Implementation plan passed, drama on corporate accountability

Johannesburg, 4 Sept (Martin Khor) - After two weeks of intense negotiations, marked by horse trading and trade offs on a wide range of issues, a draft Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+10) was adopted early this morning at 1.15 am.

However, a sense of crisis surrounded the state of the Summit’s anticipated second document, the Political Declaration. Almost in the Doha WTO style of ‘green room’ talks and non-transparency, a first draft of the declaration, prepared by the host country South Africa, had been circulated very late, on the evening of Sunday 1 September. Many delegations had been dissatisfied and have submitted proposals for changes and it is unclear whether another draft can be approved in the remaining hours of the Summit.

The Plan of Implementation was approved after a last-minute attempt by some countries to water down a paragraph on corporate accountability was turned back by forceful interventions by Ethiopia and Norway. As a result, one of the few achievements of the Summit will be a commitment to promote corporate responsibility and accountability through the full development and effective implementation of inter-governmental agreements and measures.

The Plan of Implementation was adopted by the Main Committee of the Summit and is scheduled to be formally adopted by the official plenary of the Summit, attended by heads of states and governments, later this afternoon.

The 65-page draft Plan contains ten chapters: introduction, poverty eradication, changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, protecting and managing the natural resource base, sustainable development in a globalizing world, health, small island states, Africa and other regional initiatives, means of implementation, and institutional framework.

The meeting of the main committee to adopt the draft Plan, chaired by Emil Salim of Indonesia, was delayed for three hours when delegates held last-minute negotiations to amend three paragraphs regarding women’s rights; human rights and fundamental freedoms relating to health, and access to health care services.

The draft Plan was adopted at almost 1.00 a.m. Immediately following this, a member of the UN secretariat sitting on the dais, read out a prepared statement, that it is the “collective understanding of the contact group on Means of implementation” that the paragraph regarding corporate responsibility and accountability refers to “existing” intergovernmental agreements and international initiatives, and that this understanding should be reflected in the final report of the Conference.

The reading of this statement was, according to several delegates, was an untransparent action as there was no explanation at the session as to how the statement had come about, whether the contact group had met in full membership, and who had taken the decision to enable it to be termed a “collective understanding.”

It was also unusual that a UN official instead of a government representative, such as the chairman of the contact group, read out the statement and without an introductory explanation.

According to a document issued by NGOs, the statement was the result of an attempt by the United States delegation to neutralise the text on corporate accountability that had already been agreed to last week by the contact group on globalization and the means of implementation.

The contact group had been faced with three proposed versions (from the EU, G77 and the US) of the paragraph on corporate accountability. Part of the EU proposed text read: “Actively promote corporate responsibility and accountability.... including through full and effective implementation of existing inter-governmental agreements and measures....”

On Saturday (31 August) evening, Ambassador John Ashe, the contact group chairman, produced a new text, in which the word “existing” had been removed and the words “full development” added.

The text, which was the one that was eventually adopted by the Main Committee today as para 45.ter of the draft Plan of Implementation, reads: “Actively promote corporate responsibility and accountability, based on the Rio Principles, including through the full development and effective implementation of inter-governmental agreements and measures, international initiatives and public-private partnerships, and appropriate national regulations, and support continuous improvement in corporate practices in all countries.”

After the intervention by the UN official reading out the “collective understanding of the contact group”, the Ethiopian delegate, Dr. Tewolde Berhan Egziabher took the floor and asked for clarification on who in the contact group had made the decision to issue the statement, as his delegation for one had not been informed of such a consensus reached.

Tewolde also said the statement about “existing” agreements was not logical when read in conjunction with the paragraph. He said that in the text, “full development” obviously refers to new agreements. “How then do we develop agreements in the future if the statement refers only to existing agreements and thus prevents us from what is to be done in the future? The whole thrust of the paragraph is what is to be done in the future. But what is read out in the statement implies there is no future agreement.”

Tewolde asked where then was the logic of the statement and asked for clarification.

The contact group chairman John Ashe explained that although not all delegations were not present at the contact group meeting that decided on the statement, representatives of delegations were present and thus it was assumed that it was the intention of the group.

Tewolde then reiterated that the term “full development” seems to refer to new agreements, and therefore the statement that only existing agreements were meant must be wrong. “Let us assume our representatives made a mistake. Do we as countries repeat that mistake? My proposal is that the contact group’s statement is incompatible with our decision here (i.e the text in the draft Implementation Plan), and one or the other has to be discarded, and I propose that the statement has to be discarded.”

After a brief exchange for clarification between the Main Committee Chairman, Emil Salim and Tewolde, the chairman ruled that para 45ter of the text is agreed to and would be kept and that the statement of the contact group would be discarded.

The Norway Minister for International Development, Ms Hilde Johnson, then stated that she also had concerns on the contact group statement. She said that according to UN procedure, informal contact groups do not formally exist, and thus should not be referred to in an official UN document. “We question that statement on behalf of the contact group and we have the same understanding of the situation as Ethiopia,” she said.

Discussions at the meeting then focussed on the draft Political Declaration, which had been circulated only on 1 September evening. Asked about its status by Malta, the South African Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma, said that there had been as many proposals for changes as there were people now in the room.

When some delegations pressed as to when the draft could be discussed, Minister Zuma said a second draft would be available later in the morning, but neither she nor the WSSD secretary general Mr. Nitin Desai could give an answer as to when this draft would be discussed, or whether it would be in the Main Committee or straightaway in the official plenary of the heads of state and Ministers.

There were many grumbles in the corridor as the delegates left the conference hall at 1.30 a.m. “This whole process of the Declaration is very untransparent,” said a senior African diplomat. Usually, he added, a Summit political declaration is negotiated for months before hand at preparatory committee (Prepcom) meetings; and negotiations, often intense, are carried on throughout the Summit. “In this case, the document’s first draft is given to us only a few days before the end of the Summit ends. Are we meant to ‘take it or leave it’, like the way things are done at the WTO Ministerial conferences? But this is the United Nations. We are not supposed to do things like that.”

It remains to be seen whether the “WTO way of doing things” is attempted for passing the Political Declaration, or whether adequate debate and participation is enabled, and whether it can be done in time in the dying hours of the Summit.  (SUNS5186)

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