The Hidden Companies of the Global Economy: the development of international commodity traders, 1945-2015


Duration: 2015-2018
Funding: The Research Council of Norway
Principal investigators: Espen Storli
Researchers: Marten Boon (postdoc), Gwendolyn Claire Lin (PhD)

Project summary
The Hidden Companies of the Global Economy is an innovative research project breaking new ground in the research on global commodity trading. It is funded by Fellesløftet, the Norwegian Research Council and the Norwegian universities' joint funding initiative for Young Research Talents.

The project will examine the development of global commodity traders after 1945. The handful of existing large independent commodity traders have been characterized as the "hidden companies" of the global economy. By controlling the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of the world's commodities these companies play a pivotal role in the functioning of the global economy. Yet, despite their significance, very little is actually known about these companies, both how they operate today and in particular how they grew to become so important.

The aim of the project is to study the development of independent commodity trading firms from 1945 to the present, opening up a new research agenda by assessing new sources of information. The overarching research question concerns the role of these companies in the global economy and the project seeks to address three fundamental aspects of this role.

  1. How have the companies historically operated?
  2. What has been their impact on the development of the host economies in which they operate?
  3. How have commodity trading companies affected the evolution of the global economy, the global flow of commodities and the evolution of commodity markets and prices?

Image: Tanker, copyright John Loo, licensed under Creative Commons,