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A Toxics-Free Future


CIEL and IPEN Urge Governments to Uphold Scientific Integrity in Development of New Science-Policy Panel

Environmental and health advocates call for strong conflict-of-interest policies, open access, and transparency in global policy deliberations

Geneva, Switzerland-Ahead of the third open-ended working group (OEWG) meeting of a UN Environment Assembly process to develop a Science-Policy Panel for informing global policy development around chemicals, waste, and the prevention of pollution in order to protect human health, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and IPEN are calling for protections in the process against undue influence by the chemicals, fossil fuels, plastics, and other industries with vested interests. The groups warn that these industries have long histories of manipulating science and using deceptive tactics to derail and delay regulations, favoring their profits over public health. 

The OEWG this 17-21 June in Geneva will consider vital elements around the industry’s influence on the Panel, including a conflict-of-interest policy and measures around corporate secrecy that will be key to ensuring the integrity of the Panel’s work. 

Recent research published in the British Medical Association journal BMJ Open notes the growing evidence that “…the economic power of corporations, particularly that of large transnationals, has led to the defeat, delay and weakening of public health policies around the world.” Further, a published review of Conflict of Interest (COI) in scientific research related to regulation and litigation showed that industry manipulates research through funding, research design, data falsification or fabrication, data analysis and interpretation, and suppression of results. It also showed that conflicts of interest damage the public trust in research.  

The production, use, and disposal of chemicals and plastics has created a planetary crisis that requires global interventions. The petrochemical industry (Big Toxics) combines the fossil fuel industry, chemical manufacturers, plastics manufacturers, and the pesticide industry. While the decades-long efforts by these industries to distort science and mislead the public have been subjects of lengthy reviews,[i] a few recent examples show the importance of addressing these concerns in the development of the new Science-Policy Panel: 

  • In 2019, a report from researchers at the University of Cambridge, Bocconi University in Milan, and the US Right to Know campaign found that the purported “independent” nonprofit research group the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is actually a front group representing the interests of the chemicals, food, and other industries. The Guardian reported that ILSI representatives lobbied the WHO, served on a UN pesticide regulatory committee, and played key roles in EU science advisory panels.
  • In 2020, Le Monde reported on nineteen “experts” who have lobbied against EU regulations on endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), finding that at least half of the group had recent ties to the chemical, pesticides, food or cosmetics industries. The self-appointed “prominent specialists” appear to have few to no published papers on EDCs but published an op-ed deriding strict rules to protect human health in response “to the invitation of the European Commission.”
  • In Brazil, the pesticide industry aggressively lobbied against health and environmental protections, with Bayer (Monsanto), BASF, and Syngenta holding a combined 167 meetings with the Agricultural Ministry from 2019-22, with Bayer having at least 16 additional secret meetings with the Ministers.
  • In 2022, The Guardian reported that the chemical company Syngenta (and its predecessor companies including Chevron) worked for decades to “protect product sales, refute external scientific research, and influence regulators” against policies to protect the public from the dangers of paraquat, a substance one researcher quoted in the article called “the most toxic herbicide ever created.” The Guardian story notes that the company covered up internal studies showing paraquat’s dangers for decades. Banned in the EU, paraquat is still used widely elsewhere, especially in Asia and Latin America. Paraquat is one of many highly hazardous pesticides, chemicals intended for global elimination by 2035 under a joint FAO, WHO, UNEP, and ILO Global Alliance on Highly Hazardous Pesticides.

The chemicals industry has shown an outsized influence in related negotiation spaces. In April, CIEL released an analysis showing increasing participation of the fossil fuel and chemical industries at the Plastics Treaty talks. Rachel Radvany, Environmental Health Campaigner at CIEL states, “The industries responsible for creating the planetary crisis of toxic and plastic pollution have manipulated and manufactured science to obstruct progress on policies that protect human health and the environment. Vested interests in profiting off of the crisis have no place in the negotiations to advance a plastics treaty, Science Policy Panel, or meetings of these future bodies.” 

For the upcoming OEWG, CIEL and IPEN are urging the delegates to adopt measures to prevent conflicts of interest and the potential for industry to claim confidentiality around scientific research into their toxic products. CIEL and IPEN stress that the Panel should reject attempts to keep scientific information secret, through claims of “commercially sensitive” information, noting that other science bodies and multilateral environmental agreements do not allow such secrecy. For example, the Stockholm Convention (Article 9, paragraph 5) has prohibitions on keeping confidential any “information on health and safety of humans and the environment.” IPEN and CIEL urge delegates to reject any procedure to safeguard commercial business interests as this would undermine the purpose, transparency, and credibility of the panel.

To ensure protection against conflicts of interest, IPEN notes that:

  • The evaluation of potential conflicts of interest should account for current and potential conflicts of interest resulting from recent engagements. 
  • Information on potential conflicts of interest for all participants should be made public.
  • The scope of the COI policy should apply to all involved experts and partnerships engaged in work with the Panel.
  • The COI policy should require disclosure of all real, potential, and apparent conflicts of interest. 
  • In addition to being informed of conflicts, the Panel should have procedures to actively prevent conflicts of interest throughout all its work and decision-making processes.

“To ensure that the panel is viewed as credible and trustworthy and is able to provide independent, scientifically sound information suitable to inform policy work, the development of strong conflict-of-interest policies and practices that reject secrecy will be crucial,” said Therese Karlsson, Ph.D., Science and Technical Advisor for IPEN. “We look forward to working with delegates to create a panel that promotes scientific integrity and protections for our health and the environment.” 

On June 12, IPEN, CIEL, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Children and Youth Major Group to UNEP, and the Geneva Environment Network will co-host a webinar to further discuss COI, transparency, and participation. The webinar will feature Maria Eugenia González Anaya, Mexico’s First Secretary of Legal Affairs and Environment, Marcos Orellana, the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, and other speakers. 

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About CIEL

Since 1989, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has used the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL seeks a world where the law reflects the interconnection between humans and the environment, respects the limits of the planet, protects the dignity and equality of each person, and encourages all of earth’s inhabitants to live in balance with each other. CIEL pursues its mission through legal research and advocacy, education and training, with a focus on connecting global challenges to the experiences of communities on the ground.

About IPEN

IPEN – the International Pollutants Elimination Network is a global network of non-governmental organizations working in more than 125 countries to reduce and eliminate the harm to human health and the environment from toxic chemicals.

[i] See, for example: Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.” New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011; Dan Fagin and Marianne Lavelle, “Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law and Endangers Your Health.” Secaucus: Birch Lane Press, 1996; John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, “Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies, and the Public Relations Industry. Monroe Maine: Common Courage Press, 1995; Davis Allen, et. al, “The Fraud of Plastic Recycling: How Big Oil and the plastics industry deceived the public for decades and caused the plastic waste crisis.” Center for Climate Integrity. February 2024. J. Cook, et al, “America misled: How the fossil fuel industry deliberately misled Americans about climate change.” Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, 2019.