The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development began its 2015 annual session with a focus on its role in reviewing the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda. “One thing is certain,” said Rudolf Hundstorfer, Federal Minister for Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection of Austria, in his opening remarks, noting that for the new development agenda to be successful, an effective follow-up and review mechanism was necessary. The Forum, established by a decision in the outcome document of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, would play a decisive role to that end, he said, proposing that great importance be given to developing suitable indicators, as well as providing reliable data and statistics.
The social dimension was as important as economic and environmental policies in connection with sustainable development and would play a key role in the upcoming follow-up and review process, he said. Eradicating poverty in all its forms must be at the heart of all policies and there was a need for decent work for all. “Employment and an adequate income are the best protection against poverty, and are key in addressing inequality and social exclusion,” he said, also underscoring that social protection and inclusion of disadvantaged and marginalized groups were fundamental for sustainable development.
Martin Sajdik, President of the Economic and Social Council, who chaired today’s session, said that the Forum met for a second time under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council. It did so in a crucial year, when the world was charting the development path for the next 15 years. Without sustainable development, there could be no lasting improvement in humanity’s well-being. Agreement had already been reached on 17 sustainable development goals. “2015 must not only be a year when leaders share a great dream, it must be a year when world leaders realize that dream — with an all-out effort to implement the sustainable development agenda,” he said.
Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, delivering a statement on behalf of Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that the post-2015 development agenda was the work of all Governments and also owned by important parts of civil society. Rio+20 had called for a reform that injected sustainable development into the General Assembly, strengthening the Economic and Social Council and creating a United Nations Environment Assembly. The establishment of the Forum was at the heart of that reform.
Following those remarks, representatives from Major Groups and Other Stakeholders, including those on local authorities, older persons, and children and youth, stressed the importance of their needs incorporated into the mechanism of follow-up and review for sustainable development.
Kadir Topbaş, Mayor of Istanbul and President of United Cities and Local Governments, Turkey, said the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, to take place in Quito in 2016, must be part of the new agenda, as it would be a “missed opportunity” not to make a connection between the sustainable development and urban development. With more than 70 per cent of the world’s poorest people living in cities, most in developing countries, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction required an integrated territorial approach that considered urban planning, which local governments were best placed to provide. The new agenda’s success hinged on support that flowed to localities from national Governments, as well as civil society and the private sector involvement.
Frances Zainoeddin, Gray Panthers, New York, said that by 2030 the global population over the age of 60 would reach 16 per cent, from 12 per cent at present. “In agreeing to leave no one behind, Governments must respond to all people, from cradle to grave, with the right mix of policies, underpinned by appropriate investments and data that are disaggregated by age and other variables,” she said. Older people were not a homogenous group for which there was a one-size-fits-all policy; their incomes, living conditions and state of health varied. Vulnerabilities associated with illness and disabling conditions must be addressed by policies that supported and enabled elderly people.
Hirotaka Koike, Japan Youth Platform for Post-2015, said that young people were becoming increasingly disempowered, voiceless and frustrated. The international community could not afford to continue business as usual and must consider the long-term impact of self-interest and unchecked development. As young people were most affected by success or failure in carrying out the sustainable development goals, it was important to implement and monitor those goals.
The Forum also held two panel discussions, one entitled “Shaping the world for 2030: From vision to transformative action” and the other on “The role of business in implementation”.
The Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 29 June, to continue its session.
MARTIN SAJDIK, President of the Economic and Social Council, opening the session, expressed his condolences to the people and Government of France, Kuwait and Tunisia following terrorist attacks this morning in those countries.
He said today was the second time the High-level Political Forum met under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council. It did so in a crucial year, when the world was charting the development path for the next 15 years. Without sustainable development, there could be no lasting improvement in humanity’s well-being. Agreement had already been reached on 17 sustainable development goals, building on their precursor, the Millennium Development Goals. “2015 must not only be a year when leaders share a great dream, it must be a year when world leaders realize that dream — with an all-out effort to implement the sustainable development agenda,” he said.
