Legal identity and informality - keys to achieving the SDGs?

Around 2 billion people globally do not have identification, including hundreds of millions of children who do not have a birth certificate. This undocumented status poses a major hurdle to achieving the U.N.'s 2030 Development Agenda and a majority of the SDGs, which rely on measuring people within countries and their development status. You cannot have continual improvement of government policy for the poor or provision of public services if you cannot count your population. Indeed, the mantra of the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to "leave no one behind," and the those without legal identity are among the most vulnerable and most likely to be left behind.

Fortunately, the SDG process has identified the need to address the challenges of legal identity and informality in multiple places. In Goal 16, Target 16.9 calls on governments to "provide legal identity for all, including birth registration." In addition, Goal 8 calls on governments to "encourage the formalization and growth of micro, small- and medium-sized enterprises," including through access to financial services.

Already in the first months of implementation, this foundational issue is getting the attention it deserves:  the Center for Global Development recently hosted an event on this important topic, entitled How Finding the Missing Millions Can Help Achieve the SDGs, which featured US Special Coordinator for Post-2015 Development Agenda, Tony Pipa, and World Bank Corporate Secretary and President's Special Envoy on the Post-2015 Process, Mahmoud Mohieldin, among others.

The discussion centered on how legal identity must be achieved in order to ensure broader success on many of the SDGs. Identification is key to addressing issues such as gender equality, land rights, and reduction of corruption and inequality - and many of the other goals and targets. The need to formalize economies and economic relationships between employers and the state and between employers and employees has also recently gained attention at the International Labor Organization, which adopted a Recommendation on the topic of informality at its last Conference in June 2015. The Recommendation was featured in an informal dialogue at the UN in September among various stakeholders, including USCIB's Vice President for Labor Affairs, Corporate Responsibility and Governance, Ariel Meyerstein. An enlarged tax base from an expanded formal sector is one of the main sources for the domestic resource mobilization, which will be key to funding other governmental efforts to achieve the SDGs. USCIB also sponsored a session on various approaches to improving working conditions and informality in SMEs at the UN Forum on Business in Human Rights in Geneva in mid-November.

The capacity to capture new forms of legal identity and thus more accurately count populations will also be a major component of the 'data revolution' inspired by the SDGs. This will no doubt be the focus of the new Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, which will have its secretariat at the United Nations Foundation.

In sum, legal identity and informality will be two issues to watch as the UN 2030 Agenda unfolds.