As the dust settles after the UK general election, let’s remember that voting at the ballot box is not an innate right enjoyed by everyone. Indeed, although the number of democracies across the world has spiked from 48 in 1989 up to 95 today, billions of people are still living in non-democratic, authoritarian regimes.

©Roy Philippe/HEMIS.FR

How to improve water systems is one challenge; financing them is another. Public authorities in most countries play the main role in implementing and funding water infrastructure, but it is a model that is under increasing pressure, with government budgets stretched and banks still prudent about issuing credit. 

©Reuters/ Eric Thayer

There is hardly a government around the world that has not yet felt the impact of social media on how it communicates and engages with citizens.

California dreamin' at the World Agricultural Expo in February 2015 ©David McNew/Getty Images/AFP

Investing in infrastructure for water is important, but how we govern water is more critical than ever. 

Click to enlarge

What if digital tools simplified our interactions with public authorities? From document browsing to downloading of forms as well as administrative procedures, governments in most of OECD countries now offer a wide range of online services. 

On receiving my copy of Lobbyists, Governments and Public Trust, Volume 3, I rushed straight to Chapter 15, History of Slovenian lobbying regulations at a glance (and who wouldn’t?).

©Alamy

In September the OECD presented its first package of recommendations to the G20 for an international approach to stopping artificial tax base erosion and profit shifting. Seven recommendations were proposed as part of the 15-point BEPS Action Plan.

What are the main threats to the world’s stability in the 10 coming years? Geopolitical risks as well as a water crisis have become a bigger threat than an economic breakdown, according to the World Economic Forum.

©Andrew Wheeler/OECD

“It is unacceptable to allow corruption to undermine the functioning of public authority.” So said Christiane Taubira, French minister for justice, in launching the first OECD Foreign Bribery Report at the organisation’s headquarters in Paris on 2 December. “To fight against international bribery, it is important that we have international standards. The OECD work on producing this comparable data is essential”, she said.

Australia has established itself as a G20 force in Asia-Pacific, and is now embarking on a new wave of engagement in the Asian Century.

Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD

The terrorist murders of 17 people in Paris on 7, 8 and 9 January were not only a human tragedy. They were a direct attack on the values of living together in the free, law-abiding, pluralistic societies we hold dear. 

The world is still not moving fast enough to fight climate change.  Fossils fuels remain the dominant energy source with billions of dollars still being spent on subsidising their use.

©Andrew Biraj/Reuters

As G20 leaders look distraught at a global economy that is faced with weak growth, high unemployment and rising income inequality, they should repeat to themselves that this is not inevitable. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), while putting out another downward revision of growth forecasts, admitted that recovery is too slow and fragile, while recognising the problem of income inequality. The OECD, in its reports on New Approaches and Economic Challenges (NAEC) and its 2014 OECD Employment Outlook, acknowledges that rising inequality affects economic growth and social cohesion, sapping trust in markets and institutions.

Fostering well-being at the local level is a way to build stronger and more sustainable communities. The OECD Regional Well-Being framework provides a tool to help governments at all levels design and refine the policies that will help achieve this goal.

Overhauling the global tax system and its practices is fundamental if we are to deliver stronger, cleaner and fairer growth for a post-Crisis world. The Secretary-General explains how the OECD, with the support of the G20, is finding ways to fix the current international tax situation.

Former Ambassador Seiichiro Noboru urges the OECD to expand by including the BRIICS* (“Serving a new world” in OECD Observer No. 298 Q1 2014). Only when these countries adopt OECD best practices can governments and firms enjoy a true level playing field. As the organisation helps aspiring members to adhere with OECD instruments, important reforms can be pushed forward. Accession also strengthens the OECD through introducing new perspectives. But the impasse of the Doha round of trade negotiations highlights the risk of deadlock that can accompany enlargement. Does the conduct of the BRIICS within the World Trade Organization suggest they would co-operate within the OECD, which relies on consensus decisions that are enforced by peer review?

Rudolf van der Berg of the OECD writes about Internet governance.

