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By: Isabel Nuesse

COVID-19 has killed over 1.7M people and infected more than 77M globally. Just this last month, the promise of a vaccine seems to bring renewed hope that the days of isolation and struggle may soon come to an end. However, as the roll-out of these technologies begins, it’s not a coincidence that they are being deployed to the wealthier nations, first.

This trend is not new. 

Historically, lack of access to affordable health care medicines for the global population has been a recurrent concern – especially since the World Trade Organization (WTO) created the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”)  agreement. This agreement was created to strengthen the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRs). 

What is the significance of the TRIPS agreement today?

The COVID-19 vaccine is patented and many lower to mid-level income countries simply cannot afford it. The alternative is to create a generic version of the vaccine at a more affordable cost. This is only possible if IPRs on COVID-19 vaccines are eliminated.

India and South Africa have already requested a waiver to remove the IPRs on these medicines and technologies that prevent, contain, and treat COVID-19.

This proposal essentially calls for solidarity amongst governments around the globe to make access to the vaccine equitable and affordable, without the threat of sanctions or being found in violation of international trade rules. 

The waiver proposal has been extended from its initial December 31, 2020 expiration date. As of now, 9 countries oppose this waiver: the United States, Switzerland, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, Canada,  Australia, Brazil, and the European Union. These are seemingly countries that do not have to worry about affordability with the vaccine. Likely, they even house the multinational corporations that produce the vaccine. Therefore, they may stand to benefit from keeping the IRPs in the hands of the pharmaceutical companies.  

The significance of this waiver brings about an important point. As it stands, the TRIPS agreement places the goal of free trade above the needs of the people. At what point does the intellectual property of medicines and technologies take precedence over saving lives? 

Christian Felber recently gave a talk on the transitions that need to be made in order to support Ethical World Trade, a key component of a Wellbeing Economy. Mainly, trade cannot be the end, but rather, a means to the end. The goal of international trade should be to support human flourishing, not to support free trade. Read the recap of the event here.

One interesting example of when such a goal has been effectively pursued was with the WHO and the TRIPS agreement was during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 2000’s. The initial offer from the pharmaceutical provider of HIV/AIDS medication requested the Brazilian government pay $1.59 per pill. But, Brazil saw that it could get the medicines made from India for $0.45 per pill which would enable them to distribute the drug more widely. However, because of how the TRIPS treaty works, the pharmaceutical provider has monopoly rights over the distribution of the drug. This meant that Brazil had to pay the $1.59 to the pharmaceutical provider, even though the generic brand was available at a lower cost. TRIPS institutes the monopoly power for the pharmaceutical provider so that companies don’t lose out on the expensive research and development costs (even though much of this research is publicly funded). **to learn more about this see Mariana Mazzucato’s work on the public funding seeding investment for the private sector. Here is an article in Time Magazine as well. 

Brazil’s president stated that he was not willing to sacrifice the health of his country’s citizens for the sake of world trade. 

After this debate, international leaders met for the Doha Declaration in November of 2001 and formally established that the TRIPS agreement should be interpreted and implemented to promote public health.

The Compulsory Licensing Provision within the TRIPS agreement now allows developing countries to produce or buy generic versions of the patented medication, which inevitably reduces the cost of the medicine. Each country can determine the grounds on which the compulsory licencing may be granted. These could be on the grounds of national emergency, extreme poverty, public non-commercial use, and to remedy anti-competitive practices. 

The precedent that this case study set is of concern for many nations. Having strong IPRs over pharmaceuticals prevents people from low to middle income countries from having access to life-saving medication. So, it is important to allow generic manufacturers to override patent holder rights in certain situations. 

Where does this leave us, in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine?

The vote on whether to eliminate IPRs for the COVID-19 vaccines will take place in the next few months, and coalitions amongst countries are already being made. Luckily the WHO has a policy for one vote per country. 

If you’re interested in learning more about international trade issues, please check out the organizations below:

Regions Refocus

Third World Network

DAWN

SEATINI

Bretton Woods Project

Gender and Trade Coalition

Two recent reports, while focusing on different geographic areas and on seemingly different topics, call for similar policy outcomes: the prioritisation and delivery of the 5 WEAll needs: dignity, access to nature, connection, fairness and meaningful participation for all people.. 

Summary of two recent reports: 

Job Treadmill – European Environmental Bureau and the European Youth Forum , focused on a policy blueprint for creating employment in a post-pandemic EU and a vision for revolutionising the future of work.

Billionaire Wealth and Community Wealth – Institute for Policy Studies, focused on 12 US Corporations – the Delinquent Dozen– who need to do significantly  more to protect their workers as their owners and executives continue to reap billions. 

“Our economic system can best be depicted as an ‘endless treadmill’: the growth-driven market system works, as long as we become more productive,” says the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) in their new report, out last week.  

In order to combat this system that has adverse effects on livelihoods, inequality, working conditions, job security, the environment, leisure time, and meaningful work, the EEB suggests that we:

  1. Start questioning the current fundamentals and debating more sustainable alternatives;
  2. Reframe our core policy goals to enhance our collective wellbeing;
  3. Move beyond economic growth when measuring the success of our economies, instead using holistic socio-ecological indicators and;
  4. Embrace policies for transition that enable us to escape the ‘endless treadmill’, such as Universal Basic Income, Working Time reduction, Democracy at work (shifting decision-making power from corporate managers and corporate shareholders to larger group so shareholders, mainly workers) and the Job Guarantee.  

The Institute for Policy Studies’ recently published report, ‘Billionaire Wealth and Community Health’, dives into the topic of top US corporations that have seen their wealth surge as a part of their monopoly status in the US economy. These drastic gains are juxtaposed against the losses of hundreds of thousands of essential workers, who continue to risk their lives in order to make ends meet. The IPS calls for the embrace of transition policies to reduce the growing inequalities by deliberative actions for companies and policymakers.

