Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Cleaning Up Their Act: During the Past Decade, Many Transnational Corporations Have Not Lived Up to Their Promises to Reduce Hazardous Wastes and Promote Cleaner Production That They Made at the Rio Earth Summit

Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Cleaning Up Their Act: During the Past Decade, Many Transnational Corporations Have Not Lived Up to Their Promises to Reduce Hazardous Wastes and Promote Cleaner Production That They Made at the Rio Earth Summit

Article excerpt

Ten years ago, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development--otherwise known as the Rio Earth Summit--transnational corporations were given an important role in the reduction of hazardous waste and in the development and global promotion of cleaner production. During the Rio Earth Summit, delegations from 178 countries, 100 heads of state, thousands of members of the press, and representatives from more than 1,000 nongovernmental organizations addressed the environmental, economic, and social challenges facing the global community.

Now, on the eve of the World Summit on Sustainable Development--August 26 through September 4, 2002--it is an appropriate time to reflect on the progress of transnational corporations in the promotion of global sustainable development. At Rio, there was wide acknowledgment, even within the international business community, that transnational corporations in hazardous industries, at times, have engaged in environmentally unsound activities, particularly in less-developed host countries. But, by the early 1990s, transnational corporations in those industries argued that such poor environmental behavior was a thing of the past. (1)

Participants at Rio recognized at least two good reasons why transnational corporations were in an ideal position to transfer clean, rather than hazardous, production technologies to developing countries. First, transnational corporations could afford to develop such technologies; and, second, they were more likely to install those technologies in their affiliates abroad before local firms could, or would, do so.

Agenda 21--a broad statement of goals and programs related to sustainable development, drawn up at the 1992 Earth Summit--asked transnational corporations in host countries to adopt hazardous waste standards that are equivalent to or no less stringent than those in their home country. (2) Agenda 21 promoted voluntary efforts by private business and industry associations as a way to meet goals such as hazardous waste reduction and clean technology transfer. (3)

Over the past decade, transnational corporations have indeed played a key role in shaping hazardous waste reduction and cleaner production policies. Unfortunately, while some corporations are truly committed to these goals, others are not. At the international level, for example, some corporations have actively attempted to influence environmental policy to allow the continued generation of hazardous waste. Unless there is a genuine commitment to reduce the global generation of hazardous waste, efforts to adopt "clean production" will ultimately fail.

With the help of industry lobby groups, transnational corporations have influenced international environmental policy on these issues by taking an active role in the shaping of rules under the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. This treaty regulates international trade in hazardous wastes and ultimately could minimize the global generation of hazardous waste.

Transnational corporations were also key players in the development of the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 14000 series, a set of standards for managing a company's environmental impacts. These voluntary industry standards promote sustainable development through improved environmental awareness in industry management systems and are extremely important to the success of Rio's goals of reducing hazardous waste and promoting clean production.

Industry's role in each of these policy initiatives, however, has thus far proven disappointing.

Basel Convention

In response to highly publicized incidents of unwanted waste imports in developing countries, the Basel Convention was negotiated and adopted in the late 1980s. Governing the cross-border trade and disposal of hazardous waste, this international agreement focuses on promoting cleaner production. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.