4. Human Rights Impact of Private Actors in social services


GI-ESCR works to deepen the research on the impact of the increasing role of private actors, particularly vis-à-vis education, and to highlight the obligation of States to respect, protect and fulfill ESC rights, and to offer a thoughtful response to private actors and their impact on the enjoyment of ESC rights in practice. 

Finalising the human rights guiding principles on States’ obligations regarding private actors in education

GI-ESCR has continued to develop the human rights standards on private involvement in education and the discussion on providing alternatives and solutions to privatisation in education. In 2017, GI-ESCR, as part of its role within the Secretariat for the development of the human rights guiding principles on States’ obligations regarding private actors in education, conducted a series of consultations on the draftGlobal consultations were held over the course of 2017 in Western Europe, Asia, Africa and during the 2017 Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Conference

 In March 2017, GI-ESCR in partnership with the Open Society Foundations (OSF) – Education Support Program and the Right to Education Initiative hosted the Western Europe Consultation on the guiding principles at UNESCO in Paris. Dr. Koumbou Boly Barry, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, joined, as well as representatives from academia, education trade unions, civil society, and UN institutions.

During the CIES Conference, together with OSF, GI-ESCR organised a consultation workshop, providing human rights and education actors an opportunity to engage with the draft human rights guiding principles. GI-ESCR also gave a presentation on the process of the drafting of the human rights guiding principles during the panel “Assessing the growing role of private actors in education: Towards universal human rights Guiding Principles.”

GI-ESCR later participated to organise the Southern Africa Regional Consultation on the guiding principles, which was held in Johannesburg on 14 - 17 August 2017. The Equal Education Law CentreOpen Society Initiative for Southern Africa, and Open Society Foundation for South Africa hosted the consultations. It was attended by 36 education and human rights stakeholders, representing 12 countries in the region.

On 11 September, GI-ESCR also participated to organise the 2nd Asia consultation of the draft human rights guiding principles, in Kathmandu, Nepal. There were 55 participants from over 20 countries in attendance.

In October, over 80 organisations and State representatives from 24 francophone countries congregated at the Institut de la Francophonie pour l’Éducation et la Formation in Dakar, Senegal for Francophone actors to comment and express their views on the guiding principles. The meeting was held from 23-26 October.

The engagement and input collected during the consultations has captured a breadth of expertise and experiences. These will guide the final drafting process in 2018 by the Expert Committee.

During that period, three new organisations joined the Secretariat for the development of the guiding principles, in addition to GI-ESCR and the Right to Education Initiative: the Equal Education Law Centre (South Africa), the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (Uganda), and Amnesty International (global).

Monitoring the concerning developments of commercial low-cost private school chains

GI-ESCR has continued playing a role in global efforts to research and monitor the development and impact of commercial low-cost private school chains on the provision of education, focusing on Bridge International Academies (Bridge). During the CIES Conference, GI-ESCR with partners organised and presented data on Bridge in the panel, “Understanding commercial low-fee private schools: looking at available data on Bridge International Academies in three countries,” where we shared data from our experience in Kenya.

GI-ESCR has continued to monitor developments in commercial school chains. Regular updates on key developments are posted on the GI-ESCR website, and circulated to interested stakeholders and allies, and the media where appropriate. For example, a press release was issue when in Busia, Kenya, the High Court upheld the County Education Board’s decision to close ten Bridge schools.

GI-ESCR continues to follow developments in several countries, including but not limited to, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, India, and Pakistan, and hopes to increase efforts to offer support where necessary.

GI-ESCR has also monitored the pilot education PPP (public-private partnerships) in Liberia, where Bridge is one of eight private actors managing public schools. It has become increasingly important to monitor the PPP as the government seeks to scale up in year two, though the results of a pending evaluation would not have been released yet. Monitoring has been a challenge as the Ministry of Education in Liberia and private providers have not been forthcoming with information. To better monitor the situation, GI-ESCR seeks to establish a partnership with a national organisation so that it may offer support where it is needed.

In March GI-ESCR supported RESULTS Education Fund and EACHRights in the launch of their reports on low fee private schools in Homa Bay and Mathare, Kenya. GI-ESCR gave presentations at both launches which were attended by representatives from governments, civil society, the media, parents and students. GI-ESCR also assisted in the information dissemination of the reports. A journalist quoted the EACHRights report in a Public Finance International article about Bridge International Academies. A journalist also attended the Mathare launch, with coverage appearing on a Kenyan news outlet.

On 1 August, 174 civil society organisations from around the globe released a statement calling on investors to cease support for Bridge International Academies. The signatories came from a broad range of organisations from 50 different countries, including human rights, development, community-based, and faith-based organisations, as well as trade unions. This statement followed one in May 2015, where 116 organisations published a statement raising concerns about misleading facts regarding the costs and quality of Bridge schools.

In February, a blog on Bridge International Academies by GI-ESCR was published on Next Billion, countering Bridge’s narrative and reaching a wider audience of business leaders and social entrepreneurs, alongside non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and policy makers.

These efforts have brought sustained attention to the pervasive issues with the Bridge schools. Throughout 2017 increase awareness of the concerns expressed by GI-ESCR and partner organisations was also reflected in a new UK parliament report found Bridge's model problematic and which raised questions about UK funding. The ACHPR also raised concerns about lack of regulation of Bridge International Academies in Kenya. Advocacy on, and awareness of these concerns will continue into 2018.

GI-ESCR ended a research project with the human rights clinic at Sciences Po Paris that focused on compiling case-law related to private actors in education.

In September 2017, a new project was initiated to assess the legal responsibilities of States investing in Bridge, with the focus on France and the case of PROPARCO.

