An Interview with Joanna Kerr

Resource Net, Friday File
Issue 213
Friday, February 11, 2005

1) Demystifying the Millennium Development Goal Processes: An Interview
with Joanna Kerr

by Kathambi Kinoti

2) Towards an International Human Rights Framework for Corporate
Accountability: The United Nations Human Rights Norms for Business

By Kathambi Kinoti

1) Demystifying the Millennium Development Goal Processes: An Interview
with Joanna Kerr

by Kathambi Kinoti

AWID’s Executive Director Joanna Kerr explains the key processes associated
with the Millennium Development Goals which will occur in 2005.

AWID: 2005 has been identified as a critical year for international
engagement on women’s rights and gender and development issues. The
five-year review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is one of the
key international processes for women to be paying attention to this year.
Can you please explain the different processes associated with the MDGs?

JK: The eight MDGs were created from an unprecedented gathering of world
leaders in 2000. In September of this year, leaders are coming together
again at the Millennium Summit in New York. There is a myth that the Summit
is being held to discuss the MDGs only but this is not so. The Summit
actually has a 3-part agenda: a) to review the achievements towards the
Millennium Declaration (which is far more comprehensive than the MDGs; b)
to discuss terrorism and security issues, and c) to discuss UN reform. The
MDGs, therefore, are just a small part of the overall agenda of the

The third Millennium Development is ‘to promote gender equality and empower
women.’ The indicator for this “goal 3” is ‘the elimination of gender
disparity in primary and secondary school education.’ Many women’s
organization are frustrated with the MDGs because it will actually take
much more than girls’ education to achieve gender equality. Violence
against women, women’s reproductive and sexual rights or women’s labour
rights, for example were not reflected in goal 3.

However, despite the inadequacy of this goal, several UN agencies are
trying to use the MDGs and the Millennium Summit to advance gender
equality. UNIFEM, for example, has published “Pathway to Gender: CEDAW,
Beijing and the MDGs: Pathway to Gender Equality”, the Department for
Economic and Social Affairs at the UN is trying to work within the system
to expand the targets and indicators associated with the Goal 3, and also
the Division for the Advancement of Women is holding, as we speak, an
expert group meeting in Azerbaijan on ways and means of linking the
implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action with the Millennium
Development Goals

Outside the UN system there is also the Millennium Project which is headed
by Jeffrey Sachs. It has several task forces looking at how to achieve the
8 Millennium Goals and one specifically looking at gender equality. This
taskforce, headed by Caren Grown and Geeta Rao Gupta, has put forward
important recommendations in its report and expanded Goal 3 to include
many targets around gender and property rights, reproductive rights,
informal employment, eliminating violence against women, looking at girls’
education to ensure that they not just get into school but also stay in
school, and reducing the work burden of women by addressing infrastructure:
transport, sanitation, water and energy.

There is also the Millennium Campaign is energizing people’s involvement in
understanding and advocating around the MDGs. The Campaign is a UN and
civil society collaboration run by people within the UN. One of the key
players is Evelyn Herfkins, a former development cooperation minister for
the Netherlands. She is working with the Millennium Campaign to persuade
governments to increase the levels of their overseas development

Last but not least, another worldwide initiative is called the Global Call
for Action against Poverty (GCAP), which was just launched at the World
Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. This Call to Action, which is a
network of civil society organizations and social movements, is autonomous
from the UN. Its focus is on trade justice, debt cancellation and
increasing levels of overseas development assistance. Our feeling, based on
discussions at a meeting of women’s organizations organized by UNIFEM, The
Millennium Campaign, and Heinrich Boll Foundation in December 2004, is that
this campaign provides the most space for women’s groups and movements to
push for economic justice and women’s rights in the context of this year
because it goes beyond just a focus on the MDGs A small group of women’s
organizations formed an informal task force and sent a representative to
the January planning meeting of the GCAP in the Netherlands. This group is
now organizing a ‘launch party’ for G-CAP on March 6th at the Beijing +10
meetings in New York, AWID will be sending more detailed information on
G-CAP to all our members in the coming days.

AWID: Given all of these parallel processes, what would you identify as
feminist priorities for 2005?

