United Nations “seized by corporate power”

In the eve of Rio2012, civil society organizations all over the world are warning against the “growing influence of major corporations and business lobby groups within the UN”. Those concerns became also apparent in the thirteenth session of the UNCTAD in Doha, where the rich countries were trying to minimize the role of that agency, whose reports have consistently criticized the politics of deregulation, liberalization and privatization that benefit the private sector.

“The preamble of the Charter of the UN starts with the words ‘We the peoples of the United Nations’. Today however, corporate interests are increasingly prioritized over peoples’ interests in some UN processes and institutions. […] Businesses have gained enormous influence over UN decisions,” reads a statement launched this week by several international civil society organizations.

The text was initially signed by Friends of the Earth International, Corporate Europe Observatory, La Via Campesina, Jubilee South/Americas, Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ-Latin America), Polaris Institute, The Council of Canadians, The Transnational Institute, Third World Network, World March of Women. Those organizations asked others to join them because they believe that “the UN is currently the most democratic and appropriate global institution for international negotiations.”

“Corporate lobbying within UN negotiations has managed to block effective solutions for problems related to climate change, food production, the violation of human rights, water supply, health issues, poverty and deforestation,” adds the statement, titled “Ending corporate capture of the United Nations”, which demands “further strengthening of multilateral institutions and processes within the UN framework, making them more democratic and responsive to the needs of people.”

“No need to ask who is in charge nowadays; governments no longer consult with business, business consults with governments,” according to the signatory organizations. The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio2012) to be held in June “should be seized as the opportunity to […] terminate dubious partnerships between the UN and businesses, and end the privileged access that has been granted to the corporate sector and consequently the excessive influence it is able to wield over important multilateral processes and decisions,” they say.

The statement remarks several partnerships that engage UN agencies, including UNICEF, UNDP, WHO and UNESCO, with “major transnational companies”. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has established partnerships with oil and mining firms such as ExxonMobil, Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Shell, “all of which are involved in human rights violations and the destruction of biodiversity,” according to the study.

“Other examples include: Coca Cola and the UN Development Program (UNDP) on water resource protection, and BASF and Coca Cola with UN-HABITAT on sustainable urbanization. Such partnerships not only damage the credibility of the UN, they also undermine its ability and willingness to respond to and regulate the business sector where it is involved in social, environmental and human rights violations,” warns the statement.

The UN Global Compact, defined as “a global platform which convenes companies together with UN agencies, labor and civil society”, allows “notable human rights violators to participate” and helps them “to boost their image and profits, instead of promoting binding obligations that would contribute to changing companies’ performance.”

This alliance “gives the false impression that the UN and transnational companies share the same goals,” warns the signatory organizations.

In the way to Rio2012, the corporate pressure eased by the UN partnerships with the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development led to a draft of outcome declaration that “reinforces the role of business as a promoter of the so-called green economy, but completely fails to address the role of business in creating the financial, climate, food and other crises.”

The statement asks the UN and its member states to “resist corporate pressure to give business a privileged position in UN negotiations” and “stop setting up new discussion bodies and high-level groups (and dissolve existing ones) that grant” that powerful participation. It also recommend that “business representatives should not be part of national delegations involved in UN negotiations.”

“The UN must disclose all existing relations and links with the private sector” and “a code of conduct for UN officials, including a ‘cooling off’ period during which officials cannot start working for lobby groups or lobbying advisory firms, should be introduced,” adds the text.

The United Nations system must also monitor, according to the civil society organizations, “the impacts of corporations on people and the environment and establish a legally binding framework of obligations that can hold companies accountable to environmental, human rights and labor rights law.”

In the meantime, at the thirteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIII) held this week in Doha, Qatar, the group of rich economies made up by the European Union, Australia, Canada, Japan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States have sought to impose a mandate on the agency to push developing countries to adopt investor protection and trade policies in accordance with the corporate interests of developed countries, reported the Third World Network.

On the other hand, civil society organizations that participate at Doha have called for the removal of constraints on developing countries’ policy space embedded in free trade and investment agreements, and in conditionalities imposed by donor and international financial institutions.

UNCTAD was established to offer analysis and advice to governments on development issues related to trade, finance and technology, among other matters. Its previous conference agreed in Accra to broaden the organization’s mandate.

Over the years, analysis produced by UNCTAD consistently pointed out the dangers of the liberalisation and deregulation of markets and finances which produced the current economic crisis.

Petition “Reclaim the UN from corporate capture!”: http://bit.ly/I42IOu
Civil society statement: Ending corporate capture of the United Nations: http://bit.ly/IQUMwZ
Civil Society Forum for the UNCTAD XIII: http://bit.ly/JcW2rH