The New Call for a Jubilee: How Friends Can Aid a Convergence

Issue Date: 
January 2014
Volume and Number: 
Volume 13, Number 1
By David Millar

Quaker Eco-Bulletin

Information and Action Addressing Public Policy for an Ecologically Sustainable World

Volume 13, Number 1                         January-February 2014


The New Call for a Jubilee

How Friends Can Aid a Convergence 

David Millar

We need far reaching changes in the global economy to build a society based on justice, mutual support and community. We need economic and political as well as spiritual renewal in our society.

—Signed by 347 UK interfaith leaders 24 January 20131

People and the Earth are in peril due to the over-consumption of some, growing inequalities as evidenced in the persistent poverty of many in contrast to the extravagant wealth of a few, and intertwined global financial, socio-economic, ecological, and climate crises.... An Economy of Life is not only possible, it is in the making—and God’s justice lies at its very foundation! 

—World Council of Churches Bogor Declaration 20122

Climatic chaos is now worsening. There are wars and rumors of war, job loss, inequality and violence. We fear our neighbors. We waste our children’s heritage. All of these are driven by our dominant economic systems.

—Friends World Conference Kabarak Call for Peace and EcoJustice 20123


Convergence of New Calls for Jubilee


uakers (Religious Society of Friends) can play a key role in the new call for a Jubilee, a converging movement of faith groups and the global South for a transformed world economy with peace and eco-justice. In January 2013, 347 interfaith clergy in the United Kingdom, including Britain Yearly Meeting, and 10,000 laypeople signed the new call for a Jubilee. Jubilee USA invited 1,000 faith leaders in the U.S. to join the movement for “economic justice for the world’s poorest, international financial reform, an end to tax havens and speculation, and debt cancellation.”4 In May, September, and November, 2013, Pope Francis called for wholesale reform of the world financial system.5 The World Council of Churches (WCC) climaxed six years of consultation with the Bogor call for an Economy of Life in 2012.6 At the 2012 Sixth World Conference in Kenya, all varieties of Friends approved the Kabarak Call for Peace and EcoJustice, which is being followed up by the Friends World Committee for Consultation Living Waters gatherings. All these calls come as environmental and civil rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide propose science-based climate action, human rights, and social justice action based on grassroots consultation. Some NGOs are fully aware of this convergence, and others are unconscious of it, but following parallel paths. By promoting this convergence Friends can facilitate its progress and ultimate success.

Third World Debt

Third World debt is a serious problem that affects the most impoverished countries of the world. These countries are so burdened paying debt service to wealthy countries and financial institutions that they cannot provide the services needed by their own people. High interest rates and impoverishment of the developing countries have made repayment impossible. Since 1970 Africa has received $540 billion in loans and paid back $550 billion, but they still owe $295 billion.7

Conditions that have been imposed in order to obtain these loans have increased the devastating effects. The Structural Adjustment Plans dsigned by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) required cutbacks to social programs, transport, food, education and medicare; privatization of infrastructure, and changes to trade policies, all to the benefit of wealthy corporations and financial institutions. Debt has been used by the one percent to squeeze profits out of the poor, despite the destructive impacts of financial speculation and uncontrolled growth on social justice, democracy and the planet. For years this squeeze was called the “Washington Consensus.” In recent years, it has been replaced by financial deregulation, free trade agreements, investor rights that punish environmental and social action, and intellectual property rights that guarantee large profits to patent holders.

Jubilee 2000

The ancient concept of Jubilee is documented in Leviticus 25:10, “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all inhabitants.” 8 All indentured servants were freed and debts forgiven. In Leviticus 25:23, God reminds Israelites that “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.”Jubilee was used in ancient Israel to keep debts and wealth from accumulating and increasing inequality. Expressing his concern for the modern problem of poverty and third world debt, Professor Martin Dent at Keele University in Staffordshire, England, inspired students to organize Jubilee 2000.

