UK companies driving debt crises in poor countries

  • New figures show UK-based banks are the largest owners of poor country debt
  • Campaigners say the UK is the most important country to unblock multilateral action on debt relief

New figures released today, show that UK-based banks are the largest owners of poor country debt. Of the 73 countries eligible for the debt relief initiative put in place by the G20 in response to Covid, 30% of their debt owed to private lenders is owed to companies in the UK. This is in contrast to 18% owed to Chinese private lenders and 7% to US companies, the second and third highest countries on the list.[1]

So far three countries have applied for the G20’s new framework for debt restructuring: Chad, Ethiopia and Zambia. The majority of the debt payments of these three countries are to private lenders[2], and 33% of their debt to private lenders is owed to UK companies, 23% to Chinese companies and 15% to US companies.[3]

The figures are for debts owed to private lenders other than bonds, as the World Bank does not provide residency data for bond owners. However, previous Jubilee Debt Campaign research has shown that 90% of bonds owed by countries eligible for the G20 initiatives are governed by English law. 100% of Ethiopia and Zambia’s international bonds are governed by English law, while Chad does not owe any debt as bonds.[4]

The G20 has called on private lenders to voluntarily take part in its debt suspension scheme, but so far no private lenders have complied with the request [5] The figures released today show that it is UK-based lenders which are profiting the most from the failure of private lenders to take part in debt suspension.

Tim Jones, Head of Policy at Jubilee Debt Campaign, said:

“It is unfair for private lenders to keep being paid in full when other lenders have suspended debt payments. Lower income countries are spending $144 million dollars a day on debt payments.[6] Private lenders need to be made to comply with international debt relief efforts so that poor countries have the resources they need to tackle and recover from the Covid crisis, and so that further multilateral action on debt relief can be unlocked. As the country in the world with the greatest responsibility for private lenders, the UK must use its presidency of the G7 this year to unblock private participation in debt relief.”

The President of the World Bank David Malpass has called on the UK and New York to pass legislation to make debt restructuring easier,[7] and legislation is being introduced in New York to do so.[8] Jubilee Debt Campaign has been joined by other charities including Christian Aid, Cafod, Oxfam and Global Justice Now in calling for legislation in the UK and New York to make private lenders comply with international debt relief efforts.[9] There is precedent for similar action in the 2010 UK Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act, which made private lenders comply with the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries debt relief initiative.

Jubilee Debt Campaign has calculated that in 2020 developing country debt payments reached the highest level since 2001, increasing by 115% from 6.7% of government revenue in 2010 to 14.3% in 2020.[10] When the Covid crisis began, 64 countries were spending more on external debt payments than on healthcare.[11]


The Jubilee Debt Campaign is a UK charity working to end poverty caused by unjust debt through education, research and campaigning: https://www.jubileedebt.org.uk

Jubilee Debt Campaign’s Privacy Policy is available at https://debtjustice.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Privacy-policy.pdf

[1] The World Bank reports on debt owed to private lenders by the residency of the lender but does not include bonds within this. Of the private debts owed by the 73 countries eligible for the G20 debt suspension initiative, $65.9 billion (66%) are owed as bonds, $33.4 billion (34%) as other forms of debt.

Of the $33.4 billion, $10 billion is owed to lenders based in the UK (30%). UK private lenders have by far the largest amount of debt owed to them of any country. The $10 billion of debt owed to UK private lenders is followed by China ($5.9 billion, 18%) and US ($2.4 billion, 7%) with no other country being owed more than $2 billion.

Of all external debt payments by DSSI eligible countries in 2021, 44% are to other governments, 30% are to private lenders, and 26% to multilateral institutions.

All the data above comes from the World Bank International Debt Statistics database.

In 2020, under the Debt Service Suspension Initiative, $5.3 billion of debt payments were suspended to other government, of which $2.1 billion were to Chinese public lenders. No payments were suspended to private lenders or multilateral institutions.


[2] See https://debtjustice.org.uk/blog/private-lenders-main-recipients-of-debt-payments-from-crisis-countries

[3] The World Bank database gives jurisdiction of private lender for $9.762 billion of debt owed by Chad, Ethiopia and Zambia. Of this, $3.255 billion is owed to UK private lenders (33%), $2.253 billion to Chinese private lenders (23%) and $1.439 billion to US private lenders (15%). Lenders from no other jurisdiction are owed more than 10%.

[4] https://debtjustice.org.uk/press-release/g20-debt-suspension-request-90-of-bonds-governed-by-english-law

[5] For example, in April 2020 when announcing the debt payment suspension scheme G20 Finance Ministers said: “We call on private creditors, working through the Institute of International Finance, to participate in the initiative on comparable terms.” http://www.g20.utoronto.ca/2020/2020-g20-finance-0415.html

[6] Calculated by Jubilee Debt Campaign from World Bank International Debt Statistics database.

[7] See https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/speech/2020/10/05/reversing-the-inequality-pandemic-speech-by-world-bank-group-president-david-malpass “Given the depth of the pandemic, I believe we need to move with urgency to provide a meaningful reduction in the stock of debt for countries in debt distress. Under the current system, however, each country, no matter how poor, may have to fight it out with each creditor. Creditors are usually better financed with the highest paid lawyers representing them, often in U.S. and UK courts that make debt restructurings difficult. It is surely possible that these countries—two of the biggest contributors to development—can do more to reconcile their public policies toward the poorest countries and their laws protecting the rights of creditors to demand repayments from these countries.”

[8] https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-lawmakers-float-crackdown-on-hedge-funds-sovereign-debt-tactics-11612780201

[9] https://debtjustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Under-the-Radar-081020-1851.pdf

[10] https://debtjustice.org.uk/press-release/poor-country-debt-payments-soar-to-highest-level-since-2001

[11] https://debtjustice.org.uk/press-release/sixty-four-countries-spend-more-on-debt-payments-than-health

Debts owed to private lenders by DSSI eligible countries, by country of residence of lender, for debts where there is data on the residency of the lender, end-2019

Country Amount owed ($ billion) Percentage owed Number of countries which owe debt to non-bond lenders in this country
United Kingdom 10 30% 19
China 5.9 18% 14
United States 2.4 7% 10
France 1.9 6% 18
Italy 1.3 4% 12
Israel 1.2 4% 6
Korea, Rep 1.2 4% 2
Switzerland 1.2 4% 7
United Arab Emirates 1.1 3% 4
Portugal 1.0 3% 4
Spain 0.9 3% 7
Netherlands 0.8 2% 9
Singapore 0.7 2% 4
Japan 0.7 2% 5
Austria 0.6 2% 13
Germany 0.4 1% 9
Belgium 0.3 1% 11
Ireland 0.3 1% 2
South Africa 0.2 1% 3
Czech Republic 0.2 1% 2
Denmark 0.2 1% 4
Others 1.0 3%
Total 33.4



Country Debt owed to non-bond private lenders in UK, end-2019 ($ million)
Angola 3,512
Chad 1,536
Zambia 1,351
Pakistan 727
Senegal 595
Mozambique 478
Ghana 471
Cote d’Ivoire 396
Ethiopia 368
Benin 292
Kenya 78
Uganda 72
Cameroon 46
Maldives 20
DR Congo 11
Dominica 8
Guyana 3
Guinea 3
Tanzania 1



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