As the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) approaches, conflicts intensify between North and South, civil society and industry. Northern governments continue to stubbornly defend corporate-led globalisation, including market liberalisation and privatisation of public services, as part of 'sustainable development'. Calls from civil society for binding regulations on corporate behaviour are being ignored, instead business is given a central role as provider of 'Type II' outcomes for the summit. Corporate lobby groups have already submitted over 50 projects for UN approval, many of which depict environmentally destructive industries as contributors to sustainable development. At the final preparatory conference before the Johannesburg summit, the NGO mining caucus decided to boycott the summit in protest against the corporate bias in the WSSD process and against greenwash projects receiving the UN's seal of approval.
PrepCom IV, the final preparatory meeting before the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), ended without consensus. At the 'Rio+10' summit in late August, governments are supposed to strike a deal on future global policies for 'sustainable development', the catch-all phrase used by all parties to describe their responses, however inadequate, to the accelerating global social and ecological crisis. The conference on the Indonesian island of Bali (May 27th to June 7th) revealed deep conflicts and underlined how much is at stake at Rio+10. As one meeting participant put it, "Overall what is happening in the WSSD process is centered around the question of which regime - the UN or trade and financial interests - shapes present and future global governance for whom."1
The negotiation text coming out of the Bali summit is so weak that many NGOs are doubting whether they should remain committed to the WSSD process. At the same time, the so-called "Chairman's Text" is full of bracketed sections with potentially far-reaching consequences. The fiercest conflicts are over trade and finance issues,2 reflecting the deep contradictions between neoliberal globalisation policies on the one hand and environmental and social goals on the other. Northern governments in the US-led JUSCANZ group (including Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) squarely rejected the demands of the Southern G-77 governments to spell out the myriad problems caused by the current global economic model. With the EU, these Northern governments instead pushed for positive references to the new round of trade talks in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), including the controversial proposal for negotiations on investment, government procurement and other issues currently beyond the WTO's reach. The Northern bloc's recipe for 'sustainable development' also included rejecting new funding for Southern countries. At the original 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio, the rich countries pledged to contribute 0.7% of their GDP as development aid for poorer countries, a commitment that has been conveniently forgotten by the vast majority of Northern governments. In Bali, the US government took the lead in refusing development aid a place in the Plan of Implementation. Instead they argued for bilateral agreements in which aid is made conditional to political and economic reform in the recipient countries. "We are going to create a competition in the developing world for those dollars", US representative James Connaughton explained.3 The proposed conditionality is comparable to the structural adjustment programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund in recent decades, with devastating social and ecological effects.
Another North-South clash occurred when Northern negotiators questioned the validity of one of the most important principles adopted at the Rio summit: the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The governments of industrialised countries want to escape their historical responsibility to take action first and to provide funding. The negotiating text is littered with references to the implementation of the WTO's controversial TRIPs agreement on intellectual property rights. The US government wants to consolidate the status of the TRIPs agreement to overrule competing UN agreements on biodiversity, which give Southern governments countries the right to ensure public access to medicines and to get a share of the benefits from biodiversity.
The ideological battle over trade and finance issues that was so prominent at the Bali summit has far-reaching implications. At its core is the question whether the process of corporate globalisation, including WTO-style trade and investment liberalisation, can simply continue or whether it is fundamentally at odds with 'sustainable development'. The future of the UN also hangs in the balance - will it entirely bow to the neoliberal world view dominant in other global institutions? The outcomes of this North-South struggle will be decisive for debates in numerous other fora, including the run-up to the next WTO ministerial meeting, in September 2003 in Cancun, Mexico.
In UN jargon, the outcomes of the Summit are categorised as 'Type I' and 'Type II'. 'Type I' outcomes are the traditional intergovernmental agreements negotiated between UN member states. For Johannesburg, governments do not aim to renegotiate the Rio agreements. Talks instead concentrate on a Plan of Implementation/Action (the aforementioned Chairman's Text) - intended to develop national and global policies and programs - and a Political Declaration, in which governments are expected to recommit to Agenda 21 and the pursuit of 'sustainable development'. Type II outcomes are a new and controversial category: partnership projects aiming to implement 'sustainable development', undertaken jointly by different players, such as governments, civil society or business.4 At Bali, both Type I and II outcomes were heavily disputed.
