Around this time last year, the US had just pulled out of the UN World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa. Now, the UN Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa has drawn to a close among allegations that the US blocked just about every meaningful action on the agenda. We speak with Kenny Bruno of CorpWatch on why he writes, "Sustainable Development is dead," and on the Greenwash Academy Awards. [includes rush transcript]
I’m looking at a piece that was posted on the CorpWatch website. It says, "Sustainable Development is dead. It’s [sic] demise came, ironically, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
“It’s not that the phrase wasn’t invoked. It was, ad nauseum. But it was hardly discussed.
“Instead, sustainable development was deemed to be whatever compromise governments happen to reach on trade, subsidies, investment and aid, and whatever projects corporations see fit to finance.
"'Sustainable Development' is now officially meaningless."
Again, those are the words of Kenny Bruno in a piece he wrote for the organization, CorpWatch.
Around this time last year, the US had just pulled out of the UN World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa. Now, the UN Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa has drawn to a close among allegations that the US blocked just about every meaningful action on the agenda.
Well, as we wrap up with our coverage of the Earth Summit, we’re joined right now in the firehouse by Kenny Bruno.
- Kenny Bruno, activist with Corpwatch and founder of the Greenwash Academy Awards. He is also co-author with Joshua Karliner of the book Earthsummit.Biz: The Corporate Takeover of Sustainable Development, which investigates how corporations, in partnership with the United Nations, champion environmental sustainability and human rights while hiding their polluting and exploitative practices with sophisticated PR campaigns touting concern for a sustainable future.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a piece that was posted on the CorpWatch website. It says, “Sustainable development is dead. It’s [sic] demise came, ironically, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
"It’s not that the phrase wasn’t invoked. It was, ad nauseum. But it was hardly discussed.”
The article goes on to say, “Instead, sustainable development was deemed to be whatever compromise governments happen to reach on trade, subsidies, investment and aid, and whatever projects corporations see fit to finance.
"'Sustainable development' is now officially meaningless.”
Again, those the words of Kenny Bruno in a piece he wrote for the organization CorpWatch.
Well, as we wrap up with our coverage of the Earth Summit, Kenny Bruno joins us in our firehouse studio now. He’s the co-author with Joshua Karliner of the book Earthsummit.Biz: The Corporate Takeover of Sustainable Development.
Just around this time last year, the US had just pulled out on the UN World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa. Now the UN Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, has also drawn to a close among allegations that the US blocked just about every meaningful action on the agenda.
Kenny Bruno, thanks for being with us.
KENNY BRUNO: Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: So you just returned from Johannesburg?
KENNY BRUNO: Yeah, I was there for the summit and some pre-summit events, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk more about what you wrote.
KENNY BRUNO: Well, the book is about the corporate takeover of sustainable development since Rio and about a doctrine that was invented at Rio.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what you mean by Rio.
KENNY BRUNO: Rio, the Rio Earth Summit, the first Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. And at that time, a lot of us, including myself, had tremendous hopes for the idea of sustainable development, for integrating environment and development. But at the same time, a doctrine was brought into the UN, whereby, instead of trying to monitor corporations and hold them accountable for environmental behavior, that it would seek to partner with corporations and bring them into the UN system. And that doctrine reached its peak at the Johannesburg summit, where corporations really ran the show, and partnership with corporations was the watchword. "Partnership" was the watchword.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain specifically.
KENNY BRUNO: So, for example, you had the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, come to the big Business Day, which — gathering of CEOs — and call for an era of partnership. There was a lot of blaming of governments. There was partnership between Shell, for example, was probably the leading corporate environment — so-called “corporate environmentalist” company, that was really calling the shots, along with the US government, at the summit. And that’s really why the summit failed.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Business Day and what you did?
KENNY BRUNO: Sure. Business Day was a very high-profile daylong event, very swanky event, organized by something called the Business Action for Sustainable Development, which was formed for the summit. And it was a bunch of business leaders talking about what great things they were doing for the earth and for poor people, basically posing as leaders in the struggle to eradicate poverty. And if you were to sit there, which I did, and listen to this, you would think that everything is fine. We could just sit back and put our feet up, relax, drink a beer, and business will take care of all the problems. That’s the impression they were giving.
They were also blaming southern governments, especially, for the lack of governance, or lack of good governance, and blaming southern governments for the problems, which is really ironic, considering the governance problems that we’re having in corporate America right now, but even worse, even more hypocritical, because those same corporations have been weakening southern governments, have been very busy lobbying to make sure that these governments cannot control and cannot regulate the behavior of corporations. So that was the dynamic. They were pretending that they are our saviors, they care about everything that we care about, and they’re going to take care of it.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the Greenwash Awards that you gave out?
KENNY BRUNO: Yes. Before the summit started, we joined up with Friends of the Earth and GroundWork, which is a South African environmental organization, to form the Greenwash Academy, and we gave out Green Oscars, Greenwash Academy Awards, to the leading companies that are acting green but not behaving green. And we had a glittering ceremony at a downtown Johannesburg hotel.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about the companies and the awards that you gave.
KENNY BRUNO: Sure. We gave awards for categories like Best Green Actor for Environmental Rhetoric and Best Blue Actor —- that’s for Corporate Humanitarianism, or hiding behind the UN flag and pretending to be a corporate humanitarian company. We also had Best -—
AMY GOODMAN: Who did you give that out to?
KENNY BRUNO: Oh, that went to Nestlé for pretending to be allied with the UN, while at the same time Nestlé is a company that has been breaking the World Health Organization’s code of conduct for marketing of baby formula. The Green Oscar went to British Petroleum for their new rebranding campaign called “Beyond Petroleum.” They pretend that they’re now beyond petroleum.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean that BP stands for Beyond Petroleum?
