Constructive Dialogue between the UN Deputy Secretary General and the CSM Liaison Group on the UN Food Systems Summit (FSS)
An open exchange on the Food Systems Summit took place on Friday 30 April between the UN Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed, and the FSS Liaison Group of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism. The meeting was facilitated by the CFS Chair, Thanawat Tiensin, in response to a CSM request presented in a Letter on the Food Systems Summit in February 2021. The call was also joined by the UN Special Envoy for the FSS, Agnes Kalibata, and other members of the UNSG office as well as from the CFS and FSS Secretariats.
The thoughtful and cordial conversation found areas of common concern, as well as key areas on which participants agreed to disagree. The Deputy Secretary General (DSG) underlined the centrality of human rights to the implementation of the SDGs, the need for an increased pace of food systems transformation, and full respect for the independence of civil society. She also expressed concern that the UN System and multilateralism are being seriously challenged.
While CSM delegates could acknowledge common ground in recognizing these urgent challenges and needs, it became clear that two profoundly distinctly different visions were speaking to each other regarding how to approach these problems and how to shape the directionality of transformations.
The CSM defends the human rights-based global governance mandate of the UN and an inclusive multilateralism with differentiated roles and responsibilities as adhered to in the CFS, the foremost inclusive intergovernmental and international platform on food security and nutrition. Addressing questions of power asymmetries, corporate concentration and the agency of peoples is central to ensuring food systems transformations. Multistakeholderism, as it is being practiced in the Food System Summit and through the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the UN Secretary General and the World Economic Forum (WEF), attempts to undermine this model and enables the most influential corporate actors to exercise undue influence in public policy making, including in the UN, and to advance the corporate capture of food systems on all levels.
The DSG did not share these views. She stands by the Memorandum of Understanding with WEF, although noting that it is not specific to the Food Systems Summit. She indicated that an additional action track on transforming corporate food systems, as demanded in the CSM letter, will not be established. She announced that corporate accountability will be tackled in all action tracks but did not explain how this would be done, although she recognized that corporate power in food systems has hurt many communities and is a problem to be tackled. In her view, strong measures against conflict of interest have already been taken in the Food Systems Summit although the examples given did not convince the CSM delegation. The fact that corporations are involved in FSS not as individual companies but via trade associations, business groups and other front groups, often under a not-for-profit cover, gives them a strong opportunity to advance industry interests in a streamlined, powerful, and efficient way and makes it difficult to hold them accountable for their interference in public policy making.
From the exchange, it emerged that the centrality of the CFS is key to the DSG, the CSM and the CFS Chair. The DSG explicitly stated that the UN Secretary General does not have the intention to promote any new food governance structure through the FSS and the outcome document will therefore not address the governance architecture. While the DSG clarified that the compilation of the final outcome document will be facilitated by the office of the Secretary General, it remains unclear how the selection and decision-making process on its content will be conducted. The DSG clarified that the final two-page document will not be negotiated but should be based on agreed or negotiated text. CSM continues to be doubtful how such an approach can meet UN requirements in terms of full and substantive participation of Member States, transparency, and democratic accountability.
The CSM Liaison Group informed the DSG about the decision taken by the organizations that participate in the civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ independent process challenging the FSS, to organize counter-events around the Pre-Summit in July. The political course of the independent process will continue to challenge the Food Systems Summit, promote food sovereignty and the radical transformation of corporate food systems, defend the CFS, including its High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) and uphold the human rights mandate of the UN.
The DSG responded that she fully respects this decision and that she still wishes the official FSS process to learn from the civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ independent process. She therefore invited the Liaison Group for a follow-up dialogue after the Pre-Summit. The CSM delegation expressed appreciation to both the Deputy Secretary General and the CFS Chair for the conversation and welcomed the proposed follow-up after the Pre-Summit.
Brief information about the Independent Process to challenge the UN FSS:
- The independent process of civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations to challenge the UN Food Systems Summit is based on the Open Call the Coordination Committee of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanisms for relations with the CFS launched in October 2020, after more than a year of observing the Summit preparations.
- The CSM is the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism for relations with the CFS. Several hundred international, regional and national organizations from 11 global constituencies and 17 subregions are participating in the CSM: smallholder family farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, agricultural and food workers, consumers, landless, urban food insecure and NGOs. The international and regional organizations participating in the CSM have more than 380 million affiliated members.
- The Open call to challenge the UN Food Systems Summit has been joined by a great number of international, regional and national organizations from other domains and platforms such as climate change and biodiversity, women’s rights and gender equality, social justice and inequalities, corporate capture, communities’ participation in political decision making, repression, shrinking space for civil society, and human rights accountability, among others.