information and news on accountability.

Fight Against Homelessness in Italy
Italy is located along the Mediterranean coastline. The European country has a population of more than 60 million people with an average of 95 million tourists visiting every year. What many are not aware of is that immigrants, women and children are especially vulnerable to experiencing homelessness in Italy. The fight against homelessness in Italy has become a more prominent issue. Police began fining homeless people in the street for not following the lockdown measures that the country implemented. Thus, the Italian Federation of Organizations for Homeless People has appealed for greater leniency from the state.

The organization wrote, “They cannot stay at home because they do not have a home. There is an economic sanction which they cannot pay, and they have to go to the magistrate. They are not on the street for fun.”

Historical Context of Homelessness in Italy

Though worsened by the pandemic, homelessness in Italy has long been an issue. Italy is a developed nation with a GDP that expectations have determined will be around $1920 billion in 2021. However, homelessness has worsened due to the economic crisis. In 2016, homelessness impacted 50,724 people in Italy. Since 2013, this number has increased by roughly 3,000. Furthermore, 5.1 million people were living in extreme poverty in 2017. Due to its geographical location, Italy receives an influx of immigrants. As a result, 58% of Italy’s impoverished population are immigrants. In 2017, 117,153 people arrived in Italy by ship. About 67% of these migrants use Caritas, a counseling service offering advice regarding homelessness. Homelessness impacts the region of Lombardia in northern Italy the most. According to Italian Caritas, there is an increase in youth homelessness as well.

The Good News

There are various organizations that are striving to fight homelessness in Italy. For example, the Baobab Experience is an organization that previously aimed to find shelter for 120 people who slept in Piazzale Spadolini (Tiburtina Station) and has continued to provide hospitality for the homeless population in Rome. Additionally, it has advocated that the homeless receive health checks, beginning with migrants who do not have residency permits. Many of these migrants avoid hospitals in fear of detainment, so this would allow them to check their health without those consequences.

The Baobab Experience emerged in 2015 as a result of a migratory emergency when 35,000 migrants passed through Baobab, located in Via Cupa, Rome. More than 70,000 people have passed through the camps that the organization has since established. Thanks to private donations, the Baobab Experience also supports individuals with medical and legal assistance. Furthermore, the organization provides water, food, clothing and an opportunity for leisure. Many of the migrants travel through Italy to reach other countries, however, others are asylum seekers, often must wait in the streets for months before any legal practice can begin.

Further Efforts

Other NGOs such as Asgi, Naga, Magistratura Democratica and Fondazione Migrantes have called on the government to protect vulnerable migrants and homeless people. The organizations argue that these people lack sufficient protection from COVID-19 and protecting them will improve public health. Additionally, the NGOs have requested authorities shut down large migrant reception centers, enable access to the international protection system, accept homeless people into appropriate facilities and create alternatives to detention centers.

Although the fight against homelessness in Italy remains a serious problem, especially for marginalized groups such as migrants, women and children, NGOs and similar organizations keep the government accountable and provide hope for all of those impacted. By supporting such organizations that positively impact the lives of thousands, we can all contribute to eliminating homelessness in Italy.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Thai Fishing Industry
In recent weeks, Thailand experienced a new wave of COVID-19 cases originating from a large seafood market near Bangkok. The Prime Minister of Thailand wasted no time in blaming the outbreak on human smuggling networks and illegal immigrants. Most of those working at this particular market are from neighboring Myanmar. This ongoing outbreak brings Thailand’s fishing industry back into focus. The industry faces international pressure to address findings of horrific working conditions, unfair wages and forced labor. This article discusses the importance of the Thai fishing industry, the human rights abuses uncovered in recent years and what some are doing to address these issues.

Thai Fishing Industry

The Thai fishing industry exports more than $6 billion worth of products annually and employs more than 800,000 people. It is the world’s third-largest seafood exporter and the world’s leading exporter of shrimp. The industry came under fire in the E.U. in 2014 due to reports uncovering widespread forced labor, worker abuses and environmental degradation in the industry.

Burmese immigrants represent a majority of those working in the Thai fishing industry, followed by a smaller percentage of Thais, Cambodians and Laotians. Workers on fishing vessels are exclusively men, while men and women each work in the seafood processing sector. There is a mixture of regular and irregular workers, which makes ascertaining the true number of immigrants in the fishing industry difficult. About 3 million labor migrants legally live in Thailand and an estimated two million more are undocumented.

