The world of Churches, which increasingly seeks social reform as well as spiritual advancement, is planning to tackle the rich and powerful multinational companies. It could be its greatest act of social involvement, outstripping in significance even the controversial grants to African liberation movements.
A confidential report awaiting churchmen as they gather here for the annual meeting of the World Council's central committee indicts the multinational companies in a whole range of alleged chronic short-comings.
They are held reponsible for example, for alleged underdevelopment and stagnation in Third World economies, exploitation of natural resources and cheap labor, the massing of vast wealth and power without adequate control and responsibility and the operation of intensive technology for large profits against the best interests fo most countries.
In short, advisers to the World Council conclude after six months' consultation and research that the church leaders can no longer avoid tackling these abuses if they are truly concerned about righteousness in the moder world. the multinationals are described as constituting the largest single concentration of economic power in human history.
The unpublished document to go before the 135 members of the central committee, which is the policy-making body of the World Council, is almost certain to tbe accepted. Those involved in it s preparation have included not only theologians and church financiers from all over the world but also executives of the multinationals and for the first rime, trade-union officials. They see the shortcoming of the combines as economic sins from which mankind must be cleansed.
Basically, the documdnt suggests that the time has been reached not only to question the enormous power wieded by so few people and institutions, but, in a more fundamental way, to question the motives behind such unbridled power.
The church leaders clearly mean business. The program to combat racism has proved beyound any doubt that the World Council can marshal substantial financial as well as moral support form member churches.
The World Council, with its 287 member churches in more than 90 countries, is a voice for half of chris-tendom. Further, it ardently believes that its approach to the multinationals has a scriptural warrant."The policies of predcution, pricing, and distribution are intimately linked to the liberation of which Jesus spoke," says the report.
The document concedes that multinationals are by no means new on the world scene. They have their origin, it is recalled, in the expansion of trade from Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. Nationally based companies from Britain, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and France, such as the East India Company and Hudson's Bay Company, spearheaded the economic penetration of Africa, Aisa, the Americans and the Pacific.
It is a history lesson that draws a political conclusion. The document says this primitive amassing of surplus, from plunder, slaving, and unequal exchanges," enhanced European wealth and power, undermined the slef-reliance of others, and paved the way for the great Western takecovers and ultimately, the multinationals.
The document states, "The unprecedented power of the multinationals in the present-day world and its uncontrolled use, frequently in conflict with the needs and priorities of the vast majority of the world's population, has led not only to widespread alarm and concern, but also to wkdespread resistance."
It seems likely that the central committee will instruct its staff to draw up a careful program of action for the next five years at the outset. The church leaders already have dicovered their most effective way into the temporal houses of finance. This is through the front door, identifying themselves by the portfolios they have long carried and, indeed, profited by.