Press Releases

Need for genuine responsibility sharing among EU member states

Call for Ireland to reinstate relocation of people seeking asylum from Greece

EU 

  • Only One-third of asylum relocations committed in 2015-2017 pledge met  
  • Commitments made after Moria fire less than half fulfilled  
  • Member state inaction leaving people seeking asylum in limbo 

Ireland  

  • Ireland fairs well on refugee resettlement commitments, but falls short on relocation
  • Call for Ireland to reinstate relocations from Greek Islands as soon as possible  

Greece  

  • People, including survivors of sexual violence and elderly persons, are detained without reason
  • Children are not receiving any education.
  • Increase in reports of domestic abuse and difficultly accessing support services due to Covid restrictions
  • One in five people have attempted suicide  
  • “They are replacing our names with numbers”   

Today, Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees released a report detailing the impact of EU countries’ failure to relocate people from Greek refugee camps. Tipping the Scales: the role of responsibility and solidarity sharing in the situation on the Greek islands, reveals that conditions in Lesbos fail to meet even minimum standards for humanitarian crises – while Europe moves towards replicating failed policies that created these untenable conditions. 

The joint report assesses EU member states solidarity programmes and how failures to meet commitments have contributed to pressure on the Greek Islands, spawning abysmal conditions, and systemic human rights abuses. The report also looks at the EU’s newly proposed asylum laws. In particular, it focuses on the proposals for responsibility sharing and solidarity mechanisms, finding that, despite promises of starting anew, the policies on the table fail to address the flaws that led to the overcrowded and inhospitable conditions in Greece.

In response to the report findings, Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “EU member states, including Ireland, need to engage in genuine responsibility sharing rather than relying on ad hoc solidarity programmes. While we are happy that the Irish government responded to the solidarity call to enter into the EU relocation and resettlement programmes in 2015, we urge them to now engage with and support the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum’s solidarity mechanism by pledging to accept robust relocation quotas to support countries like Greece and encourage responsibility sharing among member states.” 

Greece, a country quickly overwhelmed as the number of people seeking asylum in Europe increased due to the outbreak of war in Syria in 2015, has since has harshened its stance on asylum. Reforms to their asylum law, increased use of detention and more barriers to access asylum are just some of the measures taken.   

Spyros-Vlad Oikonomou, Advocacy Officer at the Greek Council for Refugees, said: “Particularly since the EU-Turkey deal was struck, the EU and its member states have been trying to export their responsibility to protect refugees and asylum seekers. In Greece, the deal saw harsher laws, overcrowded camps and a failing reception system. Europe must overhaul its asylum laws to protect the rights of those seeking safety, while honouring the principle of solidarity between member states”

Clarken said: “Last year, in the aftermath of the Moria fires, the Irish government made commitments to resettle families and unaccompanied minors from Lesbos. These gestures of solidarity with Greece and the families and young people trapped in camps on the fringes of Europe are commendable. 

“However, it is now time to deliver on these commitments, and to reinstate relocations from Greece as soon as it is possible to do so.”

Meanwhile the human cost is mounting in Lesbos. One in five people have attempted suicide; people including survivors of sexual violence and elderly persons are detained without reason; there is a risk of sexual assault; and children are not receiving any education. Women are particularly affected. There has been an increase in reports of domestic abuse while movement restrictions due to Covid are preventing women from accessing support. People in Lesbos are left without a future.  

Clarken continued: “Our failure to respond effectively as a European community is extinguishing hope – to the despairing extent that people are attempting to take their own lives.  

“The situation in the camp is dire – and time spent in waiting there is protracted. The drop in temperature and winter conditions has particularly affected people – who continue to live in tents and makeshift shelters. Insufficient or unstable power supplies have made it impossible for many to even warm themselves, while women in the camp continue to express concerns over their health and safety, as they are exposed to various security risks, including gender-based violence. 

Barlin*, currently staying in a prolonged administrative detention in Kos, said: “We don’t even have our basic rights as refugees. We are not free and we don’t know for how long [we will remain detained]. They are replacing our names with numbers, treating us as if we were in prison, calling us by our numbers.” 

