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New German supply chain law obligates companies to meet human rights standards; critics see room for tightening

After months of negotiation, the German parliament adopted a new law on human rights in supply chains on June 11, 2021. It requires companies to identify, address, and report on any human rights or environmental abuses in their direct supply chain. Companies violating the law face penalties, which can account for as much as 2% of companies' annual revenue.

Legal liabilities in court are not included in the new law. From 2023 on, it will apply to companies with more than 3,000 employees, and from 2024 on to companies with more than 1,000 employees.

Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the law for being too weak and having “loopholes”. For instance, companies are not obligated to conduct human rights due diligence on their indirect suppliers.

German Development Minister Gerd Müller welcomed the passage of the law and indicated that he sees it as a step in the right direction for more global justice. On the World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, 2021, Müller pointed to the rising numbers of children working and emphasized the relevance of the new law for the fight against child labor.

News article – Deutsche Welle

Press release – Human Rights Watch

News article – Rheinische Post (in German)

Australia commits further 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses at G7 meeting

At the G7 summit held on June 11-13, 2021, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia will provide at least 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as part of the global G7 push to boost access to vaccines in low-income countries.

These doses will be provided by mid-2022 and will be a mix of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines.

This is in addition to 15 million doses being provided by Australia to the Pacific region in conjunction with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Australia's contributions to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, and a A$100 million (US$78 million) commitment to support vaccinations in the Indo-Pacific region under an agreement with the other 'Quad' members—India, Japan, and the US.

Australia has procurement arrangements for its citizens that will potentially provide 195 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, including the domestic production of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Press release - Prime Minister of Australia

Japan emphasizes importance of human security during UN's Group of Friends of Human Security meeting

On June 9, 2021, Japan participated in the UN's Group of Friends of Human Security meeting, which aims to reinvigorate discussions on human security at the UN. A total of 63 countries participated in this meeting.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, noted the importance of human security during the era of COVID-19. Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Human Security, Yukio Takasu, provided an overview of UN Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS) activities.

Press release – Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Japanese)

Press release – Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations

Spain and EU to provide US$6 million to fight COVID-19 in Central American countries

On June 11, 2021, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) decided to disburse, in collaboration with the European Union, €5 million (US$6 million) for Central American partner countries to purchase essential medicines and health supplies to respond to COVID-19 in the region.

This funding will be channeled through the Central American Integration System (Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (SICA)) in 2021. While the EU will provide an overall amount of €4 million (US$5 million), Spain's AECID will disburse up to €500,000 (US$600,000) to this initiative.  

Press release – AECID (in Spanish)

Spain strengthens cooperation with UNICEF, to contribute US$6 million

On June 11, 2021, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) decided to strengthen strategic cooperation with the approval of a new memorandum of understanding.

This new agreement, which will be mostly focused on tackling the COVID-19 crisis in middle- and low-income partner countries and vulnerable contexts, accounts for a new voluntary contribution of €5 million (US$6 million) to be disbursed by Spain to UNICEF in 2021.

Press release – Cooperación Española (in Spanish)

Biden pledges donation of 500 million COVID-19 doses ahead of G7

Ahead of the G7, US President Joe Biden pledged to donate 500 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer and the US struck a deal to produce the doses, with distribution expected to begin in August 2021. 200 million doses should be provided by the end of this year.

In his formal remarks, Biden emphasized that the doses will be made available with no strings attached. "This is about our responsibility, our humanitarian obligation to save as many lives as we can," he said.

The G7 subsequently reached an agreement to provide a total of 870 million doses over the next year to the countries in greatest need. The distribution will be done through COVAX, the global vaccine initiative.

News article - Politico

News article - Politico

UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office announces new details on governance and management structure

The UK government's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has released information about its governance and management structure. The FCDO will have five boards and committees, which will be as follows:

  • FCDO Supervisory Board – This Board will provide strategic guidance and oversight to the department. It will be responsible for reviewing risks and proposals for mitigating them. It will also assess how well the department is delivering on its key performance indicators. The Management Board, as well as the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee, support and will report directly to the Supervisory Board. The Foreign Secretary will chair the Board. The Board is composed of some Director-Generals in the FCDO and non-executive Directors.
  • FCDO Management Board – This Board is focused on the delivery of departmental priorities and management, and it manages risk, performance, and reputation. It is chaired by Sir Philip Barton, Permanent Under-Secretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service. It is composed of all the Director-Generals within the FCDO and other key Directors and some non-executive Directors.
  • Audit and Risk Assurance Committee – This committee reviews decisions and systems to ensure internal control. This includes risk management, financing reporting, and safeguarding. To ensure independence, the Committee is composed entirely of non-executive members and has no executive responsibilities. It meets five times a year.
  • FCDO Senior Leadership Board – The Senior Leadership Board focuses on talent and staffing. It reviews recommendations and agrees on appointments for senior staff in the UK and overseas. Sir Philip Barton, Permanent Under-Secretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service, chairs the Board.
  • Executive Committee – This committee reports to the Management Board and takes decisions on strategic challenges that require time-bound decisions, and it manages the day-to-day management of the FCDO. Sir Philip Barton, Permanent Under-Secretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service, chairs the Executive Committee.

Press release - UK government 

Sweden appoints current Ambassador to North Korea as new Ambassador to Malaysia for autumn 2021

On June 10, 2021, Sweden appointed Joachim Bergström as the new Ambassador to Malaysia.

Bergström is currently Ambassador to North Korea and has previously served in the Ministry for Foreign Affair’s Middle East and North Africa Unit as well as in the Swedish Embassies in Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the US.

Bergström will assume his new position during the fall of 2021.

Press release – Government Offices of Sweden (in Swedish)

EU pledges US$837 million for next seven years to Global Partnership for Education, increasing annual contribution by 32%

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced ahead of the G7 Summit that the EU will contribute €700 million (US$837 million) from 2021-2027 to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education in low- and lower-middle-income countries. 

This pledge represents a 32% annual increase from the previous 2014-2020 EU long-term budget, during which the EU contributed €68 million (US$81 million) per year for a total of €475 million (US$568 million). 

GPE works in nearly 100 countries and is currently focused on minimizing the impact of the pandemic on education for children, particularly for girls who have been disproportionately disadvantaged in their access to remote learning opportunities.

Press release - European Commission

Transcript - European Commission

Dutch government supports aim to provide COVID-19 vaccines to at least 20% of most vulnerable in crisis areas by end of year

On June 10, 2021, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sigrid Kaag, sent the Dutch parliament a letter regarding the approach to COVID-19 in humanitarian crises.

The aim is to provide COVID-19 vaccines to at least 20% of the most vulnerable people—such as primary health care workers, the elderly, and people with underlying medical conditions—in crisis areas by the end of 2021. The doses delivered for humanitarian context are in addition to regular deliveries to low- and lower-middle-income countries.

The Netherlands is committed to this goal through its contributions to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), a global vaccine initiative.

Press release – Parliament of the Netherlands (in Dutch)

EU adopts new US$95 billion development instrument, NDICI-Global Europe, for 2021-2027

The EU has adopted its new €79.5 billion (US$95.0 billion, current prices) development instrument, the 'Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument' (NDICI), or 'Global Europe', for 2021-2027. 

NDICI-Global Europe consolidates several instruments in the previous EU long-term budget, as well as the off-budget European Development Fund, to streamline the EU’s funding for external action. It has three main pillars: geographical, thematic, and rapid response. Under its geographic envelope, NDICI-Global Europe also includes an investment framework, the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus (EFSD+), and a requirement that at least 93% of its funding must be eligible as official development assistance (ODA). 

The European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) have already been working on the programming process, which, for geographic funding, is done together with partner countries. 

The regulation entered into force on June 14, 2021, but it applies retroactively from January 1, 2021. 