The session, he said, was a moment to reflect on the Millennium targets and take stock of where things stood in terms of the upcoming third Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, the already agreed SAMOA Pathway document on sustainable development in small island developing States, and other major conferences and strategies related to sustainable development. It was an opportunity to implement the post-2105 development agenda so “we can hit the ground running”. Implementation would require a major effort to communicate that agenda, he said, expressing hope that the session would result in a common understanding on how the Forum could turn the agenda into transformative action.
RUDOLF HUNDSTORFER, Federal Minister for Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection of Austria, said that 2015 was a crucial year for sustainable development as the end of the year marked the end of the Millennium Development Goals. But, there was plenty of work left to be done and the process was under way to elaborate a new global development agenda for the period after that year. For the implementation of the new development agenda to be successful, an effective follow-up and review mechanism was necessary. The Forum would play a decisive role in following up on the implementation of sustainable development commitments and reviewing the progress made. Great importance must be given to developing suitable indicators, as well as providing reliable data and statistics.
As Minister for Social Affairs, he said he attached great importance to four issues regarding the social dimension of sustainable development. First, eradicating poverty in all its forms must be at the heart of all policies. According to recent World Bank statistics, 1 billion people had to live on less than $1.25 a day. Second, there was a need for decent work and full, productive employment for all. “Employment and an adequate income are the best protection against poverty, and they are key in addressing inequality and social exclusion,” he said. Social dialogue was helpful. In Austria, trade unions and employers’ organizations successfully cooperate with each other and the Government in developing social, economic and employment policy.
Thirdly, social protection was fundamental for sustainable development. Some of the world’s most advanced economies were successful because they had good social protection systems. Finally, it was essential to promote the social inclusion of disadvantaged and marginalized groups. For example, nearly 50 per cent of all people of pensionable age did not receive a pension. Many children and young people lacked access to high-quality education and vocational training. People with disabilities were overrepresented among the poor. Women did not find a level playing field in many areas. “The social exclusion of these and other groups means a waste of potential and high costs for society as a whole,” he said. The social dimension was just as important as economic and environmental policies in connection with sustainable development and played a key role in the upcoming follow-up and review process.
THOMAS GASS, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, delivering a statement of Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the world was “at a rare moment in history”, which could be a turning point for the future of people and planet. “Our legacy can be that we shaped an ambitious common vision and rallied around a systematic effort to put the world on a path to eradicate poverty and develop sustainably,” he said, noting that the post-2015 development agenda was the work of all Governments. It was also owned by important parts of civil society. There was fear that inclusiveness might lead to lowering ambitions to the lowest common denominator. That had not been the case. With the proposed sustainable development goals alone, there was an agenda aiming at no less than transforming economies and societies. The new agenda would be universal. Its motto would be to “leave no one behind”, and it would be about not only social, but also economic and environmental policies.
The high ambitions of the new agenda must be matched by equally transformative and principled institutions, he said. Sustainable development goal number 16 aimed to make institutions “effective, accountable and inclusive”. That applied not only to the national level, but also to the international level. Rio+20 had called for a reform that injected sustainable development into the General Assembly, strengthening the Economic and Social Council, and creating a United Nations Environment Assembly. The establishment of this High-level Political Forum was at the heart of that reform. The Forum would need to be supported by a well-functioning system of intergovernmental commissions, fora and committees, such as the Council and its subsidiary commissions. In turn, the energy and vision embodied in the Forum and the new agenda needed to strengthen the authority and purpose of the Council. Discussions during the coming eight days would be essential to shaping the Forum’s 2016 session.