Poor Working Conditions

Working conditions on Thai fishing vessels are notoriously challenging. In multiple reports, workers discuss working 18-20 hour days with inadequate food, water and medical supplies. Between 14% and 18% of migrants report being victims of forced labor. Among these victims of human trafficking, over half report seeing a coworker killed in front of them. Threats from employers and beatings are common, along with working at sea for years at a time without being allowed to leave the vessel. These conditions affect all nationalities in the Thai fishing industry, but undocumented immigrants are the most vulnerable to mistreatment.

Solutions

Although much work is necessary to address issues in the Thai fishing industry, Thailand has been largely receptive to suggestions that organizations such as the ILO and other national and international human rights NGOs have made. The government has improved legal frameworks and compliance measures for fishing companies. Additionally, wages have increased and housing conditions are improving, according to respondents in a recent ILO survey released in 2020.

Specific laws that have gone into place include the elimination of recruitment fees that workers pay, banning the practice of employers withholding identity documents from workers and banning child labor in the fishing industry. Going forward, regional compliance will be essential in enforcing these legal frameworks. Thailand is attempting to set that precedent in the ASEAN region. In response, the E.U. lifted its “yellow card” rating for the industry and continues to accept seafood imports.

The Labor Protection Network

For more than 15 years, the Labor Protection Network (LPN) has been spearheading efforts to clean up the Thai fishing industry. LPN conducts direct action raids on illegal fishing boats, provides short- and long-term shelter for victims and educates children in its centers. Additionally, LPN has brought international attention to the industry through its advocacy campaigns. A notable part of these efforts is the appearance of co-founder Patima Tungpuchayakul in the documentary “Ghost Fleet.” In 2017, Tungpuchayakul received a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in human rights.

Each year, LPN also provides legal assistance to more than 3,000 migrants. It provides assistance in Thai, Burmese, Khmer or Lao, depending on migrants’ needs. Victims of human trafficking in Thailand have a right to government protection and legal assistance. LPN plays a crucial role in identifying victims of human trafficking that grants these protections, as the Thai authorities sometimes struggle to identify victims through its enforcement procedures.

Through the work of the government, LPN and other NGOs, the Thai fishing industry is improving its standards to meet international demands. With this spotlight on the human rights issues involved in the industry, funding and monitoring remain critical to building on current progress.

Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Malaysia
Malaysia currently has over 212,000 people trapped in human trafficking. The government has vowed to do something about it, but as of 2020, efforts to control trafficking were not tremendously successful. According to Reuters, only 140 convictions concerning human trafficking in Malaysia have occurred out of 1,600 investigations between 2014 to 2018. People come from Indonesia and Bangladesh in hopes of a promising future but end up experiencing exploitation in unpaid labor or sex trafficking. Often, traffickers tell victims that they will receive decent-paying jobs such as a maid and then the traffickers force them into sex trafficking.

Prosecution of Traffickers

Malaysia launched its separate trafficking court in 2018 to help reduce this crime. However, as of March 2018, it cleared only 26 cases within the first 15 months. However, a 2017 court addressing sex trafficking cases with children saw a total of over 300 cases in one year.

In 2020, a significant increase in efforts to stop human trafficking in Malaysia occurred. These efforts included numerous changes, including finding two volunteer victim assistance specialists that helped work with over 100 victims. The Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, even hosted the first-ever national conference on anti-trafficking in 2019. There was also a higher effort on identifying more victims than previous years, increasing the level of traffic specialist prosecutors and the creation of a victim processing standard. Overall, in 2020, Malaysia saw an increase in identifying victims, with 2,229 potential victims and 82 confirmed victims—55 of whom were adult women.

Malaysia and TVPA Recommendations

Even with the significant improvement, the government’s efforts are still lacking, resulting in the conviction of fewer traffickers in 2020. The number of investigations that authorities in Malaysia pursue is significantly low in comparison to the scale of the problem. The government has failed to prosecute those complicit with human trafficking and instead, chose to allow for release due to corruption in the government. Malaysia did not make it public that it was investigating this problem. Additionally, inadequate victim services resulted in victims not staying in Malaysia for court proceedings, causing authorities to drop their cases.

