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Correspondence between International Human Rights, Environment and Development Organizations and the UNDP

CorpWatch, et al.
March 12th, 1999

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March 12, 1999
A Letter From International Human Rights, Environment and Development Organizations to James Gustave Speth, Administrator of the UNDP

March 17, 1999
UNDP Adminstrator James Gustave Speth's Response

April 14, 1999
The Reply to Mr. Speth from International Human Rights, Environment and Development Organizations

August 27, 1999
UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown's Response


March 12, 1999



James Gustave Speth
Administrator, United Nations Development Programme
The United Nations
New York, USA
Via Fax: 212-906-5700


Dear Mr. Speth,

We write as individuals who care deeply about the United Nations system and who have worked for years to strengthen and support it.

We want to express our deep concern about the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) initiative called the Global Sustainable Development Facility-2B2M: 2 Billion to the Market By the Year 2020. We believe this project could cause serious harm to the organization's independence and credibility. We are also concerned that the UNDP not fall victim to inappropriate corporate influence.

We are writing to you before the UNDP launches this unprecedented collaboration with a number of global corporations with the hope that you will reconsider and halt the project.

Our concerns are various. First, many of the transnational companies you are partnering with are well known for their negative impacts on development, human rights and the environment. For instance:

* Rio Tinto Plc is a British mining corporation which has created so many environment, human rights, and development problems that a global network of trade unions, indigenous peoples, church groups, communities and activists has emerged to fight its abuses. For instance, the company stands accused of complicity in or direct violations of environmental, labor and human rights in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Namibia, Madagascar, the United States and Australia, among others.

* Asea, Brown, Boveri is a Swiss-Swedish company that has faced sustained campaigns by environmentalists and human rights advocates against its involvement in various hydro projects, including the Three Gorges Project in China and the now indefinitely postponed Bakun dam in Malaysia.

*Dow Chemical (GSDF steering committee member) is one of the biggest polluters in the United States, the world's largest producer of chlorine-the root source of dioxin-and one of the largest pesticide companies on the planet.

*Citibank is the U.S. financial services corporation which played an important role in the Asian financial crisis that threw millions of workers out of work in 1997. Citicorp was also a major lender to developing countries in the 1960s and 1970s, leading up to the Third World debt crisis.

*Stat Oil, "Statoil, Norway's state-owned oil company, has been and is involved in environment, development and human rights conflicts at home, as well as in Venezuela, Russia, Malaysia, Nigeria, East Timor and the Caspian Sea.

Given the collective record of these and other corporations involved, it is not clear how much they see this proposed joint venture with the United Nations as having to do with the stated goal of "sustainable development." Rather, it may be more of an opportunity for these corporations to practice "greenwash"--a public relations exercise aimed at improving their troubled images.

Second, the UNDP claims that the lives of the world's poorest 2 billion people can or will be improved by drawing them into the world economy as it exists today-the stated objective of its collaboration with this group of global corporations through the GSDF. Yet the most pressing needs of the poor-- the provision of basic health, education, and food resources--are in arenas of little or no interest to most transnational corporations. Indeed, corporate activities-including those of your partners in this endeavor--frequently undermine the needs of the poor. So far we have seen no substantial indication that these corporations or most others are changing their priorities.

Furthermore, the GSDF "joint venture" raises the specter of UNDP programs and priorities increasingly being diverted to serve corporate shareholder interests rather than those of the poor. This is a sharp diversion from the original intentions of the United Nations and of the UNDP in particular. Yet those organizing the GSDF seem to see no conflict here, citing the "strong relationshipbetween sustainable human development and the growth of shareholder value." The fact that the UNDP appears to be embracing such a stance through the GSDF project is profoundly disturbing to us and, we feel, antithetical to the organization's mission. Indeed, we believe that in today's global economy the relationship between the enrichment of shareholders and the goals of poverty alleviation is more often antagonistic than constructive.

Third, we are of the opinion that the GSDF initiative represents a worst case example of the potential outcome of the "Global Compact" proposed recently by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in Davos, Switzerland. The Secretary General's challenge to business leaders represents an important step in pressing transnational corporations to adhere to universal values defined by the United Nations in the areas of human rights, labor rights and the environment. We agree with the Secretary General that the UN should be given the resources and authority to monitor the realization of these internationally agreed upon values as the search for effective mechanisms of enforcement continues.

