WHO, UN poised to allow corporations input in global public health decisions
Recent reports show UN Agencies increasingly beset by corporate influence, lacking oversight
United Nations General Assembly 16th June
NEW YORK – Despite clear conflicts of interest, corporations like Coca-Cola and Nestlé could be included in a high-level meeting aimed at protecting the health of millions of people across the globe. Today’s Civil Society Interactive Hearing on Noncommunicable Diseases provides input to the fall high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as the growing crises of tobacco and nutrition-related diseases that kill millions of people every year. The influence of profit-driven global corporations in these proceedings may mean that new policies promote private interests instead of public health.
Corporate Accountability International, Baby Milk Action, the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT), and the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations (IACFO) support the call for urgent action to address the growing crisis of noncommunicable diseases, particularly epidemics of tobacco- and nutrition-related diseases which remain the two primary causes of preventable death globally, and encourage the establishment of clear and enforceable rules that limit private sector involvement and influence over public health policy and outcomes.
“If we are to reverse the staggering rates of preventable illness and death, the WHO and UN must safeguard public health policy from conflicts of interest,” said Gigi Kellett, a campaign director with Corporate Accountability International. “A fox guarding a hen house is a fox guarding a hen house. The global community has removed the tobacco industry’s seat from the tobacco control table due to its history of interference in policy. It’s time we hold other industries contributing to or profiting from today’s public health epidemics similarly accountable.”
Commercial interests are colliding with issues of public health. In March 2011, the UN Joint Inspection Panel (JIU), an independent oversight body, released a review of the UN Global Compact Office and the UN Office of Partnerships. The review raised significant concerns about the Global Compact’s ability to ensure its corporate partners are meeting their own voluntary guidelines and not merely using their association with the UN as ‘bluewashing’ – an attempt to promote corporate policies or products as socially responsible. These findings echo similar concerns raised by civil society groups around the world.
“The global corporations, which are largely responsible the problems that the UN is now trying to address, are desperate to reposition themselves as forces for good in society. Being grouped together with the UN and public interest NGOs in these meetings increases their power and influence over UN policy setting,” said Patti Rundall, policy director for Baby Milk Action, the UK member of IBFAN. “Member States, especially those with limited resources, have no time to waste time on unsustainable, unaffordable and ineffective solutions like so-called public-private partnerships, voluntary self-regulated pledges or industry sponsored education programs. They need encouragement to take effective legislative action to control harmful food marketing, ensuring that consumers receive truly independent information.”
The WHO has enacted strong safeguards to prevent corporate conflicts of interest in relation to tobacco. For example, Member States continue to make strides protecting public health policy against interference from the tobacco industry due to implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Article 5.3 establishes the tobacco industry’s fundamental conflict of interest with public health, encourages governments to reject partnerships with industry and avoid ‘revolving doors’ between industry and regulators. The WHO estimates that, when fully implemented, this groundbreaking treaty will save 200 million lives by 2050.
“FCTC safeguards are a powerful tool to challenge the deadly health crisis of tobacco addiction,” said Philip Jakpor of Environmental Rights Action/Nigeria. “Already, countries such as Thailand and Colombia have used the treaty to keep Big Tobacco out of the room when crafting national health laws, ultimately saving millions of lives.”
In addition, the WHA resolutions on Infant and Young Child Nutrition and the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health can be used among other helpful tools to establish measures that also go beyond individual conflicts of interest and address institutional conflicts of interest.
“It’s critically important to ensure that no companies or industry associations acquire privileged opportunities to advance their member’s commercial interests in policy advising roles,” said Bill Jeffery, spokesperson with the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations (IACFO). “Transparency is an inadequate tool for correcting such conflicts of interest, especially when it is possible for conflicted advisors to obstruct consensus in advisory or standard-setting functions.”
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Corporate Accountability International, formerly Infact, is a membership organization that protects people by waging and winning campaigns challenging irresponsible and dangerous corporate actions around the world. For 30 years, the organization has compelled corporations—like Nestlé, General Electric and Philip Morris/Altria—to halt a range of abuses. Corporate Accountability is an NGO in Official Relations with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and has Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) includes more than 100 NGOs from more than 50 countries working for a strong, enforceable Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) consists of public interest groups working around the world to reduce infant and young child morbidity and mortality. IBFAN aims to improve the health and well-being of babies and young children, their mothers and their families through the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding and optimal infant feeding practices. IBFAN works for universal and full implementation of the International Code and Resolutions.
The International Association of Consumer Food Organizations (IACFO) has nearly 2 million members and is a growing association of non-profit, non-commercial organizations to press for improved food- and nutrition-related public laws and company practices on five continents. One IACFO member, the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), publishes the world’s largest-circulation health newsletter—Nutrition Action Healthletter—with nearly 1 million subscribers globally, mainly in North America.