Clarken concluded: “While the new Pact on Migration and Asylum aims to balance responsibility sharing across the EU, this will only happen if member states choose to act in solidarity and to uphold and protect a person’s right to seek asylum and to have their application assessed in a fair and timely manner. The alternative is to move towards further deterrents, which erode and undermine these rights – and mean that we are failing in our own international obligations – obligations designed to protect lives. 

“Our inaction is at best leaving people in limbo, at worst, it is sending them back to the persecution they tried to escape.”  

*Names have been changed  

END

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org

Notes to editors:

  • The Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established in 2015 in response to the refugee crisis. Under this programme, the Government committed to accepting up to 4,000 people into the State, primarily through a combination of the EU Relocation Programme and the UNHCR's Refugee Resettlement Programme. A total of 3,358 people have arrived in Ireland to date under the various strands of the IRPP. You can read more about Ireland's response and commitments here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/ede36-irish-refugee-protection-programme/
  • Relocation: 
  1. According to OPMI, in 2015 the Irish government committed to relocate 2,622 people via the EU Relocation Programme. The most up to date publicly available relocation data is from a PQ dated Oct. 6 2020: Ireland has relocated 1,022 people, including six unaccompanied minors, from Greece under the first phase of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP), and consider their commitment met and the scheme concluded (PQ 30 July 2020). 
  2. Phase two of IRPP only includes commitments on resettlement and community sponsorship: "In December 2019, a programme was put in place to welcome up to 2,900 refugees between 2020 and 2023 through a combination of resettlement and the new community sponsorship initiatives."
  • Ireland has yet to meet the commitment made last year to relocate families and unaccompanied minors from Greece after fires destroyed Moria camp on Lesbos.
  • Read the Lesbos bulletin, the February update on the situation in the EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camps in Lesbos. It details quotes from people currently living in camps in Greece, how the situation is falling short of Sphere standards - a set of principles mapping out the minimum standards in humanitarian settings with respect to access to water, sanitation, hygiene promotion, food, security and nutrition.    
  • Read our report: Tipping the Scales: the role of responsibility and solidarity sharing in the situation on the Greek islands. It details how failed EU policies and the shirking of responsibilities resulted in the abysmal situation in Greece, and how the current proposals replicate these failed policies and allow for the same shirking of responsibility.       
  • International Rescue Committee research, The Cruelty of Containment: The Mental Health Toll of the EU’s ‘Hotspot’ Approach on the Greek Islands, has found that one in three asylum seekers report suicidal thoughts, and one in five have already attempted to take their lives due to the impact of prolonged containment in 2018–20.    
  • Only one-third of the agreed upon 160,000 relocations took place from the 2015-2017 pledge. Following the fire in Moria, European countries made promises for the relocation of 5100 people. With 2050 relocations, less than half of this has been fulfilled. This was partly due to flight restrictions related to COVID-19, and partly due to cumbersome procedures, slow implementation and ’cherry picking’ practices by (at least) some member states.    
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Protection of exclusive rights and monopolies causing “artificial rationing” of Covid-19 vaccines - People's Vaccine Alliance

  • Governments needs to work together to fix vaccine supply crisis for all people

The supply of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines for all is being artificially rationed because of the protection of exclusive rights and monopolies of pharmaceutical corporations, the People’s Vaccine Alliance said today.    

The alliance warned that the three biggest vaccine companies in the world - GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Merck and Sanofi - are largely sitting on the side-lines. Currently, they plan to produce enough Covid-19 vaccines for only 1.5 percent of the global population in 2021, while a number of other large manufacturers are not yet producing any of the successful Covid-19 vaccines. 

Meanwhile, the producers of approved vaccines, Pfizer/ BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, aim to produce enough doses to vaccinate around a third the global population - but because rich countries have bought multiple doses of these vaccines the actual figure of humanity covered is a lot less.  While Astra Zeneca has sold the majority of its doses to developing countries, Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna have sold almost all of their doses to rich nations, while failing to share their successful technology openly, despite huge public subsidies. Their vaccines are prohibitively expensive for many poor nations.