However, what the Secretary General's hopeful vision fails to address, is a fundamental divide: that between the interests of global corporations and the multilateral trading system they have been instrumental in devising on the one hand, and the interests of the world's poor, the environment and democratic institutions on the other. The growing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of fundamentally undemocratic global corporations and other institutions of globalization clashes with the overriding purpose of the United Nations to enhance human dignity and the capacity for self-governance.

Transnational corporations and the globalization process they are leading frequently extract wealth from communities and countries, engendering severe social, economic, human rights and environmental costs. Meanwhile, the basic needs and desires of the world's poor-two thirds of whom are marginalized from the global economy-are often diametrically opposed to the corporate imperatives to maximize profits and accumulate wealth and power.

What's more, transnational corporations-including some of those involved in the GSDF initiative--often work at cross purposes to UN objectives such as international environmental and labor rights agreements.

Thus, while the Secretary General calls for giving "a human face to the global market," we are concerned that efforts such as the UNDP's GSDF project may only serve to mask the unfortunate nature of the core activities of many of these transnational companies.

We understand that given the difficult financial and political situation in which the United Nations finds itself--in large part because of the United States government's refusal to pay the $1.6 billion it owes--the UN may feel compelled to seek political and economic support from the corporate world. This would be similar to what many public institutions have faced as their government budgets have been reduced and they have turned to the corporations for support. Many of these institutions have lost some of their independence as a result. The UN now faces a similar dilemma.

It was the US government which successfully pressured for drastically downsizing the UN Centre on Transnational Corporations (UNCTC) in 1992. The UNCTC had been set up to monitor the social, economic and environmental impacts of corporate investment in developing countries.

We recognize that the UN needs to find a way to inject itself more forcefully into the debate about globalization. But to base that intervention on misguided initiatives such as the GSDF is a step in the wrong direction.

We respectfully submit that the UN should be working to subordinate the ravages of the so-called "free market" to the imperatives of human rights, environmentally sustainable and socially equitable development, the rights of women, indigenous people and of the poor. We believe that the UN should be monitoring the human rights and environmental impacts of corporations in developing and industrialized countries, while helping to build truly effective and enforceable mechanisms of international accountability.

We firmly believe that the United Nations can and should serve as a counterbalance to unrestrained globalization rather than building collaborative projects with corporations who are the architects of a system that is usurping the UN's authority, and who are the perpetrators of human rights and environmental problems which so hinder sustainable human development.

At a moment when the gap between rich and poor countries and people is growing, it would be a grave disservice to the goal of sustainable development for a key United Nations agency to have its independently determined priorities threatened by an exercise that is likely to bring benefits primarily to the public relations of several global corporations.

Therefore we call on UNDP to call off its GSDF project, and in doing so, to preserve the credibility of its mission to serve the world's poor. Similarly, we hope that the Secretary General will continue to openly explore ways in which the UN can position itself at the center of efforts help build a future where human rights, labor rights and the environment come first. In this way, the United Nations could move into the 21st Century with its integrity intact.

Sincerely,

Upendra Baxi, Professor of Law, University of Warrick, UK, former Vice Chancellor University of Delhi, India
Walden Bello, Director, Focus on the Global South, Thailand
Phyllis Bennis, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies, USA
John Cavanagh, Director, Institute for Policy Studies, USA
Susan George, Fellow, Transnational Institute, The Netherlands; President Observatoire de la Mondialisation, France
S M Mohamed Idris, President, Third World Network, Malaysia
Joshua Karliner, Director, Transnational Resource & Action Center, USA
Ward Morehouse, President, Council on International and Public Affairs, USA
Atila Roque, Programme Coordinator, IBASE--Brazilian Institute of Economic and Social Analysis, Brazil
Yash Tandon, Director, International South Group Network (ISGN), Zimbabwe


