Roberto Bissio is Executive Director of the Instituto del Tercer Mundo (Third World Institute) and coordinator of Social Watch international secretariat. A selection of articles and speeches are re-posted here with permission of the author.
The Uruguayan Experience: A letter to Civil Society and to the UN
by Roberto Bissio | Shaping the Future - Inspired by this evidence that there are, indeed, viable alternatives to the classical neoliberal formulas, participants from over 20 countries in five continents discussed during the next two days the current state of the conversations on the Rio +20 follow-up and the post-2015 development framework.
In plenary and in small groups we discussed the opportunities and challenges of on-going and
emerging global processes such as Post-2015, G20, Rio+20, Climate negotiations, Trade-related negotiations (WTO/TPP/investment agreements), new Human Rights mechanisms and the role of civil society, multi-stakeholders processes and public-private 'partnerships' in them.
The groups identified the key fora discussing gender justice, climate, poverty and inequalities and, in particular, the 'partnerships' being proposed and the changes that they introduce as well the their implications.
We noted with concern how the Global Partnership for Development described in Goal 8 of the MDGs is being changed in the language being used to multiple 'partnerships' with big corporations. Goal 8 clearly described the responsibility of developed countries to contribute with aid, fairer trade rules, technologies, and a solution to the external debt problems. The adverse impact of developed countries’ policies and deregulation, such as financial liberalization, on developing countries also underscore the centrality of the Goal 8 partnership.
These promises were not dated and are far from being fulfilled, but at least we knew what to demand and from whom. Now, with the systematic addition of a plural and obviating the capital letter this Partnership is transformed into multiple 'partnerships' and they are not any more between rich and poor nations but between governments, multilateral agencies and large multinational corporations.
The actors of civil society have certainly a role to play and the expansion of public participation is essential for sustainable development, from the local to the global, but the United Nations is primarily an intergovernmental forum. This pact between governments risks now to be replaced in practice by 'partnerships' with 'stakeholders'. In the already existing 'partnerships' incubated by the United Nations, Coca Cola is a 'stakeholder' in promoting women, MasterCard is a 'stakeholder' in education and Morgan-Chase Bank in 'energy for all'.
Last September, the Civil Society Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives found those multi-stakeholder partnerships problematic as instruments for sustainability as they raise more problems than they solve. [The papers can be found at: www.reflectiongroup.org]
- Growing influence of the corporate sector in political discourse and agenda-setting: Partnership initiatives allow corporations and their interest groups undue and unsupervised influence over agenda setting and political decision-making by governments.
- Undermining accountable and transparent multilateralism: The proliferation of partnerships contributes to the continued institutional weakening of the UN system and hinders comprehensive development strategies.
- Weakening democratic public institutions: If partnerships create the equivalence of equal rights among stakeholders, they undermine the political and legal position occupied legitimately by accountable public bodies (governments and parliaments). Given the inequality amongst participating actors, conflicts of interest emerge.
- Unstable financing– a threat to the sufficient provision of public goods: The funding of the Post-2015 Agenda risks becoming increasingly privatized, dependent on voluntary and unpredictable channels of financing through benevolent individuals or private philanthropic foundations. The financial resources committed in the existing partnership initiatives have not been shown to effectively increase available resources.
- Lack of monitoring and accountability mechanisms: No instruments are in place to guarantee that partnerships will be open, transparent, and accountable.
The UN has a long tradition in establishing consultation with NGOs, including those that represent business interests, such as the ICC. Last year the General Assembly of the UN did not endorse the creation of a Partnership Facility proposed by the Secretary-General, as the governments (and many civil society organizations) had multiple doubts about its lack of transparency and accountability.
And now the post-2015 process might introduce the legitimization of these 'partnerships' by the back door, promoting without proper scrutiny the eruption of corporations in global decision-making, implementation and monitoring. These 'partnerships' dilute and weaken the responsibility of States, which are no longer in the center of the action, and they reinforce power asymmetries. Corporations have already acquired through bilateral investment agreements the right to sue states in supranational tribunals (and not through the constitutional justice system) and are now candidates to receive official development assistance and sit in the forums where rules are negotiated, at the expense of national (and popular) sovereignty, democracy and human rights.
At Social Watch, while we actively engage in making governments accountable for their promises, we also firmly believe that States have a unique and leading responsibility in making development happen. If we erode that role and empower corporations instead we are eroding our own possibilities as citizens, since corporations are only accountable to shareholders.
* This text is part of a letter sent by the author, on behalf of the Social Watch Coordinating Committee, to CIVICUS, on the occasion of the meeting convened by CIVICUS in Istanbul on February 2014. The letter - initially not intended as a public document - has been first published by GCAP and it has been re-posted on the SID Forum for further sharing and circulation with the permission of the author.