Concerning Type I outcomes, Bali revealed a serious lack of political will among the governments to agree on targets and timetables to address pressing environmental and social problems, such as access to water and energy, sustainable fishing, climate change or loss of biodiversity. Along with the unwillingness to commit to new funding, there is little chance of effective policies to bring about much needed change. No less worrying is the neoliberal bias in the negotiating text, which opens the door for accelerated privatisation of basic services. The text calls for action in five areas where poverty and environmental degradation are most acute: water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity. However, the focus is strongly on 'efficiency' and participation of the private sector in the delivery of those essential services, through private-public partnerships. The underlying message: governments are to outsource the delivery of water, energy and health to private corporations.
Leaving the basic needs of billions of poor to the market forces is a dangerous game. In contrast to the public sector, corporations are profit-driven, and this is equally true when they operate in water supply or other key services. Experience shows that private sector delivery quickly results in price rises, often to the extent that low-income people lose access to these essential services.5 However, the current bias of the Chairman's Text towards market-based delivery in the five priority areas fits hand in glove with corporate campaigns in the run-up to Rio+10.
Corporate lobby groups like Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD) responded with enthusiasm when the UN announced that public-private partnerships between industry, NGOs and governments will be included as official "Type II" outcomes of the Johannesburg summit. The BASD website already lists 54 corporate projects submitted for consideration as Type II outcomes in Johannesburg.6 The Bali Prep-com, however, showed that NGOs are sceptical or outright opposed to the concept. Large parts of global civil society reject the idea of outsourcing 'sustainable development' to the corporate world.
The UN bureaucrats in charge of the preparatory process of Rio+10 tried to pour oil on troubled waters, claiming that the new focus on Type II outcomes would by no means substitute government action, only complement it by helping to 'implement sustainable development'. But outspoken opposition from civil society did not make Northern governments think twice about the wisdom of their policies. Instead, the very vocal US and EU negotiators dominated in their promotion of partnership projects as the preferred outcome of the WSSD, particularly in the areas of water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity. This approach was supported by the industry lobbyists present in Bali, such as those from the BASD, a joint campaign by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).
Rio Tinto's Lord Holme of Cheltenham, for instance, is the BASD's vice-chair and a veteran of both the ICC and the WBCSD. He joined the BASD's key representative in South Africa, Reuel Khoza, to argue for a combination of corporate partnership projects and improved governance in the South as the recipe for 'sustainable development'. Khoza, chairman of South African electricity company Eskom, referred to the UN's Global Compact with corporations and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI - a set of guidelines for reporting on the social, environmental and human rights performance) as guarantees of transparency in Type II projects.7 He announced that some of the partnership projects submitted by the BASD would also aim to implement the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). NEPAD, the 'development path' crafted by the South African and other African governments, is widely opposed by African civil society. The neoliberal NEPAD promotes the privatisation of water, electricity, transport and telecommunication services, as well as continued debt repayments and the further liberalisation of markets and international investment flows. BASD chairman Mark Moody-Stuart waxed lyrical on how industry is developing partnerships in sectors like water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity, and praised industry's work towards sustainable production and consumption in every sector. The former CEO of Shell also presented a new initiative for boosting corporate investments in the world's poorest countries that is being developed under the umbrella of the Global Compact - a voluntary partnership between the UN, the corporate sector and some NGOs around a set of social, human rights and environmental principles.8 The Global Compact is criticised by large sections of civil society because it lacks monitoring and enforcement, which makes it a virtual UN seal of approval for big business. Moody-Stuart admitted that working in partnership with NGOs lends credibility to corporate initiatives, "If business did this on its own, there would be doubtless be suspicion that this was business seeking low labour costs or areas with low or unregulated standards."9
"The WBCSD is in a strong position to benefit from the WSSD process", reads a WBCSD memo evaluating the Bali Prep-Com, which also mentions that the business group is "getting many proposals for cooperation and partnerships."10 WBCSD boss Bjorn Stigson is however not entirely satisfied. In the memo, Stigson complains about the process being handled by the normal UN bureaucracy, while Rio 92 "had a dedicated secretariat focused only on that conference and its outcome, led by Maurice Strong."11 Stigson led the WBCSD's successful campaign towards the Rio summit in 1992.