Endorsed by,

Adewale Adeoye, Chairman, Journalists for Democratic Rights, Lagos, Nigeria
Dr. Sara Ahmed, , Associate Professor, Institute of Rural Management, India
Robin Alexander , United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE), USA
Fabio E. Angell, Regioner, Citizens Network for Sustainble Development, USA
Reaz Ahmad, Founding Member, Asian Rice Media Advocacy Network (ARMAN), Thailand, and Forum for Information Dissemination on Agriculture (FIDA), Bangladesh
Jorma Anttila, Researcher, University of Helsinki, Finland
Francisco Arroyo G.D., Centro de Investigacion y Capacitacion Rural A.C., Mexico
Herb Barbolet, Executive Director, FarmFolk/CityFolk Society, Canada
David Barkin, Professor of Economics, Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Mexico
Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria
Manfred Bienefeld, School of Public Administration, Carleton University, Canada
Roberto Bissio, Instituto del Tercer Mundo, Uruguay
Irene Bloemink, Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Netherlands
Thilo Bode, Executive Director, Greenpeace International
Johan von Bonsdorff, Chairman of The Swallows of Finland (member of Emmaus International), Finland
Elizabeth Bravo, Red por una Latinoamerica Libre de Transgenicos, Ecuador
Karen Brock, Institute of Development Studies, UK
Denis Brown, University of Western Australia, Australia
Ricardo Buitron, Accion Ecologica, Ecuador
Beth Burrows, President/Director, The Edmonds Institute, USA
Fr. Brian D, Byrne, SVD- Divine Missionaries, Australia
Jeremy Cain, Institute of Hydrology, UK
Dr. Bonnie Campbell, Professor of Political Economy, Universite du Quebec a Montreal, Canada
Dr. Paul Connett, Professor of Chemistry, St. Lawrence University, USA
Ronnie Cummins, National Director, Campaign for Food Safety/Organic Consumers Association, USA
Dr. James M. Cypher, Chair, Economics Department, California State University, Fresno, USA
Kristin Dawkins, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, USA
Warren Day, Northern Arizona Peace abd Justice Center, USA
Dr.Gabriele Deitrich, National Convenor, National Alliance of People's Movements, India
Murray Dobbin, Director, Council of Canadians, Canada
Aurora Donoso, Instituto de Estudios Ecologistas del Tercer Mundo, Ecuador
Dr. Lynette Dumble, Coordinator, The Global Sisterhood Network, Australia
Kevin Dunion, Chair, Friends of the Earth International
David Fig, Coordinator, Biowatch, South Africa
Mathias Finger, Professor, Switzerland/USA
Godwin Frank, Peoples Democratic Liberation Party (PDLP) Rivers State Branch Coordinator, Nigeria
Jaye Gaskia, Environmental Rights Action, Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Luis Gonzalez Reyes, Ecologistas en Accion, Spain
Mary L. Goodwin, Sociedad Conservacionista AUDUBON de Venezuela, Venezuela
Chilos Godsent, Pan African Youth Movement
Chris Grimshaw & Greg Muttitt, Corporate Watch, UK
Miguel Grinberg, PROMUNDO, Argentina
Irene Guijt, Consultant to the International Institute for Environment and Development (London) and to IUCN (the World Conservation Union), The Netherlands
Nicholas Hildyard, The Corner House, UK
Olivier Hoedeman, Coordinator, Corporate Europe Observatory, The Netherlands
Masakazu Honda, Member of the Commission of The Tada Human Rights Fund, Japan
Rev. Douglas B. Hunt, Co-Chair, US NGO Caucus to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, USA
Ryan Hunter, Center for Environmental Public Advocacy, Slovakia
Shahid Husain, Senior Reporter, Karachi Financial Post and Executive Council member of Karachi Union of Journalists, Pakistan
Andrew Jackson, Senior Economist, Canadian Labour Congress, Canada
Nityanand Jayaraman, Independent Journalist and Greenpeace Campaigner, India
John Y. Jones, Director, Diakonhjemmet International Center, Norway
Tony Juniper, Policy and Campaigns Director, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Danielle F Kaye, Scientists for Global Responsibility, UK
James Keeley, Environment Group, IDS, University of Sussex, UK
Jef Keighley, National Representative, CAW Canada, Canada
Danny Kennedy, Director, Project Underground, USA
Stephen Kent, Kent Communications, USA
Jonathan King, Council for Responsible Genetics, USA
Ynestra King, Committee on Women, Population and Environment, USA
Manana Kochladze, FoE-Georgia / Georgia Greens Movement
Dan Koenig, University of Victoria, Department of Sociology (Professor) - Canada
David C. Korten, President, The People-Centered Development Forum, USA
Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh, India
Miloon Kothari, International NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and Investment, Geneva
Sheldon Krimsky, Professor, Tufts University, USA
Iza Kruszewska, Coordinator, ANPED- Northern Alliance for Sustainability, The Netherlands
Prof. Tim Lang, Centre for Food Policy, Thames Valley University, UK
