Press Conference on Impact of Global Crises on Social Development

4 February 2009

Press Conference on Impact of Global Crises on Social Development

4 February 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


While crafting effective strategies to tackle the current economic meltdown and erratic food and commodity prises, the international community must not back-peddle on commitments to achieve the goal of building an equitable, inclusive and dynamic society where everyone could exercise their rights and responsibilities, the Chair of the forty-seventh session of the Commission for Social Development said today.

“Unless swift action is taken, global crises, be they financial, food or climate related, will have an adverse impact, particularly on the most vulnerable people,” said Kristi Lintonen, Permanent Representative of Finland, during a Headquarters press conference held in conjunction with the Commission’s annual two-week session, which this year focuses on the impact of global crises on social development, and will also consider new ways to further advance social integration.  (For background on the session, please see Press Release SOC/4747.)

The outcome of the 1995 Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development had set out the three major dimensions of social development -- poverty eradication, full employment and social integration –- and now more than ever, she said, the international community must work even harder to build the values, relations and institutions to create a society for all.

Faced with the meltdown of long-dominant financial sectors and its myriad ripple effects, including the subsequent credit crunch and worldwide economic downturn, countries were struggling to cope with growing numbers of working poor, rising unemployment and increased social unrest.  Such impacts were expected to only get worse, as the crises undermined social cohesion and threatened social stability.  To that end, Ms. Lintonen said that social integration was vital to creating an enabling environment for pursuing and achieving internationally greed development goals, such as poverty eradication and broad social development.

She also noted that, even as the effects of the parallel challenges deepened, there had been some significant progress in international cooperation and in the normative framework.  At the global level, she hailed the establishment in 2007 of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, which would discuss the implications of international migration and the mutually beneficial interaction between migration and development.

Recent advances in the normative framework that had positively impacted the social integration agenda included the adoption of the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the adoption of the Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, she added.

Joining Ms. Lintonen at the briefing was Wim Kok, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, who said that systemic failures had sparked the current financial crisis, and the fallout was sure to have a fundamental impact on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the global community’s capacity to address other issues, such climate change.  Deep and urgent reform of the global financial architecture was clearly required, he said, because the institutions entrusted with maintaining and managing the global economic order had proved fragile and incapable of predicting the current crisis.

At the same time, he stressed that workable, long-term solutions must not come at the expense of poor.  Rather, all stakeholders must move quickly to put in place an effective regulatory framework that preserved and promoted market innovation and flexibility, while at the same time provided necessary protection for individuals and communities, particularly the most vulnerable.  To that end, he stressed that the Bretton Woods institutions must be more effective and efficient, and their mechanisms must be responsive to the needs of all countries.

Expressing a concern similar to Ms. Lintonen’s, he said that the “[economic] crisis is sure to affect everyone’s pocket”, and job losses, increased poverty and youth unemployment were bound to ratchet up tensions between minority populations and mainstream society.  Indeed, during times such as these, minorities often became scapegoats for those who, frustrated by structural failures, misdirected their anger, he said.

So it was clear that, if the financial contagion was allowed to spread unchecked, the individual and collective consequences cold be huge, he continued.  With that in mind, it was time to promote the building of shared societies through political leadership, tolerance and working together on common projects.  “There is no ‘Plan B’,” he declared, stressing that all stakeholders must work together to bolster economies, build social cohesion and promote inclusion and integration.  Shared societies made economic sense.  “This is a time not to be afraid, but hopeful for the future,” he said.

Also present was Paula Risikko, Minister of Health and Social Services of Finland, who agreed with the other speakers that social integration was a process of creating an inclusive society where everyone could play their role and where human rights were effectively promoted and protected.  There was a common responsibility for social well-being and inclusion of all, especially to mitigate the impact of global warming and other current crises.

Finland was committed to ensuring social protection on equal grounds.  Its aim was to ensure equal participation and the ability of all people to lead an independent life.  She stressed, at the same time, that Governments could not tackle that job alone, and needed to pursue real and active partnerships with the public sector, private actors and wider civil society.

Responding to questions about the duty of financial institutions and their boards of directors to reign in bad practices, Mr. Kok said that, while it was perhaps too early to give a full account of what had sparked the meltdown of marquee Wall Street institutions, one factor was certainly the dramatic lack of real regulation in the United States financial sector.  Other issues were the bonus and compensation structure of financial firms, as well as a general climate of “buy now pay later” and “the sky is the limit”.

On the food and commodity price spikes that had been much more pronounced six months ago, Mr. Kok said that crisis should neither be ignored nor forgotten, because when economies recovered, the inept machinery that had led to the volatility could kick in again.  The international community would be well advised to take long-term steps to shore up the agricultural sectors, food distribution and food security programmes.  Such programmes cost a lot of money, however, so regulators at every level needed to be careful and to prepare better institutional frameworks to guarantee that the world’s poorest people could gain access to food and energy, as well as credit.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.