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Fwd: [Internet Policy] PassBlue Article on “Multistakeholderism”

Listers,

Might be of interest.

Regards
———- Forwarded message ———
From: R C via InternetPolicy <internetpolicy@elists.isoc.org>
Date: Sat, Sep 7, 2019 at 4:11 PM
Subject: [Internet Policy] PassBlue Article on “Multistakeholderism”
To: <internetpolicy@elists.isoc.org>

For those interested in the broader topic of “multistakeholderism” and the
UN system, the attached article currently appears in the UN-oriented site
PassBlue.

Roger Cochetti

www.passblue.com/2019/09/02/they-call-it-multistakeholderism-where-does-that-leave-the-un/

PassBlue Independent Coverage of the UN

WORLDVIEWS <passblue.com/category/worldviews/>They Call it
Multistakeholderism. Where Does That Leave the UN?
September 2, 2019
<www.passblue.com/2019/09/02/they-call-it-multistakeholderism-where-does-that-leave-the-un/>
by Harris Gleckman <www.passblue.com/author/harris-gleckman/>
The United Nations headquarters showcasing the Sustainable Development
summit, September 2015. The essayist, an expert in governance and
democracy, bemoans the growing participation of multinational corporations
in UN system forums. CIA PAK/UN PHOTO

Global governance is slipping away from the United Nations.

Whether it is in managing the Internet, where the UN’s governing structure
offers only an advisory role for governments; or climate change, where the
most exciting actions are now corporate-led partnerships outside the UN
Framework Convention on Climate Change; or the Gates Foundation-sponsored
Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, which is in a tug of war with the World Health
Assembly on who sets health policy in developing countries, the
institutional basis for global decision-making is changing.

Where nongovernmental organizations were once the largest nonstate entities
attending UN system meetings, transnational corporations have become the
biggest players. They participate in well-attended public-private
partnership sessions at the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the
Human Rights Council and the High-Level Political Forum, the key body for
following up on the Sustainable Development Goals.

The latest institutional foray is a World Economic Forum-UN partnership
<www.passblue.com/2019/07/23/as-the-sdgs-falter-the-un-turns-to-the-rich-and-famous/>agreement.
Under this arrangement, senior UN leaders are invited at national, regional
and international levels to interact with forum members, many of whom are
actually causing the global problems that the UN system is tasked to fix,
such as climate change.

These developments are part of a new global governance approach, one in
which a team of corporate executives, leaders of civil society
organizations, officials from governments and the UN system, academics and
other players take on the governance of a specific international challenge.

In the economic, social and environmental fields, this governance
arrangement is called multistakeholderism, as each new global
decision-maker is said to represent a “stakeholder” in an issue. In
practice, these governance arrangements can have a role equal to or greater
than the one held by the intergovernmental body officially assigned to
address a universal problem.

These experiments in a new form of global governance and the 2010 report on
the Global Redesign Initiative by the World Economic Forum run counter to
efforts to enhance a sense of democracy as part of global decision-making.

Corporate executives — not leaders of small- and medium-size enterprises,
nor microenterprises — are central to these groups and public-private
partnerships. Yet these bodies have their own internal governance and
constituencies; as a result, they redraft global principles that were
agreed on by governments to meet their own, often business-focused,
concerns. The selected government officials, those considered sympathetic
to the goals of multistakeholders, sit on the board as only one of the
decision-makers. At the same time, the other players are elevated to a role
in global governance without any democratic basis for their participation.

This dynamic is quite different from the one prevalent during the
conferences of the 1990s, when civil society organizations, farm and labor
organizations, educators, scientists, women and businesses gathered to
provide diversified voices to governments, which alone led international
decision-making.

UN public-private partnerships tend to worsen changes in the relationship
between the intergovernmental process and UN secretariat staff members, who
act as the administrative arm of a UN entity. Where once the
secretary-general and the heads of UN specialized agencies and programs saw
themselves — and were seen by UN member governments — as governed by a
specific intergovernmental body, now the secretariats act more
autonomously. They strike up relationships with multiplayer bodies like the
World Economic Forum and corporations without intergovernmental oversight.

A result of the increase in institutional ties between the UN and senior
corporate executives is that civil society organizations, educators,
scientists, women and other social communities have less ability to
influence the behavior of the UN bodies and the intergovernmental process.

The weakening tie is driven both by outside factors and internal realities.
The pressures on the UN system are significant. There is the cumulative
effect, for example, of more than 30 years of flat or negative regular
budget growth of the UN. As an extension of President Trump’s effort to
deconstruct the domestic regulatory state in the United States, his
administration is also striving to deconstruct the UN system.

Internally, the secretariats perceive that taking relatively autonomous
actions is one way to deliver on their generic assignments and to offset
the underfunded regular budget by reaching out to potential corporate
donors. This increased autonomy is often reflected in more willingness to
accept invitations to join a multistakeholder group to “represent” the UN
and governments or to invite major corporations to join a secretariat-led
multiparty group. These new links can allow corporations to assert that
they are working with the UN — albeit without intergovernmental oversight.

They can also influence a UN secretariat to frame solutions to global
problems in ways that are sensitive to their corporate constituency but not
necessarily focused on government expectations or the need for leading the
world toward systemic reforms.

Of course, the interests of corporations vary. For some consumer-oriented
businesses, their increased role in UN operations is a chance to secure a
role in creating a global sustainability market for a specific product or
service. For other multinationals, particularly those affiliated with the
World Economic Forum, it is an opportunity, after the shocks of the 2008
financial crisis, to relegitimate the globalized market in the minds of
international and national elites.

It does not need to be so. Steps can be taken by governments to reassert
leadership in managing globalization and mitigating global environmental
crises. These could include a clear definition of conflict of interests to
guide secretariats when they partner with a specific enterprise; an
intergovernmental review of multistakeholders’ plans to ensure they follow
UN goals; and improving intergovernmental oversight of the entire UN system
through regular meetings of the heads of all intergovernmental bodies.

With the advent of many players involved in decision-making and
international public-private partnerships, the secretariats are
increasingly semiautonomous from their intergovernmental body, reaching out
to one constituency, the international business community, thus
marginalizing their overall roles with other global constituencies.

These developments undermine a public view that democracy — one country-one
vote with all of its exceptions — will be the guiding global governance
principles today and in the future.

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