Summit: Marchers Take to the Streets Saturday

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, August 30, 2002 (ENS) - Tens of thousands of people in Johannesburg and around the world are expected to join a Global Day of Action Saturday to protest the growing power of corporations and how multinational companies are using the World Summit on Sustainable Development for public relations purposes.

At least 13 approved marches take place on Saturday at the summit starting at 8 am. There are three marches protesting against the "situtation in Zimbabwe." The Basic Income Grand Human Chain, the Uganda Democratic Awareness Campaign, the Christian Democratic Party, the Ethiopian Community of South Africa, the Sustainable Network and Development Africa will all march on Saturday in and around Johannesburg.

The bigger marches start at 10 am. All are heading for the Sandton Convention Centre, site of the official summit meeting.


Marchers in Johannesburg (Photo courtesy
Between 10,000 and 50,000 protesters representing the National Land Committee and Landless Peoples' Movement are preparing to march from the township of Alexandra to the heavily restricted summit site itself, three miles away in Sandton.

Observers are concerned that the march could result in a confrontation with police despite organizers' assurances that no one with any violent intent will be allowed to take part. The march is permitted and scheduled by summit authorities.

Abie Ditlhake executive director of the South Africa National Nongovernmental Organization Coalition, which is sponsoring the march, said today that the march will include a presentation of the civil society organizations' central principles of concern to the chairman of the summit. The long awaited principles, known as the 21 points, will be presented to either President Thabo Mbeki or United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the conclusion of the march at Fifth and Alice Avenues in Sandton.


Bhopal Chemical disaster photo exhibition at the summit targets Union Carbide. (from left) Von Hernandez, Greenpeace; Rasheeda Bee, Bhopal survivor; and Marcelo Furtado, Greenpeace (Photo courtesy IISD/ENB-Leila Mead)
The 21 points are regarded as a common platform of concerns that drove the goals of civil society and other groups such as women, youth, labor, indigenous people and religious groups. They are a consolidation of diverse demands of all the civil society groups gathered at the Nasrec Exhibition Hall for the Global Forum, a parallel event to the official summit.

Globally, protesters are coming together to highlight what they see as the increasingly cozy relationship between the United Nations and multinational firms which, according to the activists, have become a growing source of partnerships, financing, and other support for the world body.

A recent endorsement by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) of McDonald's "World Children's Day," November 20, for example, has drawn scathing criticism from prominent public health professionals and activists who say the fast food giant is responsible for soaring rates of childhood obesity and cases of diabetes.

"What we're worried about is that many business are draping themselves in the blue of the United Nations in order to get themselves some brownie points to look good to governments, to look like they're doing the right thing around the world, when in fact their actual practices on the ground may be very different to those they profess on paper," Matt Phillips of Friends of the Earth told an interviewer from the British Broadcasting Corporation at the summit this week.

"The global people's march will be a political protest to send a clear and unambiguous message to our leaders that ordinary people can no longer tolerate the current environmentally destructive practices," said Dithake. "We can no longer tolerate the continued neglect of the needs of the poor by our political leaders."

Demonstrators are also expected to show up at related events in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Bogota, Accra, and Tokyo, among other major cities, according to Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment, and Diversity, one of the main sponsors of the global protest.

Corporations and their business associates have shown up at the Johannesburg summit in large numbers, with about 700 companies and some 50 industry chiefs attending the proceedings, according to Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD), an association of international chambers of commerce.

Civil society organizations like Greenpeace International have charged that the companies have received preferential access to both the conference site - where they have set up information booths touting their contributions to sustainable development - and to delegates who, as the meeting reaches its final stages next week, will include some 100 heads of state.


At the summit press conference announcing their joint climate message (from left) Charles Nicholoson, group senior advisor, BP; Achim Steiner, IUCN director-general; Remi Parmentier, political director, Greenpeace International. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace )
Despite its drumroll of corporate criticism, Greenpeace took the opportunity on Tuesday to join with the industry coalition World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in sending one message business and the environmental community are united in demanding governments adopt a global framework on climate change.

Environmentalists want it for the planet. Business wants a level playing field that avoids the confusion of differing national implementations. And both want governments to do something so much that oil giant BP and Greenpeace were able to share a platform to demand it.

"We are shelving our differences on other issues on this occasion and calling upon governments to be responsible and build the international framework to tackle climate change on the basis of the UN Framework Convention on Climate change and its Kyoto Protocol. We both agree this is the essential first step," said Bjorn Stigson, president of the WBCSD and Greenpeace political director Reni Parmentier in a joint statement.

The partnership did not stop Greenpeace from issuing a corporate crimes report at the summit that names British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, Exxon, Dow and Danish timber trader DHL for crimes against the environment.

Corporations are pressing their agenda at the summit. On Wednesday, Business Action for Sustainable Development launched a new program to promote more investment by multinationals in poor countries and to press governments in developed countries to lower tariffs and other barriers to exports from developing countries so that they can earn more through trade.

"Business is pushing very hard to bring the barriers down in northern countries," Lord Richard Holme, a former director of Rio Tinto, a multinational mining company, told the "Financial Times" newspaper. "We are absolutely committed to increase access for developing countries into the developed world."

In keeping with the partnerships theme of the summit, BASD is showcasing partnership initiatives between multinationals and local governments and community groups. A recent campaign involves France's Elf Petroleum company's promotion of modern farming practices with local community groups in the impoverished but oil rich Delta region of Nigeria. Another partnership between Unilever and WWF, the conservation organization, that certifies sustainable fishing practices.


WWF demonstrators at the summit (Photo courtesy IISD/ENB-Leila Mead)
But many groups charge that the companies' presence at the summit amounts only to "greenwash." The companies, they say, are opposed to mandatory international regulation of industries - such as mining, energy, and biotechnology - that environmental groups say are necessary to ensure compliance. Instead, the companies, to the extent they support any international monitoring at all, favor voluntary codes of conduct.

Friends of the Earth International and CorpWatch, together with the South African NGO groundWork, held a mock Greenwash Academy Awards ceremony as the civil society portion of the summit opened August 23. While exposing cases of damage to the environment and humans, the awards were publicized in a tongue-in-cheek, humorous manner. At the summit, the United Nations will launch its "Global Reporting Initiative" which will call on companies that subscribe to it to report periodically on the environmental sustainability of their operations. Participation in the initiative by companies will be entirely voluntary, however.

"Corporations are using the WSSD to portray themselves as part of the solution and not the problem," said a statement by ASEED issued Thursday. "The protesters believe that corporations are in fact incapable of being committed to social and environmental change."

{Published in cooperation with OneWorld Network. Jim Lobe contributed to this report.}