Statements of Representatives from Major Groups and Other Stakeholders
KADIR TOPBAŞ, Mayor of Istanbul and President of United Cities and Local Governments, Turkey, condemned the attacks in France and Kuwait and expressed condolences to those countries’ Governments and people. Turning to the Forum, he said cities and local Governments were keen to contribute to it. A new agenda could be found to combine poverty reduction, prosperity and sustainable development. The agenda should be “one, universal, people-centred, realistic and mindful of the needs of future generations” with a view that sustainability could not be separated from development. The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), to take place in Quito in October 2016, must be part of the new agenda, as it would be a “missed opportunity” not to make a connection between the sustainable development and urban development. With more than 70 per cent of the world’s poorest people living in cities, most in developing countries, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction required an integrated territorial approach that considered urban planning, which local governments were best placed to provide. The new agenda’s success hinged on support that flowed from national Governments to local authorities, as well as civil society and the private sector involvement.
In addition, national implementation mechanisms would be needed and the gap between citizens and decision makers must be bridged, he said. Universal access to quality services — particularly for vulnerable groups like women, children, the disabled and the poor — were vital. He expressed high hopes that the Forum would not just call for the integration of policies, but would also demand a new way of working. Cities and local Governments were willing to contribute to new multistakeholder partnerships, he said, hoping that the Forum would provide a new framework for development of such partnerships. In closing, he underscored that the agenda before the Forum required local, national and international leaders to commit jointly.
FRANCES ZAINOEDDIN, Gray Panthers, New York, speaking for the Stakeholder Group on Ageing, said that, by 2030 the percentage of the global population over the age of 60 would increase to 16 per cent, up from 12 per cent at present. “In agreeing to leave no one behind, Governments must respond to all people, from cradle to grave, with the right mix of policies, underpinned by appropriate investments and data that are disaggregated by age and other variables,” she said. Older people were not a homogenous group for which there was a one-size-fits-all policy; their incomes, living conditions and state of health varied widely. They were active agents of change, but some were also poor, illiterate and needed help. Vulnerabilities associated with illness and disabling conditions must be addressed by policies that supported and enabled elderly people.
The Forum must insist on concrete evidence, based on the disaggregation of data by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts, she said. Its reviews of national challenges and actions must be accompanied by reviews of the impact of national policies and programmes on social groups. The Forum should ask the Council’s functional commissions, as well as the United Nations regional commissions and its governing bodies, to participate in such reviews within their respective areas of expertise and to make recommendations for the Forum’s consideration. Adequate resources for the Forum and the United Nations system were indispensable, she said. The Stakeholder Group on Ageing had submitted its proposals on the Forum’s work and on coordination mechanisms with a view towards multistakeholder engagement. The Group stood ready to contribute to the Forum’s work in ensuring the sustainable development agenda was for all peoples and all ages.
HIROTAKA KOIKE, Japan Youth Platform for Post-2015, speaking on behalf of the Children and Youth Major Group, said young people were becoming increasingly disempowered, voiceless, powerless and frustrated. Urging Member States to have “courage” to support youth, he said the international community could not afford to continue business as usual and must consider the long-term impact of self-interest and unchecked development. In addition, economic development must be considered with environmental impacts in mind.
As children and youth were most affected by a success or failure in implementing sustainable development goals, it was important to implement goals, monitor implementation and propose a hybrid review mechanism that combined Annual Ministerial Review and Universal Periodic Review. The Forum must also have an independent bureau. Major groups must be supported and granted access to information, which constituted a right that was crucial to ensure engagement space for groups, such as children and youth, which would otherwise be marginalized. “The real challenge begins now,” he said, calling for inclusion of children and youth in sustainable development for the future.
Panel Discussion I
The Forum then held a panel discussion on “Shaping the world for 2030: From vision to transformative action” (document E/HLPF/2015/2). Moderated by Henry Bonsu, International Broadcaster, Ghana, it featured the following speakers: David Donoghue (Ireland), Co-facilitator of the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda; Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo, Deputy Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Mexico; Mayacine Camara, Director, Department of Planning and Economic Policies, Ministry of Economy, Finance and Planning of Senegal, and Chair of the African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development; and Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Marwan Bishtawi, Associate Coordinator of Pax Romana United Nations Advocacy Team in New York, served as a discussant.
