The conflict of interest in multilateral negotiation on nutrition, health and trade

With the Non-State Actors paradigm, recent intergovernmental negotiations taking place in the UN agencies have brought about a new version of the multi-stakeholder model introduced in the UN system with the Global Compact, and enforced via the Millennium Development Goals cycle, including through a considerable number of public and private partnerships. The new semantic notion is now permanently reflected in the WHO reform process (started in 2011), in the negotiation on the post 2015 development agenda as well as in the current diplomatic activity around the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), to be held in Rome in November 2014.

The use of the non-state actor (NSA) terminology is not politically neutral and carries risks to democratic decision-making, as it leads to blurring of lines between actors who act in the public interest and those that represent or are influenced by market logic. Concerns have been repeatedly voiced in inter-governmental fora; however the new NSA framework seems no longer negotiable.  This further increases uneasiness about the new approach as it may serve to further increase  the influence of the private sector in global policymaking, thereby exposing the UN agencies to mounting power of corporate or other actors.

The issue of inadequate conflict of interest (CoI) and other public interest safeguards is one area of particular preoccupation. The UN failed to set up an adequate conflict of interest system , and the recent notable trend is to shift the discourse on CoI towards what is called due diligence and risk management approaches. Conflict of interest is widely debated, but scarcely understood  in all its implications. A range of diplomatic initiatives such as the free trade agreements rampantly negotiated worldwide, however, demonstrate how this epidemic conflict is laying the ground for a new governance, potentially detrimental for democracy as we know it.

The proponents of this workshop - aimed primarily at UN delegates in Geneva, and in Rome at a later stage - intend to create the space before an after the forthcoming ICN2 for an in-depth reflection on issues of conflict of interest and other public interest safeguards, to shed a light on the various forms of conflict of interests - and explore measures to protect public interest. A better understanding of the theory and policy applications of conflicts of interest in nutrition, health and trade may indeed help overcome today's stalemate in the debates about how to best assess risks and benefits in managing the engagement between UN agencies and external constituencies on a broad number of key issues.

28 October 2014
The South Centre -  17-19 Chamin du Champ d'Anier
Petit Saconnex, Geneva

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The workshop is promoted by the following organziations: Wemos, South Centre, SID and IBFAN.



Photo: Giovanni/Flickr