Oxfam asks City firms to help put stop to poverty

For the first time Oxfam is looking to mobilise the skills and influence of City lawyers as part of a radical campaign to eradicate Third World poverty.

The ‘Making Poverty History’ initiative will see City lawyers join forces with Oxfam – among other non-government organisations – to provide pro bono advice on international trade, debt, aid and development issues, as well as to engage in public debate on poverty.

Oxfam legal head Joss Saunders said: “Lawyers have been very good on human rights initiatives and active in pushing the human rights agenda. There’s been a lot of talk about human rights, but not much about poverty.”

The initiative, launched on 18 March, is aiming to secure commitments from 1,000 City practitioners by 1 July, ahead of the G8 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland.

More than 100 individual lawyers from firms including Clifford Chance, Shearman & Sterling and Weil Gotshal & Manges have already signed a declaration that stipulates the signatories’ commitment to speaking out on issues of world poverty.

“In the past, lawyers were advocates for, and architects of, fundamental civil rights which are now taken for granted in all well-ordered nations. It would be absurd and unforgivable if we lose our voice in the international war against the causes of preventable poverty,” the declaration says.

The initiative aims to exploit the expertise of City transactional lawyers in areas such as trade finance, projects and competition to advise on international trade, aid and debt agreements, as well as providing litigators with the opportunity to take part in test cases.

Hunger and other preventable diseases kill 30,000 children daily, while for every £1 of grant aid given to developing countries, £13 is paid to the International Monetary Fund in debt.