“The world’s biggest trade fair”. That’s how a UN official – proudly - described the previous UN sustainable development summit in Johannesburg in 2002. Walking around in the vast halls of the Rio+20 summit this week, I can only conclude that the corporate presence here, including exhibitions, speeches at side-events and many other activities, is even more excessive than at the Jo’burg event. Exhibitors range from the Italian oil company ENI sponsoring the Italian government’s pavilion, over BMW showcasing electric cars at its 'sustainability lounge' to the omnipresent Coca Cola.
The BMW cars are a classic example of greenwash. Electric cars are of course greener than conventional cars, but the BMW exhibition gives a misleading positive image of the company, whose main business continues to be selling petrol-guzzling luxury cars. It is only a few years ago that BMW took the lead in the massive car industry lobby campaign that seriously weakened EU proposals for stricter CO2 standards for cars1.
Today, the last day of the UN’s Rio+20 summit, some have already left in protest against the extremely weak summit declaration, described by George Monbiot in today’s The Guardian as “283 paragraphs of fluff”2. The full Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) delegation walked out yesterday afternoon, handing in their accreditation badges. Nnimmo Bassey, chair of FoEI, explained why: the Rio summit is “not about real solutions, but about how to open up business for corporations".
Because of the walk-out, the side-event on “Corporate Power: Time for a Turnaround” that was to happen in the summit building was moved to the Cupula dos Povos,3 the People’s Summit. On the way to the tent where the debate was to happen I saw a large crowd listening attentively to a speech by an indigenous activist from the Amazon, several capoeira performances and a group of many hundreds of people dancing to samba music. The cheerful atmosphere at the People’s Summit, held in the Rio neighbourhood Flamengo, was in stark contrast with the mood at the summit centre.
The session on corporate power featured testimonies on the devastating impacts of mining multinationals in Mozambique and Argentina, a presentation of the new FoEI report on corporate capture of UN agencies 4 and, last but not least, the launch of a new global campaign coalition, Stop Corporate Impunity5. Hector Moncayo, a human rights lawyer from Colombia, explained that the purpose of the campaign is to unite local struggles against destructive corporate behaviour. The goal is to secure a global legal mechanism that can hold corporations accountable and end the current impunity. This means replacing the neoliberal global investment rules that have been established during the last two decades, rules which Moncayo describes as “the international architecture of impunity”.
- 1. http://www.foeeurope.org/press/2007/Dec4_Worst_Lobby_Results.htm
- 2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2012/jun/22/rio-20-e...
- 3. http://cupuladospovos.org.br/en/
- 4. http://www.foei.org/en/resources/publications/pdfs/2012/reclaim-the-un-f...
- 5. http://www.stopcorporateimpunity.org