There is a need for a legally binding human rights law instrument (or ‘treaty’) to regulate the activities of TNCs.

A Catch 22?: The failure of TNCs to pay taxes in the countries where they operate is a major reason for poor country governments falling short in their fiscal resources to implement HR-friendly policies; thus the need to oppose PPPs in which these corporations become interested partners.

11. The UN Human Rights Council took a milestone decision by establishing an intergovernmental working group to elaborate such an instrument. This will be a critical prerequisite for the 2030 Agenda to succeed.

12. In the same spirit, the UN simply must come up with a regulatory framework for UN-business interactions. This is to include a mandatory conflict of interests and a public disclosure policy for all interactions with private non-state actors. Another must is for the UN to distinguish clearly between corporate actors and public interest CSOs and to refrain from treating fundamentally different actors as equals: The concept of non-state actors must simply be done away with. Moreover, the ‘stakeholder’ discourse further blurs the important distinction between the different actors, namely claim holders and duty bearers.* It is thus key to reject any discourse that obfuscates the fact that corporations have a fundamentally different primary interest from that of governments, UN agencies, CSOs, and social movements. (J. Martens)
*: The term stakeholder is part of the language of the plutocracy and the takeover by the private sector of yet more public spheres (such as health). To hold a stake is to have an interest in something (meaning a monetary interest) and, in its original meaning, this is no different from holding a share (i.e., to be a shareholder). It is extraordinary how this absurd language has been adopted uncritically even among genuine health NGOs. If we were to apply it to education, I think the absurdity would be more apparent. Children are not stakeholders in primary education. No more are they stakeholders in health. They are rights holders as, of course, are all adults. The language of stakeholders here (and elsewhere…) is dishonest. It attempts to remove politics and interests from the analysis by blocking any distinctions in people’s relationship to the field of health. (Alison Katz)

Our sense of criticism of PPPs has been progressively sharpened, our demands have thus grown

13. Yes, there still is that debilitating atomization that separates us in small mini-groups and that incapacitates us for effective collective action. (A. Korn) Even if PPPs may have weak ties with private operators we may well need sharper lenses to spot the conflicts of interest in them.** Why? Because the critical dimension of the private sector bias is related to the call (sometimes plea) to the private sector to partner with the public sector in the delivery of public goods and services –often translating into outright corporate capture. The underlying premise is the belief that there is a significant overlap between public and private interests, despite the glaring evidence to the contrary. (Stefano Prato)
**: It is important to work with a broad definition of conflicts of interest with respect to PPPs. In practice, quite disturbing examples can be found of governments that are intentionally obscuring the health, nutritional and/or environmental impacts of their policies due to their economic or political stakes in these sectors’ PPPs. Such stakes can include political pressures or interests in the fiscal (or corrupt) revenue these operations purport to bring. (S. Lovera)

‘Stakeholderization’ has turned into a means to insert powerful economic actors into what are to eminently be public fora (Judith Richter)

14. Unfortunately, those who continue to object to the ‘there-is-no-alternative’ (TINA) approach to the PPPs paradigm are often side-lined by being portrayed as out-of-sync actors and individuals who take an ‘adversarial’ stance (this Reader?). But there is no denying that the main result of the ‘partnership’ and ‘stakeholder’ discourses and the respective policy paradigm has been to turn big business and mega-sponsors into privileged ‘stakeholders’. This has reshaped the multilateral system into a system of ‘multi-stakeholder governance’ de-facto turning corporations into legitimate voice and vote actors in global public affairs. At the same time, this delegitimizes intergovernmental and governmental institutions and processes, allowing for public issues to be taken off the agenda of UN agencies and handing them over to multi-stakeholder ‘alliances of the able and the willing’, and advocating for the mushrooming of PPPs implemented through market-led approaches.

15. The term ‘partner’ and ‘partnership’ should thus be avoided in our work whenever possible. Public-private partnerships can be easily renamed, e.g., as public-private initiatives (PPIs), -ventures (PPVs) or -alliances (PPAs). Calling a ‘spade a spade’, using more specific terms for specific types of relationship or often purportedly cooperative arrangements is an indispensable step to better recognize the associated risk and conflicts of interest, as well as to confront their risks to the system. Also, the term ‘stakeholder’ should be avoided. It is not needed (terms such as ‘relevant actors’, or more specific terms, such as constituency, public interest civil society organizations, social movements, claim holders or duty bearers can be used to replace it as appropriate). The same is true for the term non-state actors that lumps together private sector actors and public interest CSOs.

16. Unfortunately, the emerging global, ‘stakeholder’ governance architecture is a system that is spinning out of public control. The effective regulation of harmful practices of TNCs is still actively being discouraged. Research methodologies are changed to produce results that suit the dominant perspective. Forgotten in this discourse are power differences –the idea that ‘some have bigger stakes to defend.’ Forgotten is also the notion that that there is a ‘price’ to pay for corporate and venture philanthropy types of funding.

17. Bottom line: We need to bring more transparency into the sea of public-private hybrid arrangements to allow for better public-scrutiny and exposure of conflicts of interest. If we do not act, the ultimate outcome will be a growing emergence of an undesirable ‘hegemony’ of the you-know-who. We thus need to resist the encroachment of PPPs and to push instead for high-quality, publicly-funded, democratically-controlled, accountable public services. The wellbeing of our communities and societies depends on it. (Eurodad)

18. For PPPs to become an effective instrument for financing key development projects, it is necessary that countries have in place the institutional capacity to create, manage and evaluate PPPs. Initiatives are underway to regulate PPPs; they must be significantly strengthened and be discussed in more inclusive, participatory settings involving UN Member States and public interest civil society and social movements. The UN, as the most legitimate international forum for international policy-making, must play a key role in coming up with these new guidelines for PPPs. (Note: all quotes from Jomo Sundaram are from co-work with Anis Chowdhuri)

19. The people(s) –not the corporations– are the constituency whom the UN system, their officials and civil servants, are meant to serve loyally and in total honesty. Cooperation with private sector non-state actors is thus not to be seen as an end.

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
Your comments are welcome at schuftan@gmail.com

What about an ‘un-partnering’ and a ‘de-stakeholderization’ as the basis for a counter-discourse that implements commensurate counter-actions to start correcting this problem? (Flavio Valente) A final food for thought…

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