Beating the back to work blues

Meredith Alexander's picture
Meredith Alexander Head of Trade and Corporates

January - it’s a tough month. Christmas is over and the excitement melted much faster than the snow seems to. Now it’s just cold and dark with months to go until spring. Starting back at work after a long break isn’t much fun either.

At least that’s what I expected. But actually, I’m feeling pretty excited. There is a huge buzz in the office around the next phase of our fabulous HungerFREE campaign.

In just over a week we are launching a food not fuel campaign against biofuels. Using corn to fill cars instead of empty bellies has already increased hunger and their impact is set to rise exponentially. We will need your help to demand zero meals per gallon. You can sign up now to come to the big biofuel debate on February 16. More ways to take action will be on these pages soon.

This campaign is a chance to help stop a terrifying trend. If the current plans are followed, biofuels could drive another 600 million people into hunger by 2010.

The other campaign I’m excited about right now is a chance to start something positive: higher wages for workers in poor countries.

For several years we have been campaigning for a supermarket watchdog as part of Who Pays? A watchdog would make it much easier for workers in developing countries who help supply our supermarkets get decent wages. The campaign has had some real high points, for example the Government’s Competition Commission agreed with our recommendation and is calling for exactly what we want. The past few months have been slow going though. The decision of whether or not to create an ombudsman is in the hands of Lord Mandelson. He is really taking his time over it.

Given how slow the Government is being, I needed something big to help excite me about the campaign. The last few weeks have delivered not just one, but two huge successes. Firstly, a Private Member’s Bill has been tabled in parliament that would set up an Ombudsman. This could be the break we are looking for, but with an election looming we can’t be sure there will be enough time.

Then last week the Conservative Party came out in favour of a supermarket watchdog. Their proposal differs from ours, but it is still an exciting development. So all of a sudden there is everything to play for in this campaign as well. You’ll be hearing from us soon about just how you can help make higher wages for poor workers a reality.

What does 2010 have in store?

Jenny Ricks's picture
Jenny Ricks Head of Campaigns

Happy new year to you all! With half (?!) the country snowed in at home, I thought it was time to warm the cockles with a little look ahead at how 2010’s campaigning is shaping up so far.

It’s an exciting but challenging year ahead, with a UK general election dominating the political landscape, and the impact of the food and financial crises still looming large for people around the world. Our campaigns will be tackling the root causes of these issues, and pressing for solutions that will make a real difference to poor people’s lives.

We kick off shortly with the next stage of our HungerFREE campaign – demanding zero meals per gallon in our petrol tanks. Current targets for increasing industrial biofuel use will push 600 million more people into hunger by 2020. In a world where 1 billion people are already going hungry, this is lunacy!

That’s because industrial biofuels amount to a commitment to burning food in cars. Despite this, the government are currently writing a plan that increases industrial biofuel use, ignores the science and could make climate change worse. We have until June to force them to put the brakes on biofuel production and get the UK down to zero meals per gallon.

The Outlandish Revenue Service will continue its quest for tax justice for developing countries. The billboard of justice will stalk the powers that be on the tax self-assessment deadline of 31 January. Then we’ll be asking you to demand fairness out of the financial crisis during the general election – by talking tax dodging to the parliamentary candidates in your constituency and asking them to support a Financial Transaction Tax. From online debates to constituency hustings meetings, we need you to raise your voice to put tax justice on the map with politicians.

As the government stalls its decision on a supermarket watchdog, the Who Pays? campaign needs a final push to see through the massive progress we’ve made so far. With a Private Member’s Bill on the way in parliament from Labour backbencher Albert Owen MP in March, we need to get MPs of all parties backing the proposal. Later in the year, Who Pays? will be back in stores, this time demanding a living wage for the women who make our clothes. We’ll be teaming up with a new Asian-wide coalition of workers to push retailers into paying a fair price. We’ll need your help to take workers’ messages directly to retailers, beginning in the summer. 

June will see the first meetings of both the G8 and the G20 in Canada – marking a big shift in global economic power relations. We need to make sure that ending hunger and tax justice are on leaders' to-do lists.

This will kick off a summer of HungerFREE campaigning, asking people across the country to raise their voices against hunger ahead of the Millennium Development Goals review summit in New York in September. The eyes of the world will be on New York, and with just 5 years left until promises to halve poverty should be met, commitments are wildly off track. – from talking to parliamentary candidates in your constituency, to putting a bumper sticker on your car, to volunteering on a stall at an event, to sending actions to politicians and companies to commenting in an online debate – together we can pile on the pressure for change. With our growing movement of 40,000 campaigners, despite the current icy freeze, this year is looking pretty exciting! We’ll be in touch with all the news and action and great ways for you to get involved.

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New year, new supermarket ombudsman?

Jenny Ricks's picture
Jenny Ricks Head of Campaigns

A little pick me up for our Who Pays? campaign to welcome me back to work today, with support announced by Tory Shadow Environment Secretary Nick Herbert for a supermarket ombudsman.

Although his speech was pitched at a UK farming audience, it’s still an important step for our campaign to get a fairer deal for women workers in developing countries. We also think that the ombudsman needs to be fully independent, not housed within the Office of Fair Trading as the Tories are suggesting.However, with the Lib Dems already on board, and a Private Members’ Bill on the way from Labour backbencher Albert Owen MP, it all adds up to pressure on Lord Mandelson to back the proposal.A decision from him was expected before Christmas, so if you haven’t done so already, tell Mandy to bring the supermarkets to heel with a new watchdog! Take action now.

