Speech Vice-Minister Foreign Affairs at International Conference Development and Democracy
Speech Vice-Minister Yoka Brandt at the International Conference Development and Democracy, Bratislava, October 27 2016.
Thank you State Secretary Mr Parízek, thank you Ms Surotchak and the Pontis Foundation for organizing and hosting this conference. Let me also congratulate you on providing this occasion to reflect on the pressing global challenges related to international development at the time when Slovakia is holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU.
It is an honour to have been invited to address this conference on behalf of the Netherlands as the preceding country presiding the EU.
We have a rich programme ahead of us today covering issues such as the Sustainable Development Goals, and linking together humanitarian and development assistance and innovation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
when looking at the world today, I cannot help thinking of the first sentence of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’.
It is because we find ourselves in a time that could be a watershed in the area of development. Last year the international community committed to three landmark agreements: on the SDGs, on the FfD, and on climate. This year’s commitments were included at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul and at the summits on refugees and migration in New York. So we could indeed grab the opportunity to transfer these global commitments into realities. Realities for everyone.
There is no doubt that significant progress has been made in the past years, including through investing and working on the MDGs. Millions more children survive now their first birthdays, access to education has improved, girls included; and many people have been lifted out of poverty.
Unfortunately, however, while the world has become a better place for many, for millions it is still not. Life is not better for some seventeen thousand children that will die today, as we speak, mostly of causes we can prevent. Life is not better for one hundred and twenty million girls under the age of twenty, which is about one in ten, who were subjected to sexual violence at some point in their lives, neither it is better for people that live in areas torn by conflict or disaster, or for the 65 million people that have been displaced.
It is clear that with the current approaches, millions will continue to be left behind. So we could say it is the worst of times.
However, it does not have to be this way. The international commitments made in 2015 and 2016 provide us with a unique opportunity to do things differently. We turn commitments into results not only through pronouncements and intentions but through political commitment, investment and action. This does not mean business as usual. It means:
Firstly, to focus on those who are currently left behind. Making progress for the most marginalized and excluded is not just the right thing to do, it is also a smart thing because it is cost-effective. There is a growing global understanding of the costs of a highly unequal world: in terms of missed opportunities, lower productivity, slower growth, social resentment, and, too often, lives.
Secondly, we should invest in innovative tools and solutions. We need to utilise technological advancements for a far greater push to ensure that also the world's most disadvantaged ones are provided access to information, opportunities, and choices.
Thirdly, we need to engage globally. It is clear that in today’s global world the developments far away can have an immediate impact close-by. We can no longer talk about far-away problems in abstract terms because they are actually very close and have a real impact on our lives. That is why, of course, the SDGs are truly universal.
Lastly, it is only by joining hands that commitments can be turned into reality. We can achieve results only when working together - governments, NGOs, civil society, academia and the private sector - and by connecting the dots between the different policy areas. Comprehensive partnerships are crucial if we want to accelerate results.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
let me share some experience from the Netherlands - what we have done differently.
At the general level, the Dutch government decided in 2012 to combine the agenda for aid, trade and investment as the main framework for shaping its response to the challenges to global development. As of 2015, the SDGs have been integrated in this framework.
We have also decided to focus on inclusive growth and development. A progress has not automatically benefitted everyone. We have to strive to achieve that also the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups profit from the development by providing them access to jobs, education, letting them have a greater say in the developments that affect them. Simply, we strive to leave no one behind.
Moreover, we have embarked upon innovative partnerships - novel ways of working together with new partners, very often through a cooperation with several stakeholders from the government, civil society, NGO’s, and businesses.
Let me give you just two examples that demonstrate the need for a broader, multi-stakeholder approach - global value chains and also migration and development. These themes not only have an impact in other countries, but also in our own societies as they affect people at home.
