Debt demolishers: The impact of Jubilee 2000’s campaigning will be felt worldwide

Over the next few months we will witness the start of a tidal wave of charity appeals and awareness-raising campaigns, all encouraging us to see the millennium as more than just a reason to get extremely drunk and spend money.

Over the next few months we will witness the start of a tidal wave

of charity appeals and awareness-raising campaigns, all encouraging us

to see the millennium as more than just a reason to get extremely drunk

and spend money.

Arguably the most ambitious of them all is Jubilee 2000 - a coalition of

90 charities encouraging Western governments to wipe out pounds 100

billion of the pounds 231 billion debt held by the 52 poorest Third

World countries by the end of 2000. Its scope is enormous, with high

profile support from figures including the Pope and Muhammad Ali.

Founded in 1996, Jubilee 2000 is a global lobbying operation. It corrals

the activities of its member charities and acts as a focal point in

trying to convince the governments of the G8 countries (UK, US, Germany,

Japan, France, Italy, Canada and Russia) to write off Third World


But persuading eight governments to collectively give up pounds 62.5

billion is not easy. Quite apart from the massive quantity of money

involved, there is the political aspect. Writing off loans also means

giving up power for Western governments.

And simply giving money to poorer countries has no long-term effect as

long as they have to repay exorbitant amounts of interest on loans. It

is estimated that, for every pounds 1 given in aid to African countries,

they send back pounds 9 in debt repayments. On the day Hurricane Mitch

struck Honduras last October, the country repaid pounds 37.5 million in

interest on debts shortly before the international community effectively

sent some of the money back as aid.

An intensive PR lobbying campaign has started to pay off. The group

succeeded in putting debt relief on the agenda for discussion at last

year’s G8 summit in Birmingham through a combination of lobbying ... and

organising a human chain of 70,000 people around the city’s

International Convention Centre.

Raising the public consciousness of the issue has been an important

strategy for the group, which hopes the people can influence the

decisions of political leaders. To this end, it has worked with Mark

Borkowski PR and advertising agency BMP DDB, both of which have been

giving their services for free.

Borkowski was the PR catalyst behind the most high-profile event to

raise support for Jubilee 2000, as the British Phonographic Industry

agreed to relay the message at its February Brits music awards event,

with information about the campaign on menus and tickets and most

celebrities wearing special lapel chains. Keith Flint, lead singer of

the Prodigy, even had the ’Drop the Debt’ slogan tattooed on his


But it was Bono, lead singer of U2, who was the key celebrity. He

presented a Brit Award for services to charity to Muhammad Ali, another

star who had flown in to be a special ambassador for Jubilee 2000. And

Ali attracted further attention for the cause the next day when he went

on a walk-about in Brixton.

The PR drive worked: virtually every newspaper report of the Brits

included a reference to the group.

Since then, momentum has been building. Campaigns from individual

charities backing the cause have included Comic Relief, which made debt

relief one of its key messages. Save the Children this month and

Warchild and Christian Aid in May will all focus on debt relief.

The group hopes to maintain interest in the issue, and crucially, public

support, in the lead-up to this year’s G8 Summit, in Cologne on June 19,

by which time 22 million signatures from across the world should have

been collected for its petition.

On 13 June, a boat will leave from opposite the House of Commons to take

the petition to Cologne. A raft of music celebrities are expected to

attend the London event, which will include another human chain - this

time surrounding the House of Commons. Bono is organising a concert to

be held in Cologne, and an event in Edinburgh.

An ultimate judgement on the success of Jubilee 2000 will only be

possible at the group’s deadline date - giving it another 20 months of

PR activity.

But already there are signs that public and political pressure has paid


Group director Ann Pettifor believes Gordon Brown’s decision to address

Jubilee 2000’s St Paul’s Cathedral event last month was indicative of

the groundswell of political support. Brown said G8 should be able to

cancel out pounds 31 billion worth of debt within three years, while

President Clinton has recently said pounds 44 billion is attainable. The

new German government is proving receptive to the idea, while the

Canadians have expressed their willingness for 100 per cent debt


’When we started the public campaigning in earnest, just before the

Birmingham Summit, people in the Foreign Office were very sceptical,’

says Jubilee 2000 spokeswoman Angela Travis. ’But by the end of the

summit, we had managed to get debt relief on the agenda by sheer power

of public support.

’Cologne is crucial because we need to get these leaders to commit to

reducing debt on paper, rather than just pledging general intent.’

Anthony Gaeta, an adviser on debt relief at the World Bank, believes

that even if the target of pounds 100 billion is not reached, Jubilee

2000 will still have been a major PR success.

’It has managed to put a relatively arcane issue - that of international

finance and development - on the negotiating table throughout the

world,’ he said. ’The pledges Clinton and Brown have made would not have

happened without Jubilee 2000. It’s one of the most effective global

lobbying campaigns I’ve ever seen.’

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