Leaked UN document lays emissions reduction pledges bare

Tom Sharman's picture
Tom Sharman Climate Justice Coordinator

It is likely that any Copenhagen deal will be struck within the next 24 hours if it is to happen at all.

World leaders are due to take personal control of the negotiations from 3pm on Friday to attempt to come up with some sort of political declaration on how the world will tackle climate change over the next decade.A leaked UN document which puts together all the emissions pledges on the table shows that the world is on course for global warming of 3 degrees, rather than the 1.5 degrees needed to guarantee the survival of all nations.

Unless President Obama, who is likely to be the last major leader to arrive in the Danish capital, improves the US offers on mitigation and finance, we will not have a deal that avoids catastrophic climate change.

Most of the NGOs following the talks will be watching the endgame on television screens along with the rest of the world: all but 50 civil society observers have been locked out of the Bella Center where the climate change conference is taking place.

This affront to democracy has done nothing but enrage many of us who have followed these talks since they began in Bali in 2007.

The idea that peaceful observers constitute a security threat is not something dreamed up by the Danish police (many other countries take a similar line) but they have executed a particularly heavy-handed lockdown operation.

NGOs have played a critical role in keeping the climate process ‘honest’ and ensuring that the rights of those who are hit hardest by global warming are not completely trampled over.

Their exclusion bodes ill for the final outcome.

A billion tiny changes

Meredith Alexander's picture
Meredith Alexander Head of Trade and Corporates

Feeding the 5,000 was a huge success. Undeterred by snow and cold, we fed thousands with yummy food that would otherwise have gone to waste.

ActionAid was there asking people to sign our petition. I also gave a short speech. In case you missed it, here it is again (with some photos of the event):

A billion people will go to bed hungry tonight. A child dies every 10 seconds simply because they don’t have enough food. These are huge challenges but they can be solved with some tiny changes.

It’s surprising just how small these solutions are. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has calculated that the average person needs just 250 more calories a day to lift them out of hunger. That’s two thick slices of bread or a small bowl of rice. That doesn’t sound like an impossible task?And it isn’t. Humanity actually produces enough food to feed ourselves. We grow enough for every man, woman and child to eat what they need. The problem isn’t how much food we have, but what we do with it.

Feeding the 5,000

In a world where one out of every six people lives with chronic hunger, it is a tragedy and a scandal that so much of our food ends up in the bin. The energy and resources that went into producing that food could have been put to much better use.

If we all made small changes to the way we shop and eat, we could free up these resources. Hopefully, today’s event will inspire people to think about little things, like making a list before going to the supermarket, that will collectively make a big difference.

Food waste must also be tackled in developing countries. Up to half of all the food grown in these places is lost after the harvest. This waste is completely preventable. Handing out metal bins to store grain in Afghanistan brought losses down to less than 2%.

As I said, many of the solutions to world hunger are truly tiny.

In India, for example, ActionAid works with fisherfolk who need just a small investment to be able to feed their families. Totamma is a mother of two children who isn’t able to put enough food on the table. A 500 litre tub costing just 30 pounds would allow her to safely store fish so they could be sold to people a few days after they are caught. This small change would hugely increase her income. As a result the family would be able to eat three meals a day.

Farmers, fisherfolk, rural workers. These people know how precious food is. They know how safeguard it and reduce waste. But so often their food goes to waste for want of small, simple and inexpensive technology.

Feeding the 5,000

To help farmers in poor countries feed themselves, their families and their communities, the world needs to invest more in agriculture - containers to store grain safely, better quality seeds and simple farm tools all make a big difference. That’s why ActionAid is calling countries rich and poor to give them a helping hand.

Please help us create a HungerFREE world.

Photos: Mark Chilvers/ActionAid.

Africa demands climate delivery from rich world

Tom Sharman's picture
Tom Sharman Climate Justice Coordinator

There were dramatic scenes here at the Bella Center today where the Copenhagen climate change conference is taking place.

The Africa Group signalled their frustration with the rich world’s repeated failure to supply new emissions targets for the second period of the Kyoto Protocol.

When the Danish Chair of the talks, Connie Hedegaard, proposed informal discussions this morning on every issue besides rich country emissions targets, the Africa Group’s frustrations boiled over. They were immediately backed up by the G77 group of 132 developing countries who all refused to take part in the informal discussions.

The Kyoto Protocol is the only existing international climate change agreement and is  often wrongly reported as due to expire in 2012, when it is actually only the first commitment period for rich countries that comes to an end in 3 years’ time.

All of the developing countries want it to continue with a second commitment period for rich countries from 2013-17. Most rich countries, including the EU and the US, want to see it replaced with a single over-arching agreement that requires action from the US and China in particular.

But the Copenhagen round of negotiations launched a twin track approach back in 2007.

One track was designed to secure a second period of emission reductions from rich countries under the Kyoto Protocol.

The second track was designed to include the US in an international framework and provide developing countries with finance and technology to combat climate change.

Developing countries fear that a brand new agreement would take years to ratify (Kyoto took 11 years to be implemented) and would probably be weaker than Kyoto.

The foundation of any just deal in Copenhagen is a second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol. If rich countries cannot deliver that then they cannot claim to be tackling climate change.