The IPS suggests that:

  1. Companies employing essential workers must: immediately implement hazard pay of at least $5 per hour and continue providing it for the duration of the pandemic; provide substantial sick leave and bereavement leave benefits for workers; provide personal protective equipment at no cost to all their essential workers; and create workplace health councils. 
  2. Lawmakers should legislate protections for essential workers – meaning: establish a Presidential Commission on Essential Workers; support and facilitate the creation of workplace health councils so that workers can monitor and support enforcement of compliance with health and safety guidance; and create an Essential Workers Bill of Rights.
  3. Support Policies to discourage Billionaire Pandemic Profiteering – meaning: levy an Emergency Pandemic Wealth Tax on Billionaire Gains during 2020 and anExact and Excess Profit Tax; impose conditions on corporations receiving federal pandemic financial support to protect essential workers; establish a Pandemic Profiteering Oversight Committee; and pass a Stop Wall Street Looting Act (SWSLA).

Both of these reports share common threads:  strong ask for policy makers to protect worker’s rights, to shift to more environmentally and socially sustainable practices, move goals beyond economic growth at all costs to reduce inequality and seek balance, and above all: prioritise the wellbeing of people, ahead of profit.

It’s heartening to see the similarities in these  recent reports. While the language we use or the agle we approach economic systems  change may differ, ultimately, we  are all on the same team and working towards the same outcome. 

This is an example of cohesion that is needed to drive the Wellbeing Economy movement. 

We look forward to continuing to work with the WEAll Community to advocate for these necessary changes.  

Blog by Isabel Nuesse

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought long-avoided issues in the US into the light – such as the rampant racial wealth divide – and has sparked the world’s largest civil rights movement.

For instance, in Boston, white households have a median wealth of $247,500, while Dominicans and Black Households have a median wealth of close to zero.[1] And that was before COVID.

Now, the US is facing hugely disproportionate death-rates for Black and Native people than LatinX, Asian or White Americans. See the chart below:

On June 10th, Jerome H Powell, the Federal Reserve Chair said, “This is the biggest economic shock in the U.S and in the world, really, in living memory. We went from the lowest level of unemployment in 50 years to the highest level in close to 90 years, and we did it in two months.”

The Institute for Policy Studies suggests that White Supremacy is the pre-existing condition that has made the COVID-19 pandemic deadlier for people of colour. The racial wealth divide is a result of the history of the United States in of upholding the ideals and structures of White Supremacy, which disadvantage communities of colour.

The Institute for Policy Studies has identified eight solutions to ensure the post-COVID economic recovery diminishes the racial wealth divide and moves toward greater equity in wealth and assets:

  1. Improved Racial Data Collection as Part of Emergency Investments
  2. Racial Equity Audits of Crisis Relief and Recovery Policies
  3. Income Support that Expands to Guaranteed Income
  4. Postal Banking
  5. Medicare for All: Delinking Universal Health Care from a Job
  6. Expanding Inclusive Housing and Ownership
  7. Federal Jobs Guarantee with Living Wage
  8. Baby Bonds

We would highly recommend reading the full report to dive deeper into the racial wealth divide in the US and how we can start to Build Back Better toward a more equitable society.

You can follow the Institute for Policy Studies on social media – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.


[1] https://www.bostonfed.org/-/media/Documents/color-of-wealth/color-of-wealth.pdf

Earlier this month, the WEGo partnership was featured in the 2020 edition of WWF’s Nature In All Goals publication, which outlines how we can restore our relationship with nature to realise the promise of the SDGs and Leave No One Behind.

Individually, the 17 SDGs define key areas of progress for humanity. Delivered together, they will transform the world and create prosperity for all on a healthy planet.

The publication gives inspirational examples of where each of the 17 SDGs have been put into practice – ranging from Supporting Conserved by Indigenous Peoples and Communities in Myanmar to Renewable energy solutions for better health and energy security in Karachi, Pakistan.

In WEAll’s article, we discussed how to shift toward a Sustainable and Just economy – one that promotes wellbeing for all. 

Action on the SDGs in the next ten years is not possible without a fundamental transformation of our economic system.

In order to do this, WEAll’s membership has developed the 5 priorities a wellbeing economy should deliver on.

‘We All Need’:

  1. Dignity: Everyone has enough to live in comfort, safety and happiness
  2. Nature: A restored and safe natural world for all life
  3. Connection: A sense of belonging and institutions that serve the common good
  4. Fairness: Justice in all its dimensions at the heart of economic systems, and the gap between the richest and poorest greatly reduced
  5. Participation: Citizens actively engaged in their communities and locally rooted economies.

These principles guide the work of the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) partnership.

WEGo member states have achieve great successes in mainstreaming social equity and ecological restoration – in line with the SDGs:

Read all of the inspiring examples of the shift toward a wellbeing economy in the WWF’s Nature In All Goals publication, here.

Do you remember wanting to create change in the world, but not knowing how to achieve this through your career?

Promoting Economic Pluralism wants to give young people 25 and under a say in how we use the recover to Build Back Better.
That’s why they are holding the virtual Festival for Change, which offers expert career guidance for youth on how to help shape a better future through their career – for free! WEAll Youth is proud to be a festival partner.
From July 27th, people from around the world can enter a competition and enjoy a series of online events to change the economic outlook of the world, post pandemic.
1. Develop a proposal to shape new economic landscapes in a Challenge.
2. Join an Explore Workshop to discuss how to widen your thinking
3. Watch Provocation Sessions led by world-renowned speakers on new ideas and approaches to global issues.

Register here.