Ms. Elisa Torrenegra and Mr. Alain Coheur, co-chairs of the Social and Solidarity Forum International,
Fellow panelists, Mr. Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights of the European Commission,
Mr. Vic Van Vuuren, Director of the Enterprise Department of the ILO on statistics of cooperatives and Chairman of the UN Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy (UNTFSSE),
and Mr. Alain Deneault, Program Director, Collège International de Philosophie,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking Ms. Elisa Torrenegra and Mr. Alain Coheur, co-chairs of the Social and Solidarity Forum International, for organizing this year’s series of Mont Blanc Meetings.
My intervention today will highlight the need to re-focus our approach to development on people and their wellbeing in order to recover better from the multiple crises we face and be back on track to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. I will share concrete policy options where the social and solidarity economy can make a contribution.
In a world where many are beginning to believe that the social contract has been broken, inequalities are rising sharply in many countries, and COVID-19 is causing human suffering, re-setting socioeconomic policies to promote people-centered development is of paramount importance.
The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by world leaders in 2015 is the roadmap to realizing a future of shared prosperity and protection of the planet. Yet even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was not on track towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. There was some progress in areas such as fewer children and youth being out of school; a decline in the incidence of many communicable diseases; improved access to safely managed drinking water; and an increase in women’s representation in leadership roles. However, the number of people suffering from food insecurity was on the rise and the damage to the natural environment continued at an alarming rate. High levels of inequality persisted in all regions of the world.
Of great concern is the impact of COVID-19 on the overarching goal of poverty eradication. Although poverty rates had been steadily declining since 1998, an increase is now projected for this year as an estimated 71 million additional people will fall into extreme poverty due to COVID-19. Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are expected to see the largest increases in extreme poverty, with an additional 32 million and 26 million people, respectively, living below the international poverty line.
This pandemic is the most challenging crisis the world has faced since the Second World War. It is a global health crisis unlike any other — one that is spreading human suffering, destabilizing the global economy and societies and upending the lives of billions of people around the globe. It is a threat to all of humanity and we need to work united and in solidarity if we want to succeed and build back better.
The United Nations is particularly concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on disadvantaged and vulnerable social groups such as migrants, women, refugees, youth, older persons, indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities, and those in low-income groups. Vulnerable populations in countries with weaker health systems, poor social protection nets, or facing existing humanitarian crises are at great risk.
At this challenging moment, our world is as strong as the weakest health system. Global solidarity is not only a moral imperative, it is in everyone’s interests. The social and solidarity economy (SSE) has a very important role to play in restoring hope and opportunities for all.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Even as we combat this pandemic with emergency measures and economic stimulus programmes, the world needs to turn its attention to long-term recovery and strategies for rebuilding our societies better, making them more resilient to withstanding shocks in the future on a more sustainable basis.
In this regard, the United Nations Economist Network recently published a report titled “Shaping the Trends of Our Times.” The report tracks key mega trends that will determine our future and provides some policy options for steering these trends to benefit humanity. One main policy option is the promotion of the circular economy to mitigate against climate change.
The European Commission recently adopted its second strategy on promoting the circular economy, following the success of the first strategy. On this I would like to commend the Commission and Commissioner Schmit for being at the forefront of concerted efforts to steer European producers to adopting the circular economy model.
In a circular economy, products are designed to be durable and to be recycled and re-used for further production. Materials for new products are made from old products. As much as possible, everything is reused, remanufactured, recycled back into a raw material. By 2025, around $1 trillion could be saved in materials under circular business models. National economies, entrepreneurs and employees will reap benefits through forming new businesses and creating new jobs in resource recovery and remanufacturing.
This echoes the endorsement of the circular economic model by the UN General Assembly in its 2018 resolution on “Industrial Development Cooperation”.
The circular economy primarily addresses two of the three dimensions of the SDGs, the environment and the economy. The social dimension of the SGDs are at the heart of the business model of the social and solidarity economy with concerns for people, community and the planet as objectives beyond corporate profits. If business entities operating in the social and solidarity economy also adopt to the circular economy model, this will produce a comprehensive model that is efficient and distributes wealth and opportunity to the many, not just the few owners of capital.
Prominent within the SSE umbrella, for example, are cooperatives, that are member-owned and controlled and like the UN people-centred, and have a double bottom line as profitable business organizations that also have care for their communities and members’ interests as central to their operations.
Across the world, cooperatives promote sustainable development in all its three dimensions — social, economic and environmental. They have a significant presence in both developed and developing countries, serving more than 1 billion members or clients. As a group, they employ more than 100 million people worldwide.
The top twenty cooperatives in the world together have an aggregate turnover close to US $640 billion, demonstrating that cooperatives are a significant economic force that can contribute to sustainable development.
These are pre-pandemic figures, so the situation is likely to be somewhat different today. Based on experience from previous crises such as the 2007-2008 global financial and economic crisis, cooperatives are more resilient than their profit-driven counterparts.
Moreover, during the current pandemic, healthcare provided by cooperatives has been at the forefront of providing services. Health cooperatives are prevalent in many countries of the world, providing quality services to its membership and safe working conditions for health professionals. Hundreds of millions of households worldwide, including those in remote and marginalized communities, enjoy access to health care thanks to cooperatives.
We are living in challenging times. The pandemic hits hard the poorest nations because of pre-existing conditions related to existing economic and financial models. The Secretary-General made it clear that we must seize the opportunity within this crisis to advance new approaches and new economic models that support the achievement of the SDGs.
The United Nations will continue its work supporting Member States in their efforts to accelerate the implementation of internationally agreed development goals. These include the SDGs, the Paris Agreement on climate action and the Addis Ababa agreement on financing for development.
If all commitments made in these global agreements are fully implemented, in line with the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs, the world will recover from the current pandemic better, stronger, more resilient and more connected.
The Social and Solidarity Economy is a very important part of this fabric of global efforts.
This is a watershed moment. It is a time for action.
Let me conclude by encouraging us all to galvanize our collective strengths and resources to pioneer innovative approaches to building an inclusive and sustainable future for all.