Statement on Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships, GMGSF and UNEA-2 – 20-27 May 2016
Wardarina represented APWLD/RCEM/Women Major Group to speak in the panel on “How can Multi-stakeholder partnership strengthen and complement the government implementation of the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda”, at the Global Major Group and Stakeholder Forum for the United Nation Environment Assembly (UNEA) 2. She highlighted the importance to take a critical and cautious approach on multi-stakeholder partnerships that highlight the primacy of private sectors and IFIs. She also flagged that without any accountability, oversight and governance, multi-stakeholder partnerships will only cementing the partnerships of wealth. The genuine partnerships should recognise different power, resources and opportunities within and among stakeholders, and prioritizing those who are being left farthest first. It should recommit to put people at the center, deliver on the promise of participatory democracy and support the most important ingredient of sustainable development – a local, powerful social movements advancing development justice. Click to read the full statement
MULTI-STAKEHOLDER PARTNERSHIPS: Partnership for What? And for whose purpose?
We have heard the word partnership(s) evolved through time in the discussion within the intergovernmental process in the UN. I want to focus more on the partnerships that have influenced development in the past 30 years, the transformation to multi-stakeholder partnerships and the kind of partnerships, we as platform of 500 organisations in Asia and Pacific, hope to see in a transformed world.
When governments drafted the UDHR they came together and guaranteed a range of rights that they collectively vowed all people had the right to expect. That represented a global partnership of solidarity and responsibility.
But instead a different kind of partnership has emerged over the past several decades, – a partnership of wealth. This partnership of tiny wealth minority, governments, IFIs, corporations, is indeed global with billions of dollars in wealth, growing daily. This partnership has ensured that a steady, cheap flow of human beings would be available to produce cheap materials for consumption. This partnership has ensured that the world’s resources would be accessbile (and dangerously extracted) to the world’s wealthy. This partnership has ensured that the Earth’s resources could continue being used even when we are experiencing climatic disasters, that indigenous peoples, farmers, small land holders displaced from their land and homes – and among them women are the one who suffered the most. This partnership has widened the inequalities between countries, between rich and poor and between men and women. When civil society started our advocacy on post-2015 development agenda, most of us think that this is definitely the kind of partnership that we want to challenge and change.
Now, in the context of post-2015 development process, we have seen the powerful rise of a multi-stakeholder partnerships paradigm. We can also see it across other international institutions in global governance, including WTO, World Bank and other multilateral and national development banks, as well as forums like G20 and WEF.
In 2030 agenda, It is referred to in Goal 17, within targets 17.1 and 17.2 which only state what these partnerships will entail, such as “mobilise and share knowledge, expertise, technologies and financial resources to support the achievement of sustainable development goals in all countries, particularly developing countries” and “encourage and promote effective public, public-private, and civil society partnerships”.
Also, the resolution of Roles of UNEP in delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development has a dedicated section on Multi-stakehoder partnerships that “request UNEP to initiate new MSP and strengthen existing ones, including with private sector, civil society and other stakeholders, to promote activities that contribute to delivering the environmental dimensions of the 2030 agenda”. Please note that the original text only mentioned private sector, but several member states added civil society and other relevant stakehokeholder later on.
Other para in the section also “further requests UNEP to continue to consult, within UNEP’s mandate, with the IFIs and the private finance, building on the report of the UNEP Inquiry ” The Financial System We Need” on issues at the intersection of finance and the environment in support of the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — The report basically make a case about the importance of public-private partnerships and tap the private sector and IFIs to finance sustainable development. Among the UNEP Inquiry advisory council are the big economic players like: World Bank, IMF, World Economic Forum, HSBC, national banks etc.
Our major concern that even civil society are part of the multi-stakeholder, references in the text usually leaves us behind, and gives primacy on the role of private sectors to mobilise resources. There is virtually nothing with regard to accountability, oversight and governance over the said partnerships.
The question now is whether this kind of partnerships (without strong accountability mechanism) able to challenge the issue of partnership of wealth, or even cementing it?
Key concerns with partnership model:
- First, Both in the Post-2015 Agenda process and the FFD process, we have seen a retrogression of states’ responsibilities and the push towards the private sector. Any multi-stakeholder process needs to start with the role of States as guarantors of the rights of communities and individuals and all governments need to ensure democratic ownership.
