Since 1973, the organization investigates multinational corporations and the consequences of their activities for people and the environment around the world.

SOMO has expertise in:

  1. Sectors and value chains
  2. Corporate research
  3. Corporate accountability
  4. Economic reform

The main sectors under research by SOMO are the electronics , energy & water , minerals , agriculture & food , clothing , pharmaceuticals and the financial sectors.

History

Establishment

In the early 1970s, large groups of Dutch people in the churches of Chilean President Allende . At the time, the process of democratising the Chilean economy was threatened by the manipulation 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 Worldorganizations and sympathizers. This led, in 1973, to the establishment of the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). Two of the organizations involved in setting up SOMO were XY Beweging and Sjaloom.

XY and Sjaloom were originally funded by the first researcher. Later on, the growing SOMO has been funded for many years by NCO (now NCDO).

In its early days, SOMO’s main focus was on developing countries. However, from 1975 on, SOMO’s have been 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 consultants for works councils of Dutch companies during restructuring, mergers and reorganizations.

The rise of European Works Councils (EWCs), which meant that – logically – SOMO had acquired a new, related, field of operation. EWCs became a core field of SOMO in the 1980s and 1990s. Research into multinational companiesand 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 , labor relations in developing countries and international trade and investment. Committees are obtained by the Dutch Government and European Government. SOMO’s commissioning parties are trade unions , development organizations and other social organizations.

Establishing networks

The development of the Internet is ensuring 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 labor conditions in various production chains, and on the other on strengthening cooperation between organizations 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 andTowards 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 on strengthening the capacity of southern NGOs by organizing training workshops 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, with initiatives covering economic themes, such as tax justice and reforming the financial markets.

From 2010

The objectives of SOMO were reformulated in 2010:

  • The influence of social organizations 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 .

Goals

Mission

SOMO strives towards global economic development and the elimination of structural factors of poverty, environmental problems, exploitation and inequality . SOMO seeks to offer sustainable development and sustainable development solutions to organizations worldwide, particularly those in developing countries , the opportunity to promote sustainable alternatives and to provide a counterweight to unsustainable strategies and practices of multinational corporations.

Vision

In SOMO’s vision, strong civil society organizations are the initiators and drivers of positive change. Such change is initiated on the basis of the principles of sustainable development, transparency and fair distribution of power.

Strategy

In order to achieve its mission, SOMO aims to strengthen the position of civil society organizations, 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.

  1. provide civil society with access to reliable alternative information;
  2. strengthen networks between like-minded organizations to create a broad societal base;
  3. build the capacity of civil society organizations
  4. engage relevant groups with prospects for action.

Impact

SOMO’s research, network coordination, training and advice contribute to sustainable development. Highlights of the impact SOMO has had include:

  • Electronics companies have responsibility for the mining of minerals in developing countries. This is the result of the European make-up campaign, a project initiated by SOMO.
  • The framework of international CSR 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 in the pharmaceutical industry has been set 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 been improved as a result of the MVO Platform ( CSR Platform ), a network coordinated and hosted by SOMO.
  • The Netherlands’ position has a tax haven (and the problems this creates for developing countries) is now on the public agenda of the Tax Justice Network Netherlands, of which SOMO is a founding member.
  • For the first time ever, major tea producers have identified their responsibility for abuse 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 on the necessity and sustainability of new coal-fired power stations in the Netherlands. As a result, several planned coal-fired plants have been constructed.

Networks

Networks coordinated by SOMO

  • Coalition for Trade and Development
  • CSR Platform
  • GoodElectronics
  • OECD watch

Campaigns coordinated by SOMO

  • makeITfair

Member of steering committee

  • European Coalition of Corporate Justice (ECCJ)
  • Tax Justice Network NL

Networks in which SOMO participates

  • Agribusiness Accountability Initiative
  • Banktrack
  • 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

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