UNHLPF closes - Trade unions call for tax justice, public policies and democratic governance

20 July 2017
The United Nations 2017 High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development closed on Wednesday 19 July in New York, with trade union and civil society activists criticizing a piecemeal approach to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Activists are particularly concerned by the growing gap between aspirational goals and a lack of proper and comprehensive means of implementation.

The United Nations 2017 High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development closed on Wednesday 19 July in New York, with trade union and civil society activists criticizing a piecemeal approach to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Activists are particularly concerned by the growing gap between aspirational goals and a lack of proper and comprehensive means of implementation.

A PSI team, led by PSI General Secretary, Rosa Pavanelli, took part in the 10-day UN HLPF working in close cooperation with the ITUC and civil society, including the FfD CSO Group. PSI co-published the 2030 Spotlight Report on the opening day of the HLPF, this global report assesses how privatization and corporate capture have become obstacles to progress under the 2030 agenda. On many occasions – during side-events as well as in official sessions - trade union and numerous civil society experts pointed out that relying on financial means alone to implement the SDGs represented a reductionist view.

Rosa Pavanelli said: “Policy coherence, regulations, transparency and public investment should be the priorities for governments, through strong governance inspired by a democratic participatory process. To serve the purpose of the 2030 Agenda, the contradiction between the need for rights-based social inclusion and the current profit-oriented economic model needs to be solved. We urgently need to:

  • Reform the corporate tax system, including the creation of an intergovernmental body within the UN.
  • Fight tax evasion, abolish tax havens and re-establish progressive taxation systems, also considering the adoption of flat tax for corporates as a transition measure.
  • Exclude the expenses for fundamental social services from public debt to relieve the pressure on governments that is limiting their capacity to ensure universal access.
  • Revert the promotion of PPPs and blended finance that conceal public borrowing, state guarantees for profits to private companies at the expenses of local communities, while causing long-term indebtment.
  • Stop trade agreements that are not supporting local development, labour rights and environmental sustainability.
  • Change the current ISDS system which undermines the ability of states to regulate in the public interest.

These are the structural changes needed to meet the ambition of the 2030 Agenda. An ambition inspired by the long-term vision of an inclusive society, that requires courage to be implemented and the profound awareness that we are working for the survival of Planet Earth and a safe future for the next generations.”

Chee Yoke Ling, Director of Programmes at Third World Network, reiterated:

“The HLPF 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.”

One of the great strengths of the 2030 Agenda, which trade unions and 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.

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. The ITUC has prepared several national reports, available on their website.

Despite soaring rhetoric, glossy reports and slick presentations, the fact remains that implementation on the ground has “stalled”, as highlighted in both ITUC reports, and in a series of civil society national reports as part of the global Spotlight Report initiative.

Increasingly, trade unions and civil society are 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. As exhibited in many speeches and official national reports at the HLPF over the last week, much energy is invested in high-profile ‘partnerships’ with the private sector.

As Kate Donald of the Center for Economic and Social Rights states 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.”

The democratic governance of this process remains a key concern and trade unions have an essential role to play in that context. Multi-stakeholder engagement cannot be a replacement of labour councils, economic and social committees and collective bargaining at enterprise, local, sectoral and national level. Public sector unions need to stay closely involved in these processes, both as implementers of the SDGs and major stakeholders.

The 2030 Spotlight report is published by the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Global Policy Forum (GPF), Public Services International (PSI), Social Watch, Society for International Development (SID), and Third World Network (TWN), supported by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. It provides a very detailed and in depth, independent assessment of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A full report on PSI’s contribution to the FfD and HLPF will be published shortly.

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