Public stewardship & economic globalisation: A participant-led conversation (F1)

It’s the (economic) interests, stupid!

Nick Fahy (among other things Senior Researcher in Primary Health Sciences at University of Oxford) put it beautifully in its introductory statement: For a long time, we have trusted the nation-state to further the public good by regulating corporate actors and defining what has to be organized outside the market. However, with many corporate actors now acting on a global scale, and supply changes being organized across borders, the nation-state is less and less capable of fulfilling this function. The goal of the session was therefore to clearly draw out the lines of tension where global economic interests come into conflict with the public (health) good, and discuss possible solutions to specific cases.

In the spirit of disruption, the session was structured in an ‘Open Space’ format which basically means really interactive – we could even decide on the topics to discuss in each group. I decided to join the group discussing trade agreements and access to affordable medicines. I was also surprised to find out that I had to decide whether to be a bee (flit around between conversations) or a butterfly (hanging out at one discussion), but the captivating discussion finally turned me into a butterfly.

Based on a template developed by the wonderful Naomi Fein and Becky Hatchett from Think Visual, we identified the lines of tension, relevant actors, forces that pull apart and together, key messages and next steps. What I found most interesting (and important) in our group’s discussion was that that the simple narrative of bad pharma vs. good state actors does simply not work. When it comes to the impact trade agreements have on accessibility of medicines, it is often states with strong links to the pharmaceutical industry (possibly because they employ lots of citizens in the respective state) that prioritize their economic interests over global public health goals (but then again, it only hits citizens of another state, so who cares, right?). However, to tone it down a little, the need for incentives to innovate makes everything even more complicated and without patent laws there might be no innovative pharmaceuticals at all.

Not surprisingly, we could not really come up with a good solution to this problem in 20 or so minutes. The importance of supra-national space for exchange was expressed, but it is – at least to me – unclear how that is going to change much as long as the power differentials between states are so great. So, it might in the end come back to non-state actors like MSF (who also might have sneaked that topic into the session) that push for access to affordable medicines in their campaigns.

Another relevant NGO in this regard might be Tobacco Free Portfolios whose Director (for UK & Europe), Rachel Melsom, also provided some introductory statements to the session. I have decided to wait until the end of this short blog post to mention her as I wanted to end on a positive or even hopeful note. Rachel Melsom explained that she sees her role in translating moral arguments of disinvestment in tobacco products into the quantifiable language of the finance sector. And she has had tremendous success with that quiet and peaceful approach. Sometimes putting ourselves in the shoes of our supposed opponents, understanding their reasoning and language and then explaining our reasons in their language, can also bring about change. I found this to be a very comforting and motivating take-home message – much better than the sub-title, really.

This Blog was written by the Young Gasteiner Corinna

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