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UN Health Agency’s Independence Compromised By Links To Companies -Group

UN Health Agency’s Independence Compromised By Links To Companies -Group

By John Revill, Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

ZURICH -(Dow Jones)- A group of global civil society organizations has written to the World Health Organization to raise concerns that the U.N.’s links to companies such as Nestle SA (NESN.VX) and Coca Cola Co. (KO) are leading to conflicts of interest and compromising the international body’s independence.

Corporate Accountability International, which represents 100 organizations from 24 countries, said many companies used their involvement in U.N. programs to “bluewash” their activities and ignore environmental and other guidelines.

The group raised its concerns in a letter it delivered to Margaret Chan, the WHO director general, at the 64th World Health Assembly, which opened in Geneva on Wednesday.

The letter urged Dr. Chan to ask U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to establish safeguards to prevent corporate conflicts of interest.

It also wants the U.N. to withdraw its support for the CEO Water Mandate, an initiative designed to assist companies develop and implement water sustainability policies and practices.

“Agencies such as the WHO must ensure they are truly protecting our health, our food and our water,” said Mark Hays, senior researcher with Corporate Accountability International.

“If U.N. bodies act as if they have an open-door policy for transnational corporations, there is a huge risk that global policies will be distorted to protect their bottom line,” Hays said.

A spokeswoman for the World Health Organization could not be immediately reached for comment.

The group is concerned about the influence companies could have on the WHO as it implements its Millennium Development Goals, which set benchmarks for improving access to drinking water and sanitation, and the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

It is concerned about a proposal to create a World Health Forum–a multi- stakeholder body that would allow the active participation of global food and agribusiness corporations in drafting policy.

“This new proposal risks undermining the WHO’s independence and effectiveness, and increases the power of the already hugely powerful corporate players that dominate global food nutrition and health policy,” said Patti Rundall, policy director for Baby Milk Action, a member of Corporate Accountability International.

Commercial interests were also interfering with public health on the issue of access to clean, safe water, the group said.

This week corporations involved with the CEO Water Mandate are meeting in Copenhagen to discuss efforts to assess water risks within the corporate sector.

The CEO Water Mandate is a business initiative housed within the UN Global Compact, created in 2007, with members including Coca Cola and Nestle and water companies corporations such as Veolia Environnement SA (VE).

The official mission of the CEO Water Mandate is to deal with what some say is an emerging global water crisis by gathering business leaders together to advance water sustainability.

But the leading corporate endorsers have business models ultimately based upon the premise that water should be a high-priced commodity to be bought and sold, the CAI said.

“From the start, the creation of the CEO Water Mandate was a public relations maneuver used by water corporations,” said Richard Girard with the Polaris Institute. “These corporations seek big profits from access to water at people’s expense.

“As long as corporations with a vested interest in ensuring their profits have insider access to U.N. policy makers, people’s right to water and the lives of millions of families will continue to be at risk.”

The group said an independent review raised concerns about the U.N. ability to make sure its corporate partners are meeting their own voluntary guidelines and aren’t merely using their association with the U.N. as “bluewashing.”

“It is far too easy for global corporations to use the U.N. as cover for business as usual,” said Hays.

“Unless the UN adopts stronger oversight over such partnerships, how will the right hand ever know what the left hand is doing? The stakes are too high to simply trust that corporations know what is good for us,” he said.

-By John Revill, Dow Jones Newswires; +41 43 443 8042 ; john.revill@ dowjones.com

http://www.nasdaq.com/aspx/stockmarketnewsstoryprint.aspx?storyid=201105181455dowjonesdjonline000491


Mark Hays
Senior Researcher
Corporate Accountability International
202-742-5853
mhays@stopcorporateabuse.org

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May 18, 2011 - Posted by | Fighting water privatisation in NZ, Internationally significant information, WORLD WATER WARRIORS

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