In the spotlight 1
Resisting the corporate capture of food!
The corporate capture of food is based on the belief that transnational corporations are essential for providing food and that their interests are aligned with the public interest. Its proponents portray corporations as better equipped than governments and civil society to draw up the rules and policies that shape our food systems. It is a dangerous worldview which allows corporations to control increasing shares of land, water and fisheries, to quasi-monopolize commercial seeds and intensively use pesticides and chemical fertilizers. It fails to recognize and address the harm that transnational corporations are causing. If this corporate capture is to dominate spaces such as the Food Systems Summit (FSS), the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) or the UN’s organization for food and agriculture (FAO), it will further undermine democracy, self-determination, and peoples’ sovereignty.
The FSS has been organized to secure corporate control over food systems amidst the increasing pressure to address the failures of industrialized food systems. Through FSS, the UN may end up helping to consolidate a new ecosystem of powerful actors attempting to privatize governance for a corporate-environmental food regime. These actors are Northern governments, the EU in particular, business platforms such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD); philanthropies such as the Gates, Rockefeller, Stordalen and EAT Foundations and the Global Alliance for the Future of Food; multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN); international NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Care, as well as corporate-friendly scientists.
Our boycott effectively challenged the legitimacy of the FSS and prevented, for the moment, the creation of new, corporate aligned institutional structures. Our concern in the immediate future will be to resist the capture of the CFS – including the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition – and the Rome based UN agencies, particularly the FAO. As a food sovereignty movement, we have pushed for the democratization of these institutions so that they are more responsive to small-scale food producers claims. In the last 25 years, we have had partial victories. However, all this is in danger now. The multi-stakeholder coalition mentioned above is now pushing for CFS and FAO to follow up on the Summit results. They want to import from FSS the working methods of multi-stakeholder governance, i.e. ignoring existing rules of procedure; privileging ad hoc coalitions of action without known rules. These coalitions will surely lack transparency, multilateral inclusion, clear decision-making and accountability mechanisms, and will divert resources from the public programs of the UN agencies to these ad hoc, semi-privatized initiatives. We must resist this attempt and continue struggling for strengthening our communal and public institutions all the way from local to global so that food sovereignty can flourish.
In the spotlight 2
Corporations and food systems
Over the past few decades, corporate presence in food systems has expanded significantly across the world, enabled by the aggressive promotion and adoption of neoliberal economic and financial policies by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and most governments. Corporations have become powerful actors in practically every sphere related to food systems: production, storage, processing, packaging and labelling, distribution and retail, safety and quality standards, financing, consumer preferences, research, regulatory frameworks, etc.
Through mergers and acquisitions, a small number of agro-chemical and agro-food transnational corporations have formed mega corporations and greatly increased their economic power to determine what crops livestock farmers grow/raise; what equipment, seeds and breeds farmers use; production technologies, facilities and work conditions; procurement and retail prices; and dominate various aspects of national-international food supply chain and markets. Because of their easy access to finance capital, corporations are able to invest in and use the latest digital technologies to gain information about prices, consumer behaviour, land and water availability, genetic properties, etc., and exercise control over different components of food systems.
Especially worrying is the expansion of corporate power in national, regional and international policy, regulatory and governance frameworks. Corporations use their financial clout and large market presence to shape policies, laws, regulations, social-environmental programmes, economic incentives and subsidies to secure their operations, financial gains and market power. Corporate lobbyists and experts work directly with government and multilateral agency officials to formulate trade-investment agreements, intellectual property protection and taxation rules, food and environmental safety standards, and immunity mechanisms from social, environmental and financial accountability. Corporations finance research and outreach to support their interests in policy debates and boost popular acceptance of their operations.
Through a complex, extensive network of business councils and multistakeholder platforms and processes, corporations present themselves as a necessary, positive force in addressing climate change, hunger, environmental destruction, pandemics and other crises, obscuring their own roles in creating and deepening these crises. The UNFSS is dominated by such an network within the WEF, and legitimizes partnerships between multilateral agencies, corporations and international NGOs and think-tanks, completely undermining the hundreds of millions of small-scale food producers and workers who feed much of the world through diverse, territorially rooted food systems.
The so-called solutions to the urgent problems facing the world emerging from the UNFSS are basically expensive, corporate controlled schemes, and patent protected technologies and products that will further expand corporate power into our food systems. They will divert much needed financial resources away from public goods, services and programmes, and perpetuate an unjust, unequal economic system in which the rights of people and communities will be secondary to corporate profits. To dismantle corporate power, we must challenge and change the governance structures through which it is gaining ground.