Today is significant for two of the most critical campaigns in the fight to end extreme poverty; ending polio and bringing transparency to industries that keep people living - and dying - in poverty. As Global Citizens, we pick the battles that need winning, not just the ones that are easiest to fight. Not all of what you’re about to read is good news, but it is a moment to remember the progress we have made, the challenges we face and the responsibility we have to win.
Firstly, today is World Polio Day, which reminds us of the progress made in eradicating one of the most viral, violent and life-shattering diseases in human history. Last WPD, there had been 171 cases of polio reported worldwide by that point in the year (with another 52 that would be discovered by the end of 2012. Today, 2013 has already seen 296 confirmed cases of polio - with only a third being in countries already considered to be endemic with the virus - and the year is still not over.
The fact that the vast majority of this year’s cases arise in non-endemic countries should remind us of the kind of biological tenacity we are facing, and one which we must meet in kind. There have been more cases of polio in Somalia so far this year than there were cases of polio recorded worldwide, in the whole of last year. Recent reports also indicate that cases of polio may have been found amidst the chaos of the civil war in Syria. And with more than two million of its citizens forced to flee the country, the danger of polio being imported into adjacent countries is as significant as it is likely.
Government ministers, global health professionals, NGO leaders and philanthropists commit to largest polio vaccination programme in history at the Global Vaccines Summit in Abu Dhabi, 24 April 2013 (photo credit: Rotary International)
Since the last WPD, the global community has taken gigantic steps to reach a point where polio could be wiped-out, once and for all. Namely, the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi on 24 April brought together governments, NGOs, philanthropists and global health professionals together to set out a road map to a world free of preventable diseases - polio being the most achievable amongst them. $4bn(USD) was committed to ending polio, with a historic commitment of £300m coming from the UK Government alone.
This was a huge step in the right direction, and as Global Citizens we worked with partners like Rotary International, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to make that happen, through the The End of Polio campaign. If there is one single case study of ‘good aid’ and how investment in development can offer both great value for money and huge humanitarian returns, polio is surely it.
The collapse at the Rana Plaza garment complex in the industrial area outside Dhaka, Bangladesh on 24 April 2013, which left over 1,100 dead and became the second-worst industrial disaster in history (photo credit: AP)
Secondly, and in a bizarre coincidence, today also marks six months to the day since another key event. As leaders met in Abu Dhabi to try and resolve some of the biggest strategic challenges to ending extreme poverty, some two thousand miles away in Bangladesh, on that very same day, events that should and could have been foreseen unfolded on an industrial scale. The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment complex in Bangladesh on 24 April immediately became the second-worst industrial disaster of all time. 1,129 garment workers died in that disaster, and double that number were so badly injured they will struggle to return to work.
In the months that have passed, most of the bodies have been recovered from the ruins of Rana Plaza, but the rubble keeps piling up. Just this month, another fatal failure of the fashion industry brought further tragedy to garment workers in Bangladesh. Another factory in the same region was engulfed in flames, leaving another 10 people dead and dozens horrifically injured. The reason for this crumbling infrastructure? In recent years, the Bangladeshi garment industry has rapidly become one of the largest textiles manufacturers in the world, second only to China - which is 10 times its size.
The reason for this? Foreign investors prefer Bangladesh because textile workers there get paid a quarter of those in China. And whilst this week’s announcement that wages are likely to increase by around 50% is greatly welcome, it still leaves Bangladeshi workers at the bottom of the global league table. The rapid influx of foreign investment has delivered a relative boom to the Bangladeshi economy and the fashion industry alone now accounts for half of all industrial employment and 80% of all exports, but less than 5% of wages earned.
Allow me to put it another way: the garment industry in Bangladesh has been built in a rush. Literally, the top two floors of the Rana Plaza complex were illegally built to supply the demand of Western retailers, directly leading to the cause the collapse. Rapid industrial expansion and short-sighted governmental and safety oversight forced factories to breaking point.
In fact, exactly a month from today - 24 November - will mark another painful anniversary in the increasingly bloody history of the fashion industry in Bangladesh. It will be the first anniversary of the Tazreen factory fire, similar to the one that happened this month, only 10 times the size. Tazreen should have been the tragedy that shook the world into action. But it didn’t. Then Rana Plaza happened. It seems as though we cannot turn our heads to address one thing without another spilling out of control, but that is our challenge.
Even with 99% of it already eradicated and a massive global consensus stood against it, polio is undaunted by the odds it faces. Despite all the progress that has been made, all that work can quickly be undone. As the situation in Somalia perhaps best demonstrates, the risk of polio anywhere is the risk of polio everywhere. Likewise, the tidal wave of outrage in the wake of Rana Plaza was not enough to stop another disaster, but that should not deter us. The fact that hundreds of companies have since committed to improving their standards and supporting workers are all steps in the right direction.