Rev. John Leydon, Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation Coordinator, Columban Fathers, Philippine Region
John Loxley, University of Manitoba, Canada
Alesia Maltz, Core Faculty, Antioch New England Graduate School, USA
Jerry Mander, Director, International Forum on Globalization
Mark Marsh, University of Nebraska, USA
Esperanza Martinez, Oilwatch, Ecuador
Francisco Martinez Gomez, Universidad Autonoma Agraria Antonio Narro, Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico
Patrick McCully, Campaigns Coordinator, International Rivers Network, USA
Dr Zafar Mirza, The Network for Consumer Protection, Pakistan
Anuradha Mittal, Policy Director, Institute for Food and Development Policy, USA
M. Morgan, Chair, Nicaragua Boat Committee, USA
Lorenzo Muelas Hurtado, Movimiento Autoridades Indgenas de Colombia
Kinhide Mushakoji, Secretary General, International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); Former Vice-Rector, United Nations University, Japan
Ricardo Navarro, Centro Salvadoreo de Tecnologa Apropiada, El Salvador
New Internationalist Magazine editorial team (Vanessa Baird, Chris Brazier, Wayne Ellwood, David Ransom, Anouk Ride, Richard Swift, Nikki van der Gaag, Troth Wells), UK, Toronto, Canada and Australia
Dr. Peter Newell, Governance Research Fellow, The Institute of Development Studies, UK
Patterson Ogon, Director, Ijaw Council for Human Rights, Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Doifie Ola, Editor, Survival, Pan-Niger Delta Resistance Movement, Chikoko, Yenagoa, Niger Delta, Nigeria
Brigitte Parnigoni, Global 2000 - Friends of the Earth, Austria
Medha Patkar, National Alliance of People's Movements, Narmada Bacahao Andolan, India
James A. Paul, Executive Director, Global Policy Forum, USA
Pesticide Action Network, North America
The Philippine Network of Rural Development Institutes, Zamboanga Project Office, Philippines
Aravinda Pillalamarri, Association for India's Development, USA
Minar Pimple, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA), India
Xavier Pinto, National Domestic Workers Movement, India
Kika Pitsillidou, Friends of the Earth, Cyprus
PSI--Public Services International (Trade Union Federation)
Alfredo Quarto, Director, Mangrove Action Project, USA
Carlos Quesada, Director, CIEDES (Research Center for Sustainable Development), Costa Rica
Kelly Quirke, Executive Director, Rainforest Action Network, USA
Dr. V. Rukmini Rao, Chairperson, The Deccan Development Society, India
Mark Ritchie, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, USA
Gabriel Rivas-Ducca, Friends of the Earth, Costa Rica
Ana Mara Ruiz Daz, Coordinadora de la Red de Permacultura, Mxico
Morten Ronning, The Future in our Hands/NorWatch, Norway
Peter Rosset, Director, Institute for Food and Development Policy, USA
Theo Ruyter, MFI Coordinator, Both ENDS, The Netherlands
Tomoko Sakuma, Secretary General, People's Forum 2001, Japan
Madhu Sarin, President, SUTRA (Social Uplift Through Rural Action), India
P.V. Satheesh, Deccan Development Society, India and SANFEC(South Asian Network for Food Ecology & Culture), South Asia
Nafisa Shah, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Pakistan
Ferida Sher, LalaRukh, Nasrene Shah and Neelam Hussain, Simorgh Women's Resource and Publication Centre, Pakistan
Kavaljit Singh, Director, Public Interest Research Group, India
Doreen Stabinsky, Dept. of Environmental Studies, CSU-Sacramento, USA
Elisabeth Sterken, Convenor, International Baby Food Action Network
Marit Stinus-Remonde, Cebu Environmental Initiatives for Development Center, Philippines
Susan Stout, Canadian Auto Workers Local 2213, Canada
Vctor Surez, Director Ejecutivo de la Asociacin Nacional de Empresas Comercializadoras de Productores del Campo (ANEC), Mxico
Subhash Sule, Centre for Holistic Studies, India
Caroline Sullivan, Senior Environmental and Resource Economist, Institute of Hydrology, UK
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples' International Centre for Policy Research and Education), Philippines
Himanshu Thakkar, Centre For Water Policy, India
Carol Thompson, Professor, Northern Arizona University, USA
Felix Tuodolo, Council Member, Ijaw Youths Council, Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Christine Vertucci, Country Representative, Mennonite Central Committee -- Philippines
Cam Walker, National Liaison Officer, Friends of the Earth, Australia
Lori Wallach, Director, Global Trade Watch, Public Citizen, USA
Thomas Wallgren, Docent, Department of Philosophy, University of Helsinki, Finland
Alexandra Wandel, Trade and Environment Coordinator, Friends of the Earth, Europe
Robert Weissman, Essential Action, USA
Donald Wells, McMaster University, Canada
Nettie Wiebe, Via Campesina Coordinating Committee Member, Canada
Danielle M. Wirth, Des Moines Area Community College, USA
Barbara Zilles, University of Iowa, USA

