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Human Rights Reader 370

PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS CONTRAVENE THE HUMAN RIGHTS-BASED UNDERSTANDING OF 
PEOPLE AS CLAIM HOLDERS AND GOVERNMENTS AS DUTY BEARERS. (P. Quintos)

1. The fact that the corporate sector is expressing satisfaction over the SDGs 
and the emerging Post-2015 Development Agenda should be enough to raise alarm 
bells for public interest civil society critical of the corporate-led, ‘free’ 
market-centered paradigm that has dominated development policy over the last 
four decades. Indeed human rights are just one more form of currency used by 
TNCs when deceivingly calling for the goal of “Good Governance and the 
Realization of Human Rights”.

2. In Issue Paper 10 of the UN Global Compact we read: “The UN Guiding 
Principles for Business and Human Rights sets out a clear framework for this 
approach which is, not only a social responsibility, but also a means for 
strengthening brand credentials, building customer loyalty and attracting 
investment.” (Author’s emphasis) (p. 2)

3. Instead of exercising the political will* to redistribute a significant 
portion of the surplus wealth of global oligarchs through:
-progressive tax reforms,
-taxing financial speculation,
-reversing illicit capital flows,
-eliminating tax havens,
-arresting tax competition among countries,
-amending unfair trade and investment agreements,
-cancelling illegitimate debt, and a myriad of other systemic reforms, 
governments, especially from the OECD, are instead putting an emphasis on 
enticing the private sector to ‘invest in sustainable development’.

*: Political will is usually understood as a greater resolve on the part of 
states. But political will is not due to the benevolence of politicians --they 
usually act only in response to consistent and compelling pressures. Therefore, 
it is not a lack of political will, but rather the accumulation of a political 
will by the powerful to oppose or stall the implementation of progressive 
policies that tackle human rights abuses.

1. And what a better setup to achieve this than Public-Private-Partnerships 
(PPPs) that can also take the form of  ‘agreements’ that shift the risks 
associated with private investments to the public sector. Clever, no? PPPs can 
take the form of:
-guaranteed subsidies or generous credit such as state-guaranteed loans to 
farmers buying new commercial miracle seed varieties, or
-payment guarantees such as in power-purchasing agreements between a private 
coal-fired power plant and a state-owned utility, or
-revenue guarantees, such as an agreement that ensures a minimum income stream 
to a private toll road operator regardless of actual road usage.

The essential feature of these PPPs is that they provide private companies with 
contract-based rights to flows of public money or to monopoly income streams 
from services on which the public relies such as roads, schools, hospitals and 
health services.

2. The above means that if, for some unforeseen reason, investors are not able 
to recoup their costs, for instance from user fees, the government has to put 
up the money that investors had projected, but failed to realize.

3. In short, the proliferation of PPPs is one of the factors behind the rising 
contingent liabilities of quite a few middle-income countries today.

4. There are then the so-called Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships (M-SPs) which 
bring together donor agencies, non-governmental organizations, private 
philanthropy, private sector and other actors to address specific challenges 
--from vaccinations, to agricultural research, to child health, to provision of 
education, or even hand-washing.

5. There is little evidence to show that either PPPs or M-SPs benefit the most 
marginalized and impoverished. The World Bank Group’s own internal evaluation 
of PPPs it has supported from 2002-2012 revealed that the main measure of 
success for PPPs is “business performance.”

6. The multi-stakeholder approach to governance relies on the voluntary 
commitment of coalitions-of-the-willing and (for some) serves as a welcome 
alternative to the private sector to instead have a legally binding framework 
with clear obligations on the part of states including the obligation to 
regulate private sector participants. So, while PPPs and the multi-stakeholder 
approach increase the influence of corporations over public policies and 
government spending priorities, they also weaken the accountability** of both 
big business and the state towards the people.

**: Accountability, what does it entail?: Do away with conditionalities? Name 
and shame? Fire or replace somebody for inefficiency or corruption? Tax 
culprits? Kick out a TNC? Regulate, legislate? Bring in users (claim holders) 
to the decision-making process? Demanding participatory budgets? Preempting 
free trade agreements (FTAs) on human rights issues? Public interest CSOs 
taking an active role as watch dogs? All of the above? Pick your choice.

7. Simply put, there is no real accountability where there are no repercussions 
for states or companies failing to achieve their avowed social and 
environmental commitments.

8. PPPs further:
-co-opt NGOs, the state and UN agencies;
-weaken efforts to hold transnational corporations accountable for their 
actions;
-obscure the ultimate obligation of governments in providing public goods and 
services and fulfilling people’s human rights.

9. As a consequence, the provision of public goods becomes unreliable as it 
increasingly becomes dependent on voluntary and ultimately unpredictable 
sources of financing. This adds pressure to fully privatize this provisioning, 
thereby flouting the human rights-based understanding of people as claim 
holders and governments as duty bearers compelled to account for their human 
rights obligations under international and national laws.

10. And there is more: PPPs allow corporations new ways of enhancing their 
public relations and making themselves appear environmentally and socially 
responsible, but without real accountability.**_
_**: Anything less than full and meaningful accountability risks rendering the 
SDGs a set of lofty, but empty, promises rather than the transformative agenda 
that public interest civil society, social movements, the Secretary-General and 
many of UN state delegates envision. It is not only about targets and 
indicators, but also about financing and lining up the means of implementation. 
(CESR, Human Rights Caucus, Amnesty International) And then there is the 
problem of accountability fatigue when accountability mechanisms are not 
binding on responsibilities and duties of the state. If not binding, these 
mechanisms only bring promises and promises are broken. Therefore, not 
rhetorically: How can we ask for accountability when the SDGs are not binding?

Where does this put us?

1. If nothing else, for all the above reasons, we need to ask the following 
questions regarding the emerging post-2015 agenda:
-is it a people's agenda? or
-is it too much a vehicle for expanding and strengthening transnational 
corporate power?
-is it an agenda that is simply about expanding and building on the MDGs? or

-is it a strategy that re-legitimizes the global capitalist model and 
neoliberal globalization?

2. If the agenda that finally emerges in September 2015 turns out to be a 
rehashed version or even an expansion of the MDGs, but lacks substantive action 
to overhaul the dominant neoliberal development framework (which it seems to 
be), then it is an agenda that will definitely perpetuate and deepen the 
impoverishment, inequality, environmental degradation, and the climate crisis.

We need to examine the post-2015 process, not in isolation, but in relation to 
wider trends and the broader context of development policies

1. We need to be organized. Many groups are doing their own bit in terms of 
promoting people's agendas and alternatives, but what we are facing is a 
systemic problem concerning the entire development model. So, it requires 
organizational linking up of civil society across issues, across sectors, and 
at different levels --from local to national, national to regional, regional to 
international.

2. It is not just enough to come up with development goals unless one 
challenges the roots of the problem of underdevelopment, of poverty, of the 
violation of human rights, and of the ecological crisis.

3. Development and human rights justice is a term coined by public interest 
civil society and social movements for their vision of a new development model 
to counter the neoliberal assault.

4. Broadly, development and human rights justice comprises five transformative 
shifts, namely:
-Redistributive Justice,
-Economic Justice,
-Social and Gender Justice,
-Environmental Justice, and
-Accountability to the People.
(all mostly taken from P. Quintos)


More Readers can be found in www.bodega-vn.com

--
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
PHM Vietnam | 121 38 St BTT D2, Saigon
mailto:cschuftan@phmovement.org
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