Christian Aid has launched a report showing the need to regulate multi-national companies. Internationally binding laws must be established to hold companies to human rights and environmental standards, it says. The report highlights how multi-national corporations have clubbed together to try to hijack the conference agenda for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which opens next week in Johannesburg. This powerful, and expensive, lobbying appears to have worked. Clauses in early drafts of the negotiating document of the WSSD referred to making businesses accountable to international ethical standards. But these initial proposals have since been watered down. Instead, private sector concerns, such as liberalisation and public-private partnerships, appear high up the Summit's agenda. Danny Graymore, trade policy officer for Christian Aid said: "We have repeatedly made the case for binding regulation, as part of our Trade for Life campaign. We see the WSSD as a key opportunity for the international community to advance towards this important goal. "But the WSSD has so far failed to address meaningfully the need for enforceable rules on corporate activity. What is left in the negotiating document calls for nothing stronger than voluntary self-regulation. "However, there is still everything to play for at Johannesburg: a quarter of the text has yet to be signed off, including some of the most significant areas for sustainable development. "Investment from companies will increasingly play an important role in long-term development. It can boost growth, help to transfer technology and skills, and create jobs. "A company's prime motivation is to make a profit, not to educate a nation or provide clean water for every village. Sometimes the activities of companies can undermine development efforts or harm the environment. "Regulations are clearly needed to maximise the contribution that investment can make to development, at the same time as minimising any harmful effects. "The corporate sector is becoming increasingly powerful, partly as a result of consolidation and expanded opportunities in developing countries. Checks and balances in the form of regulation are needed to ensure that companies do not abuse this massive power." Christian Aid is urging delegates at the WSSD to recognise that now, more than ever, sustainable development requires international legally-binding standards for companies.
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