Cc: Secretary General, Kofi Annan


The following is the response issued by UNDP Administrator Gus Speth to the March 12th letter criticizing UNDP's collaboration with global corporations with tarnished human rights, environmental and development records.

Please note that it is inaccurate when Mr Speth says: "I was disappointed by the fact that you chose to air your concerns in this manner without first seeking to discuss them with us." In fact, Ward Morehouse, one of the letter's signators met with the three UNDP officials in charge of this program in late October. There he expressed a number of concerns. UNDP made its position clear at that time that it was moving forward with this project. Our letter and effort has been based, in part, on that dialogue.

The international group of signators and endorsers from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States is discussing UNDP's response and will issue a reply in the near future.



17 March 1999

Dear Friends,

I am writing, in response to your letter of 12 March 1999 on the subject of UNDP's ongoing efforts to work with the corporate sector as a partner in development. We, in UNDP, have had opportunities to work with most of you in the past for our common cause of sustainable human development or "SHD". Let me first say that I was disappointed by the fact that you chose to air your concerns in this manner without first seeking to discuss them with us. There is indeed much information that you do not have, and it would have been far preferable to do us the courtesy of seeking out accurate information, and all of it, and engaging in a dialogue with us on your concerns. Given the respect that we have for you and knowing that your concern arises out of your deep sense of commitment to the work of the United Nations, we would surely have listened to you very carefully and engaged in discussion as we are now doing. And, as I indicate below, we look forward to an early meeting with you to review these issues.

It is misleading and unfair to suggest that you have uncovered some secret effort within UNDP on the basis of "leaked" information. Our process has been transparent and discussed quite openly, including a major workshop in South Africa. The documentation has been circulated rather widely, but given that we have a good distance still to cover, we have not yet had much about which to talk or a "straw man" proposal against which to solicit reactions.

Let me stress that I welcome your interest in this initiative by UNDP and have reviewed your concerns carefully. While I shall attempt to address some of them, I do not think that these concerns will be resolved by an exchange of letters, and thus I invite you and your colleagues to meet with us for a thorough and frank discussion on these issues in detail. As we are currently in the design and dialogue phase of this initiative, your inputs at this stage would be very valuable.

As a prelude to a fuller discussion, let me respond to some specific issues that you raise.

Firstly, and most importantly, you raise the question as to whether this initiative responds to the needs of the poor, UNDP's priority concern. You characterize these as the provision of basic health, education and food resources, with which we agree and would add sustainable livelihoods and access to empowering assets. You may be interested to learn that these are exactly some of the sectors on which we have been having our exploratory discussions with the corporations (e.g with ESKOM which has recently been given recognition by UNAIDS for their work on HIV/AIDS). Importantly, the initiative is about finding ways to improve livelihoods of poor people through generating productive employment opportunities, including empowering poor communities with energy and communication services.

Our discussions with Oracle and Telia have been about exploring ways, together with local counterparts, to make available to poor communities the latest information and communication technology so that they can participate in dialogues such as these and express their own needs and viewpoints, as well as to exploit the opportunities offered through electronic commerce.

We are exploring with banks ways in which they might make resources available to microfinancing initiatives initiatives which have proven not only to contribute to poverty eradication but are also financially viable investments.

We are studying carefully the potential of combining electrification and telecommunication projects with community and enterprise development. Such a project would work on the demand and supply sides of the equation, minimizing risk and, if well designed, accelerating the payback period. Through such projects we can graduate from a purely infrastructure project to a full-blown development project.

