The latest issue of the newsletter, Chain Reaction # 121, July 2014, published by Friends of the Earth (FoE) Australia features an article by Louise Sales ‘Corporate influence over nanotechnology regulation‘ that has given me pause. From the Sales article,
I recently attended an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) seminar on the risk assessment and risk management of nanomaterials. This was an eye-opening experience that graphically illustrated the extent of corporate influence over nanotechnology regulation globally. Representatives of the chemical companies DuPont and Evonik; the Nanotechnology Industries Association; and the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC) sat alongside representatives of countries such as Australia, the US and Canada and were given equal speaking time.
BIAC gave a presentation on their work with the Canadian and United States Governments to harmonise nanotechnology regulation between the two countries. [US-Canada Regulatory Cooperative Council] [emphasis mine] Repeated reference to the involvement of ‘stakeholders’ prompted me to ask if any NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] were involved in the process. Only in the earlier stages apparently − ‘stakeholders’ basically meant industry.
A representative of the Nanotechnology Industries Association told us about the European NANoREG project they are leading in collaboration with regulators, industry and scientists. This is intended to ‘develop … new testing strategies adapted to innovation requirements’ and to ‘establish a close collaboration among authorities, industry and science leading to efficient and practically applicable risk management approaches’. In other words industry will be helping write the rules.
Interestingly, when I raised concerns about this profound intertwining of government and industry with one of the other NGO representatives they seemed almost dismissive of my concerns. I got the impression that most of the parties concerned thought that this was just the ‘way things were’. As under-resourced regulators struggle with the regulatory challenges posed by nanotechnology − the offer of industry assistance is probably very appealing. And from the rhetoric at the meeting one could be forgiven for thinking that their objectives are very similar − to ensure that their products are safe. Right? Wrong.
I just published an update about the US-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC; in my July 14, 2014 posting) where I noted the RCC has completed its work and final reports are due later this summer. Nowhere in any of the notices is there mention of BIAC’s contribution (whatever it might have been) to this endeavour.
Interestingly. BIAC is not an OECD committee but a separate organization as per its About us page,
BIAC is an independent international business association devoted to advising government policymakers at OECD and related fora on the many diversified issues of globalisation and the world economy.
Officially recognised since its founding in 1962 as being representative of the OECD business community, BIAC promotes the interests of business by engaging, understanding and advising policy makers on a broad range of issues with the overarching objectives of:
Positively influencing the direction of OECD policy initiatives;
Ensuring business and industry needs are adequately addressed in OECD policy decision instruments (policy advocacy), which influence national legislation;
Providing members with timely information on OECD policies and their implications for business and industry.
Through its 38 policy groups, which cover the major aspects of OECD work most relevant to business, BIAC members participate in meetings, global forums and consultations with OECD leadership, government delegates, committees and working groups.
I don’t see any mention of safety either in the excerpt or elsewhere on their About us page.
As Sales notes in her article,
Ultimately corporations have one primary driver and that’s increasing their bottom line.
I do wonder why there doesn’t seem to have been any transparency regarding BIAC’s involvement with the RCC and why no NGOs (according to Sales) were included as stakeholders.
While I sometimes find FoE and its fellow civil society groups a bit shrill and over-vehement at times, It never does to get too complacent. For example, who would have thought that General Motors would ignore safety issues (there were car crashes and fatalities as a consequence) over the apparently miniscule cost of changing an ignition switch. From What is the timeline of the GM recall scandal? on Vox.com,
March 2005: A GM project engineering manager closed the investigation into the faulty switches, noting that they were too costly to fix. In his words: “lead time for all solutions is too long” and “the tooling cost and piece price are too high.” Later emails unearthed by Reuters suggested that the fix would have cost GM 90 cents per car. [emphasis mine]
March 2007: Safety regulators inform GM of the death of Amber Rose, who crashed her Chevrolet Cobalt in 2005 after the ignition switch shut down the car’s electrical system and air bags failed to deploy. Neither the company nor regulators open an investigation.
End of 2013: GM determines that the faulty ignition switch is to blame for at least 31 crashes and 13 deaths.
According to a July 17, 2014 news item on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, has testified on the mater before the US Senate for a 2nd time, this year,
A U.S. Senate panel posed questions to a new set of key players Thursday [July 17, 2014] as it delves deeper into General Motors’ delayed recall of millions of small cars.
An internal report found GM attorneys signed settlements with the families of crash victims but didn’t tell engineers or top executives about mounting problems with ignition switches. It also found that GM’s legal staff acted without urgency.
GM says faulty ignition switches were responsible for at least 13 deaths. It took the company 11 years to recall the cars.
Barra will certainly be asked about how she’s changing a corporate culture that allowed a defect with ignition switches to remain hidden from the car-buying public for 11 years. It will be Barra’s second time testifying before the panel.