Campaign for People’s Goals Responds to the High Level Panel Report

7 June 2013

The High Level Panel on Post-2015 has missed a valuable opportunity to provide a bold vision for a fairer, more sustainable and people-centred world. While there are welcome components to the report, it promotes the prevailing development paradigm with recommendations supporting the neo-liberal model for economic growth through stimulus of private sector and private wealth. It has failed to meet civil society expectations for recommendations to guide a real transformative development agenda.

There are concrete recommendations in the High Level Panel (HLP) Report which we strongly support including the recognition of human rights and the right to development as underlying principles to frame development; the recommendations that take us beyond the narrow MDG framework; calls for accountability mechanisms and a ‘data revolution’ which would disaggregate data by gender, geography, income, and disability.

In line with the global mood for deep rooted changes in development policy, the HLP report identified 5 transformative shifts which are intended to achieve the ‘transformative development agenda’ that all actors are demanding. But these aspirations have not been adequately connected to substantive recommendations to ensure their realization. There are two overarching themes in the HLP Report which we are concerned will be replicated in the UN Secretary General’s Report to the High level Panel.

Bigger, Better MDGs: the HLP report is much more comprehensive than the MDGs and incorporates many missing elements (think governance and peace and security). But there were hopes that the HLP report would take from the many consultations the need to really rethink how we approach development and adopt a transformative development agenda. While taking some hesitating steps towards this with the broad range of topics exceeding the MDGs, the list of 12 targets and goals still feels like the MDGs but a longer version with revamped targets.

Goal 1 on poverty and hunger was split into goals 1 and 5; while sanitations and water – previously a target under MDG7 is now its own separate goal. The MDGs health-related goals are merged into one goal under the HLP report. Peace and security and good governance neglected in the MDGs are mixed in as standalone goals for good measure. Goal 8 on global partnerships has been relabelled ‘creating an enabling environment and catalyse long term finance’.[1]

The new set of goals and targets leave a sense of the ‘add and mix’ formula being applied again. The most glaring omissions have been added to the MDG batter and it has been stirred to create a new set of goals which will nevertheless continue the prevailing development agenda without embracing development as a much more comprehensive process involving social transformation: the realization of human rights, people’s empowerment, the enlargement of human freedoms, and the development of a country’s productive capacities. This is still a technocratic approach to development that places emphasis on finance and technological solutions instead of redressing inequalities in wealth and power that is at the root of poverty and underdevelopment.

Roselyn Musa, FEMNET: “The vision to mission in the 2nd chapter that purports to ‘leave no one behind’ cannot go unnoticed. Yet the MDG successor agenda might end up in doing just that.” 

Business Leading the Way: One major difference between the HLP report and the MDGs is the more prominent role accorded to the private sector, in particular large-scale business. The HLP report does demonstrate an existing trend towards giving leadership in development to the private sector and there are many references throughout the document referring to how business is essential to drive development. The High Level Panel claims to have met with 5000 civil society representations and 250 CEOs of corporations. But it does not say how it weighted those different meetings. Business, corporations and companies (120x) are mentioned disproportionately more frequently that government (80x) and civil society (30x).[2]

HLP recommendations position business as deserving of equal priority and rights to land property. For instance women’s rights under the proposed gender goal are measured in terms of their business and property rights. The proposed goal on jobs emphasizes the need for creating an ‘enabling business environment and boosting entrepreneurship’, but does not mention the experience of many countries over the last two decade where neoliberal policies have created enabling business environments and jobless growth.

Although there is reference to accountability mechanisms for states and business alike, the report fails to recognize the need for stronger regulatory frameworks, especially for the corporate sector, which is responsible for much of the unsustainable production and consumption patterns and human right violations prevalent in the world today.  Instead it relies on the “willingness on the part of large corporations as well as governments to report on their social and environmental impact in addition to releasing financial accounts.”

Repeated calls to the HLP have emphasized that we need a new and transformative development model. We have called for goals that aim for redistribution of wealth, power and resources between countries, between rich and poor and between men and women. But it appears that the HLP report would put business at the centre of the development agenda rather than end business as usual.

So how did the HLP framework measure up to what we called for in the People’s Goals Campaign? The People’s Goals Campaign has flagged our red alerts where we want to focus attention on the failure to meet our demands


The HLP report does well in recognizing human rights and there are efforts at infusing rights throughout the document — the right to access sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious food; water; sexual and reproductive rights (but not a right to health care); rights of workers (but not the right to decent work). Protecting and preserving the earth’s resources is ‘the right thing to do’ but the right to a healthy environment is not recognised. Good governance is acknowledged as being based on realising universal human rights although emphasis is given to rights to freedom of speech; protest and media without linking them to the socio-economic rights enumerated earlier. The right to information and due-process rights are also specifically mentioned. Disappointingly, the right to development makes a fleeting appearance in the principles to underpin global partnerships but is not connected to substantive recommendations to realise this right and to ensure that it underpins all rights enumerated throughout the text. The HLP report also fails to use human-rights based approach throughout the report and as an underpinning framework to achieving sustainable development. This is a missed opportunity to link the human rights accountability mechanisms with comprehensive development policies.


