CSM Comments on Proposed Draft Scope for the HLPE Report : “Multistakeholder Partnerships to Finance and Improve Food Security and Nutrition in the Framework of the 2030 Agenda”
The CSM believes that HLPE Report #13 will be a particularly complex one to produce. The capacity of the HLPE to objectively assess challenges and opportunies involved in Multistakeholder Partnerships will be heavily dependent on the degree of independence and trustworthiness of the Project Team (as well as the Steering Committee). Candidates directly associated or with history of association with existing MSP should not be selected in order to maximize the objectivity (to the extent possible) of the Project Team. Failure to do so will profoundly affect the legitimacy and capacity of the HLPE to run a proper independent assessment. The following are some critical dimensions the Report should address and/or consider:
1. Rights-holders vs. Stakeholders: It is essential to clearly contextualize the report within the reformed CFS, with the human rights framework as its cornerstone. This means that the term ‘stakeholder’ can only be introduced after having clearly framed the primacy of ‘rights-holders’. This means that the use of the term multistakeholder partnerships must be problematized as it often fails to differentiate between those actors operating in the public interest and those working for private corporate interest. The term multistakeholder places all actors in equal standing and suggests they have equal legitimacy to participate in decision making and/or assume certain roles and functions. It is therefore essential to distinguish in particular those actors who are directly affected by hunger and malnutrition and whose human rights must be respected and guaranteed by the State. States have obligations to involve them in decision making processes that affect them whereas the State has no such obligation with respect to corporate actors. When describing partnerships among different actors the different interests, rights and roles of these actors must be adequately diversified and acknowledged rather than being all collapsed under the umbrella of the ‘stakeholder’ concept. Differentiating roles will ensure that the primacy of the participation of rights-holders is ensured and their perspectives are duly factored in. Indeed, States’ ability to ensure the realization of their human rights depends on this;
2. Need to recognize power asymmetries: Inherent in the term multistakeholderism is the assumption that power is shared equally across actors and thus adequate decision-making can be achieved through trust and compromise among equal partners. In reality, there are often great power asymmetries between the actors in a multistakeholder partnership, especially between those groups most affected by malnutrition and hunger and the actors representing corporate interests. These power differentials must be recognized and addressed to ensure that the decision-making that takes place within these partnerships is not unduly influenced by those actors that wield the most power;
3. Questioning the MSP paradigm: There needs to be ample space dedicated to addressing the tensions, controversies and limitations of multistakeholderism. The general positive tone of the concept note suggesting that multistakeholderism is desireable and thus the emphasis is placed on how to properly implement such partnerships is highly questionable as the starting point of the HLPE journey. The scope of this report needs to be much broader in order to truly examine whether or not MSP are indeed an adequate and necessary method for addressing food security and malnutrition. Contemporary examples demonstrate their extreme limitations due to the power they place in the hands of corporate actors and the threat they pose to public-interest decision making. These problems need to be explored openly in this report with room for honest debate and critique.
The report must be open to discussing whether certain partnerships are really needed in the first place (and if so why), what possible alternative options there could be (the current presentation of MSP involving the private sector as the only option is unacceptable) and what safeguards are needed to avoid potential risks within different forms of collaboration. The purpose of the report should not be limited to merely identifying the “conditions of success of MSP” but rather engage in a more fundamental discussion of the MSP paradigm. It is also important that the report emphasizes the need to explore the various actors referred to when talking about “stakeholders”: what interests do they represent; what is their role in society and their legitimacy in carrying out certain functions/ being involved in certain decisions; what power (economic, political) do they have and what are the power dynamics between them, etc.;
4. Impact of MSP on public interest mandate and human rights: To be able to adequately inform policy deliberations within the CFS, the report must place its assessment of the (potential) impact of MSP for food and nutrition security within the framework of the right to food. This means looking at how partnerships with different actors might affect States’/public institutions’ capacity to decide on and implement measures that promote FSN within the progressive realization of the right to food. While there is currently a huge drive towards including the private sector not only in the implementation of FSN programmes but also at the policy making level, there is a huge lacuna with regard to independent studies that assess the impacts of such engagement on public policy, on human rights and on the nature and form of governance. It is paramount that before continuing to promote partnerships with private interest actors (in whatever form and under whatever name) such are assessed with regard to their potential human rights risks, so that effective measures can be taken to address these. The report can contribute to this by reviewing the existing (independent) literature and experiences in this field and also pointing to research gaps. The whole discussion on conflicts of interest and institutional corruption is central when discussing public sector engagement with private interest actors, and must have a central role in the report. Furthermore, the report should assess the profound implications in terms of governance arrangements that some of these partnerships might entail.