Will Lasky

  • Regina Kiriutina is a program officer for GCAP Russia and a coordinator for the ECSN BRICSAM Program in the Russian Federation. She is a gender equality advocate and recently attended the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Antalya, Turkey and a workshop on engaging with the G20 in Beijing China hosted by CSN BRICSAM partner, the Social Research Institute.

    You have attended a number of notable conferences recently, including the Civil BRICS in Moscow and the C20 in Istanbul.  What’s it like engaging in inequality-related advocacy in the Russian Federation? What do you think some of the unique challenges or similarities are in comparison to the other BRICSAM countries?

    The concept of inequality could hardly be called new as it has been very thoroughly researched by academics from all over the world for decades. The decision makers and politicians, unlike academics, put their minds to things only when they beccome very real, very tangible. Russian decision makers are mostly concerned about economic inequality and largely in cases strictly regarding the ongoing deep economic crisis inside the country. Gender inequality is mainly perceived as a Western agenda in Russia and therefore is marginal. The majority of the decision makers do not believe in discrimination of women at work, in families and in society in general. Legislative procedures are not helping women to prove wrong those in positions of power. This denial of the issue definitely makes it harder for advocacy.

    I believe that Russia’s unique gender advocacy challenge is the political environment based on very specific traditional family values, which here are often viewed as opposed to liberal values. It is obvious that opposing family values to liberal vallues is erroneous, nevertheless liberal is often considered ‘Western’ and ‘Western’ can be regarded as politically unacceptable. The biggest similarity between all BRICSAM countries, in my opinion, is legislation which is not working or simply non-existent. Together with corruption and ideological propaganda this makes a very heavy mix for someone who is trying to advocate for a change.

    Russia has been instrumental in creating a civil society space both for the BRICS and the G20. There is an ongoing conversation related to the meaning of these forums in terms of advocacy. Do you see the political climate reflected in C20 outcomes and recommendations to the G20? Are there any chronically underrepresented issues that are more politically challenging to advocate for than others?

    In my opinion, the Steering Committee of the Civil20 in Turkey did a tremendous job designing an agenda which would be both relevant to civil society and useful for the G20 governments. Every G20 host brings into its presidential priorities a lot of country-specific matters. Some issues have dominated the political scene during this year’s G20 – like the refugee and Syria crisis, calls to action against international terrorist groups. These causes weren’t abandoned by civil society. As one of the deeply respected international advocacy heavyweights has reightfully noted: “Governments know where the flaws in their policies are. They need solutions.” Gender issues are normally underrepresented at global fora and harder to advocate for, as they were at the C20 not so long ago. 2015 was the first year to introduce the separate Gender Working Group at the Civil20 and the W20 (Woman20) as an independent engagement track. These are all fine efforts to support the dialogue and discussion around these issues; nevertheless, LGBTQ rights are still mainly orphaned on the majority of the agendas of the G20 engagement groups.

    One key focus of your work has been gender advocacy. You have been one of the very few Russian participants in the Gender Equality Working Group at the Civil20 in Turkey and the G20 Leader’s Summit. What do you think is unique about the Russian perspective on international gender advocacy?

    Russia is in multiple ways a very special case among all the G20 countries when it comes to women’s rights. The Soviet Union has passed along a very elaborate system of motherhood and childhood protection, including long maternity leaves, whcih could be also used by any member of the family (including working grandparents), who would be taking care of the child until he/she is 3 years old. At the same time the government is legally discriminating against women at work, which is vocally stated in the labour code. Basically it is prohibiting using female labour in so called “hazardous work environments”, which theoretically could be damaging for women’s reproductive systems. There are around 400 jobs which women cannot legally occupy. Technically the government calls it a “positive discrimination”, but quite frankly this is neither logical, nor constitutional.

    It is extremely interesting to see all the different stages that G20 countries are at. I believe that Russia could give some great input on maternity leave, but should definitely adopt some of the basic ideas of the mature capitalist economies when it comes to making the labour market better designed for everyone. G20 is an economic entity which in 2014 committed to put 100 million women to work by 2025. I see this goal achievable only if governmnets figure out the right balance between protecting and respecting the choices half of the citizens make.

