Fifty-fourth Session,
2nd & 3rd Meetings* (AM & PM)

Despite ‘Enormous’ Gains since Copenhagen Declaration, Inclusive Progress Must Reach Millions More, Delegates Tell Social Development Commission

While “enormous” gains had been made since the World Summit for Social Development had resulted in the Copenhagen Declaration in 1995, progress remained uneven — both within and among countries — with millions of people still excluded from access to the very rights, services and income-generating activities that underpinned a sustainable future for all, delegates said today as the Commission for Social Development opened the substantive segment of its fifty-fourth session.

The session, which runs through 12 February, will conclude the Commission’s 2015-2016 review and policy cycle under the priority theme “Rethinking and Strengthening Social Development in the Contemporary World”.  As the first session held after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it was marked by a new overall context, with discussion focused on the role of social policy in achieving people-centred, inclusive sustainable development for all.  The day’s general debate and high-level panel discussion dovetailed with those themes.

The Commission’s work was particularly important for achieving the 2030 Agenda, said Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  In addition, it was critical in providing a platform for Member States to deliberate social policies, share experiences, raise awareness and mobilize action.  While more than 1 billion people since 1995 had been helped out of extreme poverty and the proportion of undernourished people in developing regions was down by almost half, progress had been uneven.

“We need to create over 600 million new jobs by 2030,” he said, or 40 million annually to keep pace with growth in the working age population.  Conditions for the 780 million working poor must be improved and rising inequality addressed.  A lack of equal opportunity for women, youth, those with disabilities, the elderly and indigenous communities meant they could not realize their potential.  Such challenges required the Commission to provide policy guidance that helped countries take bolder steps to build inclusive societies.  “You can integrate your work related to disadvantaged and vulnerable groups into ensuring that no one is left behind,” he said.

Against that backdrop, Commission Chair Ion Jinga (Romania) said it was all participants’ responsibility to strengthen the social pillar of sustainable development by focusing on promoting inclusive policies that were informed by evidence of national and regional experiences.  “We now have a unique opportunity to make the difference and impact on people’s lives,” he said.

The expected outcome of the session, he continued, was an action-oriented resolution, which should place a “strong emphasis” on social policies that ensured no one was left behind — the central pledge of the 2030 Agenda.  Policy suggestions should underscore the imperative for growth to be inclusive, sustained and equitable.  The Commission should work to ensure greater policy coherence “across the board”, engaging Governments, civil society, academia, the private sector, global and regional organizations, and the poor.

Daniela Bas, Director for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, then introduced a note by the Secretariat on “Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:  moving from commitments to results for achieving social development”.  She also introduced three reports of the Secretary-General.  The report titled “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world” provided policy recommendations for strengthening the social dimension of sustainable development.

The report on “Social Dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development” highlighted the growing optimism about Africa’s future, she said, while the report on the “Implementation of the objectives of the International Year of the Family and its follow-up processes” underscored the critical need to break the silos of violence in families and societies.  The Commission could play a key role in reducing inequalities, addressing multiple dimensions of poverty and hunger, and promoting productive employment and decent work.

Margaret Mayce, Chair of the Non-governmental Organization Committee for Social Development, reported on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum, stressing that if there was ever a time to vacate the “silo mentality” of United Nations processes, it was now.  The Civil Society Declaration, adopted by the Forum, called to mind the challenge of creating a just, equitable and inclusive world.  The “breath-taking” extent of inequality must be challenged if the Commission was to hold true to the goal of poverty eradication, she said.

As such, she called on the Commission to close the gap between determination to ensure a life of dignity for all, on the one hand, and the reality of poverty and inequality on the other.  The tools were at hand, but they must be embraced, enhanced and employed without delay, she said, urging participants to be “proactive agents of change” for the sake of people, planet and prosperity.  “Time is of the essence,” she said.

Jasmine Burgermeister, a youth delegate from Germany, provided an update on the Economic and Social Council’s Youth Forum, held on 1 and 2 February under the theme “Youth taking action to implement the 2030 Agenda”.  Discussions at the Forum had highlighted the key role of young people in the implementation, monitoring and review of the 2030 Agenda, she said, stressing:  “Young people must be recognized as leaders”.  She expressed disappointment that a number of seats of Member States had been left empty and that some delegates had disappeared before “breakout” sessions with youth representatives had begun.  Young people could change the world, but “we need the right space, support and recognition to make this happen,” she said.

