Document Type : Review Article
School of Regulation and Global Governance, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
Corporate control of the global food system has resulted in greater global availability of highly processed, packaged and very palatable unhealthy food and beverages. Environmental harm, including climate change and biodiversity loss, occurs along the supply chains associated with trans-national corporations’ (TNCs’) practices and products. In essence, the corporatization of the global food system has created the conditions that cultivate excess consumption, manufacture disease epidemics and harm the environment. TNCs have used their structural power – their positions in material structures and organizational networks – to establish rules, processes and norms that reinforce and extend the paradigm of the neoliberal corporate food system. As a result, policy and regulatory environments, and societal norms are favourable to TNC’s interests, to the detriment of nutrition, health and environmental outcomes. There is hope, however. Power, of which there is many forms, is held not just by the TNCs but by all actors concerned about and connected to the food system. This paper aims to understand these power dynamics, and identify how structurally weak, public-interest actors can release their agency and work to achieve positive structural change. Such an analysis will help understand how the status quo can be disrupted and healthy and sustainable food systems created. The paper draws from the health governance and social movement literature, examining the Doha Declaration on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement and Public Health, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and the Divestment movement. These cases demonstrate the many ‘weapons of the weak’ that can, against all odds recalibrate structural inequities. There is no one approach to transforming the corporate food system to become a healthy and sustainable food system. It involves coalition building; articulation of an ambitious shared vision; strategic use of multi-level institutional processes; social mobilization among like-minded and unusual bedfellows, and organized campaigns; political and policy entrepreneurs, and compelling issue framing.