While the European employers federation UNICE complains that it is "not being listened to" in the preparations for the Johannesburg summit,12 the political trends in the WSSD process fit hand in glove with the corporate agenda. A columnist in Tomorrow, a glossy magazine linked to the WBCSD, predicts that, "You can be sure that business ISN'T going to be ignored in Johannesburg".13 "UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has invested too much personal capital in his Global Compact to allow the little matter of the WSSD to jeopardise relations between the UN organisation and its friends in the business community", the columnist concludes.
Business still seems nervous, due in part to widespread criticism of Type II projects being endorsed as summit outcomes. More importantly, however, they fear the growing consensus in civil society on the need for binding international rules for TNCs. In an executive update to the members of the WBCSD, the groups president Bjorn Stigson complained about the scepticism with which the NGO community met Type II partnership projects at Bali. In his memo, Stigson also describes how outspoken NGOs demanded corporate accountability and monitoring. "It might be worth noting", Stigson writes, "that the normally more responsible NGOs like WWF were not much present in Bali and left the multistakeholders dialogue to more radical groups." "We have voiced our concern to WWF about that,"14 Stigson elaborates, giving a revealing insight to the apparently cosy relations between the WBCSD and one of the major environmental NGOs.
Industry was the only one of the UN's so-called major groups (categories of 'stakeholders', also including NGOs, youth, farmers, indigenous people, scientists and women) opposed to the launch of negotiations on a UN convention on corporate accountability15. Unfortunately, business has strong allies among the governments. Japan, the EU and the US oppose the idea, claiming that the OECD's voluntary guidelines on multinational corporations is sufficient to guarantee corporate accountability. The support from the G77 group of countries, including China, for a legally binding framework for transnational companies is therefore likely to be in vain. The negotiating text calls for the "promotion of corporate accountability and responsibility and the exchanges of best practices", referring to voluntary schemes such as the Global Reporting Initiative, the Global Compact or the OECD guidelines.16
Predictably, the BASD's Lord Holme praised the text's voluntary focus.17 Encouraged by the political winds in the Rio+10 preparations, business stubbornly continues its irresponsible campaign for industry self-regulation and voluntary action as alternatives to effective and binding regulation of corporate behaviour. Underlining the unfortunate hollowness of their commitment to 'sustainable development', corporate groupings also work hard to maintain the limited scope of voluntary initiatives. Within the WBCSD for instance, there is "strong concern about the very expanded reporting requirements in Global Reporting Initiative's new draft guidelines."18 The Global Reporting Initiative has been one of the favourite 'alternatives' promoted in corporate campaigns against binding regulation.
In terms of engaging in and shaping the global debate on environment and development, the WBCSD is the most experienced corporate lobby group. It was created to provide business input into the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and contributed to blocking attempts to regulate business. The group promoted the (then new) concept of TNCs being allies in the pursuit of 'sustainable development'.19 The WBCSD is a coalition of 150 large corporations, currently chaired by Shell's Phil Watts20. The group assists its member corporations, many of which have a troubled social and environmental record, with adapting their operations as well as their image. It is not easy to assess the degree to which the WBCSD's activities are perception management (greenwash) or a genuine pursuit of change based on the ideology of corporate environmentalism. There is no doubt that many in the WBCSD's staff genuinely believe that enlightened businesses taking voluntary action, including faster introduction of new technology, can bring about 'sustainable development'. While striving for positive change within corporations is obviously a good thing, the WBCSD's political influence is an entirely different matter. The WBCSD's neoliberal political programme is deeply flawed and the groups lobbying power therefore a serious obstacle to the formation of ecologically sustainable and socially just policies.
