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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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NGOs Call for Greater Corporate Accountability at Johannesburg

31 January— Even as leaders of non-governmental organizations express their anger against the corporate leaders who are meeting at the World Economic Forum they say there are also reasons to be hopeful about the World Summit on Sustainable Development that will take place in Johannesburg from 26 August to 4 September.

One issue that has been high on the NGO priority list, the issue of corporate accountability, is now being talked about as a potential area for action at the Johannesburg Summit, and governments are taking notice.

"Corporate accountability is on the agenda," Daniel Mittler of Friends of the Earth, International told an NGO press conference held during the Preparatory Committee meeting for Johannesburg. "We need a convention on corporate accountability, and work toward a legally binding convention should start at Johannesburg."

The reason, Mittler said, was that during the years of trade liberalization, governments gave away their own ability to protect society and the environment. But he added that even governments have recognized the seriousness of the issue, and that "we are getting somewhere."

The case of Enron, according to Emmy Hafild, Executive Director of the Indonesian Environmental Forum, has helped raise awareness of the corporate responsibility issue. "People realize that these corporations can ruin a lot of people in seconds."

Kathleen Rogers, President of the Earth Day Network, noted that even President Bush had mentioned corporate responsibility in his State of the Union address. She said that NGOs were writing to the President, and other world leaders, to commit early to go to Johannesburg.

The NGOs also expressed deep reservations with the process of globalization. Shao Loong Yin of the Third World Network said that the unequal economic power relationships that exist around the world are the "limiting factor in letting us realize our dreams." He also stressed that Johannesburg had to revive the North-South compact from the Rio Earth Summit, which called for all countries to work toward sustainable development, but with the more developed countries helping the developing countries with assistance. "The North must take major action," he said.

Rogers said there were actually two kinds of terrorism plaguing the world right now: politically driven terrorism such as the attacks on the United States last September, and another, "quiet" form of economic terrorism. This terrorism, she said, "takes the form of a mother who wakes up every day and finds that she cannot feed her child, the man with AIDS who has no means of getting the drugs he needs, and the man who steals wood in a protected area for his livelihood."

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24 August 2006