multinational corporation, business enterprise with manufacturing, sales, or service subsidiaries in one or more foreign countries, also known as a transnational or international corporation. These corporations originated early in the 20th cent. and proliferated after World War II. Typically, a multinational corporation develops new products in its native country and manufactures them abroad, often in Third World nations, thus gaining trade advantages and economies of labor and materials. Almost all the largest multinational firms are American, Japanese, or West European. Such corporations have had worldwide influence—over other business entities and even over governments, many of which have imposed controls on them. During the last two decades of the 20th cent. many smaller corporations also became multinational, some of them in developing nations. Proponents of such enterprises maintain that they create employment, create wealth, and improve technology in countries that are in dire need of such development. Critics, however, point to their inordinate political influence, their exploitation of developing nations, and the loss of jobs that results in the corporations' home countries.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.