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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Corporate Accountability

Air Date: Week of September 6, 2002

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Though most environmental advocates call the summit in Johannesburg a failure, groups did manage to get language in the final document that could lead to a future international treaty on corporate accountability. Host Steve Curwood talks with Greenpeace representative from Brazil, Marcello Furtado, about this development.

Transcript

CURWOOD: We’re here at the Ubuntu Village which I’m told is the world’s largest tent. It’s been something of a crossroads during this summit, where delegates and activists from civil society have been strolling among the various displays. Many governments have elaborate presentations here. Germany, Malaysia, Japan, Sweden, Brazil. So do many corporations, Chevron, British Petroleum, and others.

Marcello Furtado joins us now. He heads up the Greenpeace Campaign for Corporate Accountability. Hello, sir.

FURTADO: Hi, how are you?

CURWOOD: I would like us to look forward from the Johannesburg Summit, if we could, to what comes next. There’s a lot of talk, and frankly, a lot of commitments from corporations at this summit to help promote environmental protection. But your group lobbied for and got in the text of the agreement coming out of this, some language about corporate accountability. Can you tell me about that?

FURTADO: Sure. We actually work with a lot of other NGO’s and other groups from civil society, human rights groups, community groups. And what we got here was a great precedent for this international treaty because it moves corporations from the voluntary initiatives into something that will be eventually legally binding. In fact, the language basically says, "to actively promote corporate responsibility and accountability based on the real principles, which means human rights, precautionary principle, and including through the full development an effective implementation of intergovernmental agreements and measures. That’s very important, because that’s our ticket for an international treaty.

CURWOOD: Why is an international treaty necessary if corporations have made very public pledges here and elsewhere on a whole wide range of issues, and environmental groups like yours, I imagine, are closely monitoring them. Why have a formal treaty?

FURTADO: Well, first of all, because it’s not our job to monitor a corporation. It’s the government’s job to do that. The reason why we’ve been going around and taking samples of what’s going on is simply to make the case that voluntary agreements are not enough. Corporations that have standards, that have made their pledge for the environment and for people, are using double standards and contaminating communities and water in our environment. And worse than that, they talk a lot, but they do very little. So we want to move them beyond the voluntary, to regulations, where then they have to be accountable.

CURWOOD: What would you like to see in a convention on corporate accountability?

FURTADO: Well, I think we have a wide range of views and elements we can put in. But, for example, we would have right to know. We would have human rights. We would have the possibility of seeking compensation, to seek liability, all at the international level. Because we have now corporations operating in every country they want in the planet at the international level. But people, when they suffer a consequence, when they are contaminated, they don’t have an international forum to go for compensation.

CURWOOD: How would such a treaty be enforced? Would there be some sort of a world court or corporate court or something like that?

FURTADO: Well, we still have to discuss that. I think we have a lot of institutions in place that could handle this. But if not, we should create one. The bottom line is that I’m sure that for our sake and for the corporations, and for governments, they would all want a very transparent process that works.

CURWOOD: We’ve heard a lot of expressions of frustration, and a number of environmental groups walked out at various times in these proceedings. But how would you rate the actual outcome of this summit?

FURTADO: Well, we think the summit was a failure, but we have little crumbs of hope. And I think the best one that we have is the corporate accountability decision.

CURWOOD: Thanks for joining us.

FURTADO: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Marcello Furtado of Greenpeace.

 

 

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