I’ve been attending the Global Coordinating Mechanism (GCM) on Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) that has been taking place at WHO HQ in Geneva. Its all been very disturbing especially since this is taking place before WHO’s policy on its engagement with the private sector is settled.
Throughout the two days, despite appeals from WHO’s Director General, Dr Chan to be wary of corporate lobby and interference – the carefully selected speakers, including business front groups and corporate-funded NGOs have promoted ever closer business involvement in tackling NCDs. The calls by independent NGOs for caution and clear safeguards on Conflict of Interest and for GCM to clarify its governance – were continually overlooked and presented in the summary as “approval’ of the GCM!
The 90 representatives from Member States present at the meeting were fed case studies that uncritically promoted Public Private Partnerships, Corporate Social Responsibility, Philanthropy and ‘Platforms’ at country level. Apparently in this ‘new world’ there caution and vigilance is far less important that ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘trust.’
Having attended the EU Commission’s Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health for eight years, I can testify how ineffective and problematic these Platforms are – even when experienced NGOs are present. To promote this idea as a safe and effective model for developing countries is simply irresponsible in my view – and if taken up will give corporations unprecedented access to national policy setting – something WHO has repeatedly stated is not wise.
Without a strong independent NGO sector that monitors what’s actually happening – how will policy makers be able to challenge or check whether the corporate claims and promises are true? By their very nature ‘Platforms’ encourage NGOs to ‘collaborate with’ and form partnerships with businesses – and as a consequence NGOs soon lose their independence and are less inclined to speak out – the very thing Dr Chan appealed for!
The existence of the GCM illustrates the urgent need for WHO to adopt a strong framework for interactions that will safeguard its integrity, independence, credibility and reputation so that it can carry out its mandate to protect health for all.
Next week Member States will have another attempt to resolve their differences on the Framework of Engagement with Non State Actors (FENSA) – a confused and contradictory document that is riddled with fundamental problems. Para 49 for example continues to say “Official relations is a privilege that the Executive Board may grant to international business associations….[whose] aims and activities …shall be in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of WHO’s constitution”. This precondition obscures the fundamental nature of corporations, which have a fiduciary mandate to work for profit-maximization. How on earth can their ‘aims’ be in conformity with those of WHO?
Up until now, the FENSA discussions have mixed up conflicts of interest with conflicting interests – with the underlying message that that more “engagement” with non-State actors will be beneficial as long as the ‘engagement rules’ are accepted. IBFAN is calling for a complete reopening of the document to fix its many fundamental problems.
Again and again I was reminded of the World Economic Forum’s Global Redesign Initiative, that proposes that some issues are taken off the agenda of the UN system and are addressed instead by ‘plurilateral, often multi-stakeholder, coalitions of the willing and the able.’ WEF envisages a world managed by a coalition of multinational corporations, nation states (including through the UN System) and select civil society organisations.
That’s more or less what was happening at the GCM – and it was happening right there in the Executive Board room of WHO!
CLICK here for a great intervention by Mariska Meurs, Policy Researcher Global Health at Wemos