The earth summit has been hijacked by big business and the original goals of
enhancing the lives of the world's poor are fast disappearing, according to research
by an aid agency seen by the Guardian.
has launched a blistering attack on the business community in the lead-up to the
world summit on sustainable development, which opens in Johannesburg on August
Binding regulations on companies, covering such issues as human rights and
the environment, have been dropped in favor of voluntary codes, its report says.
The draft plan now calls only for the "promotion of corporate accountability and
responsibility and the exchange of best practices".
has greater access and influence than any other group and we are concerned that
the agenda is being unduly skewed towards the wishlists of companies and away
from those of the poor.
It blames this on specially formed lobby groups including Business
Action for Sustainable Development (BASD), supported by the World
Business Council for Sustainable Development and the International
Chamber of Commerce.
"Business has greater access and influence than any other group and we are
concerned that the agenda is being unduly skewed towards the wishlists of companies
and away from those of the poor," the agency says. Its report concludes: "Ten
years after the Rio earth summit, the Johannesburg summit offers the chance to
place corporate accountability at the center of sustainable development. Corporate
influence means this does not look like happening."
Business leaders last night said the summit was an intergovernmental conference
and they had no more influence as observers than any other non-governmental organization.
As for regulation of corporate accountability, BASD said: "It is up to individual
governments to look at what is feasible, possible and desirable. NGOs have the
best interests of developing countries and small and medium-sized companies at
heart but they have not really thought through the consequences."
Tougher rules could set standards that many smaller firms could not meet, leading
to decreased investment in developing countries.
But Christian Aid points to comments made by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw,
last September, who said: "We cannot leave companies to regulate themselves globally,
any more than we do in our national economies."
The agency is not the only NGO to complain that the summit has come under the
sway of big business. This week Friends
of the Earth said a "creeping corporate takeover of the UN itself" was under
Meanwhile, the environment minister, Michael Meacher, said yesterday he was
delighted to have been picked as part of the five-strong ministerial team to attend
the summit, after Downing Street announced it had reinstated him in the British
Mr Meacher had been dropped on the instructions of Tony Blair, who was concerned
Britain was taking too many ministers in a delegation of 100 to what will be the
world's biggest conference.
After the Guardian reported that Mr Meacher had been excluded, enraged environmental
groups offered to pay his fare and hotel bill so Britain could be represented
by the only minister they think fully understands the issues.
"Of course I am delighted to be going," Mr Meacher said. "Now we have settled
the delegation I hope we can concentrate on the issues involved. I believe [these
are] pushing forward the agenda on energy, water, health, food security and
biodiversity to make the world better for the poor and underdeveloped countries."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002