What Kind of International Support for Social Protection Floors?

Article Index

by Barry Herman
from Global Newsletter - November 2015

The proposal for the establishment of a new global fund for social protection was made in 2012 by the two then Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council, Olivier de Schutter and Magdalena Sepúlveda. In their view, while “the costs of providing basic social protection may be affordable when estimated globally, for many countries the domestic costs still may be beyond their capacity, even if they were to devote their maximum available resources to that objective”. In that light a special, solidarity-based financing mechanism guaranteeing the support of the international community to countries that may be in need of such support to introduce or complete national social protections floors should be created. (UNHCHR Briefing Note 7 http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Food/20121009_GFSP_en.pdf ).

After almost 30 years of service, Dr Barry Herman retired from the United Nations Secretariat in December 2005. Professor Herman now teaches in the international affairs Masters' program at The New School in New York and works as a consultant on financing for development issues. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

This brief article represents a personal reflection on the proposal to create such a fund.

The proposal received a sympathetic hearing among some international organization staff, for instance at the ILO, the UNHCHR and the FAO, and was advocated by the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors at the International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July of this year. However, it does not appear that the fund proposal, as such, has attracted any interest from potential donors, at least not for the time being. While that may not be surprising in the current international economic and political environment, I think that the aims of such a solidarity-based financing mechanism are worthy and should be realized.

While de Schutter and Sepúlveda proposed the creation of a single entity that they called the Global Fund for Social Protection (GFSP), the authors were actually proposing to cluster a set of activities together that might be able to fit under one roof, or not. The authors’ real concern is properly on increasing social protection of those in need, not on creating a new international bureaucracy. And none is needed.

The proposal would boost international support to least developed countries (LDCs). Undoubtedly, the LDCs are not the only countries requiring assistance to raise their social protection floors to an acceptable standard that accorded with their governments’ human rights obligations. They are, however, a well specified country grouping to which the international community already provides special international trade and financial benefits owing to their poverty and vulnerability. The focus on them is understandable, but the proposal should offer international support to any country in need.

De Schutter and Sepúlveda sought to increase two kinds of international support for social protection services. The first would supplement the financing that an LDC could mobilize domestically for social protection under normal (or average) circumstances. The second would provide special international financing to meet additional social protection obligations created by extreme natural or economic shocks. This note argues against the first and for the second.