Press release - European Parliament

Press release - European Commission

Factsheet - European Commission

EU and US to establish joint 'COVID Manufacturing and Supply Chain Taskforce' to boost global vaccine and drug production

The EU and the US announced a new joint 'COVID Manufacturing and Supply Chain Taskforce' during an EU-US summit hosted in Brussels on June 15, 2021. The announcement was included in draft conclusions for the summit, which also reaffirmed EU and US support for COVAX, the global vaccine initiative, and included an EU-US pledge to "encourage more donors" to make two billion vaccine doses available globally by late 2021 and to aim for at least two-thirds of the world's population to be vaccinated by late 2022.

The Taskforce's goals include "building new production facilities, maintaining open and secure supply chains, avoiding any unnecessary export restrictions, and encouraging voluntary sharing of knowhow and technology on mutually-determined terms including through the ACT-A" (the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, of which COVAX is a part) to boost global vaccine and drug production. The Taskforce will formalize and deepen the coordination already happening between the EU's and the US' COVID-19 taskforces, which have been meeting regularly to address vaccine production and trade bottlenecks. The draft conclusions do not mention TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waivers.

During the summit, US President Joe Biden met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.

News article - Reuters

Canada supports move to text-based negotiations to waive COVID-19 vaccine monopolies

The World Trade Organization (WTO) met on June 9, 2021, for a council on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and agreed that they would engage in a text-based process on waiving intellectual property rules on COVID-19 vaccines, testing, and treatments.  

The agreement means that a temporary suspension of intellectual property is increasingly likely. This would remove barriers put up by pharmaceutical monopolies and make it easier for more companies to develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines and technology, which would especially help low-income countries in accessing COVID-19 vaccines. 

While key governments like the UK and Germany are continuing to block the process, Canada supported the proposal. As a result, Oxfam Canada called on Canada to push other G7 leaders to actively participate in text-based negotiations so a waiver can be passed.

Op-ed - Oxfam Canada

Australia emphasizes leadership role in recent HIV/AIDS high-level meeting and provides US$9 million against discrimination

On June 9, 2021, with respect to the UN General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne emphasized Australia’s active role in new global HIV/AIDS commitments.

Australia and Namibia co-facilitated a 'Political Declaration' adopted at the meeting, which included commitments by member countries to address factors driving the AIDS epidemic—particularly stigma and discrimination towards those affected by or living with HIV.

Australia will also invest A$12 million (US$9 million) in conjunction with UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS). This will support Indo-Pacific community-based organizations in addressing inequality and stigma faced by key populations affected by HIV.

Press release - Minister for Foreign Affairs

Australia’s Medical Research Future Fund reports committing US$24 million for global health over two years

The Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has reported on its research grants from 2018 to 2020.

In that period, the MRFF committed over A$31 million (US$24 million) to research global health threats. The grants initially focused on antimicrobial resistance and drug-resistant tuberculosis. 

The Fund was established primarily to focus on domestic health threats. It has provided A$96 million (US$74 million) for research into COVID-19.

News article - Mirage News

Italy commits US$30 million to Global Partnership for Education

On June 9, 2021, in a webinar organized by Save the Children (Italy), the Italian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Marina Sereni, announced a pledge of €25 million (US$30 million) to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) financing campaign, 'Raise Your Hand'.

Sereni reaffirmed the Italian priority to invest in education, especially in girls’ education. It means investing in countries' future and peaceful, just, and inclusive societies, she said.

In 2021, Italy has pledged double its previous contribution to GPE from 2018, when Italy pledged €12 million (US$14 million).

Press release - Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

Australia not yet decided on supporting temporarily waiving patents on COVID-19 vaccines

In Senate budget hearings, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne stated the  Australian government had yet to take a position to publicly support proposals for patent waivers for COVID-19 vaccines.

The USA and New Zealand have already publicly supported India and South Africa’s proposal to allow such temporary waivers, proposed to promote better access and vaccine equity for poorer countries.

