“The Corporation That Changed the World” by Nick Robins aims to provide a history of the East India Company – one of the most important multi-national corporations in the world. Despite the fact that the East India Company was founded in 1600, it has many of the hallmarks of a modern multi-national and Robins argues that it is the company that set a precedent for later attempts. Started as a Asian spice trading company, the East India company had strong ties to the British Empire. The strong links with politics meant that the East India Company has a long history of association with war, corruption, violence, famine and tragedy – much like some of the modern multi-national companies do today.
The main argument throughout the book is that the East India Company is somewhat of a paradigm for the multi-national trading company and set many examples for future operations on this scale. It is argued that the East India Company is one of the foundation points for modern capitalism because of the way it operated purely for profit on a global scale – much like modern multi-nationals do today. Additionally, the political changes of the time allowed the East India Company to become a monopoly – mostly because of a deregulating act passed in 1694 that permitted private trading in India.
The theory that politics and government play a huge role in some of the negative aspects of multinationals is also a consistent theme throughout the book. It is hinted that multinationals like Enron have very similar morals and social mores to companies like the East India Company and this is mostly through inaction or inattention of government. Additionally, there are temptations which come from pressuring lobbies within the company that can shape how government passes laws – as evidenced by the deregulating act from 1694 mentioned above. Robins is very much arguing the link between political corruption and multinationals and this is strongly backed up by evidence throughout the book – it is only the style of corruption that has changed through time, not the essence.
One main negative point about the book is that it covers a lot of historical ground but the focus is so strongly on the East India Company that much of the background politics and warfare is left uncovered. As the book is aimed at more general readers (it can be described as a popular history) it seems necessary to provide more historical background and perhaps a timeline to see how the East India Company fits in with general British and European history at the time. It can be difficult to follow some of the more complex changes in the relationship between Britain, France and India that allowed globalization and monopoly without this overview.
Another issue with the book is that it explores corporate responsibility and ethics but it does not propose a solution for corruption and greed. Although this is not necessary in a historical book such as this, it would add more depth to the arguments and would allow the reader some information to reflect on when leaving the book. The book also does not address the changes that multi-national corporations have gone through since the East India Company – much time is spent on the arguments for the similarity to modern day monopolies but there is not much information about the arguments for how corporations have changed in the last few centuries.
It is always interesting to consider the credentials of the writer when reviewing the accuracy of a book such as this. Nick Robins has published several articles on the East India Company and is considered to be somewhat of an expert on corporate accountability, which means that the book has been written from an expert perspective. However, this type of credential means that information can be rather focused and in-depth without covering much of the necessary background information or delving into relevant outside issues. In this case, the book does cover a lot of ground about the East India Company (as promised) but for a casual reader, it can be perhaps too focused and a little confusing without relevant filler information. Although there are books available which do cover the historical background of the East India Company but it would be nice to have more information integrated into the book. This would really lend strength to the arguments for corporate corruption because it would show more how governments and politics were involved in the situation and the changes that were occurring in the world at the time that allowed the East India Company to develop in the way that it did.
Overall, the “The Corporation That Changed the World” is a strong work that is dedicated to educating the layman reader about the multi-national corporation as an entity by using the East India Company as an example. Many of the arguments in the book are strong – it is easy to draw comparisons between the way that this company developed and the corruption found in multi-nationals today. The one weakness of the book is that much of the information is given as a standalone, whereas the casual reader may need more background information about the way the world worked at the time, but this does not detract from the main arguments from Nick Robins.