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Make Poverty History

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Make Poverty History is the name of a campaign that exists in a number of countries, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Romania, South Africa, Ireland, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom. The various national Make Poverty History campaigns are part of the international Global Call to Action Against Poverty campaign and similar campaigns exist in other countries under different names.

The campaign is generally a coalition of aid and development agencies which work together to raise awareness of global poverty and achieve policy change by the government. Though the different campaigns focus on different issues according to the circumstances within their country, they generally focus on issues relating to 8th Millennium Development Goal such as aid, trade and justice.

The British campaign

An estimated 225,000 (BBC News) campaigners marched in Edinburgh on 2 July 2005

The Make Poverty History campaign is a Great Britain and Ireland coalition of charities, religion groups, trade unions, campaigning groups and celebrities who mobilise around the Britain's prominence in world politics, as of 2005, to increase awareness and pressure governments into taking actions towards relieving absolute poverty. The symbol of the campaign is a white " awareness bracelet" made of cotton or silicone. Usually on the band the words would be written in black, with the 'Poverty' word a lighter shade. A 'virtual' white band was also available to be displayed on websites.

Television advertisements ran for many months, urging people to speak to their representatives about stopping poverty. However, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) banned the ads, deciding that the ads were "wholly or mainly political" in nature, since they aimed to "achieve important changes".

The three demands of the campaign were:

  • "Trade Justice"
  • Drop the debt
  • More and "better" aid

None of these aims were new (there were many attempts over the preceding decades to promote them), but the scale of the 2005 campaign dwarfed previous efforts.

On January 31, 2006, the majority of the members of the campaign passed a resolution to disband the organisation, arguing that the British coalition had only agreed to come together formally for a limited lifespan, to correspond with Britain holding the presidency of the EU and G8. Approximately forty groups argued against the dissolution.


Make Poverty History set out a timescale revolving around the 31st G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland on July 6, 2005.

Plastic version of the "white band"

The campaign was given a high profile launch on British television on New Year's Day 2005 in a special edition of The Vicar of Dibley, written by Richard Curtis, who pledged support for the campaign during 2005. The same issues were highlighted in Curtis' television drama The Girl in the Café, in an episode broadcast on June 25 on the BBC One channel in the UK on the HBO channel in the U.S. and on ABC TV in Australia.

  • Britain assumed presidency of the G8 on January 1, 2005 and hosted the summit with poverty in Africa being, at least nominally, a major topic for discussion.
  • The Commission for Africa, launched by Tony Blair in February 2004, aimed to help create a strong and prosperous Africa. Their report, published in March 2005, was a focal point for the British presidency of the G8.
  • In the second half of 2005, Britain held the EU presidency.
  • July 1, 2005 was the first international "White Band Day", a worldwide day of action.
  • July 2 - Over 225,000 protesters demonstrated in Edinburgh to promote the campaign's demands. On the same day, the Live 8 concerts took place before the G8 summit to encourage activism and debate within the G8 member countries, with the aim of increasing political pressure on the leaders.
  • July 3 – boats set off to Cherbourg in France to pick up protesters as part of Sail 8
  • July 6 - The final Live 8 concert, named Edinburgh 50,000 - The Final Push rocks Edinburgh in the final strike to persuade G8 Leaders to double aid in Africa. Demonstrators walked overnight up to 20 miles to reach Gleneagles as the A8 had been closed.
  • The 20th anniversary of Live Aid was on July 13, 2005.
  • September 10 was the second international "White Band Day".
  • The United Nations General Assembly Special Summit on the Millennium Development Goals, September 2005. This summit reviewed the progress since 2000 of the Millennium Development Goals, including halving the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015.
  • December 10 was the third international "White Band Day".
Police at the Edinburgh demonstration; Buccleuch Street

Member organizations

The British campaign had over 540 member organisations including many faith groups, trade unions and charities. See Member organisations of Make Poverty History (UK).

Whilst the anti-war group CND was a member, the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) asked to join but was refused. The Make Poverty History's governing body, the coordination team, cited the substantial political party affiliations of the governing body of StWC as the primary reason. They also gave the grounds that the issues of economic justice are separate from those of Iraq war, and STWC participation in Edinburgh on 2 July would confuse the message. In a highly critical article in Red Pepper magazine, Stuart Hodkinson claimed that this was ironic since Oxfam a member of the coordination team "is currently leading a worldwide campaign for an international arms treaty on the basis that uncontrolled arms fuels poverty and suffering."

The Canadian campaign

The Canadian Make Poverty History campaign was launched in February 2005 by a coalition coordinated by Gerry Barr, President and CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. The campaign is supported by a coalition of charities, trade unions, faith groups, students, academics, literary, artistic and sports leaders such as actor Mary Walsh, musician Tom Cochrane, Olympian Anna van der Kamp, actors Roy Dupuis and Pascale Montpetit, and United Nations special envoy Stephen Lewis.

