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World Health Organisation reform in times of COVID

During its 70-year history, the World Health Organization (WHO) has undergone various reforms led by several Directors-General, including Halfdan Mahler at the Almaty Conference on primary health care in 1978, Gro Harlem Brundtland with her “reach out to the private sector” in 1998, and Margaret Chan with her unfinished debate on the role of “non-state actors” in 2012. The organization’s fragility is once again being highlighted, as the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that WHO does not have the legal instruments and mechanisms necessary to enforce its standards and guidelines, and that its funding is not sustainable and adequate to respond to the challenge. This paper seeks to identify the main problems faced by WHO and the necessary measures that a reform of the organization would have to take.

Read the Report of the South Center

Social Protection and Health Care as a Social Common

COVID-19 reveals the undeniable fact of our interdependence and some hard truths about our economic system. While this is nothing new, it will now be difficult for all those who preferred to ignore some basic facts to go on with business as usual. Our economy collapsed because people cannot buy more than what they actually need. But as the economy grows the more people get sick and need help. And our universal welfare systems never excluded so many people as they do now. The many flaws in the dominant thinking and policymaking do not only refer to our health systems, but are almost all linked to the way the neoliberal globalization is organized. Turn the thinking around, forget the unfettered profit-seeking, start with the real basic needs of people and all the so badly needed approaches logically fall in the basket: the link with social protection, with water, housing and income security, the link with participation and democracy. In this article, I want to sketch the journey from needs to commons, since that is where the road should be leading us to. It goes in the opposite direction of more austerity, more privatization, more fragmentation of our social policies. It also leads to paradigmatic changes, based on old concepts such as solidarity and a new way to define sustainability.

Read the article by Francine Mestrum in ‘Development’

Conquering the Great Divide

It is the IMF, it is Joseph Stiglitz, yet, it is very interesting reading – about COVID and inequality:

Asian Network pushes stronger TNC regulations at the UN amidst pandemic

Amidst the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the negotiations towards a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises and human rights commenced Monday, 26th of October in Geneva, with participation from States, business groups and civil society organizations enabled through various online platforms.

Following the mandate of UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution 26/9, States are negotiating at this 6th session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group the 2nd revised draft of the text prepared by Ecuador and released in August 2020.  6 Asian States (China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines and Vietnam) supported the resolution in 2014. 

Civil society organizations have since 2014 been actively engaged, pushing and intervening in the process.  They have put forward concrete proposals towards a robust international legally binding instrument that would address the gaps in international human rights law on holding transnational corporations accountable for human rights abuses. They have highlighted the need to put at the center of the talks, the rights of victims and the importance of strengthening mechanisms to ensure justice for rights holders.

Read the article


Envisioning a rights-based economy

Choosing between people or the economy has become a persistent theme in political debates as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Politicians in the UK are rejecting a free school meals plan because it would “destroy” the economy and increase “dependency”. The South African President cited “fiscal challenges” as “dictating” the government’s ability to extend its COVID-19 income support grant. The Colombian Vice-President has said that no State can afford to cover people’s basic needs.

These false “people vs the economy” dichotomies overlook a fundamental truth: people are the economy. There is no healthy economy without a healthy population where everyone can enjoy their socioeconomic rights – such as to housing, food, education and decent work.  They also shine a spotlight on the fundamental injustice at the core of our current economic model—a model that results in scarcity and precarity for the many, and unimaginable wealth and privilege for the few.

Read this new report from CESR and Christian Aid

Another Call for a New Social Contract

by Mario Pezzini, OECD

Despite significant economic growth over the past years, middle-income countries (MICs) face increasingly complex challenges related to, among others, a growing demand from their new and still vulnerable middle-classes. As middle-classes have grown in recent decades, so have citizens’ aspirations and demands for quality public goods, better services and a more responsive and transparent state. More educated, better informed, and more connected than ever before, citizens are asking for more voice in public decisions. In parallel, growing aspirations confronted with chronic vulnerability of middle-classes tend to generate frustration and, more and more frequently, social turbulence.

Read the article

IMF/World Bank: Inaction on Global Economic Crisis

“The Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have failed to step up to the gravity of the global economic crisis, in particular for developing countries, where the economic outlook continues to worsen. No major decisions were taken to support these countries, and the initial emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming too little as the crisis wears on.”

Read the message of ITUC

Make Poverty Illegal!

On this 17th of October, International Day for Poor People, noble and well-intentioned beautiful declarations will be made to honour people rendered and living in poverty.

