The dictum, “leave no one behind” is often repeated in the great halls of the United Nations. It also features multiple times in the UN High Level Panel’s report on the post 2015 development agenda. And there is good reason for this.
Shockingly, in an age of unprecedented wealth creation and technological advances, 22% of the world’s population or 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, earning less than 1.25 US dollars a day. When 0.5% of the globe’s population can own 35% of its wealth, we must question the very foundations upon which our societies and economic systems are ordered.
Progressive civil society groups have been crying hoarse – on the streets and at high tables where decisions are made – about the destructive effects of neo-liberal economic policies that are exacerbating inequality and perpetuating the dominance of the elite. Despite the warnings, collusion between the political and economic elite remains robust. Policy makers are continuing to advance economic growth agendas that favour opening up of domestic markets to transnational corporations and deregulation of public services in favour of the private sector.
The hunger of big business to capture markets and resources to fuel them is resulting in growing numbers of local communities being displaced from large tracts of communal lands on which they rely for their subsistence. The problem is particularly protracted in Africa, Asia and Latin America where the bulk of the globe’s impoverished live. The biggest culprits are mega agricultural, mining and construction industries operating under the patronage of political leaders.
Furthermore, the push for deregulation of the public sector by free market proponents, including international financial institutions has resulted in the private sector taking over a number of essential functions that governments used to provide at subsidised costs to the benefit of the poor. Worryingly, basic services such as health, education, water and electricity supply, mass transport, telecommunications etc. are increasingly becoming the preserve of the private sector which is driven by a profit motive thus making them available only to those who can afford them in an increasingly unequal world. Annual surge in prices of these basic services to boost profits puts them further out of the pale of the impoverished.
The UN High Level Panel’s report notes that the “the new agenda must tackle the causes of poverty, exclusion and inequality.” The report also strongly emphasises the creation of a stable environment for business to thrive, highlighting the desire for business to operate on “a level playing field and to be connected to major markets.”
Support for individual enterprise and small businesses operating at the micro-level can indeed reduce inequality and poverty. But implying that global development challenges can be solved by spreading neo-liberal economic policies and backing big businesses which are part of the problem is simply disingenuous.
Mandeep Tiwana is a Policy and Advocacy Manager and David Kode is a Policy and Advocacy Officer at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.