The WBCSD's analysis of global environmental and social problems is less superficial than most other corporate lobby groups, such as the ICC. Where the ICC presents an unrealistic and rosy image of trade and investment liberalisation, the WBCSD admits there are (side-)effects to be dealt with. In the WBCSD's vision corporations should equally pursue economic, environmental and social goals. In reality, the prioritisation of these different goals is far from balanced in the WBCSD's brand of corporate environmentalism. Despite the often well developed analysis, the WBCSD's agenda for change comes very close to the short-sighted vision of most other corporate lobby groups. The business council does not even start to question the fundamentals of economic globalisation. It mechanically advocates market-based mechanisms and technological fixes as solutions to the world's problems. An example is the "eco-efficiency" concept developed and promoted by the group.
According to WBCSD Director Claude Fussler, eco-efficiency aims to separate quality of life and economic growth from their intense use of natural resources.21 The problem is not only that the WBCSD includes such dangerous technologies as nuclear and biotechnology in its future scenarios. The WBCSD's faith in techno-fixes is so strong that it believes the over-consuming models of society and lifestyles of the North can be expanded to the rest of the planet, while common sense tells us that this will lead to ecological collapse.
The limits of the WBCSD's approach is occasionally recognised by the UN institutions that have embraced corporate environmentalism championed by business groupings. In the process towards Johannesburg, the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), probably the UN body which works most closely with industry, has published a series of reports on 22 industry sectors. The report '10 years after Rio: The UNEP assessment' attempts to evaluate the progress that industry has made in terms of 'sustainable development', and concludes that "improvements are overtaken by economic growth and increasing demand of goods and services."22 The UNEP report supports industry self-regulation and voluntary action, but admits that "most voluntary initiatives are still characterised by problems of effective implementation, monitoring, transparency, and free riders." UNEP goes on to conclude that "few voluntary initiatives are directly linked with government policy and regulatory frameworks in a way that would complement the strengths and weaknesses of both." The sector reports - ranging from aluminium, over oil and gas, food, chemicals and transport to water - are written by various business organisations.
A particularly flawed assessment is the one put together by the advertising industry, which claims to be a 'fundamental ally of sustainability'.23 The report rejects the idea that the sector encourages excessive consumption and claims that it only reflects prevailing social values for which they bear no responsibility. In a remarkable spin exercise, the reports argues that the advertising sector contributes to global sustainable development by enabling the diffusion of better products developed through innovation, thereby "helping to improve the quality of life". The spin doctors behind the report do admit that, "below a certain level of income advertising has no real role to play."24
All the WBCSD's 'advocacy and awareness' campaigns now focus on influencing the WSSD. "This way we can help to shape the framework conditions and influence the direction of the sustainable development debate," the group's website explains.25 A core team of 14 members has masterminded the WBCSD's strategy and work plan. Among the visible elements of the campaign are a series of ideological reports published during the past year and a half, centered around the idea that 'free markets' are a pre-condition for 'sustainable development'. The same message is promoted in the WBCSD's media outreach campaign, centred around regular sponsored sections in the International Herald Tribune. In Johannesburg, the WBCSD will launch a book full of case studies of environmental and social initiatives by WBCSD corporations, cleverly titled 'Walking the Talk'.
