Multinational corporations can provide developing countries with many benefits. However, these institutions may also bring with them relaxed codes of ethical conduct that serve to exploit the neediness of developing nations, rather than to provide the critical support necessary for countrywide economic and social development.
When a multinational invests in a host country, the scale of the investment (given the size of the firms) is likely to be significant. Indeed governments will often offer incentives to firms in the form of grants, subsidies and tax breaks to attract investment into their countries. This foreign direct investment (FDI) will have advantages and disadvantages for the host country.
The possible benefits of a multinational investing in a country may include:
- Improving the balance of payments – inward investment will usually help a country’s balance of payments situation. The investment itself will be a direct flow of capital into the country and the investment is also likely to result in import substitution and export promotion. Export promotion comes due to the multinational using their production facility as a basis for exporting, while import substitution means that products previously imported may now be bought domestically.
- Providing employment – FDI will usually result in employment benefits for the host country as most employees will be locally recruited. These benefits may be relatively greater given that governments will usually try to attract firms to areas where there is relatively high unemployment or a good labour supply.
- Source of tax revenue – profits of multinationals will be subject to local taxes in most cases, which will provide a valuable source of revenue for the domestic government.
- Technology transfer – multinationals will bring with them technology and production methods that are probably new to the host country and a lot can therefore be learnt from these techniques. Workers will be trained to use the new technology and production techniques and domestic firms will see the benefits of the new technology. This process is known as technology transfer.
- Increasing choice – if the multinational manufactures for domestic markets as well as for export, then the local population will gain form a wider choice of goods and services and at a price possibly lower than imported substitutes.
- National reputation – the presence of one multinational may improve the reputation of the host country and other large corporations may follow suite and locate as well.
The possible disadvantages of a multinational investing in a country may include:
- Environmental impact – multinationals will want to produce in ways that are as efficient and as cheap as possible and this may not always be the best environmental practice. They will often lobby governments hard to try to ensure that they can benefit from regulations being as lax as possible and given their economic importance to the host country, this lobbying will often be quite effective.
- Uncertainty – multinational firms are increasingly ‘footloose’. This means that they can move and change at very short notice and often will. This creates uncertainty for the host country.
- Increased competition – the impact the local industries can be severe, because the presence of newly arrived multinationals increases the competition in the economy and because multinationals should be able to produce at a lower cost.
- Influence and political pressure – multinational investment can be very important to a country and this will often give them a disproportionate influence over government and other organizations in the host country. Given their economic importance, governments will often agree to changes that may not be beneficial for the long-term welfare of their people.
- Transfer pricing – multinationals will always aim to reduce their tax liability to a minimum. One way of doing this is through transfer pricing. The aim of this is to reduce their tax liability in countries with high tax rates and increase them in the countries with low tax rates. They can do this by transferring components and part-finished goods between their operations in different countries at differing prices. Where the tax liability is high, they transfer the goods at a relatively high price to make the costs appear higher. This is then recouped in the lower tax country by transferring the goods at a relatively lower price. This will reduce their overall tax bill.
- Low-skilled employment – the jobs created in the local environment may be low-skilled with the multinational employing expatriate workers for the more senior and skilled roles.
- Health and safety – multinationals have been accused of cutting corners on health and safety in countries where regulation and laws are not as rigorous.
- Export of Profits – large multinational are likely to repatriate profits back to their ‘home country’, leaving little financial benefits for the host country.
- Cultural and social impact – large numbers of foreign businesses can dilute local customs and traditional cultures. For example, the sociologist George Ritzer coined the term McDonaldization to describe the process by which more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world take on the characteristics of a fast-food restaurant, such as increasing standardization and the movement away from traditional business approaches.