 Through the Trafficking in Persons Report, Malaysia received a ranking on the Tier 2 Watchlist. This means that while it has not successfully eliminated human trafficking, it is making significant strides to do so. If a country shows that it is making significant efforts to meet a minimum standard for TVPA (Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of The 2000s), it will be allowed to stay at the tier it is currently at. These tiers indicate how much effort a country puts toward stopping human trafficking.

Tier one countries are countries with governments that fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards. Tier one countries are ones that make a continuous effort to prevent human trafficking. Meanwhile, in Tier two countries, governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance. Finally, Tier three are countries that do not comply with TVPA’s standards and are not making an effort to do so.

Tiers can negatively affect countries. For example, Tier 3 countries often do not receive aid and other support that can better the country. Instead, they do not receive any help until they can achieve a better tier. As a result, it is important for countries to strive to a better tier.

Malaysia’s Standing

Malaysia is currently on the Tier 2 Watchlist on TVPA’s scales because it is continuing to prove that it is willing to work on the issue. According to TVPA standards and the U.S. State Department, the Malaysian government should take various steps to help reduce human trafficking in Malaysia.

The Malaysian government needs to provide the funding and training necessary to have more government-sanctioned officials available. If Malaysia has more government officials, it should be able to lower victim counts. More work is necessary regarding victim identification and Malaysia should better emphasize the need to locate potential traffickers.

It is also important for victims to be able to leave special housing promptly. Malaysia implemented the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (ATISOM) Act which allows victims court-ordered protection where they end up receiving a placement for 21 to 90 days depending on their situation. Malaysia is working on allowing victims to leave shelters unchaperoned and contact others outside shelters through telephone. This should allow victims the opportunity to slowly integrate back into their normal lives.

Several steps are occurring to stop human trafficking in Malaysia. Crackdowns on corrupt officials will allow Malaysia to help protect victims. Hopefully, it will also help find more potential victims and bring them to safety.

– Claire Olmstead
Photo: Flickr

Aid Transparency Index Improves Development Data
Publish What You Fund: The Global Campaign for Assistance and Development Transparency, an NGO watchdog, created the Aid Transparency Index in 2010 to compare the levels of transparency among aid agencies. Today, it is the only independent measurement for transparency among major development agencies. It aims to improve the efficacy of development assistance by refining the quality of data that donors make public.

How Does it Work?

Donors that are part of the Aid Transparency Index have to meet at least three of four requirements, which are:

  1. The organization has to be in majority public ownership, with one or more governments as shareholders.
  2. Its main purpose must be either to provide development finance and/or aid across the world or to oversee the administration of these resources.
  3. It must play a leading role in setting finance and/or aid policy in its home country, sector or region.
  4. Its budget or resources must be at least $1 billion per year.

The donor’s commitment to transparency is measured by the existence of legislation or disclosure policies, intentions for International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) publication and the promotion of information access, use and re-use.

The Aid Transparency Index takes into account 35 indicators to monitor aid transparency, which have been selected based on the IATI Standard. The Index collects most of its information from organization websites, the IATI Registry or from national data platforms. Two of the 35 indicators collect information from other data sources for assessment purposes.

The 2020 Index

The latest index revealed that there has been a great improvement in the donors’ overall transparency since 2018. More than half of the donors on the list now rank as “good” or “very good.” This results from an increase in data quantity and quality in the IATI Standard, which has made data more centralized and accessible.

Eleven donors are now in the “really good” (meaning in between the “good” and “very good”) category, which constitutes an increase of four from 2018. Also, 15 donors are now in the category of “good,” two more than two years ago. These are the organizations with the highest ranks in the 2020 Aid Transparency Index:

  1. Asian Development Bank (ADB) — Sovereign Portfolio with a ranking of 98.0/100.
  2. World Bank, International Development Association (IDA) with a ranking of 97.1/100.
  3. UNDP with a ranking of 96.6/100.
  4. African Development Bank (AfDB) – Sovereign Portfolio with a ranking of 95.5/100.
  5. Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) with a ranking of 95.4/100.
  6. UNICEF with a ranking of 92.9/100.
  7. The United States, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) with a ranking of 92.1/100.
  8. Global Fund with a ranking of 86.5/100.
  9. The United Kingdom, Department for International Development (DFID) with a ranking of 85.4/100.
  10. Canada, Global Affairs with a ranking of 80.9/100.

