April 4, 2002 – At the launch of the Global Reporting Initiative – timed to coincide with the New York preparatory meeting for this year’s Johannesburg Earth Summit – Friends of the Earth International said “big business must be forced to deliver on social and environmental issues – not just report”.

The world’s largest grassroots environmental network has called on governments to hold big business to account for its poor social and environmental performance. FoEI is calling on governments at the Earth Summit to start negotiating global rules to control corporations. The rules should secure rights for citizens and communities, and enable them to hold big business to account.

But the US government has responded by seeking to excise all mentions of binding corporate accountability from the draft Earth Summit texts, and the EU is only prepared to support voluntary efforts, made at the whim of business leaders. The EU is specifically pushing for the Global Reporting Initiative to be ‘promoted’ through the Earth Summit.

FoEI and other leading groups, as well as some governments, particularly in the G77, are unconvinced that voluntary initiatives are sufficient to turn the tide of corporate social and environmental conflicts. Enron, Shell in Nigeria, Bhopal, Exxon Valdez have all become bywords for corporate irresponsibility.

Matt Phillips of Friends of the Earth International said: “Big business must be made to deliver on social and environmental issues – not just report. But there is a real danger that governments will cite the Global Reporting Initiative as an excuse not to tackle the growing power of corporations and their impact on the world. That would represent a huge failure by governments to adequately respond to global concerns about corporate-led globalization.”

Daniel Mittler, of Friends of the Earth International said: “When it is shareholders and financial institutions that are hurt by corporate misbehaviour – as in the case of Enron – governments rush to intervene, demanding prosecutions and tougher laws. But when it is ordinary people or the environment that suffer, governments go for the ‘voluntary approach’, allowing corporations to continue with business as usual.

Social and environmental reporting must be made mandatory as the first step that governments can take towards binding corporate accountability. Governments at Johannesburg must ensure corporate duties that match the many rights they currently hold.”

Daniel Mittler (FoEI WSSD coordinator) +49 173 923 4747 (in New York)
Matt Phillips (FoEI Corporates coordinator) +44 20 7566 1660 (in London)
Craig Bennett (FoEI corporates campaigneri) +1 347 682 0967 (in New York)