Rio+20 and global social responsibility

Anita Roddick brought the notion of corporate social responsibility into the forefront of debates on ethics and sustainable development, right now the focal point of world opinion at the Rio+20 Conference taking place in Brazil. Since the world and its resources belong to its people and since every human being should have the same birthrights, let us start imposing some accountability.

Ethical business practices and corporate social responsibility were always the vectors underlying the policies of Anita Roddick as she set up a global business, The Body Shop. In her opinion, big business along with the consultants who sustain the mega-corporations and the governments they control are responsible for putting the bottom line ahead of sustainable development.

It is a pity that Dame Anita Roddick is not with us today to lend her voice to the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development; however the message she and other global environmentalists left us gives us an opportunity to carry the torch and keep the flame burning. Indeed, it is our responsibility, our collective responsibility, to ensure that global social responsibility becomes a mainstay of government and corporate policy and to guarantee that those who disrespect these norms are named and shamed and held accountable.

The global economic crisis and the spike in food and energy prices have in the last few years shown us how vulnerable societies are to situations created through callous irresponsibility and they have also shone light on how inegalitarian our world has become. Almost at a stroke, the tremendous gains and victories won by thousands of activists across the globe were literally erased, job security became a thing of the past, workers' rights were deleted, having a job is no longer synonymous with escaping poverty and the limit on the number of hours at work has vanished in practical terms.

When we speak about sustainable development, we speak about attacking challenges and preserving the environment but fundamentally, we are also speaking about addressing the needs of the "have-nots" and removing the limitations which keep them there. It makes sense, therefore, that the onus of responsibility for change is placed squarely upon the shoulders of the "haves", those societies and nations which in many cases grew rich by siphoning off the resources of developing nations and holding peoples down under the yoke of colonialism, practising imperialist policies.

The lesson is that you do not just saunter into a continent, destroy societies by drawing lines on maps, committing massacres and creating one-way channels for its resources even after "independence" has been fought for and won, then implement global economic mechanisms and trading policies which make sure that the rich grow richer and the poor have less and less.

Today, 2012, poverty is growing deeper, unemployment is soaring, malnutrition is spreading, education has become a business and healthcare is fast becoming an equation in which the financial costs of treatment are an ever more important factor. In such a world, how can we expect any change at all if the countries which are responsible for this situation - the ones whose governments are in eternal cahoots with the global mega-corporations which gravitate around the corridors of power and dictate policy - do not even respect the United Nations Organization as a forum for law-making and crisis management?

We are speaking of NATO in general and the closer you get to the epicentre, the FUKUS countries - France, UK, US - the worse it gets. These countries are mainly the ones responsible for the global situation through policies past and present and it is not through cosmetic and heavily publicised aid programmes that they should escape the onus of responsibility.

Waging hate campaigns, tongue wagging and finger-pointing achieve nothing. What the world needs to do in the follow-up to Rio+20, is to engage in a process of dialogue in which integrated policies are adopted and implemented, policies which include tools to measure progress and identify limitations working against this.

The technological development of the FUKUS countries and their allies can do much to serve the needs of those who are the centre of attention in the Conference, which is why they should be embraced as welcome members of the world community, but not on their terms, which are terms of barefaced arrogance and cynical intrusion into the affairs of sovereign nations, inventing wars, supporting terrorists and imposing democracy with the bomb. It is the same approach they used a hundred years ago, imposing civilization with the Bible... and the bullet.

First and foremost, there is no point in having these Conferences if there are no tangible consequences and this means naming and shaming those who work against global sustainable development. This does not include dropping bombs on children, it does not include taking sides in internal conflicts stirred up by the FUKUS three, it does not include using DU weaponry, poisoning the environment for years to come.

There is no point in having the UNO as a law-making body if it does not have the means to ensure that international law is followed and respected. The International Criminal Court at The Hague is an insult to justice and to the collective intelligence of Humankind - where are the cases against the American, British and French war criminals, murderers who devastated Iraq and Libya as they breached every legal norm in the book?

In fact, do nations which behaved in this way have any right at all to sit at the UNO, let alone have the right to veto? The collective voice of Humankind rings out loud and clear: no, they do not. Let us then be magnanimous and draw a line as they drew lines on maps for so many years and then consider the citizens of the countries they colonised for five hundred years as illegal immigrants when the table is turned; let us redesign the UNO, giving it some clout, representing all the continents and not just the northern hemisphere. France has the veto and Brazil does not? Britain has the veto but India does not? How much sense does that make?

Secondly, and of equal importance, is the debate on GM foods and food security. As those who make billions from this industry inform us there is no other way forward, they are lying because the world has the capacity to provide food by natural means for 12 billion people, when the present population is just over half that figure (7 billion).

As the other crucial issues are discussed down the line, let us remember that nobody is going to do anything in concrete terms unless they are pushed into doing so. The citizens of the world have a voice and that voice is bringing these issues into the political agenda, forcing politicians to act rather than speak.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey


[email protected]


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey