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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.  

We asked Stephanie Mander, Senior Project Officer at Nourish Scotland and Co-ordinator of Scottish Food Coalition, to speak to WEAll about food insecurity and how it relates to Scotland’s wellbeing – both before and during the pandemic. Here’s what she had to say:


We’re fortunate to live in Scotland, a country where the leadership not only recognises the shortcomings of GDP as the measure of a country’s economic progress, but also actively seeks to position national success as directly tied to the wellbeing of the population.

Earlier this year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, “Scotland is redefining what it means to be a successful nation by focusing on the broader wellbeing of the population as well as the GDP of the country. The goal and objective of all economic policy should be collective wellbeing… Putting wellbeing at the heart of our approach means we can focus on a wider set of measures which reflect on things like the health and happiness of citizens.”

This is an inspiring vision, and in line with the goals of the Scottish Food Coalition[1] – who would love nothing more than to see the health and happiness of Scotland’s citizens be the impetus behind the governance of our food system. Access to a healthy, sustainable diet is a human right, and that right is not being realised by too many in Scotland. We’ve been pushing for a proper look at the food system, and a bit of oomph behind the political will to address the many challenges it is facing – i.e. diet-related illnesses, food waste, climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, neglect for workers’ rights and poor animal welfare.

Unfortunately, oomph has seldom characterised the Government’s work in this area. They have persisted with taking a siloed approach, trying to address these interconnected challenges in isolation. This has led to different Government departments creating separate and sometimes contradictory strategies according to disparate policy goals. Scottish Government has recognised that we need a more coherent, and joined-up approach, yet despite multiple commitments to a Bill to reform the food system (the Good Food Nation Bill), there have been years of delays, back-tracking, and watered-down policy commitments. Pressure from our Coalition, opposition parties, the public and many other stakeholders in the food system helped to bring the Bill back to the table.

The Bill was finally due to be introduced in Spring 2020 when the Government, understandably, took the decision to prioritise bills essential to coping with the pandemic. However, there remains a cruel irony that COVID-19 led to a delay in a Bill, which – as a result of the outbreak’s impact on our food system – is now needed more than ever.

Jobs: Food workers have suffered during this pandemic; those in the hospitality sector have taken a huge economic hit, with a higher proportion of furloughed staff (and expected redundancies) than any other profession. Additionally, they face great risk; workers in the food production and retail sectors have suffered some of the highest death rates from COVID-19.[2] Even before the pandemic, people working in the food and drink industry are amongst the most likely to face insecure employment; in-work poverty with zero-hours contracts is pervasive across the food sector.

Health: Diet-related illness have been definitively linked with vulnerability to COVID-19 – people with type 2 diabetes are 81% more likely to die from it. Obese people are 150% more likely to be admitted to intensive care, and severely obese people over 300% more likely. Even before the pandemic, poor diet was responsible for one in seven deaths in the UK – 90,000 a year – almost as fatal as smoking, which is responsible for 95,000 deaths a year.[3]

Food insecurity: In April 2020, the Food Foundation reported that in mid-April 2020, over 600,000 adults in Scotland were facing food insecurity.[4] This means that around 14% of the adult Scottish population are either skipping meals, having one meal a day, or being unable to eat for a whole day.[5]  Prior to the pandemic, Scotland was seeing rising numbers of food insecurity:  between April 2018 & September 2019, food banks in Scotland were giving out more than 1000 emergency food parcels on average every day.[6]

If current patterns continue, Trussell Trust has warned this could go up to food banks giving out six emergency food parcels per minute.[7] COVID–19 has not only worsened food security for those on low incomes; it has also created new vulnerabilities for people with previously secure incomes. 

While arguments around resilience in our food chain hit new heights on the political agenda following this year’s well-publicised supply issues, the need for a new approach has never been more apparent.

The Scottish Government has prioritised wellbeing throughout its navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic – demonstrated by the £120 million investment to support people facing barriers to accessing food. But the underlying issues facing the food system existed before the pandemic; they are deeply entrenched. Stronger policy levers are desperately needed to galvanise systemic change.

However, this crisis has also shown what a new system could look like. We’ve seen some great stories of adaptation, and a renewed appreciation in the positive offerings of the food system. The pervasive disruption has jolted consumers into shifting their attitudes – with many thinking beyond their weekly supermarket shop. The pandemic has spurred a surge in demand for food boxes, community deliveries from local producers, and a perceived move to healthier and more sustainable buying. People are thinking more about where their food comes from.

We’ve been having conversations with people from across Scotland and hearing their thoughts on what the pandemic has revealed about our food system.

“Before COVID-19, Beach House Café in Portobello was a café we liked to visit. Since COVID-19, it has become our main grocery shop. A shop that knows our name, will flex to our diaries and work commitments and has shown us great care, energy, and commitment throughout. They are a shining example of what COVID-19 has taught me: cherish our local food producers, businesses, and organisations, as they truly are key workers that deliver so much more than our cupboard basics.”

We’ve seen communities come together, recognising that food is about more than calories – it’s about mental as well as physical wellbeing:

“I was so grateful for fresh fruit and some food each week from Blackhill’s growing group. I was having panic attacks at the thought of having to go to the shops…. standing 2 metres apart for 30/40 minutes just to get into the shop was pretty stressful for me. I am able to face shops a bit easier now. The friendly faces and chats from the folk delivering these food packages was also so appreciated.”

“What COVID-19 has taught me is that growing your own food is as good for your mental health as it is for your physical health…  and with Brexit looming, increasingly my allotment has also signified food security.”

But there remains a recognition of the disconnect between the food system and the wellbeing of the population:

Stirling is surrounded by farmland. Farmland is a 10-minute walk away from anywhere in the city centre – yet despite great need, we were unable to source Stirling-grown fruit or vegetables throughout all of lockdown.”

Frustratingly, there is not enough time before the next Scottish election to introduce the Good Food Nation Bill. But COVID-19 has shown us beyond a doubt that reform is needed.

The Scottish Food Coalition will continue to call for the introduction of the Good Food Nation Bill, with human rights at its heart.

More people are at the sharp end of systemic inequalities and inadequacies in our food system and the shortcomings in its governance. They should not have to continue to bear this burden. Legislators must learn lessons from COVID-19 that they have consistently failed to learn before this crisis. The Government must act now to ensure we realise our human right to food.

All we are saying is: give wellbeing a chance.


[1] The Scottish Food Coalitionis an alliance of small-scale farmers and growers, academics, workers’ unions, and charities focused on the environment, health, poverty, and animal welfare. The coalition has over 35 members including RSPB Scotland, WWF Scotland, STUC, UNISON Scotland, Unite, Nourish Scotland, Trussell Trust, Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, Obesity Action Scotland, Scottish Care and Leith Crops in Pots. http://www.foodcoalition.scot

[2] https://www.nationalfoodstrategy.org/partone/

[3] ibid

[4] https://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Report_COVID19FoodInsecurity-final.pdf

[5] ibid

[6] https://news.stv.tv/scotland/crisis-warning-as-1000-food-parcels-handed-out-every-day?top

[7] https://www.bigissue.com/latest/foodbanks-could-give-out-six-food-parcels-every-minute-this-winter/

By Dr Gemma Bone Dodds, Trustee (Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland)

This article was originally published in the Friends of the Earth Scotland members magazine, What on Earth 81: How We Build Back Better.

We are at a pivotal moment in human history. Across the world, humanity is going through a shared experience like never before. We have all felt fear, despair, and bewilderment at the vast transformation of our lives as this virus has spread rapidly across every continent. 

But this experience has also been experienced very differently and those for whom the economy was not working before the crisis have suffered the most from it. Women. Ethnic minorities. Precarious workers. Inequality causes deaths, and Covid-19 exacerbates this. Poor housing, cold, damp and overcrowded. Insufficient income to provide enough food, medicine, heat and power. Insecure jobs, dangerous and unsanitary conditions. All of these factors have put the most vulnerable on the front line of this epidemic. 

Our economy has been consistently telling some people “You are unskilled, you are undeserving, you are low paid”. Yet during this crisis, this ruse – this false vision of the world and of worth – has been unmasked. Instead, with a fearful cry “You must go out to work. Keep the economy going. We need you. You are our key workers. You are our heroes.”

Our response to this crisis has been centred on care. We care for each other by staying at home. Our NHS workers, cleaners, doctors, porters, nurses, paramedics, GPs and receptionists have stepped up, as they always do, to care for those who fall ill, often at great cost to themselves. Our care workers, often some of the lowest paid and least valued workers in society, have stepped across the thresholds of our care homes, knowingly entering a dangerous place, to care for our most precious loved ones. Our communities have set up mutual aid groups, caring for our neighbours and each other. 

The basis of humanity is care. This crisis has proven it to be so. But our economy, far from recognising this fundamental need we have, to care and be cared for, seeks to create conditions which make care difficult. Long working hours. Insufficient parental leave. Low wages and high living costs. A manufactured drive to consume. Quantity over quality. 

Enough. There is another way.

wellbeing economy

What if our economy could celebrate, recognise and enable the conditions for us all to care and be cared for? What if we could explicitly design an economy that enables us all to thrive and live on a healthy planet? 

We can. And we must. 

We at Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland work to show that there is another way. We believe that it is possible to design and create an economy that works for both people and planet. End discrimination and precarious work. Work less and have more time to care. Ensure sufficiency for all. Live within our planetary means. 

This is not a utopian ideal (unlike endless growth on a finite planet). We can see the shape of the world we can create in the present. There is much that already exists that we can build upon, especially in Scotland. These are the foundations upon which we will build back better including: basic income, circular economies, just transition, community wealth building, the Scottish National Investment Bank and more. We have an engaged and innovative civil society movement full of ideas and the passion to make them happen. We have fantastic businesses and social enterprises who are already showing how to do business better. We have a Government that is willing to talk about the environment, inclusivity and creating a wellbeing economy. 

