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G20: Business takes a leaf from Oxfam’s book

G20: Business takes a leaf from Oxfam’s book

November 11, 2010

Oxfam’s Mark Fried blogs from Seoul

(Other entires: I tried on the costume and it fits,  Ha-Joon is a friend of mine!, and Lights Camera Talk!)

I spent Wednesday afternoon in a luxurious hotel with 100 honchos from the biggest multinational corporations in the world. Well, not exactly with them, but in the same building.

They are gathered here in Seoul for the B20, or the Business 20, an innovation on summitry cooked up by Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the Toronto G20 last June. In its first iteration, the B20 seemed little more than a way to give the masters of the world some face-time with political leaders just ahead of the G20 summit.

But some of the execs, at least, decided to take it seriously. They continued meeting and have now come up with a book of "preliminary findings and recommendations" for the G20 leaders. It could be an Oxfam campaign report – not so much the content as the form. It is filled with NGO advocacy lingo about “closing the financing gap” and “innovative financing mechanisms” and “putting [trade or health or investment] permanently on the G20 agenda.” They even use the same layout as Oxfam reports, in the Oxfam green.

Of their recommendations, some are maddening and others surprisingly progressive. On the maddening side, they pitch for public money to facilitate their private investments in infrastructure and they raise the ugly head of a multilateral treaty to protect foreign investors.

On the other hand, they get climate change in a way that political leaders don’t. They urge the G20 to put a price on carbon, whether by taxes or cap and trade; to step up energy efficiency in buildings, transport and industry; and most concretely, “to abolish fossil fuel subsidies within the shortest possible timeframe, and not more than five years."

They also zero in on the health crisis in poor countries, "to change the trajectory of the private sector’s involvement with healthcare in developing economies" – which for the moment let’s choose to treat not as a Trojan horse for promoting private healthcare – and they call on each of the hundred honchos to contribute $1 million a year for three years to the Global Fund or to GAVI, the global vaccines initiative.

All in all, much more seems to be happening here among the CEOs than among the politicians across town.

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