Addressing Shortfalls

Despite these improvements, gaps still exist between donor publications and their projected outcomes. Many organizations publish their objectives, but only a minority also publish information on the projects’ performances and evaluations. As a result, there are limitations to measuring the effectiveness and value of financial spending in development assistance.

So, to further improve development aid data, Publish What You Fund provides a series of recommendations to donor countries. This includes sharing more information on project results, publishing project budget documents and increasing the participation of stakeholders in partner countries. Altogether, this will contribute to building trust and increasing available information.

Why is it Important?

Today, billions of dollars of aid and assistance are going toward addressing the COVID-19 crisis, which highlights the crucial role that aid transparency plays and how it can contribute to better results when it is formalized.

“Aid transparency is a key way to improve the efficiency of resource allocation, coordination of the response, and for donors to learn from one another’s interventions,” says Gary Forster, the CEO of Publish What You Fund. “The Index provides an illustration of what’s possible when transparency is valued and institutionalized.”

Helen Souki
Photo: Flickr

Lotus flowers are used to make lotus face masks in Cambodia to address PPE waste and a high face mask demand. Several activists and actors have raised alarm over the potentially devastating effects that personal protective equipment (PPE) can have in terms of increasing pollution around the world. There have been reports of PPE waste collecting on coasts around the world. Plastic pollution negatively impacts ocean health and, for maritime nations, this could translate to economic losses and the loss of livelihoods for those working within the ocean economy. One study by Plastics Hub found that if every person living in the UK utilized a single-use face mask for every day of 2020, it would contribute an additional 66,000 tons of plastic waste. It is unclear how much of this waste could end up in marine environments, but with 150 million tonnes already circulating the earth’s water, there is a pressing urgency to address the unsustainability of single-use face masks to fight the spread of COVID-19. As a result, an eco-friendly designer in Cambodia created lotus face masks to address this PPE waste.

Is There a Way to Combat PPE Pollution?

Cambodia is not exempt from the negative impacts that pollution can have on marine environments. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) identifies Cambodia as being highly dependent on its aquatic resources for both food security and the livelihoods of the Cambodian people.  In 2013, Cambodia averaged 700,000 tons of fishing and aquaculture production.  At a conference on maritime issues in Cambodia in 2015, hosted by the National University of Management in Phnom Penh, speakers highlighted the risk pollution poses to the economic livelihoods of those who depend on the marine economy.  The FAO has also spoken about the degradation of the marine habitat in the country due to pollution. Photographer Niamh Peren described one scene of coastal pollution in Sihanouk, Cambodia as “mountains and mountains of plastic.”

Pollution in the marine environment is a global problem. Due to the nature of the ocean’s currents, marine plastic pollution does not respect national boundaries and one country’s actions will not be enough to address the problem alone. However, Awen Delaval, an eco-friendly fashion designer, is implementing an innovative solution to tackling plastic pollution, while simultaneously diversifying the economy in Cambodia and alleviating poverty rates in the country.

Turning Unwanted Lotus Stems into Organic Fabric

Delaval’s lotus face masks are made utilizing ancestral techniques of producing lotus fiber from lotus stems, which are commonly regarded as waste within the country. The entire process of creating sustainable lotus face masks is entirely eco-friendly, as well as biodegradable.  The fabric produced using lotus fibers is remarkably efficient at filtration and, according to Delaval, is a superior fabric due to its light texture and breathability. The eco-textile company Samatoa, which Delaval manages, produces lotus masks that meet the standards of both the United States’ CDC and France’s Association Francaise de Normalization, making them an effective alternative to plastic single-use face masks.

Samatoa also values the tenets of fair trade and has made a positive impact on the livelihoods of poor Cambodians in the Battambang province. The company has provided employment that empowered thirty Cambodia women to be financially independent and provide for their families. According to Samatoa, the wages earned by company workers are twice what they would receive from other textile work in the country. Additionally, the company ensures that workers have access to a number of benefits, including trade union rights, paid leave and health insurance.