    You recently attended an event in China partially funded by the ECSN BRICSAM program, staged by partner organization the Social Research Institute and the China Association for NGO Cooperation, on engaging a prospective C20 China event, which is still TBD. China has its own specific cultural climate and set of challenges facing civil society. Do you have any key takeaways and recommendations from this event you feel would be useful to highlight to CSOs regarding China’s G20 chairmanship and potential C20 advocacy?

    I would say that my key takeaway from this event is a very uplifting sense of eagerness of Chinese CSOs to get together and work alongside other G20 NGOs. I think it’s very important to spread the message that there is a lot of determination and desire from Chinese NGOs to make the C20 happen in one form or another. In terms of agenda I saw an amazing amount of high quality expertise and activism among the participants, which can become a tremendously good basis for many interesting debates. I am convinced that with a bit of assistance from the other members of Troika (Turkey and Germany this year) Chinese CSOs have all the reasons to become excellent hosts of the next C20. Unfortunately it is hard to forecast the C20 advocacy strategies before we have any more or less clear ideas on how the process will look. 

    What in your mind have been ECSN BRICSAM’s biggest accomplishments relating to BRICS, G20 and C20 both in terms of advocacy and capacity building?

    Of course there are several dimensions from where you can look at the accomplishments of the program. An accomplishment from which all the international civil society fora will continue to benefit from has been bringing the issue of inequality in all its variety to the discussion table of the C20 and CivilBRICS, as well as looking at inequality as a complex challenge for middle to high income countries. Capacity building wise — it would be hard to even start the extremely long list of how significantly the ECSN Program has enriched everyone who has ever worked as a part of it. I myself have definitely benefited from becoming a more confident networker and speaker and have developed a vital self-starter skill.

  • By Will Lasky

    ECSN BRICSAM Program Officer

    On Feb 4. 2015 12 nations signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. Among BRICSAM countries, Mexico is a signatory and Indonesia has declared its intent to join1. While proponents 2 argue that TPP will further humanitarian causes, critics have countered that the TPP deal will further a corporatist economic agenda3. Additionally, some scholars argue that the economic benefits are totally overstated and that for the most part, increases in GDP will be minimal while the overall labor share of income will decrease thereby exacerbating inequality4. These are only some of the concerns voiced in the run up to the release and signing of the trade agreement.

    Beyond implementation, there are already systemic issues in place that inhibit the free flow of wealth and GDP gains to all members of society. A discussion of these issues is necessarily linked to a conversation on equitable trade between nations.

    Much of the work we have done in the CSN BRICSAM program has been promoting policies that enhance equality and create growth by unlocking the economic potential of the poor. For example, in Nov. 2015 at the UN Business and Human Rights forum in Geneva, partners cited a revolving door between business and politics in BRICSAM countries giving rise to policies that favor the wealthy. The recently commissioned BRICSAM report For Richer…or Poorer: The Capture of Growth and Politics in Emerging Economies 5 explores institutional drivers of inequality in greater detail, such as the effect of capital flight to neuter the power of wealth to ‘lift all ships.’ Our findings have been mirrored at the highest level enshrined by the UNDP as a Sustainable Development Goal6.

    It seems additionally vital to encounter the trade agreement and enforcement of its precepts through the notoriously hard-to-measure rubric of corruption. Corruption is a relevant player in the enforcement of agreements, particularly those regarding humanitarian and environmental goals. These goals more than others represent short-term economic losses for politically entrenched business interests. In searching for a framework, Transparency International’s perceptions of corruption index might be a good place to start7. For example, Vietnam, a member of the TPP Agreement, is ranked 112 out of 168, and Mexico is ranked 95. Malaysia scores a bit better, is on par with perceptions of corruption in south Europe. How does this bode for the agreements implementation and oversight in countries where corruption, the revolving door of business and politics, perpetuates issues like child labor by sequestering gain among society’s economic elite?

    Although we must analyze the trade agreement itself, its potential effects on inequality and on humanitarian issues, the details regarding the institutional convergence of business and politics producing inequitable systems of taxation should become commonplace subject matter for everyone. We should all be conversational in the main talking points. Civil society should foster economic literacy in the subjects of taxation and corporate and political capture so that populations beyond the level of CSOs can participate in a unified and affective global policy discourse.   

    It will hardly come as a surprise if trade deals such as TPP prove toothless drivers of a humanitarian mission if societies cannot come to a clear consensus on equitable income tax codes and massive tax sheltering. Additionally, we must come to see providing for basic health and human services and guaranteeing gender equality less in terms of charity and more as vital means of freeing up the economic power of billions of economically and politically disenfranchised to produce a more prosperous world for everyone to enjoy.

