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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.

The global supply chains of 50 companies employ only six per cent of people in a direct employment relationship, yet rely on a hidden workforce of 94 per cent of their labour needs, according to new research from the International Trade Union Confederation.

“Just 50 companies including Samsung, McDonalds and Nestle have a combined revenue of $3.4 trillion and the power to reduce inequality. Instead they have built a business model on a massive hidden workforce of 116 million people,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

The ITUC report, Scandal: Inside the global supply chains of 50 top companies released on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos exposes an unsustainable business model, with a global footprint that covers almost every country in the world and profiles 25 companies with headquarters in Asia, Europe, and the United States.

Ministers and senior officials of developed countries agreed mid-February major changes to what can be counted as Official Development Assistance (ODA, or ‘aid’), opening the door for greater use of aid to subsidise private companies. A push by some states for greater aid spending on military and security costs was partly rebuffed, after strong campaigning from civil society organisations, while discussions on how to reduce the huge amount of foreign aid being diverted to cover spending in donor countries to support refugees will culminate later this year. 

Civil society organizations have an opportunity to feed into an official but independent evaluation of the IMF policies and their impact on social protection in the coming weeks. The Bretton Woods Project (a UK-based NGO acting as a watchdog of the IMF and World Bank) will host a consultation with the Independent Evaluation Office of the IMF on the key issues. "This is an invaluable opportunity to influence how the IMF's record over the last decade on social protection will be evaluated in a report to the IMF executive board that is independent" explains the BWP in its newsletter. In the draft issues paper the IEO quotes from ILO work, indicating an appetite to critically examine the IMF's record.

The widening rich-poor gap is recognised as a major social and political problem, but what measures can be taken nationally and internationally to address this issue?

Economic inequality is now identified as one of the biggest challen­ges of our time.

Much will depend on the capacity and determination of civil society to leverage the necessary political will opines.

A  rare sense of euphoria permeated the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in New York. The multitude of events that have been taking place on First Avenue and beyond had a party atmosphere. And it was not only government delegates but many civil society activists who negotiated for systemic change that celebrated the new agenda that promises transformative change for sustainable development. Yet will implementation actually bring real change?

The Paris deal recognises the reality of the climate threat, but only takes us part of the way. Climate change is already destroying lives and livelihoods with more than 2.6 million people displaced by extreme weather events and changing seasons. This will only get worse.

The Paris decisions acknowledge the challenges and move global action forward, but while the Summit conclusions refer to the target of a 1.5-degree limit, the capacity to leverage ambition on the scale required to stabilise the planet is still a question for the future.

“The final Paris Agreement is a nail in the coffin for justice for LDCs”, said Azeb Girmai, climate lead for LDC Watch, the platform of civil society organisations in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

“We have gradually seen the text change from the long-standing ‘polluter pays principle’, where developed countries are obliged to finance adaptation and mitigation to help developing countries deal with climate chaos to one where the wealthiest countries simply refused to commit any climate finance. In the final agreement, “new and additional” climate finance committed in the 1992 Convention has now been dropped out”.

A rare sense of euphoria permeated the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in New York this weekend. The multitude of events that have been taking place on First Avenue and beyond had a party atmosphere. And it was not only government delegates but many civil society activists who negotiated for systemic change that celebrated the new agenda that promises transformative change for sustainable development. Yet will implementation actually bring real change?

The Women’s Major Group, bringing together over 600 national and international women’s CSOs, continues to be actively engaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They want to contribute to the success of the 2030 Agenda, and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in all countries, and help achieve real transformative change towards gender equality, human rights, and responsible and equitable stewardship of the earth’s climate and natural resources. In that sense of a constructive contribution by the women’s organisations. They expressed that although it is good that many different people have become engaged in spreading the word about the 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs, the group we call on leadership from the UN to avoid trivialization and over-­‐simplification in the main messages to the public. The need to maintain integrity and forward momentum of the SDGs in substance and scope in all messages coming from the UN.

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