People's Stories Advocates

Planetary health: countering commercial and corporate power
by The Lancet Medical Journal - Planetary Health
Planetary health: countering commercial and corporate power, by Enkelejda Sula-Raxhimi, Camille Butzbach, Astrid Brousselle
That the insufficient response to climate change and pollution is jeopardising human life and livelihood, accounting for 7 million deaths annually, is no longer in doubt. Pollution, whether produced locally or transported via air and international trade, is the main cause of death worldwide.
The strong correlations between pollution, climate change, and deleterious effects on planetary health are the result of the global economic model.
Such anthropogenic tendencies exacerbate social and health inequalities, with the most disadvantaged people in low-income countries—women in particular—being disproportionately affected by floods, heat waves, bitter cold, and air pollution.
Solutions exist and yet inertia-plagued public policies impede timely implementation of measures urgently needed to counteract pollution and climate change. How can such effects not be considered enough of a threat, in public discourse and actions, to trigger an urgent and immediate embracing of radical measures?
Studies reveal the absence, disconnection, and contradictions of government strategies at different levels. Commercial interests and the influence of corporate lobbies over public policies are identified as the biggest challenge to governments'' lack of engagement, and lack of transparency regarding funding directed towards overturning or silencing such policy initiatives remains a major concern.
Corporate power is at the heart of the world''s economic system; wealth accumulation takes precedence, overriding population health.
It holds the means of production and determines the ways in which discourse is shaped to preserve such forms of development. Povinelli calls it “geontopower”, a power over life and non-life of late liberalism, an old and outdated power that has exhausted natural and common resources to maximise shareholders'' profits.
If public institutions are to produce and promote planetary health, their challenge is to engage seriously in finding ways to counterbalance such power in public policy.
Some initiatives are on the rise, such as corporations investing in clean energy, based on the same economic growth model.
Experts have exposed the limitations of such initiatives, which lie in the fundamental tension between the profit-maximising drive of corporations and the need for a profound decarbonisation of commercial and economic sectors (eg, energy, transportation, manufacturing) that would advance human health.
Believing that a life-threatening paradigm can be reversed by the same system, means, and actors that caused it in the first place—ie, relying on business and market logic to reorient the course of climate change—is naive, ineffectual, and irresponsible.
Such crucial conditions call, rather, for radical measures. To improve planetary health and produce healthy livelihoods around the world, solutions must be sought outside the wealth logic mechanisms of corporations.
We aim to spark discussion on creative thinking and effective action to protect and promote our most important collective good: planetary health. We propose a framework for countering the effects of corporate power and commercial determinants of health. This framework is based on the current state of scientific knowledge, inspired by the frameworks of the Canadian Association of Public Health on ecological determinants of health and of the commercial determinants of health.
Here we provide strategies for transitioning societies towards a socioecological economic model. First, regulatory restrictions on carbon emissions and pollution should be established and enforced.
Furthermore, new economic and social development models should be implemented that reflect the importance of sustainable environments.
Degrowth, among others, could be considered. Regulatory and transparent funding mechanisms should be established for elections and political campaigns; politicians should engage in a politics of climate change that offers a future for their constituents, undeterred by corporate influence, and common interests for planetary health should take precedence.
Additionally, a series of concerted intersectoral and interdisciplinary efforts and collaborations mobilising researchers, politicians, health practitioners, and others who have an effect on health outcomes through their actions should be encouraged and brought into the mainstream. The political role of the public health sector should be reclaimed and strengthened.
Health institutions must reclaim their political role in protecting and promoting planetary health. The case against tobacco corporations illustrates the positive influence of such a political role. Similarly, carbon exit success stories could be used as precedents to counterbalance commercial determinants of health.
These levers should be considered seriously when challenging one of the most important determinants of health—commercial and corporate power—to preserve and promote human and planetary health.

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Nearly two-thirds of children lack access to welfare safety net, risking ‘vicious cycle of poverty’
by Isabel Ortiz
Director of the Social Protection Department at ILO
Feb. 2019
Social protection is critical in helping children escape poverty and its devastating effects, yet, the vast majority of children have no effective social protection coverage, UNICEF and the ILO said in a new joint report.
