Where ‘Informal’ means Formal: Notes from The Twelfth Session of Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals

At the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in 2012, the UN member states agreed to launch a process that would help them evolve a set of sustainable development goals that would make recommendations to what should replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This was achieved through the formation of a 30-member Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly members. Simultaneously, a mechanism for civil society and individuals was also developed to enable them to contribute and comment on the goals being developed.

After eleven completed OWG sessions between March 2013 and May 2014, a Zero Draft of the proposed goals and targets was made available to the public on the evening of 2 June 2014. Feedback was sought from the civil society in the form of tweaks made to language, gaps in the proposed set of goals and any other suggestions and recommendations. Urgency was the need of the hour as detailed comments needed to be shared with the representatives of the 30 seats in the week in the run up to and during the OWG. Since there was only one more OWG, this intervention acquired criticality.

How Praxis fits in

Beyond2015 is a global civil society campaign, pushing for a strong and legitimate successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals. It brings together more than 1000 Civil Society Organisations in over 130 countries around the world, including Praxis. Beyond2015 were keen to have a member closely involved with the work of the Participate initiative of Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, to represent their perspectives at the OWG. Participate in turn reached out to Praxis for the same. Praxis was to be part of a breakfast briefing organised with member sates to present some views to the attendees there as well as participate in the open working group sessions.


Responses from civil society had to be collated in a rapid manner and inputs from over 1000 organisations (including Praxis) were condensed by Beyond2015, in time for the OWG. Praxis also simultaneously engaged with the Wada Na Todo Campaign that was representing views of organisations in India and shared some of this feedback with them as well to incorporate into their draft.

The Breakfast Briefing

Beyond 2015 and World Vision co-hosted a breakfast briefing on June 12 2014 in New York, to present the Campaign’s reaction to the document “Introduction and Proposed Goals and Targets on Sustainable Development for the Post-2105 Development Agenda (Zero Draft)”. The meeting was attended by more than 20 people including representatives from the missions of Norway, Switzerland, Korea, Hungary, United States, Canada, Sweden, Guyana, and Brazil. There were also people from UNEP, UNDP and UN-NGLS.

Neva from CAFOD, UK, and Sowmyaa from Praxis presented a statement with some key recommendations and action points to the member states. The role of Praxis included discussing our main work around Post2015 – namely the participatory videos we facilitated (Transgender populations, urban poor communities in Chennai and Delhi as well as sanitation workers); Voice for Change Document series; Digital stories facilitated with various groups and the Ground Level Panel (available in the downloads section of this blog). Taking on from these examples, Praxis reiterated the need for inclusion and participation to ensure that the sustainable development goals should be people-centered and must uphold the principle of “leave no one behind”. Several members states were curious and quite excited about the little they had heard about the GLP and were keen to understand the process better.

The Open Working Group Sessions

The OWG sessions were scheduled from 16 – 20 July. The structure of the meeting was very unclear. The member states were in no mood to concede ground to the civil society representatives. The run-up to the OWG saw some “informal-informals” where the member states were meeting in informal sessions with each other and civil society to discuss and deliberate matters related to the Zero Draft. The structure of these informal-informals was such that these (unlike the name suggested) were closed door sessions for anyone the member states do not want in. This exclusion was usually for representatives from the civil society. These meetings were also not formally documented or taped. The member-states decided to continue this same model for the rest of the OWG, effectively shutting out civil society representatives who were asked to leave the hall.

Civil society groups presented a letter to the co-chairs the following day, expressing their disappointment at the decision and an appeal to reverse the same. While the same could not be accommodated they invited the petitioners to join the assembly as silent observers as a few of them had done the day before.

On the second day, Sowmyaa from Praxis shared a statement on Goal 10 about inequality and reiterated the need for it to be a stand-alone goal. The statement was prepared from inputs from not just Beyond2015 but anyone related to the major groups. A milestone for Beyond2015 was that the co-chairs referred to this statement during the course of the day, to bring it the attention of member states.

Next Steps

Praxis continues to be part of the discussions and deliberations around issues in the Zero draft both with Beyond2015 and with Wada Na Todo and will continue to contribute to thinking to make these sustainable development goals converge with our post2015 development agenda.

Statement to the co-chairs (Excerpts)

We are extremely pleased that the OWG has included a Stand-alone Goal on Equality (Goal 10) in the new Zero Draft. This is good news for everyone concerned with poverty, barriers to development, discrimination against women or various socially excluded groups, human rights, conflict, political and economic instability, lack of progress on climate accords, and more.

