The long-running debate about how WHO interacts with corporations is coming to crisis point. In the context of its Reform Process WHO Secretariat has been working on a new Framework of Engagement with non-State Actors – a term which applies equally to corporations, big philanthropies and public interest groups.
The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has been following this issue for many years and is calling for the negotiations to be put on hold and for the work to be informed by an expert meeting on Conflicts of Interest with public participation, with the aim of ensuring that WHO is protected from undue corporate and funder influence and stays true to its constitutional mandate.
During the discussions at regional and global level, the concerns of many Member States have not been taken seriously. African countries, for example, have stressed that“WHO should proceed with caution in developing a policy on engagement with non-State Actors” and specifically called for a “clear policy on how WHO will manage its conflicts of Interest.” In contrast the Regional Committee for Europe has been pushing for speedy adoption of the Framework.
The resulting Framework that Member States will be asked to approve this week, although claiming to address the key issues, is totally inadequate and fails to achieve the safeguards called for. Significantly the entire conflict of interest section is still in brackets (and might even be deleted) and the conflict of interest definition wrongly confuses the legal definition of conflicts of interest which refers to conflicting primary and secondary interests within an institution with conflicts between actors.
There seems to be a lack of political will to sort out this critical component of much needed comprehensive, coherent and effective public interest safeguards in the face of giant companies and private funding for public purposes. Instead the document refers frequently to the need for ‘mutual respect’ and ‘trust’ and proposes that a key principle for relations with WHO is inclusiveness of all actors. …