In the face of worldwide vaccine shortages and dramatic moves by the EU to restrict vaccine exports, the alliance, which includes the health NGO EMERGENCY, Frontline AIDS and Oxfam urged governments and the pharmaceutical industry to scale up production. It said they should remove the artificial barriers to tackling the global supply crisis, including by suspending intellectual property rules, sharing technology and ending monopoly control, so that everyone, everywhere has access to the vaccine as quickly as possible. 

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “The world is in a race to save millions of lives and get our economies going again - this is a race we have to win before new mutations render our existing vaccines obsolete. Yet the pursuit of profits and monopolies means we are losing that race. Just this week the Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom said that sharing of technology and waiving of intellectual property will make vaccinating the world and controlling this disease possible.  

“We need every company on earth who can make safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines to be making them right now. We urgently need to lift the veil of corporate secrecy and instead have open-source vaccines, mass produced by as many vaccine players as possible, including crucially those in developing countries. 

“By refusing to share their technology and waive their intellectual property, companies like Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, are artificially rationing the supply of successful vaccines. This is despite both benefiting from huge public subsidy. This will cost lives and prolong the economic pain which is hitting the poorest hardest.” 

To-date, only four percent of total vaccinations have been in developing countries, the vast majority of which have been in India. Of the poorest countries in the world only Guinea has been able to vaccinate 55 people [1]. Meanwhile, rich countries have bought up enough doses to vaccinate their populations three times over, leaving developing countries to compete for the leftovers. 

Many other vaccine producers in developing and rich countries could quickly increase capacity to manufacture proven safe and effective vaccines if they had the know-how and intellectual property licenses. Globally, UNICEF data suggests just 43 percent of reported Covid-19 vaccine production capacity is currently being used for the approved vaccines [2].  

The People’s Vaccine Alliance is calling on the governments to use their emergency powers and to leverage their massive public funding to put pressure on Pfizer/ BioNTech, Astra Zeneca, Moderna and other subsequently successful vaccine producers, to openly share their vaccine science and technology, to waive their patents and insist that all other major vaccine producers get involved in production.  

Lois Chingandu, Director of Frontline AIDS, said:“Over $100 billion of taxpayers money has funded these vaccines, while the companies behind the three successful vaccine candidates are set to make over $30 billion in revenue this year alone.

“Public investments mean these are public goods, which should be used to benefit all humanity, not private property there to benefit shareholders. Leaders must act now to override this broken system of patents, monopolies and secrecy to deliver a People’s Vaccine for all.” 

Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech use mRNA technology, which potentially allows production to be rapidly scaled-up. Yet neither are committed to openly sharing their technology, leaving many potential producers on the side-lines. 

The alliance is also calling on governments to invest in new production facilities especially in developing countries, in order to massively scale up the production of safe and effective vaccines and to build infrastructure that can respond better to future pandemics.

Heidi Chow, Senior Campaigns and Policy Manager at Global Justice Now, said: "Business as usual is not enough in a global pandemic. In times of war, manufacturers have often put aside normal competition to work together for a common cause. Surely governments should be insisting that the same spirit applies today, when so many people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake?" 

Clarken Concluded: “Here in the EU we are starting to see some of the challenges with supply issues - challenges faced by developing countries to a much greater extent. Sadly, this is what happens when we leave ourselves dependent on a system of monopoly ownership of these essential vaccines.  

“Rather than descending into fights over the limited supply we have which ultimately serves no one's interests, government needs to work together to fix the supply problem for all people across the world. 

“To do that we need them to insist that the vaccine science and know-how is open source so more manufacturers can get on board. We need to ask ourselves why some of the biggest vaccine companies in the world are not helping more, and why developing country manufacturers are being locked out.  

“Governments must move now, urgently, to fix the supply problem for everyone.” 