We strongly oppose merging of Goals 1 (Poverty) and 10 (Equality). Minimising inequalities is a critically important goal in its own right, well beyond overcoming poverty. A large body of research now shows that many serious problems are caused or made worse by inequality, ranging from crime and conflict through health and mental health problems, to economic instability. Furthermore, there has been much protest and potential unrest due to growing inequalities in countries around the world. Without a Stand-alone Goal on Equality, this important focus is lost.

Throughout the entire set of SDGs, no goal or target should be considered met until it is met for all groups, ensuring that no one is left behind. Failures within certain segments of society must not be allowed to hide behind improved overall average values. Data must be disaggregated for all human populations, subgroups, and minorities, including by geography, urban or rural status, income, gender, racial or ethnic group, sexual orientation, religion, language, disability, age, legal and migration status, and any other needed categories as determined on a country by country basis through participatory democratic input.

Below follow our (civil society organisations’) specific suggestions to the targets proposed under Goal 10 (shown in strikethrough for deletions, and bold for additions):

Proposed goal 10.  Reduce Minimize social, economic and political inequality within and among countries

Reduce inequality among social groups within countries:

10.1 by 2030 eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices and recognize and fulfill the cultural, social, economic, political, and environmental rights for all human populations, subgroups, and minorities

10.2 achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40% of the population that is higher than the national average through  reduce income inequality in all countries such that the post-tax, post-transfer income of the poorest 40% is no less than the post-tax, post-transfer income of the richest 10%

10.3 by 2030 reduce eliminate inequalities of opportunity and minimize inequalities of outcome among all social groups, including economic (income, assets, and access to resources), social, and environmental inequalities

10.4 work towards reversing the decline of the share of labour income in GDP where relevant

10.5 by 2030 ensure, empower and promote the social, political and economic inclusion of the poor, the marginalized and people in vulnerable situations, including indigenous peoples, women, minorities, migrants, persons with disabilities, older persons, children and youth, and all other human populations, subgroups, and minorities

[ADD] Ensure that every person has access to influencing public decision-making on economic and social benefits policy

[ADD] Ensure that every person has access to influencing fundamental decisions within their place of work, including setting of equitable compensation levels

[ADD] Transition to economic systems, structural approaches, and macroeconomic (fiscal and monetary) policies that generate increasing equality rather than inequalities

10.6 promote and respect cultural diversity as congruent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

10.7 ensure the availability and accessibility of high-quality, timely and disaggregated data to ensure monitoring of progress for marginalized groups and people in vulnerable situations, to be disaggregated by geography, urban or rural status, income, gender, racial or ethnic group, sexual orientation, religion, language, disability, age, legal and migration status, and any other needed categories as determined on a country by country basis through participatory democratic input

International actions to reduce inequalities among nations:

10.8     establish measures at global level to reduce inequality among countries, to reduce income inequality for metrics including per capita income, resource use, and carbon output to no more than a 10-fold difference between the richest and poorest nations

10.9    promote strong international institutions, including through the conclusion of reforms for
increasing effective and democratic participation of developing countries in international financial institutions

10.10   improve regulation and accountability of global financial markets and institutions and
strengthen their implementation, transitioning to structural approaches and macroeconomic (fiscal and monetary) policies that generate increasing equality rather than inequalities between nations

10.11   facilitate greater international mobility of labour and ensure workers’ rights for migrant workers while mitigating brain drain

10.12   assist developing countries in attaining long term debt sustainability through coordinated policies aimed at fostering debt financing, debt relief and debt restructuring

ADD: by 2030, eliminate illicit financial flows, including money laundering, mispricing, transnational corruption and bribery, and eradicate cross-border tax evasion, improve and standardize financial reporting standards to increase transparency, including country-by-country reporting of corporate profits, full transparency of global financial transactions, bank holdings and deposits, and beneficial ownership, and increased stolen asset recovery

ADD: by 2030, reform trade systems to promote equality among trade partners, recognizing the need for special and differential treatment of developing countries, and more equal distribution of profits along the value chain, by x% over y number of years

ADD: by 2030, developed nations significantly reduce their water, carbon, cropland and raw material footprints, and developing nations in turn receive the financial and technology transfers required to achieve a good quality of life for all their citizens


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