We are convinced that the innovation, technology and resources that corporations are known for can have a positive impact on SHD, and this is what we are exploring. If we can help bring new processes, products, technologies and partnerships to the poor, we will have contributed something important.

The reality is that developing countries are increasingly seeking out investments by the transnational corporations. Similarly, these companies are continuously searching for new production bases and new markets. The question, therefore is not whether global corporations will increase their investments in developing countries, but how can we, as the United Nations Development Programme and others who are committed to sustainable human development, seek to ensure that at least some of these investments occur in ways that are pro-poor, pro-environment, pro-jobs, and pro-women.

As you know, UNDP's work is not in the normative area, and thus we are not in a position to certify compliance with internationally agreed standards on labour, human rights and the environment. However, we will ensure that projects that would be coming under this initiative meet rigorous criteria and are in compliance with all standards that the United Nations stands by. To help ensure this, it has been our thinking to include very strong civil society participation, including participation at the highest levels, in any facility or mechanism that is established.

Thirdly, as you rightly point out, some of the companies with which we are currently engaged in dialogue have had controversial records on sustainable development, labour standards and human rights issues. Does this mean we should not be talking to them? I believe we should be engaging them in programmes that demonstrate that profitable pro-poor investments in developing countries are possible without the negative impacts with which they have been associated in the past. We believe that the latter approach has a greater impact on sustainable human development. Also, some of the companies with which we have been talking say they are prepared to make funding available in not-for-profit activities, for example in health, education, basic community development, and basic skills.

Fourthly, I am bewildered by your statement that the Global Sustainable Development Facility concept raises the "specter of UNDP programs and priorities increasingly being diverted to serve corporate shareholder interests rather than those of the poor" and that we are about to harm our own independence and credibility for it. It simply does not make sense to involve ourselves in activities that would be totally against what we stand for. To suggest UNDP is "selling out" after more than forty years of dedicated effort is very disappointing. And it is wrong. Let me repeat: any concrete cooperation between UNDP and the global corporations will have to meet United Nations standards in human rights, environmental sustainability and labour rights. This has been made clear, repeatedly in our dialogue with corporations.

Fifthly, you are making a link between this initiative and the United Nations difficult financial situation. GSDF is not a resource mobilization tool for the United Nations or UNDP. We do not intend that and the corporations have told us that they are not interested in dialoguing with us if it is about mobilizing resources for UNDP or for the United Nations. It is about exploring the common ground between the corporate objectives and SHD. As a condition for participating in this dialogue, corporations had to commit the time of a senior executive as well as $ 50,000 under a very strict co-financing agreement that spells out very clearly the rights and obligations of the parties. Our goal here was for them to underscore their seriousness and to help underwrite the costs of the dialogue with them. No one has bought the right to use the UN or UNDP logo or name. Nor will they ever.

The rules of engagement for a future operational phase are still being developed and, as I have stated earlier, your inputs into this would be welcomed.

We look forward to an early full discussion of these issues with you. It is premature to judge the GSDF in the absence of any model or pilot projects. Before you rush to conclusions, you might wish to examine specific outcomes of this project, or better still, help us shape the outcome. I look forward from hearing from you on when we can meet.

Finally, I can only say that I agree very much with your concerns regarding the risks of globalization. I have addressed this subject many times recently. Two statements I have made are attached. I hope you will make them available with this letter.


Yours sincerely,

James Gustave Speth

To view two of Mr. Speth's recent public statements on globalization, visit the UNDP website.


April 14, 1999





James Gustave Speth
Administrator, United Nations Development Programme
The United Nations
New York, USA
Via Fax: 212-906-5778 (3 pages)

Dear Mr. Speth,

Greetings. Thank you for your open letter of March 17, 1999, replying to ours of March 12th. We appreciate your invitation to meet regarding the United Nations Development Programme's collaboration with transnational corporations called the Global Sustainable Development Facility (GSDF).

As we have already stated in our previous letter, all of us care deeply about the United Nations system and continue to work to strengthen it and maintain its integrity. We have a great deal of respect for UNDP, its mission and much of the work the agency has carried out over the years--including advances made during your tenure as administrator.

In this spirit we accept your invitation to dialogue. We look forward to determining a time and date when a representative portion of our international group might be available in New York to have a frank and open discussion with you about why we continue to believe the UNDP should immediately halt its GSDF project.

