Friends of the Earth on World Summit
26 July 2002 at 1:07 pm
Friends of the Earth will be calling for a binding code of conduct for corporations to ensure that trade priorities do not undermine the environment, workers or human rights at the upcoming World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in September.
The Summit is expected to attract 60,000 people from all over the world to highlight the current state of the environment and evaluate how far the world has come since the United Nations Conference on Environment Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, 1992.
In April 2001, Friends of the Earth Australia co-hosted an international workshop on Rio +10 with the Heinrich-Boll Foundation and the Green Institute. This workshop brought together activists and academics from all over the world to evaluate regional and state perspectives of global environmental problems. The outcome of the workshop reflects the complexity of the issues but a recurring and prominent theme throughout the conference was the increasing impact of transnational corporations since 1992.
The Australian Friends of the Earth representative to the World Earth Summit is Liz Turner.
Turner says many businesses and governments advocate voluntary agreements and non-binding targets for environmental protection. However, voluntary agreements have not worked.
She quotes from an OECD study of voluntary agreements on climate change in the US which found that of 630 utilities, only eleven committed to specific emissions levels. A 1998 UNEP report on 44 commitments from chemical and metal industries, the energy sector, and travel and tourism found that most were not legally binding and lacked requirements for performance reporting and third party verification. (Kevin Dunion, FoE Scotland).
Turner says it is proposed that a Treaty on Environmental Rights and an international Code of Conduct for corporations would be implemented under a World Environment Organisation, with equal if not greater authority as the World Trade Organisation. A dispute settlement mechanism for environmental protection laws could be part of the International Court of Justice.
She says the last decade has seen European proposals for carbon taxes, recycling directives and mandatory labeling of tropical forest imports overturned and given the current state of the Johannesburg summit, a strong campaign is needed to affect corporate accountability.
At the Fourth Preparatory Meeting for the Earth Summit in Bali, a Friends of the Earth representative met with Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Dr. David Kemp. When asked about corporate accountability, Dr Kemp responded that he was very sceptical about the capacity of international rules to control companies and that they impinge on national sovereignty.
At this meeting, Friends of the Earth International were concerned that negotiations were increasingly being conducted like the ones at the WTO, with “key countries” stitching up deals behind closed doors.
Liz Turner says that it has been suggested that what is needed is an NGO driven review of Government commitments since Rio. The World Summit for Sustainable Development will not be the forum for this, as NGO’s will be busy lobbying governments on changes to the Chairman’s text, to be passed by consensus by the end of the Summit.
Civil society must keep up the pressure on corporations and must send a strong message to governments that big business does not rule the world.
If you would like to comment on this article or any article in this edition why not join our on-line Forum at probonoaustralia.com.au.