But what is built back after the crisis will depend on how brave we are to let go of the old world, which may feel safe and normal and comforting. We must be willing to ask radical questions and explore innovative solutions. We cannot collapse into old patterns. This can also be exciting – to create, dream and design. It is a journey for which we must prepare, but with the ultimate aim of getting to our destination: a caring wellbeing economy which works for people and the planet. 

If our destination has changed, we also need a different measure of progress, one richer and more illustrative of how we are doing as a society. For me, there is no more beautiful way to show the difference between the old and the new than the example used by my colleague Dr Katherine Trebeck. Rather than measure GDP, she asks, “Why not ask countries to measure the number of girls riding bikes to school?”

pink and white bicycle beside gray metal rail

Where GDP gives us an idea of our economic output, girls on bikes tells us so much more. For example, if girls are riding bikes to school then: girls are going to school, bikes are a common mode of transport, it is safe for children to cycle, there is likely to be less pollution, we are likely to be healthier, girls are empowered and unafraid – and if more girls cycle to school, then more boys will, too. 

An economy that measures progress through girls on bikes would be a caring economy. It would focus on creating the conditions we need to care for one another and the planet. It will be hard for us to get there, and we will need to plan our journey as we go, but we all know we need to make it. There is too much at stake to do anything less.

In August 2020, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and North Ayrshire Council became the first two local authorities to join the Wellbeing Economy Alliance as members. Both councils have shown leadership with their leading “build back better” campaigns, which seek to revitalize their local economies through a green, sustainable recovery.

Liverpool City Region Combined Authority

(Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region)

The announcement of Liverpool City Region’s membership follows the release of its economic recovery plan, Building Back Better. The plan provides a blueprint for how the City Region will recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic by building an economy that is globally competitive, environmentally responsible and socially inclusive.

The plan has four key themes—the business ecosystem, people-focused recovery, place, and a green recovery—and includes proposals for a £1.4bn investment from Government that would unlock £8.8bn worth of projects and create more than 120,000 jobs. This includes the Mersey Tidal Power project, which can contribute to the UK’s long-term sustainable energy mix, while creating employment for thousands.

Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram said: “When I said that there was no going back to normal after the crisis, I meant it. That means building a society that focuses on the five Es: employment, the environment, the eco system, the economy and essential workers.

“I want the Liverpool City Region to be the most inclusive, fair and socially just economy in the country. Our economic recovery plan lays out how we’ll do that and I’m proud that we are is the first governmental body in the world to join the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll). I look forward to working with them, sharing ideas from all over the world and making Liverpool City Region a model of how we can make the economy work for people, and not the other way round.”

North Ayrshire Council

(The North Ayrshire Council Building at Cunninghame House in Irvine)

When North Ayrshire Council became the first Scottish local authority to join WEAll, the council had already introduced its pioneering green recovery plan, based on community wealth building (CWB). CWB involves spending public money locally, keeping wealth generated within the local area, encouraging community ownership and using land and property in a socially just way to boost the local economy and tackle poverty and inequality.

Councillor Joe Cullinane, Leader of North Ayrshire Council and Cabinet Member for Community Wealth Building, said: “We are delighted to be teaming up with WEAll and look forward to speaking to a range of influential thinkers who can help inspire us as we look to radically overhaul what we are doing here in North Ayrshire.

“We are in the midst of a global recession and now is the time to be bold, think differently and build a new economy. That new economy must work for the benefit of people and planet, ending decades of an extractive economic model that has worked for neither and has saw inequality soar to record levels.

“That’s what we want to achieve through our Community Wealth Building strategy which, post-COVID, will help us build back better, fairer and greener…

“WEAll are leading the case for an economy that values the wellbeing of people and planet and I am excited by the opportunity to work with them to realise our joint ambitions for a fairer future.”

Some Thoughts from the WEAll Team

Katherine Trebeck, Advocacy and Influencing Lead at WEAll, said of Liverpool’s joining: “The role of government in transforming how our economies operate cannot be underestimated. So governments at all levels are natural partners for the wellbeing economy movement. WEAll is thrilled to welcome the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority as a member of our diverse network. WEAll is excited to learn from them, connect them with our members, and amplify their pioneering work, which demonstrates that a wellbeing economy is not just what is needed, but with political will, it is entirely possible.”

Sarah Deas, trustee at WEAll Scotland and chair of North Ayrshire’s expert advisory group on Community Wealth Building, said: “North Ayrshire Council was the first Scottish local authority to commit to Community Wealth Building and is now the first to join the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll). The Council appreciates that direct local action can achieve systems change, enabling the economy to deliver human and ecological wellbeing.

“Through participating in the WEAll network, the Councils will inspire others to adopt similar pioneering approaches while benefiting from ideas and innovations from across the world.”