Indeed, since we released our first open letter to you, more information has surfaced which reinforces our concern that GSDF project represents the worst case example of the potential outcome of the "Global Compact" with transnational corporations proposed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

As we mentioned in our initial correspondence, "many of the transnational companies you are partnering with are well known for their negative impacts on development, human rights and the environment." We based this assertion on an initial list of eleven sponsoring corporations we received from a UNDP country office. Since then we have learned that the GSDF's corporate sponsors now number sixteen and that four more are considering accepting your invitation.

In addition to Rio Tinto, Dow Chemical and ABB, this updated list includes oil giants Royal Dutch Shell and BP/Amoco, the European biotechnology leader Novartis, and the Swedish apparel company Honnes & Mauritz. Whether they are wreaking social and environmental havoc in the Niger Delta, drilling for oil in the ecologically sensitive Arctic, helping lead industry efforts to foist genetically engineered foods on the public without informing them, or refusing to pay garment industry workers a living wage, each of these global companies (as well as other GSDF sponsors) face sustained international campaigns by human rights, labor and environmental groups.

You charitably characterize some of the companies UNDP has reached out to as having "controversial records on sustainable development, labour standards and human rights issues" while suggesting that UNDP is "not in a position to certify compliance with internationally agreed standards" in these areas.

We believe that in fact, monitoring and fostering corporate compliance with international environment, human rights and labor standards is a central role that the United Nations should be playing vis-à-vis transnational corporations in this age of globalization. This is part of the larger debate that must take place regarding the UN's relationship with corporations. In the meantime UNDP is certainly in the position to understand that a company like Royal Dutch Shell, for instance, is a virtual pariah in the international human rights and environmental community for its ongoing activities in Nigeria.

In fact, UNDP's own guidelines for partnering with corporations (November 16, 1998) stipulate that "the first and most critical issue" that UNDP offices should assess "when initiating partnership with private corporations is whether the objectives and practices of a given corporation are compatible with those of UNDP." The process, according to the guidelines, "requires thorough research, analysis and, finally, a judgement call."

These guidelines assert that corporations from the military-industrial complex, the tobacco industry and gambling industry are incompatible with UNDP. They go on to specify that potential corporate partners' activities and services should be evaluated as to whether they are "deemed to be ethically, socially or politically controversial or of such nature that involvement with UNDP cannot be credibly justified to the general public." According to the guidelines, problematic areas include "exploitative involvement in developing nations, illegal financial transactions, drug traffickingchild labour; activities endangering the environment; poor and/or exploitative working conditions for employees; poor gender policies; discriminatory behavior," and a corporation's past history.

Given the collective records and activities of the GSDF corporate sponsors from which the UNDP has taken money, as well as those it has invited to join, it is clear that these criteria have not been applied to the GSDF.

Furthermore, as your agency's guidelines clearly state: "when UNDP is engaged in public relations activity within the framework of a corporate relationship, a mutual image transfer inevitably takes place." These guidelines clearly recognize that a result of corporate collaboration with UNDP, is that the agency will "contribute to improving the image of a corporation."

Thus we reiterate our concern that, even if the specific GSDF projects are in compliance with international standards, collaborating with corporations with overwhelmingly negative impacts on the environment, human rights and labor standards is inappropriate for UNDP. Indeed the GSDF provides these companies with a prime opportunity to, not to redeem themselves, as UNDP has suggested, but to "greenwash" their images with the imprimatur of the United Nations.

We are further troubled by issues that the GSDF raises with respect to the governance structure of the UN. We believe that by creating the GSDF as a separate legal entity governed by corporations but with a "special relationship" to the UNDP, it begins to take the UN down a slippery slope toward privatization.

Finally, we are profoundly concerned to learn from a document UNDP made public after we released our letter, that UNDP sees the GSDF as a possible model for other UN agencies as well. Or as the document puts it: "the main objective of the project is to jointly formulate and design a long-term framework for cooperation between UNDP, and potentially other UN agencies, and the corporate sector."

That the GSDF initiative might become an archetype for other parts of the United Nations deepens our concern that the UN is embarking on a perilous path with respect to its relationships with transnational corporations.

We believe that a positive alternative already exists within the UN system. This high road is represented by the resolutions 1998/8 and 1998/12 of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the UN Human Rights Commission. These resolutions, which respectively call for the analysis and monitoring of corporate human rights impacts, and for human rights to be the primary objective of trade, investment and financial policy speak to the positive role that the United Nations can and should play with respect to transnational corporations and economic globalization.

