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Universal access to quality public services is the foundation of a fair and just society
by ActionAid, Public Services International, GI-ESCR
6:25pm 15th Sep, 2021
Oct. 2021
The Future is Public: A Global Manifesto for Public Services
Universal access to quality public services is the foundation of a fair and just society and the basis of a social pact that implements the core values of solidarity, equality and human dignity.
The Global Manifesto for Public Services advances a series of ten principles for universal quality public services in the 21st century, and outlines how funding universal quality public services can be realized.
Initially, nine organisations began collaborating in 2020 with the aim of establishing a collective vision that could mobilise a strong broad-based movement to demand universal quality public services for all, these were: ActionAid, the East African Centre for Human Rights, Eurodad, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, Oxfam, Public Services International, the Society for International Development, and the Transnational Institute.
Key events were held in 2020: A public roundtable discussion bringing together the UN special rapporteurs across six different mandates, to reflect on the impacts of privatisation and to build renewed momentum and strategies for the public provision of essential public services to fulfill peoples universal human rights.
Civil society workshops and engagement brought together 80 participating groups from all around the world to further develop the manifesto. A key outcome of the civil society engagments was to unite and mobilise a broad-based movement to challenge the ongoing privatisation of public goods and demand public alternatives for the provision of services that ensure the realization of the human rights of all.
The manifesto incorporates inputs received from hundreds of civil society organisations and actors throughout the world. It aims to establish a clear, unifying vision on the fundamental importance of universal quality public services for all.
Dec. 2020
Water Futures market invites speculators, challenges basic human rights, states Pedro Arrojo-Agudo - Special Rapporteur on water and human rights
The UN Special Rapporteur on water and human rights today expressed serious concerns about the creation of the world’s first futures market in water, saying it could invite speculation from financiers who would trade it like other commodities such as gold and oil.
On 7 December, the CME Group launched the world’s first water futures contract for trading with the aim to help water users manage risk and better balance the competing demands for water supply and demand amidst the uncertainty that severe droughts and flooding bring to the availability of water.
The new water futures contract allows buyers and sellers to barter a fixed price for the delivery of fixed quantity of water at a future date.
“You can’t put a value on water as you do with other traded commodities,” said Pedro Arrojo-Agudo. “Water belongs to everyone and is a public good. It is closely tied to all of our lives and livelihoods, and is an essential component to public health,” he said, pointing importance of having access to water in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Water is already under extreme threat from a growing population, increasing demands and grave pollution from agriculture and mining industry in the context of worsening impact of climate change,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. “I am very concerned that water is now being treated as gold, oil and other commodities that are traded on Wall Street futures market.”
As well as farmers, factories and utility companies looking to lock-in prices, such a futures market could also lure speculators such as hedge funds and banks to bet on prices, repeating the speculative bubble of the food market in 2008.
“In this context, the risk is that the large agricultural and industrial players and large-scale utilities are the ones who can buy, marginalizing and impacting the vulnerable sector of the economy such as small-scale farmers,” said Arrojo-Agudo.
“Water is indeed a vital resource for the economy – both large and small-scale players - but the value of water is more than that. Water has a set of vital values for our society that the market logic does not recognize and therefore, cannot manage adequately, let alone in a financial space so prone to speculation,” said Arrojo-Agudo.
“While there are on-going global discussions concerning water’s environmental, social and cultural values, the news that water is to be traded on Wall Street futures market shows that the value of water, as basic human right, is now under threat.”
The human right to safe drinking water was first recognized by the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council in 2010.
Oct. 2020
Global markets have failed to provide people with basic needs like housing and water, say present and former UN special rapporteurs - Leilani Farha, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Koumbou Boly Barry, Leo Heller, Olivier De Schutter, Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the catastrophic fallout of decades of global privatisation and market competition.
When the pandemic hit, we saw hospitals being overwhelmed, caregivers forced to work with virtually no protective equipment, nursing homes turned into morgues, long queues to access tests, and schools struggling to connect with children confined to their homes.
People were being urged to stay at home when many had no decent roof over their heads, no access to water and sanitation, and no social protection.
For many years, vital public goods and services have been steadily outsourced to private companies. This has often resulted in inefficiency, corruption, dwindling quality, increasing costs and subsequent household debt, further marginalising poorer people and undermining the social value of basic needs like housing and water. We need a radical change in direction.
There was a glimmer of hope when people seemed to recognise the crucial centrality of public services to the functioning of society. As French president Emmanuel Macron put it on 12 March, the pandemic had revealed that there are goods and services that must be placed outside the laws of the market.
Take water, a commodity all the more vital as washing your hands is one of the best ways to protect yourself from the virus. About 4 billion people worldwide experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.
In the Chilean Petorca province, for example, one avocado tree uses more water than the daily quota allocated to each resident. Despite increasing daily water allocation to residents, the ministry of health revoked this decision just eight days later – an indication of how authorities continue to put the interests of private companies above the rights of their people.
And what about the long-awaited vaccine? Recognising that we cannot rely on market forces, more than 140 world leaders and experts have called on governments and international institutions to guarantee that Covid-19 tests, treatments and vaccines are made available to all, without charge. But the reality is that pharmaceutical companies around the world are competing to sell the first vaccine.
The global mantra to practise physical distancing to avoid spreading the coronavirus is meaningless for the 1.6 billion people living in grossly inadequate housing, let alone the 2% of the world’s population who are homeless. Yet most governments seem unwilling to step back into the housing arena to regulate the financial organisations that have helped create these conditions.
The financialisation of housing by these actors has for years resulted in higher rents, evicting low-income tenants, failing to properly maintain housing in good repair and hoarding empty units in order to increase their profits.
By continuing to opt for contracting out public goods and services, governments are paying lip service to their human rights obligations. Rights holders are transformed into the clients of private companies dedicated to profit maximisation and accountable not to the public but to shareholders.
This affects the core of our democracies, contributes to exploding inequalities and generates unsustainable social segregation.
We are six UN independent experts from many different backgrounds, current and former special rapporteurs on a range of economic, social and cultural rights. It is in this capacity that, together, we want to share this message: if human rights are to be taken seriously, the old construct of states taking a back seat to private companies must be abandoned.
New alternatives are necessary. It is time to say it loud and clear: the commodification of health, education, housing, water, sanitation and other rights-related resources and services prices out the poor and may result in violations of human rights.
States can no longer cede control as they have done. They are not absolved of their human rights obligations by delegating core goods and services to private companies and the market on terms that they know will effectively undermine the rights and livelihoods of many people.
It is equally crucial that multilateral organisations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, stop imposing financialised models and the privatisation of public services on countries.
This is also a pivotal moment for the human rights community. We call on all those committed to human rights to address the consequences of privatisation head on. Human rights can help articulate the public goods and services we want – participatory, transparent, sustainable, accountable, non-discriminatory and serving the common good.
We are in a state of emergency. This is probably the first of a series of larger crises awaiting us, driven by the growing climate emergency. The Covid-19 crisis is expected to push another 176 million people into poverty. Each of them may see their human rights violated unless there is a drastic change of model and investment in quality public services.
* Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky is the former UN independent expert on foreign debt and human rights; Koumbou Boly Barry is UN special rapporteur on the right to education; Olivier De Schutter is UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; and former UN special rapporteur on the right to food; Leilani Farha is the former UN special rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; Leo Heller is UN special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona is the former UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

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