With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

The Original Evil Corporation

The rise and rise of giant oil and tech companies, with their campaign contributions, commercial lobbying, predictive data harvesting and surveillance capitalism, has lent a certain urgency to old questions: How are we to cope with the power and perils of multinational corporations and how can a nation-state protect itself and its citizens from corporate excess?


The roots of this predatory corporate culture go back 400 years to the foundation and the global rise of the East India Company. Many modern corporations have attempted to match its success at bending state power to their own ends, but the Company remains unmatched for its violence and sheer military might.

The East India Company, which was established in London in 1599, was authorized by its charter to wage war, and from its maiden voyage in 1602, it used corporate violence to enhance its trade. In the mid-18th century, the Company began seizing by brute military force great chunks of the most prosperous provinces of the Mughal Empire, which then embraced most of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and half of Afghanistan.

In 1765, in the Mughal fort of Allahabad, in northern India, the defeated Mughal emperor Shah Alam was forced into what we would now call an act of involuntary privatization. He had to replace his own revenue officials in Eastern India with a set of English traders.

The collecting of Mughal taxes was henceforth subcontracted to a powerful multinational corporation whose operations were protected by its own private army. Within a few months, 250 company clerks backed by a force of 20,000 locally recruited Indian soldiers had become the effective rulers of the richest Mughal provinces. An international corporation was, for the first time, transforming itself into an aggressive colonial power.

Read entire article at NY Times