New York, 19 July 2017: Despite soaring rhetoric, glossy reports and slick presentations, the fact remains that implementation on the ground is “stalled”, as highlighted in a series of civil society national reports as part of the global Spotlight Report initiative.

Increasingly, civil society is expressing concern that the SDGs are being used not as a roadmap for social, economic and environmental transformation, but as a vehicle to entrench inequitable power relations. In particular, as exhibited in many speeches at the HLPF over the last week and official national reports, much energy is invested in high-profile ‘partnerships’ with the private sector. This bias is illustrated by the fact that the UN General Assembly Hall was dedicated to the ‘SDG Business Forum’ on Tuesday, while Voluntary National Reviews were entertained in an overflowing room, and the majority of civil society requests to hold events within the UN were turned down.

As Spotlight on Sustainable Development, a concise report by a broad coalition of civil society organizations around the globe, exposes, many of these partnerships are profoundly problematic concerning transparency, equality and human rights impacts. We are stuck in a cycle of inequality: wealthy elites and rich multinational corporations are able to translate their economic power into political access and influence government decisions, further entrenching their advantage.  As Iara Pietricovsky of Brazilian organization INESC stated in a civil society event on Tuesday, “we are living a privatization of our democracy.” Tax breaks, deregulation, and lucrative contracts for public-private partnerships are all symptoms of this corporate capture, at people’s expense. As another example of this phenomenon, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing Leilani Farha explains in the Spotlight Report how “the unprecedented dominance of financial corporations in the housing sector” is undermining human rights and SDG 11.

One of the great strengths of the 2030 Agenda, which civil society fought hard for, was the inclusion of pledges to tackle inequalities. But dependence on private sector financing will only exacerbate existing inequalities of all kinds, therefore risking the failure of the whole agenda. As Kate Donald of the Center for Economic and Social Rights writes in the Spotlight Report: “The problem of inequality simply cannot be solved by market-based solutions or attention-grabbing private sector initiatives; it requires serious efforts to transform power relations and resource distribution to stand any chance of success.”

Contact in New York

  • Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum

New York, 18 July 2017: During the Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) of 44 countries at the 2017 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, many civil society activists raised questions, criticizing government (in-)action as well as crippling framework conditions that slow down implementation of the 2030 Agenda at the national level.

Ziad Abdel Samad, Director of Arab NGO Network for Development, highlighted the situation in his region: “Foreign occupation, armed conflicts and wars are key challenges, even before talking about stability and essential political reforms. It is obvious that there is no development without peace and no peace without development. Moreover, systemic challenges, which are the result of persisting neoliberal authoritarianism after the Arab uprisings, are going side by side with austerity measures and neoliberal economic policies imposed and promoted mainly by the International Financial Institutions and other partners

“Conditionalities imposed by lenders and demanded by foreign investors, together with a lack of genuine political will and an ignorance towards rights based approaches at national level, decrease policy space which in turn increases tensions between decision makers and societies at large. Additional restrictions are imposed on civil society and social actors, limiting participation and civic engagement in public policy making.”

In a different part of the world, Brazil, a deep economic recession – aggravated by political uncertainty in the wake of a corruption scandal rooted in PPPs – is being used as an excuse for further privatization.  Dramatic cuts in social security and government spending, as well as a reform of the pension system have had no immediate positive economic effect. The logical conclusion is that “in this context it is highly unlikely for Brazil to achieve proper implementation of the SDGs,” as a civil society report from Brazil explains. To make things worse, the country is left with an acting president charged with corruption, as are several of his ministers and parliamentarians. All this after the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff in what many have called a “legislative coup”, as no criminal charges have been brought against her.

Brazil is not the only country hit by the scandal of PPP-related bribes that emerged after a pattern of systematic corruption by infrastructure giant Odebrecht was revealed across Latin America. In Peru, ex-president Humala joins the list of former leaders under legal prosecution or in exile. All political parties are implied in the Odebrecht scanal. To add a

New York, 17 July 2017: On Monday, 17 July, the sponsors of the High-Level Panel report on Women’s Economic Empowerment are presenting a panel on “Accelerating women’s economic empowerment to achieve the 2030 Agenda”, head-lined by the Secretary-General. They will be joined by a diverse Member State ‘group of champions for women’s economic empowerment’. Given the knowledge and expertise of the High-Level Panel and the national level experience of the group of champions, they will have many examples of opportunities, but will they highlight the risks?  

The High-Level Panel report brought together a wide range of stakeholders to identify drivers of transformation and focus on expanding women’s economic opportunities in the world of work, emphasizing the essential role of the private sector. Despite the benefits such partnership opportunities may bring, the danger in prioritizing them is to neglect the structural and regulatory responsibilities of the state – thereby risking undermining its power to realize women’s human rights – for which it is ultimately responsible.