The absence of a goal to reduce wealth and power inequalities is probably the biggest failure of this report. The online and physical consultations on inequalities all put forward demands that inequality must be central to addressing poverty. Indeed, many recalled that even following the multiple global crises we have seen that the total wealth of the richest 1% has grown while those in the middle and bottom have seen their incomes decline. There is clearly something very wrong with our current economic and political system.

Last minute statements and open letters from civil society, including statements from the Campaign for People’s Goals all called on the HLP to include inequalities in the HLP report.

Despite a strong lobby for measures to address inequalities, we have seen that the main focus is on poverty eradication and the targets continue to use the highly questioned and uninspiring US$1.25 a day benchmark for poverty. This is a starvation rate, not a poverty measurement. It has never been possible for a human being to consume sufficient calories, let alone secure housing, healthcare and the basics required for life with US$1.25. The HLP failed to present any arguments in favour of retaining this misguided calculation. The HLP itself recognizes that with the current economic growth trend, only 5% of people will be in ‘extreme poverty’ by 2030 according to this definition. In other words, even without significant changes in current economic policies, this target is likely to be achieved anyway.  Moreover it is also unable to address the multi-dimensional nature of poverty and vulnerability of the vast swathes of the population, many of whom do not fall within this very limited definition of ‘extreme poverty’.

Critically, HLP members have referred to the need to prioritise resources to end extreme and most pressing poverty.  But it is difficult to see how extreme poverty can be addressed without tackling inequality at the same time. Essential points for the UN Secretary General to reflect upon in drawing ideas from these reports:

  • Marginalized communities are marginalized because they are not perceived as equal. We need to remember which groups suffer disproportionately – women, ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, LGBT, migrants, disabled persons etc. Attempts to eradicate extreme poverty cannot be effective if they do not take into consideration discrimination and inequality between people and challenging the structures that reinforce their marginalisation.
  • Redistribution is not optional, it is a necessity: We are already exceeding planetary boundaries and climate change is making itself felt in our daily lives. The HLP report recognizes that sustainable consumption and production is necessary to balance environmental limits with people’s needs but does not link this to inequality. The 1% has enough resources to support the entire planet and redistribution is necessary to address the imbalance of resources in a way that all can enjoy the benefits of the planet within reasonable means.


The HLP report recognised the right to access to adequate, safe and nutritious food and yet continues to promote unsustainable and failing models of agricultural production. The HLP report commendably recognises fisheries (a frequently forgotten issue) as well as agricultural production as key issues. Disappointingly,  the HLP Report insists on supporting large-scale agricultural production but making it ‘sustainable’ and fails to provide real recommendations on addressing overfishing and exploitation of oceans which is primarily driven by industrial fisheries.

Short-sighted recommendations on food security have failed to appreciate the system of agricultural production and relationship of rural communities to food production. The HLP report has also failed to mention the widespread land and water grabs taking place across the global south which are depriving communities of their livelihoods, food and homes. The well supported and promoted framework of food sovereignty, where communities are in control of ecological food production and distribution is still not recognized. Furthermore, the HLP report promotes investment in biofuels, eco-system services and carbon sequestration in the context of promoting rural livelihoods and ensuring food security despite all these proposals having been exposed as false climate solutions which negatively impact local communities.


The HLP recognised the need for economic transformation to create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth. But this economic transformation is to be driven primarily by private sector investment and innovation even though experience over the last three decades of promoting this same agenda has seen the share of workers’ wages in the national income falling, joblessness rising and precarious and inhumane working conditions spreading.

It is alarming that the HLP undermines existing international standards by suggesting that the ILO Decent Work Agenda, already agreed by governments, employers and workers, is too ambitious for developing countries. Instead workers in developing countries are expected to reduce expectations to ‘good jobs’ which are undefined in the report. The HLP exhibit a poor understanding of Decent Work and the importance of decent wages and conditions to fairer development. Anything less than decent work conditions traps people in precarious living conditions.

The report reduces labour to the value it brings to economic growth and consumption and suggests that labour market flexibility is required to stimulate growth. This contradicts the notion of labour security and leaves workers, particularly women, in vulnerable employment.


Social protection is a key demand for the People’s Goals as it is well accepted that poor and excluded communities must have guaranteed access to quality social services. Some elements of social services are recognised throughout the  HLP report including access to health, education, water and sanitation, and electricity but social protection is only mentioned once and not as a standalone goal. Therefore elements of social protection which are not covered by education, health, water and sanitation are left out (such as basic income security). Furthermore, the targets on those indicators have focused on quantitative measures – the number of people who have access to education for example – without emphasising quality. We would like to reiterate the People’s Goals call for the end to privatisation of social services and pension services which is widespread and is behind many people’s lack of access to services during a time of economic crisis.


We welcome the stand-alone gender goal in the report and are particularly pleased to see an additional target for universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. However, while committing to broad principles of gender equality and addressing injustices against women, it is disappointing to see the HLP instrumentalise women’s rights for economic growth.

