Ethical Performance
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NGOs slam UN for giving into business ‘bluewash’

June 2012

The UN has been forced to defend itself against an accusation of corporate capture made by civil society bodies worldwide.

The UN, which presides over many significant international CSR initiatives and standards, is said to have become prey to corporate lobbying on key global issues.

Consequently, business has been able “to block effective solutions for problems related to climate change, food production, the violation of human rights, water supply, health issues, poverty and deforestation”, say the signatories of a joint statement.

Organisations including Friends of the Earth, Corporate Europe Observatory, the Third World Network and the Polaris Institute say the UN’s proclivity for ‘false’ market-based solutions to the world’s environmental crises result from lobbying, serving business interests and profit-making motives without tackling the problems at hand.

In a damning appraisal, the NGOs write: “Many UN agencies, including Unicef, UNDP, WHO and Unesco, have engaged in partnerships with major transnational companies (TNCs). Unep has established partnerships with ExxonMobil, Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Shell, all of which, they claim, are involved in human rights violations and the destruction of biodiversity.
“Other examples include Coca-Cola and UNDP on water resource protection, and BASF and Coca-Cola with UN-Habitat on sustainable urbanisation. Such partnerships not only damage the credibility of the UN, but also undermine its ability and willingness to respond to and regulate the business sector where it is involved in social, environmental and human rights violations.

“Moreover, the UN Global Compact promotes ‘responsible corporate citizenship’ without obliging companies to adhere to internationally accepted standards. It allows notable human rights violators to participate and gives the false impression that the UN and TNCs share the same goals.

“Thus it allows for ‘bluewash’ and merely helps businesses to boost their image and profits, instead of promoting binding obligations that would contribute to changing companies’ performance.”

The UN has responded that “the private sector can play an extremely positive role with respect to contributing to UN objectives and goals”. It particularly rejects the claims that businesses are not held accountable to the UN’s standards – but it does not confront lobbying, an issue at the heart of the NGO statement’s concerns.

The document demands that business be denied a “privileged position in UN negotiations”, and that their representatives “should not be part of national delegations involved in UN negotiations”.

It also recommends transparency on relations with business, and the monitoring of corporations’ impact on legislation covering issues such as environmental and human rights law.

United Nations | Global | Transparency

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