Lord Holme responds to Christian Aid calls for corporate accountability laws
is the transcript of Lord Holme's TV studio appearance with Christian Aid spokesperson,
Daniel Graymore - Channel 4 News, UK, Friday August 9.
MARK EASTON: Presenter
It’s being billed as the last chance to save the planet. Sixty-five thousand
people from 174 countries meet in Johannesburg later this month for the second
ever Earth Summit, discussing how to cure the world’s environment and
development problems, but already big business and the Green lobby are clashing
over the way ahead.
The Summit’s key objective is to tackle Third World poverty by promoting
what they call sustainable development, encouraging companies to invest in poor
countries without exploiting local people or their resources. But now the charity
Christian Aid claims the agenda for the Summit is being watered down after pressure
from powerful multi-nationals. They’ve released documents which suggest
an early draft agenda called for a ‘multi-lateral agreement’ on
rules to make business accountable, but this was soon diluted to ‘a framework’
and now just promises to ‘promote’ best practice. Environmentalists
say it’s proof that big business puts profit before the planet, business
leaders say tough rules would ‘decrease investment’ in the world’s
So with just over a fortnight to go before the Summit opens, business and environmentalists
are at each other’s throats. Representatives from either side of the argument
are here tonight: Lord Holme is Vice Chairman of the group representing business
at the Earth Summit, and Daniel Graymore is from the charity Christian Aid.
Daniel Graymore, what you appear to be alleging in this then is that business
groups like the one that Lord Holme here represents, have successfully pressurised
this Summit into watering down the agenda to put… less effect on the poor?
DANIEL GRAYMORE: Trade Policy Officer, Christian Aid
Well, certainly. I mean Christian Aid’s main concern is that what we will
see coming out of Johannesburg will be a series of business friendly initiatives
emphasising public private partnerships, deregulation, trade liberalisation
and with the emphasis placed very much on corporate investment in developing
countries as opposed to actually very strong meaningful commitments to eradicating
poverty and addressing environmental problems.
You want tough rules, you want tough rules.
We want this opportunity, this new opportunity that’s coming through WSSD
is not being matched by corporate accountability, which is a framework of regulations
to whole companies to human rights and environmental standards.
Okay. Well, Lord Holme, there’s the allegation, has your organisation
been pushing the organisers of this Summit to put, as I’ve said, the planet
before… or profits before the planet?
LORD HOLME: Business Action Sustainable Development
Well, I think that that sort of high coloured rhetoric comes very ill from Channel
4 and I’m slightly surprised at Danny taking this tone because there are
about six hundred items in the implementation agreement which the governments
are discussing with each other, the one he’s motoring on is one single
one out of that, which is this issue which we can come back to, of how to report
on progress, but good organisations like Christian Aid and responsible business
leaders have so much in common trying to make this Earth Summit a success. I
mean we have a common shared planetary interest in having a stable environment,
in having a proper remediation of poverty, in having an atmosphere in which
people can get on with decent lives all over the world. So although it makes
good television to say we’re at each other’s throats I don’t
actually think that’s the case although I’d be extremely happy to
address this issue of how best to report without hurting investment in developing
Okay. Well look that.. it does seem to me though that any summit on the future
of development in the developing world it’s going to come down to whether
we can trust big business to do it without exploiting the people and the environment.
Well, let me give you a couple of examples of why it’s so important to
take a partnership view of this. First of all - I think maybe Danny was implicitly
referring to this - is the question of overseas development assistance, what
we call aid. How do you get aid working with private capital investment in the
Third World? Aid may be creating the infrastructure so investment will follow
it. Now we’re engaged, business leaders, my organisation, engaged in detailed
discussions about how to get more mileage out of the investment in the Third
World, and the interesting thing about this reporting issue, which is the one
that brought us all here this evening, is that if you talk to the leaders of
the developing countries, and none of them are standing up and saying we want
tough new rules to stop investment, they’re desperate to get investment
working together with foreign aid, they’re desperate to get their products
having access to first world markets….(all talking together)…
(interrupting) But Daniel Graymore, of course we do need.. we’re going
to need business to get the kind of development that we need but can.. but do
you think that we can trust them without the kind of hard regulation that Christian
Well I think this is fundamentally the problem, I mean clearly we need investment
and developing countries want investment, the question is are voluntary commitments
to high ethical standards good enough, and the evidence is they really are not.
I mean I’m very sorry but the mining industry is a very interesting example
in this area, a lot of mining companies, your own included, Lord Home, and Rio
Tinto, have been accused of a great many human rights environmental problems
over the years, the question is are new-found commitments, voluntary commitments
of high ethical standards going to really change that, and lots of people suggest
that actually there’s not a great deal of change to be seen – or
it’s very hard to actually see how it’s done….
(interrupting) But isn’t there a risk that perhaps the smaller companies
just won’t invest? Lord Holme, I mean is there… what will they do,
how will companies react if they’re forced into regulation?
The big companies, the Shells, the BPs, the Rio Tintos - and incidentally I
don’t accept for a moment what Danny said, the mining industry has been
one of the leaders in promoting the idea of sustainable development, but leave
that on one side for a moment – the danger is that if you impose these
sort of high NGO-led northern standards and say this is the one size fits all
framework we’re going to fit on business - you see, it won’t hurt
the big companies because they have departments full of lawyers who specialise
in compliance - what it will hurt… what it will hurt is the small and
medium enterprises whose investment is so desperately needed because they don’t
have the staff to deal with these sorts of excessive requirements, and that’s
Lord Holme, Daniel Graymore, thank you both very much indeed.