Let me start with global value chains. We are all part of the production-to-consumption cycle which is defined through increasingly complex global value chains. Most of the products we consume are produced in other continents. Unfortunately, too often in conditions that violate human or labour rights, or that are harmful to the environment. Like your cell phone that could contain cobalt from dangerous hand-dug mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sometimes dug by children under the age of seven who should be at school instead.
The G7, the Sustainable Development Goals, COP21, and the ILO have all called for more sustainable and more responsible global value chains.
Furthermore, it is consumers, especially the youth, who increasingly ask for a shift to a more responsible production and consumption and radical change of the current business models. For this reason, we all need to cooperate - businesses, civil society, NGO's, and governments. The problem cannot be tackled by any one of these on its own.
Over the past few years, the Dutch government has facilitated a process that is intended to lead to finally ten voluntary sector agreements on Responsible Business Conduct. Voluntary, because as experience proves, a voluntary approach fosters commitment.
The first agreement was signed for the textile and garment industry. Sixty Dutch companies that operate internationally, accounting for 30% of the market, have already signed up to it. So has the government, both major Dutch union federations, five major NGOs, and the three Dutch textile trade associations.
By signing this agreement, the parties committed themselves to taking collective action to ensure that the clothing the Dutch consumers buy is produced in a way that is sustainable for all stakeholders. Explicitly, this means that you should be able to buy a T-shirt knowing that a person who made it is over 18, is treated with respect, and earns a decent wage. Additionally, you can rest assured that the production of your T-shirt did not negatively impact the environment. In other words, this is an example of a concrete contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals implementation.
This process has not been easy. Companies have to get used to being transparent about their business and profit models. NGOs have to work with companies instead of being a watchdog. Governments have to learn to facilitate business instead of merely regulating it.
However, it works, and we are actually in the process of concluding a similar agreement with the banking sector, involving, from the government's side, not only the Minister of Development Cooperation and External Trade but also the Minister of Finance. We are very excited about scaling up this experience and including in the partnership with the EU.
At least some of you must have heard about the BBC item on Syrian refugee children working in Turkish sweatshops a couple of days ago. This case shows how complex issues such as global value chains and refugees come together.
Let me conclude by saying a few words on refugees and migration. The Netherlands feels that as a starting point people can best be taken care of in their own regions. This improves their chances of returning back home and contributing to the rebuilding and development of their country of origin. And this is, of course, something what really happens. As we could have already noticed also during the Syria crisis, by far the greatest burden is carried by the neighbouring countries.
For those who cannot return home or those who cannot integrate in their host communities, the option of resettlement should be open. This means that we should both support refugees and host communities, and also work on a worldwide system for resettlement of refugees like we did in the 50s after the Hungarian uprising or in the 80s for Vietnamese boat people.
In the meanwhile, we have to take care also of the refugees that are already among us. Our focus has been on the implementation of the agreements we made to this end within the EU, namely to respect our international obligations and provide refugees the international protection to which they are entitled, and make sure that those who are not entitled to such protection return to their country of origin.
From the long-term view, it is crucial to focus on root causes for the situations in the countries of origin of both refugees and migrants. The EU is currently developing the so-called migration compacts with the counties of origin or transit countries such as Senegal, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. The Netherlands has supported the compacts process in Mali and Ethiopia.
A crucial element in dealing with root causes is the investment in the perspectives for young people. The key words here are education and providing better perspectives to young people by creating employment. Both the EU and the Netherlands have programmes that support these kinds of initiatives.
If we cannot assure parents that their children will get a proper education, neither offer young people perspectives at home, they will try to find it elsewhere - which perfectly makes sense in a globalized world. We have to get this right. For all - the countries of origin, people seeking a better life, and for our own societies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
we are in a unique moment in time. The commitments we all made are not just about goals, targets and indicators. They are, above all, about a political will and courage. The political will to address inequality and to invest in stability. Everyone has a role to play. It is a shared responsibility, and therefore we must challenge ourselves today to think differently and act decisively, so that we can together make the world a better place for us all.