‘Trade Secrets’ legislation: another little piece of the corporate takeover that most people won’t know about

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Posted Feb 19 2016 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org

EU Trade Secrets legislation will criminalise whistleblowers and journalists who expose corporations and their products or services. It’s another in a long list of steps aiming to put corporations above the law, but the rest of us very much under it.

What is it?

Here’s the directive and here’s a more readable (official) introduction. The directive was produced by the (undemocratic, pro-corporate) European Commission with lavish help from corporate lobbyists, and in their description of course it all sounds pink and fluffy, but there are huge concerns.

The stated aim of the proposed legislation is to protect and promote innovation. This legislation will mean that all the information that an employee acquires whilst working for a corporation will remain the exclusive property of the corporation – even if it involves wrongdoing, or activities that would place the public in danger. For example, if you were a corporate employee, and you discovered that a product they were developing involved the use of a highly toxic chemical that was released into rivers or the ocean. If you approached a journalist about this, both you and the journalist could be criminalised under this new proposed legislation.

What’s the problem?

The problems are that the public could be put in danger; or the corporate sector could be engaged in unfair activities against small companies (well, not ‘could’, as this happens every day); or in tax avoidance (again, happens every day).

The text contains provision for the protection of genuine whistleblowers in the public interest, but the concern of campaigning and pressure groups (like the P2P Foundation, x-net and the Commons Network) is that the presumption is towards prosecution, with protection framed as an exception rather than the norm. Protection of profits is seen as much more important than protection of whistleblowers. It appears that the whistleblower will be put in the position of having to prove that his or her disclosures were in the public interest, rather than corporations having to prove that they aren’t.

The directive as it stands is way, way too ambiguous about what whistleblower protection involves. The list of what constitutes valid disclosure in the public interest is tiny and vague. Furthermore, an obvious point is that if and when cases come to court, corporations will have a lot more to spend on a case than a whistleblower. What we need is more protection for whistleblowers rather than less.

Here’s a video by x-net outlining their ideas of the problems involved in this directive.

But a further problem from my perspective is that it’s one more small step in the corporate takeover of the entire global economy. They’re not really going to be satisfied until it’s impossible to buy anything that’s not ultimately profiting the world’s largest corporate (and especially financial) institutions – see here. Some craft enterprises might be tolerated at the margins, but those margins will be shrinking, and they will almost certainly be in debt to the corporate sector for their home, and like everyone else, they will spend most of their money with corporations too. As corporate capitalism is inherently unsustainable and undemocratic, I see this as the greatest problem facing humankind.

I think that whistleblowers should be rewarded, rather than criminalised. It’s pretty obvious if released information is a trade secret that merely benefits competitors, and it’s equally obvious if it’s information about activities that could cause harm to the environment or the public. Leaks should be treated differently, depending on whether they’re the former or the latter.

What you can do

I know, you’re already exhausted trying to keep up with the TTIP negotiations, and I sympathise. There are much more fun things we could all be doing. But if we know that corporations are tightening their grip on a system that is taking us down the toilet, it takes the edge off the fun somewhat – for some of us, at least.

Rest assured that the majority won’t know or care about it. They won’t be reading this either, but you are, so you now know (and you’ll probably care) about it. As long as enough people know and care about it, we might be able to defeat it – so if you could share it amongst your circles, that would be a good start.

Then, if you want to get involved in the fight against it, you could read this proposal for the protection of whistleblowers, penned by x-net, and join their campaign against the Trade Secrets directive. It will involve spreading the word, organising, discussing, writing to MPs, MEPs etc. The usual, in other words, until we can change this godawful corporate system.