Think Global May 2020

Think Global May 2020

Date: 4 May 2020


Welcome to the May 2020 edition of Think Global. Normally we print the May edition and post it to you. But with all of our staff working from home across London and the UK we weren’t able to do that this time.  So, this has the same look as Think Global Extra but with the extra content that you would normally get with the printed copy of Think Global. Do read on, as it’s packed full of the latest details of our campaigns, and actions that you can take, plus lots of information about how you, our local group members and activists, are continuing to meet and campaign as a community during lockdown – for which we send our solidarity and thanks. 


  1. Events 

  1. Latest materials and online actions 

  1. Access to medicines 

  1. Aid watch 

  1. Debt cancellation 

  1. Trade justice 

  1. Global Justice Now local groups news 

  1. Media highlights 


  1. Events 

The next in our fortnightly series of webinars will be  
Fighting for global access to Covid19 vaccines and treatments 
Thursday 7 May, 6.30pm (BST) 

For this webinar, we’ll be joined by campaigners from South Africa and Brazil. They will be sharing their experiences in fighting for access to medicines in the global south and how this longstanding issue is now impacting their struggle to ensure fair access to Covid19 treatments and vaccines. Heidi Chow, our pharmaceuticals campaigner, will also be speaking about our campaign and what can be done in the UK.  

Future webinars are planned for May 21, June 4 and June 18 and will cover subjects such as migration, trade and globalisation. Check the events page on our website for more details as we know them.  Recordings of all the webinars are being uploaded to our YouTube channel. 

  1.  Latest materials and online actions  

New briefings 

Exiting the permanent crisis in the global south: the case for a global financial reset in the wake of Covid-19Read the briefing here >> 

A Covid-19 vaccine should be affordable for allRead the briefing here >> 

New online actions  

Access to medicines:  petition calling on the UK government to ensure that any Covid-19 vaccine developed with public money is made affordable to the NHS as well as lower income countries. And to urge them to work globally so that any vaccine reaches the most vulnerable everywhere. Sign and share the petition here >> 

Drop the debt:  petition to the UK Chancellor calling on him to push the IMF to cancel debt payments for countries suffering from the economic impacts of coronavirus and to help countries in trouble to restructure their debt rather than bailing out lenders. Sign and share the petition here >> 

  1. Aid watch 

Despite the ongoing lockdown, there is still plenty of work going on to hold the government to account over how it spends the aid budget. In fact, this is all the more important given that the Department for International Development (DfID) is using significant amounts of development funding to support international efforts against Covid-19 whilst refusing to respond to basic scrutiny on its spending earlier in the year.  

This month, we wrote for Declassified UK about how DfID and CDC Group, the UK’s development bank, have been promoting and investing in private healthcare for a number of years. Critics argue that this approach exacerbates inequalities and undermines public health services. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there are fears that many public health systems are unprepared to respond with key ICU equipment and workers predominantly based in the private sector. 

We also joined calls for parliament’s International Development Committee to hold an urgent inquiry into allegations made in a BBC Africa Eye documentary about the British managers of a CDC-backed company in Kenya. The documentary is available in full here 

And, after a reshuffle in the Shadow Cabinet following the recent leadership election, Labour’s new Shadow International Development Secretary Preet Gill has supported calls for debt cancellation for the global south in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. You can read our joint media briefing on the importance of debt cancellation here 

If you want to get involved, support our work or learn more about this campaign, please contact our campaign manager Daniel Willis.

  1. Access to medicines 

On 24 April, the WHO announced a new international collaboration with 20 countries (including the UK), global health leaders and multilateral agencies. Its aim is to ensure global access for all to new COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and tests. To get commitment at international level on global equitable access is a step in the right direction however there are no plans or details yet. Instead there are many questions as to what concrete steps this group is willing to take to make equitable access a reality. You can see the WHO’s announcement about this group here.  

One of the first actions of this new international group is to host a Coronavirus Global Response Summit this coming Monday (4 May) with the aim of raising £7 billion to develop COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests. However, raising money alone is not sufficient to ensure that there will be a fair distribution of any new vaccine. Instead, we need all public money raised from the Summit to have conditions attached on access, to ensure any vaccine is affordable to every country as well as free to the public. We are using this Summit as a campaigning opportunity and so we are coordinating a UK civil society statement for the media and asking people to sign our petition here.  

If you have already signed this petition, please share it to your contacts.  