To be in a position of owing unpayable debt is a kind of slavery… In a fair world, monies should flow from rich to poor to alleviate their sufferings. The debt burden [on poor nations] has been producing a considerable reverse flow, thus nullifying much of the effect of aid.9

The objective of Jubilee 2000 was to urge western governments and international financial institutions like the World Bank to declare the year 2000 as Jubilee so developing countries could start the new millennium with an even chance to develop and alleviate extreme poverty. They combined with a similar movement headed by Bill Peters, a former high commissioner in Malawi.10 Jubilee 2000 grew with support from churches, the Pope endorsing it in November 199411 and the Church of England Synod in November 1996.12

The December 1998 WCC assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, issued a Jubilee Call, “On the eve of the third millennium, the jubilee assembly of the World Council of Churches must ponder God’s jubilee command and Christ’s proclamation, which affirms this vision. Gathered in sub-Saharan Africa, we have heard the cries of the millions of people who have borne the social, political and ecological costs of the tenacious cycle of debt. We are called, through a process of discernment and response, to seek new ways to break the stranglehold of debt, to redress its consequences, and ensure that debt crises will not recur. This can only be achieved through a new, just global order.

The WCC is firmly committed to joining people of faith and communities of conscience in implementing the sabbath-jubilee mandate, sounding the trumpet and rejoicing in the hope of jubilee when debt is cancelled.”13

Perhaps as a result of this campaign, the Group of Eight (G8) largest economies at their July 2005 meeting, pledged to cancel 100 percent of the debts of the18 most highly impoverished countries. As reported by the IMF in Ocober 2013, 36 nations have benefited from this initiative with a total of US$ 75 billion in debts cancelled. Yet debt actually increased, and the debt crisis has now reached beyond developing countries  to European and other developed countries and their poorest citizens. The new Jubilee is calling for fundamental changes to global economic systems.

Millennium Development Goals

In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). By 2015 the MDGs14 are to:

Halve the proportion of the world’s people living on less than one dollar a day, the proportion who suffer hunger, and halve the proportion with no access to safe drinking water;

Achieve universal primary education for all boys and girls worldwide;

Reduce under-age-five child mortality by two-thirds of the current rate and maternal mortality by three-fourths;

Halve the incidence of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;

Provide special assistance to children orphaned by HIV/AIDS;

Improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers in the world’s cities;

Promote gender equality and empower women;

Ensure environmental sustainability; and

Develop global partenerships, such as pharmaceutical companies providing medicine at low cost.

As we approach the expiry, the resuts are mixed, with some targets met or within reach, but only in some areas of the world. The 2013 MDGs report indicates that fewer people are living in extreme poverty without clean drinking water and sanitation. Infant mortality, maternal mortality, and mortality from diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis have all dropped.15

But the world has mostly failed to meet the MDGs. Gender-based inequalities in decision-making power persist. Progress toward the MDGs is not uniform around the world. Asia has shown the most progress while there has been very little progress in Africa. The developed countries reneged on their promises of aid, so that there is even less aid now than when the MDGs were announced. In 2008 Ban Ki-Moon said the MDGs were bound to fail because of the triple crisis of soaring food and fuel prices, accelerating climate change, and stalled development for over a billion of the world’s people.16

Sustainable Development Goals

The Rio+20 2012 World Summit held twenty years after the 1992 Earth Summit called for development of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that include both climate and social justice, covering the period beyond 2015 when both the MDGs and the Kyoto Protocol, the current international climate agreement, expire. An inclusive process is underway to develop these SDGs linked both to the MDGs and also the evolving climate negotiations, but financing of this work leads to controversial approaches.

The official UN campaign proposes to finance the SDGs by various kinds of carbon offsets.18 But buying such offsets allows corporations to continue polluting—“business as usual.”17 Offset projects, which are supposed to finance conservation of the planet’s forests, soil, water and air, often involve native inhabitants’ expulsion, sometimes at the point of a gun, losing land they have managed sustainably for centuries, or even millennia. Dependence upon financing through offsets allows wealthy western governments to avoid committing significant public finance, underfunding development aid, climate action, and the UN itself.18  Desperate UN leaders have increasingly sought alliance with business and finance with the result that their so-called “green economy” is a sell-out rather than a protection of the world’s Commons.19  The UN is doing its best to keep its SDG finances out of sight, out of mind. While the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group holds open hearings, UN finance experts meet behind closed doors.20

Taking business dominance to an extreme, the World Economic Union proposed the Global Redesign Initiative (GRI) in a report called “Everybdy’s Business,” which would put global policy decisions under private management, rather than national commitments. Business teams would dictate both to the UN and to member states. It is a plan for a world government run by corporations.21

Indigenous and Civil Society Response

Bolivia led the response to these financially motivated plans to disrupt the Earth, supported by the indigenous Buen Vivir movement. Since the 2010 Cochabamba Conference declared the Rights of Mother Earth,22 support from indigenous, eco-justice, and faith groups has grown steadily. At the Rio+20 conference in 2012, civil society protested loudly when an attempt was made to delete longstanding UN human-rights declarations. Their voices reached the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who put a stop to that effort. Business lobbyists’ text was inserted in the final “Future We Want” outcome document, later changed to the “World We Want.”.23 Despite minor changes, carbon finance remains the basis of the official UN plan.