In the ensuing general debate on “rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”, ministers and senior officials noted that the Commission was the first functional commission to meet after the adoption of four agreements:  the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the 2030 Agenda and the Climate Change Agreement.  Many reaffirmed that social development was essential for filling the gap between commitment and action, which had resulted in poverty, as well as a lack of social protection, labour rights and decent work for young people. 

Several speakers invoked the spirit of the 1995 World Summit in formulating social policies that tackled both entrenched problems and new vulnerabilities, with some advocating for a more comprehensive view of poverty that better considered access to food, education, health services, social security and housing.  If countries of the global South consumed as much as those in the global North, the planet would collapse, they said.  Others underscored the need to loosen — or even delink — economic growth from human development and well-being, with most outlining national efforts to overcome vast inequalities.

In that context, the representative of Thailand, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed deep concern over uneven progress in fulfilling the Copenhagen commitments.  Conflict, slowing global growth, volatile financial markets, youth unemployment and climate change had presented a complex myriad of obstacles to sustaining gains.  He underscored the Commission’s important role in addressing those challenges.

The representative of the Netherlands, on behalf of the European Union, drew attention to the “Europe 2020” strategy to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.  Driving that initiative was the notion of social development requiring a mix of policies allowing economic, social and environmental considerations to play out in a balanced manner.

Pointing one way forward, the representative of Brunei, on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said its “Vision 2025” plan had sought to deepen regional political, economic and social integration.  As a result, the Human Development Index of ASEAN members had risen to 0.696 in 2014 from 0.679 in 2010.

In other business, the Commission elected by acclamation Ion Jinga (Romania), replacing Simona-Mirela Miculescu (Romania), as Chair of its fifty-fourth session.  Mohammad Hassani Nejad Pirkouhi (Iran) and Andreas Glossner (Germany) were elected as Vice-Chairs, with Mr. Pirkouhi assuming the responsibilities of Rapporteur for the session.  The Commission also approved its provisional agenda.

Also speaking in the general debate were ministers and senior officials of Argentina, Chile, Romania, Turkmenistan, Russian Federation and Mexico, as well as the representative of Nigeria.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 4 February, to continue its work.

General Debate

VIRACHAI PLASAI (Thailand), on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said poverty eradication — one of the three pillars of the Copenhagen Declaration — persisted as a major challenge.  Expressing deep concern over the uneven progress achieved in fulfilling the commitments, he said conflict, slowing global economic growth, volatile financial markets, youth unemployment and climate change presented a complex myriad of obstacles to sustaining gains.  He attached great importance to the Commission’s role in addressing those challenges, noting that Governments must ensure that macroeconomic and social policies focused on job creation and social protection to reduce inequalities.  International cooperation must be enhanced and official development assistance (ODA) pledges fulfilled, he concluded.

PAUL ALEX MENKVELD (Netherlands), on behalf of the European Union, said the “Europe 2020” plan promoted smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, placing social issues at its core, with targets for increasing employment and lifting at least 20 million people out of poverty.  The idea behind the strategy was that social development required a mix of policies that allowed economic, social and environmental considerations to play out in a balanced manner.  Social inclusion was central to the 2030 Agenda and the Union looked forward to working with others around the world towards a fairer and better society.

DATO ABDUL GHAFAR ISMAIL (Brunei Darussalam), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said “Vision 2025” aimed at deepening regional political, economic and social integration with a view to building a strong, resilient people-centred community.  As a result, the Human Development Index of ASEAN members had risen to 0.696 in 2014 from 0.679 in 2010.  ASEAN leaders had reaffirmed that equitable access to social protection was a basic human right.  Such protection was in investment in people and should be supported by adequate resources, he said.

JUAN EDUARDO FAÚNDEZ (Chile) said that if Latin America and Africa had the same consumption level as developed countries, the planet would collapse.  People must be placed at the centre of social development and above the logic of the market.  It was equally important to rethink human problems from a holistic approach, he said, stressing that questions of economy, sanitation, science, commerce and other domains could not be separated from each other.  Economic growth did not necessarily lead to sustainable social development.  Social progress must be measured as a function of sustainable well-being.

CAROLINA STANLEY, Minister for Social Development of Argentina, stressed that social policies must consider the complexity of poverty, especially new vulnerabilities that had emerged.  All ministries in Argentina were involved in efforts that sought to eradicate poverty, and together were building an integrated social protection network that would underpin national social policies.  Measures taken in that context were oriented towards the inclusion of families and vulnerable persons, she said, adding that the Government would work to promote equal opportunity and the effective exercise of rights.

