In 2011, in the midst of the global Occupy movement, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich became the first the empirically identify the concentrations of global economic power. From a database of 37 million companies and investors, the researchers mapped out the share-ownerships linking them, revealing a network of connections that concentrated control in just 147 tightly-knit transnational corporations.
The study showed how network control is much more unequally distributed than wealth. In particular, the top ranked actors hold a control ten times bigger than what could be expected based on their wealth. James Glattfelder, one of the authors of the study, explains that, “In effect, less than 1 percent of the companies were able to control 40 percent of the entire network.”
The top 50 network-controlling corporations are mapped here. They are grouped by the location of the headquarters, and scaled to their level of cumulative network control. Barclays Bank in London tops the list, followed by the Capital Group in Los Angeles, and Fidelity in Boston. New York and London dominate the capitalist world, as the home to more of these powerful transnational corporations than anywhere else, but other centers of power include Boston, Paris, Tokyo and Zürich.
Of critical importance to understanding the current state of the global economy, this research was under-recognized at the time of its publication, which is why we’re revisiting it now. To be clear, the data used in the study is relatively old – from 2007 – but remains relevant today. Little has likely changed in these power dynamics other than the 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, which was the largest in history. Interestingly, when Lehman was liquidated, its assets were largely acquired by other members of the top-tier network-controllers – Barclays and Nomura. So if anything, these corporations have only consolidated their control of the global economy in the years since this study.
Last year, our map of the Names and Locations of the Top 100 People Killing the Planet put a spotlight on the companies that are directly responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions. Yet as we’ve seen through the networks of control, those companies don’t make their decisions unilaterally. They’re beholden to their funders – the banks and shareholders. In the fight to save the planet, some campaigns have focused on these entities, successfully pressuring UBS to stop financing mountaintop removal and getting the Rockefeller family, whose multibillion-dollar fortune was built on Standard Oil, to divest from fossil fuels entirely.
The Rainforest Action Network recently published a map which adds another layer to the entangled web of destructive fossil fuels by naming the CEOs and top leadership of the largest finance companies in the world. Since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016, these 32 banks have funneled $1.9 TRILLION into fossil fuels. Comparing these corporations to the ones which control the global economy, it’s unsurprising that they’re largely one-in-the-same.
Next to each name is the bank’s rank, #1 being the worst. RAN calculated this by adding up bank financing to 100 key oil, gas, and coal companies with massive plans to continue expanding fossil fuels around the world. JPMorgan Chase holds this shameful #1 spot. The bank financed over $67 billion to these 100 companies from 2016-2018, empowering fossil fuel companies to keep building new dirty projects.
Vitali S, Glattfelder JB, Battiston S (2011) The Network of Global Corporate Control. PLoS ONE 6(10): e25995.
“Banking on Climate Change: Fossil Fuel Finace Report 2020.” Rainforest Action Network.
As always, Decolonial Atlas maps can be reused under the Decolonial Media License 0.1.