The Peoples Summit, which included indigenous and civil society groups who were excluded from closed-door Rio+20 negotiations, declared the UN plan was exactly “The Future We don’t Want.”

“The multilateral financial institutions, the coalitions serving the financial system, such as the G8/G20, the corporate-captured UN and the majority of governments have demonstrated irresponsibility with respect to the future of humankind and the planet and promoted the interests of corporations in the official conference.”24

 Ecojustice NGOs agreed with this radical critique. Even less radical human-rights organizations were aghast at the attempt to delete the long-proclaimed rights from the official UN text, at the behest of business.

Emerging NGO Coalitions

Three major NGO coalitions have emerged during the worldwide SDG consultations in 2012-2013. The following is a summary of their initial SDG proposals, and their sudden convergence in recent months.

Rights-based NGOs

Rights-based NGOs, led by Civicus and Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP),25 insist that the UN remain true to its previous principles by advocating for the rights of the poor and vulnerable, including poor fishers and farmers, indigenous, women and future generations.26 At the Sept 2013 UN High Level event in New York, civil society groups directly criticized the official UN plan for its failure to address “the structural causes of poverty and injustice by tackling inequality, gender injustice, social exclusion and a skewed international financial system.”27 For the first time, moderate civil rights NGOs were clearly demanding fundamental economic reform as basis for social justice, aligning themselves with the World Council of Churches, Jubilee and ecojustice NGOs. Reinforcing this new stand by human-rights groups was the Women’s Major Group demand not just for gender equality in all SDGs but “structural changes in the unsustainable development model that has triggered the ecological, social and economic crises the planet is facing today.28

Ecojustice NGOs

Ecojustice groups are led by the Phillipine-based IBON International with strong indigenous and global South connections.29 They include environmental campaigns for climate justice, climate debt, and climate space, as well as anti-poverty groups. They are closely linked with World Social Forum, Via Campesina, the Indigenous Environmental Network and other indigenous groups around the world.30 They have a long history of opposing the World Trade Organization due to its exploitive mining, trade and intellectual property regimes; and its anti-social and anti-democratic “investor rights.” They also oppose IMF Structural Adjustment programs. They demand public accountability from Third World elites; gender, water, and trade justice; real development aid and debt cancellation. In recent years they have called for indigenous rights31 and “free prior and informed consent” for all populations threatened by megaprojects, mining, land grabs and offsets. With its many indigenous and North-South NGO connections, this coalition has raised the voices of the world’s most poor and vulnerable in the UN “Beyond 2015” consultations. In a parallel move, the World Social Forum’s Climate Space demanded: “an end to the global empire of transnational corporations and banks; democratic control over resources; workers (including migrant workers), indigenous and women’s rights.... We need a new system that seeks harmony between humans and nature and not an endless growth model.”32

There is a great similarity among all these calls of Oxfam, Kabarak, Bogor and Jubilee; similar calls will come from indigenous peoples, long ignored by national and international negotiators, at the UN’s first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in Sep 2014.33

Science-based groups

Many science-based NGOs have been focussed on climate change negotiations, but with few real emissions cuts and international climate change negotiations deadlocked and expiring,  they are coming to see the new SDGs combining environmental and social commitments as a better solution. Time is running out both for the planet and for humankind. New scientific data show human-made climate change is coming even faster than predicted, on the road to catastrophic 5ºC. The Climate Action Network (CAN) demands to the recent climate change summit (COP-19 in Warsaw, November 2013)34 were for deep emission cuts, immediate pledges of climate finance, clean tech transfer, and immediate public funding of mitigation and adaptation. But CAN also approves of carbon offsets mechanisms. In the past, CAN’s analyses of the climate change negotiations have been sharp and its aims clear, but there is a danger its aims will be co-opted by corporate lobbies, like the UN plan for SDG financing.

