MAC/20: Mines and Communities

G8 Summit: 'Greenwashing' Does Not Make the World Cleaner

Published by MAC on 2005-07-03

G8 Summit: 'Greenwashing' Does Not Make the World Cleaner

Sanjay Suri, IPS

3 July 2005

London - The "greenwashing" that corporations are now doing as their bit to clean up the environment cannot hide the damage they are causing, Meena Raman, chair of Friends of the Earth International, said Saturday.

In fact, any attempt to contain climate change must tackle the big corporations first, she said. Host Britain has made climate change one of two priorities, along with the development of Africa, at the summit of heads of government of the eight leading industrialised nations (the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia) to be held in Gleneagles, Scotland, July 6-8.

"The oil companies are the ones contributing primarily to global carbon dioxide emissions," Raman told IPS in an interview. "Fossil fuel burning comes primarily from the big oil corporations. And we feel that climate justice dictates that governments take action to reduce global emissions."

These emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide and methane, are believed to cause global warming, leading to disruptive climate change.

Governments have done little to contain corporations, Raman argued. "In our corporate accountability campaign, the point we are making is that global corporations are getting away with causing damaging environmental and social impacts around the world." But "there are no international liability regimes which are in place, or binding rules for corporations which oblige corporations to be more responsible for their actions."

The power of corporations -- given to them by governments -- means also that "corporations are influencing the world trade agenda and pushing national governments to have more and more rights for corporations instead of having governments placing obligations and responsibilities on them," Raman said.

"So what we are saying is that governments must put in place national legislation which is binding, and make corporations accountable, and at the same time this will not happen if there are no international regulations in place because corporations move from one country to another, and until they are reigned in by international binding rules, big business will continue to disrespect people and the environment, and cause environmental and social destruction around the world," she added.

It is important to be cautious in accepting claims about the contributions that many corporations say they are now making to the environment, according to the environmentalist. "They speak of what they have done by way of corporate social responsibility, which is voluntary and non-binding," Raman said. "But we find these claims are ''greenwashing'', and much more of a public relations exercise."

In the Philippines, she said, the big mining companies "have gone in through investment agreements which give them tremendous power to go into areas where indigenous people live and create havoc, and at the same time we see in many parts of Africa that local communities have been affected by mining activities."

A problem is that many developing country governments are struggling to attract foreign investments, Raman said. "When this whole notion of needing to be competitive and needing to attract foreign investment comes in, governments of the South are quite weak to put in place strong national legislation," she added. "So what is happening is a race to the bottom."

Raman said the summit is unlikely to do anything to remedy such problems. "To be honest we don't have much hope with the G8," she said. "The G8 is about powerful governments who are backed by industry. If you take George Bush, he represents the interests of the oil industry, especially if you look at the way he is disregarding climate change, and continues to deny the scientific evidence staring at the face of all of us."

"On climate up to now (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair has been giving the right signals, but what remains to be seen is whether the United States will influence him or he will influence the United States," she added. "He remains to be tested. We have to see that when the crunch comes, is he able to criticise the United States and distance himself from the United States."

Nor are the world's most powerful leaders likely to produce agreements to make poverty history, despite claims by Blair and Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Gordon Brown to work towards that, Raman said.

"If you look at the way in which trade negotiations are going on in the WTO (World Trade Organisation) right now, they are pushing quite the contrary agenda," Raman said. "For example the EU (European Union) is very adamant in wanting to bring down the industrial tariffs of developing countries, because this will be beneficial to their corporations, and they can export more."

Friends of the Earth and other groups have gathered for the summit "not because we believe that the G8 is going to make any dramatic change, but rather to show that as people who are concerned, and as people who are working at the local and national and international level, that we have to hold our governments accountable and we have to ensure that people's voices are louder than the voices of the corporations," Raman said.

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