The high road is also represented by international environmental treaties negotiated under UN auspices. The Climate Convention, the Montreal Protocol to Protect the Ozone Layer and the Biosafety Protocol to the Biodiversity Convention, have the potential to foster global corporate accountability--including accountability by some of the very corporations the UNDP is partnering with--to environmental standards.

Unfortunately, in the case of the Human Rights Sub-Commission the US government is working right now in Geneva to undermine its effectiveness. The US government played a similar role, representing the interests of biotechnology corporations at the Biosafety Protocol negotiations in Cartagena, Colombia.

Given the precarious nature of the positive initiatives emanating from the United Nations, we believe that projects such as the GSDF are all the more dangerous, in that they hold the potential to set a new course for the UN. Indeed, it is an important moment for vigorous public debate and discussion (and some of us might add, protest and direct action) not only about the UNDP's collaboration with corporations, but also the broader context of the overall direction of the United Nations vis-à-vis big business.

We look forward to discussing the GSDF with you and your staff at a mutually convenient time.

Most sincerely,

Upendra Baxi, Professor of Law, University of Warrick, UK, former Vice Chancellor University of Delhi, India
Walden Bello, Director, Focus on the Global South, Thailand
Phyllis Bennis, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies, USA
John Cavanagh, Director, Institute for Policy Studies, USA
Susan George, Fellow, Transnational Institute, The Netherlands; President Observatoire de la Mondialisation, France
S M Mohamed Idris, President, Third World Network, Malaysia
Joshua Karliner, Director, TRAC--Transnational Resource and Action Center
Ward Morehouse, President, Council on International and Public Affairs, USA
Atila Roque, Programme Coordinator, IBASE--Brazilian Institute of Economic and Social Analysis, Brazil
Yash Tandon, Director, International South Group Network (ISGN), Zimbabwe

Please reply to Joshua Karliner at the above address

Ps. We are enclosing an updated list of more than 150 individuals, organizations and networks from around the world which have endorsed our March 12th letter to you.

Cc: Kofi Annan


In May 1999 a representative group of the original signators of the letter to Gus Speth met with him at UNDP's headquarters in New York. There we reiterated our demand that the GSDF project be terminated. Three months later Speth's successor, former World Bank public relations director Mark Malloch Brown issues UNDP's long promised formal response to our meeting.



27 August 1999

Dear Mr. Karliner

It has been a little less than two months since I officially assumed my function as Administrator of UNDP. The challenge that we face immediately, as a result of further dwindling ODA resources and flagging political commitment to international development organizations, is that of strategically positioning UNDP as a relevant, effective player within the complex and rapidly changing world in which we live. I have, therefore, assempled a Transition Team, which is now carrying out a thorough stock taking of UNDP's performance across a range of interventions, including an assessment of our key partnerships--an area to which I assign highest priority.

A key dimension of these partnerships is the relationship between UNDP, civil society and the private sector. The importance of clarifying UNDP's approaches to its different constituencies was made abundantly clear during the dialogue you held last May with Gus Speth, my predcecessor, on the shape of the Global Sustainable Development Facility. Concerns raised about the privatization of UNDP, issues of consistency in the application of UNDP's policies, the expectations you hold with regard to the role of UNDP vis-a-vis the accountability of multinational corporations in promoting our development goals, are all crucial issues. I have no doubt that the future of UNDP and its ability to be a relevant, effective actor for human development, will depend in large measure on the degree to which we can mainstream the policy advice, experience and expertise of our civil society partners along these lines. Equally clear is the need for UNDP to generate and maintain a constructive engagement with the private sector, one that is consistent and supportive of the mission and goals of UNDP but also the United Nations as a whole.

These issues are currently being assessed within the context of my transition effort, and I am targeting the development of a comprehensive strategy for UNDP's engagement with its partners over the next four months. I have begun a series of direct, formal and informal consultations with CSO partners during this period, kicking off with addressing the annual United Nations-DPI NGO Conference in mid-September through to convening a governance workshop with civil society partners in Central America, in early December. Throughout this period, I will be counting on your candid advice and guidance on these efforts. I will also reverto to you more substantively on the blue-prints for our private-sector collaboration, as soon as our consultations are finalized.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Malloch Brown