Getting the right balance between public and private sector roles and responsibilities in the Financing for Development and Post-2015 process will be fundamental to prospects for sustainable, inclusive development. Yet early evidence suggests this balance is already awry, skewed far in favour of private interests. Are we seeing a process of outsourcing the international agenda?

There’s no question that businesses around the world are sources of growth and employment. But they are also the source of the most serious threats to sustainable development—from pollution to illicit financial flows that undermine prospects for public resources.

Can we have a transformative development agenda without the transformation of business?

As the negotiations on the zero draft of the Third Financing for Development Conference (FFD3) progress civil society organizations, Governments and the UN met at the occasion of the roundtable entitled Towards a Private Sector Accountability Protocol for Sustainable Development to discuss the proposal of a Private Sector Accountability Protocol for Sustainable Development. Such a framework would entail, among others, mandatory social and environmental reporting and financial transparency rules to align the private sector’s activities with SDG’s and human rights obligations.

Most agree that the private sector plays an important role in development as it creates jobs, transfers technology, spurs innovation and allows for economic growth. However, as the private sector entities’ main goal is to make a profit, in some cases obtained at the expense of the environment and of human rights, there continue to be widespread concerns over their involvement in development.

Between 2008 and 2014, the Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES), Brazil’s leading development finance institution, disbursed more than Brazilian Reals 654 billion. Of that total, approximately Brazilian Reals 289 billion (44 per cent) was earmarked for infrastructure, logistics and energy, considered strategic areas underpinning Brazil’s chosen model of economic growth, which rests on large-scale exports of agricultural and mining commodities.

The BNDES holds a larger portfolio than multilateral institutions including the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. What is more, in recent years, it has taken on a leading role – much to the benefit of major Brazilian corporations – as one of the main funders of infrastructure projects in Latin America

For the first time, the international development agenda, through the FfD3 and post-2015 processes, is considered universal, applying to every country. Current deliberations, however, reveal different understandings of what universality means.

To some, the concept overshadows the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR), agreed in the Rio Declaration and reaffirmed by subsequent global and international documents—a concern voiced by the Indian delegate among others. CBDR roots governments’ obligations in their capacities to solve a given problem, as well as their responsibility for creating it (e.g., historic CO2 emissions).

At the opening of the United Nations hearings with business and civil society, Social Watch coordinator Roberto Bissio defends Sustainable Development Goals as expression of a new paradigm. For the SDGs to bare fruit, the power of the biggest 200 corporations, with combined sales that are bigger than the total economies of 180 countries, needs to be harnessed. The UN should not tarnish its image associating its programs with big tax evaders or endorsing private-public partnerships that are exclusive, untransparent and too frequently associated with corruption. A binding legal instrument for business and human rights, while disliked by business leaders, might introduce a predictable framework that ultimately benefits the small and medium entrepreneurs that create most of the jobs in times of crisis.

Read his complete intervention here or see the video here or download the pdf version here.

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