HLPF 2018 – Day 5

Trade unions were at the UN headquarters in New York on 13 July 2018 for Day 5 of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). The final day of the thematic review segment, it saw the review of Goal 15 (life on land) and of Goal 17 (means of implementation/partnerships).

SDG 15

The morning plenary reviewed progress towards Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Too often, communities that are the custodians of the richest ecological wealth are exposed to violations of human rights. Their role in the conservation and restoration of life and land (SDG 15) is essential to maintaining the ecosystem services on which we all depend. The murder of 197 land and environmental defenders (many of them trade unionists) in 2017 alone is a stark testament to the breakdown of the rule of law. These extreme cases are symptomatic of a more generalised corporate impunity otherwise evident in land grabbing and deforestation practices. Democratic processes of accountability simply cannot occur in these contexts. Ensuring the safety and freedom of expression and of association of all citizens is the bare minimum for the custodian role of communities to be enabled. At an opportunity level, investments in stepping up sustainable agriculture and rural development have the potential for further job creation. Some of these issues were raised in the statement by the Asia-Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (AP RCEM).

SDG 17

Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development, was reviewed in the afternoon session. Through the Trade Union Development Cooperation Network (TUDCN), trade unions have been working on the issues at the core of how to most effectively achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Trade unions highlight the need to address the growing informal sector, which is the reality for 60% of the world’s workers (ILO). On the international cooperation front, the use of Official Development Assistance and the role of the private sector have been at the top of the agenda. Trade unions further highlight the key role of social dialogue as a driver and governance instrument for sustainable development, both in the formalisation process and in development cooperation.

There is a move towards using Official Development Assistance to “leverage”, “de-risk”, “blend” or otherwise attract private finance to contribute to development, with the aim of increasing the overall resources for development from “billions to trillions”. However, trade unions highlight that when blending resources, we must take into account that the objectives of the investments are also blended, not to say diluted. While job creation is a major claimed benefit of these initiatives, the provisions to ensure that these jobs are empowering rather than exploitative are lacking.

Rather than incentivising their companies to act well, the focus of donor countries needs to be on ensuring and enforcing the right regulatory framework to shape the private sector to the needs of the 2030 Agenda. One important element is, as France has done, to mandate that companies fulfill their ‘due diligence’ responsibilities, as prescribed by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Trade unions requested the floor but the session was closed before they were able to deliver their statement (which can be viewed here).

Thematic review segment

Day 5 was the last day of the thematic review segment, in which plenary discussions focus on the review of a selection of Goals as well as an overarching theme. Pointing to the lack of meaningful follow-up mechanisms or a joint statement, initial reflections on this section have been quite critical of the lack of real impact. Trade unions, as a Major Group, have been working in close coordination with other stakeholder groups. A total of 18 groups, each receiving the same speaking allotments, are collectively given rarely more than 4 speaking opportunities (2 minutes each) per plenary session. A total of five statements were delivered by the Workers and Trade Unions Major Group (including one lead discussant position). This provides very little space for trade unions to address the cross cutting assessment and recommendations on how to shape the world of work to meet the demands of the 2030 Agenda.

At HLPF 2019, the overarching theme is Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality, with Goals 4 (education), 8 (decent work), 10 (inequalities), 13 (climate action) and 16 (peace and institution building) under review. Trade unions will need more spaces for input into these issues that are at the core of their work. For this, the engagement opportunities will need to be further explored and reviewed, especially in view of the HLPF reform process (see Day 1).

The thematic review does remain an important platform for trade unions to raise the prominence of their issues. It provides a space to raise issues at the international stage that can be followed-up at national level.

Further information: