by Scott Thill
June 23, 2011
Billions of dollars are being given out
to the most ardent promoters of water privatization.
Scott Thill runs the
online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R,
All Music Guide, Wired and others.
Early this month,
Merck became the latest multinational to
pledge allegiance to the
CEO Water Mandate, the United Nations'
"designed to assist companies in the
development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability
policies and practices."
But there's darker data beneath that sunny
The CEO Water Mandate has been heavily
hammered by the Sierra Club, the Polaris Institute and more for exerting
undemocratic corporate control over water
resources under the banner of the United Nations.
It even won a
Public Eye Award for flagrant green-washing
from the Swiss non-governmental organization
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
"There is no admission of problems with the
Water Mandate, or the
United Nations Global Compact itself" -
the strategic policy initiative committed to human rights, labor and the
environment - Blue Gold and Blue Covenant author and activist
Maude Barlow, who also chairs the
National Council of Canadians and Food & Water Watch, explained to
"These initiatives continue to flourish, not
least because the most powerful member states of the United Nations are
fully behind them. This also means that the United Nations is not funded
fully. Programs and agencies often rely on private sponsorship to
function, and are often barely getting their core administrative budgets
Another major problem is that routinely
compromised and controversial institutions like,
...are in control of the United Nations' biggest
In April, the World Bank assumed control of the
United Nations Climate Conference's new
$100 billion Green Fund, which is the
opposite of a comforting proposition, considering the World Bank's
repeatedly noxious financing of oil and coal projects.
"That gives control of billions of dollars
to those who have been the most ardent promoters of water
privatization," added Barlow, whose foreword for the Council of
Canadians' recently damning report on
private sector influence over the United Nations
argued that the planet is on the verge of a
water crisis of
"We're also seeing the IMF forcing indebted
nations to sell off public assets, including water systems, as a
condition of receiving financial support. The whole system is rigged for
these corporations, and they still are losing contracts, not meeting
their obligations and watching as remunicipalization moves forward in
France and other core markets."
That kind of illogical corporate performance
would logically lead to less control, not more.
United Nations continues to hand over the reins to multinationals
like its new cosigner Merck, which has
repeatedly settled in court over everything
from carcinogenic pollution to deceptive marketing.
Despite the fact that the United Nations' own
Joint Inspection Unit
stated in a 2010 report that the Global
Compact's corporate partnerships were an unregulated mess.
"The lack of a clear and articulated mandate
has resulted in blurred focus and impact," the report stated.
"The absence of adequate entry criteria and
an effective monitoring system to measure actual implementation of the
principles by participants has drawn some criticism and reputational
risk for the Organization, and the Office’s special set up has countered
existing rules and procedures.
Ten years after its creation, despite the
intense activity carried out by the Office and the increasing resources
received, results are mixed and risks unmitigated."
The report suggested that not only was a clearer
mandate from Member States required to "rethink and refocus" the Compact's
corporate partnerships, but that the United Nations' General Assembly must
better direct the Secretary-General to delineate the Compact's overall
"in order to prevent a situation whereby any
external group or actor(s) may divert attention from the strategic goals
agreed to promote interests which may damage the reputation of the
The short version? It's not working, and won't
work in its current form for the foreseeable future.
But the United Nations' own advice to itself has evidently fallen mostly on
"Unfortunately, the United Nations appears
to be embracing more and more partnerships with the corporate sector
across the board,"
Corporate Accountability International
campaign director Gigi Kellett told AlterNet.
"Civil society has been raising concerns
about this flawed approach for over 10 years. There are strong voices
within the United Nations, including some Member states, who are
questioning the partnership paradigm adopted by the UN and calling for
more transparency and accountability."
But they are voices in the wilderness without
the concerted support of a motivated public, as well as the usual civil
society champions who make stopping this strain of corporate abuse their
life's work. Power truly respects only one thing, and that is equally
And the public is fully empowered to make all
the change it wants, provided it can unplug itself from distracting sex
mainstream media marketing primarily
designed to nurture its collective complacency.
"Corporations rely on people's tacit support
and willingness to look the other way when they engage in
conduct that harms people or the environment
and undermines democratic governance and decision-making," Kellett said.
"When people come together in coordinated
fashion and withhold their support from a corporation, that relationship
is turned on its head. Boycotts are one powerful way that individuals
can withhold their support, but there are range of other strategies.
When activists come together and raise
questions about a corporation's actions and tie them to its brand and
image, the resulting media exposure can greatly impact how the
corporation is perceived by consumers, investors or even government
But how do you boycott a multinational that
controls your water supply? Can you
shame a mammoth corporation into abdicating control over a lucrative
commodity that should instead be regarded as a universal human right?
Talk about your Sisyphean tasks.
"Boycotts are much more difficult with water
than a product like Coke," said Barlow.
"There are no substitutes for water, and
when these corporations are given monopoly power over water systems,
boycotts are very unrealistic. Suez, Veolia and others are very
concerned about their corporate image, but there is no effective means
to hurt them financially except to end or block the
contracts before they are signed.
Boycotts have been very effective as public
awareness campaigns, but citizens need to apply pressure on their
governments as the first step in stopping the proliferation of voluntary
Demanding regulation of the private sector's
products - from water and natural resource commodification to inscrutable
financial instruments and beyond - as well as the public's political
electives appears to be the paramount first principle.
Because the problem is getting worse and going
nowhere, especially now that our dystopian climate crisis has permanently
disrupted business, and existence, as usual.
From escalating warming and extreme weather to
destabilized nations and environments, Earth is already precariously
balanced on the tipping point.
And giving profit-minded corporations voluntary
control over their power and procedures is a 20th century
anachronism best left behind.
"We have not proven to have what it takes to
deal with the climate crisis," argued Barlow, "and this is because it is
all seen as a giant political and financial game, rather than the best
and only chance to head off a catastrophe like we have never before
Climate change is upon us, but we will never
admit it fully, nor invest in stopping it, if our governments continue
to represent corporate interests above others. It is up to us to
challenge our states, and make sure they know we are engaged and aware."