- Second, The multi-stakeholder partnership model relies on the willingness of large corporations to report on their impact and voluntary commitments. This approach evades, or even subverts, the possibility of effective regulation of corporations by States, and instead reduces governments, especially in developing countries, to creators of an “enabling environment” for business (for example, through incentives and subsidies);
- Third, an imbalance is also established where States are the sole duty bearers to guarantee human rights in a vacuum where corporations have only a vague and voluntary responsibility. This allows corporations to avoid sanctions for corporate abuses, which should be addressed by establishing a binding system of regulations, norms and a strong system of accountability for partnerships with private actors;
- Fourth, the promotion of voluntary corporate social responsibility initiatives ignores structural drivers of inequality and the need for redistributive policies in order to facilitate a genuine sustainable development trajectory;
- Fifth, Armed by the investor-state dispute settlement clause in bilateral investment treaties as well as bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements, many multinational corporations have sued governments in closed-door arbitration tribunals for introducing or amending regulations and policies that reduce their profits or potential profits, even if state regulations are intended to secure economic and social rights and prevent environmental harm. Multi-stakeholder partnerships needs to urgently address the threats posed by trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties to government regulations related to national development priorities, such as health and environment;
- Sixth, the role of transnational corporations in the post-2015 agenda also needs to confront the controversial and much publicized issue of tax evasion and avoidance, including the use of offshore tax havens, transfer mispricing and illicit financial flows from the South to the North.
Way Forward :
- The UN must ensure that multi-stakeholder partnerships in the post-2015 context will be held accountable to delivering development results that are equitable and rights-based, aligned to national and local needs, and uphold an enabling international environment for development, as well as sustainable development, through an enhanced and strengthened global partnership for development.
- Partnerships should recognise and address the notion of power and based by mutual respect and solidarity. As feminist we know more than most that unequal partnerships and unequal power relations can only ever lead to violations and marginalisation. Partnerships should recognise that leaving no one behind (like the theme of the HLPF this year) must recognise that, exclusion/have some people left behind is the result of deliberate policies, practices and decisions designed to enrich and empower a few at the expense of the others. Genuine partnerships should recognise different power, resources, and opportunities within and among stakeholders, and prioritizing those who are being left farthest first.
- We call for an intergovernmental governance framework for multi-stakeholder partnerships, rooted in the international human rights framework and existing obligations in all three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social, environment). The central objective of the framework would be to ensure accountability and ex-ante assessment of partnerships. For this, there would need to be clear criterion, applied ex ante, to determine whether a specific private sector actor is fit for a partnership in pursuit of the post-2015 goals. United Nations member states would be at the helm of formulating the framework, including the criterion, the oversight and monitoring process based on due diligence reporting and independent third-party evaluations.
Such criteria should examine, at the least whether the private sector:
- has an evidence-based history or current status of abusing human rights, including women’s rights, or the environment, including in their cross-border activities;
- has a proven track record (or the potential to) deliver on sustainable development has previous involvement in acts of corruption with government officials;
- is fully transparent in its financial reporting and ensures that it is respecting existing tax responsibilities in all countries it operates, and not undermining sustainable development through tax avoidance;
- Implement a conflict of interest and public disclosure policy system-wide within the UN. This would entail systematic impact assessments and independent evaluations of the UN’s relationships with businesses.
- Such a framework could be situated within the UNEA-2 and High Level Political Forum (HLPF), which would re-structure the HLPF into a meaningful locus for accountability and governance in the post-2015 development agenda over the next 15 years.
- The incorporation of partnerships in the UNEA-2 must address the legal power of private investors and corporations in investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms under trade and investment treaties. While private investors and corporations have legally binding power over states, states currently only have recourse to voluntary and responsibility-based guidelines, such as the UN Business-Human Rights Guidelines, where all legally binding and accountable measures of governance over the private sector are precluded. Without a development-oriented regulatory framework and sustainable development national policies, the role of big corporations, whether in or out of partnerships, will not be a positive one.
The partnerships should recommit to put people at the center, deliver on the promise of participatory democracy, and support the most important ingredient of sustainable development – a local, powerful social movements advancing development justice. In Asia and Pacific, we have seen a best practice of UNESCAP and UNEP engaging with Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (RCEM) an inclusive, democratic, transparent and self-organised civil society platform. The RCEM built in from the major groups model, and adding 8 constituencies like migrants, fisherfolks, people with disabilities, people living and affected by HIV, older people, LGBTIQ, replacing business and industry with small, medium enterprise. The platform recognising all groups and identities as equal rights holder with the right to be represented. This is bringing broader ownership and strong civil society engagement to prevent the agenda from being left behind. This model of regional partnership capable of both enhancing accountability to citizens and supporting the peoples’ movements.
Another model should be replicated as practice is the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), a global civil society platform that inform the position to GPEDC. The CPDE recognised that as women’s rights are at the center of development and that women have been historically omitted from decision making, feminist organisations will secure 20% of representative spaces in the body and women will comprise at least 50% of seats and leadership positions. The notion of special temporary measures is something we hope to see in any partnerships – those with less power (political, economical, social) should be prioritised, we hope we can see similar resolutions in UNEA-2 to shift power and give up historically powerful positions by dissolving the existing partnership of wealth.