Opening the panel with a keynote address, Mr. DONOGHUE said 2015 was a momentous year to bring about a truly sustainable world. He hoped the Forum would contribute to a transformative vision and said a strong, effective Forum would be indispensable in transforming that vision into action. A “zero draft” outcome of the summit on the post-2015 development agenda, scheduled for September, had been circulated.
It included a declaration that would accompany the new goals and targets; it intended to be inspiring, readable and concise, with a set of messages from Governments about the importance and potential of the new agenda. The sustainable development goals would build on the Millennium targets, applying to countries rich and poor. This was the first occasion in which all 193 Member States would be committing themselves to the same set of goals and targets, with differentiated responsibilities. The aim was to transcend the North-South divide. A separate process would develop by March 2016 a set of indicators to implement the new goals and targets. An ambitious global framework mobilizing resources, capacity, partnership and technology was needed to bring about a “shift in gear” towards sustainable development.
The outcome of the upcoming Addis conference on financing for development would need to be integrated into the post-2015 development agenda’s document, he said. From the day the new goals were agreed, every Member State must figure out how to implement and monitor them. Those States had agreed that follow up and review must start at the national level, and inform the international level, and that the new agenda should contain a set of overarching principles, without being overly prescriptive in elaborating detail. Still, what was put forward must be rigorous and clear.
Member States had agreed that follow-up and review processes must be comprehensive and addressing progress in implementing the goals and targets; support countries in making informed policy choices; be open and inclusive; build on existing platforms and processes and developed over time; and be evidence-based, informed by data that was timely, reliable and disaggregated, he said. The “zero draft” identified the Forum as the apex of a global network for review processes, and stated there should be reviews and partnerships, including through the Council’s functional commissions, and it should be informed by an annual sustainable development report. It was agreed that the next Forum would take place in 2019 and the Assembly would have to provide further clarity on issues.
Mr. BONSU said the discussions must lead to a better understanding of the issues introduced by Mr. Donoghue. It should address how to transform lofty ambitions into reality, the key indicators of success, and how to ensure the Forum supported implementation of the new agenda in all countries.
Mr. ROBLEDO said the first question was how the results of the September summit would be explained to a global population that was sceptical of the ability of the United Nations to transform the world. He questioned whether the level of ambition to date would be significantly more than it was two years ago. The Millennium Development Goals had advanced the development agenda significantly. As an example, he noted that migration now had a cross-cutting aspect — an important concern of his country, Mexico. While the goals were global, they should still take into account local concerns. That transition would allow Governments to plan development in sustainable terms and be people-centred, recognizing human rights, and the need for social and economic inclusivity. The experience of the last 15 years had given the world many tools for evaluation. It had made clear that sustainable development must be based on the rule of law.
National reviews were a primary basis for follow-up and evaluation, and regional reviews and indicators were essential, he said. As such, it was vital to strengthen institutional capacity at the national and regional level. The Forum must be a venue for dialogue on ways to sustain the new goals. What emerged from the Addis Ababa conference would also be important.
Mr. CAMARA said to achieve the goals, global economic, social and environmental disparities must be addressed. Climate change affected countries in different ways. In that regard, Africa was a “ticking time bomb”; its youth were reacting with anger to those disparities. The Millennium targets had made it possible to reduce poverty, but inequalities had persisted. The questions remained how to implement and follow up on several of the targets. The successes and failures of the targets were instructive in formulating the sustainable development goals. The key indicator of success was implementation.
Mr. OSOTIMEHIN said the Beijing+20 review of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, pointed out that human rights were linked to development. With the youth population exploding in Africa and South Asia, it was essential to channel that energy into positive, productive ways and to spend more money on their health, including reproductive health, and education. It was also vital to invest in employment. Inclusiveness had to be done properly. Half of the world’s countries did not have comprehensive data for development planning and implementation. The United Nations programmes and agencies had to cut out red tape to become more nimble. UNFPA and others were making progress towards that end. National leadership would be essential. The Forum should link all the post-2015 development processes so that the parts of the United Nations system could work together to enable countries to plan, monitor and evaluate. To be inclusive, more attention must be paid to national programmes, particularly for women and girls. Data and new technologies could be used more effectively.
