Think Global extra, June 2020
Think Global is a monthly update for Global Justice Now activists and those interested in being active with us. It’s sent out on the first day of each month, either by both mail and email, or just by email (Think Global extra). We’d encourage all local group members, as well as those not in groups who want to do more than take online actions to sign up for the email version at globaljustice.org.uk/think-global
Trade justice / The US-UK trade deal
Access to medicine / Covid-19 treatment for all
The global reset / Debt cancellation
Our annual general meeting
Groups and activism news
This month’s priority: TRADE JUSTICE
With formal negotiations with the US now underway, we’re seeing a growing interest in organising opposition to a US-UK deal from lots of our natural allies, and also from some unexpected sources - the Daily Mail is decrying the potential effect on British farmers for instance. There are likely to be new opportunities for alliance building locally.
More generally, the pandemic has exposed how broken our systems are. Modern trade deals have been a key part of that system – undermining public services and driving an extreme market led and hyper-globalised approach. At a time when the need for a global reset is clear, we cannot tie ourselves down to more of the same with corporate driven trade deals – we need to mobilise.
Mobilising against the US-UK deal
Our movement building and awareness raising work on trade at the moment is therefore key. Of course, it is a challenge for us all to work out how to do this in lockdown. We’re coming up with some ideas, and we know you may have others.
Four things we can do in the next few weeks are:
Trade webinar, Friday 5 June, 2pm
As part of the series of webinars that we have been running, we have one coming up on trade with Sharon Treat from IATP in the US, Cecilia Olivet from TNI and our own Nick Dearden. This is a great place to learn more about how trade rules underpin the corporate structure of the global economy, what the Trump administration's trade agenda is, and the connection between the pandemic and corporate courts.
Please do register and share this widely.
Online activist assembly on trade, Saturday 27 June, morning, tbc
Listening to speakers is great, but we need more space for discussion, sharing ideas and creating plans - especially in the new circumstances we find ourselves in. At this activist assembly, we’ll use technology to help us have group discussions with people from all across the country and develop plans. More on this soon.
At national level, we’re working closely with allies. Some of these organisations may also have local groups and contacts near you, such as Friends of the Earth, Keep Our NHS Public, We Own It, Sustainable Food Places, Traidcraft and Unlock Democracy. You may already have connections with some of these, but if not, we can help put you in touch.
Trading with Trump, our 2017 briefing, is still a good rundown of the key issues.
Our resources for organising a public meeting on the US-UK deal. They were produced in December and relate to physical meetings, but contain lots that is relevant for online meetings.
Talks between the US and the UK started in May - as we anticipated, the government did not keep them on hold for the pandemic for very long! There will be another round in the second half of June, and we anticipate one every month. Building on the earlier six rounds of preparatory talks, over 200 officials dived straight into negotiations on all the chapters of a future deal at once.
There have been stories in the media about trade minister Liz Truss preparing a package of concessions on agriculture to offer the US in order to sweeten the deal. Another report highlights why Truss feels the need to do this - 47 members of the US Congress (pdf) have written to the US negotiator, calling on him to get rid of the UK’s ban on chlorine chicken ‘once and for all’. Agriculture industry lobby groups are also pushing US negotiators to ‘seize the opportunity’ to get rid of protections for terms like Cornish pasty, stilton cheese or Scottish wild salmon. We can already see that these talks are playing out as we had feared.
Any US-UK trade deal negotiated by Johnson and Trump will have an impact on Scotland, threatening Scottish public services which remain less privatised than the rest of the UK, and the ability of the Scottish parliament to pass progressive laws on everything from the climate to food standards to fracking. With the help of the Trade Justice Scotland coalition of which we are a key member, Claudia Beamish MSP put down a motion raising awareness about these dangers. If you live in Scotland, please take the e-action to your local MSPs and then share with others.
Other trade issues
The return of the Trade Bill
Over the past couple of years we’ve done a lot of campaigning on the Trade Bill in the previous parliament. From the start, we’ve said there is a gaping hole in the bill where there ought to be a modern democratic framework for trade policy. With your support, we worked with MPs and Lords from all parties, and last year together we had an amazing success: the bill was amended. But that was too much for the government, and they dropped the whole bill.
Now they have brought it back, without the amendment. While the numbers in parliament are very different this time round, there are still a lot of MPs who want to stand up for the need for democracy in the Trade Bill. We’ll be in touch when the bill reaches the stage where MPs can propose amendments.
Covid-19: a boom for corporate courts?
We’ve also been campaigning on ‘corporate courts’ (formally known as investor state dispute settlement or ISDS) for several years. Government interventions to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic are unprecedented in recent years. The need for this action to save lives, stem the pandemic and protect jobs is clear, but from a very narrow corporate perspective, they could give rise to corporate court claims. Law firms are already advising clients of the possibilities, and that this may be the “beginning of a boom”.
We’re calling for governments (MP briefing) to urgently suspend the operation of ISDS before the first cases are brought - and to start working out how to end the unjust corporate court system entirely. Leading human rights experts have already called for a moratorium, and we’re talking to global allies and MPs here about further action.
ACCESS TO MEDICINE
Covid-19 patent pool
The WHO is launching a voluntary patent pool to bring together Covid-19 vaccines and treatments with the aim of facilitating countries to freely or affordably access them. This is a positive step in principle, and we are calling the UK to support it, but the WHO doesn’t have the power to force big pharma to join or donate their patents. And so, we are still pushing the UK to ensure that conditions are attached to public funding to ensure patent-free vaccines and mandatory sharing of knowledge to the global pool.
The WHO is also issuing a global solidarity call to ask for commitment on binding action to go further than the pool. We have updated our online action to push the government on both these points.
