Since mid-2012 talks have been going on under the auspices of the UN to decide what will replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015. The new development framework under discussion is to be universally applicable across all countries, rich and poor. This could be described as an exercise in ‘fixing the world’. The sheer scope of this has resulted in feverish ‘issue competition’ between different groups rather than work on a genuine transformative agenda.
In 2000, global leaders had signed a Declaration on key priorities for the new millennium. Almost by accident, this Declaration was translated by UN civil servants into the eight Millennium Development Goals. They became the framework which drove international efforts to eradicate poverty in the developing countries through the 2000s.
The new global agenda is to serve as a comprehensive framework of objectives to achieve human development and ensure environmental sustainability. The talks are now entering a critical phase, with intergovernmental negotiations due to begin in earnest during the UN General Assembly in September.
This post-2015 exercise is fraught with danger for those who believe in a just and sustainable world governed by human rights standards. What exactly is the new framework expected to do? It was one thing to have a set of eight indicative global goals which, however rudimentary or flawed, formed a rallying point for international action. Nobody, for example, can argue that it is not better for donors to be directing aid to eradicating HIV/AIDs than funding Kalashnikovs. It is a whole other matter to have seventeen goals and 169 targets.
There are proposals to include goals on governance, equality and gender equality. The Irish government has played a significant role in ensuring that these more intangible goals are included as objectives in their own right and not just as enablers.
However, strong human rights approaches are notable for their absence from the “Open Working Group Report” which will eventually become the basis of a text for negotiation. Overarching issues of participation, empowerment, non-discrimination and equality are seen as tangential to the ‘real’ business of delivering and measuring tangible outcomes. Systemic, underlying structures of economic inequality and exclusion, such as tax justice, have been relegated to a section on “means of implementation”.
Major multinationals are playing a much more powerful role within the development co-operation sector. Their influence over the Post-2015 process is particularly evident. A report by the Global Policy Forum on “Corporate Influence in the Post-2015 Process” documents the influence that a small number of very powerful multinational companies and business associations are having. Many of the same corporations involved in the Post-2015 negotiations are also involved in economic sectors that are in conflict with human-rights defenders in developing countries.
The Global Policy Forum report identifies how the Post-2015 process has become a key moment for re-ordering the international agenda along the lines of the ‘Global Redesign’ advocated at the World Economic Forum. ‘Global Redesign’ would place business at the heart of global governance processes.
The influence of business on the framing of the Post-2015 process is potentially subversive of legitimate processes of accountability. This influence blocks out any hope of transformative approaches. As Leo Pingeot writes in the Global Policy Forum report: “The growing corporate engagement and corporate influence on the Post-2015 discourse entail considerable risks and side-effects. They relate, on the one hand, to the messages, problem analyses and proposed solutions, and on the other hand to the promoted governance models”.
Private companies have a role to play in building a more sustainable future. However, they tend to advocate for voluntary rather than binding agreements, and public-private partnerships rather than publicly-funded programmes. They focus on growth, market-based solutions and new technology as the solution and fail to recognise that it is exactly this model that got us to where we are today. If there is to be any value in the Post-2015 framework, far greater transparency from multinationals about their aims and methods is needed, including their motivation in supporting UN initiatives. The imperatives are too important to risk indulging their undermining. •
Lorna Gold is Head of Policy and Advocacy with Trócaire.