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Mega Business Leads UN Road to Development

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By R. Nastranis | IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BERLIN / MONTEVIDEO (IDN) - All that glitters is not gold would appear to be the core of critique the Social Watch, a network of civil society organizations in over 80 countries, has launched against the United Nations High Level Panel's suggestions of new development goals to replace the MDGs.

In a document titled 'A New Global Partnership' the panel claims that, in preparing it, it "heard voices (...) from over 5000 civil society organizations working in about 120 countries" and "also consulted the chief executive officers of 250 companies in 30 countries, with annual revenues exceeding $8 trillion".

"Money certainly talked louder," says Roberto Bissio, head of the Social Watch secretariat, pointing to 30 occurrences of the terms "civil society" or "CSOs" in the text in comparison to 120 of the words "business" "corporations" or "companies". In contrast, "Trade unions" and "workers" are mentioned only three times each and even "government" rank lower than "business" that is mentioned 80 times.

"Eradicating extreme poverty from the face of the earth by 2030" should be "central" to a new development agenda, recommends the panel, which was co-chaired by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia.

Analysing the document, Bissio points out that the poverty eradication pledge adopts the very low $1.25/day benchmark and echoes a similar commitment endorsed by the World Bank in its Spring meeting in April. The panel acknowledges in its technical notes that "continuing on current growth trends, about 5% of people will be in extreme poverty by 2030".

"Since the error margin of those estimates is much higher than 5%, the 'zero poverty in our generation' promise is not really a commitment but just a prediction of what is bound to happen anyhow and in itself does not require any action from governments or the international community," according to the Social Watch.

Back to the Future

Bissio recalls that already in 1973 the then World Bank president Robert McNamara had promised to eradicate absolute poverty by the end of the century and requested more aid and better terms of trade to make that possible. Now the panel reiterates the promises of 0.7% of ODA (official development assistance) to developing countries and of achieving an “open, fair and development-friendly trading system” without explaining why this has not been done in 40 years or why it would be different now, since those commitments of developed countries are equally non-binding, avers Bissio.

Hearing citizen and civil society voices is not the same as listening to or heeding them, the Social Watch points out. "For example, in target 1b under the “end poverty” headline the High Level Panel proposes to “increase the share of women and men, communities, and businesses with secure rights to land.

“Equating the land access and rights of women, men and communities with business "rights" to land only serves to legitimize the massive corporate land grabbing underway across the globe.” says Tanya Dawkins, co-chair of the Coordinating Committee of Social Watch and director of the Global-Local Links Project.

"Citizens with full access to their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are more than capable of generating sustainable business, enterprises. Civil society and citizens around the world are demanding that securing their human rights receive same kind of urgency, ambition and resources mobilization that mobilized trillions of dollars to bail out banks in record time," she concludes.

The Social Watch analysis of the document finds that in the gender equality goal the rights of women that are mentioned explicitly are the rights to inherit property, sign a contract, register a business and open a bank account. Sexual and reproductive rights are mentioned, but under the health goal and this is the only mention to “rights” in relation to health or education.

The goal on job goals includes an objective on “creating an enabling business environment and boosting entrepreneurship” but does not mention market failures, while the “good governance” goals includes “ensur(ing) officials can be held accountable” in order to reduce corruption and bribery, but says nothing about accountability of corporations paying bribes, the analysis further points out.

According to the Social Watch, the HLP suggestions fall behind already agreed principles, such as the Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty” adopted by the UN General Assembly unanimously in September 2012, where “as part of international cooperation” States committed to “conducting assessments of the extraterritorial impacts of laws, policies and practices" and established that “business enterprises, have, at the very minimum, (...) to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their activities, products or services, and to deal with such impacts when they occur."

Illicit tax flows and tax evasion are to be “reduced” with unspecified targets in the HLP proposal, but the only reforms envisaged in the global financial system are those seeking t,  “ensure stability” and “encourage stable, long-term private foreign investment.” The Financial Transaction Tax or Robin Hood Tax that could ensure financial stability and raise billions to bring people out of poverty is not even considered as a possibility, the Social Watch critique points out.

Global Partnership Missed Out

The Social Watch further notes: "Goal 8, on 'global partnership' of the current MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), which captured responsibilities of developed countries, is now titled 'creating a global enabling environment and catalyzing long-term finance'.

"The new formulation excludes all mentions of least developed countries, small island states and landlocked countries that are currently included. It also drops the promise to 'deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries'.

"The proposed 'enabling environment' goal mentions the target of keeping global warming below 2⁰ C, but the goal on energy, which promises 'doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix' (presumably by 2030) amounts in practice to only 30% of renewables globally and is less than would be required to achieve the climate target.

In a moment when, in the words of IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, “rising income inequality is a growing concern for policymakers around the world” the panel largely ignores the issue, admonishes the Social Watch. "Recent IMF research, explained Madame Lagarde last May 15, 'has shown that prolonged periods of steadily rising output are associated with more equality in income distribution. In other words, more equal societies are more likely to achieve lasting growth'. Yet, what the HLP suggests lags behind this new Washington discourse and only talks about 'equality of opportunity' and does not mention distribution or redistribution."

According to the Social Watch, the report further ignores key principles of the United Nations which the Millennium Declaration reaffirmed in 2000. These are: "sovereign equality of all States, respect for their territorial integrity and political independence, resolution of disputes by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, the right to self-determination of peoples which remain under colonial domination and foreign occupation, non-interference in the internal affairs of States, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for the equal rights of all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”

Human rights are reduced in practice to civil and political rights, ignoring the Vienna Declaration of 1993 which clearly spelled out that economic, social and cultural rights are and indivisible part of the human rights architecture. The report also reduces peace, one of the pillars of the UN, to internal conflict in developing countries, without mention to disarmament or arms trade regulation and the billions of dollars of military expenditures that could be diverted to sustainable development.

Sustainability is mentioned several times, but the notion of respecting planetary boundaries only appears in relation to climate change and even there is no hint to historic responsibilities (of developed countries) or of an equitable distribution of the burdens of adjustment.

In sum, Social Watch considers that instead of advancing a new development agenda this report lowers the bar, both in terms of the objectives proposed as well as conceptually. It is not even an expression of minimum common denominator, because on most of the issues it deals with there is already agreed UN language that goes beyond the report recommendations.

Instead of being loyal to the 8 billion people that will inhabit the earth by 2030, the report appears to be the voice of the 250 corporations – and their 8 trillion dollars in revenue. [IDN-InDepthNews – May 31, 2013]

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Image: An example of urban poverty in this slum in Jakarta, Indonesia | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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