Summit on Sustainable Development
Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
26 August-4 September 2002
28 August 2002
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATION PRESS CONFERENCE ON CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY
Johannesburg must be the place to start a process of establishing frameworks to ensure corporate accountability and prevent corporate malfeasance and crime from going unchecked and unpunished, a member of the board of directors of the Sierra Club said at a non-governmental organization (NGO) press conference this afternoon.
Speaking on the theme "Partnership for People or for Profit?", Michael Dorsey stressed that such frameworks must be binding and transnational in scope, noting that voluntary codes of conduct had become codes of corporate misconduct and simply did not work. Partnerships without accountability could become partnerships in crime, such as the environmental degradation that was the leading corporate crime in the United States.
Yolanda Kakabadse, President of IUCN/World Conservation Union, said there was nothing new or mysterious about the idea of partnership, noting that her organization had been working with governments and other NGOs for 54 years. Emphasizing that the partnerships proposed at the Summit should not be a substitute for existing funding, she said they must bring additional funding and be more inclusive. They must discard the patronizing top-down approach characterizing partnerships between the North and the South.
Bobby Peek, Director of Friends of the Earth, South Africa, said that the neo-liberal policies behind the Summit negotiations undermined the very process of sustainable development. Not only did the neo-liberal debate on trade disenfranchise the South, the North's exportation of hazardous material to the South caused severe ecological damage. Shell South Africa had admitted using safety standards in South Africa that were inferior to those it used in the United Kingdom, which had resulted in a 26-tonne chemical leak for which the corporation had yet to be held accountable.
Tom Crompton, trade policy adviser for the Worldwide Fund for Nature, said inequality continued to increase since Rio. Although the increased volume of trade was said to be a panacea for the problems arising from that inequality, trade as currently construed could in fact exacerbate them.
Asked for specific examples of partnerships that were unworkable, Mr. Peek said McDonalds could play on its partnership with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to exploit children around the world, since the agency could not hold the corporation to account. Voluntary monitoring and conduct codes were set for failure, he added.
In response to another question, Mr. Dorsey said business could not bring benefits to local communities in the absence of frameworks that bound corporations in an accountable and meaningful way.
Mr. Peek added that weak institutional States, mainly those in the South, were vulnerable to powerful corporations that could push them to enter into disadvantageous partnerships.
Asked to give examples of good partnerships, Ms. Kakabadse cited a coconut production project involving Mercedes Benz in Brazil that had spread throughout the country's Amazon basin. It worked because it was voluntary and built on trust, she added.