Just today, one of Britain’s biggest retailers, Primark, has announced that it is going to extend the reimbursement packages for those workers affected by the collapse of Rana Plaza. This is exactly the sort of fair-minded and long-sighted leadership we need other major retailers to take. Since the start of our See Through Fashion campaign, Global Citizens have pushed other major UK retailers into action, including Arcadia group, River Island and Matalan.
Companies are waking up to the responsibility they have to their employees, and consumers are waking up the responsibility they have to push companies towards progress. Just as governments have realised that a world free of poverty benefits everyone - making not just moral but even the most coldly-calculated financial sense - so too are companies finally starting to see that a world free of extreme poverty is in everyone’s interests.
The End of Polio and See Through Fashion are entwined by more than just coincidental dates and a mutual core of energetic supporters. They also share a common legacy of responsibility. Today is a reminder of the tragedies that have passed and the challenges that still lay ahead. But let it also remind us of the responsibilities we face as Global Citizens. These fights are there to be won, but someone has to take up the challenge and see it through.
That is our mission. That is how we achieve Zero Poverty 2030. If you remember anything from today, it’s worth reme
The Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh on April 24th of this year – in which more than 1,100 men, women and children lost their lives – was a painful reminder that the fashion and textile industry, whilst successful in generating profits, is both operating without transparency and failing to take care of its workers on an industrial scale. Workers were stationed in unsafe conditions, getting paid £25 a month and working 12 hour shifts. It’s a disaster that could have been avoided. On the dawn of London Fashion Week, See Through Fashion - the Global Poverty Project’s newest campaign - is calling on consumers to take action for greater transparency in the fashion industry, so that we can protect the working conditions and rights of Bangladeshi workers and encourage workers to be paid a decent wage. We are calling on five of the UK’s biggest high street retailers to sign the Bangladesh Workers’ Safety Accord - guaranteeing much needed safety checks and posing legal consequences for unsafe environments. We hope that exactly 6 months after the tragedy in Bangladesh, on October 24th, 2013, our high street will take responsibility for their role in over four million Bangladeshi textile workers lives – not only because it’s what consumers and the public want, but as a matter of justice.
In my role as a Global Poverty Ambassador, I get to discuss the issues surrounding extreme poverty with an eclectic group of people; my community. Following a recent presentation I had given on the topic, in a sleepy Community Centre, I was told quietly and to one side: ‘We’ll never solve these problems; it’s simply out of our hands.’ When pressed on the issue, the rather elderly gentlemen told me this was because we – the average joe, here in the UK – don’t call the shots, nor can we pull any punches. And to some extent he’s right – we don’t consciously decide where our clothes are made or how low the minimum wage is, but I think he’s wrong if he thought our actions don’t affect these decisions or, more importantly, that they couldn’t influence them. Surveying over 150 of my fellow Swindonians about the working conditions for fashion workers in developing countries produced some interesting results.
From their answers it was clear that my neighbours identified a link between the clothes they bought and the livelihoods of workers in other countries, and they recognised that the people are struggling. It’s difficult to ignore the effect of natural disasters; it’s difficult to ignore the effect of conflict; seemingly, the shirt on your back doesn’t show signs of suffering in the same way. But when I engaged with people; when I asked people what they thought, and how they felt about the current situation, that was the first thing they had to say. ‘Profiteering off of the back of the poor,’ ‘Slave labour,’ and ‘Shocking and appalling conditions’ are just a handful of comments scrawled after an unwittingly galvanising few questions. A majority of the people I asked said they thought companies are generally not transparent, and that a lot of the issues facing workers in the developing world – a fair wage, safer working conditions, stopping child labour – should be a responsibility shared by big business in those countries. Why shouldn’t Bangladeshi workers have the same rights as those working here in Britain?
Giving the people of Swindon more information about where their clothes have come from, and encouraging companies to put their workers safety before profit is clearly important to my local community members – and I’m sure we’re not unique in this way. Bangladesh is only the start; if we can start a movement, the effects on the industry will be felt throughout the world. The fashion industry is worth billions here in the UK alone, and using that to our advantage we can lift people out of extreme poverty, not trap them in it. Take action now: visit www.seethroughfashion.org to learn more and join the campaign; tweet See #ThroughFashion to share your views.
2013 presents a truly momentous opportunity in the fight against extreme poverty. With mass public awareness behind issues of global hunger through the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign; the UK's commitment to spend 0.7% of national income towards international aid; and with the UK Presidency of the G8 to focus on Tax, Transparency and Trade - 2013 looks to mark a truly significant moment in the fight against extreme poverty.