Evidence shows clearly that cash transfers play a vital role in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability. Yet, globally only 35 per cent of children on average are covered by social protection which reaches 87 per cent in Europe and Central Asia, 66 per cent in the Americas, 28 per cent in Asia and 16 per cent in Africa.
At the same time, one in five children lives in extreme poverty (less than US$ 1.90 a day), and almost half of the world’s children live in ‘moderate’ poverty (under $3.10 a day). Almost everywhere, poverty disproportionately affects children, as they are twice as likely as adults to live in extreme poverty.
The report calls for the rapid expansion of child and family benefits, with the aim of achieving universal social protection for children, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Such benefits are a key element of policies to improve access to nutrition, health and education, as well as reducing child labour and child poverty and vulnerability.
The report notes that universal social protection for children is not a privilege of wealthy countries. A number of developing countries have made or achieved (or nearly achieved) universal coverage, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mongolia and South Africa.
But in many other countries, social protection programmes for children struggle with limited coverage, inadequate benefit levels, fragmentation and weak institutionalization. Some governments undergoing fiscal consolidation are even cutting allowances, instead of extending benefits as countries had agreed in the SDGs.
“Child poverty can be reduced overnight with adequate social protection,” said Isabel Ortiz, Director of Social Protection, ILO. “To improve the lives of all children is an issue of priorities and political will: even the poorest countries have fiscal space to extend social protection floors.”
"Poverty hits children the hardest, since its consequences can last a lifetime. The poor nutrition and lost years of education that often result are tragic both for the individual and for his or her community and society,” said Alexandra Yuster, UNICEF Associate Director and Chief of Social Policy. “Countries need to put children first and reach every child with social protection to end poverty for good."
When Member States ratified the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed in 2015 with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, they agreed to the global initiative’s top priority, namely eradicating poverty.
State benefits play vital role in preventing poverty
State benefits from public funds, in the form of cash grants, “play a vital role in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability”, the report insists. Of 139 countries covered by the report, on average, they spend 1.1 per cent of their wealth on children up to 14 years old.
“There is a huge underinvestment gap that needs to be covered,” said Isabel Ortiz, Director of the Social Protection Department at ILO. “The numbers worsen by region. In Africa, for instance, children represent 40 per cent of the African population overall, but only 0.6 per cent is actually invested in social protection for children.”
Children are twice as likely as adults to live in extreme poverty, the report continues, with lack of access to education and poor nutrition among the most significant long-term impacts.
“While social protection cash transfers are vital for children, they shouldn’t stand alone,” said David Stewart, Chief of Child Poverty and Social Protection Unit at UNICEF. “They have to be combined with other services – if a child is living in a household with sufficient resources and if they don’t have access to educational health, it makes a big difference. So, it’s about combining these interventions together.”
A number of developing countries have made real progress in realising universal social protection programs. In Mongolia for example, which has achieved universal social protection for children, austerity measures threaten these gains however.
“Recently, due to fiscal pressures from international financial institutions, they have been advising the Government to target the universal benefit, Ms. Ortiz explained. “So it’s one of these cases where fiscal consolidation or austerity short-term…may be having long-term impacts on children. So the UN message is to try to look at the longer-term.”
Improving all children’s lives ‘is an issue of political will’
“Child poverty can be reduced overnight with adequate social protection,” Ms. Ortiz said, adding that improving the lives of all children “is an issue of priorities and political will – even the poorest countries have fiscal space to extend social protection”.
“Ultimately, the extension of social protection is always about Government’s will. It is because a Government realizes about the important developmental impacts of protecting people, particularly those that are vulnerable, across the lifecycle, so in times of childhood, in old age, in times of maternity, protections are particularly needed.”
Feb. 2019
Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to the Conference: Together to achieve Universal Social Protection by 2030
It is an honour to speak at this conference, and to participate in this effort to ensure social protection for every human being.
The Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals is an exceptional initiative in support of one of the essential commitments of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The partnership has shown that social protection is an essential tool for reducing poverty and a fundamental human right.