There’s a very obvious remedy for governments that wish to restore the public’s trust: become transparent, honest and inclusive. This, however, is intrinsically difficult. Any government that managed it would not be a government as we know it, but something else entirely.

©David Rooney

Unique budgetary and demographic pressures, as well as the need to manage risk, will push Japan’s civil service to raise its game and adapt new ways in the years ahead.

©Dennis George

Although South Africa has had an impressive track record among emerging economies, it has recently hit economic difficulties. We asked FEDUSA General Secretary, Dennis George, what have been the effects, and what steps the G20 and South African government must take to return to the path of healthy growth.

Angel Gurria, Secretary-General of the OECD

International investment treaties are in the spotlight as recent articles in the Financial Times and The Economist show. An ad hoc investment arbitration tribunal recently awarded $50 billion (€40 billion) to shareholders in Yukos. EU consultations on proposed investment provisions in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States generated a record 150,000 comments. There is intense public interest in treaty challenges to the regulation of tobacco marketing, nuclear power and health care.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is no longer just a marketing buzzword but has become a mainstream part of business operations in companies the world over. From so-called triple bottom line accounting through legal frameworks to stock market indices that reward responsible business conduct on social and environmental fronts, company values increasingly reflect CSR values too. But what of their global supply chains, do they hold the same high values? How can multinational companies in particular be sure that the myriad firms they source from in poorer countries do not cut corners with people’s lives or the environment? The death toll from the collapse of the brand-driven Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in 2013 was another tragic reminder that for CSR to have real value, much more needs to be done.

In this OECD Observer roundtable, we asked a range of stakeholders, from government, business, labour and civil society, for their views:

“What actions are you taking to encourage responsible business conduct and what new steps do you think are needed to strengthen corporate social responsibility worldwide?”

The recovery from the Great Recession has been slow and arduous, and has at times threatened to derail altogether.

Carlos Ghosn, Nissan boss ©Reuters

Non-nationals are starting to make an impact in top Japanese firms. But will other firms take notice? Changes in education would help.

Whether you blame poor regulation, sloppy governance, greed or bad luck, banks were frontline culprits in causing the crisis. Governments have been working on reforms to fix the financial sector and improve governance, but a lot more work remains to be done. Some OECD principles can help.

Obama getting through

Major events, like the Great East Japan earthquake or indeed the euro crisis, can have important ripple effects that spread well beyond the areas immediately concerned. More recently, the budget crisis that resulted in the shutdown of large parts of the US government and public services has raised the spectre of a default, the first in the country’s history.

Each year about one-third of all the food produced globally ends up wasted even as hundreds of millions of people go hungry.

Promoting inclusive growth; rebuilding trust; fostering sustainability: these were the three themes that drove discussions at the annual OECD Forum in May 2013. Since 2000 the OECD Forum has become a major stakeholder summit and is the traditional curtain raiser of OECD Week, being held in conjunction with the Ministerial Council Meeting. The public event provides an opportunity for people from all countries and backgrounds–business, labour, civil society, students and academics, as well as ministers–to debate and understand global challenges and to feed their views into the ministerial discussions. This year some 1,520 participants from 63 countries engaged with 176 speakers to discuss a range of pressing global issues, while millions more were able to participate online.

When G20 regulators met in Pittsburgh in September 2009–it had taken them a full year to react to the collapse of Lehman Brothers–they set out an ambitious financial reform agenda. No stone would be left unturned, no shadow in the banking system unexposed. Action would cover all financial market segments and players, and lessons would be learned from the crisis to ensure that the 2008 debacle never happened again.

Cell number

South Africa’s former president, Nelson Mandela, holds up a mobile phone in London, 21 October 2003. Using his old convict number 46664 from Robben Island, Mr Mandela helped launch a global phone and internet campaign to raise awareness about AIDs. Originally published in OECD Observer No 240/241, December 2003

Read "President Nelson Mandela: Some personal reflections", by Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development, and Director, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford

See also www.oecd.org/southafrica/

Economic data

GDP : +0.5%, Q4 2014
Employment rate: 65.9%, Q4 2014
Annual inflation : 0.60% Mar 2015
Trade : -3.0% exp, -3.7 imp, Q4 2014
Unemployment : 6.993% Feb 2015
More moderate expansion ahead? Composite leading indicators
Updated: 12 May 2015

