Business blamed for Summit shut out

Earth Summit organisers said on Tuesday they were becoming victims of their own success and might have to restrict access for delegates — but activists complained they were being shut out in favour of big business.

”The very people in whose interests the summit is being held have been shut out from its processes,” said Vandana Shiva, representing women’s groups, as she waited in line shortly before speaking at an official summit session in Johannesburg.

Susan Markham, representative for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, told a news conference that the main convention centre venue was approaching its capacity of 7 000 people inside, a limit set by the local fire department.

Saying the United Nations summit was suffering from its own success, she said it could become necessary to ration access.

About 16 000 officials, campaigners, business lobbyists and journalists are so far formally accredited for the 10-day event, which opened on Monday, and the figure is expected to rise before 100 world leaders fly in for next week’s finale.

There are several venues in other parts of the city reserved for non-governmental organisations. But activists complained they were being kept away from the hub where officials are negotiating a broad, non-binding document aimed at promoting a cleaner environment while pulling millions out of poverty.

”Yesterday they had people sitting like punished children to get these silly badges in addition to the normal badges,” Shiva said. Activists said only 1 000 of their number were let in.

Markham said the organisers had tried to make it easier for more campaigners to gain access compared to previous summits.

BUSINESS TAKEOVER?

But the activists accused officials of ignoring the voices of the very people the summit is supposed to help.

”The resources of Mother Earth are being sold off,” said Anuradha Mittal of Indian group Food First. ”The agenda has been taken over by the United States and the European Union in trade liberalisation…This is the Earth Summit, not a trade summit.”

”Corporations have taken over. We know, we were in Rio and Rio was a people’s summit,” echoed a woman from a US rights group. The 1992 Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro.

Business has come to Johannesburg in force.

The main restaurant area close to the convention centre is dominated by a display from German luxury carmaker BMW, green activists note, while the bulk of environmentalist and Third World rights groups are at a site some 20km away.

Some 200 corporations are represented by business lobby group Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD).

BASD leaders insist they have no more influence than any other of the UN’s consultation partners, like green lobbyists.

But the UN’s non-governmental organisation partners, queuing in increasing anger in the gleaming hallways of the Sandton Square mall, said civil society was being sidelined.

”People have come halfway round the world to this summit and they can’t get in,” said Richard Levicki, of a UN association from London. ”We’re being messed around — it looks like they want to keep us away.”

There is increasing concern outside government delegations that the direction of talks so far suggests the summit will fail to produce a meaningful outcome, with wealthy countries refusing to pledge more aid or import more goods from the Third World.

”The (trade) paper shows exactly where it’s going,” Shiva said. ”The powerful nations have hijacked the Rio process.” – Reuters

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