MIHAELA UNGUREANU, Vice-Minister and President of the National Authority for Handicapped Persons in the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Protection and Older Persons of Romania, said sustainable development had been carried out through actions that placed people at the heart of development and by respecting the principles of social justice.  Last year, Romania had created a five-year national strategy for social inclusion and poverty reduction that aimed at improving the participation of vulnerable people in the job market.  Her Government had taken a series of measures to promote gender equality and to create a cross-cutting theme across all national development initiatives.

MUHAMMETSEYIT SYLAPOV (Turkmenistan) underscored the resilience of his country, which had a sufficient resource base to ensure the sustainability of its financial and banking system, as well as the real economy.  A stabilization fund been created to enhance the management of State resources, he said, emphasizing the importance of policies that had been geared towards the ageing population, persons with disabilities, young people and strengthening the role of the family.  The new economic strategy for 2011-2030 had allowed for an improved business climate, which was backed by a State programme to support small and medium-sized enterprises, he said, noting that 80 per cent of the budget was for social policies.

ALEX CHERKASOV (Russian Federation) highlighted the importance of formulating agreed approaches to achieve social progress.  Outlining national efforts, he said a new law for social services had entered into force, services had become more targeted and accessible.  Special measures had been taken to develop the non-State social service sector, there was a favourable tax regime and financial support was offered to those providing such services.  Federal laws had entered into force on 1 January to ensure a barrier-free environment for disabled persons.  A special commission also had been created to help reduce informal work, he said.

MARLON AGUILAR GEORGE (Mexico) said his country had one of the most sophisticated methods for measuring poverty and would share its experiences.  The Government had taken a rights-based approach to social development policy, he said, sharing the results of its “crusade against hunger” campaign, which had led to a 57 per cent increase in access to food, a 22 per cent increase in access to health services and a 60 per cent jump in access to housing.

USMAN SARKI (Nigeria) said promoting social justice was a constitutional duty for his Government, including programmes that addressed social needs, especially in the areas of education, strengthening national institutions and combating corruption.  Expressing alarm at the United Nations decision to launch a commemorative stamp for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, he said the move was an “activist” policy on a matter that did not enjoy consensus, and in fact, had been supported by a minority of Member States and practitioners of those lifestyles.  He urged the Organization to not proceed with that activity.

Interactive Discussion

In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on the priority theme “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”.  Moderated by Raymond Torres, Director of the Research Department at the International Labour Organization (ILO), it featured presentations by Marlon Aguilar George, Head of Planning and International Affairs in Mexico’s Ministry of Social Development; Jean-Paul Tricart, Adviser on International Relations in the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission; Rolph van der Hoeven, emeritus professor in the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam; and Ana Martinez de Luco, Founding Member of the non-governmental organization Sure We Can.

Mr. TORRES said eradicating poverty, addressing inequality, promoting full employment and fostering social integration were urgent tasks to complete.  Current dynamics needed to change to implement good strategies, he said, adding that future improvements could be made with inclusive economies.

Mr. AGUILAR said the Government of Mexico had used multidimensional poverty measures, taking into consideration social factors such as income, health, housing, education and access to food.  The figures had showed that 36.6 per cent of the population, equivalent to 43.9 million people, were living in poverty.  In 2013, the Government had introduced the National Crusade against Hunger Programme in order to significantly reduce hunger and poverty nationwide through social intervention and to increase the general socioeconomic status of communities by developing needed infrastructure.

Mr. TRICART, briefing the Commission on current challenges, said the European Union’s internal debates had focused on democratic change, rebalancing social policy and creating jobs.  To address social deficits and inequality, the Union needed to make firm commitments and incorporate their approaches into legislation.  Turning to the integration process, he noted that the idea had always been to ensure the industrial, political, legal, economic, social and cultural integration of States.  “We produce more divergence than convergence,” he said, stressing that the process had created a credibility issue.

Mr. VAN DER HOEVEN addressed challenges for social development in the 2030 Development Agenda, noting that between 2009 and 2012, the world had experienced a financial crisis in the North and South.  Yet, a commodity boom had allowed certain countries to strengthen their social policies.  Turning to contemporary settings for social and economic policies, he noted that the globally agreed goals had led to the transformation of such policies.  Countries with increased fiscal means, such as those in the Latin America, had spent more on social policies.

Ms. MARTINEZ DE LUCO said that, instead of discussing the globally agreed goals, she would propose two tasks:  build-up “we” and tear down “profit addiction”.  What made people different made them valuable to each other.  In the name of the organization she represented, Sure We Can, “we” was the central word, not just because of its position, but because “sure” and “can” were almost meaningless without “we”.  Turning to the second task, she noted that tearing down profit addiction was an urgent matter to address.  “Like alcoholics driving drunk, wealth addiction imperils everyone,” she said, adding that wealth addicts were responsible for the vast and toxic disparity between the rich and poor and the annihilation of the middle class.