JK: The reality is that governments are currently preoccupied with the
Millennium Summit, which happens to be taking place in the same year as
Beijing +10, the ten-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action. So we
need to to ensure that Beijing+10 feeds into the Millennium Summit and that
issues of violence against women and reproductive rights, amongst other
things are considered by governments. Indeed, there will be many
discussions at the Beijing +10 meeting to ensure that the processes are

But the real work needs to be done at the national level. And because
governments will be required to say how they are working towards the
Millennium Declaration and MDGs women’s groups can lobby their governments
on key issues of economic justice and women’s rights using whichever of the
initiatives they feel is most strategic.

AWID: Given that it has been demonstrated, by the US, for example, in its
decision to attack Iraq in 2003, that the UN can easily be sidestepped by
powerful states, and given that the World Bank, IMF and WTO have proved
more powerful than the UN in terms of economic global governance, do you
think that women’s organizations will really benefit from engaging with the
UN and UN processes? Is the UN still relevant?

JK: Yes, the UN is still relevant, though it does need reforms. But to
this issue, the MDGs are more than a UN process. National governments are
very involved in the “MDG process”. The World Bank is just as involved in
the MDGs as the UN. Furthermore, the G-8, which consists of the most
powerful countries in the world, is making the goals a big priority. The
agenda of the G-8 meeting (that will be held in Scotland on June 6 –8,
2005) is going to focus on Africa, climate change, the establishment of an
Africa Commission, and other issues all related to the Millennium Summit.
The G-8 will discuss the role of the northern countries in addressing the
global economic imbalance. Alongside this there are many campaigns to look
at unfair trade rules and debt forgiveness. The G-8 discussions should both
implicitly and explicitly tackle imbalances between the North and South.

So while many feel that this year has been captured by MDG madness,
particularly in a year ten years after Beijing when we could have brought
women’s rights back to the top of government’s agendas, there is something
to be said that poverty itself is being discussed and hopefully tackled.
Given the current international preoccupation with the terrorism or
security agenda, some say that the MDGs are almost “revolutionary”. The
attention around the Millennium Summit and the MDGs might be the most
substantial counterforce to the war on terror/security agenda – a Bush
agenda that has worked against the rights of women and men globally.

For more information on the above mentioned processes please visit:

On the Global Call to Action against Poverty

On the Millennium Development Goals

On the Millennium Project

On the Millennium Campaign

UNIFEM’s “Pathway to Gender: CEDAW, Beijing and the MDGS”

2) Towards an International Human Rights Framework for Corporate
Accountability: The United Nations Human Rights Norms for Business

By Kathambi Kinoti

In December 2003, the community of Rupokwu in Nigeria suffered a
devastating oil spill after part of an oil pipeline that runs through the
area burst. As a result, water wells were contaminated, depriving the
community of drinking water. Farmlands and fishponds were also destroyed
and most families in this farming community lost their source of income.
The oil pipeline is operated by the multinational corporation (MNC) Shell
Petroleum Development Corporation in partnership with the Nigerian National
Petroleum Corporation. Neither entity has cleaned up after the oil spill.
The incident and consequent inaction by Shell and the Nigerian government
have caused human rights violations to the people of Rupokwu. Their right
to a clean and healthy environment and an adequate standard of living have
clearly been violated.

In 1984, a toxic gas leak in the Indian city of Bhopal caused enormous
damage to the lives and livelihoods of the community. The leak occurred at
a plant of another MNC, the Union Carbide Corporation. Within three days,
more than 7000 people had died and thousands more were injured. Today, more
than 20 years later, over 100 000 people suffer chronic and debilitating
illnesses and babies are born with birth defects. Many women have been
unable to have children and suffer social stigma and discrimination. Union
Carbide, which denied responsibility for the leak, has transferred its
assets and operations to another corporation that denies it has inherited
its predecessor’s liabilities. Union Carbide has refused to submit to the
jurisdiction of the court in Bhopal where community members have sought
justice. The people of Bhopal have suffered numerous rights violations,
such as their right to life, health, an effective remedy before the courts,
an adequate standard of living and a safe environment.