Impact of Lotus Face Masks

Delaval’s innovative solution to plastic pollution produced from single-use face masks gained international attention. The company he manages, Samatoa, is striving to increase production and capacity to improve the lives of an additional 500 women. Samatoa also provides educational opportunities to lotus farmers on sustainable farming practices, further improving the lives of the Cambodian people. Deval’s lotus face masks provide a sustainable solution to the problem of PPE waste while simultaneously providing economic development to rural communities in Cambodia.

– Leah Bordlee
Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in the Dominican Republic
Although the Dominican Republic has been one of the fastest-growing economies since the year 2000, it still struggles with income inequality and a high poverty rate of 30 percent as of 2016. Diversification in the past three decades is strengthening the economy and improving tourism and infrastructure. Despite this, the poverty rate remains fairly high. The following describes five ways to reduce poverty in the Dominican Republic and bring income equality to Dominicans.

5 Ways to Reduce Poverty in the Dominican Republic

  1. Government Transparency: Transparency International ranks the Dominican Republic 129 out of 180 countries based on public sector corruption. The ranking demonstrates a failure to control corruption. A lack of transparency dissuades external and internal investors from investment. Under-the-table bribery creates an economy that thrives on bribery instead of honest, hard-working individuals. Active enforcement of laws and corruption-reducing policies could help draw investors to the developing economy and spur faster future growth. In an effort to reduce corruption, the Dominican Republic’s President, Danilo Medina, updated its Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act in 2017 to include the definition of money laundering to crimes including copyright, tax evasion and avoidance and counterfeiting.
  2. Infrastructure Development: Once an agriculture-based economy, the Dominican Republic has transitioned into a diversified economy. Mining, trade, tourism, manufacturing, telecommunications, finance and services make up more than 90 percent of the country’s GDP. The remaining 10 percent is in agriculture. Although the Dominican Republic has made progress in infrastructure, frequent hurricanes in the Caribbean Sea destroy many roads, bridges and docks. The country especially overlooks damage in rural areas, where there is a prominence of poverty. To reduce poverty in the Dominican Republic, investment in repairing areas, such as farmland that hurricanes destroyed, can help alleviate issues and provide easy access to markets. More than 98 percent of the country has access to electricity, yet the reliability is questionable. Frequent outages in rural and urban areas are common. The government owns and operates electricity, and the unreliability is a constant complaint from Dominicans. A more reliable, widespread and affordable electrical grid would open the country to faster development, and a side effect would be additional jobs in the privatized electric companies.
  3. Education Inequality: Inequality is a major issue in the Dominican Republic. Insufficient income reduces the probability of receiving an education and health care. It also happens to be one reason for high illiteracy rates amongst the poor. About 26 percent of the poorest Dominicans are literate. A lack of education is a huge barrier to rising out of poverty. Adding programs to help enable universal access to education can help the poor and, as a result, grant skills and expertise to help the Dominican economy grow.
  4. Health: Another way to reduce poverty in the Dominican Republic is to improve the health care industry. The Ministry of Public Health and Public Welfare administer public services. In 2007, 36 percent had to pay the entirety for public service that is supposed to be free but is not exactly. Only 12 percent of Dominicans report that all or part of the service qualifies for coverage. Cost of public health care is especially a barrier to women, the elderly and the poor. Reducing costs could help reduce the 30 percent poverty rate.
  5. Utilizing Competitive Advantages: Top exports include gold, tobacco, knit t-shirts, low-voltage protection equipment and medical instruments. Competition in the marketplace can increase productivity, a major issue in low-income economies. Utilizing competitive advantages enables the country to produce products for less money and sell them in the current country at a reasonable cost. Poor households would pay less for the products made in the Dominican Republic and therefore would help reduce poverty.

A negative trade balance of $8 billion expresses a need to create and export more products in order to improve the business climate and reduce costs to Dominican consumers. Active humanitarian involvement and utilization of its competitive advantages could help boost growth and bring Dominicans out of poverty.