Advocacy with international institutions

GI-ESCR has strategically leveraged several Global institutions and United Nations mechanisms to ensure the human rights normative framework addresses the issue of low-fee private schools’ impact on the provision of education.

•     World Bank spring meetings

In April, GI-ESCR attended the World Bank Spring Meetings. GI-ESCR partnered with RESULTS Education Fund, ActionAid, the East Africa Centre for Human Rights, the Global Campaign for Education-US, the Institute for Social and Economic Rights-Uganda, the National Education Association and Oxfam to host the session, “Free education and the question of low-fee private schools.” The session discussed the World Bank’s position on free education and fee-charging schools with presentations on evidence from research on IFC (International Finance Corporation) supported low-fee private schools.

•     UN Human Rights Council resolution on right to education

In June, the UN Human Rights Council released the 2017 resolution on the right to education. GI-ESCR and Right to Education Initiative sought to maintain the tone of the previous resolution which called for commercialisation of education to be addressed and for the regulation of education providers. In light of the hostile environment to independent research of low fee private schools, efforts also successfully sought for the inclusion of a new clause supporting independent assessments of schools.

For more information, please see:

Landmark UN resolution urges States to monitor and regulate private education providers

•     UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights releases new General Comment

As noted above, the Committee’s new General Comment on “State Obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Context of Business Activities” was released in June.  GI-ESCR successfully advocated for the consideration of privatisation in the General Comment, which contains two detailed paragraphs on the issue. GI-ESCR contributed two articles to the Oxford Human Rights Hub, reflecting on how and what the new General Comment adds to the debate on privatisation of social services. The first piece, What Regulations Must States Put in Place when Private Actors are Involved in the Delivery of Essential Services? considered what regulatory conditions must be met where private actors deliver social services, while the second, Can States Entirely Privatise the Delivery of Essential Services? explored the question of whether States are permitted to privatise essential services at all.

•     UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issues findings on Pakistan

In June, the Committee released its Concluding Observations on Pakistan after reviewing the State’s report. The Concluding Observations raise concerns on low-fee private schools, reflecting research submitted in a report to the Committee by the Pakistan Coalition for Education, with the support of GI-ESCR. Concerns included a failure by Pakistan to conduct a human rights assessment prior to privatisation, poor quality, a lack of regulation, and discriminatory impacts.

GI-ESCR continues to update a list of Concluding Observations addressing private actors in education.

Global mobilisation

•     Eurodad International Conference 2017

In June, GI-ESCR attended Eurodad’s International Conference in The Hague. With ActionAid, GI-ESCR held the side event, “Role of private sector as public service provider: the case of education.”

•     Sao Paulo strategic litigation conference

In April, GI-ESCR attended a strategic litigation conference in Sao Paulo, co-convened by the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Open Society Foundation’s Education Support Program and the OSF Latin America Program. The focus was on discussions of the study “The Impacts of Strategic Litigation on Equal Access to Quality Education in Brazil, India and South Africa.” The event took place from 4-6 April 2017. GI-ESCR also held a workshop on the human rights guiding principles.

•     Privatisation in Education and Human Rights Consortium

GI-ESCR participated to organise and attended the 3rd meeting of the Privatisation in Education and Human Rights Consortium in September. This was an occasion for the Consortium to develop a new two-year strategic plan, and improve its governance.

•     Human rights training in Zimbabwe

In May, GI-ESCR designed and conducted for Amnesty International Netherlands’s HURICAP programme a human rights training on economic, social and cultural rights advocacy for civil society organisations in Zimbabwe.

•     Assessing the impacts of privatisation on girls’ and women’s right to education

The 7th edition of BUWA, a publication by Open Society for Southern Africa, which was launched in July, was dubbed Transformative Education: the Africa we need by 2030. It focused on interrogating which policy, governance and programming is required for education to play an effective role in achieving social justice. GI-ESCR contributed the dangers of corporate power to the realisation of girls’ right to education to this edition. This article presents findings of human rights organisations and academics on the impacts of privatisation on girls’ and women’s right to education. It addresses the question of how corporatised education can result in discrimination and restrict education for the vulnerable and economically disadvantaged, looking at the impact this has on girls and women.

Exploring the connection with other essential social services

GI-ESCR has explored privatisation in other social services, beginning with health. Background research has been conducted, preparing for a project with the University of Essex Human Rights Clinic which started in October. The project focuses on developing a human rights analysis framework for the impact of private actors in health care delivery.

GI-ESCR was invited in May by Oxfam-GB (Great Britain) to contribute to a project on development aid funding to private actors in health, Oxfam-GB has begun a two-year project on the commercialisation of development assistance in health which GI-ESCR is supporting by sharing its experience in education and technical human rights experts.

Monitoring, awareness and movement building in the Francophone area

On 27 March, the French development aid Minister Jean-Marie le Guen made a landmark statement against commercialisation of education at the launch of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) annual Human Development Report. This is a major advancement in the advocacy work concerning privatisation and commercialisation of education in the francophone world, and the result of the campaigning work done by the Francophone Network against privatisation of education of which GI-ESCR is part of the steering committee. This major development will be the foundation of the networks’ advocacy in the following months, which will call for its application in all of France’s development cooperation’s entities, notably its development finance institution, PROPARCO, towards which advocacy against its support to Bridge International Academies has been intensified during the last months.

For more information, please see:

France commits to act against commercialisation of education in international cooperation

In 2017, GI-ESCR also secured funding from the Fondation pour l’Egalité des Chances en Afrique, a Belgian philanthropic organisation to start a project on the privatisation and commercialisation of education in Mauritania. The project will focus on working with local partners to assess the impact of the growing involvement of private actors in education in Mauritania, including through the selling of the land of public schools to commercial actors, on children’s rights.