Campaign blog

Insight, debate and campaigning news from ActionAid

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.

These pictures just made my afternoon.

Sarah Palmer's picture Posted by Sarah PalmerTax Justice Campaigner

Back in April this year we launched the 6 degrees project, to bring women in the UK together with women living in poverty in developing countries in the fight for women’s rights and to end the violence they face. Because We are all just six connections away from anyone in the world. 

We put on a fantastic gig with an amazing line up of young female artists, and asked the audience to get involved and show solidarity by writing messages to Hajara – a young sex worker in Tanzania who is educating other young sex workers to protect themselves about HIV.

The gig was a great night out, but seeing these pictures really brings home the message of solidarity that the six degrees project is all about.  ActionAid works with amazing courageous women like Hajara all over the world, women who fight their way out of poverty, stand up for their rights and inspire people.  Inspire me.  

Download the I'm Every Woman track.


Climate deal in real trouble as talks resume

Tom Sharman's picture Posted by Tom SharmanClimate Justice Coordinator

The latest round of talks to hammer out a new global deal on climate change kicks off today in Bonn. It’s the first time the 192 countries involved in the process have met since the G8 summit and Major Economies Forum in Italy where world leaders were talking up the prospects of a successful outcome in Copenhagen this December.

But scratch below the surface and you will soon see how far away the world is from a just deal that actually tackles climate change, as opposed to any old deal.

A just deal would prioritise those who have contributed least to global warming but yet are on the front line of its impacts. People living on small islands, extremely poor countries and most of sub-Saharan Africa need help to survive rising sea levels, droughts, floods and other erratic weather. Yet while the UN Development Programme suggest $86 billion a year is needed for adaptation UNFCCC funds currently have less than $400 million to spend on vulnerable countries.

Efforts to prevent future climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions are also lacklustre. The latest science suggests that rich countries ought to make cuts of at least 40% against 1990 levels by 2020 if we are to have any chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. But the UK Government’s analysis shows that no country has pledged anything close to this level of ambition. The EU as a whole is only committed to a 20% cut.

There’s still time for a good deal but time is not the real problem here. Unless and until the rich world’s politicians up their ambitions there is no chance of the just global deal we all need.

The Bottom Billion

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I have only now gotten around to reading Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion, one of the most influential development books in recent years. Its central premise is that economic growth is vital for escaping poverty but that some countries are trapped in ways that make growth incredibly difficult. The most important thing rich states can do to help is focus on promoting growth in the poorest states. It's a fascinating and easy read. Unfortunately, it failed to answer all my questions.

The book is more of a polemic attempt to change the terms of the development debate than an academic argument for rationale behind the importance of growth. This approach certainly made people sit up and listen, but it is frustrating if you want to be able to evaluate his arguments. For example he refuses to actually name the 58 states he has identified as having falling into the various poverty traps.

But I have a more significant concern. Despite the title, the book isn’t about the fate of the poorest billion people, it is about the poorest states. His solution to poverty is to create growth in these states. The unspoken assumption is that growth will definitely help the poorest. But growth is not experienced equally, and Collier doesn’t explore how growth will impact on, for example, subsistence farmers or marginalised ethnic groups.

This may sound like a quibble - a rising tide lifts all boats and growth is obviously vital to poverty alleviation. But Collier’s book is perhaps creating a new orthodoxy in development, so the details must be scrutinised. Historically, growth has not always benefited the poorest. Sometimes it makes it harder for poor people within a country to escape their own poverty traps. Growth is essential, and Collier has done an excellent job of reminding us of this. But he has failed to ask: “What kind of growth? And for whose benefit?”

A torrent of disapproval

An AGM is supposed to be an opportunity for a company to showcase its performance and gain shareholder approval. This year, Vedanta’s AGM was primarily a debate about their social and environmental performance. From the atmosphere in the room, it was a debate they lost.

I was attending the AGM as a shareholder: a few weeks ago, I bought a single share in the company. I was there with Bianca Jagger, two other people from ActionAid, and most importantly Sitaram Kulisika- a representative of the Kondh people. We were there to ask the company not to mine in the sacred homeland of the Kondh tribe.

Vedanta was expecting us. The AGM started with a film produced by the company. Instead of talking about their share price and cost of capital, or highlighting the volume of minerals they are producing, the film focused on their efforts to be responsible. Maternal health got more airtime than metals.

The Board then opened the meeting up to questions. In the hour and a half that followed, there was only one comment made from the floor about the mechanics of mining. The rest of the questions were all about Vedanta’s record. About a third of these questions were about sites other than Niyamgiri, revealing that the problems there are replicated in Vedanta projects across the globe.

The Chair, Mr Agarwal, struggled to answer the torrent of questions. At one point, when asked about flooding in Goa, he even had to say he knew nothing about the issue and would have to get back to the shareholder. Almost everyone who asked a question had to put forward a follow up question, and even then most people were left unsatisfied. Vedanta seemed to have two main lines of argument: they don’t do anything without legal permission and once legal permission has been granted by the Indian government, then no one should question that authority.

It is interesting therefore that Vedanta's plans for Niyamgiri are currently being held up by a legal process.  On the basis of the above comments, let us hope we do not see them anywhere on the mountain to do with the mine, unless this is cleared up!