September 3, 2002 – The US Government is attempting to undermine one of the most significant outcomes of the Johannesburg Earth Summit Friends of the Earth reveals today. It plans to reverse the commitment on business accountability by writing an opt-out in an obscure footnote called the ‘Letter of Interpretation”. The move was condemned by Friends of the Earth as ‘forked tongue diplomacy’.

The US agreed, in negotiations with the rest of the world, to develop and implement intergovernmental agreements on corporate responsibility and accountability [1]. But it is now trying to weaken the commitment by ensuring a “Letter of Interpretation” which accompanies the whole agreement includes a statement that says the section relates only to ‘existing’ agreements. In other words spiking any attempts to develop new, binding rules to hold big business to account for bad practices.

The US move is being seen by other delegations as an attempt to neutralise a key agreement of the Summit.

Matt Phillips of Friends of the Earth said:

“Colin Powell had his fingers crossed when he agreed to hold American big businesses to account. There are bad business practices around the world and people suffer as a result. Governments supposedly took a step towards binding corporate accountability, but it looks as though the US was engaging in forked tongue diplomacy. The rest of the world cannot let Colin Powell get away with it – a footnote should not be able to undermine the whole deal.”

[1] The full agreed text reads: “Actively promote corporate responsibility and accountability, based on Rio Principles, including through the full development and effective implementation of intergovernmental agreements and measures, international initiatives and public-private partnerships, appropriate national regulations, and continuous improvement in corporate practices in all countries.”

Matt Phillips +44 (0)20 7566 1660 (dir), +44 (0)7817 314 706 (mob)
Craig Bennett +27 (0)72 406 4748