Leading experts from EU institutions and civil society debated the private sector in development.

The private sector in development and its link with human rights was debated at a high level panel held by Concord in Brussels on 10 December.

The event saw speakers from the European External Action Service, the European Commission, the European Investment Bank, the International and European Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Cooperatives and Südwind Institute who had an open debate with CONCORD members and other CSOs present.

 

The issue

The private sector is not a new actor in development cooperation policies or in partner country societies.

It has been around for decades as a local societal actor, as a procurer of goods or services or as an external player – having a positive or negative impact on the lives of people living in development countries. The change now is that the EU’s new development policy – the Agenda for Change – places a high focus on economic growth as means to deliver development.

This Agenda pushes the private sector even more to the center of the development debate, yet struggles to ensure sustainability and tackle increasing inequality. EU governments are also looking more and more at the private sector to leverage the limited development funds available and bridge the increasing finance and investment gap.

The event looked at how the private sector – whether local private businesses or European companies investing in developing countries – can be prevented from doing harm and instead contributes positively to the realization of human rights and the eradication of poverty.

 

Views

CONCORD, President Joanna Maycock

“Concord is looking at the private sector in development, and assessing the negative and positive roles it has played and could play in the future. While it’s not a new actor on the scene, the EU’s new Agenda for Change policy has given the private sector a greater prominence. We want to seek ways to maximize any positive potential from the private sector in securing human rights and gender equality. There is increased awareness among people and CSOs on how private finance can be used for public goods.”

 

European External Action Service, Michael Swann

“It’s not a case of making a choice between profits or rights. For many businesses, their understanding of human rights is evolving as the understanding of customers is evolving and it is a fact that a lot of western businesses are driven by reputation.

There are often cases of unscrupulous ‘bottom feeders’, who are there to cut every corner and in those cases, there could be a need for regulation. An option could be to look at a multistakeholder cross region approach to improve in this regard.”

 

European Investment Bank, Bernard Ziller

“We are closely cooperating with the EC on the public sector side and we have strong ties with European financial institutions on the private sector side. An impact is difficult to assess because it encompasses too many things: one can only contribute to an achievement. And we are contributing to this, in particular thanks to a new framework made of specific indicators to better understand the development outcomes of our activities, e.g. our impact on unemployment. Then, despite the fact that it is a small part of our mandate, we are definitely interested in this issue.”

 

Südwind Institute, Pedro Morazan

“We don’t have international laws on human rights that we can apply on the private sector and we need to fill this gap. Corporations not only have the responsibility but also the duty to protect human rights. The lack of law to compel is not an argument for not requiring laws at national level to ensure private sector companies respect human rights. Strong lobbies in Brussels and Member States are trying to impede mandatory laws from being introduced.”

 

International and European Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Cooperatives – CICOPA, Bruno Roelants

“Cooperatives contribute to human rights through logical steps. Democratic control allows cooperatives to satisfy their members’ basic needs, from decent working conditions to non-discrimination on the basis of sex or race. 15% of the world population is involved in a Cooperative.

 

European Commission – DG DEVCO, Torsten Ewerbeck

“Leveraging aid is not a final objective in itself, it is a tool to help reach development objectives. It is crucial that the projects that are selected by the blending facilities are in line with the partner country’s own development strategy”

 

Twitter hashtag #FPFR.

Keynote Speech by Joanna Maycock, President of CONCORD

Moderator: Gie Goris, Editor-in-Chief, MO* Magazine
 
Panellists:
– Mr. Michael Swann, Deputy Head of Division, Human Rights and Democracy Directorate – European External Action Service
– Mr. Bernard Ziller, Senior Economic Adviser at the European Investment Bank
– Dr. Pedro Morazan , Researcher at Südwind institute
– Mr. Bruno Roelants, General Secretary of CECOP-CICOPA
– Mr. Torsten Ewerbeck, DG DevCo
 
Closing speech by Izabella Toth, CONCORD Board member