There should be no mistake about it: people are not born poor, they are made poor. An economic and social system that takes away their livelihood, destroys their environment, poisons their water and their land is a murderous system that should be condemned. In wealthy countries, the mechanisms are different but the result is the same. Poor people are those who have no jobs, who fall out of social security, who have pensions or other allowances far below the poverty line.

We have many mechanisms to ‘help’ poor people. In rich, northern countries we have tens of thousands of poverty associations that do what they can, they rightly focus on the poor’s human rights, they try to ‘empower’ poor people so they can claim their rights. But they cannot give the poor what they need: a decent income.

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Universal Social Protection Floors, our Joint Responsibility

Michelle Bachelet is UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Olivier De Schutter is UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Guy Ryder is the Director-General, International Labour Organization

Governments have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social and economic disruption it has wrought with a range of ad-hoc schemes, including paid furloughs, cash transfers and family support. While commendable, these responses share two major limitations. First, many are temporary, short-term fixes, covering lockdowns or a notional period until economic recovery kicks in. They do nothing to change the underlying circumstances that left many millions of people vulnerable, or to put them in better standing to face future crises. Secondly, the measures simply do not address the existential threats that face many of the world’s worst-hit communities. Although worldwide government spending on the COVID-19 response is more than USD 11 trillion, by far the largest responses have come from rich countries. For example, the European Union recently adopted a Euro 750 billion recovery plan (equivalent to 6 per cent of its GDP) while Japan’s economic recovery plan equates to 22 per cent of its GDP (or USD 1.1 trillion). But among low-income developing countries the fiscal response has averaged 1.2 percent of GDP.

Developing countries, particularly low-income countries, have limited domestic resources, made worse by falls in some export commodity prices. They are simply unable to put in place the comprehensive crisis response measures their people need, let alone the longer-term social protection systems that would create more fundamental resilience. Even before COVID-19, 69 per cent of the global population was either not covered, or only partially covered, by social security. Almost two-thirds of the world’s children had no social protection coverage, only 22 per cent of unemployed persons received unemployment cash benefits, and just 28 per cent of persons with severe disabilities received disability cash benefits.

Global crises like this pandemic observe no geographical or political borders. Against them we are only as strong as the weakest among us.  If we are to build greater resilience and a more effective ability to recover, we need to support all countries in creating robust social protection floors. The current piecemeal approach is like starting to recruit firefighters after a blaze has broken out, and then directing them to save only a few rooms in the burning building. Clearly, this doesn’t work. In these circumstances, international solidarity is essential, and in everyone’s interest. Social protection floors for all are affordable. The financing gap for all developing countries — the difference between what these countries already invest in social protection and what a full social protection floor (including health) would cost — is about USD 1,191 billion in the current year, including the impact of COVID-19. But the gap for the low-income countries is only some USD 78 billion, a negligible amount compared to the GDP of the industrialized countries. Yet the total official development assistance for social protection amounts to only 0.0047 per cent of the gross national income of donor countries.

International human rights law recognizes that wealthy States have a duty to help fulfill social rights in countries with more limited resources, and a number of steps have already been taken to convert this commitment into concrete assistance. In 2011 an expert advisory group recommended donors provide predictable, multi-year financing to strengthen social protection in developing countries. In 2012, two independent UN human rights experts proposed a Global Fund for Social Protection to help low-income countries create social protection floors for their people. The same year the ILO’s membership – governments, workers and employers from 185 countries –  backed the idea of comprehensive social protection with a unanimously-adopted pledge to “establish and maintain…social protection floors as a fundamental element of their national social security systems”.

We regularly hear pledges that we must, and will, ‘build back better’ from the current crisis. We can only do this if everybody has a minimum level of social protection, including the poorest and most marginalized. Countries must deploy the maximum resources available to make social protection a reality for all. This may require more effective approaches to taxation and tackling corruption. Longer term, this redistribution of assets will help to curb inequality and discrimination and support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s promise to “leave no one behind”. This crisis offers us many lessons.  One is that building back better requires international solidarity and better social protection for all, not just those who can already afford it. If we ignore this message, we risk condemning future generations to endure once more the immense suffering we see today. That, surely, is an intolerable prospect.


By Riccardo Petrella

The United States of Trump tried everything to derail the 75th UN General Assembly and thus jeopardise the future of the United Nations.  The president of China,  XI Jinping, by unexpectedly declaring on 24 September that his  country had just approved the decision to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, saved the GA a little and opened up a new path of hope for the UN in the future, notably the possible relaunch of the Paris Agreements. Fortunately, because the powerful global masters of business and finance, for their part, gave no evidence of wanting to stray so far from their “business as usual”.

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