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Trade Unions at the OECD-DAC High Level Meeting in Paris, 18-19 February 2016

19 February 2016

The trade union movement was recently represented at the High Level Meeting of the DAC (HLM) through the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC). John Evans, General Secretary of TUAC, and Paola Simonetti, Coordinator for the Trade Union Development Cooperation Network (TUDCN), were able to convey trade union messages and priorities to the High Level Officials from DAC Member Countries and beyond, who were in attendance.

The crowded one and a half day HLM agenda covered four issues related to the DACs work, with some important decisions which will affect how ODA is measured and used, emerging from the meeting. The outcomes of the meeting can be found in the DAC HLM Communique.

Topics included were the following:

1. The role of the DAC/development cooperation in achieving the 2030 Agenda
2. A new DAC in a changing world—exploring reform of the DAC
3. Modernising the ODA measurement, including for Private Sector Instruments, Peace and Security Costs, and Total Official Support for Development
4. The role of ODA in addressing the refugee crisis
Of these agenda items the latter three required decisions by the meeting.

The first item on the agenda offered an opportunity to exchange views on how the DAC and the OECD more generally could support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. While no decision was taken under this agenda item, it allowed DAC Members to suggest priorities for future DAC work in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals. From the side of the trade union movement emphasis was placed on employment related goals, giving particular attention to the achievement of Goal 8 which includes decent work. In this respect, the Swedish proposal for a Global Deal, which focuses on the role of social dialogue in pursuit of decent work and the achievement of Goal 8 was specifically highlighted.

The discussion and decision on the reform of the DAC is part of an ongoing exercise which began some years ago under the leadership of DAC Chair Eckhard Deutscher. The main components of the debate have not evolved a great deal since the initial exercise, which focus in large part on the DACs engagement with key partners and constituencies. There have however been developments in the overall development cooperation architecture to be considered in the context of the DAC reform debate. Most notably, is the emergence of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation which evolved from the DAC Subsidiary Body the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness—which provides a space for donors, partners and constituencies to debate similar issues to those taken up in the DAC. Understandably then, this gives rise to a number of questions about what the purpose of the reflection exercise would be given changing contexts, which was raised by the union movement during the meeting. Ultimately, the meeting concluded on this debate with an agreement to convene a Panel (hopefully, High Level) to take in all current considerations and propose a way forward on the issue of DAC reform.

The most complex, challenging and politically contentious discussion focussed on the modernisation of the ODA measure. This debate had three different components which aimed to reach agreement on (1) how to measure ODA to Private Sector Instruments, (2) how to measure development related Peace and Security costs as ODA, and (3) what are the next steps on the Total Official Support for Sustainable Development measure. Reflections on these are as follows:

1) While the technical specifics on what should be measured as ODA when dealing with Private Sector Instruments are still to be defined and agreed, the DAC HLM agreed on the general criteria of what should and shouldn’t be considered as ODA (for example profits generated by ODA “investments” will not be considered ODA). The agreement is certainly a concern and has the potential to further drive ODA away from traditional “public goods” programs and projects by incentivizing ODA towards the private sector (or proponents would argue to avoid dis-incentivizing ODA towards the private sector). Much will rest in the finer (and considerably more complicated) technical details of the measure (see Eurodad’s analysis of the HLM outcome for a deeper dive in to the technical specifics). For our part we argued that such an approach has great and inherent risks, and that ODA to Private Sector Instruments must at a minimum ensure, unequivocally, compliance with international norms and standards. Particular emphasis was placed on the fact that the current mandate and practices of the Development Finance Institutions do not serve to the development objectives that are pre-requisite of ODA eligibility. Citing a lack of worker’s representatives in the boards of DFIs, which comprise mainly government and private sector representatives there is a concern for a lack of commitment to and accountability in promoting decent working conditions. Consequently. Involving the social partners through social dialogue mechanisms, both in donor and receiving countries would be crucial to ensure accountability and ownership.

2) The decision on modernising the ODA measure to include development related peace and security costs was a very contentious debate throughout its life cycle. Many governments along with CSOs who mobilized strongly around this issue, were concerned about the potential implications of subsidizing security forces with development finance. While the changes to this measure ultimately ended up being fairly innocuous (as compared to existing principles for measurement), the overall debate has exposed some very serious risks to how development finance may be utilized down the road, given what was on the table.

3) Efforts have been underway to develop the measure Total Official Support for Sustainable Development, which aims to assess at the ‘catalytic power’ of ODA, by looking at finance leveraged by ODA, blending instruments and other types of innovative financing schemes supported by ODA. The decision on this was simply to mandate the OECD DAC secretariat to continue its work to develop the measure.

The final discussion at the DAC HLM focussed on the increasingly urgent topic of financing the refugee crisis. Current reporting allows donors to include ‘in donor costs’ like spending to support refugees as ODA. The debate did not result in any notable agreement other than to “to improve the consistency, comparability, and transparency of our reporting of ODA–eligible, in-donor refugee costs, by aligning the respective methods for calculating these costs”. The union movement gave a broader perspective on the crisis highlighting the importance of identifying and addressing root causes, and in so doing, emphasized that ODA be used for the development purposes as intended (and avoid conflating humanitarian and development aid).