Mr. BISHTAWI asked where the world would be 15 years from now. Would it be celebrating its successes or would climate change be out of control, he questioned. The Major Stakeholder Group for Children and Youth did not want a world where future generations did not know Maldives or Vanuatu. The Forum could be a turning point. It was a chance to live in a world where poverty was history; not one with a cycle of economic booms and crashes. The Forum was meant to build coherence in the United Nations system, but its lofty goals could not be achieved without robust follow-up and review mechanisms. Decisions must be implemented at the local level. Quoting Pope Francis’ ecumenical on climate change, he called for ways to contextualize ambitious ideas and make serious commitments to sustainable living and development. Development within “planetary boundaries”, not procrastination, and tackling real problems with public finances and resources were paramount. To that end, a global tax body needed to be created. There must be respect for gender diversity and human dignity. “I urge you to lead and we, the children and youth, will follow,” he said. “We don’t want MDG [Millennium Development Goals] plus, we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past agenda; we want real development.”
Asked by the moderator to comment on the criticism that the people the United Nations and Governments were here to serve were lost amid the negotiations, Mr. DONOGHUE said policymakers and negotiators were trying to overcome that fact and reinforce that this was a people-centred and people-owned agenda.
Mr. OSOTIMEHIN said national leadership and ownership was key to ensure the goals were realized and understood by people, and funds were appropriated towards that end. Civil society and the private sector must participate.
As to whether the Forum required rapid change, Mr. ROBLEDO said that could not be answered since the Forum was in its infancy. National evaluation, in cooperation with civil society, was key.
On the need for intelligent, clear data so that policymakers and planning departments could do their jobs properly, Mr. CAMARA said a new global partnership must be set up. Global governance was needed, with reciprocity to guarantee coherence of international support. Technology transfer was also needed.
When the floor was opened for discussion, South Africa’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Forum’s preparatory process, currently controlled by Council, could benefit from more Member State input to ensure greater transparency.
The representative of Maldives noted with concern that the Forum was the sole venue in which the small island developing States, whose climate change-related challenges were enormous, were being reviewed. She stressed the importance of the SAMOA Pathway’s review and streamlining follow-up review processes to prevent reporting fatigue, which was important for such States.
Zambia’s representative, endorsing the Group of 77 and China’s statement, said special consideration in the sustainable development goals was needed to address the infrastructure, trade and economic transformation concerns of small island developing States, least developed countries and land-locked developing countries.
Mr. CAMARA said the solution was strengthening integration at the subregional level, a structural transformation of those economies required development of their industrial sector infrastructure, particularly in Africa. The financing gap must be closed, particularly for land-locked developing countries.
The representative of the Association of Economic and Social Councils asked how youth — the real drivers of the sustainable development goals — could be engaged in a more proactive way so they could understand the conferences’ outcome documents and work to achieve their stated goals.
Germany’s representative also asked how the Forum’s message could be best conveyed to the public, particularly to youth.
Mr. OSOTIMEHIN said that, without losing the meaning of the issues — their universality and the rights of people being taken of and the slogan of “peace, prosperity, people, partnerships” — it was necessary to find a middle ground. The Forum process had been very democratic. Taking the essence of what was in United Nations documents, rather than attempting to change the language of the documents, and translating that essence into understandable media headlines was key.
The representative of Rwanda said massive consultations with the public on the post-2015 development agenda had begun in 2013 in her country to ensure the agenda would be “for the people and by the people”.
The representative of the Dominican Republic noted that goal 17 dealt with the question of institutions, where greater attention was needed.
Mr. ROBLEDO noted that the institutional aspect of the “zero draft” remained weak. Solid institutions were vital to implement the new agenda.
Panel Discussion II
The second panel discussion, titled “The role of business in implementation”, was moderated by Amina Mohammed, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning.