Ends 

Contact 

For interviews with Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland contact:

Caroline Reid | 087 912 3165 | caroline.reid@oxfam.org 

For interviews with Lois Chingandu or Heidi Chow contact: 

Sarah Dransfield |+ 44 (0)7884 114825 | media@peoplesvaccine.org 

Notes to editors 

  • The Peoples’ Vaccine Alliance is a coalition of global and national organizations and activists united under a common aim of campaigning for a ‘People’s Vaccine’. The call for a People’s Vaccine is backed by past and present world leaders, health experts, faith leaders and economists. For more information visit: https://peoplesvaccine.org
  • The three biggest global vaccine producing pharmaceutical corporations by market value are GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Merck and Sanofi and between them they have only pledged to produce 225 million vaccines this year. Earlier this week GSK announced that it will be working with CureVac to develop a vaccine to tackle emerging variants of Covid-19 next year and will help manufacture up to 100 million doses of CureVac’s vaccine which is still in clinical trials.    
  • Last week Sanofi announced a deal to help produce 125 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, but this is a drop in the ocean in comparison to the scale of need and will likely only benefit EU countries. Before setbacks in the clinical trials of their own potential joint vaccine, Sanofi and GSK had supply deals to produce almost five times as many doses than they are offering to produce of Pfizer and CureVac’s Covid-19 vaccines respectively.  
  • Merck, the second biggest vaccine company in the world had been building up capacity to produce hundreds of millions of doses of one or both of its Covid-19 vaccine candidates, but the company recently announced it would be discontinuing development of these vaccines due to poor trial results. 
  • GSK, Sanofi and Merck have received over $2 billion from the US government as part of its Operation Warp Speed to support production of vaccines.  
  • Meanwhile the Danish pharmaceutical company Bavarian Nordic this week offered up the capacity to produce 240 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines in its factory, but none of the successful vaccine companies have taken up the offer so far.  
  • It is also likely that potential capacity in developing countries is being overlooked. The Serum Institute of India is already producing hundreds of millions of vaccines for Covid-19 on behalf of AstraZeneca and Novovax as well as developing their own, but there are at least 20 more vaccine manufacturers in India.
  • Global deaths from Covid-19 according to : https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/daily-covid-deaths-region?time=2020-01-23..latest 
  • Due to corporate secrecy, it is unclear how much spare capacity exists, but the world’s Covid vaccine production capacity could be significantly expanded if all companies that were able to join the manufacturing effort, including critically developing country producers. Evidence shows this need not take time. Sanofi’s announcement that it will be making Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines by July 2021 demonstrates that transferring the vaccine technology and scaling up production can happen in a matter of months. It took the German Pharma firm BioNTech just four and a half months to repurpose a new plant to scale up production of Covid-19 vaccines. The example also shows that previous vaccine experience is not a necessity in making mRNA vaccines, meaning that the net can be cast much wider in the search for additional expert capacity if the intellectual property and technology is shared. 
  • The figure of 1.5 percent is based on pledges from GSK & Sanofi to produce 100m and 125m doses respectively, which adds up to 225 million doses. Both vaccines require two doses, so the reach would be 112 million people, or 1.5 percent of the global population. 

  

[1] As of 4th February, Bloomberg’s global vaccine tracker reported a total of 108 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered across 67 countries. Only 4.4 percent of vaccinations have been in developing countries, with 3.8 million of these vaccines being given in India. Of the poorest ‘low income’ countries, only 55 vaccines have been given in one country– Guinea. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/ 

[2] Numbers taken from UNICEF vaccine dashboard https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard on 4th February
We compare projected production capacity for all Covid-19 vaccine candidates with the capacity for those vaccines that are already approved.  

[3] https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/211413/vaccine-collaboration-could-overcome-cold-chain/
According to several articles, Danish firm Bavarian Nordic has offered the use of a newly-operational factory, which It says could produce 240 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine per year:https://www.thelocal.dk/20210202/danish-company-offers-to-help-with-covid-19-vaccine-production 

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Brendan Courtney teams up with Lorraine Keane's Fashion Relief with Oxfam Ireland for donation drive

  • Style duo Keane and Courtney call for high-end donations in support of Fashion Relief 
  • Spring clean with purpose for Lorraine Keane’s Fashion Relief with Oxfam Ireland 

What? 

This Friday, 5th February, style guru Brendan Courtney is teaming up with Broadcaster Lorraine Keane in support of a pre-loved designer and high-end clothing drive in aid of Fashion Relief, Keane’s sustainable fashion fundraiser with Oxfam Ireland. 