Make Poverty History has four main objectives in Canada:

  • More and better foreign aid
  • Trade justice
  • Cancellation of all debts owed by poor countries to developed countries like Canada
  • Elimination of child poverty in Canada

The French-language version of the Make Poverty History is "Abolissons La Pauvreté". While this literally translates to "end poverty", neither the English- nor French-language versions of the Canadian campaign should be confused with End Poverty Now. The former represents the Canadian Make Poverty History campaign; the latter is a stand-alone organization that, while remaining affiliated with the campaign, was created independently by a small grouping of MPH Canada's member base.

See related article, Poverty in Canada

The US "ONE" Campaign

In April 2005, a commercial began airing in the United States with several celebrities in black and white stating the pledge of the American ONE Campaign, their version of Make Poverty History. The commercial featured 33 celebrities and personalities; names as diverse as religious leaders Pat Robertson and Frank Griswold; singers including Bono, P. Diddy, Mos Def and Jewel; and various actors including Brad Pitt, Susan Sarandon, Al Pacino and Antonio Banderas. At the end, Tom Hanks states, "We're not asking for your money. We're asking for your voice."

The general goals of the ONE campaign in the United States are to end extreme poverty, hunger and AIDS.

The founding sponsors of ONE are Bread for the World, CARE, DATA, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Oxfam America, Plan USA, Save the Children US, World Concern, and World Vision. They have strong ties with the NBA, MTV's Rock the Vote, and the United Nations Millennium Campaign.

The Norwegian campaign

The Norwegian campaign was started by Norwegian Church Aid on June 9. Haakon Magnus, Crown Prince of Norway and Kjell Magne Bondevik are some of the celebrities in Norway that wear a white Make Poverty History band.

The three demands of the Norwegian campaign are:

  • " Trade justice"
  • Drop the debt
  • More and "better" aid

The shops in Norway that sell Make Poverty history bands are Cubus and Dressman, two Norwegian clothing shops.

The Nigerian campaign

The Nigerian campaign was started by Gospel to the Poor Agency on October 18, 2007 as a public action at their 7th annual anti-poverty rally called Walk4Jesus.

Our Vision "To fight extreme poverty with passion and professionalism through a comprehensive wealth creation development framework in Nigeria."

Walk4Jesus is the largest youths anti-poverty rally in Nigeria, where more than 7 million campaigners had participated in the StandUp Against Extreme Poverty. Gospel to the Poor Agency put it upon themselves to jump start the Make Poverty History campaign in Nigeria which led to the official registration of the Make Poverty History Initiative in Nigeria as an NGO by April 2008. Now, there are more than 350 organizations, faith groups, churches, youths, civil societies and NGOs that keep coalition with Make Poverty History Nigeria. Make Poverty History Nigeria tends to facilitate the MDGs, runs community based development programmes, skill/business development training, massive advocacy for human capital development in Africa and sponsor hundreds of poor children education in vulnerable communities through Project Eduguide which is specially handled by Clementina Peters.

In 2008, Make Poverty History Nigeria commanded the largest crowd in Africa at the StandUp Against Poverty Campaign with a march to the governors office in Lagos, Alausa. Professor Pat Utomi sits as one of the patrons of the initiative. Joseph O. Peters, an international advocacy specialist, diplomat, computer analyst and a creative business development consultant, played a very significant role in the official start of the GCAP StandUp Campaign in Nigeria. Make Poverty History Nigeria also keeps a coalition with all other Make Poverty History and GCAP network globally.

The Australian campaign

The Australian campaign is coordinated by the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) and is a coalition of more than 60 member organisations, drawn mainly from the Non Government Aid and development sector, including World Vision, Oxfam, Caritas, The Oaktree Foundation and Engineers Without Borders.

In November 2006, Melbourne hosted the Make Poverty History Concert to align with the G20 Summit. Since then, the Make Poverty History campaign has continued to create awareness for the need for increased overseas aid and greater measures of effectiveness, through the yearly Stand Up Against Poverty campaign, as well as major campaigns for the federal elections in 2007 and 2010, including Make Poverty History Roadtrips.

They also continue to incite social mobilisation among people in Australia, often being present at social and music events such as Falls Festival and Big Day Out, as well as having a great range of opportunities to organise their own campaigning events.


Some critics, such as Theodore Dalrymple, allege that debt relief and aid are used to fund lavish lifestyles for the ruling class (although efforts are made to exclude these countries from the G8 debt relief).

Other critics were Mariéme Jamme of Africa gathering and Dambisa Moyo Dambisa Moyo argues that a campaign to reduce poverty in Africa should be undertaken by Africans, and the Make Poverty History did not, hereby undermining the leadership of African leaders.

Others were critical of the ending of the Make Poverty History coalition; the Left-wing activist Alex Callinicos wrote that "disbanding of mph has a lot to do with the interests of the big NGOs that dominated it" and that "scrapping mph was an utterly shameful decision. It can only promote the belief that those who currently dominate the world are benevolent figures who will, with a few pushes from below, continue to take 'small steady steps forwards'".

Some criticism also emerged from the campaign's wrist-bands, and how they had apparently become fashionable amongst people who cared little about the original message (see the MakePovertyFashionable parody). Further criticism derives from the fact that some of these wristbands were proven to have been produced by forced labourers in Chinese sweatshops.

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