Efforts to reduce poverty in the Dominican Republic are making great strides. President Medina is combating government corruption and the economy is diversifying. Additionally, improving infrastructure and adding jobs, as well as access to education and health care will aid the Dominican Republic in poverty reduction and economic well being.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr


Now, more than ever, the world is becoming more interconnected. While the new societal and political inter-dependencies are obvious, even fields like manufacturing are a part of this trend. One product serves as a glaring example of this phenomenon: the smartphone. This hand-sized piece of technology has a shocking amount of components from a shocking number of places. Tech giant Apple sources materials from nearly 45 countries to make its products. While global interconnectedness can certainly be a positive thing, especially in worldwide manufacturing arrangements, at-risk communities in this process can pay a price. Though there is potential for exploitation at many stages of production, it is especially bad at the raw materials stage. Mining toxic minerals like nickel, cadmium and cobalt can come at a high cost to human health. Unfortunately, the production of smartphones harms children in poverty.

To explore the specific threats to child laborers, it is helpful to focus in on one microcosm within the larger mining industry. One particularly harmful mineral in cell phone production is cobalt. Largely mined by hand, cobalt is a silvery-gray metal that people use for many different products, including metal alloys in jet engines and powerful magnets. It is also common in lithium-ion batteries, which are rechargeable energy sources that power mobile devices. The rise in the prevalence of electric cars, which use the same technology, means the demand for cobalt is only rising.

What Conditions Do Children Face?

While countries like Russia and Cuba produce this ore, workers mine more than 50 percent of the world’s cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Due to this high rate of production, most of the exploitation in cobalt mines occur in this country. As mine operators struggle to keep up with demand, the poverty rate in the DRC stands at nearly 65 percent.  That means that many desperate people are willing to work in dangerous conditions for hardly any money.

In January 2016, Amnesty International published an investigation into human rights abuses in the DRC’s cobalt mines and it found horrifying conditions. Workers face permanent lung and skin damage, as well as immediate physical harm from cave-ins and other accidents. Not only that, but the investigation also found children as young as 7 years old employed in these conditions. This is how the production of smartphones harms children in poverty.

Children told Amnesty International that for 12 hours of work, they could expect to earn only $1 or 2. When government or industry authorities visited mines, supervisors order the children to hide or stay away from the mines for a few days so others would not spot them. These poor conditions and ill-policed regulations are the reasons why cobalt is known as “the blood diamond of batteries.”

How Can People Fix This Problem?

Some companies have taken the initiative to reduce child exploitation, especially in the years following the 2016 Amnesty International report. Electric car-maker Tesla and its battery provider, Panasonic, have worked hard to pursue cobalt-free battery alternatives. These companies managed to cut cobalt use by 60 percent in six years. However, current technologies have reached their limits. Removing more cobalt will start to pose a longevity problem, as well as a fire-risk.

Because cobalt will remain in use for at least the near future, it is essential to protect impoverished child workers. Most simply, because this issue seems far away, it is easy to forget its gravity. For that reason, remembering the power of consumer impact is important. Pay attention to how companies operate and support businesses that perform the necessary due diligence to run responsibly.

For example, Apple, like many large tech and development companies, has a website with details about the ethics of its supply chain. Read up on brands’ efforts, and make sure to voice any concerns (or potentially, any support) at a website like this one.

What Can People Do to Make a Personal Impact?

Direct habits also make a difference. Try to avoid buying new electronic devices if possible. There are many websites, such as Gazelle, where customers can buy like-new phones to prevent the need for mining new cobalt. Additionally, if a device bites the dust, consider recycling its components. While lithium-ion batteries cannot go into the usual blue recycling bins, resources like this one at call2recycle can help identify the most convenient option.

Lastly, consider learning more and keeping up with the latest news on the Cobalt Institute’s website. This group is a non-governmental trade association that provides information and assists in identifying and solving problems in the cobalt industry. With 62 years of experience and all of the major producers in membership, this group has great influence in these matters.

While today, the production of smartphones harms children in poverty, improving conditions are just around the corner. With responsible choices, better supply chain management and technical innovations, this problem could soon be one of the past.

– Molly Power
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

36. How Voluntary National Reviews Are Propelling Us Towards our Goals

The United Nations High-Level Political Forum met on July 18, 2018, to reaffirm its commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as to assess the progress that has been made towards achieving its goals thus far.

In an address to the Forum, Secretary-General António Guterres urged that “we need to embed the essence of the 2030 Agenda into everything we do.” This, he explained, will be vital to meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Statements like this have, to some extent, fallen on deaf ears in past years, as some countries failed to hold up their end of the bargain.