When? 

Friday 5th February, kicking off at 6pm

Where? 

Tune into Broadcaster Lorraine Keane’s Instagram account: @lorrainekeaneofficial

This Friday, style duo Lorraine Keane and Brendan Courtney will be taking to Instagram to call upon supporters to donate new or pre-loved items to Fashion Relief - Keane’s sustainable fashion fundraiser with Oxfam Ireland - with a specific ask for designer and high-quality clothing and bags. 

Broadcaster Lorraine Keane said: “The evenings are getting longer, and our homes are probably starting to feel a little more cluttered as, let's face it, we are all spending a lot of time in them these days – so why not start your spring clean early and send your pre-loved gems over to us at Fashion Relief. 

“People can donate up to 12 items at a time. When they let us know that they would like to donate, we will send a pre-paid and addressed donation bag out to them. Once their donations are packaged up all they need to do is bring them to their local post office and they will be winging their way to us at Fashion Relief.”

Fashion Relief started in 2018 when Lorraine Keane teamed up with Oxfam Ireland to organise a series of live Fashion Relief events. Since then, Fashion Relief has travelled nationwide to Dublin, Galway and Cork and raised almost €270,000 for Oxfam’s work with some of the most vulnerable communities across the world.

Fashion Relief is also part of Oxfam’s solution to ‘throwaway fashion’, encouraging people to donate pre-loved items rather than binning them. In addition, Fashion Relief works with retailers, supporting them to donate their end of line or excess stock instead of sending it to landfill – a more sustainable solution for people and planet.

Brendan Courtney said: “What better way to start a journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, than with the clothes we wear. By donating items to Fashion Relief, you are reducing the amount of clothes and textiles that end up in landfill and giving pre-loved clothes a second lease of life, while also supporting people experiencing poverty and disaster.”

Keane concluded: “When Covid-19 resulted in the postponement of the 2020 events, Fashion Relief pivoted to an online shopping platform with the help of Irish tech firm Axonista. Now we are pivoting to Instagram and the fashionists of Ireland to ensure we can continue to offer people unique fashion finds at discounted prices.

“This is our own little Fashion Relief circular economy – as long as people continue to donate fabulous items, we will continue to have fabulous bargains up for grabs.”

All Fashion Relief profits support Oxfam’s work in some of the world’s poorest countries, helping people to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive as well as saving lives when disaster strikes.

If you have items you would like to donate to Fashion Relief’s donation drive contact Aisling at aisling.wallace@oxfam.org to arrange for delivery of your donation bag.

Ends

For media queries contact:

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org |087 912 3165

Notes to the Editor

About Fashion Relief: Fashion Relief is a fundraiser extraordinaire that offers people the unique opportunity to bag a bargain from the wardrobe of their style icon or beloved brand, boutique or designer. It started in May 2018 and has since rolled out annual events in Dublin, Cork and Galway. All profits support Oxfam’s work in some of the world’s poorest countries, helping people to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive as well as saving lives when disaster strikes. Since its inception, Fashion Relief has shone a light on the suffering of millions of children, women and men across the world who face hunger and starvation due to a catastrophic combination of conflict, disasters and extreme weather.  Funds raised will be used to support Oxfam’s work worldwide – including families tackling the climate crisis in East Africa, Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar and the millions of people who are desperately trying to survive in Yemen and Syria.

About Oxfam Ireland: Oxfam is a global movement of people who won’t live with the injustice of poverty. Together they save lives and rebuild communities when disaster strikes. They help people build better lives for themselves. They speak out on the big issues that keep people poor, like inequality and discrimination against women. And they won’t stop until every person on the planet can live without poverty. Oxfam Ireland is one of 20 Oxfams working in over 90 countries worldwide.

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NGOs win historic victory against French State for failing to tackle climate change

Wednesday 3rd February 2021

  • Court battle backed by 2.34 million people – largest petition in French history 
  • Landmark case will pile pressure on other governments to act faster 

A landmark ruling today has found the French State at fault for failing to take enough action to tackle the climate crisis. The decision by the French court will serve as a warning to other governments to do more to reduce carbon emissions in line with their public commitments, said Oxfam France, a plaintiff in the case.

