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It’s time to stop the privatisation of the development agenda

by Lora Verheecke

It's time to stop the privatisation of the development agenda

In 2000, the United Nations announced eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce poverty worldwide.

As the goals “expire” next year, new goals are being defined in UN assemblies and corridors.

Some doors in the UN will be shut to public scrutiny but wide open to corporations.

“This issue will determine the future of the UN as such,” recently commented a member of the Brazilian delegation to the UN, Guilherme Patriota.

The UN is increasingly focusing on partnerships for development with the private sector, as demonstrated by Ban Ki-moon idea of a new UN partnership facility with the private sector.

However, during negotiations on “partnerships for development”, information is becoming less and less accessible to civil society organisations due to corporate pressure.

The window of opportunity opened to big business in the UN has already given more weight to corporate discourse…and interests.

Development aid is progressively being privatised: an increasing amount of aid, tax payers’ money, is being channelled to private companies or financial institutions, mostly in developed countries, rather than charities or governments in developing countries.

Corporations have found a conflicting interest in the development agenda.

Since 2007, development finance institutions, particularly in Europe, have increased financial flows to the private sector by almost 200 per cent.

However, studies have found that in aid flows to the private sector from the European Investment Bank and the World Bank, almost half of the aid money spent went to support companies based in developed countries and in tax havens, while only 25 per cent of companies supported were domiciled in the least developed countries where aid is channelled to.

Thanks to this, governments in developed countries can “outsource their development responsibilities”, notes Guilherme Patriota.

According to Jens Martens, of the Global Policy Forum, this growing agenda-setting power of corporations is detrimental to both the multilateral system and to states themselves.

“When corporations set the agenda of governments, they undermine accountability and transparency and ultimately governments’ power,” he commented.

During the recent ITUC World Congress, Roberto Bissio of Social Watch reminded attendees how “corporations are not accountable to the people. The more power corporations have in the UN multilateral system, the more inequalities we will witness between and inside countries”.

Development is about people and their rights. Corporations make profits. It is time to remind the United Nations to put people above profits.

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