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Insight, debate and campaigning news from ActionAid

Adventures in America

ActionAid Blogs's picture Posted by ActionAid Blogs

There is only one office, based in Washington DC. It was opened in 2001. Initially the office focused on research and lobbying the World bank and IMF. ActionAid US has retained its excellence in these advocacy skills, though the emphasis is now on changing US government policy rather than those global institutions.

ActionAid US has also added several more strings to its bow over the years. The office now raises significant funds to help ActionAid offices in other countries in their fight against poverty. It is also now reaching out to the American public to build more support for human rights and international development.

It was fascinating to see how ActionAid’s approach to public mobilisation differs in the US. In many ways, they use the same tools there as in Britain. I even spotted a photo I used last month on the cover of their annual report. But other things are very different. In general, Americans are more comfortable hearing about human rights and particularly women’s rights. On the other hand, they like their reports and websites to have a much straighter style; funny images of world leaders dressed in outrageous costumes are a lot less popular there than here in the UK.



Who Pays, Lord Mandelson?

Jenny Ricks's picture Posted by Jenny RicksHead of Campaigns

We all know that Lord Mandelson is an important man these days, and now he has a very important decision to take which is crucial to the success of our Who pays? campaign.

After a two year inquiry and a year of negotiations with supermarkets, the Competition Commission finally handed over the baton of trying to establish a new supermarket ombudsman to Lord Mandelson’s Department for Business last month.

After all our hard work and some amazing victories, we risk the proposal going off the rails if Mandelson doesn’t take a decisive decision to bring it in. He’ll be making an announcement about what happens next in early November. We need to show him that creating an ombudsman would be a popular move by sending him as many messages of support as possible. Thousands of you have already sent him a message, but the response from the Department of Business so far has been vague.


If you’ve already sent your e-mail or postcard in, fear not, there’s plenty more actions you can take here to help keep the pressure on.

There’ll be more campaigning action over the next couple of months with coalition partners, so keep your eyes peeled. Let us know here if you’ve written to your local paper, or got friends to take the action too.

The Iraq War has ended

Competition time!

We’ve got 15 copies of The Yes Men's fake New York Times (featuring stories about the end of the Iraq war, biofuels being banned and more). They've been signed by the Yes Men themselves, and you can win them.

All you need to get your hands on one of these unique copies is to come up with a front-page headline that ActionAid could use if we were to create a newspaper full of “all the news that we hope to print”. The best headlines win the signed New York Times – simple!

So start imagining the perfect ActionAid inspired headlines and post your entries below. You’ve got until the end of October.

A billion reasons to get excited

Alex Wijeratna's picture Posted by Alex WijeratnaSenior campaigner, policy and campaigns

It’s big, it’s new and it needs your help! October 16th is World Food Day. ActionAid is inviting you to with us celebrate and help launch our new HungerFREE campaign.

ActionAid tower has been buzzing with ideas and hard work for the last few months. Honed down and perfected, they’ll be reaching you via email, in the news, through the post and in places you least expect. We’ve been busy, but your role is even more important. Unless people like you take action, we will never achieve our goal of a HungerFREE world.

It’s a big task. A billion people live with chronic hunger. This isn’t just about a couple of skipped meals. Hunger kills. 10,000 children under the age of five die every day of hunger. The problem is global, and so is the solution. The only way to beat this is together.

The fight has already started. From Afghanistan to Zambia, poor people are demanding the things they need to feed themselves and their families. Access to land, good quality seeds, help storing crops - the solutions are simple if governments would just prioritise hunger.

This where you come in. First up on our campaign to ‘do list’ in the UK is to get Gordon Brown to put tackling hunger at the top of his political agenda. Watch this space to find out how we can make it happen.

Find out how much food you throw away.

Every time I start a new campaign, I want to make the political personal. When I first joined ActionAid, I was really inspired by the supermarkets campaign. The aim is to get government regulation that forces the supermarkets to play fair overseas. The first thing I did was to look at how well the companies responded to our campaign. The second was to change where I shop as a result.

I’ve been working on HungerFREE for a while now, but it’s only just starting to go public. This exciting new campaign will be debuting in October with a focus on getting Gordon Brown to take hunger personally. All the work we are doing to get it ready has gotten me thinking. There are lots of changes we can all make in daily life to help tackle hunger.

Make no mistake, hunger is a political issue and it needs political action. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone, yet one billion people live with chronic hunger. The most important thing we need to do is pressure politicians here to take hunger seriously and do something about it. At the same time, people in developing countries are fighting to have their right to food respected.

 But before I can ask politicians to respect people’s right to food, I want to make sure I am giving food itself the respect it deserves. Personally using less food here doesn’t translate directly into more food in Kenya. But wasting food does have an impact. Our society sees food as a throwaway commodity. It’s cheap, plentiful and easy to replace. We need to remember that food is actually an essential, one that a sixth of the world’s population doesn’t have enough of. And unless we make changes in the way food is produced, traded and consumed, the problem will get worse. Reducing the amount of food we waste is one piece of that puzzle.

I’ll let you know how my efforts go. In return, I’d love to hear from you what you think about how we can end hunger. 

Dhaka garment workers smashing their own factories

Arrived in Dhaka to learn about ActionAid Bangladesh's work promoting garment workers' rights just as the holy month of Ramadan gets going.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that when a country of 140 million people fasts through daylight hours, demand for food might drop, and prices along with it. Not so. Food prices rise during the festival, despite government efforts to hold them down.

For most of us in the UK, higher food prices might mean Tesco value beans instead of Heinz, or maybe a night in front of Dr Who instead of the new Quentin Tarantino at the multiplex. In Bangladesh they mean going hungry instead of eating, or an early death instead of life. Higher food prices have added 7.5 million to the number of people who go hungry here in the past two years. The total stands at 65 million people, nearly half the population.

Some garment factories are offering cut price food rations to workers over Ramadan, but this doesn’t begin to compensate for the shockingly low wages they receive.

Colleagues in ActionAid’s Bangladesh office tell me that many of the country’s two million garment workers are being paid 900 taka (£8) a month. This is way below the legal minimum of 1,660 taka (£14), and a tenth of the 9,000 or so taka (₤80) that workers need to provide enough food, healthcare and other essentials for their families.

I can't imagine what it feels like to work 70 hours a week in return for a wage that leaves you unable to eat enough food, but it helps you understand why workers have taken to wrecking garment factories recently. Workers have been coming out in their thousands to vent anger over pay and conditions, and according to press reports, over 50 factories were damaged during one recent protest.

Meanwhile business is booming for factory bosses, as orders roll in thanks to recession-conscious shoppers in Europe and the US trading down to buy cheaper clothes - Bangladesh's speciality. I’m hoping to get a meeting with the factory owners' trade association to discuss ActionAid UK's work lobbying British garment retailers, which is focused on lifting wages.

I'm also hoping that a backdrop of vandalized factories will bring the case for paying workers a living wage into sharper focus, even for the most hardheaded of garment bosses.