The Michener Fellowship combined with holidays enabled me to spend a total of six months studying in Europe and North America in the past two summers.
I spent my time the summer of 1991 looking at democratic practice in London, Glasgow and Amsterdam. But I also spent time looking into a large European based industry with significant North American holdings.
Little did I know that that this early research would eventually lead me to expose a world-wide cartel in the cement industry. It was first published in The Globe and Mail in July and in The Nation in the United States in August, 1992.
The Nation article was subsequently re-published in newspapers in Oslo, Stockholm and Mexico City as well as in The New Statesman in Britain.
The Michener fellowship gave me time and resources to pursue what started as an analysis of the decline of democracy in local governments and expanded inexorably into a larger analysis of what underlies a growing malaise in modern industrial democracies.
This past summer I started looking at other industries to see whether the pattern detected in the cement industry existed elsewhere. I concentrated on industries where there had been extensive merger or takeover activity in the past decade and the number of dominant firms had shrunk to a mere handful.
Much of the merger mania in the 1980’s – the so called globalization of business – coincided with the Reagan-Thatcher economic revolution that freed business from substantive government regulation or oversight in many industrialized countries.
The economic revolution has produced a profound shift in wealth from the poor and middle classes to the rich in the past decade. As well, democratic activity has declined among those who are less well off.
My research and that of other journalists and academics shows that the same economic revolution has also given birth to an unprecedented wave of global corporate criminality.
It came as no surprise to find that numerous other industries – pharmaceuticals, garbage disposal, chemicals, food processing, banking, shipping – also exhibited signs of abusive market dominance such as price fixing, market manipulation or cartel activity that affected the price and supply of many daily necessities around the world.
It also became evident to me in my research in London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, Washington, Ottawa and Toronto that the media are ill-equipped and disinclined to probe global corporate crime which I think is, along with nationalism, a substantial threat to economic and political stability.
Contemporary journalism often appears unwilling to probe the corporate sector and its unhealthy dominance of electoral politics as well as the origins of government policies that enable corporate venality to flourish.
The fellowship has, however, helped me to become part of a small but growing network of journalists and academics around the world who are now beginning to share ideas and resources to further the study of corporate crime. Hopefully, a book and television project will enable me to carry forward the research begun on the Michener Fellowship.