High Level Panel report fails to address wealth and power inequalities say civil society

Friday, 31 May 2013

Civil Society groups have responded to the long awaited release of the UN High Level Panel’s report to the UN Secretary General on the post 2015 development framework with disappointment. While the report aspires to eradicate extreme poverty and promote sustainable development it has failed to put forward meaningful recommendations or targets that would challenge the economic systems that fuel inequalities and environmental degradation according to diverse civil society groups from around the world.

“The report says a lot about inequality but it says nothing that would actually redress the gross concentration of wealth, resources or power that is at the heart of poverty, injustice and environmental ruin today” said Paul Quintos of IBON International.  Indeed there is no single mention of the word “redistribution” or “redistributive” in the 81-page document. “Instead it simply promotes more of the same – more economic growth driven by private sector investment, and  even goes as far as to promote the WTO which has been discredited as a vehicle to protect multi-nationals” he added. “These strategies are great for billionaires but not good for workers dying in factories, not good for indigenous people forced from their lands to ensure the profits of mining companies, not good for migrant domestic workers working endless hours without days off, wages or protection”

“The absence of an absolute commitment to achieve decent work for all is a serious omission” said Sharan Burrow, Secretary General of the International Trade Union Confederation. “Setting a goal to bring the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day to zero is simply not enough.  This is what Bangladeshi workers producing garments for global markets are paid today, as are construction workers building skyscrapers and football stadiums in Gulf countries and agricultural workers producing for global food corporations,” she noted.  “Job creation, worker’s rights, social protection and social dialogue cannot be seen as too lofty an ambition for developing countries.  This is discriminatory and an acceptance of exploitation”, she concluded.

The report includes a stand-alone goal on gender equality, which many women’s organisations hoped for, and sets a target for universal sexual and reproductive health and rights but is still criticised by women’s groups.

“While it’s pleasing to see the stand-alone goal and the inclusion of sexual and reproductive rights, we’re disappointed that the report fails to address the fundamental economic inequalities that exist between countries, between rich and poor as well as between men and women” said Kate Lappin of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development. “We hoped to see meaningful goals that would ensure women domestic workers a living wage, that would send a clear message about land-grabbing and forced evictions of women and that would ensure that governments take concrete steps like cutting military spending and increasing spending on universal social services” she said.

Civil society also expressed concern that the report sets no concrete targets to address climate change. “They have included a target of staying below 2c warming but there is no obligation on governments to take action and nothing that makes countries with the responsibility – those countries who have contributed most to global warming – to take action. The report plays it safe when it comes to the question of financing for sustainable development by recommending that a future UN conference should tackle the matter.  “Where’s the sense of urgency that this planet actually needs radical transformation to survive” asks Ahmad SH of WALHI-Friends of the Earth Indonesia.

The report acknowledges the need to improve accountability systems, particularly by enhancing access to information through a new ‘data revolution’.  But 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 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.”

The HLP Report does contain positive elements and a number of welcome recommendations such as:

  • Recognizes human rights, notably the right to food, sexual and reproductive rights, freedom of assembly, due-process rights, etc.  and proposes a number of rights-based targets
  • Calls for disaggregating data by wealth (bottom percentile), gender, location, age, disability;
  • a gender goal and ending child marriage;
  • recognizes social protection and proposes some universal targets around water, sanitation, and energy
  • calls for ending fossil fuel subsidies
  • calls for reducing illicit financial flows and tax evasion

“However, as a report that should set the agenda for discussion among governments and other stakeholders, we demand a much bolder and visionary analysis and set of recommendations including measures for the redistribution of ownership, access and control over productive resources so that no one is denied the basis for living in dignity and freedom and in harmony with nature” explained Azra Sayeed of Roots for Equity in Pakistan.

The Campaign for Peoples Goals for Sustainable Development calls on the UN Secretary General to go beyond the HLP report and make much more ambitious recommendations to member states that would address the structural causes hindering sustainable development.

For interviews with those quoted and other members of the People’s Goals Campaign please contact:

Shanthi Sivakumaran (ssivakumaran@iboninternational.org)