In Johannesburg, the WBCSD also plans to promote its six sectoral projects, all of which it has submitted to become Type II outcomes from the summit. The projects, covering forestry, mining and metals, transport, cement, electricity utilities and the financial sector, are coordinated by WBCSD member corporations. They look at sustainability performance and the challenges ahead for the sector as a whole. The WBCSD claims that the ultimate purpose is to change industry practices and policies to make them more sustainable. The WBCSD has made extensive use of multistakeholder dialogues in these projects. According to WBCSD boss Bjorn Stigson, "this is essential because stakeholder acceptance is fundamental to industry maintaining its 'license to operate' and achieving a stable environment for long-term investment."26 At the Bali Prep-com, the WBCSD presented a new brochure, 'Sector projects', outlining the progress to date in all the projects. According to Summit Focus (the WBCSD newsletter on the WSSD) one of the goals of the brochure is to "qualify the projects for submission as UN 'Type II' outcomes."27
All six projects are run by working groups made up of WBCSD corporations. Initially, research is commissioned from an independent body, the results of which are later published as a report. An assurance group of 'experts' is supposed to guarantee the neutrality and validity of the findings. While the WBCSD emphasises the transparency and objectivity of the projects, there are real problems in the limits of what is discussed and even more so in the conclusions. All six projects aim to publish their reports in time for Johannesburg. The three projects nearest completion - on mobility, forestry and mining - are also the ones that have created most controversy.
The WBCSD's 'Sustainable Mobility' project, focusing on the transport sector, released its first report in March 2001.28 The working group is run by major automobile and energy corporations, including BP, DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, Michelin, Norsk Hydro, Renault, Shell and Toyota. The project claims to develop a long-term vision of future mobility, but fails to tackle the inherent unsustainability of continued growth in global transport volumes.
A characteristic feature of WBCSD projects is their attitude to civil society groups with a moderate critique. This kind of 'constructive criticism' is often included in project reports or on websites. The 'Sustainable Mobility' website, for instance, features an article describing some NGO critique to the project's report, while highlighting that the critics "acknowledged the report was not unduly biased towards the interests of the auto and oil industries."29 This approach contributes to an open, transparent and consensus-seeking image. Meanwhile, those with a more fundamental critique are not offered any such space. The 'Sustainable Mobility' website for instance is silent about Prague-based campaign group Carbusters, which has strongly criticized the project's corporate vision. Carbusters slammed the project for merely promoting technological fixes and the privatisation of public transport systems, while refusing to consider the option of reduced mobility. After attending one of the project's stakeholder dialogues, Carbusters concluded that "It all boils down to another advertising campaign for their wonderful 'green' cars."30 The 'Sustainable Mobility' website provides information about the stakeholder dialogue held in Prague, but is silent about the protest action held outside the event.31 On seeing the activists, the project director's first reaction was to ask: "Do any journalists know about this?"32
The 'Sustainable Forestry Industry' project of the WBCSD started in 1994, when a group of companies led by Brazilian Aracruz Celulose and Finnish UPM-Kymmene initiated a study focusing on paper production. The study was commissioned from an external body (the International Institute for Environment and Development or IIED) and involved consultation with various stakeholders. The report 'Towards a Sustainable Paper Cycle' was published in June 1996.33 The next step was the creation of the 'Forest Dialogue', which included land owners, the forest industry, some NGOs and the World Bank.34 The goal of the dialogue, co-chaired by the WBCSD and the World Resources Institute (WRI), was to develop a consensus vision on the world forests and a range of concrete issues, such as mutual recognition of certification schemes for forestry industry practices.35
WBCSD veteran Stephan Schmidheiny, a major force behind the WBCSD's influential campaign around the 1992 Earth Summit, has a great personal stake in the 'Sustainable Forestry' project. Schmidheiny, whose fortune comes from his Swatch watches and from his investments in the asbestos industry, has since 1982 invested heavily in Chilean forests. He owns 85% of Terranova, a Chile-based company with plantation forestry operations (mainly pines) in Chile, Brazil and Venezuela. Another Schmidheiny-owned company has teak plantations in Panama and Guatemala.36 Almost all of his forests are recent plantations, for which he has applied to get Forestry Stewardship Council accreditation. 'Sustainable Forestry' project just happens to be working on the sensitive issue of forest certification. Referring to the work of the Forest Dialogue, Schmidheiny commented that 'the challenge is reforming the poor performers in industry, and in keeping fringe NGOs from counterproductive actions.'37
Certification is a controversial issue in the international debate about sustainable forests. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the only certification scheme respected by most forest campaign groups. Other certification schemes, the World Rainforest Movement (WRM) concludes, are "merely aimed at 'greenwashing' logging activities".38 While more reliable than other schemes, WRM states, "the need perceived by the FSC to supply the world market with as much certified wood as possible" is at odds with sustainability.39 The FSC has increasingly awarded certification to wood coming from large-scale monocrop tree plantations, which is far from sustainable forestry. Tree plantations, WRM points out, often cause deforestation and degradation of other ecosystems. These pseudo-forests moreover frequently have abominable impacts on local communities, who lose land and livelihood to give space to corporations producing wood for the global markets.
