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Rio+20 Working for a sustainable world

16 July 2012
Four people with Robin Hood Tax hats and posters

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Public Services International engaged in a number of activities at Rio:

  • PSI Regional Health Services Task Force
  • ITUC Trade Union Assembly
  • People’s Summit
  • Financial transactions tax (Robin Hood Tax) campaign
  • Thematic dialogues
  • Formal United Nations negotiations

There is almost universal agreement that the two years of negotiations culminating in the Rio+20 text failed to deliver a political vision and action programme for dealing with the major issues of sustainability. A ‘compromise’ text was delivered at the last moment by the Brazilian government. The general failure of the Rio +20 negotiations presents both threats and opportunities for public service unions.  These will require local and national level responses, as well as coordination across regions and globally.

PSI’s strongest sector focus with Rio+20 was in water, where we hoped to preserve the right to water language in the official text and to strengthen our campaigning and our links with civil society through our work at the People’s Summit.  Importantly for PSI and our communities, the right to water was preserved in the text – in itself a significant achievement given the opposition from a number of powerful countries, including Canada and the USA. The proposed language on universal access was removed, in favour of progressive realization of the right, within national confines.  

Through the International Trade Union Confederation’s Trade Union Assembly, PSI affiliates supported the call for decent green jobs, the Social Protection Floor, and a financial transactions tax as the global trade union movement’s top demands at Rio+20.

PSI along with a diverse coalition of labour and civil society allies led a global effort to give high profile to the financial transactions tax (also known as the Robin Hood Tax) campaign throughout Rio+20 events in June 2012. Wearing the bright green Robin Hood hats that have become a popular symbol of this campaign, FTT activists were visible throughout the People’s Summit and Rio+20 official proceedings, handing out information, engaging with media, taking photos, and recruiting new campaign partners.

It was energising and highly symbolic that the Brazilian bank workers’ unions agreed to work with our coalition to launch the FTT campaign in Brazil during Rio+20. Public Services International affiliate National Nurses United and partners launched the Robin Hood Tax campaign across the United States at the same time – see www.robinhoodtax.org

The well-respected Brazilian Senator Eduardo Suplicy (Workers Party) was so inspired by his participation in our events in Rio that he wore his Robin Hood hat into the senate and delivered a passionate endorsement of the financial transactions tax – linking it to funding for social protection, sustainability, and as a curb on speculation. The senator, who is also an economist, is well-known as the leading proponent of a basic annual income programme. The rally and the Senator’s comments received media coverage across Brazil. Newly elected French President François Hollande also took the opportunity at Rio+20 to address world leaders and emphasise his support for a financial transactions tax.

These actions were part of a series of campaign events envisioned at a strategy meeting co-convened by PSI, our affiliate NNU, the ITUC, Oxfam, Stamp Out Poverty and many others in London in January 2012.  Leading into Rio+20, the international campaign partners worked to produce ‘myth-busting’ documents, engage in government lobbying, organise a global week of FTT actions, and stage FTT events around the G8 in May, followed by Rio+20 and G20 in June, and the international AIDS conference in July. These efforts are also endorsed by the Council of Global Union’s Quality Public Services-Action Now! campaign.

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