Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (May15/05)
21 May 2015
Third World Network
voice concerns over corporate takeover of WHO
Published in SUNS #8025 dated 21 May 2015
Geneva, 20 May (Kanaga Raja) -- The Framework for Engagement with
Non-State Actors, initiated to safeguard the independence, integrity
and credibility of the World Health Organisation (WHO), now seems
to bear the threat of facilitating and legitimising the corporate
capture of the organisation, civil society groups have charged.
Ahead of the first meeting of the drafting group that will consider
the latest draft of the framework at the current sixty-eighth World
Health Assembly, some 33 civil society organisations (CSOs) and social
movements called on delegates to defend the integrity, independence
and democratic accountability of the WHO.
In a joint statement, the groups called on WHO Member States to take
such time as is necessary to achieve a robust framework for engagement
with non-state actors in order tao protect the organisation from improper
They also called on Member States to support the WHO Director-General
Dr Margaret Chan's proposals to increase the assessed contributions
to the organisation.
According to the groups, there is strong apprehension that the negotiations
on the Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA) may
fundamentally alter the engagement with the private sector and philanthropic
foundations and NGOs sponsored by the private sector in a manner that
would compromise the credibility of the WHO.
"Many proposals by rich countries in draft FENSA text is promoting
corporate capture of WHO in the name of promotion of engagements without
discussion on any comprehensive mechanism to avoid conflict of interest.
These proposals, if accepted, would institutionalise the undue corporate
influence on WHO," said Lida Lhotska of the International Baby
Food Action Network (IBFAN), in a press release.
The signatories to the joint CSO statement include Alianca de Combate
de Tabagismo/Brasil (ACT/Br), All India Drug Action Network, Corporate
Accountability International, Diverse Women for Diversity, Health
Action International (HAI), IBFAN, Medico International, NGO Forum
for Health, People's Health Movement (PHM), Public Services International,
Society for International Development (SID), Third World Network (TWN),
Wemos, and World Social Forum on Health and Social Security.
The signatories also expressed concern that rich member-state donors
have been deliberately undermining the WHO and weakening its capacity
to promote global health by under-funding, tight earmarking of donor
funding and opening spaces for corporate influence.
"We learned that many Member States are opposing any curb in
the existing practices, which facilitate the corporate intrusion in
WHO. The opposition of certain Member States to ban the Secondment
from private sectors and other non-state actors as well as using the
financial resources from private sector to pay the salary of WHO staff
reinforces the status quo and threaten the credibility of the WHO,"
said K. M. Gopakumar of the Third World Network.
"The refusal of [an] increase in the assessed contribution is
the technique deployed to force WHO to [be] open for corporate influence,"
said Dr. David Legge of the People's Health Movement.
"The compromised flexibility in financial resources forces the
vulnerability of WHO to look for resources from donors with profit
motives and endanger the constitutional mandate of WHO," he added.
At a media briefing here on Tuesday, Gopakumar of the Third World
Network explained that on Wednesday the WHO member states are going
to restart the negotiations on the framework for engagement with non-state
actors, which includes NGOs, the private sector, philanthropic foundations
and academic institutions.
The idea to have a set of policies to regulate the engagement with
non-state actors came about as part of the WHO's governance reform
programme that was launched in 2011.
He noted that many states have raised concerns about the way in which
the WHO is engaging with non-state actors. There were serious concerns
about conflict of interest, as well as on the credibility, integrity
and independence of the WHO, based on the existing practices.
During the reform process, there was a push to have more engagement
with non-state actors, and many member states raised concerns that
this may compromise WHO's credibility.
However, he said, the process is now at the stage where it is showing
signs of going in the opposite direction, and this may legitimise
or reinforce the status quo.
According to Gopakumar, it could also bring about a further deterioration
of the credibility, integrity and independence of the WHO by facilitating
a greater intrusion of non-state actors, in particular the private
sector and philanthropic foundations controlled by the private sector.
Ms Lhotska of IBFAN, referring to the WHO reform process, said that
"we are suddenly faced with the challenge that threatens to undermine
all those years of our work, and we are also very concerned that the
WHO, if things go wrong, may come out of the reform, captured by the
corporate actors ..."