Voluntary National Reviews: Achieving Transparency and Accountability

In the past, the issues of accountability and transparency have been a focal point for the United Nations and the High-Level Political Forum. Most of the actions that the United Nations and its member states agreed to undertake are voluntary and SDGs are not an exception. For this reason, it is difficult to identify what exactly each country’s “end of the bargain” is. The institution and increased use of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), however, are addressing this issue.

Voluntary National Reviews have played a fundamental role in facilitating transparency in regards to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. VNRs are state-led analyses of each nation’s contributions to aforementioned Goals. The Reviews are conducted in collaboration with most, if not all, sectors of a nation’s government, making for a wholesome and accurate source of information to be shared and discussed at the High-Level Political Forum, as well as in other assemblies.

Voluntary National Reviews role and responsibility

VNRs allow member states to take note of and critique the ways in which other members of the global community are addressing important issues like poverty, education, environment, and more. The Reviews are not statistical analyses but rather collaborative policy and plan analyses which aim to ensure that each nation is working hard and efficiently to contribute in the best way possible to the goals of the Agenda. Conclusions about levels of commitment and strategies to embed the goals in the framework of each member state can be found in the annual VNR Synthesis Report.

Forty-six countries presented their VNRs at the High-Level Political Forum, adding to the 65 that have already presented in 2018. Participatory numbers have more than doubled each year since 2016, showing that member states are even more committed to upholding their individual goals in order to achieve the United Nation’s ultimate goals.

The virtue of VNRs today has been a vice for the United Nations throughout its history. Their voluntary nature allows them to act as an affirmation of a member’s commitment to the SDGs as well as to fighting poverty, opening access to education and addressing the global issues that have yet to be fully addressed. VNRs are proving and will continue to prove to be powerful catalysts for change and progress towards the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

– Julius Long
Photo: Flickr

10 MCC Transparency Measures
Created by the U.S. Congress in 2004, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is an independent U.S. foreign aid agency. The agency has strong bipartisan support and helped revolutionize how the U.S. delivers foreign assistance.

MCC works by giving out time-limited grants to partnering countries, which broadly go toward “promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, and strengthening institutions.” But for each of its compacts and programs, MCC specifically reports what is being spent where, by whom and with what results. In other words, MCC is dedicated to transparency.

10 Ways MCC Maintains Transparency

  1. Maintaining an easy-to-use and up-to-date website: An easy-to-use website makes it easier for the public or other agencies to navigate the site. An up-to-date website ensures that people are accessing and consuming new and relevant data.
  2. Expanding the Evaluation Catalogue: The Evaluation Catalogue shares studies, evaluations and data sets in a searchable database that is open for public consumption. MCC is working to increase the efficiency of the accompanying approval process and release information to the catalogue more quickly.
  3. Releasing Principles into Practice: Principles into Practice is a long-running series of reports in which MCC discusses in detail how it implements its core model and operation policies. These reports include frank discussions of failures and lessons MCC has learned. The agency also has an edition dedicated to MCC transparency.
  4. Using sub-national data and geo-coding: Gathering more detailed and location-specific data provides a better picture of MCC’s spending and results. Location-specific data can also help MCC compare data from different areas and increase its efficiency.
  5. Upgrading information management systems: Updated information management systems help MCC improve the accessibility and usability of its data internally and in partner countries. MCC also funds an analytics team to standardize and deliver data to staff for internal analysis.
  6. Having a Data Governance Board: MCC recently created its Data Governance Board, an independent group made up of representatives from throughout the agency. The Board’s purpose is to streamline MCC’s data management approach and promote data-driven decision making across the agency’s investment portfolio.
  7. Ensuring data consistency: MCC pulls all of its data sets from the same base data, ensuring consistency across data sets. Consistency allows MCC and anyone else to compare data sets without having to control for differences in collection or calculation.
  8. Adding new data and information fields: MCC has expanded its data fields relating to results, and the agency gets higher marks from the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) for performance data than any other agency. MCC has also expanded its information to include conditions associated with MCC funds. MCC is very invested in data collection and uses it to inform program development processes, such as pricing data.
  9. Working with implementing organizations to compile data: Like most U.S. aid agencies, MCC’s programs provide funds for projects that are implemented on the ground by partner organizations. MCC works directly with those implementing its projects to collect and publish data.
  10. Reporting directly to IATI: Like other U.S. aid agencies, MCC used to report its data through the Department of State. Now, MCC reports directly to IATI, giving MCC greater control over what, how and when they publish.