This Monday, we are also asking people to take a photo of themselves holding up a message which says: #Covid19VaccineForAllAnd then post it on Twitter with the following message 

Over 13,000 people are calling for a #Covid19VaccineForAll. @DFID_UK @foreignoffice as co-hosts of the #UnitedAgainstCoronavirus Summit push for conditions on public funding for new #Covid19 vaccines and treatments so they’re affordable to all. 

  1. Debt cancellation 

As part of our work on the impact of coronavirus on the global south, we have joined the Jubilee Debt Campaign and others in demanding emergency debt cancellation to enable countries to spend more on healthcare as the virus continues to spread. 
Even before the pandemic, 60 countries were already spending more on debt payments than healthcare as a result of a new boom in risky lending to developing countries following the 2008 financial crisis. Coronavirus has brought that existing crisis into stark relief, with the amounts of vital health equipment and facilities in countries of the global south being vastly smaller than the UK, and we know how even the UK’s capacity is proving insufficient. 
We have joined Jubilee and others in highlighting the $40 billion of debt payments due in 2020 from low-income countries, and calling for $300 billion of debt to be cancelled for the global south as a whole this year. The UN has called for up to $1 trillion of debt cancellation in total, as part of a range of measures to tackle the economic impact of coronavirus on the developing world. 
Hopefully you have signed our petition to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, which is the main action on this campaign. We collected more than 10,000 in the run up to the G20 and IMF/World Bank meetings in mid-April, part of a total of 750,000 gathered around the world. This first phase of the campaign achieved a moderate success – the G20 committed to a suspension of debt payments for 77 low-income countries from 1 May to the end of 2020. This means $12 billion of debt payments will not need to be made this year. In addition, up to $500 million of debts to the IMF will be covered from a post-catastrophe trust fund, meaning 26 countries including Sierra Leone and Liberia will have some debt effectively cancelled. 
But there is a long way still to go. This means only $0.5 billion of debt has been cancelled, out of the $40 billion minimum that we think is necessary. And the $12 billion of debt suspended will fall due after the end of this year, meaning a debt crisis has only been delayed, not avoided, for these countries.  
We won’t be producing printed materials for this campaign at this stage, but we will continue to join in with the debt coalition on future online actions and mobilisations at key points between now at the end of the year. In the short term, the campaign will be targeting the IMF, World Bank, and private lenders and trying to get them to join in with the debt suspension. Then it will be trying to get the debt suspension turned into debt cancellation. The UK will be a key country for this, as a high proportion of international debt contracts are written under UK law, meaning our government could pass legislation to force private lenders to comply with the terms of an international agreement.

For more information, read Nick Dearden’s article on debt for Al Jazeera and watch our webinar Business as usual isn’t good enough. 
If you have any questions about the campaign, contact Jonathan Stevenson 

  1. Trade justice

Would your local group like to have a speaker on trade for an online meeting? Last month, we wrote that our plans for lots of public meetings and local group meetings on trade had been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now as we adapt to life in lockdown, we realise we can do a lot online, with virtual meetings.  

Right now, trade negotiations with the US are on hold. However officials are actively trying to get agreement on how to proceed virtually, and we think it quite likely that they might start quite soon, so we don’t want to take our eye off the ball. We’ve also been talking a bit about how trade rules help to keep in place the neoliberal world that has made us vulnerable to this kind of pandemic. And we’ve realised that there may be a new wave of ISDS threats arising from the crisis. 

If your group would be interested in finding out more and discussing all of this, get in touch. This could be for one of your regular local group meetings if you are meeting online at this time and you would like to skill up on trade and debate the issues. It’s even easier than usual for one of us to join your meetings – we can just do it from our desks. Or if you would like to hold a public webinar on trade, we can supply a speaker and help with the webinar practicalities. Contact Guy or Jean if you are interested.  

Governments have taken actions unprecedented in recent times to tackle the pandemic. We’re afraid that those actions themselves could give rise to a new wave of ISDS cases. Law firms are already advising their clients of the possibilities and speaking of a possible ‘beginning of a boom’. This doesn’t just affect the UK but also governments across the world, especially countries in the global South. Fines in the millions, if not billions, to be paid to transnational corporations in the midst of a global recession are blatant profiteering, and the chilling effect on action to stem the pandemic would be deadly. 

We’re calling on the government to urgently withdraw its consent to arbitration through ISDS – this can only be done before any corporation brings an ISDS challenge. It should support and encourage other countries, especially in the global South, to do the same. We’re talking to some contacts in parliament at the moment to see if some of them could take up the issue, and we’ll hopefully be in touch with more soon. 