The report does not recognise women’s unpaid labour and care work. The targets currently include little accountability measures for states and need much more attention to become meaningful. The report also doesn’t adequately address the fact that women are disproportionately impacted by poverty and unsustainable development. Women’s rights cannot be realised without economic transformation. Promoting more women into waged work as domestic workers, garment workers, agricultural and migrant workers without addressing the exploitative and unacceptable conditions maybe a recipe for increased growth and profit but not for development and women’s rights.


There has been a growing trend to assign monetary values to natural resources and “ecosystem services” as a means to conserve them. Instead we have seen a reaction which sees that the commodification of nature and ecosystems creates more incentives for privatization and accumulation of these resources which, in turn, fuels further resource exploitation and displacement of many marginalized communities (e.g forests turned into biofuels or industrial tree plantations). There is also a denigration of the intrinsic values of nature and an erosion in the stewardship role of communities. Creating market values for natural resources will make them more vulnerable to powerful investors who prioritise profits over people and the environment.

The proposed targets are very conservative at best and avoid more ambitious targets demanded by the scientific evidence pointing to the catastrophic trajectory of our ecosystems.  However it is good that there is a sustainable energy goal which recognises the need to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and improve the share of renewable energy. But we are disappointed that this has not been based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.

8.       New Trade, Financial and Monetary architecture

All the recommendations that we want to see in development can be made but they will be meaningless without reforming the trade and financial and monetary architecture.  The last goal that the HLP recommended calls for a global enabling environment and catalysing long term finance. But the targets proposed are very vague and limited – an open and fair trading system; stable financial systems to encourage private foreign investments; and maintain ODA commitments. One notable and welcome inclusion is the call to reduce tax evasion and illicit flows. But this does not address the losses from “legal” capital flows stemming from tax exemptions and other incentives for foreign investors encouraged by IFIs in developing countries.

In fact, the HLP recognizes the need for deep reforms of the international financial architecture but again falls short of substantial recommendations to meet the vague commitments. Strong reforms of the international financial and monetary system are necessary to implement effective regulations to prevent unstable and reckless speculation and stabilise the international financial system.

Current trade rules are far from fair and experiences of the WTO have shown that it is the most effective tool for forcing developing countries to succumb to pressure to open their markets and collapse local industries. Unfortunately the HLP holds the opposite view. There needs to be strong recommendations for trade agreements and relations to be pro-poor, pro-environment and development orientated, not simply be “open and fair”.

Some of the recommendations that the People’s Goals would still like to see in the UN Secretary-General’s report would be to support the financial transaction tax, greater regulation of banks and financial institutions (national and international); create an independent and just international system of sovereign debt and cancel onerous debt; and promote alternative international development lending institutions based on fair lending terms, transparent practices, equal voting rights and commitment to achieving broad development objectives such as full and decent employment, environmental sustainability and gender equality as well as macroeconomic stability .


The HLP report identifies the need for human rights to underpin governance and recognizes the need for greater public participation which also depends on rights to freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest and an independent media. The HLP report also recognises the importance of public participation in political processes. But we recall that the most impoverished and marginalised people also have a right to participation and their inclusion is dependent on pro-active steps taken by governments to ensure that they are represented and heard in political processes.  The governance goals must also cover the protection of the commons and promoting collective forms of ownership and stewardship of resources.

The HLP report devotes a section to accountability mechanisms but does not include clear and concrete recommendations to ensure corporate accountability. Corporations are growing in size and influence over politics and there is a need to emphasise good governance is based on transparency with specific reference to corporate influence.


The HLP report recognises that ‘without peace, there can be no development.’ We would emphasise however that peace can only be achieved if all communities enjoy justice and decency. So we recommend that peace and security processes should be based on inclusiveness, and the respect and equal rights to justice of all socio-cultural groups, minorities, indigenous peoples and religions. In particular the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples must also be respected.

We also recommend that the post-2015 development agenda go further, and call for military budgets to be reduced and the excess diverted to social protection funding.

Yiten Yumnam, Center for Research and Advocacy, Manipur “while the objectives of the HLP Report outline a transformative, peoples-centred and planet-sensitive development, the recommendations primarily focused on consolidating the already flawed global financial and trade regime, which cause poverty.”

The People’s Goals Assessment: there are a lot of good and essential ingredients in the HLP report but regrettably it still follows the neoliberal recipe that equates development with business-led economic growth which is ultimately unsustainable and has been proven to fail in improving the general well-being of the people and the environment. The most important ingredients for addressing poverty and environmental degradation – redressing inequality; strengthening corporate regulation and accountability; strengthening the right to participation of people from the most impoverished and marginalised communities in governance; expanding and protecting the commons; and promoting deeper respect for nature are still missing. There is a desperate urgency in the need to look beyond the neoliberal framework for informing development and explore viable alternatives.

The Campaign for People’s Goals calls on the UN Secretary-General to consider the positive elements of the HLP Report and to take a more ambitious role in leading recommendations for a truly just, transformative and sustainable development agenda.


[1] Roberto Bissio, Executive Director, Third World Institute and Coordinator, Social Watch, “Goals for 2030 – putting business at the center,”

[2] Roberto Bissio, Executive Director, Third World Institute and Coordinator, Social Watch, “Goals for 2030 – putting business at the center,”