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  • Have a look at these posters representing a world without fundamental rights at work – including child labour, forced labour and inequality. Read more about this ILO image competition here.
  • Rising inequality threatens social cohesion and growth. Income inequality has reached historical highs in most OECD countries and is still rising.
  • As the dust settles after the UK general election, let’s remember that voting at the ballot box is not an innate right enjoyed by everyone. Indeed, although the number of democracies across the world has spiked from 48 in 1989 up to 95 today, billions of people are still living in non-democratic, authoritarian regimes.
  • How can we achieve a zero-carbon future? A new World Bank report provides a few insights.
  • Today alcohol causes more deaths worldwide than HIV/AIDS, violence and tuberculosis combined. In order to reduce damages to health, the OECD recommends that regular drinkers reduce their consumption by one unit a week, that is, a small glass of wine for example. In addition, increasing prices, regulating advertising, effectively treating drinking problems together with stricter police enforcement would greatly contribute to reducing damages done to individuals and society.
  • video alcohol
  • Africa vs profit shifting African countries heavily rely on the income generated by multinationals’ taxation, which can represent as much as 88% of a country’s tax base. Little wonder Africa is involved in the OECD’s initiative to address tax base erosion caused by profit shifting, known as BEPS. The need to strengthen inter-governmental co-operation to curb cross-border tax losses was reaffirmed at the Africa Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) in Sandton on 21 April 2015.
  • Africa v. profit shifting
  • Rana Plaza
  • Wal-Mart, Other Retailers Sued over Bangladesh Factory Collapse Two years after the April 24, 2013, Bangladeshi factory collapse in the capital of Dhaka, the victims' families filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court in Washington against Wal-Mart Stores Inc and other U.S.-based companies that sourced out their products from the Rana factory. Read more on Telesur's website.
  • Today, after three years of drought, California is in the midst of a full-blown political and environmental crisis, with restrictions imposed across the state, reports the Financial Times.
  • Lack of water holding back Asian growth In Asia, the world’s most dynamic region with the fastest economic growth, 75% of countries face serious water shortages.
  • ADB water
  • Why is the gap between rich and poor growing despite rises in GDP? Do benefits help? Does aid work? (The Guardian)
  • Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis expressed its scepticism towards the Eurozone’s institutions and gave ideas for ways forward. "Greece must become reformable again", Yanis Varoufakis said.
  • Business brief: Israel's water
  • #OECD360: Your country in figures.
  • How to ensure transparency in public procurement? Read Cobus de Swardt's article on OECD Insights.
  • Asia to maintain a strong 6.3% growth rate in 2015 and 2016, according to the Asian Development Bank
  • After three decades of extraordinary economic development, China is shifting to a slower and more sustainable growth path, according to the OECD's latest Economic Survey of China.
  • In pursuit of the American Dream
  • Iceland's strong recovery stems from the good use of its natural resources, the energy sector and tourism according to Peter Dohlman, IMF Mission Chief for Iceland.
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  • Government representatives and experts from around the world are gathering in Japan this week to develop a post-2015 framework for global disaster risk reduction. The World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) will share expertise at the conference.
  • Switzerland’s recent moves towards greater tax transparency were welcomed by the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, based at the OECD, as a boost to international efforts to end tax evasion. Work will continue with Switzerland, notably on implementation, in 2015.
  • Help bridge the gap between business integrity policies & practices:participate in this new OECD survey by clicking on the image.
  • What can we do to promote better literacy skills for all? Read Andreas Schleicher's latest blog on oecdeducationtoday.
  • pisa
  • Secretary General Angel Gurría describes the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) as a useful tool to enhance educational systems but states that improving a country's ranking should not be a goal per se. Article in Spanish by El País.
  • [VIDEO] Although many countries have made great progress in narrowing gender gaps in education, new challenges are looming.
  • Tim Harcourt Video
  • G20 and Australia: Bestselling economist Tim Harcourt speaks to the BBC about how Australia has gone from "Down Under to Down Wonder".

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