The Founex Initiative

In the spring of 1971, the Conference Secretariat initiated plans for an in-depth seminar on the development-environment issue to be held in Founex, outside Geneva, in June. The initiative was well received by developing country UN delegations in New York and bought a few months of valuable political respite.(69)

The Founex Seminar introduced the idea of scheduling a special forum to deal with a particularly difficult issue. The seminar was a defining moment and paved the way for the attendance and active involvement of developing countries in the Conference. Its report was also a major intellectual contribution to the further international discourse on environment
and development.(70)

The seminar was thoroughly prepared by Strong with three of the consultants to the Secretariat – the respected development experts Mahbub ul Haq and Gamani Corea as well as Barbara Ward. Ul Haq was initially very critical of what he saw as selfish motives of industrialized countries in promoting the Conference and told Strong so in no uncertain terms. He eventually agreed to proceed with the preparations for the seminar on a trial basis and, ultimately, became convinced that a constructive result could be reached.(71)

A series of working papers was commissioned from experts in developing and industrialized countries as well as from UNCTAD and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The seminar was attended by 27 leading experts from around the world, with lively discussions on a highly intellectual level, free from North-South polemics. They included such personalities as Ignacy Sachs, Samir Amin, Enrique Iglesias, Felipe Herrera, William Kapp, Miguel Ozorio de Almeida, Pitambar Pant, Jan Tinbergen and Shigeto Tsuru. Strong characterized the meeting as one of the best intellectual exchanges he had ever participated in.

This was echoed in Göran Bäckstrand’s internal Swedish report from the meeting and corresponds with the author’s own recollection of this remarkable event. (72) Ul Haq served as chairman of the drafting committee. (73) Committee participants, including government representatives, took part in their individual capacities. No minimum common denominator was sought. This made for a refreshing and innovative text, notwithstanding its purposely general character, on a subject that had never before received this kind of high-level expert attention.

One sentence from the report stands out as the key message that emerged from Founex: “If the concern for human environment reinforces the commitment to development, it must also reinforce the commitment to international aid.”

64 Letter Rydbeck-Swartz 1971-03-31, Letter Erik von Sydow, head of the Swedish delegation in Geneva-Swartz 1971-04-24. That letter included
copy of a memorandum from a visit by a Minister from the Government of the Netherlands to Belgrade given to Strong on 1971-03-19.
65 Report Swedel Gva 1971-04-02.
66 Strong, p. 127.
67 Regeringskansliet, Ministry of the Environment, Stockholm thirty years on – Progress achieved and challenges ahead in international environmental
cooperation (Elanders, Stockholm, 2002), p. 24.
68 Herter and Judy, p. 31.

69 Letter Rydbeck-Swartz 1971-03-31.
70 Strong, pp. 123–125.
71 Ibid.
72 Strong, p.125, memo Bäckstrand 1971-06-17, Development and Environment (Founex, Switzerland, June 4–12, 1971), (Mouton, The Hague, Paris, 1972).
73 UN doc A/CoNF. 48/Annex I.