The credibility of the self-proclaimed quest for sustainable forestry is seriously undermined by the shameful record of the two corporations that initiated the project. UPM-Kymmene is heavily criticised by forest campaign groups for its damaging activities in Indonesia, misconduct that continued after the launch of the 'Sustainable Forestry Industry' project. In 1997, the Finnish wood products giant got a paper plant in Changsu, China, which processes pulp from PT Riau Anadalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), the second largest pulp producer of Indonesia.40 RAPP's mill in Riau, Sumatra, was expanded with a $750 million investment package supported by the Finnish and Swedish export credit agencies. The Riau mill produces 750.000 tones of pulp each year by logging the natural rainforest, substituting over 50 species of tropical hardwood for acacia plantations. Local communities have suffered severe impacts, the river essential for their livelihood has been polluted, they have been evicted from their lands with no compensation and have faced physical violence when protesting. UPM-Kymmene pulled out of RAPP, but still uses RAPP's pulp for its paper production in China.41
The other founder of the WBCSD forestry project, Aracruz Celulose, specialises in bleached eucalyptus pulp. The company is particularly infamous for its destructive social and environmental impact in the Brazilian states of Bahia and Espirito Santo. Aracruz has flooded the regions with extensive monoculture plantations and uprooted indigenous peoples such as the Guarani and the Tupinikim from their lands. It has turned the Mata Atlantica rainforest into a green eucalyptus desert. Aracruz' application for FSC certification has intensified environmental campaigning against the company, which has recently joined hands with Finnish-Swedish forest giant Stora Enso.42
The Global Mining Initiative (GMI) was established in 1999 by nine major mining companies.43 The initiative was later joined by around 20 other corporations, as well as by the World Bank, UNEP, IUCN and some universities. Under the wings of the WBCSD, the GMI initiated the 'Mining, Mineral and Sustainable Development' project (MMSD), and commissioned the IIED to carry out what was presented as a major consultative effort. The result was the report 'Breaking New Ground: Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development', which was released on May 1st. The report seems less corporate-biased than expected and it acknowledges a lot of the problems caused by the mining industry, including environmental destruction and negative impacts on local communities. The proposed agenda for change, however, hardly goes beyond recommending the mining companies to develop a sustainable development policy and for the industry as a whole to draft a declaration and a code of conduct. The inadequate conclusions reflect the fact that the project did not address fundamental questions such as whether mining, and particularly mining for uranium or fossil fuels, is in fact inherently unsustainable.
