When the SUN casts a shadow

New research study sheds light on the human rights risks of the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN)

In the past two decades ‘multi-stakeholder’ partnerships  have flourished and the private sector, in particular transnational corporations and philanthropies such as the Gates Foundation, are now considered ‘key stakeholders’ in public affairs. How does this emerging inclination towards ‘multi-stakeholder’ models influence public policy spaces and the framing of public agendas? What are the implications for UN agencies and governments seeking to regulate in the public interest, and for people’s ability to claim their legitimate rights?

A new research study “When the SUN casts a shadow” by FIAN International, IBFAN and the Society for International Development (SID) examines the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) – a multi-stakeholder initiative founded in 2010, whose stated mission is “to end malnutrition in all its forms”.

Using the right to adequate food and nutrition (RtAFN) legal framework, the study analyzes SUN’s functioning at global level, as well as its influence and impacts at country level. The findings, based on primary data collected in Uganda, Guatemala and India and secondary sources suggest that rather than making meaningful changes to the lives of those most affected by hunger and malnutrition, SUN may actually worsen their situation of vulnerability and marginalization while creating additional human rights risks.

A key finding in the study was that SUN’s ‘top down’ approach and its promotion of enhanced private sector influence over public affairs is undermining the efforts of those calling for effective conflict of interest regulations. The SUN Business Network (SBN) presents biofortification and market-led, product-based approaches as ‘smart’ investments. For the SBN global members, corporations whose ultra-processed snacks and products are under attack, SUN’s benign humanitarian image is a useful diversionary tactic that allows them to be seen as a trusted ‘partner’ while they change national and global trade policies in their favour – deliberate strategies that directly conflict with SUN’s stated aim to end malnutrition in all its forms.

Prof Philip James, the founder of the Obesity Task Force: “The top strategic priority of many transnational marketing and media businesses (who have contributed to the NCD epidemic) is to change traditional food patterns and cultures in lower and middle-income countries.”  

IBFAN’s Lida Lhotska: “Ten years after the launch of SUN and following the completion of this study, my concerns regarding SUN and similar types of public-private hybrid bodies remain the same. I wish this ‘stakeholdarisation’ experiment were soon seen for what it is – a hazardous experiment with negative impact on governance and corporate accountability and thus on ensuring protection of human rights.”

Stefano Prato, Managing Director of SID, says: “We know that many governments and civil society organisations have joined SUN in good faith for the right reasons: to end the scourge of malnutrition. None of us are challenging this purpose. We just hope this study will highlight the risks inherent in SUN’s structure and approach that so often go unnoticed.”

Dr Arun Gupta of the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India and the Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest(NAPi):  “We know that SUN and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) have been trying to persuade the Indian Government to join SUN for some time and we fear that far from helping, this would deepen the problems of malnutrition by displacing real food habits and distracting policy attention and resources away from sustainable solutions that prevent malnutrition.  When 4 Indian States joined SUN, our investigation using the Right to Information (RTI) revealed some worrying and deceptive tactics. Rather than using the proper democratic processes, two of these States (Jharkhand and Maharashtra in 2017/18) joined with a simple letter from a government official. The RTI revealed no files in the government records, no memorandum of understanding, no funds provided and no evidence of collaborative activity on nutrition policy and programmes.”

Among other things the study found that SUN:

  • promotes nutrition approaches that favor short-term medicalized and technical solutions;
  • promotes intensive agriculture and technologies such as biofortification that benefit food and agro-industry;
  • neglects the commerciogenic causes of malnutrition (under and over nutrition) and its focus on market-led approaches to food fortification that can undermine confidence in breastfeeding and sustainable, culturally appropriate local foods;
  • has limited impact on reducing malnutrition through its interventions, while carrying negative implications for human rights;
  • enhanced private sector access to and influence on nutrition policy setting in line with the World Economic Forum’s model outlined in its Global Redesign Initiative;
  • attempts to generate the illusion of a broad and inclusive people’s ‘movement’ but is in fact a public-private hybrid which legitimizes more corporate influence in public affairs;
  • fails to meaningfully address the concerns of communities most affected by hunger and malnutrition and undermines the efforts of those calling for effective conflict of interest regulations.

Read “When the SUN casts a shadow”.  You can also read the brief of the study.

For more information, please contact:

Laura Michéle, FIAN International: michele@fian.org
Stefano Prato, SID: stefanop@sidint.org
Patti Rundall, IBFAN: prundall@babymilkaction.org 07786 523493
For media enquiries, please contact delrey@fian.org


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