MATTHEW RUSSELL LEE, INNER CITY PRESS, AT THE UN
UNITED NATIONS, July 25 — How much would a corporation whose brand resonates with Agent Orange and Napalm, and which acquired in 1999 Union Carbide and liability for the deaths it caused in Bhopal, India, pay to be praised by the United Nations?
For the past two days on the East River behind the UN building, a tugboat has pushed a barge with a billboard bearing Dow Chemical’s red diamond logo. On the second day, Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal carried an article, “Dow Chemical Plans Measures to Be More Green.” The article quotes UN official Amir Dossal that “what companies like Dow are doing will raise the bar for others.”
Mr. Dossal, the head of the UN Foundation for International Partnership, is described in one of his online biographies as the UN’s “point person for partnerships with the private sector, foundations and civil society.” Assuming that civil society includes global membership organizations like Amnesty International, it’s worth nothing that in May 2006, Amnesty International protested Dow’s annual shareholders’ meeting, on Dow’s continued failure to address the victims of Bhopal.
On the fourth floor of the UN on Tuesday, Dow was praised over lunch by Mr. Dossal along with Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch-Brown, who said of Dow: “we endorse it.” He apologized for the absence of Kofi Annan, in Rome on the issue of Lebanon. It’s worth noting that just before he flew to Italy, Mr. Annan spent an hour and forty-five minutes meeting with the chief executives of pharmaceutical companies in the UN’s Conference Room 7, after which neither he nor the CEOs took any questions from the press.
Through the corporate looking glass
The purpose of the lunch, which included vegetable lasagna and either a burrito or a spring roll to the side of croutoned salad, was for Dow CEO Andrew N. Liveris to announce Dow Chemical’s sponsorships of Blue Planet Run’s around-the-word relay in June 2007. A video was shown, on plasma big-screen televisions. Children from Public School 116 came in to recite lines about clean water.
As the Wall Street Journal dutifully reported, “last month, the company acquired Zhejiang Omex Engineering Co. of China for an undisclosed amount because, Dow officials said, the smaller company specializes in water-purification systems.” As Mark Malloch-Brown said, “This is a business proposition.”
Among the questions raised is how decides what corporations are invited into the UN. Inner City Press asked this question earlier this month with respect to a program under which the UN’s refugee agency “teamed up” with Societe Generale in an investment in a fund controlled by Ivan Pictet, who is on the UN Investment Committee for the UN staff’s pension.
The answer, after days of telephone calls and unreturned emails, came from Mark Malloch-Brown, through the Secretariat’s spokesman’s office: “This case highlights the complexities of the UN’s partnerships with the private sector and so current guidelines and practices of various funds and agencies and programs will be reviewed” to try to avoid “potential conflicts of interest” and misuses of UN logos.
Following receipt of that statement from the Secretariat’s spokesman’s office, Inner City Press wrote to another UN agency, the World Tourism Organization, asking for comment and documents regarding the press release last week, “UN tourism agency teams up with Microsoft to boost African tourism,” on which [the] contact [is the] Special Advisor to the Secretary-General.
The request is for a explanation of the arrangement between the World Tourism Organization and Microsoft, and separately, for a copy of the written agreement between the World Tourism Organization and Microsoft. While it shouldn’t need to be said, promoting tourism in Africa is laudable and needed, and Microsoft is a corporation with a venerable track record, but whether “teaming up” is the appropriate public description of this partnership is a matter we’d like you to comment on, along with the above-requested information. If possible, we’d also like you to comment on whether you believe that the UN World Tourism Organization (and other UN affiliated agencies) receive sufficient guidance on engaging with corporations, and any suggestions you’d like to make in this regard.
Five days after this request was sent, the following response was received:
From: gl [at] st-ep.com
To: matthew.lee [at] innercitypress.com; glipman [at] unwto.org [and two UN lawyers and one spokesperson] Sent: Fri, 21 Jul 2006 4:00 PM
Subject: RE: Document & comment request re press release re UN Tourism Agency “Teams Up” with Microsoft
Dear Mr. Lee
The key issues in the PPP between UNWTO and Microsoft, as we see, them are the following:
The agreement is designed to support the MDGs and is in the spirit of MDG 8
It is voluntary, non exclusive, carries no specific financial commitments, does not allow any use of our logo without agreement and provides for project defined activities based on the UNWTO work program and other international pro development initiatives.