In December 2018, Oxfam France, Notre Affaire à Tous, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Greenpeace France launched a legal action against the French State for failing to reduce the country’s emissions fast enough to meet its commitments. More than 2.3 million people signed a petition supporting the action – the largest in French history. 

It is the first time the French State has been taken to court over its responsibility on climate change. Today’s decision leaves the government open to compensation claims from French citizens who have suffered climate-related damage, and could force it to take further steps to reduce its emissions.

Cécile Duflot, Executive Director of Oxfam France, said: “Today’s decision is a historic victory for climate justice. For the first time, a French court has ruled that the State can be held responsible for its climate commitments. This sets an important legal precedent and can be used by people affected by the climate crisis to defend their rights. This is a source of hope for the millions of French people who demanded legal action, and for all of those who continue to fight for climate justice around the world. It is also a timely reminder to all governments that actions speak louder than words.” 

The ruling comes as many countries are preparing more ambitious targets to reduce emissions, as required by the Paris Agreement. Governments are due to meet in Scotland later this year for the COP26 climate summit. Scientists and NGOs say the targets already announced – known as Nationally Determined Contributions – fall short of the cuts needed to avoid catastrophic global warming. 

The French government’s proposed climate law is, by its own admission, not enough to achieve its target of cutting emissions 40 percent by 2030. Even this target is not enough to put the country on track to tackle the climate crisis, Oxfam France said. 

This decision also serves as a timely reminder to all European governments and the European Commission to take their international commitments seriously and to lead in the fight against the climate crisis. The current EU climate target of a 55 percent cut to emissions is ambitious, but still falls short of what is needed to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C. 

Michael McCarthy Flynn, Head of Policy and Advocacy with Oxfam Ireland said: "Our own Supreme Court has already put the Irish Government on notice for failing to take adequate action on climate change, in a similar case. 

“Climate Case Ireland is the first case of its kind in Ireland and only the second case in the world in which the highest national court of law has required a Government to revise its national climate policy in light of its legal obligations. 

“It is essential that the new Climate Change Bill currently going through the Oireachtas is robust enough to ensure Ireland delivers faster and fair climate action."

The French State has two months to appeal the court’s decision. While the four NGOs have asked the court to order the State to take additional measures to fulfill its climate commitments, the court decided to reserve its decision on this point for later in the Spring, to allow for further discussions between the French State and the NGOs. 

Duflot concluded: “Following today’s breakthrough, we now hope the courts will compel the Government to take further steps to reduce emissions and ensure that France is living up to its commitments.”

Oxfam launched the legal action because the climate crisis is fuelling poverty, hunger and inequality around the world. Often it is the poorest countries that have contributed least to the crisis that pay the highest price. In September 2020, Oxfam revealed that the richest one percent of people produce more than double the emissions of the poorest half of the world population combined. 

Ends

To arrange an interview with an Oxfam spokesperson, please contact:

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165

Notes to the Editor:

  • In June 2020 Climate Case Ireland/ Friends of the Irish Environment took the Irish Government to the Supreme Court for failing to take adequate action on climate change – and won. For more information on Climate Case Ireland see https://www.climatecaseireland.ie/
  • In December 2020, EU leaders agreed on a new EU emissions reduction target of ‘at least 55 percent’ below 1990 levels by 2030. Oxfam estimates that cuts of more than 65 percent are needed for Europe to contribute its fair share of global emissions cuts needed to limit global heating to 1.5C.
  • This case in France follows a similar ruling in the Netherlands in 2019, in which the Supreme Court ordered the government to ramp up its emissions reduction target. There is also a similar case coming up in a Belgian court to enforce more ambitious climate policies. The number of climate litigation cases has doubled since 2017, according to a recent report by the UN Environment Program. As of July 2020, at least 1,550 climate change cases had been filed in 38 countries. 
  • Oxfam’s report in September 2020, Confronting Carbon Inequality, found that the richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the poorest 3.1 billion people during a critical 25-year period of emissions growth. 
Posted In:

Mega-rich recoup Covid-losses in record-time yet billions will live in poverty for at least a decade

  • As Ireland’s billionaires’ fortunes increase by 3.28bn during pandemic - essential workers, often on minimum or low-paid wages, kept the country going

  • World’s ten richest men increase wealth by half a trillion dollars during pandemic  

The 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months, while it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, a new report from Oxfam revealed today. 