We have been working with allies to get these issues into the media and so it was reported on Newsnight and in the Financial Times that in the negotiations leading up to a crucial World Health Assembly meeting, the UK and other high-income countries were opposing progressive language around knowledge sharing, equitable access, and distribution of Covid-19 treatments and vaccines, despite making public commitments to access for all.
To help us put pressure on the UK government not to side with the pharmaceutical industry like this, you can share these videos (both on Facebook):
First minister must override patents during pandemic
Like the UK government, the Scottish government’s devolved competencies include the powers to override patents on Covid-19 treatments. Global Justice Now wants Nicola Sturgeon to send a clear message to pharmaceutical companies during this global health emergency: people’s health comes before profit. Together with trade unions and health organisations, we have written an open letter to the first minister calling on her to commit to using a special licence to sidestep any patents on Covid-19 treatments. There is also a petition – please add your name and share with others.
It has been widely reported that the UK is seeking to secure preferential access to the vaccine candidate under development by the University of Oxford. It has been suggested that this would be a positive move for NHS staff and patients, but in reality it increases the risk that other countries will do the same. The process of developing a vaccine is an extremely uncertain one, and a breakthrough could equally emerge from a research project in another country.
Without any global leadership and co-ordination to drive international solidarity around vaccine access, there could be a starkly unequal distribution of vaccines that could impact the NHS as well as countries in the global south. A nationalistic approach to vaccine distribution by any government is not only unjust but it is self-defeating as there is a risk of re-infection if large swathes of the world’s population are left un-immunised.
So it was great news that more than 140 former and current world leaders, economists and public health experts made an unprecedented call for guarantees that Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics, tests and treatments will be provided patent-free, mass-produced and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge. Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown supported the letter, as well as the current presidents of South Africa, Senegal and Ghana, and Pakistan’s prime minister. It was co-ordinated by UNAIDS and Oxfam and has been a real boost to the campaign.
If you missed our webinar...
We hosted a webinar on global access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. Heidi Chow was joined by Umunyana Rugege from South Africa, and Pedro Villardi from Brazil who shared their experiences in fighting for access to medicines in the global south and discussed the struggle for fair access to Covid-19 treatments and vaccines. Watch the webinar here.
Since the G20's suspension of £12 billion of debt payments to help 77 countries deal with coronavirus in April, the focus of the campaign has been on getting the World Bank to participate in emergency debt relief, as well as private lenders. So far, the World Bank president is refusing to join in the suspension, on the basis that it will hurt their ability to lend in the future – an excuse we have heard many times before! Private lenders have also expressed reluctance to participate, and this is likely to be the case unless major governments like the UK and US put more pressure on them to do so.
We are now building up to the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in mid-July as the next moment for a push on the campaign. The G20 finance ministers have majority influence at the World Bank, and the UK and US are the legal systems governing the majority of private debt, so it is an important opportunity.
Over 800,000 people have supported the campaign globally, and we are looking to keep building that total as much as possible in the run-up to the meeting – our petition is at 10,000 so far. In the UK, we will also launch an action to MPs later this month, to increase pressure on the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak.
Meanwhile, Argentina defaulted on its private debt at the end of May, after private lenders refused a restructuring offer from its new government. It’s a few months after Lebanon defaulted on its debts. Zambia and Ecuador are thought to be close. Nick Dearden has written an article for New Internationalist on Argentina’s situation and the debt crisis more broadly.
Our joint media briefing (pdf) with campaign allies is the best overview of the campaign.
Exiting the permanent crisis in the global south, our April 2020 briefing, makes the case for a global financial reset in the wake of Covid-19.
Jubilee Debt Campaign have produced a video with campaigners from around the world.
OUR ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
June would have normally seen us holding our annual general meeting alongside a national gathering for activists. You won’t be surprised to hear that we’ve had to postpone the AGM – but we do have a new date now: Saturday 5 September. However, like everything else at the moment, we’ll be holding the AGM on Zoom! As a result, we won’t have the surrounding conference, just the business of the AGM – that includes the usual discussion of our year’s activities, but also this year several motions relating to the rules of Global Justice Now.
Please register for the AGM on our website (where there is also much more information)
GROUPS AND ACTIVISM NEWS
The London youth group, Our Future Now, organised an online party with live music and DJs which raised around £2,000 for Calais Food Collective which provides emergency support for migrants. They also produced a new episode of their podcast, Act Your Rage.
More groups have been starting to meet using Zoom, including Global Justice Cleveland, Northamptonshire for Global Justice, Global Justice Nottingham and Global Justice Glasgow. Global Justice Macclesfield have even been meeting more often than they used to before the lockdown!
Global Justice Shropshire and Global Justice Manchester have both hosted webinars/online public meetings, and Nick Dearden will be giving a talk at Global Justice Cambridge’s June meeting.
Beyond meetings, groups are understandably finding it more difficult to do other campaign activities during the lockdown. One of the aims of the Trade Activists’ Assembly (tbc for 27 June, see above) is to collectively come up with some ideas for how we can all be effective in these changed conditions.
One thing you can still do is write to the local press, and a number of Global Justice Now supporters (some who are in local groups and some who are not) have done that using a template letter we produced on the US-UK trade deal. A variation on this could include coordinating a letter signed by lots of local organisations expressing concern about the deal.
IN THE NEXT ISSUE
The July issue of Think Global will land in your inboxes on 1 July. Alongside updates on trade, pharmaceuticals and more, we’ll have a a full roundup of our work on climate justice, including a new illustrated booklet. In the meantime, look out for a webinar focused on climate change and globalisation which is planned for 18 June.
Our Facebook group for Global Justice Now activists
Campaign resources page on our website
Think Global page (find current and previous issues, sign up for the email)
‘How to’ guides to activist skills
The activism team is currently working from home, but you can still email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can call you back.