The lack of progress on the urgent and life-threatening global issues debated at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio can largely be attributed to the full-force and strategic participation of transnational corporations there. Corporate lobby groups used the Earth Summit as a platform from which to redefine their role, from that of polluters to that of partners in sustainable development.
Corporations emerged from Rio with no binding rules or regulations to hinder their environmentally and social damaging activities. The only reference to transnational corporations in Agenda 21, one of the main outcomes from the Summit, was an acknowledgement of the role of industry in sustainable development. This was accomplished largely thanks to strategic lobbying by the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD), a group of 48 business leaders from major corporations around the world.
In the decade between the Rio and the Johannesburg Earth Summits, corporations and their lobby groups have perfected their greenwash skills and continue to avoid binding regulation by governments. They have also eased their way into various “partnerships” with nearly every UN agency, including Secretary General Kofi Annan’s personal project, a high-profile corporate partnership called the Global Compact.