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Business Leaders Discuss Summit Goals

While protestors march past the Earth Summit’s convention centre in Johannesburg, business leaders of the some of the world’s biggest corporations get together with political leaders for talks.


Protestors say big business is wielding too much influence at the summit

Earlier this week, at the World Summit in Johannesburg, the international environmental group Friends of the Earth’s Greenwash Academy awarded the companies Unocal, Total and Premier Oil the Best Foreign Direct Investment prize for pipeline projects in Burma, UNICEF the Special Mcpartnership Award for its partnership with McDonalds and the US the title Best Supporting Government for representing corporate interests in environmental treaty negotiations.

“These polluting companies are posing as friends of the environment and leaders in the struggle to eradicate poverty,” said Kenny Bruno of the group CorpWatch on the eve of the awards. “But often they spend more advertising their green projects than on the projects themselves. That’s Greenwash!”

Friends of the Earth is one of several organisations in Johannesburg protesting against the participation of some of the world’s largest corportations at the Earth Summit. The group accuses big businesses of often adding to poverty and environmental damage in developing countries.

“Oil companies are presenting themselves as solar companies, and companies that promote giant agribusiness and oppose consumer information are claiming to be the solution to world hunger,” said Craig Bennett of Friends of the Earth. “We are delighted to recognize these companies for what they are: hypocrites.”

Big meeting for big business

But corporations say they want to help find solutions to the world’s problems.

On Sunday, heads of multi-national companies are due to meet political leaders including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and South African President Thabo Mbeki, at the World Sumit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. They are to discuss how businesses can help reach the goals set in Rio ten years ago, including the reduction of poverty and the wise usage of the earth’s resources.

But both environmental groups and delegates say these big companies are only already showing too much influence at the summit, and accuse them of wanting to have their say in the final communique´. In addition, critics claim the organisers have let the corporations set the agenda in return for sponsorship money.

"Business is at the heart of the solution"

One of the key speakers at Sunday’s meeting is due to be Phil Watts, chairmann of Shell.

“I do hope that the political declaration that is made will include as part of it that business has a role to play, business is at the heart of the solution.”

“Business is not something on the side, divorced from society. Business is part of society and business can make a big difference”, Watts told the BBC.

Business and sustainable development

As ministers from all over the world arrive for the decisive last days of the summit, governments have underlined the role of business in the search for sustainable development.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for the summit to set clear goals on issues such as eductaion, poverty reduction and providing clean water. But he said progress could only happen if there was a partnership between the developed and the developing worlds.

On his way to the summit, Germany’s chancellor Gerhard Schröder said he expected “respectable solutions” on the issues dicussed at the summit, and that Germany was particularly interested in development in the field of energy policies.

Time to take action

Meanwhile, some 20, 000 protestors marched past the site of the summit, to draw attention to what they call a global divide between the rich and the poor.

“It is easy for all of us to agree on nice words”, President Thabo Mbeki said at a separate pro-government rally. “Now has come the time for action”.

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