Will the July 17 panelists examine the risks of using public monies to subsidize private corporations, which would not invest in development projects otherwise? Would this not only divert public resources from strengthening the decent work agenda, anti-violence legislation and service delivery, among other things, but also undermine the ability of the state to honor commitments to the 2030 Agenda, including women’s empowerment? Will they provide examples of how the global tax system, through the erosion of tax bases and continuing existence of secrecy jurisdictions, drain the public purse of the resources needed to promote women’s rights? Will they show how trade and investment agreements, which empower corporations to sue governments that seek to regulate public health or the environment for lost future profits?

These constraints are a key issues for participants in the 2017 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development currently taking place at the UN in New York. They were also a key part of the analysis of women’s empowerment in the UN Women flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016—Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights. Will the High-Level Panel experts take the opportunity to broaden its framework to benefit from this report?

Contact in New York:

New York City, 14 July 2017: With the first week of deliberations at the 2017 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development coming to a close this Friday at the UN in New York, civil society activists are criticizing a piecemeal approach to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Especially worrisome to activists is a growing gap between aspirational goals and a lack of proper and comprehensive means of implementation.

On many occasions – during side-events as well as in official sessions – civil society experts pointed out that relying on financial means alone to implement the SDGs represented a reductionist view. “It is important to question whether ‘trillions’ are really needed to achieve the goals. More fundamental are the policy and regulatory challenges,” explained Stefano Prato, Managing Director at Society for International Development.

Rather than looking for ever-new financial products to pay for ‘sustainable investments’, he added, there was the need to challenge production models, with their “externalities” and ossification of gender inequalities in the division of labor. Furthermore, the excessive focus on national level implementation – with the subliminal message that implementation primarily was a job for developing countries – diverted attention away from international economic, environmental and political circumstances. These central pillars in means of implementation for the SDGs continue to restrain the policy and fiscal space of developing countries and provide structural obstacles to their development efforts.

Chee Yoke Ling, Director of Programmes at Third World Network, reiterated: “The HLPF should not just be a space for presenting ever-new schemes for how to funnel money into the place perceived to be the right one”. She added: “Rather, the Forum should give space to a debate around what normative framework is needed to create the necessary policy and political space for countries, particularly in the global South. Only in this way will the renewed global Partnership be able to avoid PPPs increasing costs and worsening inequalities, or trade rules that impede the abilities of smallholder farmers to produce food locally.”

“The rates of return promised on some of the proposed ‘innovative’ financing mechanisms just don’t make any sense. In fact, rather than showing sensible ways of tapping into much needed long-term financing instruments, the suggested ‘bundling’ of risky loans into AAA packages to be sold to pension funds reminds me of practices that are proven to have led us into the latest global financial crisis.”

New York 13 July 2017: As the SDG 17 is under review today at the HLPF 2017, civil society groups express their concern for the inadequacy of the combined MoI/AAAA framework to match the ambition of the 2030 Agenda. The worrying slogan of ‘making the business case for sustainable development’, clearly exemplifies how private finance, rather than public policies and investments, is being portrayed as the fundamental key to SDG implementation, says the Spotlight Report, a comprehensive independent assessment released in New York on the opening day of the High Level Political Forum 2017.
New York, 13 July 2017: Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), usually portrayed as a useful tool towards sustainable development, actually “involve disproportionate risks and costs for people and the public purse”, claims a global coalition of civil society organizations and trade unions in the Spotlight Report 2017 launched earlier this week.
New York, 12 July 2017: SDG2 ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, articulates one of the highest aspirations of the 2030 Agenda. Failure to advance it will significantly affect the entire agenda, claims the Spotlight report, a comprehensive independent assessment released in New York on the opening day of the High Level Political Forum 2017.
New York, 12 July 2017: Corporate power threatens women´s human rights by promoting a race to the bottom in labour standards and avoiding taxes in the countries where profits are obtained, concludes the report Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2017, in its analysis of the fifth Sustainable Development Goal which promises to achieve gender equality by 2030 and empower all women and girls.
New York, 11 July 2017: “The promise made by governments to eradicate poverty by 2030 is doable if countries cooperate to fight tax evasion and capital flights” argues an independent report submitted to the High Level Political Forum of the United Nations as an input to its debate today around the first of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
New York, 11 July 2017: The “leave no one behind” slogan and the proposition to increase funding “from billions to trillions” made by the development banks and the International Monetary Fund are the two policy messages most commonly heard at the debate around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that started yesterday at the United Nations. “You cannot have both at the same time” commented Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch, summarizing the analysis of the first SDG by the global Spotlight report, the major comprehensive independent assessment of the SDGs launched here yesterday.