It aims to capitalise on links between 2 “catalysing sectors” Tourism and ICT
It strengthens UNWTO’s capacity to develop “e” programs in many areas of our mission that we otherwise would not be able to undertake so effectively, without committing us to any Microsoft systems or products unless we so choose.
By initially focusing on Africa it puts the emphasis where it is most needed because tourism can bring export income, infrastructure, jobs and new hope for poverty reduction. As you rightly note this is a laudable goal and Microsoft has a venerable track record.
The first projects are both designed to meet defined needs from our work program and intensive consultations held with Member States over the past year.
The portal for Africa developed with NEPAD will give an immediate new potential for African States and Communities to showcase their products through a new dynamic channel.
The Emergency Response System will allow us to respond to all types of crisis by providing consolidated information in a way which will help tourist administrations, tourists and concerned stakeholders. Its primary target of avian flu will be a key component in industry wide preparedness program.
In addition we ate starting to explore development of an eTourism curriculum for schools and other educational systems designed to provide opportunities for young people in poor counties, where none exist today.
We have no comment on the use of the expression “teams” and we don’t have any problem with working closely with the private sector — indeed the Constitution of the UNWTO specifically provides for direct involvement in our activities of the Private Sector and we have a vibrant, growing group of companies affiliated to UNWTO as well as academic institutions and ngo’s.
We are quite open to “guidance” on relations with the private sector — though at the present we feel we deal with this in a responsible fashion under the oversight of our governance bodies — and we try to do it efficiently and fairly, as in all our cooperative activities.
The requested documents, copies of the agreement, have yet to be provided. For now we’ll only note that Microsoft is one of eleven corporations lists as “Corp Partners ” on the UN Foundation for International Partnerships web site, along with
CISCO Systems www.cisco.com
Coca Cola www.coca-cola.com
Aveda Corporation www.aveda.com
Equal Access www.equalaccess.org
American Electric Power www.aep.com
British Petroleum www.bp.com/
Globalegacy International www.globalegacy.com/
Hewlett Packard www.hp.com/
At Tuesday’s noon briefing, Inner City Press asked the spokesman office to try to get a response from Kofi Annan to the issues raised in (the margin of) the Reuters article about Peter Karim, kidnapper of seven UN peacekeepers, being made a colonel in the Congolese army. We’ll see.
At Monday’s noon briefing, Jan Egeland’s implacable deputy Margaret Wahlstrom made the New York portion of the UN’s flash appeal for Lebanon. Fuel pricing there have rising by 600%, due to the bombing of gas stations and storage points, and the need for fuel to run back-up generators. Inner City Press asked if Jan Egeland will be visiting the bombed-out Gaza power plant. “That is the plan,” was the answer, pending approvals. We’ll see.
On a less dramatic front, Friday the UN announced that its representative in Iraq Ashraf Qazi had been cleared in full. The UN statement criticizes the unnamed ex-employee who complained and Qazi’s conduct, saying that a reprimand will be placed in the ex-employee’s permanent file (so he or she can never again work for the UN).
The question is raised: how is it that the treatment of the Qazi case and complainant does not cast a chill on future prospective whistleblowers, whatever the UN’s new written policy states?
Finally, after inquiries we can report the reappearance of sushi for sale in the Austria cafe in the UN conference building basement. It disappeared, sources say, because the supplier had to be re-accredited. Welcome back! The new plastic trays say Daruma of Tokyo. In light of Monday’s Security Council straw poll of the so-far only four candidates to be the next Secretary-General (the real question regarding which is, which mission leaked it?) we close as we began, with a question: who’ll next be running this casa de sushi? Sashi?
Update 10 p.m. July 25 — In the aftermath of UNFIL deaths in Lebanon, the lights burned bright on the UN’s 37th floor. Howeve as of 10 p.m. no statement would issue…
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