Amongst these opportunities for real social change, one in particular has exemplified the role we as global citizens can play in tangibly improving the livelihood of the world's poorest. The global programme for polio eradication.
One might be forgiven for thinking polio is a problem of the past. The disease hasn't been endemic in the UK for over 40 years, and fortunately over the last 20 years, polio cases have been reduced by an astonishing 99%- from more than 350,000 cases in 1988 to just 223 in 2012.
However progress remains perilous. As an infectious disease that invades the nervous system, causing paralysis and even death, largely amongst children under the age of five, polio continues to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable communities around the world. Indeed, the impact of polio is still very much felt in the remaining endemic countries of: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.
Despite the unparalleled progress seen in the last two decades towards the eradication of polio, recent years have been plagued with a number of structural challenges. Chief amongst these has been a funding gap of $5.5 billion over the next 6 years for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (the public-private partnership which leads eradication efforts). Moreover, acute financial constraints in 2012 forced the GPEI to scale back activities in 24 high-risk countries, and with the expiration of the UK's 5-year financial programme towards polio eradication in 2012- the expansion of polio cases worldwide remains a very real threat.
It is, however, in response to this longstanding humanitarian crisis that we as global citizens have shown a renewed resilience.
With the concerted international efforts of the Global Poverty Project, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organisation (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF, this year truly marks the beginning for the end of polio.
In particular GPP's The End of Polio campaign has done much to raise awareness for the permanent eradication of this entirely preventable disease, by encouraging targeted grass-roots action; advocacy; public and parliamentary debate; and calling for the UK to join world leaders and fully-resource the fight against polio.
Some achievements from The End of Polio campaign include:
Political advocacy work through the Protecting 0.7 campaign, seeing the UK Government commit to spending 0.7% of national income towards international aid, confirming it as the first G8 nation to do so.
Hosting The End of Polio Parliamentary Diaspora Event- bringing together MP's, Peers, diaspora organisations, and the UK Department for International Development to discuss the urgent need for more sustained polio funding.
The incredibly committed work of the Global Poverty Project Ambassadors, which resulted in gathering over 3,500 signatures in just a few weeks for The End of Polio petition.
These efforts, cultivating support from within local communities, engaging with schools, faith organisations and civil society to maintain pressure on politicians to act has resulted in some truly meaningful change...
At the Global Vaccine Summit in April this year, the UK Government outlined their plan for a world without polio. A renewed commitment to spend £50 million per year, for the next 6 years to eradicate polio. That's £300 million to represent the livelihoods, futures and dreams of 360 million children. Incredibly, together with unprecedented international support, a total of US $4bn was pledged towards permanently eradicating polio by 2018.
It is this collective effort, from individual action to that of nation states, which should strengthen our resolve in our common global humanity.
Whilst of course we must ensure that funds are properly directed to those concerned; that we focus on the eradication and not just containment of polio; and that we continue to support the inspiring work of polio vaccinators across the world, we must also remember that:
"(Whilst) the last mile (in eradicating polio) is not only the hardest mile; it's also much harder than expected…(but) by doing something really hard for each other, we will demonstrate what is best about humanity. And that will inspire us to be more ambitious about what is possible in all our endeavors".
(Bill Gates, speaking at the 2013 Richard Dimbleby Lecture entitled, The Impatient Optimist).
With your continued support; campaigning, petitioning and advocating for change, together we as global citizens can ensure that polio remains where it belongs… firmly placed in the realms of history.
Well what a 10 days that was in the fight against extreme poverty.
13 days ago the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign of 200 charities, including the Global Poverty Project, set out an ambitious agenda for the world’s richest leaders to tackle – on tax dodging, malnutrition and land grabs. Progress on these issues would have a significant impact on the worlds poor.
For the past 10 months I’ve been a member of the Organising Committee for the campaign, joining colleagues from Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, Action Aid, UNICEF UK, Comic Relief and others to activate a campaign to tackle one of the greatest scandals of our age – hunger.
And after some very notable successes – securing 0.7% of GNI on aid after 43 years of campaigning and by putting tax and malnutrition front and centre of the G8 agenda – On Saturday 8th June we entered 10 critical days of meetings and summits that could change the story of hunger.
For over 6 months we’ve been lobbying David Cameron, as chair of this year’s G8, and other world leaders and through private meetings and public action we’ve argued for tax information transparency, a halt on land grabbing and reform of the way companies acquire land and increased funding to tackle malnutrition, which claims the lives 2 million children every year.
