“Trumpet blowing by ‘the converted’ at forum may have hijacked Compact4Rio”

18 June 2012

An update from our Executive Director, Anselm Iwundu, currently attending Rio+20.

“Here at the UN Global Compact’s Corporate Sustainability Forum, currently being held in Rio, several CEOs and heads of sustainability of companies have gathered to discuss a range of issues that relate to sustainable development at Rio+20.  Alongside quite a few civil society participants, I joined the Forum with measured expectations. However, I must admit that currently there’s a lot of personal trumpet blowing going on, to the distaste of quite a good number of the civil society participants. To my mind, the Forum lacks much more “whistleblowing”.

Forums like this present huge opportunities to go beyond the usual trumpet blowing, as we have seen in many similar conferences, but Rio+20 is not just any conference. Here is the opportunity for corporates and governments alike to really grasp the potential of a truly sustainable planet and stop paying lip service to it.  I expected a bit of spicing up, with discussions connected to: what challenges companies are facing with respect to integrating sustainability in their business?; what issues/sectors are still not being picked up by business?; what is not working or going wrong in their various sectors?; and, so on. A few days in, the agenda is still skirting around these real issues.

And, then a quick glance at the food and beverage companies; what is rather noticeable for me is that their participation is quite poor, a few of the usual suspects are of course well represented: Unilever, Mars, Kraft Foods and Nestle. I refer to them here as “the converted”.  The converted are holding up quite well, showcasing their collaborative work with WWF, Greenpeace, Oxfam, UN agencies, etc.  If you listen to the converted, you get a sense that everything is fine with the industry as a whole and that they have things under control; but is this entirely true? Certainly not!

It is true that the Forum is well organised with respect to logistics, etc.; however, what I witnessed in the first two days is that the Global Compact may have dropped the ball in terms of steering the conversations in the various sessions towards generating more meaningful discussions that will give companies food for thought on the issue of advancing corporate sustainability within their respective spheres.  At this rate, I doubt if there will be many new lessons learnt. Certainly, there will be some form of commitments; but, then again, still coming from “the converted”.

With the Forum drawing to a close, if the current trend continues, it will have advanced the belief that when it comes to corporate sustainability, it is still “business as usual”. Never mind that business leaders have been charged to deliver a message at Rio that “business as usual no longer works”.”

– Anselm Iwundu, Executive Director, Fairfood International

 Follow and read all of our Rio+20 updates at www.fairfood.org/RioPlus20 

Image: Youth Policy (CC License)