KENNY BRUNO: Correct, yes. And they — actually, they’re still spending billions and billions of dollars looking for new oil, and a measly couple of hundred million dollars for solar. But they advertise themselves as beyond oil. Actually, they spend more — they spend more advertising on their environmental record than they do on their environmental projects, so when you spend more on that, that’s greenwash, so they got the Greenwash Award for that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you talked about, in the book, BP and this campaign that it’s on, which is really pushing natural gas.
KENNY BRUNO: Right, that’s one of the fallacies, is that they’re pretending to be beyond petroleum, but what that really means is they’re pushing — they’re mostly investing in natural gas, which, from a climate point of view, is hardly any better, if any better at all, than oil itself. The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Shell, of course, because when it comes to greenwash, Shell is simply superb. But it’s very interesting, because at that Business Day, I asked — I presented a little green statuette, green Oscar statuette to the chairman of Shell, and I asked him whether he still stood by their behavior in Nigeria as an example of best practices, which in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit they put forward their behavior in Nigeria as an example — best practices, they said — and he said, yes, they’re quite proud of their operations in Nigeria. So when I told that to some colleagues from Nigeria in Environmental Rights Action, I mean, they’re absolutely outraged. How can you trust a company that can’t even acknowledge the most obvious case of corporate crime? How can you trust them? How can you begin to cooperate with them and make them a primary partner of the United Nations?
AMY GOODMAN: You also gave awards to cigarette companies, for example, Philip Morris and BAT.
KENNY BRUNO: Well, actually we — yes, we actually gave a booby prize to Philip Morris, because even though they spend more on advertising their philanthropy than they do on the philanthropy, they really haven’t fooled anybody. I think everybody knows that they’re a killer company and that — so they really get the booby prize for not having fooled anybody. I mean, greenwash is about fooling people, and they just haven’t done a very good job.
AMY GOODMAN: Who got Best Director?
KENNY BRUNO: Best Director went to Lee Raymond of ExxonMobil, the CEO of ExxonMobil, for being such a tough guy and just not really caring about the environment at all.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Kenny Bruno. He is co-author of the book Earthsummit.Biz: The Corporate Takeover of Sustainable Development. The United Nations agencies also did not escape your awards and your notice. Can you talk about the role specifically of the UN?
KENNY BRUNO: Well, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked all UN agencies to cooperate and partner with the private sector. And it’s understandable that agencies like the UN Development Program and Environment Program and UNICEF, because they’re not well funded by governments, are seeking private-sector funding for their activities. But sometimes they take things to a ridiculous extreme. For example, UNICEF, which is the world’s leading advocate for children — and I, myself, I considered myself a partner of UNICEF when I was a kid and went around collecting pennies — but now they’re partnering up with McDonald’s, and I — I mean, obvious —-
AMY GOODMAN: In what? To do what?
KENNY BRUNO: Oh, well, it varies in different countries, but in the US, for example, we’re probably going to see those little orange penny boxes in McDonald’s, so the kids will go, you know, “Daddy, daddy, can we go to McDonald’s again? I promise to put some pennies in the box,” or something like that. I think a lot of Democracy Now! listeners would agree that McDonald’s is not necessarily a business that’s very good for children, so why the heck is UNICEF partnering with them? That’s a -— so we gave a special McPartnership Award to UNICEF and McDonald’s for their partnership.
AMY GOODMAN: So, overall, what came out of this conference, the Earth Summit? And overall, in terms of corporations, would you say they gained power out of this? And if so, why did George Bush refuse to go?
KENNY BRUNO: I think the significance of the conference was not only that it went backwards from Rio and sort of solidified the United Nations as a rubber stamp or baby brother to the WTO, but that people turned a corner. For the first time, on August 31st, there was an anti-globalization march that targeted not the WTO, not the World Bank, not the World Economic Forum, not specific corporations; it actually was targeting the UN itself. That’s a very sad day for the UN when it becomes painted with the same brush as the WTO. So I think — but on the upside is that, in that, within that movement, for those of us who consider ourselves part of the global justice movement, there was a tremendous energizing feeling that people from the United States, from Europe, from the North, who have been criticized for not representing the poor, were together with people from Soweto and from the township of Alexandra, and there’s tremendous unity in that movement, and the energy was growing.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the focus of the resolve of where you’re headed now?
KENNY BRUNO: It’s to go back to that movement, to the anti-globalization or anti-corporate globalization movement, and to build our power up from the ground. We don’t accept the idea that we have to cooperate and partner with the private sector or with giant transnational corporations to get where we want to go. We’re going to have public partnerships and partnerships among our own organizations transnationally. I mean, the corporations have transnational reach, and now our movement is going to have transnational reach, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Kenny Bruno, his book Earthsummit.Biz: The Corporate Takeover of Sustainable Development. Where did the imminent or the current bombing of Iraq and its intensification fit into this, all being held against the background of this?
KENNY BRUNO: I think one of the really sad things that was evident in Johannesburg was that they really do still hate us, and — to paraphrase my senator, Charles Schumer. But last fall we had a chance to take our foot off the world’s neck and without people jumping on us, because there was a lot of sympathy for us. But through our actions since then, we’ve —-people have forgotten about September 11th outside the US to a large extent, and they’re really focused on US arrogance and US bullying, and they really resent us deeply. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling for US citizens over there. The bombing of Iraq, the attack of Iraq and all this, which is so unpopular and so -— you know, people just can’t even conceive of why we would do this. It’s going to make it a lot worse.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for being with us, Kenny Bruno.