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
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
8. PPPs further:
-co-opt NGOs, the state and UN agencies;
-weaken efforts to hold transnational corporations accountable for their
-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
-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
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
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
-Social and Gender Justice,
-Environmental Justice, and
-Accountability to the People.
(all mostly taken from P. Quintos)
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