Peoples’ Nutrition is Not a Business

The right to adequate food and nutrition is violated across the world on a daily basis. Simultaneously, food and nutrition is becoming big business and corporations are increasingly taking control over food production, institutions and policy spaces. Bearing witness to this corporate capture, FIAN is partaking in the publication of the Right to Food and Nutrition Watch. This year’s edition is entitled “Peoples’ Nutrition is Not a Business” and exposes the impact of business operations on peoples’ livelihoods.

The Norwegian launch of the annual civil society-led peer publication Right to Food and Nutrition Watch saw some of Norway’s leading experts in the fields of human rights and nutrition come together to discuss challenges related to the corporate capture of nutrition and food policies. The launch was the main event at a seminar held by the research collaboration LEVE – Livelihood in Developing Countries at the University of Oslo.

Asbjørn Eide from the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights welcomed the audience before passing on the word to the coordinator of LEVE, Sidsel Roalkvam. Special attention was given to the interdisciplinary research network on Food, Human Rights and Corporations (FoHRC), which has grown out of a series of activities under the LEVE network. FoHRC seeks to explore how human rights mechanisms and instruments can be used to promote corporate respect for human rights in the food sector, and how to strengthen governments’ obligations – particularly with regards to the right to food and health. Wenche Barth Eide, from the Department of Nutrition at the University of Oslo, currently heads FoHRC and further introduced the exciting seminars that the network has planned for 2016.

It was strange to be Norwegian in Geneva this year – Lovise Ribe
Highlights from the 4th UN forum on Business and Human Rights were also presented, with Sidsel Roalkvam offering her thoughts and reflections together with Abraham Afrim-Nahr from the Norwegian Center for Human Rights and Lovise Ribe, Executive Director of FIAN Norway.

Lovise Ribe
Lovise Ribe

Afrim-Nahr brought attention to the current Treaty discussions in the UN  – how can a Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights be developed and implemented? There are still many unanswered questions, but a key issue is to figure out how to provide effective access to remedies.

Ribe had participated in this year’s UN Forum and told us that Norway did not take part in the Treaty discussions. Norway’s non-presence in this important process is in stark contrast to the country’s previous prominent role in the development of the voluntary guidelines on business and human rights (UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – UNGP). It was indeed “strange to be Norwegian in Geneva this year”, Ribe said.

Corporate Capture of Food and Nutrition Governance
The keynote speaker of the day was Flavio Valente, Secretary-General of FIAN International. He held a highly inspirational speech about the corporate capture of food and nutrition governance, and how the private sector is infiltrating all policy spaces and doing so progressively. He said that after the food crisis in 2007, landgrabs, corporate capture of water, and frontal attack of seeds became rampant and apparent.

Corporate conflicts of interest in public policy are jeopardizing peoples’ right to food and nutritional sovereignty. One of the examples given was the collapse of the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN) and its absorption into the more medicalized Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative, which currently has 123 businesses as members. Systemic causes of malnutrition remain unaddressed and local capacities to respond to malnutrition are minimized, privileging a global nutrition industry.

Valente also brought to attention how human rights involve obligations: states are duty bearers with the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. It is clear that the present economic model cannot guarantee the conditions for national governments to fulfill their human rights obligations, including the right to adequate food and nutrition.

Can collaborations be successful?
Liv Elin Torheim, the leader of the National Nutrition Council in Norway, argued that collaborations with the private sector may prove fruitful given certain circumstances. She said that Norway has succeeded in collaborating with the private sector in a salt partnership, where the industry is reducing the amount of salt in their products. There is also a plan to reduce the amount of saturated fat. Torheim pointed to the possible positives outcomes of cooperating with the private sector, but still noted the importance of not letting them set the standards or taking excessive control.

Asbjørn Eide
Asbjørn Eide

Asbjørn Eide brought the discussion to an international level in his presentation about non-state actors in decision-making processes and how the quartette of governments, civil society organizations, corporations, and national human rights institutions interact. He said that civil society organizations play an important role in promoting the political will of governments in realizing human rights.

Commenting upon the issues raised, Gunnvor Berge from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that she sees “glimmers of hope amidst all the challenges.” With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aiming to end hunger by 2030, she talked about the possibility of today’s generation being the first generation in history to experience zero hunger. The question, however, remains how this will be achieved. She challenged Valente on how to bring the agenda forward. Valente replied that is it important to stay angry.

Business as usual may lead to death
I am angry. Business as usual may mean dying for people on the ground,” Valente said. He stated that we need a Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights to end impunity. That corporate capture is putting human rights at great risk. That we need to be angry about corporate abuse.

With this strong call for action, the launch ended on a high note that inspired the participants to stay engaged in the fight for human rights. The event allowed for different view points on business and human rights to be discussed, but it is fair to say that Valente’s last words had a particularly strong impact on the audience.

The Norwegian launch of Right to Food and Nutrition Watch 2015 took place on 15 December at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights. It was hosted by FIAN Norway, LEVE – Livelihood in Developing Countries from the University of Oslo and LEVE’s research network on Food, Human Rights and Corporations (FoHRC).

To support the Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights, see the Treaty Alliance’s website.

Cover Photo: Flavio Valente. Photographer: Kristin Slungård/FIAN Norway