A verdict on the G20: Some progress on inequality, little new on Ebola

Last week I travelled to Brisbane, Australia to take the voice of poor people to the powerful – the summit of the leaders of the Group of 20 most powerful economies. 

Oxfam’s verdict on the Summit? Mixed. The G20’s promise to pursue inclusive and sustainable growth is welcome, but their response to the Ebola crisis is dangerously inadequate. 

The G20 reaction was disappointing

First, the bad news. The Summit was a key opportunity for world leaders to coordinate their efforts on funds, resources and people required to contain the Ebola outbreak. 

There was good will and concern: Leaders said they were saddened by the suffering and loss of life Ebola is inflicting, and mindful of the serious humanitarian, social and economic impacts on affected countries. 

But overall, the G20 reaction was hugely disappointing. Leaders did not offer urgent or specific commitments to deliver medical support, funding and military assistance needed to bring the crisis under control, or to build robust public health infrastructure to prevent future pandemics. 

There is now a real risk that the UN target of 70 per cent of cases being treated and 70 per cent of burials being conducted safely by 1 December, will not be met. I am concerned that the G20’s warms words will do little for those fearing for their lives in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. 

The G20 represent some 85 per cent of global gross national product and 75 per cent of world trade. This gives them unrivalled policy influence over their own countries and others. Their decisions directly affect the poorest countries.

That’s why the G20 have a responsibility, and why they cannot afford to ignore the problems of the inequality threatening to undermine the efforts of millions of people to escape poverty and hunger. 

Commitments to address extreme inequality

This brings me to a more hopeful note: Contrary to all expectations, G20 leaders made a commitment in Brisbane to inclusive growth and to address inequality. 

Extreme inequality is growing globally, including within G20 countries. Oxfam has argued that reducing inequality needs to be front and center of the G20’s plan to lift GDP – not least because the global consensus is now that inequality is bad for growth itself.

In terms of tangible steps towards tackling that inequality: The G20 has made welcome commitments to and progress on cracking down on tax dodging by multinational companies

But what’s on the table currently is not enough to stop poor countries being bled dry. 

Despite the best efforts of the OECD, working with the G20 to reform global tax rules, most developing countries are still excluded from those negotiations. Luxembourg, a tax haven, has a seat at the decision-making table. Yet Sierra Leone – where Ebola is raging and tax incentives for six multinational companies are the equivalent of eight times the health budget – does not. This is not fair. 

A World Tax Summit

It is time to for the G20 to accept that a more ambitious, far-reaching and inclusive process is needed to fix the broken international tax system once and for all. 

That’s why Oxfam is calling for a World Tax Summit in 2015 - to set the basis for what should become a more permanent body to set, implement and arbitrate on the international tax rules in a fairer way. 

Next year, the G20 will be chaired by Turkey. The Turkish government has said it will put inequality and inclusivity on the agenda for its G20 presidency in 2015. Oxfam will be there, holding all to account.

Join Oxfam's Even It Up Campaign to end extreme inequality

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