SUN and Conflicts of Interest:
IBFAN is concerned about the non-transparent process (discussions under Chatham House Rules) chosen by SUN to address conflicts of interest. This process has been led by the Global Social Observatory (GSO), a Geneva-based think tank funded by the GATES Foundation.
Its CEO is Katherine Hagen, Principal Consultant for Hagen Resources International, the parent organization of GSO and the Council for Multilateral Business Diplomacy. The latter organization claims to be “A responsible voice for business in international affairs”, i.e. represents the interests of business in the international arena. This brings GSO’s independence into question – especially for a process which is meant to develop a policy guidance to deal with conflict of interest within SUN where the major concerns are around the food industry’s potential conflict of interest in working on public nutrition policy. Moreover, it is impossible to determine from the GSO website for which clients the group works.
The outcome so far of this GSO-led process is not reassuring:
The process so far has led to the development of what is now known as a ‘Reference note on CoI’. A review of the penultimate draft of this Reference Note (almost adopted in the GSO meeting, 16 October 2013) shows that it is not very likely to be of much assistance to governments in SUN countries:
1. The Reference Note has not been clearly prepared by any expert on COI. It shows poor understanding of the CoI concept, mixes CoI with conflict resolution, uses concepts such as ‘mutual accountability’ that assigns governments roles not compatible with democratic processes etc.
2. The focus of the Reference Note is solely on countries, leaving out the SUN Lead Group and the SUN Secretariat that have, since 2010, determined SUN direction and strategy. This approach, furthermore, completely ignores the WHA 65.6 Resolution (2012) which requires COI to be addressed at all levels, not just to Member States and country level.
3. The Reference note is not evidence-based. No reference is available for the sweeping statements it contains, such as “there is more to be gained by engaging all groups that are working to improve nutrition”.
The SUN website lists some of the commitments of the members of the SUN Business Network. The network is hosted by a group called “Business Fights Poverty: the world's largest community of professionals harnessing business for social impact.” Yet there is no transparency about which corporations are involved. In the “Business Fights Poverty” Nutrition Zone, there is a blog by Chris Johnson, Nestlé Executive Vice President and Head of Zone Americas (AMS), entitled “Meeting Nutrition Commitments in Latin America.” This is basically an “advertorial” for Nestle products in Latin America. Another piece entitled “Barbara Wettstein: Nestlé report sets out forward-looking commitments.