A Different Route: Reimagining the idea of prosperity in Asia

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Asia is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies. Yet millions of people remain poor, while a handful gets richer and richer. Asia needs a development model that leaves no one behind: not the workers and farmers, who act as the driving force behind Asia’s growth – and certainly not the women, who take on the lowest paying jobs in the region. This model must also consider constraints, particularly the earth’s finite natural resources which future generations need to survive. It must move away from carbon dependence and must anticipate and plan for the impacts of climate change. These principles together inform inclusive and sustainable development, which Asian governments can use as a roadmap to transform their societies in an era of vanishing resources and staggering inequalities.
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  OXFAM BRIEFING PAPER 13 NOVEMBER 2015 www.oxfam.org  A DIFFERENT ROUTE Reimagining the idea of prosperity in Asia Harvest season in Northern Vietnam. Credit: Cong Hung / Oxfam  Asia is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies. Yet millions of people remain poor, while a handful get richer and richer.  Asia needs a development paradigm that leaves no one behind  – not the workers and farmers, who act as the driving force behind Asia’s growth  – and certainly not the women, who take on the lowest-paying jobs in the region. This paradigm must also consider constraints, particularly the earth’s nite natural resources, which future generations need to survive. It must move away from carbon dependence and must anticipate and plan for the impacts of climate change. These principles together inform inclusive and sustainable development, which Asian governments can use as a roadmap to transform their respective societies in an era of vanishing resources and staggering inequalities.  1 SUMMARY Economic growth is creating jobs and generating wealth across Asia. However, poverty amidst plenty continues to persist. Even with the increasing development and bountiful resources, millions are being left behind. Workers and farmers remain mired in poverty despite  –  and perhaps because of   –  their role as the engine behind the very growth that is marginalizing them. Amidst the prosperity created in economies across the region, inequality continues to rise. Meanwhile, pollution, the clearing of forests, and the over-use of natural resources is endangering the environment that the economy depends upon.There is hope. Inclusive and sustainable development (ISD) is possible, if driven by an economy and society that prioritizes opportunities for those left behind; one that addresses gender discrimination and social exclusion, and aims for a fairer economy, not just a larger one. This requires bold but necessary steps to be taken by governments, to enable poor people to participate in and benet from development, and to shape the market economy, so that it behaves in an inclusive and sustainable manner. This paper makes the case for inclusive and sustainable development and suggests key steps for governments in the region to promote it. It builds on existing policies and initiatives and identies concrete recommendations that can help Asian countries address poverty and inequality.  At the heart of the matter is whether key issues of human rights, gender equality and the sustainable use of natural resources are championed by governments. With increasing awareness of the state responsibility to protect human rights, several states and institutions are exploring action plans on business and human rights, which provide a ray of hope that the worst kinds of abuses of human rights by business can be averted. Meanwhile gender inequality remains a key barrier for economic and social development across the region, as women are over-represented in precarious and low-wage jobs and under-represented in economic and political decision making. Rectifying such mistakes will both bring greater prosperity and create fairer societies.Powerlessness drives poverty. When men and women workers, farmers, community members and citizens have little power over the commercial and political decisions that shape their lives, ISD cannot happen. It is for this reason that empowering people living in poverty, both in the political and economic spheres, should be an explicit focus of policy makers.Small business, particularly in agriculture, can be a key driver for building inclusive economies. Small business generates jobs. Support for small businesses, particularly by eradicating the “missing middle”  –  small enterprises  –  particularly in agriculture that miss out on access to nance, Inclusive and sustainable development (ISD) is possible, if driven by an economy and society that prioritizes opportunities for those left behind; one that addresses gender discrimination and social exclusion, and aims for a fairer economy, not just a larger one.  2 will allow a more diverse and inclusive economy to form. As today’s small businesses are tomorrow’s large businesses, supporting small enterprise models that prioritize inclusion and are set up to spread benets most widely and fairly is key to shaping the future of the economy. Supporting enterprise models, such as social enterprises, cooperatives, and employee-owned businesses, will create a more inclusive and fairer economy. Agriculture remains a major employer in the region, providing between 30 and 60 percent of jobs and driving food security. Efforts to support small-scale farmers, particularly by encouraging and strengthening farmer-owned enterprises, are key enablers of ISD. Health and education are the bedrocks of healthy, productive and prosperous societies. For ISD to happen, governments must invest heavily in these essential services, by implementing policies and programs that support people living in poverty. To facilitate this process, fair taxation is key to ensuring that corporations and the rich are paying a greater share, which governments can then use to support health and education services for everyone, especially the poor. Focusing on the direct taxation of wealth, prots, and high incomes should be preferred to consumption taxes.Meanwhile, all efforts to promote inclusive growth are undermined if we use up the earth’s resources and fail to curb climate change, making it impossible for future generations to live happy and healthy lives. We all depend on the natural resources, be it water, air, forests, soil, or energy, and we must balance the use of these to sustain present economic and other human activities to create jobs, food, fuel, and the like, with the imperative to respect the limits of the earth’s resources. Addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, following a low-carbon development path, and helping communities, especially the most vulnerable, to adapt to its effects are essential to inclusive sustainable development. Inclusive and sustainable development entails living in the space between a social oor of the essential requirements for people to live a dignied life, and a planetary boundary of the earth’s sustainable natural resources. As Asia comes to represent the lion’s share of global economic activity, its ability to live within these boundaries will determine the sustainability of our planet.To summarize, the challenge for governments is to promote ISD through: ã Empowering women  Reforms that target women’s empowerment can transform society and the economy. Governments can push for equal job opportunities and implement equal living wages between men and women; recognize and strengthen women’s right to own land; and encourage women’s participation and leadership in local and national organizations and government, among others.  3 ã Empowering communities and workers in markets and politics  Empowered people are in a better position to contribute to and benet from economic growth. Their participation in decision making can help ensure that government policies are truly responsive to the needs of the poor, and are effective in addressing the main drivers of poverty. Their voice in corporate structures and processes can help promote sustainable business operations and supply chains. ã Protecting and promoting human rights  Human rights are at the heart of the dignity of people. They comprise the foundation of equality because they operate on the principle that all people are equal and should enjoy the same basic rights, regardless of gender, age, religion, race, and socio-economic status. In the economic realm, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is important to ensure that states protect and businesses respect human rights, and that remedies are made available to individuals and communities whose rights have been violated. ã Promoting inclusive and sustainable agriculture  Experience has shown that economic growth models that focus solely on increased production are not enough to lift rural communities out of poverty. Inclusive and sustainable agricultural models that put small-scale producers, both men and women, at the center are the key to achieving inclusive and sustainable development. ã Supporting small business, but shaping them, too Supporting micro- and small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) can help make economic growth and development more inclusive, as it opens up opportunities for people to participate in the economy. While regulating to shape the behaviour of existing large companies is also key (ensuring they respect human rights and do not misuse their market power), MSMEs offer a unique opportunity to shape the future of the business world. ã Investing heavily in education and health  Investing in and increasing people’s access to essential education and health services are crucial measures in promoting a healthy and informed population that is able to participate in and contribute to economic growth, and live with dignity.
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