Partnerships should be based on solidarity and trust, and not on greed

Shobha Shukla *

Wardarina Thaib, who works at Asia Pacific Forum on Women
Wardarina Thaib, who works at Asia Pacific Forum on Women

Partnerships that are critically important to progress towards a better world where a just social order is a reality for everyone, must be based on solidarity and trust, and not on greed. So believes Wardarina Thaib, who works at Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and is co-chair of Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (AP-RCEM), which is a platform for civil society organisations (CSOs) in Asia Pacific region to engage with different processes at the United Nations (UN).

Wardarina looks like a simple feminist next door, with a big smile on her face. But her work is about dismantling patriarchy and corporate power. She was in conversation with CNS (Citizen News Service) on the sidelines of the 5th Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) intergovernmental meeting held in Thailand on the theme of 'Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.' Here are some excerpts of this exclusive interview:

Here are some excerpts of this exclusive interview:

Countries are aggressively promoting public private partnerships (PPPs) to achieve SDGs. How are PPPs impacting progress on development justice in the Asia Pacific region?

Wardarina: "The governments, as well as the UN, have been harping upon the use of public private partnerships (PPP), which is very problematic, as it diminishes the role of the state as a duty bearer, and it also diminishes the rights of civil society as rights holders. PPPs are inundating various sectors- health, education, basic services—all of which are obligations of the state towards its people, but are now going into private hands. Thus governments are selling people’s rights to the corporations. It is not only AP-RCEM and the people’s movements that have been rejecting these PPPs. The Special Rapporteur on Education too has said that it is not good to give all away to the corporations. There are other ways of doing partnerships—what we call the public public partnerships—a partnership that is not based on wealth or greed, but is based on solidarity and trust."

What about multi stakeholder partnerships?

Wardarina: "This is yet another jargon used around sustainable development. We have to be very careful on the word of partnerships. There must be some qualifiers and criteria—what kind of partnerships do we want, who would be the partners, what safeguards have to be put in place—only them can we talk about multi stakeholder partnerships. One talks about multi-stakeholder partnerships having civil society, corporations and state actors at equal footing. But it can never be equal, what with a long history of inequality and disparity faced by civil society in terms of resources."

What safe guards can be put in place to ensure that corporations are not able to dilute or water down the sustainable development process?

Wardarina: "Having such safeguards is very important, yet challenging, knowing how strongly corporate power is influencing the discussions around sustainable development agenda. The International Business of Commerce is now one of the observers at the UN. And as an observer, they have the privilege of sitting together and having discussions with governments, and also lobbying with the governments. Contrast this with the 3 minute time allotted to civil society major group to make their speech in inter governmental process.

In order to make the corporations accountable, we will have to change the current system of neoliberal economy that benefits just a few. Wondering where the money to implement SDGs will come from, the UN and some developed countries are more aligned in favour of involving corporations, who, for their own benefit, are just too eager to enter into the discussions on SDGs,. Having said that, I agree that in the health sector, WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is a good example that talks about conflict of interest with the tobacco industry. For us, in the conversations on Green Climate Fund we have some similar criteria for the corporations who will fund certain projects. They should not have any bad track record about environmental destruction or human rights violations."

How can APRCEM feed into the process of UN treaty on business and human rights?

Wardarina: "AP-RCEM was established with the aim of being a platform to engage with the UN system across the region. For now, AP-RCEM’s entry point into the SDGs process is at the regional level. But we are yet to discuss how we will engage with business and human rights, even though there are many members in AP-RCEM and in its constituencies who are working closely on this issue.

We have to look into SDGs critically, focussing on the existing contradictions, and not just on their progress and implementation. For us the contradictions are that along with the SDGs, we also have a lot of unjust trade and investment agreements, massive land and resource grabbing, patriarchy and fundamentalism, militarism and conflict, retaliatory governance. All these need to be addressed, if we aim to achieve the sustainable development goals.

AP-RCEM has been documenting these systemic issues that are impeding sustainable development. One area in which we can engage with business and human rights is to collate case studies on the component of trade and investment agreements and corporate power."

What, according to you, is a sustainable and resilient society?

Wardarina: "I do not like the word resilience. It is like putting a sort of award on communities for being resilient, while there is no concrete action to actually address the root structural causes that force them to be resilient. It is not fair for communities to be pushed to the wall all the time. For me the key meaning of resilience is active and meaningful action—working together collectively to demand the state and non state actors to be accountable. That should be our resilience. Rather than make people more resilient, in the strict sense of the word, we must talk about addressing systemic issues and making the system more resilient, through inclusive policies. Sustainable societies are those which have an economic model that is for the people, where there is equal distribution of power, wealth and resources among its members, and basic services are available to all so that everyone is able to live a decently comfortable life with dignity."

Note: APFSD 2108, where several governments, other stakeholders, including over 100 CSOs gathered under the umbrella of AP-RCEM, reviewed the cluster of Sustainable Development Goals to be discussed later in July 2018 at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) - SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 15 (life on land) and SDG 17 (partnership for the Goals) - as well as the interlinkages within the cluster and with other Goals.

* Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service) wrote this article for
The author is the Managing Editor of CNS (Citizen News Service). Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla or be welcome to visit:
This article was posted on 04 April, 2018 .

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