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UNSCN Interaction with the Private Sector


How to engage with the private sector while protecting and preserving its credibility and autonomy, are the issues the UNSCN has been wrestling with for several years.


At the 31st Annual Session (2004) it was agreed that the UNSCN explore if and how to engage the private sector in ways that could help realize its mandate. At this Session, Nevin Scrimshaw, one of the founding fathers of the UNSCN, recommended in his keynote address that it would be to the UNSCN's advantage to invite private sector leaders to form a fourth grouping within the UNSCN structure. He noted that the camel's head (not just the nose) was already inside the tent anyway (see SCN News No 28). There was no agreement to this proposal among the UNSCN constituencies at that time however, and a Task Force was established to explore if and how to engage the private sector in ways that could help the UNSCN realize its mandate. The Task Force was made up of two representatives from each of the three constituencies. The UN Agencies were represented by Denise Coitinho from WHO and Kraisid Tontisirin (alternate Florence Egal) from FAO; the Bilateral Partners by Francis Davidson (alternate Amanda Boggs) from USAID and Julia Tagwireyi from Zimbabwe, an the NGO/CSO group by Elizabeth Sterken (Infact Canada) and Lida Lhotska (IBFAN/GIFA). The Task Force received facilitation from the Secretariat with the assistance of a consultant.

The Task Force report proposed the principles which should guide a strategy of regulated engagement with the private sector, including the development of a funding policy. The report was welcomed by the UNSCN body at its 32nd Annual Session in 2005, and its principles largely endorsed, but the proposal to create a separate grouping for the private sector was not agreed. Instead the Task Force was asked to continue its work and develop a Private Sector Engagement Policy.

The current interim SCN Private Sector Engagement Policy document is dated 19 June 2006. It was agreed at the 33rd Annual Session in 2006 and lays out a set of principles and mechanisms that can help to manage and minimize the possible risks. The Policy is currently under consideration as part of WHO's overall review of partnership engagement polices. (UNSCN is housed inside WHO and follows its financial rules and regulations.) The UNSCN policy is fully consistent with the WHO rules governing private sector engagement, and so this is not foreseen to raise any difficulty. WHO Legal Section, suggested some revisions in the order of the text to make it easier to read, and these changes were agreed by the Steering Committee in 19 June 2006.

At the 34th Annual Session in 2007 at FAO, Rome 26 February - 1 March, the UNSCN constituencies discussed a Proposal for Initiating SCN Private Sector Engagement There was broad agreement across the three constituencies to establish a tenth Working Group on SCN Private Sector Engagement as proposed, with some safeguards and provisos coming from the NGO/CSO constituency and some Working Groups. Detailed ToRs for the Chairs, mandate and work plan - in accordance with the UNSCN Private Sector Engagement Policy - should be developed for agreement by the Steering Committee. The Working Group should report on progress made at the 35th Session in 2008. However, at the 35th Session in Hanoi, a set of Terms of Reference had been agreed in the Steering Committee, the Working Group on Private Sector Engagement was still pending identification of chairs by the three constituencies.

At its face-to-face meeting in July 2008, the Steering Committee felt that for the UNSCN to effectively perform its harmonization role and function better, it needs to include and give voice to a wider range of partners, including the private sector. The Committee therefore proposed that the current three constituencies should be increased to five. The existing NGO/Civil Society Group is too large and diverse and should be split into three constituencies of NGOs, academia, and private sector. It was further agreed there is a need to better define the implications of establishing a private sector constituency, including how the engagement exactly will take place. This should be in line with the UNSCN Private Sector Engagement Policy, and special attention should be given to manage conflict of interests with food, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries.

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