An open letter signed by 150 legal experts and lawyers had urged Australia's Prime Minister to support waving these patents. Some 50,000 people have also signed a petition presented to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

News article - SBS

European Commission proposes 2022 budget with increases to US$15.0 billion for development, US$15.7 billion for research and innovation

The European Commission put forward a proposal for the EU’s 2022 annual budget, which allocated €12.5 billion for development (US$15.0 billion, a 7% increase from 2021), €13.1 billion (US$15.7 billion, a 14% increase from 2021) for research and innovation, and €789 million (US$944 million) for health.

The overall proposed draft budget is €167.8 billion (US$200.7 billion) complemented by €143.5 billion (US$171.6 billion) in grants from the EU’s recovery instrument, NextGenerationEU, for a total financing package of €311.0 billion (US$372.0 billion). 

The Council of the EU and the European Parliament will each adopt opinions on the budget in late July 2021 and autumn respectively, and then the positions will undergo a reconciliation process before the joint budget is adopted, which usually takes place by mid-November. 

Press release - European Commission

Q&A - European Commission

Survey shows record-high support for Norwegian development assistance

A recent survey conducted by Statistics Norway, on behalf of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), indicates that support for Norwegian development assistance has never been higher. Nine out of ten people support development assistance to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This is an increase from the survey in 2017 and is on par with the highest support recorded in the last 50 years.

The main findings included the following: 

  • When it comes to the structure of development assistance, there seems to be support for more development assistance for global public goods such as biological diversity, climate, peace, and economic development assistance, and this is true especially among the youngest. 
  • The survey also shows increased support for funding that is set aside for development assistance compared to previous years. There seems to be high support among the various population groups studied, but there is a clear tendency that the younger age groups increasingly believe that the budget should be increased further compared to the older age groups. 
  • Most people (90%) know at least one assistance organization. The Red Cross is mentioned by most (58%), but other organizations such as Save the Children, Red Cross, and Norwegian Church Aid are also mentioned.  
  • A majority of the people asked (89%) say that they are interested in matters regarding low-income countries in the media. 
  • Even though the support for development assistance is high, the knowledge about Norwegian assistance is low. Only one in three (33%) are familiar with the countries that receive support. The five most mentioned countries are Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Brazil, and Sudan. Very few are aware that Syria, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia received the most money from the assistance budget in 2020. 

News article - Bistandsaktuelt (in Norwegian)

Report - Statistics Norway (in Norwegian) 

Norwegian State Secretaries argue that patent rights are not main problem to increase production of COVID-19 vaccines

In an opinion piece in the Aftenposten, a major Norwegian news platform, Jens Frølich Holte and Aksel Jakobsen, two of the State Secretaries at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, argued that the patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines are not the main challenge to increase the global vaccine production.

They wrote that experts on vaccine production have expressed that the fastest way to increase production is to ensure the transfer of technology through the collaboration between manufacturers and participants in the market.  

According to Holte and Jakobsen, instead of changing the current patent rights, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is in need of a holistic approach in which international trade substantiates the work on global health. In order to efficiently produce vaccines, Holte and Jakobsen argued that we are dependent on both patent rights/licenses and complex value chains. Restrictions affecting the export in these value chains could potentially make it impossible to increase vaccine production. As a result, Norway and other member countries in the WTO have initiated a Trade and Health Initiative, with the aim of limiting the current export restrictions.  

The opinion piece also highlighted that the Minister of International Development, Dag-Inge Ulstein, last year launched four principles to ensure quicker, cheaper, and more equal access to products related to COVID-19: 

  1. Speedy and widespread approval of products;
  2. Transparency about agreements regarding the purchase of tests, medicines, and vaccines;
  3. Transparency about the number of vaccines ordered, and the cost (low-income countries should only pay the cost price); and
  4. Increased production capacity through technology transfer by vaccine manufacturers.

 There is a growing support for these four principles also from parts of the pharmaceutical industry.  

Op-ed - Aftenposten (in Norwegian)