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Corporate hijack - the business lobby at Rio+20

by Olivier Hoedeman

There is a growing outcry at the corporate capture of United Nations action on sustainable development - a campaigner reports from the Rio Summit

The lobbyists will be out in force at this week's Rio Summit on sustainable development - fighting to make sure that any proposals to tackle the severe environmental and social crises we face do not get in the way of business as usual. When world leaders met at the first Earth Summit in Brazil, in 1992, there was widespread recognition that global levels of consumption - particularly in the developed north - were stretching the planet's limits. Since then, demand has increased, but the agenda for action has shifted away from international agreements and regulation towards voluntary partnerships with the private sector.

Which is why business leaders, including representatives from companies with controversial environmental records such as Shell, Monsanto and Coca-Cola will be at the heart of the negotiations - working with the United Nations agencies and politicians to set the agenda and agree on the text. Is it any wonder that expectations are low for this summit? One of the key channels of influence is via a corporate campaign coalition called Business Action for Sustainable Development, which is coordinated by the UN's global compact - a voluntary initiative bringing together some 6,000 companies, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the International Chamber of Commerce.

The BASD claims to be the official voice of business for the Rio+20 summit and brings together many of the world's largest corporations including Monsanto, Shell, BASF, ArcelorMittal and Suez who are promoting the idea of a "green economy" to save the planet. Regulations that restrict their activities should be avoided, they argue, with environmental targets pursued through market-based mechanisms such as carbon trading or biodiversity offsets. The WBCSD has also been a prominent voice in the run up to the conference, allegedly 'greenwashing' business by promoting case studies of 'environmentally-friendly' actions, highlighting supposed 'good practice' and selectively overlooking other activities by the same corporation which may be considered less than ideal.

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