WHO Engagement With Outside Actors: Delegates Tight-Lipped, Civil Society Worried 24/05/2016 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch 2 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)This week, country delegates meeting at the annual World Health Assembly are expected to come to an agreement on a framework managing the UN World Health Organization’s relationship with outside actors, such as the private sector, philanthropic organisations and civil society groups. A drafting group was established on the first day of the assembly, which is meeting behind closed doors, excluding observers. Civil society is voicing concerns about the draft text as a potential Trojan horse for private and philanthropic organisations’ influence on WHO policies. The 69th World Health Assembly is taking place from 23-28 May. A first closed-door meeting was organised on 24 May over lunch time with discussions concentrating on the private sector and the implementation of the framework, according to some delegates, although most did not want to comment. Delegates went back to closed-door discussions in the afternoon and will continue on 25 May. Some sixty civil society groups in a joint statement [pdf] today voiced concerns about the ongoing discussions on the draft Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA). The current draft framework [pdf] brings some improvement over existing measures, they said, such as the proactive disclosure of financial contributions and the prohibition of secondments (staff on loan) from the private sector. However, the groups said major concerns remain. In particular, they said, the draft framework in its overarching section puts private sector entities on equal footing with other non-state actors, “failing to recognize their fundamentally different nature and roles.” According to the civil society letter, the proposal in FENSA to “expressly allow business interest groups to obtain ‘official relations’ status under the label of Non State Actors will, once and for all, legitimize lobbying by business associations and philanthropic foundations at WHO governing bodies.” The civil society groups are calling for member states to evaluate the FENSA process, to re-open transparent debate, clarify concepts, and “obtain missing evidence, including from WHO civil servants and public interest advocates…” They are also asking that the safeguards against undue influence from the private sector be strengthened and in particular by developing a comprehensive and effective conflict of interest policy. WHO should be protected from “the undue influence of venture philanthropy and corporate funding,” they added, and should be fully funded by member states. In particular, FENSA should “set out clear rules regarding acceptance of cash or in-kind contribution from these NSA [non-state actors], recognizing that such forms of funding to WHO risk unduly affecting WHO’s integrity, independence and effectiveness in fulfilling its mandate.” Private Sector as Public Interest Organisations? A side event was organised today by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), the Peoples’ Health Movement (PHM), and the Third World Network (TWN), all three signatories to the letter. According to Amit Sengupta from PHM, there is a “deep malaise” faced by the entire United Nations system, as the process of global governance is escaping the hands of countries as “powerful private actors,” whether they are corporations or philanthropic organisations, have more and more influence. He also pointed to partnerships involving the private sector and foundations. Global governance is not being driven by countries but by a range of actors, he said, and this is reflected in the WHO in the form of the organisation’s financial crisis, he added. The discussions on FENSA are also about “this ambition of private actors and foundations to secure a seat on the high table of decision-making,” promoted by some rich countries, he said. The main sticking point in the discussion is the demand of the private sector to be seen as at the same level as public interest organisations and non-governmental organisations, he said. Lida Lhotska, for IBFAN, said in the baby food area, industry is increasingly gaining access to international discussions which shape nutrition polities, and this undermines efforts at regulating harmful commercial practices. The “stakeholderisation” of our public affairs is not limited to health, and it leads to undue influence and the erosion of our public institutions, she said. In the WHO, it undermines the organisation’s capacity to fulfil its constitutional mandate, she said. A crucial stage in the FENSA discussion, said K M Gopakumar for TWN, is that FENSA should prohibit the WHO from accepting resources for norm-setting activities. However, in the draft framework the text is bracketed, he said, as the notion of norm-setting activities is very vague and would let the WHO secretariat decide what is considered normative work. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."WHO Engagement With Outside Actors: Delegates Tight-Lipped, Civil Society Worried" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.