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Partnerships for people, or profit?
by Anna T
The World Summit on Sustainable Development

Robyn & Anna outside the Sandton Convention Centre
Photo: Mandy Paton-Ash
Johannesburg, South Africa •• Aug. 28, 2002 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• Today at the Sandton Convention Centre Bobby Peek, director of GroundWork/ Friends of the Earth South Africa; Yolanda Kakabadse, president of IUCN/ World Conservation Union; Michael Dorsey, member of the Board of Directors of Sierra Club, and Tom Crompton, Trade Policy Advisor for the World Wide Fund for Nature spoke on the topic of partnerships.

As governments at the World Summit on Sustainable Development prepare to unveil a series of agreements on partnerships with business, NGOs fear that governments will be using these agreements to avoid making meaningful political commitments, and to abdicate their responsibilities to advance social policies and act as guardians of the global environment.

The partnership model is being promoted as the centrepiece of the Johannesburg Summit – intended to show that environmentally-friendly development can successfully be put into practice in the field. NGOs said they would welcome legitimate agreements with responsible corporations to implement sustainability. But they pointed out that the virtual lack of such criteria such as monitoring, reporting, and committing to targets and timetables, would render them almost meaningless, and indeed potentially counterproductive.

The overarching message of the discussion was the need to establish enforceable and functional standards for corporate accountability in relation to communities and the environment if meaningful partnerships are to be achieved. Such standards should include provisions for meaningful participation of local communities, governments at all levels, and other concerned parties in any decision-making process impacting on local communities.

This corporate accountability needs to be more than just voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility and good corporate governance. It requires: observing the precautionary principle and the principle of “polluter pays” which is included in Agenda 21; operating according to the principles of transparency, accountability, and access to information; adopting full-cost, “Triple Bottom Line” accounting, which internalises environmental and social as well as economic costs; and compliance with principles of social and environmental responsibility, including the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning multinational enterprises, and performance benchmarks initiated with civil society to monitor and measure impacts.

To achieve this move towards corporate accountability, unequal power relations need to be rebalanced in an era where corporate rights are expanding disproportionately to peoples’ rights. This requires: the elimination of investor-state measures in trade agreements that provide a “new constitution” with rights and freedoms for corporations that override people’s democratic rights and freedoms; a moratorium on the further implementation and widening of Intellectual Property Rights regimes in order to first guarantee the rights of people and communities, in particular the rights of indigenous peoples over that of corporations; the creation and adoption of international agreements and legislation to protect traditional knowledge and genetic resources and prevent their commercialisation; cessation of any further privatisation through the WTO negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services of local, regional and global public goods; and the building of legislation on existing human rights instruments so that people have legal redress if their environment is destroyed or threatened.

Source:
“Corporate Accountability – A Matter of Sustainable Justice” written by the Ecumenical Team for the WSSD Johannesburg 2002

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