TWN Info Service on Health Issues  (Apr16/10)
26 April 2016
Third World Network

WHO: Member States agree to prohibit private sector secondments

Geneva 26 April, (K M Gopakumar) – Member States of the World Health Organization have agreed to ban secondments from the private sector to the organization.

The consensus was reached on the first day of the Open Ended Intergovernmental Meeting (OEIGM) to complete negotiations of the Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA).

Three days of OEIGM to conclude FENSA negotiations started on 25 April.

Paragraph 44 of FENSA states that, “WHO does not accept secondments from private sector entities”.

Regarding the secondments from other non-State actors such as nongovernmental organizations, philanthropic foundations, and academic institutions, these would be regulated. Towards this purpose the draft resolution for the adoption of FENSA “requests the Director-General, in consultation with Member States, to develop a set of criteria and principles for secondments from nongovernmental organizations, philanthropic foundations and academic institutions.”

The Director-General is to submit “the criteria and principles for the consideration and establishment, as appropriate, by the 70th Health Assembly, through the Executive Board,” i.e. the World Health assembly in 2017. While preparing these criteria and principles the Director-General is to take into account the following issues: (1) Specific technical expertise needed and excluding managerial and/or sensitive positions, (2) The promotion of equitable geographical distribution; (3) Transparency and clarity around positions sought, including public announcements; (4) Secondments are temporary in nature not exceeding two years.

Further, “Reference to secondments from non-State actors is to be made in the annual report on engagement with non-State actors submitted by the Director-General, including justification behind secondments”.

Thus there is no prohibition of secondnments from non-State actors other than the private sector, but there is a consensus to avoid secondments from philanthropic foundations, academic institutions and NGOs at the managerial and/or sensitive positions.  However, there is no clarity about the “sensitive positions”. 

Third World Network reported in December 2015 that, “A UN Foundation staffer was placed in the office of the Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan as senior strategist (D1 level) for a 24-month contract this year.  One Gates Foundation staffer is seconded at P5 level as manager of program operations and cluster management at the Polio and Emergencies Cluster”.  The draft resolution, if adopted, is expected to put an end to such secondments.

[Despite its name the UN Foundation is not a UN body but a charity registered in the United States. It was set up in 1998 by media mogul Ted Turner who in September 1997 had announced his intention to make a US$1 billion gift in support of the UN over 10 years in the form of 18 million shares of Time Warner stock, which in September 1997 had a value of US$1 billion. After the burst of the “dot-com bubble” on the US stock markets, the UN Foundation started to raise additional resources from other donors.

Currently, a large share of the UN Foundation’s revenues from other donors comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For more details see: “Fit for Whose Purpose? – Private funding and Corporate Influence in the United Nations” by Barbara Adams and Jens Martens

The current guidelines to regulate WHO’s engagement with the private sector allows secondment from the private sector subject to the following conditions (“Guidelines on interaction with commercial enterprises to achieve health outcomes” essentially prepared by the WHO Secretariat and “noted” by the Executive Board in November 2000):

“(a) personnel are not seconded from industries whose activities clearly conflict with WHO ’s mandate;

(b) there is no conflict of interest between the person ’s proposed activities for WHO and his or her activities for the employer company. Particular care should be taken when it is proposed to second persons from health-related enterprises. Such secondment should therefore be considered only in consultation with the Office of the Legal Counsel and may need to be referred to the Committee on Private Sector Collaboration;

(c) the person being proposed for secondment has the skills, experience and language abilities to carry out the proposed tasks. The skills and experience provided by the secondment should meet time-limited needs;

d) the terms of reference of the seconded person are designed to ensure that he or she will not, during the secondment, participate in activities in which the employer company is involved, or which could promote the commercial interests of this company. The seconded person should furthermore be clearly informed of his or her obligations of confidentiality (both during and after the secondment). The said person should not seek or accept any instructions from, nor report to, any authority or entity external to WHO during the secondment including, specifically, the employer company;

(e) the seconded person is expected to follow the same rules of conduct as other staff members at WHO and will report only to WHO;

(f) the secondment is for a limited period of time, to be determined in advance by agreement between WHO, the employer company and the seconded person;

(g) secondment agreements with commercial enterprises must be negotiated in consultation with the Office of the Legal Counsel and the department responsible for human resources. The contract with the seconded person should be cleared by the Office of the Legal Counsel in order to ensure that it includes all the above-mentioned safeguards and accurately reflects the terms of WHO ’s agreement with the employer company.”

There is no information on whether secondments took place from the private sector to WHO since the Executive Board “noted” these Guidelines in 2000.  However, a leaked communication dated 12 April 2006 between Philip Hedger of Pfizer and then Additional Director General at WHO referred to the possibilities of seconding a staffer to work on the anti-counterfeit initiative of WHO known as International Medical Product Anti-Counterfeit Taskforce (IMPACT).  It states: “The task force which you have set up within WHO is a heartening development and we would be open to looking for an appropriate expert from within our company to second to your staff”.

There are concerns that prohibition on private sector secondment will not insulate WHO from the undue influence of private sector-linked staffers.  Unlike the existing Guidelines the FENSA text contains no restriction on WHO accepting financial resources for the salary for WHO staff or short term consultants. Therefore if the FENSA private sector policy does not prohibit the WHO Secretariat from accepting financial resources from the private sector to fund the salary of staff or short-term consultants the risk of undue influence through financing staff would persist.

(The inadequate core funding of WHO by Members States, especially developed countries, is a major cause of exposing the global public health organization to private sector dependence. A civil society statement released on 25 April at the opening of the OEIGM, 34 NGOs and networks states that, “Member States should also urgently address the concern of sustainable financing of WHO.  It is far too risky to use FENSA as a fund-raising strategy. Currently more than 80% of WHO’s budget is financed through voluntary tied contributions. This is the most critical cause of WHO’s vulnerability to undue influences. There is an urgent need for Member States to increase their assessed contribution.”)

Paragraph 24 of the existing Guidelines contains certain safeguards on accepting donations to fund the salary of WHO staff or consultants. It states: “Funds designated to support the salary of specific staff or posts (including short-term consultants) may not be accepted from commercial enterprises or other commercial sources if they could give rise to a real or perceived conflict of interest in relation to WHO’s work. All proposals must be referred to the Office of the Legal Counsel at an early stage.”

Further Paragraph 25 states: “The acceptability of contributions from commercial enterprises to projects which have a staffing element should be reviewed in the light of other relevant guidance mentioned in this document.”

The OEIGM is to negotiate the FENSA private sector policy during the later part of 26 April.