"It is dangerous to assume that the goals of the private sector are somehow synonymous with those of the United Nations, because most emphatically they are not. Business and industry are driven by the profit motive...The work of the United Nations, on the other hand, is driven by a set of ethical principles." - Carol Bellamy, Executive Director UNICEF.

Oil companies, chemical corporations and mining multinationals will be heading to Johannesburg, South Africa in the next few months – because they want to help save the planet with a new brand of greenwash.

The biggest United Nations Conference for a decade will take place from August 26th to September 4th when over 60,000 delegates are expected to attend the World Summit on Sustainable Development - or Rio + 10 because it is 10 years since the first UN Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil. Ten years on and the planet is in more of a mess than ever.

Issues on the agenda include poverty eradication, unsustainable patterns of consumption, sustainable management of resources and how to make globalisation work for everyone, but it's the profit-hungry corporations who are muscling-in to make sure that instead of agreeing real solutions it will be 'carry on profiteering' for big business.

Major lobby groups like the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and their latest offspring, Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD) will be flying the corporate flag. BASD's main task is to make sure that business interests are secured at the summit, so they've been busy finding examples of good business practice to use as proof of good 'corporate citizenship'. Just because there are some examples of companies doing some good, for the sake of PR doesn't mean they promote these values all the time. Still, who cares about all that - these good examples are being aggressively

marketed to show these companies as 'good guys' and used to demand that there is no need for any legally binding agreements at the summit, because the environment is safe in their hands. It's all about partnerships, but as Erik Wesselius from Corporate Europe Observatory comments "The most vocal supporters of the partnership approach are generally corporations from some of the most environmental and socially dodgy industries - namely oil, gas, chemicals and mining." For them the so-called partnership approach is an ideal marketing opportunity for what

is known in the business as greenwashing.

Green-wash is the term used for corporations who spend millions on adverts telling the world how green they are, while behind the scenes they do everything they can to oppose or avoid any social or environmental law that might harm their profits.

Former Shell boss Sir Mark Moody Stuart is now head of BASD and knows a thing or two about greenwashing. After being taken to the cleaners over the proposal to dump the Brent Spar oil rig in the sea and its oil exploration of Ogoni land in Nigeria, Shell have been busy re-branding themselves as a responsible company. Their 'People, Planet, and Profits' report has been heralded as 'ground-breaking', with this new type of 'environmental and social reporting' all part of the greenwash process. As one of the business lobby groups admits, the reports give "increased credibility" while not requiring companies to fundamentally change anything.

Green Wash and Go

So in the lead up to Johannesburg we get BASD pushing partnerships like the Energy and BiodiversityInitiative, the Global Mining Initiative, and the Responsible Care program. But as Corporate Europe Observatory point out "These projects are largely an attempt to improve the corporate members' tarnished images. They are also a reaction to pressure by campaign and community groups or as a move to pre-empt binding regulation." For example, the Responsible Care program, long criticised as greenwash by campaign groups and academics, was established by the chemical industry after the Bhopal disaster where a Union Carbide plant leaked poisonous gas killing 4,000 people instantly and injuring tens of thousands more. The move effectively killed off efforts to toughen regulations.

We get sustainable mining reports funded by er... mining companies, among them notorious companies such as Rio Tinto and Freeport McMoran.

We get the European Union pushing the World Trade Organisation's so called 'Doha Development Agenda' agreed back in November last year, with claims that it will benefit the world's poorest countries and so contribute to ´sustainable development´. Forget the fact that

corporate globalisation has increased poverty and environmental degradation around the world.

We get the UN, working with some of the world's most notorious human rights and environment abusers.

We get warnings from BASD that anyone who dares calls for tougher regulations on corporations must be part of the lunatic fringe.

And we get thousands of delegates being wined and dined and put up in posh Sheraton hotels, next door to the black shanty towns of Alexandra and Soweto.

In fact we're sick of it. - As Corporate Europe Observatory tell us "The world's leaders need to start listening to the demands by civil society groups and ordinary people, that business can not be allowed to continue as usual. Unless a dramatic U-turn in policy and approach is made soon, Johannesburg risks becoming little more than a propaganda circus." Or as Jens from ASEED puts it "The World Summit promises to be a shambles but will no doubt be promoted as a success...the immense amount of money and time could have been spent on something a lot more useful."

Thanks to UK radical news service Schnews – see - for this article and information. For more of the above see

Recommended reading Codes in Context by Corner House available at

A SEED, an activist group with links to CEO, have called for a Global Day of Action on August 31st against big business muscling in on sustainable development. See  To find about more about their campaign against the privatisation of

the UN email  For more on the Earth Summit go to .   The South African government has warned groups not to protest and

spoil the Earth Summit, but demonstrations will happen whether they like it or not. Keep an eye on

The recently published Global Environment Outlook predicts the destruction of 70% of the natural world, mass extinction of species and the collapse of human society in many countries in the next 30 years unless radical action is taken. Written by over a thousand scientists and compiled for the UN, partly as a wake up call toworld leaders in the run up to the Johannesburg summit, the report also paints 'four environmental scenarios'. One includes the current pattern of free trade and short term profit at the expense of the environment, which they say will lead to disaster. Copies available from Earthscan