'The social and economic evils in our world are all too real – as is the need to make globalisation work for all the peoples of the world, by embedding the new global economy in a global society,
based on shared global values of solidarity, social justice, and human rights.' - Kofi Annan Source
The last twenty years have witnessed a massive and unprecedented increase of private providers of social services – such as education, health, or water – worldwide. Countries like Kenya have gone from 3% of private schools in 1999 to over 30% in 2011, while Morocco has tripled the share of private schools between 2000 and 2012. In 2013, Lesotho was spending more than half of its health budget in a hospital managed by a private actor under a public-private partnership agreement.
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In a globalising world, the role of the State is thus increasingly questioned. Yet, while the involvement of private actors in the delivery of these services can be compatible with the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights if they complement public services, States are the sole human rights duty bearers, and there is a risk that private services seriously and lastingly undermine States’ human rights obligations.
More and more detrimental impacts related to private involvement social services on human rights have been documented in recent years, including growing discrimination and segregation, lack of transparency and accountability, misuse of resources, and corporate control over services that are essential for the development of open and fair societies.
The crucial question is to determine if, or when private sector involvement is acceptable within the human rights framework, and what role should the State play in this changing context to ensure the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights.
These are profound changes that could have important implications. If human rights are taken seriously, there is an urgent need to reflect on these changes to ensure that, whatever choices are made for the delivery of social services, human rights are safeguarded.
We work to ensure that the changes that are taking place are done within the respect of human rights law. We emphasise increasing transparency and accountability in social services to put human rights norms and concerns at the core of policy discussion on the role of public and private actors.
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We do so by researching and monitoring the situation against human rights standards. Working with and through partners, we conduct country or case-research. We have worked in over 20 countries and produced 30 reports to UN and other human rights bodies. We also monitor donors and international development institutions, such as the World Bank.
Recognising that private involvement is diverse, we seek to understand and research different forms of private involvement in social services and respond to the most concerning forms. We pay attention to commercial actors, such as Bridge International Academies, Omega Schools, or Pearson, in education, as they pose a greater risk for the realisation of human rights.
Human rights standards are easier to implement where the norms are clear and precise. For this reason, we are working to develop monitoring tools that can help civil society, governments and academics to assess the reality against human rights standards. We’re also supporting the clarification and consolidation of human rights standards in the context of private involvement in social services by conducting legal research, for instance on the case-law, and facilitating the development of human rights guiding principles.
We also look for solutions to the challenges we identify. We research and advocate better regulations of private actors, but also on improving the quality, transparency and accountability of public education systems.
We work as part of a global network of community-based, national, and international civil society organisations, that are organising within an informal consortium. Together, we advocate for States to build social service systems that align with human rights obligations, and where the involvement of private actors exists, is in line with and respect human rights.
We have focused so far on education, and recently started working on health care, with the intention to expand our work to other services.