Switzerland

The experience of Voluntary National Reviews and of Civil Society shadow (or spotlight) reporting.
How it is key for meaningful participation and accountability

The side event "SDG Implementation at National Level: What’s the Point of National Reports?" was held on July 17 in New York, during the meeting of the High Level Political Forum of the UN. The debate focused on voluntary national reports (VNRs) and parallel “shadow” or “spotlight” reports generated by civil society organizations (CSOs) on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to UN estimates, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require an investment of the order of US$ 5,000 to 7,000 billion – annually!1 The need for financing seems enormous, but is put into a certain perspective if we remember that annual global economic output (measured as the combined gross domestic products of all countries) is estimated by the World Bank at around US$ 76,000 billion. The need for funding must also be set off against the funds that are looking for investment opportunities. These naturally include pension fund assets, which by their nature have a long investment horizon. In 2014, the assets under management at the 300 largest public and private pension funds in the world totalled US$ 15,400 billion. And in 2016, assets invested by Swiss pension funds alone stood at CHF 823.9 billion. Enormous sums of money pass through Switzerland’s financial centre overall. For example, in 2018 there is more than CHF 6,170 billion held in securities in customer accounts with Swiss and Liechtenstein banks – assets that are used in investment advisory and/or asset management services.

Swiss civil society – organized in the Platform Agenda 2030 – presented its report entitled «How sustainable is Switzerland? Implementing the 2030 Agenda from a civil society perspective».

Platform Agenda 2030 – Press Release of 3 July 2018

Figures released on 10 April by the Federal Council show that Switzerland has clearly missed its own development assistance target. The country is thus moving further away from the international goal of allocating 0.7% of gross national income to development funding. While this allocation remained just about stable across OECD countries, in Switzerland it dropped from 0.53% to 0.46%. A hefty 14% contraction.

To show that it takes the 2030 Agenda seriously, Switzerland needs to look at the damaging impact of its international financial and fiscal policies, argues Eva Schmassmann, from the Swiss coalition of development organizations Alliance Sud. "With over 3,000 billion USD of managed foreign assets, Switzerland – as a financial center – is the largest offshore haven in the world and one of the preferred low tax areas for global companies. Developing countries are losing billions in income that they could be using to implement sustainable development because of legal and illegal tax optimization techniques".

SRF/swissinfo.ch

Also in Switzerland the "refugee crisis" is causing a stir. A few facts would be a useful input to this discussion.

"No one leaves home and family just like that. You must be so desperate that you are not even fazed by the thought of drowning in the Mediterranean. What matters is that you have tried to find a better life elsewhere and to avoid turning to crime, despite adversity."

The negative impact on developing countries of the secrecy of the Swiss banking system, which encourages damaging tax evasion, corruption and illicit financial flows, was highlighted by civil society when Switzerland submitted its report about the 2030 Agenda to the United Nations. "Switzerland continues to host the largest offshore financial centre in the world" says the alternative report of Aliiance Sud. In 2015, Swiss banks administered foreign assets in the total amount of 2,300 billion francs.

In December 2015, the Swiss Federal Parliament approved the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a "new universal framework in efforts to promote human prosperity and sustainable economic development and protect the environment both at home and around the world". However, in October 2015, three weeks after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, the Government austerity programme reduced the 2017-2019 budget for international cooperation by 540 million Swiss francs (CHF), following a reduction of over 115 million CHF in 2016. Thus, despite official commitments, Switzerland saves on the back of the poorest and moves ever further away from the agreed target (0.7% of GNI to ODA). Given the apparent lack of political will in allocating adequate resources for appropriate measures at home and abroad , this report analyses the extent to which Switzerland is institutionally and strategically prepared for effective planning and implementation of the2030 Agenda.

A few weeks ago the Finance Committee of the National Council moved for Switzerland's official development assistance to be reduced to 0.4% or even 0.3% of gross national income over the coming years. That would mean cutting expenditure on actual development cooperation abroad by 30% to 50%. Care of asylum seekers here at home, which Switzerland absurdly counts as development spending, would then account for one fourth to one third of this expenditure.

In the National Council itself, the Finance Committee's radical cost-cutting proposals will hardly find a majority. It transpires from centre-right circles, however, that a call will indeed be made for cost-cutting in long-term development programmes in order to release more funds for short-term emergency humanitarian aid. The call will also be for development cooperation to be more closely tied to Switzerland's own interests, namely to migration partnerships and agreements for the repatriation of asylum seekers.

Tax avoidance and evasion represent a systemic drain on government revenues needed for the fulfilment of women’s rights and gender equality. As the international human rights system begins to grapple with the consequences of tax policy for human rights, a groundbreaking initiative is about to shine a bright light into the dark corners of financial secrecy.

Switzerland – arguably the world’s most important tax haven — may soon face scrutiny from the United Nations human rights system over its role in facilitating cross-border tax abuse. A coalition of civil society organizations has asked the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) — the UN body mandated to oversee compliance with governments’ legal obligations related to women’s human rights — to examine the extra-territorial impacts of Switzerland’s opaque financial legislation on women’s rights and gender equality, particularly in developing countries.

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