What is the goal of development? It is to improve the well-being of every member of society. People are not simply the how of development – they need to be the why of development. They are what development is for. True development generates greater social justice, reducing inequalities, which erase the fundamental rights of those who are poor or marginalised.
This is the core message of the 2030 Agenda. It is about including everyone – with “no-one left behind” and indeed, a priority on reaching those furthest behind. It is about rooting out and correcting the causes of poverty – the multiple human rights violations that deprive people of power, of control over resources, of a voice in their government, economy and society.
The 2030 Agenda is a roadmap for practical and detailed measures, which seek to improve our support for the universal human rights of every person, including every individual’s right to development. It is an opportunity to defeat poverty, lift discrimination, level out power imbalances and realise rights.
Our work today will mostly focus on Sustainable Development Goal 1.3, which aims to implement social protection systems and measures for all -- and, particularly, to achieve substantial social protection coverage for the poor and marginalised.
SDG 1.3 flows directly from Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, laying out the right to social security. That right includes access to adequate and affordable health-care and income security – for the elderly, unemployed, sick, injured; for people with disabilities, in need of maternity care, or in other situations of vulnerability, so that they can retain their fundamental dignity.
These are profound and foundational commitments. ILO has done a great job in researching and showing evidence that even the poorest countries can afford a universal social protection system, through the social protection floor approach.
For example, an ILO study from 2017 indicated that a social protection system including allowances for all children; maternity benefits for all women with newborns; benefits for all persons with severe disabilities; and universal old-age pensions costs on average just 1.6 per cent of GDP.
A range of developing countries have already established universal social protection, and many of our speakers today have experience of setting up measures for social protection in resource-challenged situations -- as I do. We can speak to the very powerful effect these systems can have in curbing poverty and marginalisation, reinvigorating the economy, and upholding human dignity.
There are also wide-ranging ripple effects, which extend across society. Human rights are the drivers of peace, security, confidence, resilience, and public trust.
Inclusive, participatory societies benefit from the skills of everyone; and when essential services are provided, such as adequate and accessible health care, education and housing, everyone reaps massive economic, political and social benefits.
Conversely, societies which exclude groups of people from essential opportunities and resources are holding back the ability of the entire nation to develop to its full potential. These violations of fundamental economic, social and cultural rights breed grievances and tensions that are deeply corrosive of social harmony and can give rise to conflict.
At least 821 million people go hungry every day, according to FAO. Youth unemployment is rising: 70 million young people were unemployed in 2017. Short-sighted austerity measures are eroding social protection systems, with short-term cost-saving measures, that ignore human rights obligations and commitments to realise the SDGs.
We need to encourage national leaders to ring-fence budgets to ensure that rights are promoted, and that essential services remain accessible even in the case of budget cuts.
To take one example, social protection measures are essential to combatting youth unemployment - generating access to further education, improving skills relevant to labour markets and securing rights to health, food, water and sanitation, education and housing.
Another example: social protection can enable people with disabilities to gain independence and greater participation in society, including their employability. But only 27 per cent of persons with severe disabilities worldwide receive a disability benefit.
Almost two-thirds of the world’s children – 1.3 billion – are not covered by social protection measures. 71 per cent of our fellow human beings are either not protected, or only partially protected, by social security systems.
Even in countries with universal pension coverage, the level of benefits is often insufficient to push older people out of poverty.
This is particularly true for older women who have invested years of their lives in caring for children and older parents. Social protection policies also need to promote equality between women and men, instead of deepening the imbalances between them.
The numbers are disturbing and signal that we must urgently step up our efforts to get back on track is we want to achieve the SDGs, particularly zero hunger, decent work and universal social protection.
I wholeheartedly join you in calling on governments, civil society organizations and social and development partners to join this Global Partnership, and to work towards truly universal social protection. We can afford to enable everyone to live in dignity and enjoy this fundamental human right.
* Access the ILO, UNICEF report on children & social protection:
* International conference on Universal Child Grants video recordings:
* ILO: World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the SDGs (450pp):
* Ensuring inclusion and combatting discrimination in social protection programmes: The role of human rights standards, by Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona:
* UNRISD: Overcoming Inequalities in a Fractured World: Between Elite Power and Social Mobilization:

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