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When the SUN casts a shadow

A new research study sheds light on the human rights risks of the multi-stakeholder partnership Scaling up Nutrition (SUN)

In the past two decades ‘multi-stakeholder’ partnerships and platforms have flourished and the private sector, in particular transnational corporations and philanthropies such as the Gates Foundation, are now considered ‘key stakeholders’ in public affairs. How does this emerging inclination towards ‘multi-stakeholder’ models influence public policy spaces and the framing of public agendas? What are the implications for UN agencies and governments seeking to regulate in the public interest, and for people’s ability to claim their legitimate rights? 

The new research study “When the SUN casts a shadow” by FIAN International, IBFAN and SID examines the specific case of Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) – a multi-stakeholder initiative founded in 2010, whose stated mission is “to end malnutrition in all its forms”. The findings of the study suggest that rather than making meaningful changes to the lives of those most affected by hunger and malnutrition, SUN may actually worsen their situation of vulnerability and marginalization while creating additional human rights risks.  

SUN encourages companies to join the struggle against malnutrition as a ‘smart investment’. The 23 transnational members of the SUN Business Network include companies such as Mars, PepsiCo, DSM, Ajinomoto, Kellogg’s, and Cargill, many of which are leading manufacturers of ultra-processed foods and snacks. SUN’s benign image assists their top strategic priorities which are to maximize profits and in the process change traditional food patterns and cultures in lower and middle-income countries.

 Commenting on the publication, Stefano Prato, Managing Director of SID, says:

“We know that many governments and civil society organisations have joined SUN in good faith for the right reasons: to end the scourge of malnutrition. None of us are challenging this purpose. We just hope this study will highlight the risks inherent in SUN’s structure and approach that so often go unnoticed.”  

For the first time, using the right to adequate food and nutrition (RtAFN) legal framework, the study analyzes both SUN’s functioning at global level, as well as its influence and impacts at country level. Findings are based on primary data collected in Uganda, Guatemala and India, in addition to a comprehensive review of secondary sources.

According to the study, SUN: 

  • promotes nutrition approaches that favor short-term medicalized and technical solutions;
  • promotes intensive agriculture and technologies such as biofortification that benefit food and agro-industry;
  • neglects the commerciogenic causes of malnutrition (under and over nutrition) and its focus on food fortification and market-led approaches can undermine confidence in sustainable, culturally appropriate local foods; 
  • has limited impact on reducing malnutrition through its interventions, while carrying negative implications for human rights;
  • enhanced private sector access to and influence on nutrition policy setting in line with the World Economic Forum’s model outlined in its Global Redesign Initiative;
  • attempts to generate the illusion of a broad and inclusive people’s ‘movement’ but is in fact a public-private hybrid which legitimizes more corporate influence in public affairs;
  • fails to meaningfully address the concerns of communities most affected by hunger and malnutrition and undermines the efforts of those calling for effective conflict of interest regulations.

Read “When the SUN casts a shadow”.  You can also read the brief of the study.

For more information, please contact:

Laura Michéle, FIAN International:
Stefano Prato, SID:
Patti Rundall, IBFAN:
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