Global Mega-Corporations As Sovereign Entities: Old Wine in New Bottles
As part of the launch of the Party of We website, Doug Wood, We Expert, posted an article, reprinted from Corporate Counsel, entitled ”Say Hello to the World’s New Sovereign Nations: Facebook, Google and RIM“, and recounting a historical perspective beginning in the early 17th Century that postulated the notion that some of the world’s largest global corporations are becoming or have become akin to sovereign nations – negotiating treaties, hedging currencies, managing tax liability, with influence and effects on political and social norms that more closely resembled nations, than commercial entities – although presumably better able to manage finances than most governments these days.
As the buzz over a potential Facebook IPO rumbled through the Web, I was doing my own research for a trivia column entitled “Useless But Compelling Facts” which forms part of my Legal Bytes blog. I wanted to see if I could find the origins of ‘public’ companies – specifically, I wanted to find out which company was the first to ever issue stock. Well, the answer is, Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC, better known to the English speaking world as the Dutch East India Company, chartered in 1602.
That was interesting enough for my trivia column. But there’s more. I also uncovered the curious fact that the rights granted to the Dutch East India Company back in 1602 included the right to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties and even establish colonies and coin money. Present day Indonesia owes its origins to the territorial sovereignty and expansion of the company.
It appears that corporate sovereignty may have legal precedent after all . . . Oh, and in case you are wondering, the Dutch East India Company was around for almost 200 years after it’s initial charter, dissolving in a flurry of bankruptcy in 1800. How many companies today have been around for 200 years. . how many countries have been around for 200 years? As for me, I can’t decide which would be safer – Middle Earth or Endor. Live long and prosper!
Joseph I. Rosenbaum, We Expert
Joseph I. (“Joe”) Rosenbaum is a partner in the New York office of Reed Smith, global chair of its Advertising Technology & Media law group and the editor, publisher and often author of posts on his blog Legal Bytes, which he has authored and published, first in hard copy and then in blog form, since 1996
About the author
Global advertising, marketing, gaming, media & entertainment, privacy and e-commerce lawyer in a digital world,and more. Party of We Expert and LegalBytes publisher, editor & blogger.