After a final Global Conference held in Toronto in May 2002, the activities of the GMI will be continued by the International Council on Metals and Mining (ICMM), "the new global leadership body for the industry".44 Meanwhile, the GMI has been submitted to the UN secretariat as a Type II outcome of the Johannesburg summit.45 While ICMM plans to use the GMI in Johannesburg, there are also ambitious follow-up plans underway.46
A less public goal is to improve the reputation of the mining industry. RJ McNeilly, President of BHP Minerals, made no secret of this when addressing an industry audience. He explained how mining companies in the future will be judged on sustainability impacts, which will in effect determine their license to operate. 'I am sure we all agree that industry cannot afford to ignore negative perceptions," McNeilly stated. 47 While many in the industry are preoccupied with image, some in the WBCSD seem genuinely committed to change. Richard Sandbrook, the WBCSD's MMSD coordinator, defined the project as "a honest appraisal of where the companies, governments, labour and civil society are within the sustainable development paradigm and then an honest attempt to do better."48 The problem, however, is that "better" does not equal sustainable. As long as industry refuses to go beyond more eco-efficient resource use and other techno-fixes, their impact on the environment and communities will remain unacceptable. Such critique is not warmly welcomed. "You are damned if you do and damned if you do not when trying to change things in a different way," Sandbrook feels.
The attempts by the mining industry to define mining as a sustainable economic activity have made many campaign groups reject the MMSD process and the GMI initiative. At the Prep-com in Bali, 74 representatives of affected communities and other activists met to strategise. While many of these groups do work with the mining industry to reduce its impact on communities and the environment, they condemn "the mining industry's propaganda that seeks to legitimise this unsustainable industry."49
At the Bali Prep-com, mining campaigners highlighted the continued malpractices of numerous corporations involved in the GMI and the MMSD project. The South African Anglo-American Corporation was accused of donating a multimillion amount to the WSSD while "leaving behind a legacy of billions of dollars of damage to the environment and communities around Johannesburg itself." US-based Newmont, the world's largest gold mining company, has caused human, ecological and economic damage on all five continents. At its Nusa Tenggara site in Indonesia, Newmont dumps 120,000 tons of waste into the coastal waters of Sumbawa, thereby causing serious pollution and destruction of people's livelihoods. Placer Dome, from Canada, has abandoned the Philippines after causing one of the world's worst mining disasters on the Island of Marinduque.
Rio Tinto's operations have provoked the creation of a worldwide coalition to resists its abuses. The company has conducted mining activities within the Poboya protected area in Indonesia, and "failed to heed the demands of indigenous communities to cancel a uranium mine in a World Heritage protected area in Australia."50
The outcome of the mining caucus was a joint decision to boycott the WSSD process. Mining campaigners agreed that participation in the process "had not actually furthered efforts for the recognition of human rights and ecological justice."51 "Instead", they concluded, the process "had been co-opted in an attempt to validate the activities of the G8 and large corporations." "The inclusion of 'sustainable mining' as a concept was a direct result of lobbying by the Global Mining Initiative, a campaign arm of some of the largest mining corporations," the caucus states. "Human rights and ecological justice cannot be priorities in a conference sponsored by transnational corporations, most of which are the worst polluters on the planet", the caucus adds in its explanation of the decision to boycott the Johannesburg summit.52
In sharp contrast with the feeble MMSD recommendations, the mining caucus demanded effective solutions, such as a moratorium on all new mines and the immediate shutdown of existing mines when communities demand it. They called for a ban on destructive mining technologies, abolishment of child labour in all mines as well as for respect and upholding of the rights and welfare of peoples and communities.
The protests from the mining caucus are unlikely to make industry rethink the merits of its 'sustainable mining' campaign. More likely, the WBCSD will attempt to portray the mining caucus as irresponsible radicals. Undoubtedly they will find other, more 'pragmatic' NGOs who are still willing to endorse the GMI. Chances are the project will still get the UN's seal of approval in Johannesburg as an official Type II summit outcome. If this happens, the corporate co-optation of the UN will have reached new heights and the UN's credibility will suffer dramatically. The corporate bias in the Rio+10 process alienates large parts of the movements which are most genuinely committed to social and environmental change. The caucus' decision to boycott the summit is a wake-up call to the UN leadership, governments and parts of civil society. A drastic change of course is needed to save the rapidly degenerating Rio+10 process from turning into a fullblown scandal.
Thanks to Tove Selin, Ivana Jakubkova and many others.
For more on corporate greenwash and Rio+10, visit the Greenwash Academy: http://www.earthsummit.biz/