Though it remains a key CAN member, Bill McKibben’s is increasingly turning to social justice goals and international youth direct action with Global Powershift nonviolence training, “Do the Math” and fossil fuel divestment campaigns, and demonstrations35 against the Keystone Pipeline and fossil subsidies. Quaker Peace and Social Witness, People & Planet, and Operation Noah backed Bill McKibben’s fall 2013 Fossil Free Europe Tour, which marks’s convergence with the Jubilee movement.36

All the SDG campaigns—the official UN “World We Want,”  the rights-based, eco-justice, and science-based groups—are continuing worldwide consultations, both face-to-face and online.Though each coalition is trying to win support for its own aims, their bottom-up approach is not only strengthening convergence around Jubilee demands, but offering a model of grassroots process.

Convergence: What Can Friends Do?

Friends can lift up the voices of the poor and vulnerable—those at home and in the global South, indigenous peoples, women, future generations. Among the many lay organizations with which they work, Friends can widen awareness of the Jubilee-ecojustice-human rights-climate convergence.

Quakers should be aware of what has already been done: the Kabarak Call for Peace and EcoJustice approved by the World Conference of Friends, Britain Yearly Meeting signed the new Jubilee, anad there are statements by the World Council of Churches, the Pope and interfaith groups. We do not have to rewrite existing documents or reinvent the wheel.

We should also be aware of recent actions by Quaker bodies. Noting that climate change issues are connected with their work in peace and justice, the Quaker United Nations Organization in Geneva (QUNO-Geneva) has recently increased its involvement in the climate change negotiations using their traditional methods of quiet diplomacy.37

QUNO urges direct support to South civil society, combined with action on “external stresses [that] would include everything from climate change and natural disasters, to transnational crime, to migration and arms flows, to the whole network of external economic and security policies, such as trade rules, drug policies, and indeed the security agendas of external actors.”38

The American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation together published Shared Security,whichappealed  for US leadership “to shift economic policies away from endless growth toward sustainability,” and for climate action to “protect the most vulnerable... strengthening and advancing rule of law and cooperative global problem-solving; and replacing fear-driven militarism with restorative approaches.”39

All of this work by Quaker organizations deserves enthusiastic support; at the same time, we can remind the authors of their convergence with Jubilee and ecojustice groups.

We can work through FWCC Americas to spread the news to Central and South American Quakers.

We can tell US and Canadian Friends through BeFriending Creation, e-bulletins and listservs.

We can alert interfaith bodies, congratulating them on their action and alerting them to the Jubilee convergence.

We can thank Civicus for their global consultations and ask them to alert human-rights-based NGOs to the Jubilee convergence.

We can spread the word to faith groups and NGOs at UN meetings.

Visions of a new economy

The Quaker-founded New Economics Foundation (NEF)  has given us a vision of the Great Transition, social justice and the core economy. Its later publications call for major restructuring of money and banking, and propose local currencies.40 The NEF website contains updates on ecojustice issues worldwide, and sharp criticism of right-wing austerity policies.

The Moral Economy Project  of the Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF) produced the book, Right Relationship: Builidng a Whole Earth Economy. A series of QIF pamphlets continue this work. The fifth and sixth of this series are focused on an economic system that is not based on infinite economic growth, It’s the Economy, Friends: Understanding the Growth Dilemma and Beyond the Growth Dilemma: Toward an Ecologically Integrated Economy.41

Quakers are involved with the Transition Town movement, which has offered specific suggestions for a new economy, many of which can be applied at a local level while we work for systemic change. Many other visions of a new economy exist, beginning with the work of Quaker Economist Kenneth Boulding and continuing today, especially in the work of Peter Barnes, Lester Brown, Herman Daly, Paul Hawken, Gus Speth, and others.42

How can we change enough hearts to end the conformism, apathy and cruel indifference that allow the continued pillaging of the world’s poor—even their deaths by hunger, disease, pollution, violence, flood or migration—and allow the destruction of Earth’s life support system?

Is this utopian thinking? Is it a vain hope, to be dismissed with scorn by Wall Street, the diplomats and negotiators who serve them? How dare the 99 percent question the real powers of the planet? 

Did they not call it a vain hope when Mahatma Gandhi led the Salt March? When Martin Luther King, Jr. shouted “I have a dream”? When divestment helped to end apartheid?  When George Fox refused all outward weapons? When John Woolman and William Wilberforce urged the abolition of slavery? When Jesus said “love your enemy” and “love your neighbor as yourself”?


1   European Debt Crisis: Faith leaders call for radical economic change, 24 January 2013.

2   World Council of Churches, 2012, An Economy of Life, Justice, and Peace for All.

3   Kabarak Call for Peace and EcoJustice, Friends 6th World Conference, April 2012.

4   Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.. September, 2010.