The panellists were Mark Moody-Stuart, Chair, Foundation for the Global Compact, United States; Toshio Arima, Director and Executive Advisor to the Board, Fuji Xerox, Japan; Jeff Seabright, Chief Sustainability Officer, Unilever, United Kingdom; Jean-Francis R. Zinsou, Permanent Representative of Benin to the United Nations; and Annika Lindblom, Director for International Sustainable Development, Ministry of the Environment, Finland.
Francis Gurry, Director-General, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and Diego Azzi, International Trade Union Confederation, Brazil, were the lead discussants.
In his keynote address, Mr. SAJDIK said engaged business and industry actors would have a major role to play in the successful implementation of the sustainable development goals. They could be called on to provide technology and funding and to align their corporate strategies and value chains with national development policies and goals. Innovative partnerships with business and civil society complemented, but did not replace public development programmes. The Forum offered a venue where multistakeholder partnerships could be discussed, for a global standpoint, with top-tier political guidance. They could build on the reviews of partnerships in the many other intergovernmental venues in the United Nations system. The Forum was also mandated to include business and industry in its work. The role of business and other stakeholders in the implementation of the sustainable development goals would be discussed by the panel of business leaders with extensive experience in promoting sustainability, both through their value chains and through public-private partnerships.
Opening the discussion, Ms. MOHAMMED said the world had come a long way in the last two years in terms of understanding the role of business, adding that 2015 would see a confluence of three conferences culminating in a “paradigm shift” in the approach to sustainable development. The implementation of the goals at the country level could not be overemphasized, and businesses had begun to align their priorities and policies based on extensive and global discussions. How could businesses help achieve the post-2015 development agenda, including the sustainable development goals? What were the incentives, and what could be disincentives? How could the public sector ensure the public good while encouraging private initiative? What made a public-private partnership successful, replicable, scalable and sustainable? Which elements of successful partnerships can be considered universal, and which elements specific to countries, culture or other factors? How could we promote inclusiveness, transparency and accountability in the context of the role of business in sustainable development? Those questions were central to the debate.
Mr. MOODY-STUART said that, as part of the Global Compact, businesses were involved in several areas that were closely related to the sustainable development goals. What were needed were more vigorous public-private partnerships. That would require a change of attitudes and approaches. Business leaders were overwhelmingly focused on markets, and often did not acknowledge that markets alone could not provide all the solutions. Regulations, therefore, assumed importance, which raised red flags among the business community. The focus should be on smart regulation that helped the creativity of markets. For every regulatory change, there would be winners and losers in the business community. It was the responsibility of the leadership to establish a win-win situation. Each country needed to bring business, civil society and labour organizations to work at the local level.
Mr. ARIMA spoke of three layers of environmental and social governance activities espoused by his company: direct engagement; deployment and collaboration with partners; and contribution and support to society. The company worked to avoid risks and capture opportunities through a variety of activities along each of those layers. Citing a programme implemented in the Philippines, he said his company promoted primary education by seeking donations from customers in the acquisition and production and distribution of textbooks. Such work was now being deployed across neighbouring countries. The Global Compact Network Japan continuously sent out strong and clear messages, including appeals to the Japanese Government to highlight the sustainable development goals, and act a as platform form collaborations mong member organizations.
Mr. SEABRIGHT stressed the need of channelling the energies of the private sector towards sustainable development through innovation and investment. That placed huge challenges and provided great opportunities for businesses. Many businesses were not fully engaged in the process, he said, underlining the need to present sustainable development goals in clearer language. At the macro level, the potential to create more equitable and broad-based growth was in the long-term interest of the business community. The specific opportunities around nutrition, water, sanitation, education were also important. The world needed to do a better job of inspiring and encouraging businesses to work in areas promoting sustainable development. Greater understanding of pathways towards partnerships would strengthen efforts. Governments needed to see businesses as partners through greater dialogue and smart regulation. Progress had been made in the area of climate, which needed to be replicated in other areas. “There is no business case for enduring poverty,” he said, stressing the need for collective action.
