It’s the time of year when Washington DC fills up with finance ministers, development ministers and central bank governors, all in town for a G20 meeting and for the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF. Oxfam is also here, lobbying for policies that benefit people living in poverty, and trying to keep attention on the most marginalized in the midst of fears about eurozone debt and US deficits.
This year’s meetings are arguably the most ‘branded’ in the memories of the aged Oxfam team members. Everything – from note pads to coffee cup holders – is branded with the annual meetings logo, but much more prominent is branding for the World Bank’s ThinkEqual campaign, linked to the release of the Bank’s 2012 World Development Report on gender equality. While Oxfam would love to see a greater discussion of power relations and recent crises, we think this report is a very important, high-profile recognition of the intrinsic value of women’s rights – including women’s rights to have decision-making power at home and in society. (See a blog by Oxfam’s Duncan Green for more on the report, and Oxfam's Raising Her Voice project for what women are doing to make this shift in power a reality.)
Giant posters on the front of the World Bank’s main building feature real women from around the world holding signs asking ‘Equal?’ in their languages, and the ThinkEqual brand is everywhere – including on the t-shirts of staff (although unlike Oxfam campaigners, many are wearing suits over them). A non-scientific survey of Oxfam and civil society allies ranks this branding ahead of the IMF’s (equally giant) posters of happy-looking, internationally-diverse people, resembling somewhat dated mobile phone advertising campaigns.
Meanwhile there is a rogue brand creeping in: Oxfam activists who are calling for a Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions – which could instantly raise billions for development and climate change adaptation – have already seen IMF staff wearing Robin Hood badges, and now G20 officials have started asking us for Robin Hood hats. And although one official from a G20 country which is less enthusiastic about the tax asked us if he should wear a Sheriff of Nottingham hat, the news that the European Commission has already produced a formal proposal for a European tax from January 2014 suggests that the momentum is with Robin right now.