Managing conflicts of interest

There is increasing concern and debate surrounding issues of conflicts of interest and potential risks that may arise from engaging with corporate entities. Whilst financial support from the corporate sector may offer certain benefits, questions need to be asked about potential risks that may arise accepting such support and how it may influence  decisions made by the organisation receiving the support, their priorities, credibility and independence from the corporate sector.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), governments and academics are under increasing scrutiny regarding their financial situation and sponsors, as highlighted by a recent letter in the Lancet regarding the International Diabetes Federation’s links with the pharmaceutical industry and a Reuters report about PAHO’s acceptance of money from food manufacturers.

World Obesity’s Terms of Engagement

World Obesity has been working to develop its own “Financial Relationship Policy” which includes a risk assessment on whether or not it would be acceptable, and in line with World Obesity’s aims, to accept support or funding from a certain organisation. It includes a risk matrix which assess first categorises a company into one of three tiers, followed by an assessment of the type of relationship under discussion, based on the perceived risk (high, medium and low). A “risk” can be classified as anything that could potentially cause reputational damage and/or prevent World Obesity working towards its goals in its capacity as an independent charitable organisation.

To support your work in policy and advocacy we recommend that all members follow our terms of engagement to support and guide funding decisions which will be available to download here shortly.

The Conflicts of Interest Coalition (COIC)

World Obesity, along with a number of other organisations, is also concerned about the role of public-private partnerships in the UN and the WHO’s policy making process for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Since the major causes of preventable death are driven by diseases related to tobacco, poor diet, and alcohol drinking, there is concern about the influence that the producers or such products have on policy. The term ‘partnerships’ is frequently cited by the UN and WHO, but without any clarification of what this means.  We are concerned that public-private partnerships in such contested areas can counteract efforts to protect and improve public health.

For instance, there is currently no clear definition of, or distinction between, business-interest and public-interest NGO’s (BINGOs and PINGOs). There is also currently no Code of Conduct/Ethical Framework to help protect the integrity of the UN's public policy decision-making, to ensure it is transparent and to identify and to safeguard against and manage potential conflicts of interest.

In response to this concern World Obesity has been involved with setting up the Conflicts of Interest Coalition (COIC) and has signed a statement of concern which was sent to the President of the United Nations General Assembly and the co-facilitators of the United Nations High Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of NCDs that took place in September 2011. The statement was signed by 161 national, regional and global networks and organisations working in different fields of public health, including medicine, nutrition, cancer, diabetes, heart, liver and lung disease, mental health, infant feeding, food safety and development,

The statement calls for the development of a Code of Conduct and Ethical Framework to help protect the integrity of, and to ensure transparency in, public policy decision-making, identifying, safeguarding against and managing potential conflicts of interest. The statement also asked that WHO perform thorough risk/benefit analyses on partnerships and provide surveillance on those considered acceptable.

Members of the Coalition are currently developing guidelines on:

  • The distinction between BINGOs and PINGOs (Business Interest NGOs and Public Interest NGOs)
  • An ethical framework and code of conduct to safeguard against and manage conflicts of interest in public health policy development.


As and when these are finalised they will be added to this site

Download the statement of concern here