Mr. ZINSOU said the sustainable development goals captured a broad and wide agenda and attempted to focus on eradicating poverty and promoting sustainability. While the State had the major role to play, the private sector could make a very valuable contribution. Developing countries in particular were impeded by institutional and financial constraints, and should be able to tap into the wider resources of the private sector to secure the basis services to the people and preserve the environment. The key was to strike the right balance between the public and private sectors by combining various levels of engagement. At the global level, a durable investment regime, effective technology transfer and a multistakeholder approach were instrumental to success. The private sector was well placed to take effective action in those areas.
Ms. LINDBLOM, providing a public-sector perspective, said there was evidence that the private sector wanted to be more than spectators in sustainable development. In Finland, business organizations had been well represented in sustainable development partnerships. As a result, over the past two decades, there had been a sea change between the public and private sectors from one of an adversarial to a cooperative partnership. The Government encouraged open, transparent commitments through wide participation of society. The Government was not outsourcing its responsibility to other actors, she said, stressing that ministries had enunciated and acted on their own sectoral commitments. Companies that had joined the commitment stressed they had the incentive to do what they always wanted to do: improve economic performance while solving national global problems. The Government found the private sector not only a source of investment, but an agent of change. Human rights and justice were still disregarded in many cases, which the Government was committed to addressing. Partnerships needed to be based on continuous dialogue.
The first discussant, Mr. GURRY, said the panellists had demonstrated the many ways in which businesses could be involved in the implementation of the sustainable development goals. One challenge was of governance, as businesses would be parting with assets. Public-private partnerships were crucial to assure businesses that they would have a role in decision-making. Technology transfer entailed the transfer of assets that allowed a company a comparative advantage, which was a dilemma that needed to be addressed. WIPO sought to build public-private partnerships in finding treatments for tropical diseases, where by itself a market did not exist.
Mr. AZZI said trade unions were anxious to see businesses provide decent employment, not just jobs. Public and private interest were not always aligned, he said, stressing the importance of social dialogue in bolstering inclusiveness in such areas as labour standards and social equity. Multinational corporations needed to abide by the principles of accountability and transparency in keeping with established international conventions. Companies should report on their financial activities, including on tax and procurement, on a country-by-country basis. Tax havens, fiscal evasion, capital flight were antithetical to the principle of effective resource mobilization. Public-private partnerships often led to a situation with profits were privatized and losses were socialized.
When the interactive dialogue began, representatives of Member States, major groups and other stakeholders asked presenters for details on their expertise and shared some of their own concerns.
A representative of the farmers’ constituency asked if the business sector would support sustainable development for profit or aim at improving living conditions, including ensuring human rights and access to justice for marginalized communities.
Canada’s representative said Governments and businesses needed to build regulatory framework to shape sustainable growth. As such, he asked panellists how that process could be encouraged.
Raising a number of issues, a representative from the children and youth major group asked about the discourse among businesses with regard to trying to eliminate inequalities in pay regimes.
Rwanda’s delegate said efforts on a national scale had been made to facilitate business development and to ensure accountability, preferring public-private partnerships.
A representative of the major group for women emphasized that public authorities should monitor and regulate sectors such as sanitation and health to avoid unaccountability when the private sector was involved.
With regard to those and other related issues, panellists and lead discussants provided a basket of responses and insight.
Elaborating on the importance of corporate partnership, Mr. MOODY-STUART said there was a need for accountability. The Global Compact acknowledged and recognized the rule of law, a principle that was essential. However, there was a long way to go to reach that goal. While growing inequality was difficult to reverse, regular monitoring and shareholder influence was addressing those and related issues.
As a representative of her Government, Ms. LINDBLOM said Finland was among the most regulated countries in the world. What she had learned with discussions with the private sector had demonstrated that predictability in regulations was important for businesses. While the private sector had been part of the problem, now they could be part of the solution to challenges, including water scarcity, to solve the immense problems the world faced. In Finland, there was a positive spirit, as companies that had become “partners” in forestry, waste management or construction, were making it attractive to potential private corporations.
