Main concerns of CSM Letter on Food System Summit remain without adequate response
Note of the CSM Liaison Group after meeting with CFS Chair and
Special Envoy for UN Food System Summit (UNFSS)
On March 24th, at the invitation of the CFS Chair, members of the CSM Liaison Group on the FSS met with the UNFSS Special Envoy and other UNFSS leadership staff, which the CSM accepted as an opportunity to relay a multitude of concerns about the structure, focus, and governance of the UNFSS. In particular the CSM highlighted the failure of the UNFSS to adequately account for the gross power imbalances that corporations hold over food systems, the lack of a human rights foundation for the Summit that clearly articulates the roles and responsibilities of States to defend rights holders against exploitative profit-seeking behavior by private sector entities, and the urgent need to fundamentally transform corporate food systems, particularly in the context of the on-going COVID 19 crisis. These concerns, as articulated in a February 9th letter from the CSM to the CFS Chair, have gathered significant support from civil society and social movements globally, with over 200 organizations endorsing the CSM’s demands.
The UNFSS Special Envoy’s opening statements during the meeting highlighted the importance of addressing the climate crisis and specifically emphasized the unique role of the CFS, as the only appropriate global policy forum for negotiating food systems policy and the outcomes of the UNFSS. But the CSM was disappointed to see the UNFSS leadership fail to respond to its core questions and demands.
In particular, the UNFSS leadership’s only response to concerns about corporate conflicts of interest within the Summit was to indicate that corporate entities are encouraged to engage in the process as relevant actors in the food systems spectrum, and are allowed to participate in the Summit Action Tracks if represented through an association, with no indication given on how corporate power will be checked through the opaque National and Independent UNFSS Dialogue events leading up to the Summit itself.
When challenged by the CSM on the importance of a clear and equitable Summit governance structure that ensures civil society and social movements can organize autonomously and shape the Summit’s agenda in-line with the CSM’s call for transforming corporate food systems and implementing human rights frameworks, the UNFSS leadership’s only response was to offer CSM the opportunity to engage in the UNFSS Action tracks and Dialogue events, with no details provided on how inputs from the Dialogue events are weighed or prioritize the voices of grassroot, frontline, and peasant communities.
The CSM’s concerns about the unchecked power of corporate actors, conflicts of interest, and the governance of the Summit were further compounded by statements by the UNFSS leadership suggesting that we also need to hear from good corporations when States debate food systems and the implementation of the SDGs, indicating the UNFSS leadership’s seemly fundamental misunderstanding of the long history corporate capture of public institutions, and in-turn States marginalizing the rights and interests of civil society organizations outside of the CFS.
While the CSM delegation appreciated the effort by the CFS Chair to organize the dialogue between UNFSS Special Envoy and the CSM Liaison Group, it is clear that the UNFSS leadership is not adequately responding to the concerns and calls for accountability expressed by the CSM grassroots constituencies they claim to serve. In this way the meeting concluded with the CSM emphatically reiterating that our concerns and demands continue to be unaddressed by the UNFSS leadership and we cannot jump on a train moving in the wrong direction toward further embedding the status quo of corporate power in our food systems.