We began the 10 days with one of the highlights of my campaigning career. On a brilliantly sunny day in Hyde Park we mobilised 45,000 people at The Big IF London. 45,000 who stood together, listened to voices from popular culture and from the developing world who prophesised a world without hunger and extreme poverty and who came together to call for improved funding for malnutrition at the Nutrition for Growth event, running concurrently in London.
Our voices were heard and the summit committed $1.4 billion in new money for malnutrition - an incredible result for the campaign and most importantly, for the world’s poor. Crucially now we must argue for that funding to be frontloaded. The money, currently earmarked for 2018 needs to be distributed sooner – it can’t wait.
Next we moved onto tax – a subject rich with interest both domestically and internationally. As often happens with global meetings, the agenda can often get pushed to one side for world events – in this case, Syria. But tax was the main theme going into the event and continued to drive discussions throughout the meeting.
At the ‘Trade, Tax and Transparency event last weekend, the UK government convinced all ten tax havens – from the Isle of Man to Bermuda – to gather ownership information of the companies doing business in their territories and provide the required tax information on them.
What’s clear from the G8 communiqué, and the report issued after the Open For Growth event, is G8 leaders understand the need to tackle tax dodging. And there’s a tacit understanding, for the most part, that developing countries receiving the tax they’re owed form a significant part of the solution.
The result was progress, but it also left us asking more questions. Language is always hugely significant in these circumstances. It’s carefully and diplomatically crafted and often takes Poirot levels of foresight to detect the true meaning. Sadly, in the case of tax and beneficial ownership, we were left somewhat disappointed by the lack of binding agreements made by Merkel, Hollande, Obama and co. For all the tough talk there’s a danger the outcome may be language and very little else. We know nothing of how we’ll get non-UK tax havens to sign up to the agreement or exactly how we’re going to include developing countries in the provisions.
But the real depth of avoidance is still unknown and companies will continue to avoid paying their fair share of tax to the developing world until we get a binding agreement with accountable processes. Right now, the G8 has all but acknowledged that there’s a problem. What happens between now and the next G8 summit in Russia in 2014 is largely unknown. The campaigning continues.
Nonetheless it was substantial progress. For years, tax campaigners have argued the need to address such a major obstacle in the fight against extreme poverty. The developing world loses three times as much in tax avoidance than it receives back in aid. We now have a development agenda that has moved beyond how much money we give to the developing world and is now focussed on what the structural problems are and how they can be addressed through global coordination.
Despite huge scepticism about the ability of these meetings to get solid agreements and concern about the G8’s dwindling power, there has been progress for the world’s poor. We’ve secured the funding for malnutrition and made progress on tax transparency. Crucially, we’ve built the momentum to make even more progress on tax. The IF Campaign, and every activist who turned up, tweeted or signed up to the campaign should be very proud of what we’ve achieved together.
Our real legacy, however, relies on what happens next. We’ve built a movement of people, of activists, passionate about ending some of the structural obstacles to eradicating extreme poverty. I hope as organisations we can work together to focus and inspire those campaigners to make more change in the future.
Several days ahead of the G8 summit myself and friends gathered in Botanic Gardens, Belfast as part of theBig IF campaign. The campaign has been backed by many different NGO’s to give strength to the mass of voices who want to contribute to the betterment of our world. Focusing on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is top of the agenda.
Bronagh and Soha deep in conversation discussing What IF?(no joke!)At Big If Belfast
It was inspiring to see that despite the pouring rain, enthusiastic individuals gathered together and enjoyed a day filled with spirit, enthusiasm and unity. Equally importantly it was a peaceful celebration of goodwill which couldn’t be turned into a negative news story. So in some ways although it was a quieter event than the BIG IF event London, the peaceful message sent from the BIGIF Belfast event speaks volumes.
Everyone here is talking about the G8 summit; from the contingency plans for getting to work on time to the content of President Obama’s speech. As an ambassador for the Global Poverty Project the hype surrounding the G8 summit has been something which I have been able to harness into meaningful conversations with many different people. I think this is what it’s really about. Even the title of the campaign lends itself very well to asking questions. What IF.. we ended world hunger? What can we achieve IF we make an effort? What can happen IF the world leaders listen?
People really want to talk about this. Some conclusions over the past week or so have been really insightful. Transformation has to happen on two levels ; one is changing the complex structures which perpetuate poverty, the other is at the level of the individual; thinking globally and acting locally. People are quick to ask what difference will the G8 summit make? The general consensus I have heard is that the G8 leaders aren’t necessarily the ones who can make the changes we need to see. But the fact that they draw the world’s attention to these issues is important . It’s then up to us how we contribute meaningfully to development and we have realised that our role is a very important one. We also realise that there is a lot of potential for good things to happen...
For the crafty amongst us there was even the opportunity to sew your own message onto the jigsaw. At Big If Belfast