United Nations: Goals for 2030 – putting business at the center

 SocialwatchlogoMontevideo, May 30 Roberto Bissio: “Eradicating extreme poverty from the face of the earth by 2030” should be “central” to a new development agenda for post 2030. But initial reactions from civil society organizations were unenthusiastic. “Uninspiring” was a term frequently heard and one of the first comments (by German development economist Gabriele Koehler) is titled “more of the same, just prettier.”  Another argued that “this is not business as usual, but rather putting business at the center.”

 Thus, for example, at the last hour the second suggested anti-poverty indicator, which in the latest drafts read as “remove and prohibit all forms of discrimination related to tenure rights ” was changed into “increase by x% the share of women and men, communities, and businesses with secure rights to land, property, and other assets”.

 Putting business as right holders at the same level with “women, men and communities” sounds pretty much like US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, when he stated that “business are people too”, said an NGO activist.

 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 last April.

 The HLP 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. In itself the HLP’s poverty ‘pledge’ does not require any action from governments or the international community.

 The HLP report is structured in a main section and two annexes, one with 12 suggested goals and 58 targets to substitute the current 8 MDGs when they expire in 2015 and another one with technical notes and explanations abut the proposed goals and objectives and the indicators that should measure them.

 The HLP explains that those goals “similar to the MDGs are not binding in international law” and they would merely be “tools of communication, inspiration, policy formulation and resource mobilisation.” While the UN is required to provide regular unified reporting on progress, accountability and peer review should mainly happen at regional level.

 The list of suggested goals echoes that of the present MDGs with some re-arrangements and editorial changes. Food security and nutrition, currently merged with Goal 1 on poverty is made into a separate goal. The current three health-related goals are merged into one. Universal access to water and sanitation, currently part of the environmental goal is made into a separate one, as well as “securing sustainable energy”, while new goals are incorporated on good governance” and “ensuring stable and peaceful societies”. Old Goal 8, on “global partnership” which captured responsibilities of developed countries is now titled “creating a global enabling environment and catalyzing long-term finance.”

The new formulation repeats the unmet (if not continually broken) promise of “an open, fair and development-friendly trading system” and adds one on “holding the increase in global average temperature below 2  C above pre-industrial levels, in line with international agreements”. It repeats the UN agreed language on committing 0.7% of GNP as ODA but  excludes all mentions of least developed countries, small island states and landlocked countries. It also drops the promise to “deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries” and instead makes it into an objective to “implement reforms to ensure stability of the global financial system and encourage stable, long-term private foreign investment” and also to “reduce illicit flows and tax evasion and increase stolen-asset recovery by $x”

 The use of x as a number to be negotiated appears 26 times in the 58 suggested goals and it indicates either a target to be defined nationally, as in “reduce violent deaths per 100,000 by x”, an area where further technical work is necessary to find appropriate indicators, as in “cover x% of people (…) with social protection systems” or an issue on which a minimum global standard needs to be negotiated and agreed upon, such as in “decreas(ing) the maternal mortality ratio to no more than x per 100,000.”

 Even when the panel “recommends that all these goals should be universal”, such universality is understood as representing “a common aspiration for all countries” since almost all targets should be set at the national level. A few targets are global, like for example “doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix,” which would mean 30% of renewable sources by 2030 and is below what would be required by the target of keeping global warming below  2  C.

 The document is titled “A New Global Partnership” and the panel claims that, in preparing it, “we heard voices (…) from over 5000 civil society organisations working in about 120 countries” and “we also consulted the chief executive officers of 250 companies in 30 countries, with annual revenues exceeding $8 trillion”.

 “Money certainly talked louder” commented an NGO representative, pointing to 30 occurrences of the terms “civil society” or “CSOs” in the text against 120 of the words “business,” “corporations” or “companies”, while “Trade unions” and “workers” are mentioned only three times each and “goverments” 80 times.

 Business is explicitly mentioned as holder of equal rights as people in terms of land property (which would require constitutional changes in many countries); and 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.

 Illicit tax flows and tax evasion are to be “reduced” with unspecified targets, but the only reforms envisaged in the global financial system are those aimed at “ensure stability” and “encourage stable, long-term private foreign investment.”

 The jobs 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.

 It says nothing however about accountability of corporations paying bribes.

 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 commit to “conducting assessments of the extraterritorial impacts of laws, policies and practices” and establishes 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.”

 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.

 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” but does not mention distribution or redistribution.

 Formally, the report of the HLP is now on the desk of the Secretary General of the UN, who can use its suggestions or not and merge it with other input to prepare his own report to the General Assembly, which is due next month.

 Politically, it might set the tone and the agenda of the debate around the so called “post 2015 development agenda”, due to the high profile of the panel members and the intense mobilizations and debates that surrounded its preparations over the last ten months.

 (Roberto Bissio is coordinator of Social Watch and contributed this comments)

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