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Business lobbies hijack the third Earth Summit

Brussels/Rio, 19 June - Business lobbies have been accused of hijacking the third UN Summit on Sustainable Development which opens tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, pushing solutions designed to boost profits and guarantee business as usual, avoiding much needed tougher rules on corporate power.

An article published by the Brussels-based research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) argues that the UN's proliferation of partnerships with business has given corporate lobbyists unparalleled access to the Summit, allowing them to push business-friendly solutions and block tighter regulation [1].

Business groups use "greenwashing", citing exceptional examples of so-called good practice to claim that they can provide the solution and deliver "sustainable development" - while continuing with business as usual in most areas where they operate.

The article cites an example used by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development which showcases the activities of the German chemicals giant, BASF - which claims to be preserving ecosystems through a tree-planting scheme in Brazil, yet promotes and supports intensive soy production throughout Latin America, through the manufacture of pesticides, destroying soil fertility and polluting water resources.

BASF was also recently accused of misleading the public and European Parliamentarians when it was found to be behind a recent Parliamentary event on bees and biodiversity, which included a  bee-friendly garden set up as a publicity stunt outside the European Parliament. Some pesticides have been linked to the current decline of bee populations in Europe [2].

Olivier Hoedeman, who is in Rio for the talks for CEO, said:
"Our investigations have discovered an alarming level of corporate capture within the UN process. Rather than looking at how to stop business aggravating the environmental and social crisis, the UN agencies appear to have been persuaded by some of the dirtiest industry players that they have the solutions and that they should be trusted with the future of the planet. The agenda has been hijacked and as a result, politicians in Rio are unlikely to come up with any real solutions to tackle the pressing  challenges we face."

Hoedeman will be speaking on Thursday 21 June at 15.00pm in a side-event on corporate capture at the UN Rio+20 Summit [3].

[1] Rio+20 summit under siege by corporate lobbyists, Corporate Europe Observatory, June 2012 http://www.corporateeurope.org/publications/rio20-summit-under-siege-cor...
[2] A Trojan Bee? Corporate Europe Observatory, June 2012 http://www.corporateeurope.org/news/trojan-bee-front-group-basf-co-organ...
[3]See: Corporate Power, Time for a Turnaround, Thursday 21 June, Room T-10, http://www.uncsd2012.org/index.php?page=view&type=1000&nr=425&menu=126

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Now that the dust has settled after the UN's Rio+20 summit, interpretations of what happened seem to be wildly diverging. NGOs across the board and most media observers consider the summit and its final text a disaster because of the failure to agree on binding policies and targets. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in contrast, claimed that the outcome “provides a firm foundation for social, economic and environmental well-being”, highlighting the many public-private partnerships that were presented at the summit's side-events and the pledges by governments and companies to invest an estimated $500 billion in these projects. Donald Steinberg of USAID remarked that these public-private partnership workshops "were not really side events - they were the main events".

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.

Big business is out in full force at the Rio+20 summit. At Business Day during Rio+20, Louise Kantrow of the International Chamber of Commerce received thunderous applause when she highlighted that they were part of “the largest business delegation ever to attend a UN conference”. “Business needs to take the lead and we are taking the lead,” she added.
The contrast could not have been greater. I had spent the whole day attending the Rio+20 Business Day, held in a luxury hotel on the beach side, listening to one business speaker after the other argue that voluntary initiatives by industry, if scaled up, are the solution to the world’s social and environmental crisis. When I took the bus back to the other side of Rio de Janeiro, I didn’t get off in time and found myself in an unknown street, where my attention was caught by drumming and a loud amplified voice. In the square nextdoor there was a demonstration, a thousand or more people demonstrating against corporate exploitation of people and the environment.