Women in the least developed countries (LDCs) form the majority of people
most vulnerable to human rights violations by MNCs. They bear the brunt of
the destruction of environments and livelihoods. They also form the
majority of low-wage workers. The Bhopal case illustrates the
discrimination that women can be subjected to. However, it is not only in
the LDCs that women suffer corporate abuses. Wal-Mart, an American
corporation currently faces a lawsuit from present and former female
employees, who accuse it of sex discrimination in promotion and healthcare

The process of globalization has resulted in the acquisition of immense
power by MNCs, particularly in developing countries where they are able to
shape policy and influence governments. In LDCs they often cause human
rights abuses with impunity and exhibit a lack of transparency, behaving in
ways that they would not be able to in their home countries in the global
North. MNCs operate across national borders and individual governments
cannot effectively regulate their activities. They sometimes avoid
accountability by taking advantage of laws that allow them to transfer
their business or operate under different corporations, as illustrated by
the Union Carbide Corporation and the Placer Dome Corporation, which has
caused human rights violations in the mines of the Philippines. Even when
countries have national laws governing the activities of corporations,
these laws are often inadequate or not applied to MNCs, particularly in
developing countries. The corporations often work in areas that are rich in
natural resources but are not developed, where they exploit the environment
and local populations, even causing their displacement and threatening
their cultural heritage. In Kenya for instance, a Canadian mining MNC,
Tiomin Inc. recently came into conflict with a local community when its
activities infringed upon the forests that the community has held sacred
for centuries. Since MNCs have so much power, previously wielded only by
governments, there is a need for an international regulatory framework
within which they can operate. It is impossible to achieve sustainable
development and alleviate poverty without protecting the human rights and
dignity of all people.

The United Nations Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational
Corporations and other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights
were adopted in August 2003 by the UN Sub-Commission on the Protection and
Promotion of Human Rights. The Norms were drafted with the assistance of
business, unions and NGO’s despite significant opposition from some
governments and MNCs.

The Norms address the obligations that corporations have in their areas of
activity and influence. They impose obligations on States to ensure that
MNCs and other business corporations respect human rights, and enumerate
and elaborate the obligations of businesses. Some of these obligations are
as follows:
- To ensure equal opportunity and non-discriminatory treatment of all
persons regardless of sex, nationality, age, religion, social and other
- To respect national sovereignty.
- To respect human rights including the rights to development, adequate
food and drinking water, the highest attainable standard of physical and
mental health, adequate housing, privacy, education, freedom from forced
labour and the exploitation of children
- To protect the environment.
- To avoid corruption and maintain transparency
- To ensure consumer protection and public safety
-To observe the precautionary principle, which means avoiding or reducing
the risk of accidents or harm to the environment or people
- To provide reparation to persons or communities who have been adversely
affected by the failure of MNCs to comply with the Norms.

The Norms do not completely cover all aspects of MNC dealings. For instance
the issue of mergers and acquisitions such as the Union Carbide – Dow one
are not adequately addressed. Again, the issue of privatization of
previously public-owned entities is neglected. Where governments previously
provided public services, corporations are likely to take short-cuts and
overlook the greater public good, limiting for instance, access to water
for all.

The Norms are not an international treaty and are therefore not legally
binding on states or corporations. This, perhaps, raises the greatest
concern as implementation cannot ensured. However, they can be used by
governments to enact legislation and shape policy. They can also be used by
corporations to design their business policy. Human rights advocates can
use the Norms in their advocacy work, and national and international
tribunals can refer to them.

According to the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO),
though the Norms do reflect some concern for gender issues they do not
adequately integrate all issues. They observe the principle of equality of
opportunity and treatment. However they should do the following:
1. Identify women being among the vulnerable groups.
2. Recognize gender-based violence as violating the right to security of
the person.
3. Address sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence in
the workplace
4. Require gender-equitable policies in lay-offs, contract work and
temporary work.
5. Address gender inequities in hiring, training, promotion and retention
6. Address the inclusion of women in corporate decision-making.


1. Use the Norms in education, advocacy and lobbying efforts to influence
legislative and policy changes and to participate in solidarity actions
with affected communities.

2. Use the Norms to monitor, document and challenge corporate violations.

3. Make use of the Briefing Kit prepared by the International Network for
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ECSR-Net). The Kit contains
background information on the Norms, case studies, analysis and recommended
actions. It can be downloaded at

4. Support development and implementation of the Norms by joining lobbying
efforts such as those by ECSR-Net before the next Commission on Human
Rights, which will take place from March 14 to April 22, 2005. For more
information, visit ECSR-Net’s website at

The UN Human Rights Norms for Business can be downloaded at

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