Mirroring this global inequality trend, Ireland’s own nine billionaires saw their fortunes increase by €3.28 billion since March – a tenth of which would pay for a Covid-19 vaccine for every person in the Republic of Ireland. Meanwhile, essential workers - such as our carers and supermarket and factory workers – cared for our vulnerable and kept our food supplies running throughout the pandemic -  quite often on minimum or low-paid wages. 

Oxfam’s The Inequality Virus report, published to coincide with the opening day of the World Economic Forum’s ‘Davos Agenda’, highlights how Covid-19 has the potential to increase economic inequality in almost every country at once, the first time this has happened since records began over a century ago.  

A new global survey commissioned by Oxfam of 295 economists from 79 countries, including Ireland, reveals that 87 percent of respondents, including Jeffrey Sachs, Jayati Ghosh and Gabriel Zucman, expect an ‘increase’ or a ‘major increase’ in income inequality in their country as a result of the pandemic. This thinking was shared by 85 percent of Irish economists who participated, with most estimating it would be the worst increase in inequality in Ireland since the financial crash of 2008. 

Rising inequality means it could take at least 14 times longer for the number of people living in poverty to return to pre-pandemic levels than it took for the fortunes of the top 1,000, mostly White male billionaires, to bounce back.

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: “We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began, with the deep divide between the rich and poor proving as deadly as the virus itself. Around the world the impact of Covid-19 is magnifying and exacerbating existing inequalities – as well as racial and gender divides. One of the most extreme and unjust indicators of inequality we are seeing around the world right now is between those who have access to life saving vaccine and those who don’t’. 

“Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in safety, while those on the frontline— our shop assistants, healthcare workers, and factory workers — are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, and often do not have benefits such as paid sick leave. 

“The world’s ten richest men have seen their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began —more than enough to pay for a Covid-19 vaccine for everyone and to ensure no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic. At the same time, the pandemic has ushered in the worst job crisis in over 90 years with hundreds of millions of people now underemployed or out of work. 

 “In Ireland, the fallout of the pandemic on employment has disproportionately hit young adults as well as people in low-paid occupations, all of whom are more likely to be paying rent. Without significant government intervention, we are looking at a return to long-term unemployment, increasing risks of homelessness and economic insecurity for younger generations in Ireland. 

“In addition, women and marginalised racial and ethnic groups are yet again bearing the brunt. They are more likely to be pushed into poverty, more likely to go hungry, and more likely to be excluded from healthcare. 

“Long before Covid-19 disrupted our lives, in Ireland and across the world, women sustained our societies through their paid and unpaid care work. They continue to do so as we manage this public health crisis and as the social and economic consequences unfold. However, there is a lack of attention to gender equality in much of the economic decision making that has taken place since the onset of the pandemic.”  

Oxfam said the road to recovery will be much longer for people who were already struggling pre-Covid. When the virus took hold, over half of workers in poor countries were living in poverty, and three-quarters of workers globally had no access to social protections like sick pay or unemployment benefits. 

Clarken concluded: “Extreme inequality is not inevitable, but a policy choice. Governments around the world must seize this opportunity to build more equal, more inclusive economies that end poverty and protect the planet. 

“The fight against inequality must be at the heart of economic rescue and recovery efforts. Governments must ensure everyone has access to a Covid-19 vaccine and financial support if they lose their job. They must invest in public services and low carbon sectors to create millions of new jobs and ensure everyone has access to a decent education, health, and social care, and they must ensure the richest individuals and corporations contribute their fair share of tax to pay for it.  

“These measures must not be band-aid solutions for desperate times but a ‘new normal’ in economies that work for the benefit of all people, not just the privileged few.”

