Just another UN talk shop searching for a purpose?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - 13:58

This week sees world leaders gather in New York for their annual UN summit, with fighting poverty high on the agenda

Development takes a back seat to political posturing at these events. But leaders will discuss what will replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015.

It’s important that any new global framework doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the past. That’s why I’m here in New York: to ensure that that demands from the Global South for reform of the international tax system and alternative economic models are on the agenda.

A number of different processes – government negotiations and civil society consultations – all feed into the post-2015 framework. Every development topic you can think of – aid, women’s rights, climate change, the rights of people with disabilities, and so on – is being discussed by one or more of these processes. But so far the messages have been uninspiring.

And whilst our leaders keep talking, inequality is increasing almost everywhere in the world with dire results

As global wealth remains in the hands of a few, the chances for living in a decent society diminish, and all kinds of issues such as dangers related to war and climate change, remain unaddressed.

So what should a new anti-poverty framework look like?

There’s been a lot of talk about the private sector investing in development and the changes this could bring. But discussions often ignore that many corporations aren’t paying their fair share of tax, effectively diverting billions of dollars from governments who need it into the hands of a few wealthy investors.

Current estimates show that developing countries lose as much as US$ 300 billion to tax dodging and tax deals globally every year. That’s twice the amount that poor countries receive in aid and more than enough to guarantee that everyone on the planet has access to health care and gets a primary education.

If the private sector wants to be part of the solution, it must acknowledge that corporations are a big part of the problem

A first step would be for companies to pay their fair share of tax and for governments to close the loopholes that these companies exploit.

But raising money through better tax policies is not enough. Tax money needs to be invested in real solutions.

Past mistakes include slashing budgets for public services in the name of austerity, privatizing government assets and services, and following failed liberalization policies.

Are there any alternatives? 

Yes. There’s no one size-fits-all solution when it comes to defining trade, investment and development policies, so alternatives will vary from country to country.

But the underlying principle should be that human rights come first. From this base, we can begin to discuss what the policy solutions should look like.

By investing in women smallholder farmers and others working towards sustainable agriculture, we can ensure that everyone has enough to eat.

We also need to invest in education, health care and employment for all.

And we can do this by opening up trade or limiting it, so that we can build up domestic industry.

If leaders can break with the past and begin outlining a post 2015 framework that moves towards a more equal global society, they will have a good result.

If not, this is just another UN talk shop searching for a purpose.