ATI and MCC Transparency

Transparent aid is especially important to donor and recipient governments. For example, MCC transparency ensures that it and other donors avoid duplicating efforts in some areas and under-funding in others. Recipient governments also need to know what aid is invested in their countries to coordinate their own budgets with incoming aid and make the most effective use of their limited money.

MCC began participating in the Aid Transparency Index (ATI) in 2013 and was actually ranked the most transparent agency in the world its first year. Rankings consistently change between years, and while MCC has not remained number one, the agency is consistently among the top five transparent agencies in the world.

MCC was once again ranked as the most transparent agency in the U.S. Government for 2018. Ranked fifth overall in the world, MCC is one of only seven agencies in the top “Very Good” category. Transparency is essential for aid effectiveness and accountability, and MCC’s ranking shows that the agency is committed to disclosing detailed material about its activities.

– Kathryn Quelle
Photo: Flickr

More Bang for Your Buck: Making Foreign Aid More Effective
A highly contentious issue, the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid has long been the subject of debate among congressmen and concerned citizens alike. From how much money is allocated to recipient nations to the impact that aid actually has on issues such as poverty and civil war, advocates and critics of foreign aid point to various criteria to evaluate the merits, or lack thereof, of continued U.S. aid.

The Case for Aid

Proponents of foreign aid insist programs are instrumental in fostering socioeconomic growth, reducing poverty and improving the overall quality of life. There are certainly examples that support this notion. USAID-funded programs have significantly reduced maternal and child mortality, helping at least 4.6 million children and 200,000 mothers, according to agency officials. As of 2015, more than 7.6 million people had received improved access to drinking water and more than 4.3 million people had improved sanitation. Furthermore, 41.6 million children saw improved reading instruction and safer learning environments between 2011 and 2015.

Foreign Aid Skepticism

Yet critics of aid remain steadfast in their opposition, pointing to fraud and corruption, lack of transparency, foreign aid dependency and general ineffectiveness as indicators. Around $1.17 billion in aid that was given to Malawi in 2012 was exploited by corrupt politicians and businessmen. At least $30 million was taken from the treasury and robbed from the 17 million poor and AIDS-ravaged inhabitants. In fact, these sentiments are so strong that, according to ABC News-Washington Post polls, “the only possible federal spending cut a majority favored was for foreign aid.”

Clearly, there are two sides to the story when it comes to foreign aid. When allocated and distributed properly, it can work wonders for the world’s poor and developing countries. However, corruption and misuse still stand in the way of much of its potential. These issues can be addressed by exploring various ways of making foreign aid more effective.

Making Foreign Aid More Effective

There are three important ways that countries around the globe can make foreign aid more effective.

  1. Improving Aid Quality: By dividing foreign aid into smaller projects, donor countries can control the volatility and lack of predictability of aid, thus significantly decreasing the deadweight loss of development assistance. In 2008 alone, deadweight losses from official aid amounted to $7 billion. Smaller projects, according to Brookings, can lead to further innovation and scaling up, thus offsetting deadweight losses.
  2. Linkage: In order for foreign aid to maximize its impacts in a developing country, it must be linked to other important development policies, namely trade, investment and migration. For example, in Haiti and Pakistan, countries in which the U.S. has a significant economic stake, trade restrictions on textile and garment imports prevent further growth.
  3. Mobilizing the Private Sector: It is generally accepted that in order to foster economic growth and development, countries must turn to the private sector. Unfortunately, foreign aid has yet to reflect that sentiment. In fact, much of it is still directed toward the public sector. Cities harbor the most economic growth yet receive only $1 to $2 billion in aid a year. Approximately one billion slum dwellers reside in the city centers of developing countries and represent the key to mobilizing economic growth.

At the end of the day, foreign aid aims to foster social and economic growth in developing countries by enfranchising governments, health care systems, education institutions and infrastructure. Consequently, growth in these developing nations helps developed nations by opening up new markets and increasing stability. When confronted with corruption or misuse or any of the other criticisms of foreign aid, governments should not slash foreign aid budgets, but rather should apply these three crucial ways of making foreign aid more effective.

– McAfee Sheehan
Photo: Flickr