  1. Global Justice Now local groups news 

It’s been so nice to hear from our local groups across the UK – and particularly how well everyone seems to be adapting and what great efforts you’re making to keep in regular touch with each other as a source of community and friendship as well as campaigning.  In fact, we had so much feedback that we didn’t have space to fit everything in here, so here’s a summary of what you told us: 

Meeting online and sharing information 

Many of you have been using zoom for your group meetings – with some groups meeting more frequently than usual but with shorter meetings.  It sounds like many of you spend at least part of your meetings looking at the latest campaign issue and any action that you can take – as well as having a social catch-up.  Some of you have also been watching our webinars and discussing those at your zoom meetings. We’re really pleased to hear that they’ve been so useful. We have at least three more planned (see events section above for details of the next one on May 7).  And you can find recordings of all of them on our YouTube channel. Nick also did an interesting interview on Covid-19 and debt cancellation with Kenyan-born author and activist Firoze Manji. You could consider watching that together on zoom and then discussing it.  You can find it here 

If you are encountering accessibility issues with zoom for any of your group members (for example through lack of experience of using it, or lack of items like webcams or headphones) then please email us and we’ll do our very best to help. You may have also heard accounts of unwanted guests in zoom meetings. Please don’t let this put you off, as zoom has put some measures in place to help stop that from happening. For example, you can set a password for the meeting and a ‘waiting room’ which meeting participants will arrive in and wait to be admitted by the host when the meeting starts. These features are all on the same page that you go to to schedule a meeting, and are very easy to turn on or off via tick boxes.  Global Justice Shropshire has come up with a check-list of things that you could do in addition to this: 

  1. Publicise the zoom meeting or talk as normal but avoid posting the link/ID/password publicly on social media (or anywhere else public)  

  1. In your publicity, ask people to email if they’re interested in joining, and then send them the link and password after that 

  1. Restrict screen sharing to host only and disable it for any other participants.   

Please don’t forget that we can help you with any of this – including setting up the zoom meetings from our account (so there’s no time limit on the meeting) and having a dry run with you beforehand to check that everything is ok.  Please email if you’d like us to help. 

Many of you are continuing to send monthly email newsletters to your groups as well, which are a really useful resource and way of highlighting key campaign information and actions as well as ideas for reading and notification of online events. We hope that Think Global is a useful resource for that too. 

Campaigning and taking action 

Of course, online actions and petitions can be done as usual, and many of you have also been contacting your MPs by email.  Global Justice Manchester are busy organising a webinar on the issue of debt and coronavirus, due to go online on May 19, which they’ll also use to encourage attendees to take action locally. And Global Justice Nottingham spoke about big pharma at a recent online meeting organised by Nottingham’s Keep Our NHS Public. 

Many of you run your own social media accounts and are trying to increase your use of them during this time, including moving into Instagram in addition to Facebook and Twitter.  That’s great to hear.  If you’re short of ideas for content, then please do consider sharing blogs and news items from the Global Justice Now website. Global Justice Manchester made a video of what they described as a ‘micro demonstration’ – including two socially distancing Lego figures and some chickens!  

To help boost your campaigning even further, we can offer campaigners from our staff team to come to your online meetings and give a talk or host a discussion.  We can currently offer talks on access to medicines, trade, debt cancellation and aid watch. Please get in touch to arrange that. If your group is small in number, please don’t be put off asking as it may be that we could organise something with your group and another one at the same time.  Keep up the great work!

  1. Media highlights

With coronavirus dominating the media for the last six weeks, Nick Dearden was interviewed on BBC World News on the pharmaceutical industry, Huffington Post covered our open letter to the UK government on access to a vaccine, and Dorothy Guerrero was interviewed on Sky News about the impact on the global south. Nick has written three comment pieces on coronavirus for Al Jazeera looking at Big Pharma, financial reform and global debt, and Heidi Chow wrote a comment piece for Tribune on the vaccine campaign.  
Before and beyond coronavirus, on aid the Observer ran an article on our report into CDC Group in February, which was also covered by Private Eye. And Daniel Willis was also quoted in an article in the Observer in April on aid going to private schools in Africa. 
On trade, Nick Dearden was on Good Morning Britain debating chlorinated chicken, wrote a widely-shared Guardian comment piece, and was quoted in CNBC and twice in the Guardian on food standards. Huffington Post ran a story on our legal challenge over redacted US trade talk minutes, and Nick wrote a comment piece for the Big Issue North on it. Nick also debated Brexit and trade on BBC World Service’s Real Story. We had a story in the Daily Mirror on pharma and the US trade deal in February, while the threat of US cosmetics standards from a US trade deal was covered in the Observer in March.