    Signatory Countries of the TPP by Gini Coefficient  

    Australia: 30.3

    Brunei (none available)

    Canada: 33.7

    Chile: 50.5

    Japan: 32.1

    Malasia: 46.3

    Mexico 48.1

    New Zealand 36.2

    Peru: 45.3

    Singapore: 46.4

    United States: 45.0

    Vietnam: 37.6

    1Tod Williamson (5 Dec. 2015), Why Indonesia Joining the TPP Would Be a Good Thing, The Diplomat, Retrieved 16 Feb. 2016
    2The White House Web Page, The Trans-Pacific Partnership, Retrieved 16 Feb. 2016

    3Zach Carter, Ryan Grim (13 Jan, 2014) Noam Chomsky: Obama Trade Deal A ‘Neoliberal Assault’ To Further Corporate ‘Domination, The Huffington Post, Retrieved 16 Feb 2016

    4Jeronim Capaldo and Alex Izurieta (Jan 2016), Trading Down: Unemployment, Inequality and Other Risks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, Global Development and Environmental Institute Working Paper, Retrieved 15 Feb. 2016

    5 Alice Krozer (Jan 2016), For Richer…Or Poorer: The Capture of Growth and Politics in Emerging Economies , CSN BRICSAM Report, Retrieved 16 Feb. 2016

    6 UNDP Webpage, Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities, Accessed 16 Feb. 2016

    7 Transparency International Webpage, Corruptions Perceptions Index 2015 , Accessed 16 Feb. 2016

     

  • By Will Lasky

    ECSN BRICSAM Program Officer

    For Richer…or Poorer? The Capture of Growth and Politics in Emerging Economies, presents some staggering data plus case studies charting the exponential increase of elite wealth in BRICSAM countries.  According to the report:

    “If the top is dissected into even-smaller fractions, and each of these fractions is divided into an upper and lower half, the ‘poorer’ half of the respective groups always has a significantly smaller share compared to the richer one. This is concerning, as it means that a focus on the richest 10% or even 5% as the top share falls short of capturing the truly extraordinary differences hidden in the highest end, and further scrutiny as to what is happening at the peak of the distribution will be necessary. This phenomenon of fractal division means that, for instance, the South African top 0.1% – just over 50,000 people — held 4.8% of total income in 2010; the richer 25000 of this small group, however, appropriated close to 70% of this amount.”

    I am struck by this idea of fractal patterned increase, like the concentric rings of a snail’s shell. There is a grotesque harmony to the way we hoard.

    For Richer or Poorer highlights the optimism of neoliberalism, calling into question the faith that free market principles on a  global scale will latch onto the boostraps of all members of society equally.  The belief in free markets is often context blind.  Do proponents of the neoliberal model view the developing world through a cultural lens that filters out inequality?  What are the psychological factors that come into play?

    One interesting study conducted by Columbia and Stanford Researchers Krishna Savani and Aneeta Rattan (K. Savana, A. Rattan. A Choice Mind-Set Increases the Acceptance and Maintenance of Wealth Inequality. Psychological Science, 2012), links the idea of choice itself to outlooks reinforcing inequality.  Not the belief in choice, but the very idea of choice and how it interfaces with human discernment, Savani and Rattan say may play a role in perpetuating inequality.

    The researchers conducted six tests on US citizens demonstrating how the mere act of perceiving choice influences perceptions of inequality.  For example, in the first experiment, one group is asked to recall events of the past day.  The choice group is asked to list the choices they made.  When confronted with statistics pertaining to inequality, the  group primed by choice is less troubled than the non-choice group.  In another experiment participants watch a video of an actor performing daily activities.  The control group is asked to press a button whenever the actor performs an activity; the other group is asked to respond when a choice is made.  Even after controlling for political orientation, gender, race, the choice group is less concerned by inequality data.  The implication is that being primed by choice making makes us forget that climbing out of poverty is not as simple as making a decision to do so.

    Does a cultural preoccupation with abundance of choice play a role in maintaining inequality? According to Savani and Rattan, the answer might be yes. Although they acknowledge that there are different cultural contexts to explore, along with variations in consumer choice plus a host of other factors.

