A response to the proposal for a Convention on Corporate Sustainability Reporting
In the face of the multiple crises of biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and climate change plus economic turbulence and injustice, it is strange that there is so little discussion about controlling corporate power and exploitation in the run-up to Rio+20. There are proposals for increasing the participation of women, youth and communities in decision-making. There are calls to reduce land degradation and deforestation, promote sustainable production and consumption, increase energy and resource-use efficiency, and protect ecosystems. But there is almost nothing about tackling the corporations that are doing so much of the damage. There is also no visible discussion about the advertising and public relations activities that corporations use to promote consumption and drive forward the wasteful consumerist development model that generates corporate profits but that also threatens the wellbeing and even survival of present and future generations.
The first Earth Summit took place in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, - this was the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), from which the three major environmental agreements on climate, biodiversity and desertification (UNFCCC, CBD, UNCCD) emerged. The Precautionary Principle was established as a fundamental part of the CBD. Just a few months later, in December 1992, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was created “to ensure effective follow-up of Rio Earth Summit”. There were high hopes that at last the international community would begin to address some of the major collective issues of planetary health: biodiversity loss, climate change and desertification.
We live in a world where corporations wield immense power. They operate at global level, beyond the reach of national governments. They play a major part in dictating the kind of development path humanity is following, based on the concept of endless economic growth. Now we are beginning to reach the limits of what the planetary ecosystem can sustain, but there is apparently no limit to the ambition of large corporations. Yet attempts to control them and limit their power and reach have not been successful to date. One little known fact is that, in addition to all their other privileges, corporations actually enjoy human rights, even though they clearly are not human beings. The article looks briefly at how this came about and proposes one way to tackle corporate human rights.
At the recent preparatory conference for Rio+20 in New York (7-8th March) it became clear that the “green economy” concept is complicating an already difficult process. Definitions of sustainable development have been argued over for years; now we are invited instead to see everything in terms of a “green economy”. UNEP, which produced its massive economics-dominated report shortly before the prepcom/conference, defines the “green economy” as one that results in improved human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. Thus the biodiversity and ecosystem resilience on which we all depend are reduced to “risks” and “scarcities”. Even though it is clear that the “green economy” means very different things to different interests, many parties simply parroted the phrase over and over; Bolivia was one of the few that commented critically, noting that there is not a shared vision of what the "green economy" might be.