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The failure of Rio

Lack of International regulation on the activities of Corporations

vendredi 31 mai 2002, par Malin Björk

Since the Rio conference in 1992, corporate globalisation has become the most important threat to sustainable development according to many NGOs. Regulating the activities of corporations must therefore be a priority at the Johannesburg Summit.

At a hearing on the expectations in view of the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development in the European Parliament on 17 April, Craig Benett, representing the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth International, pointed out what they consider as the most critical issue neglected by decision-makers at the Rio conference in 1992 : the need to establish an international regulatory framework on corporations.
Out of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are companies, and this corporate globalisation process must be addressed in order to reach any aims set up in the field of sustainable development according to Friends of the Earth. Therefore, regulating the activities of corporations must be a priority at the Johannesburg Summit.

Another world needs others rules

At the moment diverse versions of voluntary codes are being developed. While this process might be welcomed, the problem is not what to do with the ‘good’ ones, but what to do with the ones that are not respecting principles of environmental and social sustainability. This is why voluntary corporate social responsibility must be coupled with binding mechanisms for accountability. Similar demands are put forward by feminists in the field of sustainable development. "Women in Europe for a Sustainable Future", a platform of women for sustainable development policies, demand globally binding regulations to attain sustainable production and consumption processes.
After the crash of Enron, President Bush wants to introduce regulations in order to ensure the accountability to shareholders. However, there are no plans whatswhoever to regulate in order to achieve accountability towards principles of environmental and social responsibility, respect for human rights and gender equality. For some reason these fields remain unregulated and should be left to be addressed only through fragmented and voluntary approaches. Friends of the Earth proposes the establishment of a binding corporate accountability Convention, with reporting obligations, standards of conduct, and most importantly, the possibility for taking sanctions against corporations not respecting the rules laid down in the convention.
The question is whether a regulations of the activities of global private corporations, which operate only on the basis of maximising profit, will be enough to bring about sustainable development ? Ecofeminists and various women’s groups from both ‘North’ and ‘South’ are notably calling for the promotion of an alternative economic logic altogether, an economy which is based on the very principles of maximising social and environmental sustainability.
Either way, the resistance is solid among the official representatives of the conference against discussing any regulation of the activities of corporations, and NGOs are already questioning if the Johannesburg Summit will be able to deliver any positive outcomes in this context. One NGO representative expressed that the whole process risks turning into the ‘worlds largest trade fair’, since the official discussions are mainly focusing on the promotion of so-called public-private partnerships. And all this means is that public contracts can more easily be granted to large multinational corporations, giving them additional power, while nothing is being done to increase the corporations’ responsibility towards people and their environment.


Malin Björk - mai 2002

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