The moderator then asked panellists a series of questions.

Mr. AGUILAR responded that, in ministerial coordination, it was important to have a clear action plan, as well as a monitoring and evaluation system.  The first step was to identify partner ministries and then assign them a specific task for every goal outlined in the action plan.  A range of incentives to cooperate was needed, he added.

Mr. TRICART said, answering a question on achieving convergence in Europe, that institutions had learned lessons during the crisis, including that the design of the Euro area was insufficient and that there was a need to complement the institutional setting so the system could resist shocks.  While labour mobility existed in the Euro zone, workers often did not move, due to language and skill barriers, he said, urging the creation of a better understanding of the interaction among the national strategies.

Mr. VAN DER HOEVEN, in response to a query about international coordination in delivery of ODA or in the area of taxation, said industrial and macroeconomic policies were needed to complement the expansion of social policies.  Noting that taxes, debt relief and changing the international system had not been included in the Addis Ababa action plan, he said the Commission had a role in advocating such reforms.

Ms. MARTINEZ DE LUCO, who was asked how to stem profit “addiction”, described the “invasive” arrival of companies into a one neighbourhood, saying those owners had not asked residents what they needed or how they could participate in the businesses.  Eighty-seven per cent of the people were renters, whose rents were now three times higher than two years ago.  Even with the “we” campaign, cooperatives, land trusts or services to help the community, people had perceived those companies as “monsters”.

In the ensuing discussion, the European Union’s delegate asked how the Commission could be a platform for policy coherence, and about recommendations for involving all stakeholders in policymaking and governance.

Mr. VAN DER HOEVEN said the Commission could raise the standing of social policies in decision-making, while Mr. TRICART urged enhancing mechanisms that allowed civil society to play a more active role.  That could not be done without the involvement of national Governments.  Strengthening capacity to participate was not only a question of values; it was one of quality and efficiency, he said.

To other questions by the moderator, Mr. AGUILAR said Mexico’s poorest region was in the south-east.  Because of the flow of migrants, the issue could not be resolved without a Central American regional vision.  It was important to work with countries in the region to develop a strategy that would enable them to break political borders and explore how to use collective resources to alleviate poverty.

Ms. MARTINEZ DE LUCO said that to engage with enterprises in ways that were part of the solution, necessary elements included investment, production, labour creation and capital.  It was also important to ask companies about their ultimate goal in a community.

In a further round of questions, Botswana’s delegate focused on the need to persuade stakeholders to coordinate and catalyse a social development agenda among all involved.  Many ministries operated in silos — or sectors — in which they had their own agendas.  He asked about introducing a progressive tax system in which resources generated from taxes on the private sector could be diverted to the social development agenda.  Agreeing that coordination was paramount, Nigeria’s delegate said sharing best practices regionally, subregionally and nationally was important, especially in the creation of indicators for the 2030 Agenda.  Discussion should focus on practical steps to ensure that declarations made at the United Nations did not remain on paper, he said.

Ms. MARTINEZ DE LUCO, responding on the issue of corruption, said people made policies and power by means of money.  The cases emerging in various countries were serious, she said, and ways must be found to criminalize such behaviour.  The influence of lobbyists was also a problem, she added.

Mr. VAN DER HOEVEN said bureaucracies must be pressured to cooperate through political means or by civil society.  Noting that profit rates were high after the Second World War, he said there was no inherent contradiction between taxes and profit-making.  The problem occurred when the social contract had changed.  There had been an understanding that profits would be used to invest in companies, which in turn, fostered wage increases and other investments that improved society.  Today, however, profits were often taken out of a country and not used for such investments.

Mr. TRICART, on the issue of taxation, said there was work to do to better explain “fair taxation”, as there had been historic changes in taxation rates.  Noting that some arguments were “rather simplistic”, he said there were ways to combine public and private investments.  Countries must understand how to mobilize resources to generate and encourage private investment.

Mr. AGUILAR said that in fighting corruption, there was a difference between those who executed public policy and those who measured results.  A strong judicial system was needed to quickly punish “unexpected deviations”.  Indeed, strong institutions and legal frameworks helped to guarantee that results were reached in a legitimate manner.


*     The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release SOC/4830 of 13 February 2015.

For information media. Not an official record.