This process threatens the democratic governance of our food systems. In a new report, Corporate Capture of FAO: Industry's Deepening Influence on Global Food Governance , FIAN International and Corporate Accountability outline the extent of corporate engagement in the FAO and its negative impacts on global decision-making at a time of worsening food crisis.
“The FAO’s process of opening up to corporate sector engagement would not have been possible without the support of member states. Those states are responsible for moving the FAO away from defending the public interest and instead consolidating corporate food systems even further,” says Sofía Monsalve, Secretary General of FIAN International.
Corporate groups enjoying favorable partnership status with the FAO include the International Fertilizer Association and Croplife International, a global trade association which counts the world’s largest pesticide and seed companies such as Bayer, BASF and Syngenta among its members. This represents a clear conflict of interest and compounds the current global food crisis. For example, the FAO is promoting a rationalization of fertilizer use through digital tools when it should be promoting agroecology and a transition out of fossil-fuel based fertilizers.
The FAO Strategy for Private Sector Engagement explicitly states that its new approach to “revitalized partnership with the private sector” will go beyond a “defensive” approach safeguarding the organization’s integrity, impartiality and independence with a “proactive” approach to due diligence for facilitating partnerships.
However, Corporate Accountability, FIAN International can point to a distinct lack of transparency surrounding the FAO’s funding and corporate partnerships, as well as shortcomings in the UN agency’s due diligence and corporate accountability processes.
“Although about 70 % of the FAO’s budget is from voluntary contributions that include private sector funding, the FAO provides very little publicly available information detailing financial relationships with the private sector and corporate donors,” says Ashka Naik, Research Director at Corporate Accountability.
The report presents case studies of FAO partnerships illustrating how these corporate sector engagements are incompatible with the FAO´s mandate and work priorities. These cases are indicative of a growing trend towards corporate capture of UN agencies through multistakeholderism, which prioritizes corporate-friendly solutions to food systems transformation.
“Multistakeholderism implies that all actors with a ‘stake’ in an issue should have an equal say, regardless of their different roles, responsibilities and power imbalances,” says Monsalve.
“This leads to a situation where the most powerful actors can impose their will. Accountability disappears. It allows the corporate sector to dominate policy processes while member states and civil society have no meaningful participation.”
The FAO and its member states must stop the corporate capture of the agency. It can do this by immediately revising existing partnerships, ending those with conflicts of interests, increasing transparency around funding and private sector engagement, strengthening the FAO's budget with public funding and expanding due diligence mechanisms to address duty of care, liability and remedy.
They should also establish effective mechanisms to prevent conflicts of interest, and strengthen collaboration with small scale food producers to promote food sovereignty and agroecology.
“Cooperation with the corporate sector must follow clear rules, allow for transparency and impartiality, and establish clear accountability mechanisms, instead of serving the interest of the private sector,” says Naik.
Download the report: Corporate Capture of FAO: Industry's Deepening Influence on Global Food Governance