Business Embraces Call for Sustainable Development.
WASHINGTON, DC, 29 August 2002 - Ten years ago at the Earth Summit in Rio, world business leaders were mostly in attendance to say "no" to any proposals for firm action to reduce greenhouse gasses, as well as to demands for more investment in reducing pollution and controlling toxic wastes.
But what a difference a decade can make. On Wednesday, the militant environmental group Greenpeace joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in a call for firmer action and for an international framework to address climate change.
Businesses, or at least some business leaders, have decided to embrace the call for sustainable development. Dozens of CEOs and hundreds of other of corporate officials arrived in Johannesburg this week with briefcases full of proposals for "partnership initiatives" to enhance sustainablity. "Three out of four corporate executives polled worldwide say it is important for business to project a positive image of its concrete achievements at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg," explained the International Chamber of Commerce after surveying its membership.
The list of business partnership initiatives that will be showcased during the summit runs for many pages and includes: major mining companies, including Anglo American, Newmont and Rio Tinto, joining together to sponsor a sustainable mining initiative; automobile manufacturers from the U.S., Europe and Japan working with several oil companies to promote a sustainable transportation initiative; and the French Elf Petroeluem company joining with rural communities in Nigeria's oil-rich, but impoverished, Delta region to promote modern farming practices.
To provide a more coherent framework to advance the business perspective, the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development established a network for businesses working on sustainable development under the banner of Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD). At the summit, the BASD is sponsoring a day-long "Lekgotla Business Day" and a high tech "virtual exhibit" that will allow video conference hook-ups between rural, sustainable development projects and conference participants.
"Our aim is simple," explains Mark Moody-Stuart, the recently appointed chairman of Anglo American Corporation, who is also head of BASD. "It is not to create yet another business organization but rather create a network to ensure the world business community is assigned its proper place at the Summit and that we are seen at the event itself to be playing a constructive role."
Working out of a headquarters in the Hilton Hotel, BASD has become a major presence at the summit, actively insisting that the voice of business be heard through participation in the formal sessions, workshops, meetings and press conferences. Each evening, BASD sends out an email detailing how business representatives have done and where they will focus activities for the next day. For example, on day one of the summit, the BASD reported that there were two business representatives among twenty speakers at a discussion on biodiversity.
When several non-governmental organizations charged that business leaders were "hijacking" partnership initiatives tied to free trade and privatization of state resources, the BASD leadership responded. "There is a great deal of mutual distrust, which we have to get over. We believe in good international governance for issues like climate change and trade. It is a myth that we are not in favor of regulation," Moody-Stuart told the Financial Times. At a press conference, he stressed that business has realized that simply delivering economic benefits was not enough and that the social consequences of economic activities must be taken into account.
The criticism, however, has continued, and some groups believe the United Nations has become too cozy with big business. "What we're worried about is that many businesses are draping themselves in the blue of the United Nations in order to get themselves some brownie points to look good to governments, to look like they're doing the right thing around the world, when in fact their actual practices on the ground may be very different to those they profess on paper," said Matt Phillips of Friends of the Earth in an interview with the BBC.
Nonetheless, the list of public-private partnerships promoted by BASD indicates that it is not only Greenpeace that believes it may be a good idea to work with business leaders on some issues. Exxon Mobil is sponsoring a malaria prevention program in 30 African countries; Unilever, and Nestle have launched a sustainable agriculture initiative; and liquified gas companies are working with governments in West Africa to promote the use of propane and butane gas as a more sustainable supply of energy.
Most of the business projects, not surprisingly, are proposals that will expand the reach of the business community while also - at least in principle - improving sustainablity. Thus, the South African electricity supply company, Eskom, is launching an African Energy Fund that hopes to raise funds to link electricity supplies in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia and South Africa. Eventually the project also hopes to link up electricity supply lines between Malawi and South Africa as well.
Source: All Africa