I admit I haven't been to one of their ninety minute presentations, “1.4.billion reasons.” The trailer for this begins with shots of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and the Berlin Wall coming down. So does the GPP advocate a campaign of mass civil disobedience (King), a combination of violence and non-violence to overthrow reactionary governments (Mandela) or a mass uprising along the lines of 1989? Nope. They're setting their sights rather lower:
“To make sure that we get it right, we are working closely with advisors from NGOs, government, multilateral agencies, academics and civil society, who you can meet here. The presentation answers five big questions that people have about extreme poverty:
What is extreme poverty?
Can we do anything about it?
What are the barriers to ending extreme poverty?
Why should we care?
What can I do?”
The GPP doesn't want your money, it wants to raise awareness. It wants to “catalyse a movement to end extreme poverty.” The implication is this: people are heart-shatteringly poor because we haven't got around to doing anything about it yet. If only more people knew that poverty existed. The closest GPP comes to acknowledging a structural problem is when, during the presentation, we are told that one in seven people go hungry every night even though there is enough food in the world to feed everyone one-and-a-half times over. Does the GPP advocate a radical redistribution of wealth or changed political system to deal with this? Well, their online How-To guides tell us to buy Fairtrade and write to politicians. So no.
We've been here before. The GPP is a direct continuation of the Make Poverty History campaign (remember that?) Hugh Evans and Simon Moss, the people behind the GPP, were both leaders of Australian MPH. Simon Moss “has contributed on development issues at some of the world's leading conferences including the G20, the World Economic Forum and the Clinton Global Initiative.”
The ideology behind the GPP is good old fashioned development. More roads need to be built to allow aid to be effective, and so on. Why not volunteer overseas and teach kids English? So much more useful to them than learning one of their own languages. In fact, the GPP seems to write off the agency of the world's poorest all together. This is all about speaking for them. Indigenous peoples' movements and trade unions can make way for Western corporate-wannabe grad students and PR men.
Sitting on the “Global Activation Advisory Panel” of the GPP is Joe Talcott, head of marketing at New Ltd in Australia, a media group owned by that well-known champion of the poor, Rupert Murdoch. More worryingly, the former CEO of Levi's Australian operation, Peter Murphy, is also there. Levi's record on workers' rights in the past has been pretty appalling. And their environmental record, to put it kindly, leaves a lot to be desired. In this interview while he was still CEO, Murphy says “The cost differential currently today between imported and local manufacture is some 25 to 30 per cent.” In other words, we need to ship production to places where we can afford to pay people much less, and put people in Australia out of a job while we're at it. Surely someone committed to ending global poverty would have wanted to pay workers in poor countries at Western rates?
The GPP is a step backwards. If you're a liberal concerned with global poverty, why not just get involved with Oxfam? If you're a liberal concerned with human rights, why not just get involved in Amnesty? Is it cynical to suggest that there might be a bit of CV building going on? Fighting poverty with patronising platitudes has never worked in the past. What makes the GPP think it will work now?