As a private sector member of the Global Compact, Mr. SEABRIGHT said the core was understanding the main drivers of business. Many businesses were saying there was an opportunity now to develop conscious capitalism and change their models that were beyond simple profitability. Among the challenges to companies engaged in the Global Compact was to do it “the right way” and showing the way by being successful.
From the stakeholders group, a representative of Amnesty International said the private sector could contribute to supporting the new goals, but corporate accountability was essential to avoid human rights abuses. A voluntary approach meant that the sector saw the challenge as a question of corporate responsibility rather than a legal requirement. As such, States must ensure companies know and show respect for human rights and to hold them to account when they don’t.
A representative from the business and industry constituency and the Global Business Alliance shared lessons learned, including efforts to address issues related to poverty reduction.
Speaking from a corporate perspective, Mr. ARIMA said he was now managing an intermediary non-governmental organization, which joined Government, development and business stakeholders to deliver a range of services. However, it was not easy; managing single-businesses was easy, but multistakeholder endeavours posed many challenges.
From a governmental point of view, Mr. ZINSOU said the issue of human rights must be monitored with regard to business sector activities. In the health sector, there was an issue of providing services, as well as pricing and access. Public-private partnerships were good tools if they were well negotiated. The power is usually on the private sector side, which had the knowledge and imposed the terms of the partnership. A code of conduct should shape those partnerships and the public sector should remain in command or have a regulation in place, he said, pointing to the energy and water sectors as prime examples for the need of having a balanced partnership. Issues such as tax evasion and incentives must be addressed, as should threats to public interest. The post-2015 agenda was people-centred and all tools should be used to ensure that burdens were shared. In closing, he said the fact that gains were often privatized and losses are socialized, a balance should be struck in that regard.
From a union standpoint, Mr. AZZI said the private sector should, among other things, support labour market policies and the living wage.
Mr. SEABRIGHT said that Unilever would release its first-ever human rights report on its work with regard to the living wage in its operations around the world. There was a real opportunity for businesses to contribute to positive, transformational change that could be supported by strong regulations. As such, businesses could significantly help to speed up the achievement of the new goals.
Mr. MOODY-STUART said limitations must be set that recognized planetary boundaries by either setting a price through taxation. Over the last two decades, companies had discussed putting a price on carbon and that had not been achieved yet. “We need the business community to help Governments to put regulations in place,” he said.
A representative of the major group for women asked how companies could contribute to promote gender equality and decent work and how they could ensure that workers had access to human rights mechanisms.
Responding, Ms. LINDBLOM said gender equality was an important issue in Finland. It was important to emphasize the importance of human rights and the global environmental impact in discussions with companies, especially those that may be violating rights outside of Finland.
Agreeing, Mr. ZINSOU said regulations and their enforcement were tools Governments must use to protect their population. It was in the interest of the private sector to share benefits with workers, considering them as shareholders or stakeholders in the future of their companies. Salaries must be at the level of allowing people to more than just survive.
Mr. SEABRIGHT said creating thriving communities and markets, including empowering women and girls, built a critical foundation for his company. Issues such as safety for women in the work place and their role in the company’s value chain were also important.
Mr. ARIMA said with regard to supply chain management, efforts made that had resulted in more returns than investment included significant resources spent on training employees in group organizations in East Asia.
Mr. AZZI expressed support for the creation of a United Nations taxation body. Transparency itself could be a regulating mechanism.
Mr. MOODY-STUART said a range of issues, such as child labour, had been addressed but other local problems, such as building permits that were not honoured that led to disasters such as Bangladesh factory collapse, were most effectively handled locally.
A representative of the children and youth major group said infinite growth was not possible on a finite planet. As such, he asked for details on how growth could be limited.
Summing up the dialogue, Ms. MOHAMMED said the inputs heard had noted that countries required different approaches and support from local to global levels to ensure that commitments made over the next 15 years must be held to account. The fit-for-purpose concept was applicable not only to the United Nations but for all stakeholders.
In closing, Mr. SAJDIK thanked all participants in the exchange of views that would add to the ongoing discussions on the post-2015 agenda.
Learn more about the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.