    Would such a study hold up in countries where extreme poverty is more visable and the capture of political decision making by the very wealthy more of a boldfaced reality?  In terms of advocacy, another question might be how to effectively communicate across cultures separated by history, wealth, experience and other subtle intervening factors like perceptions of upward mobility and choice.

     

  • In coffee shop talk, a false duality crops between capitalism and socialism in relation to inequality. It’s capitalism, man! Well, maybe it is. But to be more precise, what everyone is trying and failing to describe is corruption, or a specific kind of capitalism: the crony sort. George Soros, in The Crisis of Global Capitalism (1998), said that inequality was predicated on a belief in laissez-faire markets.  This peculiar outlook he deemed ‘market fundamentalism.’  According to Soros, who is not without his own tax issues (see http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-30/george-soros-s-tax-bill):

    “Market fundamentalists recognize that the role of the state in the economy is always disruptive, inefficient, and generally has negative connotations.  This leads them to believe that the market mechanism can take care of all the problems.”

    As with any great leap into an institutionalized personal-gain-focused belief system, turning a blind eye toward actual practices is an important step.  Crony capitalism and corruption – enabled by fantasies of free and fair competition – is a synergy of political and economic elite decision making. A far cry from the mythic ‘laissez-faire’ of letting things be, inequality is produced out of a specific regulatory dynamic.  This dynamic, (purportedly hands off in the minds of its beneficiaries, but also ironically regulatory?) creates markets that end up favoring the rich, where the gain of individual capital holders far outstrips that of labor.  The economy becomes jury rigged to support, and in some cases only allow for, the existence of MNCs in certain sectors of the economy.

    Oxfam’s latest briefing paper An Economy for the 1%: How privilege and power in the economy drive extreme inequality and how this can be stopped charts other aspects of a dynamic broadening the gulf between the ultra rich and the overwhelming majority.  The statistical absurdity in which 62 people have the same wealth as 3.6 billion people results from a capitalist system jury rigged by political capture.

    According to the report, market fundamentalism assumes a a ‘perfectly competitive’ economy, in which…Everyone knows everyone else’s business and anyone can participate, an assumption that clearly does not hold true in real life. Here is a key point that fleshes out the discussion people are trying to have when they talk about capitalism. It also suggests the market fundamentalist foundations of current regulatory dynamics.

    “Technological and organizational innovation, new products or services and new ways of delivering can give sellers and advantage, but this advantage can also be gained through entrenched relationships with people in power, the distortion of regulations and laws in their favour and the exploitation of market failures to their advantage.”

    Maybe if markets were regulated to allow for fair competition of everyone, then they would be truly, mythically free as the laissez-faire economy that never really was.  However in reality: The relationship between economic and political power and inequality creates a cycle which affects the design of institutions established to govern economies. An observation that takes a boat load of faith to deny.

  • What are the challenges in implementing the ambitious 17 sustainable development goals and the 2030 Agenda in BRICSAM?

    To download What´s next? Reflections from emerging countries´civil society on the SDGs and the challenges of implementing and monitoring the 2030 Agenda, click: What´s Next

    This comprehensive primer of civil society perspectives includes:

    The Post 2015 Agenda and the Inclusion of African Voices By the African Monitor and Sani

    No One Left Behind but How? Opinions from Chinese Civil Society  By the the Social Resource Institute – China

    Reviewing the SDG Document: Hits and Misses By Wada Na Todo Abhiyan – India

    Global Uncertainties Shadow over the Achievement of SDGs By INFID – Indonesia

    Civil Society Proposal for Implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Mexico By CAIDMEX

  • The 2nd issue of your primer for issues affecting BRICSAM and beyond is out. In this edition of BRICS VOICES you will find:

    BRICS BANK: Is it the road less travelled any longer? By Freelance Writer Himanshu Damle

    Brazil in Mozambique – South-South cooperation or South-South exploitation?  By Sameer Dossani, International Advocacy Coordinator: Reshaping Global Power International, Action Aid International

    Collaboration for Multiple Benefits By Zhang Lanying, the advisor for Social Resource Institute

    Is There a Space for Gender Issues in BRICS? By Regina Kiriutina, ECSN project coordinator, Global Call to Action Against Poverty Russia

    Plus glimpses from the C20 summit, a key chart of the personnel and shareholding structures of the BRICS New Development Bank, and lessons learned from the Civil BRICS 2015

    BRICS Voices Edition 2

     

  •  

    (Geneva, Nov. 18th 2015) – At the opening of the UN Business and Human Rights Forum in Geneva, civil society networks from Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, India, China, South Africa and Mexico (ECSN-BRICSAM networks) expressed their concern with the undue influence exerted by corporations over global governance and national decision-making processes and the resulting prevalence of private interests working against public interests.

