23.04.2014 | Righting Finance

Human rights organizations focus on financing for development negotiations

Speaking at a recent United Nations financing for development meeting, human rights organizations argued human rights should inform commitments to finance the new development agenda.

The High Level Dialogue of ECOSOC with the Bretton Woods Institutions, the World Trade Organization and UNCTAD is held every year and it is one of the follow up tracks for the Financing for Development Conference. This year’s edition, held on April 14-15, 2014, took place at a significant juncture. Governments are deliberating on the features of a new generation of development goals that, as part of the “post-2015 development agenda,” will replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Commitments to financing the new goals are expected to play an important role in those negotiations. At the same time, governments are in negotiations to define when the Third International Conference on Financing for Development will be held.

One of the key issues that governments will decide is to what extent we will have a new development agenda anchored in the international human rights framework. Whether the means of financing agreed as part of the agenda will also be human rights-tested is an open question. Analysts have traced the weaknesses in the Millennium Development Goals to the lack of alignment in the means of implementation and the international human rights framework.

In a statement delivered at the meeting, a civil society representative expressed her reservations regarding the corporate sector as a development actor. “It is difficult to conceive that the same actors and the same rules that contributed to a great extent to current global problems such as a the financialization of the economy, unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, or using gender wage inequality as incentive for attracting FDI, will be able not only to “don’t harm”, but furthermore, to “lead in” the sustainable development goals in the long term,” said Nicole Bidegain, of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era –DAWN.

Nicholas Lusiani, of the Center for Economic and Social Rights called for founding the financing of sustainable development on human rights standards. The consequences of doing this include tapping the potential of fiscal policy to generate sufficient public resources, combat inequalities of all kinds, redistribute decision-making power over sustainable development, and reinforce accountable governance. These reforms would “undercut the corrosive levels of socio-economic inequality by making the generation and use of public resources more transparent, participatory, accountable, equitable and therefore much more effective than relying on the good nature of private financiers,” he said.

Another intervention highlighted the fiscal risks of meeting infrastructure investment needs with institutional investors’ savings (such as mutual funds, pension funds, hedge funds, and so on). Aldo Caliari, of the Center of Concern, said that infrastructure cannot deliver the high returns that will be needed to make investing in it an attractive proposition for such investors.  “Thus, to meet the high returns expected by these investors, risks may be shifted to consumers and taxpayers in countries hosting the infrastructure,” he added.

Indeed, all over the world governments are reshaping entire legal and regulatory frameworks in order to reduce any regulatory uncertainties for investors and make the protection of their privileges secure. In the process, human rights suffer, for instance by the elimination or bypassing of regulatory capacity to protect human rights, environment, or due process for communities and citizens whose rights are affected by infrastructure projects.

Human rights alignment of the post-2015 agenda will not be complete without human rights-testing the means that will be offered for its implementation. However tempting it may be to transfer burdens to the private sector, States cannot abdicate the primary responsibility they have for taking the individual and collective steps necessary to achieve human rights.