SDG Watch Europe welcomes the European Economic and Social Committee’s (EESC) recommendations on the implementation of the SDGs in and by the EU. The Various Interest Group has published the recommendations after its recent conference “The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: a new frontier of rights and progress for the EU” to which several members of SDG Watch Europe contributed.
We agree with the EESC that the EU must show international leadership while the Agenda 2030 must become the strategic framework for the future of Europe. We share the EESC’s concern that the EU is still lacking an ambitious overarching European Strategy for sustainable development that would ensure a holistic, coordinated and systematic approach, and put sustainable development at the core of all EU programmes, policies, actions and financial instruments.
Moreover, we also share the EESC call that civil society must be part of the full implementation cycle of the SDGs including designing implementation policies, participation in governance frameworks, as well as monitoring and review.
However, SDG Watch Europe goes further in several of its demands, such as:
Corporate accountability: SDG Watch Europe is very critical of the role of business in the implementation of the SDGs. Although it is clear that we need the business sector to achieve the goals, the EESC focuses one-sidedly on the “pivotal role” of business to deliver on the Agenda 2030 through investment and technological innovation. Many of the current business activities cause negative environmental and social impacts that undermine sustainable development: they are linked to the depletion of natural resources and severe pollution, they make profits due to weak environmental regulation and low labour standards which further increases inequalities, and benefit from impunity and the lack of access to justice for victims of labour rights violations or negative health impacts. Policy makers need to understand the need for clear rules for business conduct such as mandatory environmental and human rights due diligence as well as access to justice for victims of abuses and clear corporate accountability mechanisms. SDG Watch Europe supports the adoption of an international Treaty on Business and Human Rights.
Sustainable Development as a business opportunity: The EESC argues that business has to recognise sustainable development as a business opportunity, but the reality is that in many cases going sustainable will not lead to more but less profit: paying living wages to workers, sourcing fair and sustainable agricultural products, paying adequate taxes throughout global values chains or taking over the costs to remediate negative environmental impacts are not necessarily a “business opportunity” but a responsibility or even a liability. Believing that the implementation of the SDGs is always linked to business opportunities will undermine the realisation of all goals.
Trade and investment agreements: isolated chapters on sustainable development will not be enough to make global trade more sustainable. Trade and investment agreements as such – their whole purpose – need to be in line with the objectives of the Agenda 2030. Moreover, we need clear assessments of the impact that new agreements have on global trade volumes and the possible further increase of resource use, on pollution and emissions as well as on raising inequalities.
Reduction of resource use: SDG Watch Europe welcomes the EESC’s call on the EU to take steps to reduce its resource use and its global environmental and social footprint; however, the target must be set more clearly: the current over-consumption and excessive use of natural resources has to be reversed and the EU needs to reduce its resource use in absolute terms to reach a fair environmental footprint – becoming more resource efficient is not enough.
SDG Watch Europe agrees with the EESC that civil society is key for the successful implementation of the SDG. However, when European institutions set up stakeholder engagement mechanisms, such as the EC’s Multi-Stakeholder Platform on the Agenda 2030, civil society must have the right to be self-organised in its contributions. Outreach to civil society cannot be facilitated through the EESC alone. Moreover, if the EESC was to organise national debates in EU Member States to monitor progress on implementing the UN 2030 Agenda to include civil society views, the rules of such consultations would have to ensure a truly participatory and transparent process.
SDG Watch Europe acknowledges the important role the EESC is playing in promoting the ambitious implementation of the SDG in and by the EU and in pushing the European institutions to take the Agenda 2030 more seriously by its continuous work on a more sustainable Europe.