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The UN Is Aiding a Corporate Takeover of Drinking Water

Billions of dollars are being given out to the most ardent promoters of water privatization.
 
 
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Early last month, pharmaceutical titan Merck became the latest multinational to pledge allegiance to the CEO Water Mandate, the United Nations' public-private initiative "designed to assist companies in the development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices."

But there's darker data beneath that sunny marketing: 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 ( PDF) under the banner of the United Nations. It even won a Public Eye Award for flagrant greenwashing from the Swiss non-governmental organization Berne Declaration. 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 AlterNet. "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 funded."

Another major problem is that routinely compromised and controversial institutions like World Bank, International Monetary Fund and regional development banks in general are in control of the United Nations' biggest projects. 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 ( PDF) argued that the planet is on the verge of a water crisis of terrifying proportions. "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. But the 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 ( PDF) 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 functions "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 United Nations." The short version? It's not working, and won't work in its current form for the foreseeable future.

 
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