Multi-national companies are hijacking the agenda for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) taking place in Johannesburg later this month, while measures which would benefit the poor are being watered down - according to research by Christian Aid. The WSSD, also being called the Earth Summit + 10, is supposed to be concerned with finding sustainable solutions to social and environmental problems. But binding regulations on companies, covering issues such as human rights and the environment, have been dropped from the agenda in favour of voluntary agreements. The Draft Plan of Implementation - the text which is being negotiated at the summit - uses terms no stronger than 'promote corporate responsibility and accountability and the exchange of best practices in the context of sustainable development'. Back in January, this read 'launch negotiations for a multi-national agreement on global corporate accountability'. The lobbying has been carried out by, among others, an organisation called Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD). It is very open about its aim to get its members concerns on the agenda. Even back in October, its chair, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, boasted: "In the past couple of months, we have been active in interactions with the UN system and others to put across business ideas for the structure of the summit and in the regional preparation meeting from which the agenda and arrangements will eventually emerge." A Christian Aid spokesman said: "We recognise there is a legitimate role for business in such deliberations. Non-governmental organisations are free to lobby the summit's preparatory process too. But not only does the corporate sector have incredible clout, it also has more money to fund lobbying, and therefore greater access and influence than civil society groups. Danny Graymore, policy officer for trade at Christian Aid, said: "All we're asking for really is what several transnational companies, such as Shell and BP, say they are already doing. We just think for it to be effective, it needs to be compulsory. "The problem with keeping it voluntary is that plenty of companies who sign up to ethical codes continue to break them. Then of course you have the companies who have made no effort to commit to higher standards. "Christian Aid is calling for international legally binding regulation of transnational corporations to set minimum human rights and environmental standards. Ten years after the Rio Earth Summit, Johannesburg offers the chance to place corporate accountability at the centre of sustainable development. Corporate influence could jeopardise this." Christian Aid's report: A World Summit for business development? the need for corporate accountability in the WSSD agenda will be published online on 19 August.
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