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NGOs issue Statement to the G20 on Embedding Human Rights in Financial Regulation

[Cannes, 25 October 2011] As the Group of 20 Leaders prepare to meet in Cannes to discuss and shape global economic policies, 190 organizations and networks from over 52 countries call on hem to give primacy to their duties to respect, protect and fulfill human rights in commitments on financial regulation.

We are writing to the Group of 20 Leaders, in advance of their upcoming Summit in Cannes, to remind them that even in the policies of a most eminently economic nature, their duties to respect, protect and fulfill the economic, social, cultural, civil and political human rights, including the right to development, do not cease, but should take primacy in every commitment they undertake.

In particular, we are demanding action on the following issues on the agenda of the G20:

  • Endorsement of worldwide stimuli measures according to human rights principles;
  • Reforms to prevent speculative activity in financial markets from undermining the enjoyment of human rights;
  • Action to limit the damage to public funding of financial institutions that collapse due to excessive risk-taking
  • Regulations of bank capital requirements consistent with human rights standards;
  • Agreement to increase the relative fiscal pressure on the banking sector and to cooperate to increase transparency and mutual accountability in revenue mobilization;
  • An agreement to drastically reduce greenhouse emissions which contribute to climate change.

Background

More than three years after the beginning of the global financial crisis the world economy faces an uncertain situation. The continuing economic malaise calls into question the real extent of the recovery so highly celebrated last year.

At the same time, the world was at no point close to a “recovery” from the human rights toll of the financial crisis. Poverty and inequality have increased, and economic growth, where it did take place, has been largely jobless, wageless and unevenly distributed to the wealthiest sectors of society. As the world braces for what seems like another coming economic recession, countries and households barely able to cope last recession are now in an even worse situation, with negative consequences for fundamental human rights in rich and poor countries alike.

G20 Leaders’ duties to place human rights norms at the center of their financial policies and regulations cannot be exhausted with a merely rhetorical recognition (however much such recognition would be an improvement over current practice). States’ human rights obligations embedded in the International Bill of Rights require that governments carefully assess their respective choices and courses of action against the human rights consequences in transparent, participatory, non-discriminatory and accountable ways. Only an enduring commitment to respect, protect and fulfill legally-binding human rights obligations enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and core international human rights treaties can provide the basis for reforms to ensure a more sustainable, resilient and just global economy.

Large-scale deprivations of human rights stemming from the financial and economic crises are not inevitable, natural phenomena. The G20 agenda in Cannes in fact provides several actionable opportunities for governments—individually and in concert with one another—to choose alternative, human rights-centered paths to a sustainable economic recovery.

STIMULUS MEASURES: First, the seriousness of the problems threatening the world economy today warrant a cohesive and coordinated response from Group of 20 countries to stimulate their economies. The premature move towards austerity and the consequent reductions in aggregate demand have been the main reasons why the world is falling back into an economic crisis. Austerity policies threaten to continue to deprive people of access to finance, jobs, and services, while their governments for the most part refuse to establish fair systems for the private sector to share the burden of public debt restructurings.

We call on the G20 to implement economic stimulus measures within a human rights framework. Human rights standards and principles provide a framework for the design and implementation of stimuli measures which are participatory, transparent, accountable and non-discriminatory. We are not in favor of blind stimuli measures, especially those that would place new strains on public budgets to benefit private risk-taking. Gender- and environmentally-sensitive public infrastructure programs, transformational universal social protection systems and household debt restructuring that restores spending power, as well as measures to increase disposable income of the poorest, are among the measures that should be undertaken to ensure any recovery benefits those most in need.

SPECULATION IN FINANCIAL MARKETS: Second, in spite of the continued surges in speculative activity in financial markets, there is still limited progress in the regulation of commodity derivatives trading. Near 60 studies have been produced showing that speculation in commodity derivatives is either a good part or the main reason behind the spikes in food and energy prices that have increased hunger and malnutrition.

The Group of 20 should commit to the immediate implementation of reforms to bring Over–the- Counter derivatives to public exchanges, and establish meaningful position limits on derivatives in exchanges under their jurisdiction. The setting of circuit-breakers, compulsory delivery or banning of certain types of derivatives trading, in accordance with human rights standards and principles, should be given explicit individual and collective support.

LARGE AND COMPLEX FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS: Third, regrettably, there is no guarantee that companies that took undue risks will not again have to be bailed out with public funding. Large and complex financial firms, some of them operating in dozens of jurisdictions, have successfully resisted calls to reduce their complexity or size. They are able to profit from the tax and regulatory arbitrage that such position makes possible, while their complexity and size limits the chances that they can be successfully resolved without disrupting vital banking activities in the event of a collapse.

The Group of 20 should undertake measures to reduce the size and complexity of systemically important financial institutions, including through direct regulatory intervention to break up large firms. Strict separation between traditional banking activities such as deposit –taking and credit provision to households and small companies and proprietary trading should be enforced. Cross-border banking resolution agreements should be pursued. Yet, given the presumably long time it will take to develop them, it is urgent to ensure banks are incorporated and separately capitalized in every jurisdiction where they operate.

BANK CAPITAL REQUIREMENTS: Fourth, the reforms to the Basel Agreement on capital requirements amount to too little and are too slow in implementation. Above all, they amount to more of the same–a reliance on a bank capital regulation model that banks have proven they can manipulate to hide the true extent of their risks. Financial companies that have produced record profits in the last decade and that claim to operate on a highly efficient basis due to their large size have no justification for their persistent complaint that they will reduce credit if such capital requirements are implemented.

Governments in the long term should lend support to replacing Basel requirements with a framework for banking regulation that fully recognizes the duty of States to prevent and protect against and provide effective remedy for human rights infringements by private actors, including the financial sector. In the short to medium term, governments must be fully empowered to consider regulations of banking services as one essential tool to enhance enjoyment of human rights for all, including by taking proactive steps to ensure substantive equality in financial regulatory policies to protect the poor and disadvantaged and allow for where necessary the direct engagement of the State in the provision of banking services.

FINANCIAL SECTOR TAXATION: Fifth, governments’ obligations to take steps “to the maximum of their available resources” to fulfill their economic and social rights responsibilities cannot be upheld without a thorough evaluation of the contribution that the financial sector makes to public budgets through taxation. In general, the liberalization of capital of the last two to three decades has meant more indirect and regressive taxes, disproportionately raising fiscal pressure on poorer and middle-income households.

The G20 should take measures which ensure their financial sectors pay their fair share. Governments should commit to transparent, participatory and accountable taxation systems that introduce greater progressivity overall, and increase in particular the relative weight of fiscal pressure on the banking sector. Specifically, we demand G20 members to agree on the implementation of financial transaction taxes and to express a clear commitment to use this newly-generated revenue to fulfill their human rights obligations–at home and abroad. We further call on governments to take decisive steps to cooperate internationally in order to ensure transparency and mutual accountability in domestic revenue mobilization, putting an end to actions or omissions which prevent governments from raising the resources needed to fulfill their human rights obligations.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Lastly, the absence of serious commitments from G20 governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adopt greener technologies is fast becoming a huge human rights issue. Emissions continue to trigger weather-related natural disasters, subjecting vulnerable and marginalised communities to increased risk as well as threatening the earth’s fragile biodiversity.

As the world’s largest economies and emitters of greenhouse gas emissions which are imperiling the planet, it is imperative that G20 governments take the lead in arriving at consensus solutions to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the 17th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at Durban in November-December 2011. A fair, ambitious and binding treaty on addressing climate change is the planet’s last hope which needs to be supported by G20 governments.

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