| 11-07-2018

Burying human rights violations in big data

With the High Level Political Forum praising quantitative data as the pathway to achieving the SDGs, human rights violations could easily be silenced by numbers.

Kicking off this week, the High Level Political  Forum (HLPF) commenced the meeting with a global snapshot of the progress made towards the 17 goals while presenting quantitative data as a key enabler for achieving the ambitious targets set forth in the SDGs. Although  it is an important tool for underpinning policy measures and interventions, it also has the potential to further undermine the human rights of those who are easily silenced by numbers.

There are big questions around data that first need to be asked, such as how it is collected, what is measured, who controls and benefits from it, as well as what its limitations are.

Data does not feed the world

The State of Food Security and Nutrition (SOFI), a report issued annually, is the main reference in terms of data collection on hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition globally. With the adoption of the SDGs, the SOFI has reformed its methodology to better cover the development targets,     however it has not yet sufficiently done this. Despite the introduction of important indicators, the report fails to address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition, including the dominant models of production and the contested role of corporations in shaping eating habits.

Rather than reaching the goal of ending hunger that is called for in SDG 2, the world is on track to increasing and exacerbating food insecurity. Since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, global rates of food insecurity have increased - with some     815 million people facing hunger and malnourishment, and it is estimated that this number will continue to rise. The present understanding of the root causes of hunger and malnutrition and of the policy solutions that can support long-term, structural change, is not sufficiently up to speed with the kind of shifts that need to take place.  

Focusing uncritically on quantitative data collection may only distract us from taking the very urgent action that is needed in order to overcome hunger and malnutrition, and more generally global inequalities. 

What data do we need?

Prioritizing quantitative data over qualitative data as a way of assessing the world’s progress could easily undermine people’s knowledge and participation - and people’s subjective assessment - to review progress. In addition, focusing on what we do not know – rather than on what we know, could lead to yet another rationale for inaction. More importantly, it would set a dangerous precedent where huge data-managing corporations would be facilitating the capture of information under the shelter of developmental needs. 

In moving forward, the world needs data that uncovers the structural causes of hunger and malnutrition, such as inequality and discrimination linked to class, gender and race/ethnicity, disenfranchisement, patterns of ownership and access to land, labor and capital. Reliable data needs to be used as part of a democratic process that aspires to challenge oppressive power structures and strengthens participation in decision-making of those most affected by human rights violations.

In the lead up to the 2019 review, governments must consider human rights treaty bodies and their corresponding data to assess progress in the consecution of the SDGs.

For more information, please contact     mattheisen[at]fian.org 
For media enquiries, please contact     delrey[at]fian.org  

Read     Spotlight Report 2018, the most comprehensive independent assessment of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.