According to Lhotska, the current draft framework further reasserts
old channels of undue influence and contains new official relations
policies that open up official relations not only to NGOs but to all
the other so-called non-state actors.
This means that it opens up official relations to philanthropic foundations,
the private sector, in particular business associations, to academia
and to the NGOs, without any distinction among the NGOs who may be
far more on the business side than on the public side.
"If the framework is accepted as proposed, we fear that it will
lead to the loss of credibility of the WHO," she said.
Legge of the People's Health Movement underlined that the failures,
such as they were, of WHO's response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak are
in large part a consequence of a funding freeze which has been operating
with increasing stranglement over the last 20-30 years.
Over the last 20 years, the proportion of WHO's budget which is met
through mandatory assessed contributions has fallen from 75% to 20%.
This is a consequence of continuing new functions being added to the
organisation and a continuing freeze on assessed contributions, he
He pointed out that the remaining 80% is met by voluntary donations
from the rich countries, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda
Noting that the WHO Director-General, at this World Health Assembly,
has been asking for a 5% increase in assessed (mandatory) contributions,
Legge said that at the Programme, Budget and Administration Committee
last week, Belgium and the United Kingdom both spoke firmly against
the 5% increase.
He said that the UK contributes $24 million in assessed contributions
per year to the WHO, while its voluntary contributions amount to $65
million per year. And it is refusing to pay an extra $1.25 million,
which is the 5% increase that the Director-General is asking for.
Belgium contributes $4.65 million in assessed contributions per year,
and a 5% increase would amount to $230,000, he added.
In their joint statement, the CSOs and social movements noted that
donor funds account for 80% of WHO's budget and 93% of donor funds
is tightly earmarked to programmes that the donors support.
"This prevents WHO from implementing programmes that rich countries
do not support, even when they are decided by the World Health Assembly.
Threats of further funding cuts are held out if attempts are made
to implement such programmes."
According to the joint statement, the compromised ability of the WHO
to intervene effectively during the 2014 Ebola crisis is a tragic
illustration of the impact of the budgetary crisis on WHO's capacity
to fulfil its mandate.
Over the last four years, WHO has been through a far-reaching reform
programme driven in part by arguments that the freeze on assessed
(mandatory) contributions should remain in place until the organisation
addresses its inefficiencies.
"Such arguments fly in the face of clear evidence that these
inefficiencies are largely a function of WHO's financial crisis brought
on by the freeze on assessed contributions," said the groups.
Referring to the Director-General's proposal for a 5% increase in
assessed contributions, the statement said that while 5% is a relatively
small increase, much less than what the big donors contribute as voluntary
contributions, it is of huge symbolic value and a crucial step towards
breaking the logjam of freeze on assessed contributions.
"Predictably, certain large donor countries are gearing up to
oppose the increase and refuse to adopt the budget."
According to the groups, threats to health and barriers to affordable
health care arise due to the commercial interests of big corporations.
The increasing incidence of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke
due to intensively marketed cheap, ultra-processed foods is a stark
"Pharmaceutical corporations clearly value shareholders' demand
for profits over affordable access to essential medicines and vaccines.
For WHO to fulfil its mandate, it must be able to name such threats
and barriers and develop and implement policies and programmes to
However, said the joint statement, rich member states, the US and
the UK in particular, have repeatedly opposed WHO taking any action
which might run counter to the interests of transnational corporations.
Furthermore, certain rich member states are seeking to force WHO to
open up its policy-making and decision-making spaces to the transnational
The civil society groups argued that proposals for "multi-stakeholder
partnerships" would designate junk food manufacturers as partners
in the task of addressing obesity, heart disease and stroke.
They noted that over the last two years, WHO and its member states
have been locked in a contentious debate around the rules governing
corporate influence over decision-making in WHO.
"Rich countries are seeking to use these rules to clear the way
for transnational corporations to buy influence and insert corporate
staff into strategic positions within the WHO Secretariat."
According to the joint statement, the present draft of the framework
for engagement with non-state actors is contested and problematic.
"It is more important to get a good outcome than rush to adopt
a document that might further legitimise corporate influence of decision-making
in the WHO," said the groups.+