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Business sector should be subject to strong regulations to avoid Earth grab, experts warn ahead of Rio+20

green economyAhead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to be held in Rio de Janeiro, from 20-22 June 2012, the importance of reforming the current global economic governance system as a means of adhering to internationally agreed sustainable development principles has increasingly come to the fore. Civil society activists have called on the Rio+20 participants to address the influence of the business sector on sustainable development issues, with unchecked corporate interests believed to significantly undermine the right to development and other fundamental human rights of poor people.

At the side event “Right at Rio+20: A Rights-based Framework for Sustainable Development” taking place on 27 April 2012 in N.Y and organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Missions of Germany, Maldives and Norway (and with Ibon International, the Center for International Environmental Law and The Council of Canadians, in collaboration with the UNDG-HRM) the spokesperson of IBON International pointed to the inconsistent approach of some developed countries to sustainable development principles, saying they are upholding human rights principles whilst at the same time supporting carbon market trading schemes and other mechanisms that are threatening the livelihoods of poor people. A joint civil society statement entitled “Ending corporate capture of the United Nations” cites the growing influence of certain companies and business sectors in UN negotiation processes, some of which have 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” .

The group believes this private sector influence is coming to the fore even more ahead of Rio+20, pointing to “behind-closed doors” business meetings on a green economy agenda. Such developments should be regarded with concern, the statement continues, as NGOs often lack the financial capacity of corporations to influence official negotiations at UN level.

“If the “Green Economy” is imposed without full intergovernmental debate and extensive involvement from peoples’ organizations and civil society, [Rio+20] risks becoming the biggest Earth Grab in more than 500 years” a report published by the ETC Group warned in December 2011. The report entitled “Who Will Control the Green Economy?” calls for a restructuring of current governance structures in the UN, in particular in relation to agriculture and the environment. Such structures should be lead by governments alongside civil society and social movements and not subjugated to corporate interests, the report warns. “The goal is not to reject the green economy or technologies, but these are tools that must be guided by strong social policies”, said Kathy Jo Wetter from the ETC Group. “New Green Oligopolies” which have positioned themselves in relation to the green economy agenda should not dominate, the report continues, pointing as an example to the need to take small-scale producers in developing countries into account to a far greater extent at Rio+20.

The report also calls for new innovative models to strengthen anti monopoly regimes, as supported by the Right to Food Special Rapporteur and UNCTAD with its Model Competition Law. Finally, is considered as essential to evaluate the impact of technology to protect the rights of both present and future generations. (This also ensues the Precautionary principle agreed at Rio 1992, by adopting “a process to negotiate/develop an international technology evaluation and information mechanism”.)

The dominant role of corporate interests in the international global governance structure is also at the centre of a new report of the NGO CUTS International and the Centre for Economic Policy Research, entitled “Trade, competition and pricing of commodities”. The report finds that developing countries often lack the capacity to tackle anticompetitive practices affecting their economies, due to a lack of resources and capacity. It proposes that in order to help them combat such distorting trading practices, an International Competition Fund should be created, deriving its funds from cartel fines imposed by developed countries at a global scale.

  • Read the joint NGO communiqué “Ending Corporate Capture of the United Nations” here: UN Global Compact (pdf)
  • Read the UN Global Compact Office’s Response to Joint Civil Society Statement: UN Global Compact
  • Read the report “Who Will Control the Green Economy?” here: ETC Group
  • Read the report “Trade, competition and the pricing of commodities”: VoxEU.org (pdf)


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