ENDS

Oxfam Ireland spokespeople are available for interview. For interviews, images or more information, contact: 

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | 083 198 1869

Notes to editors

Download ‘The Inequality Virus’ and a methodology document outlining how Oxfam calculated the statistics in the report here

Oxfam Ireland are calling for the Irish Government to: 

  • Support the call for a global ‘People’s Vaccine’ to ensure Covid-19 vaccines are made a global public good—free of charge to the public, fairly distributed and based on need. 
  • Support calls for a tax on the excess profits earned during the pandemic by corporations the world over which could generate $104bn - enough to provide unemployment protection for all workers, and financial support for all children and elderly people in the poorest countries. 
  • Significantly increase investments in public services and social infrastructure, especially the care economy, while prioritising gender budgeting and the equality budgeting process. 
  • Bail out businesses responsibly. Priority must be given to supporting small businesses that have the least ability to cope with the crisis. Any public support for large corporations should be conditional on measures that uphold the interests of workers, farmers and taxpayers and build a sustainable future.   
  • Fulfil their commitment to develop a new set of indicators to monitor and progress societal well-being and reduce inequality, while ensuring that economic development remains within planetary boundaries. 
  1. Sunday Business Post analysis from November 2020 estimated the cost of purchasing Covid-19 vaccines as up to €300 million for an initial supply. Daniel Murray SBP Nov 8 2020.
  2. Eight top Irish economists responded to Oxfam’s survey from UCD, TCD and various think tanks and Government agencies. 85 percent of Irish economists who answered Oxfam’s survey thought inequality would increase in Ireland due to Covid-19, with most thinking it would be the worst increase in inequality since the financial crash of 2008. 
  3. For sources related to the tax on excess profits- U. Gneiting, N. Lusiani and I. Tamir. (2020). Power, Profits and the Pandemic: From corporate extraction for the few to an economy that works for all. Oxfam International.
  4. The financing gap to offer a social protection floor package in low-income countries is $48bn in 2020. ILO. (2020c). Financing gaps in social protection.
  5. More information on Oxfam’s call for a People’s Vaccine.
  6. During the week of 25 January, the World Economic Forum (WEF) will digitally convene the ‘Davos Dialogues’, where key global leaders will share their views on the state of the world in 2021. 
  7. Oxfam’s calculations are based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive data sources available. Figures on the very richest in society come from Forbes’ 2020 Billionaires List. Because data on wealth was very volatile in 2020, the Credit Suisse Research Institute has delayed the release of its annual report on the wealth of humanity until spring 2021. This means that we have not been able to compare the wealth of billionaires to that of the bottom half of humanity as in previous years. 
  8. According to Forbes the 10 richest people, as of December 31st 2020, have seen their fortunes grow by $540 billion dollars since 18March 2020. 
  9. The oldest historical records of inequality trends are based on tax records that go back to the beginning of the 20th century.
  10. The World Bank has simulated what the impact of an increase in inequality in almost every country at once would mean for global poverty. The Bank finds that if inequality (measured by the Gini coefficient) increases by 2 percentage points annually and global per capita GDP growth contracts by 8 percent, 501 million more people will still be living on less than $5.50 a day in 2030 compared with a scenario where there is no increase in inequality. As a result, global poverty levels would be higher in 2030 than they were before the pandemic struck, with 3.4 billion people still living on less than $5.50 a day. This is the Bank’s worst-case scenario, however projections for economic contraction across most of the developing world are in line with this scenario. 
  11. In the World Economic Outlook (October 2020), the International Monetary Fund’s worst-case scenario does not see GDP returning to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2022. The OECD has warned this will lead to long-term increases in inequality unless action is taken.
  12. Oxfam calculated that 112 million fewer women would be at risk of losing their jobs or income if men and women were equally represented in low-paid, precarious professions that have been most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis based on an ILO policy brief published in July 2020.
  13. All amounts are expressed in US dollars.
  14. Oxfam is part of the Fight Inequality Alliance, a growing global coalition of civil society organizations and activists that are holding the Global Protest to Fight Inequality from 23-30 January in around 30 countries, including Kenya, Mexico, Norway and the Philippines, to promote solutions to inequality and demand that economies work for everyone.
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