Oxfam statement on the Human Development Report 2001
July 10, 2001
The Human Development Report (HDR) 2001 launched today in London provides an annual update on the state of world development, and highlights the enormous potential inherent in new technologies.
Oxfam has welcomed the HDR, while cautioning against undue optimism in assessing either the rate of progress towards poverty reduction, or the scope for enhancing the development potential of new technologies under existing trade rules.
The HDR documents impressive achievements in human welfare over the past thirty years. However, Oxfam notes that there are still more than 1 billion people living in poverty - the same number as in 1987. On current trends the 2015 goal of halving world poverty will not be achieved.
Other targets will also be missed, including the goal of universal primary education. On current trends, there will be 75 million primary school-age children out of school in 2015. Failure to close the gap in educational opportunity separating rich and poor will inevitably undermine policy efforts to close the technological divide now fuelling global inequalities.
The HDR offers a positive assessment of the potential inherent in new technologies. While Oxfam accepts that technology has a crucial role to play in poverty reduction, the development agency has raised concerns the HDR's failure to address some key development issues.
Patents and pharmaceutical products. The HDR calls for the 'fair' implementation of the TRIPS agreement on patents. Oxfam argues that the TRIPS agreement itself is fundamentally unfair. It has generated windfall gains for the US, where royalty receipts have tripled to $35 bn since 1990, and for transnational companies. However, strengthened patent protection is artificially inflating prices for vital medicines, subordinating public health to private profit. Implementation of the TRIPS agreement is being driven by corporate self-interest, backed by the recurrent threat of US trade sanctions. Oxfam believes that the HDR should have acknowledged the case for fundamental reforms of the TRIPS agreement, and provided an honest assessment of the abuse of corporate power.
Biotechnology. The HDR argues that biotechnology has a central role to play in enhancing agricultural productivity in poor countries. In Oxfam's view, many of the claims made by industry in this area are unproven, while the risks - to public health and the environement - are high. The HDR ignores the fact that most hungry people live in countries with food surpluses rather than deficits. It also overlooks the fact that transnational companies such as Du Pont and Monsanto have sought to discover transgenic manipulations designed solely to enhance the value of their own patents (as in the case of Roundup). The HDR's narrow focus on biotechnology diverts attention from other technologies and farming practices - such as integrated pest management - that could raise productivity.
Technology transfer. The HDR points 'technological hubs' such as Bangalore and to the success of some countries in expanding hi-technology exports as positive examples of what can be achieved. Its Technological Achievement Index (TAI) reflects this approach. In Oxfam's, the HDR focuses insufficiently on critical questions such as employment generation, and linkages between the operations of high-technology enterprises and the local economy. While Mexico performs well on the TAI, Oxfam notes that the countries export boom is sustained by the re-assembly of imports from the US, with minimal local linkages, weak skills transfer, and low wages.
For further information, please call Matthew Grainger Oxfam Media Unit,