Declaration Of The Counter-Mobilization To Transform Corporate Food Systems

Confronting the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, climate chaos, increasing hunger and all forms of malnutrition, ecological destruction and multiple humanitarian crises, we[1], social movements, indigenous peoples’ articulations, non-governmental organizations, and academics assert our commitment to food sovereignty and reject the ongoing corporate colonization of food systems and food governance under the façade of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS).

Industrial food systems and increasing corporate control of food chains are responsible for existential threats faced by our populations and planet, including the climate crisis, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, land degradation, water pollution and countless human rights violations. Corporate control has produced a food system that leaves over a billion hungry, under-nourished, and economically destitute[2]. Furthermore, ultra-processed industrial products cause malnutrition, including overweight and obesity, conditions that contribute to severe COVID 19 infections and deaths. Urgent political action, from local to the international levels, is needed to address growing inequality, structural injustice, gender-based violence, and displacement; the status quo is simply untenable for the majority of the world’s population.

The only just and sustainable path forward is to immediately halt and transform corporate globalized food systems. The first step on this path is fully recognizing, implementing, and enforcing the human right to adequate food. While foundational, the right to adequate food is indivisible from other basic human rights, such as the right to health, housing, safe working conditions, living wages, social protection, clean environments, and civil-political rights including collective bargaining and political participation, which collectively should be central to any food system process. With this critical orientation, public food policy and governance must respond to the livelihoods and interests of the most vulnerable and future generations, protecting and promoting peasants, indigenous peoples, fisher communities, pastoralists, workers, landless, forest dwellers, consumers and the urban poor, and respecting our planetary boundaries. It is these constituencies that most deserve to be at the centre of the governance and policy-making tables. We reject any empty food system process which ignores our human rights, and fails to explicitly and meaningfully elevate these food systems actors.

The UNFSS 2021, initiated by the UN Secretary General shortly after signing a comprehensive agreement with the World Economic Forum (WEF), fails to meet these fundamental requirements. Established by 1000 of the largest corporations in the world, the WEF and its affiliates have been controlling the Summit’s design, structure, processes, governance and content: the president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is the Special Envoy of the Summit; the ‘Scientific Group’ is made up of corporate sponsored actors who legitimise corporate-owned knowledge and technology systems; and the ‘game changing solutions’ emerging from the Summit’s Action Tracks serve to deepen corporate control over all aspects of our food systems and impose new rules to protect the interests and profits of a handful of multinational companies.

Large multinational corporations – including those dominating social communication and speculating in predictive product markets – are increasingly infiltrating the multilateral spaces of the United Nations to co-opt the narrative of sustainability and divert it back into the channels of further industrialization with digital and biotechnologies, extraction of wealth and labor from rural communities, and concentration of corporate power.  We reject false solutions which will continue to oppress and exploit people, communities and territories.

Instead of being grounded in human rights, the UNFSS claims to be a multistakeholder forum in which participants, whether governments, individuals, agencies, or organization representatives are given a symbolic ticket to be a member of the audience of this event. But stakeholders are not necessarily rights-holders – people and communities’ rights and sovereignty should not be confused with private-sector business interests. While 70-80% of the world’s food is produced by small-holders who have a powerful collective voice, this individuated multistakeholder process gives outsized power to a powerful few that control food, agricultural and capital markets. The lack of adequate Conflict of Interest safeguards in the Summit processes has allowed corporate-driven coalitions to position themselves as agents for implementing public policies with public resources, but without the accountability mechanisms, mandate and transparency standards of public institutions.  We will not accept such a multistakeholder process, especially in the area of agroecology, because policies to strengthen agroecology are a human rights obligation of States and UN agencies due to agroecology’s crucial role in achieving the right to adequate food and other human rights[3].

This UNFSS differs from previous UN world food summits in that it will not be a multilateral event where negotiated agreements could provide clear guidance for decision-making processes and accountability mechanisms defining the responsibilities of States. Corporate capture, multistakeholderism, and lack of human rights grounding threaten the highest levels of the United Nations, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the foremost and most inclusive multilateral body for food governance which has the authority and the legitimacy to lead this process. We find it unacceptable that the UNFSS, as a non-normative process with an illegitimate governance structure, is attempting to delegate its outcomes and follow-up to the CFS, which is an intergovernmental system; the UNFSS does not have this legitimacy or authority, and this approach violates the CFS’s mandate and reform statute. We condemn this attempt to undermine the CFS, and demand that the inclusive vision and processes of the CFS be recognized and strengthened. We urge our governments to defend multilateralism, rights-based and participatory policy-making – as established by the FAO member states regarding the rules of participation of civil society organizations and social movements – as well as political accountability.

The struggle for sustainable, just food systems cannot be unhooked from the realities of the peoples whose rights, knowledge and livelihoods have gone unrecognized and disrespected. We have the viable solutions to address the systemic problems in our food systems.

As we have demanded in our People’s Autonomous Response to the UN Food Systems Summit[4], the transformation of food systems must be ecological and socially transformative. Since 1996 social movements and civil society have been building a movement and community-based processes of governance around the vision of food sovereignty, based on small-scale food producers, workers, agroecological practices, and urban movements. In this 25th year anniversary of food sovereignty, we reaffirm our unity and commitment to push for radically transformative strategies which recognize peoples’ needs, accord dignity, respect nature, put people above profits, and resist corporate capture, collectively towards a fair and decent food system for all.

For more information visit www.foodsystems4people.org