EU Policy Forum on Development: Trade Unions take their stand on the role of private sector in development

On November 28 and 29 the third meeting of the European Policy Forum on Development – PFD took place in Brussels. The trade union delegation, organised by the trade union development cooperation network -TUDCN, was composed of representatives from ITUC Africa, Asia-Pacific, and the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas, the Trade Union Pan-European Regional Council, the ETUC and the ITUC.

The first formal meeting tackled themes of primary political importance and relevance in development, raising a lot of interest among stakeholders, specifically, the role of private sector in development. The European Commission presented a Road Map (which will be followed early 2014 by a strategic Communication) on this subject. Although the time for discussion could have been much longer and coupled by better structured consultation modalities, trade unions [1] had the opportunity to be the main discussant, together with employers, and cooperatives.

The EC current paradigm on the role of private sector in development, enshrined in the Agenda for Change Communication [2], is quite simple and straight forward: if we want development to happen, we need economic growth and, automatically linked to that, jobs creation, that will trigger development. The jobs and “growth” are provided by the private sector which has to be supported with all possible means (such as blending, private-public partnerships, etc...) to attract/leverage its involvement and impact in development. This happens in a wider framework characterised by the growing shortage of financial resources for development (ODA) and, the standing economic crisis in Europe.

However on this ‘simplistic’ approach there are still fundamental questions to be asked. But it seems that they risk remaining unanswered, the Commission being ready to sacrifice principles for the sake of quickly countering the stringent needs of shrinking resources. Is it really so that private sector interests, which are ‘for profit’ in nature, can be that easily matched with development purposes, aiming at fighting poverty and fight inequalities? Is it really effective supporting European private sector actors to boost economic growth and development processes in partner countries? And again, is it fair to do so with public resources originally allocated for development cooperation? Of course these issues are not new, but they are still valid and, surprisingly enough, also relevant to the individual EU member states’ internal policies, when it comes to the relation between public and private actors.

As highlighted in the trade union statement on the Commission Road Map, “there is no automatic cause-effect relationship between private sector development and decent work creation: particularly in the case of Multi National Enterprises (MNEs) operating in developing countries where the deficit of labour rights serves as a main driver for attracting private sector investment”. Recent experiences of CSR policies or similar voluntary schemes show the necessity to frame and organize the private sector involvement in development with binding obligations, including a veritable assessment of results in development programmes.

Compliance with ILO labour standards and environmental commitments, social dialogue, corporate accountability/transparency, country ownership, and development effectiveness principles must be the key compulsory criteria for any participation of private sector actors in development programmes.

This should be the stand of the EU in the future Communication, a stand which is consistent and coherent with previous communication and standing policies [3], and first and foremost with its own internal social model and policies that had undoubtedly led to advanced social achievements in European history itself.

Paola Simonetti,
ITUC Policy Advisor / TUDCN secretariat

- Read the Trade union response to the EC Roadmap on the Communication on “Strengthening the Role of the Private Sector in Achieving Inclusive and Sustainable Growth in Developing Countries"

- Webpage of the Policy Forum on Development on the Civil Society Helpdesk