5   Pope Francis, 2013.

6   World Council of Churches, 2012, An Economy of Life, Justice, and Peace for All.

7   Jubilee USA Network <>.

8   All biblical quotations are from the New International Version.

9   Dent and Peters, 1999.

10Genesis of the Campaign, Yale School of Management Case Study

11Apostolic Letters, 10 November 1994.

12Anglican News, 1996.

13World Council of Churches

14Millennium Summit (6-8 September 2000).

15Millennium Development Goals Report 2013.

16 Ban Ki Moon, 2008.

17Clean Development Mechanism, REDD, Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry, Payment for Ecosystem Services, Stavins (2001), Cap-and-trade Emission Credits, offsets in UNEP Green Economy, and other New International Market Mechanisms.

18Carrington, 2011.

19Gilbert and Millar, 2011.

20 Mary Gilbert reported in BeFriending Creation that while the open hearings on the Sustainable Development Goals will continue, the financing will be decided elsewhere. Oscar Reyes of the Center for Policy Studies warns of corporate influence on the UN’s nascent Green Climate Fund. IBON expressed concern that the first meeting of the 30-member Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing “was conducted as an exclusive, closed-door meeting, denying participation and input from civil society.”

21 “Everybody’s Business,” Global Design Initiative

22Cochabamba Peoples’ Agreement (2010), comparison of Cochabamba with the Copenhagen Accord, and Vivir Bien by Focus on the Global South, 2013.

23The Rio+20 title “The Future We Want” was later changed to “The World We Want”. Major business lobbies at Rio were WBCSD, ICC and Global Compact.

24Future We Don’t Want; Peoples Summit, Transnational Institute; The UN leadership was sharply criticized in a 27 March open letter and 18 June 2012 petition signed by Civicus, Ibon and others.

25 Civicus and Global Call to Action Against Poverty

26Rights for “future generations” were added in 2012 after World Future Council’s proposal for Ombudspersons for Future Generations gathered support from Foundations, some governments, and (surprisingly) the offset-oriented Green Economy coalition. Southern calls for climate space echo the same concern.

27Women’s Major Group proposals for the SDGs 17 Sep 2013, the Peoples Sustainability Treaties (PST) of 2012, led by Philippine-based Ibon International and Sri Lankan ecologist Uchita de Zoysa. PST evolved into the the Peoples’ Movement on Climate Change, Rights for Sustainability (R4S) network, and numerous South-South exchanges climaxing with the Aug 2013 Bangkok Declaration, the most detailed statement of global South aims for the SDGs.

28 Beyond 2015, 23 September 2013.

29 IBON International

30The ecojustice coalition includes One campaign, Our World Is Not For Sale; Action Aid, All Africa Council of Churches, ATTAC, Council of Canadians, Civicus, Climate Justice Now!, Friends of the Earth, Habitat for Humanity, Ibon, Tebtebba, Kairoscanada, Peoples Sustainability Treaties, Public Citizen, Corpwatch, Tradewatch, Sierra, Third World Network, trade unions, women and youth; and links with World Social Forum, Via Campesina, Indigenous Environmental Network.

31 Third World Network on Southern climate debt claims; and Bangkok Declaration on climate space, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

32 Committee for Abolition of Third World Debt

33 UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

34Climate Action Now (CAN). CAN members include, Acción Ecologica and youth activists in 100 countries.

35Powershift youth joined indigenous Idle No More in non-violent demonstrations in October 2013.

36Quaker Peace and Social Witness, People & Planet, and Operation Noah are backing Bill McKibben’s fall 2013 Fossil Free Europe Tour.

37Quaker United Nations Organizations (Geneva)

38 Quaker United Nations Organizations (Geneva) June 2013.

39American Friends Service Committee and Friends Committee on National Legislation, Shared Security (June 2013).

40 New Economics Foundation

41 Quaker Institutue for the Future

42           Paul Krumm, Rethinking Our money system; Gus Speth, Towards a new economy and a new politics; David Korten 7 Steps for Action Toward a New Economy; Living Economies Forum, Be a Localist. After a decade, there are now over 1800 Transition Towns worldwide aiming at community resilience in response to peak oil, climate destruction, and economic instability. See the video In transition 2.0, and Steve  Chase and Ruah Swennerfelt’s blog, Quakers in Transition.

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