    In a series of cross-country studies to be published in December, the networks have identified several mechanisms of “corporate capture” of international and domestic regulatory entities and processes. Research from Russia and from India identified multiple instances in which corporations influenced health policies and norms, including those regulating medicine prices and clinical trials, to protect their own commercial interests. Pharmaceutical companies have also allowed the inclusion of drugs without proven benefits in essential medicines’ lists and influenced global intellectual property norms. According to Oleg Kucheryavenko, co-author of the study on corporate capture of the health sector in Russia, “It is clear that companies have been successfully manipulating supposedly democratic institutions whose mission is to defend the public good so as to defend their own interests”.

    Another study examining the food sector in South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, concluded that a small group of companies (such as Monsanto, Cargill, Syngenta, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Walmart and McDonalds) capture small farmers/producers wealth by channeling their production toward a small variety of patented products, such as genetically modified seeds and essential agrochemicals.. Also, as the main buyers of crops, these corporations have the power to fix prices at low levels.

    For ECSN-BRICSAM networks, people from the Global South are particularly vulnerable to corporate capture due to power asymmetries in relation to large economic actors. A third study commissioned by the networks on the capture of growth and politics in emerging economies has shown that the benefits deriving from growth have been mostly captured by economic elites, with inequality rates remaining among the worst in the world. According to the report, elite wealth is acquired through owning and running large raw-material, media and infrastructure companies – all activities that require strong political influence. The most common strategies used by BRICSAM elites, say the authors, are using personal connections to generate private profits from public goods, while taking advantage of the  ‘revolving door’ between business and politics, sponsoring massive public infrastructure projects and funding election campaigns.[1]

    Furthermore, when businesses commit crimes or human rights violations, access to justice is limited by a double “architecture of impunity” – built on international trade and investment agreements, Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms in conjunction with domestic legal systems and policies.

    For the ECSN-BRICSAM networks, voluntary codes of conduct (such as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) and multi-stakeholder approaches (such as the one defended by the Global Redesign Initiative commissioned by the World Economic Forum) are not sufficient to prevent corporate capture of sectors that are essential for the public interest, such as the food and health sectors. On the contrary, as evidenced by the GRI these approaches institutionalize capture. To prevent and combat the prioritizing of private interests over the public interest, civil society networks issued a series of recommendations:

     

    Protect democratic procedures and public institutions by:

    Improving anti-corruption laws with higher penalties to agents of corruption;
    Setting lower limits for personal monetary contributions to parties and promoting balanced and transparent public funding of electoral activities.
    Ensure fiscal justice through equitable tax legislations and remove legal loopholes that allow corporations to evade taxes in emerging economies.

    Ensure transparency regarding the origin of funds for international bodies and organizations.
    Limit and monitor capital flight.
    Ensure social participation in the design and implementation of public policies that aim to protect the public interest.
    Allow access to information and ensure transparency of all decision-making processes affecting the public interest.
    Abandon multi-stakeholder approaches that give corporations the same status as States.
    Adopt international binding mechanisms such as the binding obligations to businesses that are being negotiated at the UN Human Rights Council.

     

    The (ECSN BRICSAM) is a program supported by the European Union aimed at strengthening the collective capacity of multi-thematic civil society organization (CSO) networks across Brazil, Russia,  India,  Indonesia,  China,  South  Africa and Mexico to engage in multi-stakeholder dialogue and  influence global policy-making fora, with a particular focus on issues of inequality.

    For more info regarding the studies of the ECSN-BRICSAM networks, please contact: Eva Matos – (Global Programme Coordinator, ematos@oxfam.org.uk | Fluent in English and Spanish | www. csnbricsam.org)

    [1]Oxfam (2015). For Richer… or Poorer? The Capture of Growth and Politics in Emerging Economies. Available at: https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/ib-for-richer-or-poorer-250915-summ-en.pdf

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  • Will Lasky became a registered member 1 year, 11 months ago

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