Campaign blog

Insight, debate and campaigning news from ActionAid

Travel travails

I can’t believe how long it took to get to Rome. I left my house at 8:30 and didn’t check into the hotel until 7:30. That’s only 6:30 UK time, but still!

In addition to travelling, I spent most of the time working. I caught up with some emails I had ignored last week in the flurry of G8 meetings. I also wrote a reply to The Economist’s article on the food crisis.

The article wasn’t bad - for starters it was great to see the issue covered. But it did completely miss the impact climate change is already having on agriculture. It also failed to understand that the majority of poor farmers in developing countries are net food purchasers: they buy more food than they sell. So high food prices push them further into poverty. The article didn’t explore solutions to the problem either.

I was also surprised to see how little coverage The Economist gave to the G8. Their cartoon was pretty funny though. If you want to know what the summit will be talking about, have a look at ActionAid’s feed of press coverage.








Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s refuse to sign up to a watchdog

This week the Competition Commission published responses made by Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op to its proposal for a new supermarket watchdog.  Perhaps not too unpredictably, the grocery giants heaped scorn on the idea.

Tesco says the watchdog would protect the big multinational suppliers who can look after themselves.  Asda says it’s too costly, while Sainsbury’s says it’s disproportionate.  Excuses excuses…

All three flatly refused to sign up to the watchdog.  

While the Co-op says it’s willing to sign up, this is only on condition that the others do as well.  We can take that as a disingenuous ‘yes’ that really means ‘no’ then.

Responses from the other supermarkets that would be covered by the watchdog – M&S, Morrisons, Aldi, Iceland and Lidl – have yet to appear on the Commission's website.

So far then, Waitrose is the only supermarket that has publicly said it will sign up.An unlikely but nonetheless worrying  possibility, floated by the Commission, is that the watchdog would only apply to supermarkets that signed up to it.  Needless to say this is an outrageous prospect, not to mention ridiculous.  Outrageous because supermarkets have been found guilty of abusing their buying power and need to be reined in.  Ridiculous because on current scores, only one supermarket would be regulated.So we can pretty safely assume that the Commission will hand the process over to the newly-christened Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.  We don’t know when this will be yet, but we do know it means upping the pressure on Lord Mandelson to create the watchdog pronto, so please watch this space for an upcoming action.

Our money in Vedanta

It's brilliant that the Ecologist has published an article about which British shareholders are investing in Vedanta.  These include the Church of England, which holds a significant investment, local  authorities and public companies. The article was followed up by the Independent.

Many of British-listed Vedanta’s shareholders are companies that we, the British taxpayer, have invested heavily in.  That’s our money in a project that we know will cause irreversible damage to the Kondh people’s way of life and a unique ecosystem in India. With the Kondh people repeatedly saying that they do want the mine, is it really is in the best interests of the shareholders to allow the mine to go ahead? 

Corporations cannot put profits before people and the environment. We must support  the tribe’s struggle to stop the mine. 

Meet the press

As part of our preparations for the G8, Asha and I are meeting a few key journalists this week. The aim is to get them excited about development issues so that the needs and experiences of poor people are highlighted in their coverage of the summit.

In these meetings, we’ve been asked a whole range of questions. Journalists want to know, “is the G8 is important?” The answer is a resounding yes. The G8 isn’t representative of the poor, and it certainly isn’t accountable to them. But every year at the G8, some of the world’s most powerful people make promises on development. It wasn’t always this way, but over the last few years, development has become a central theme for the G8.

From here the pattern of the meetings is more variable. Some topics, like the hunger crisis, climate change and aid budgets are covered by everyone. But some topics are much more specific. For example, we had one long conversation about the Conservative Party’s plans for development. With another reporter we fielded lots of questions about GM. One or two even wanted to gossip about Berlusconi.

The meetings are interesting. But for me, the real question is, “are they a good use of time?” I’ll have to wait and see how the summit is covered before I know the answer.

Sherpas, Ministers and meetings about meetings

The G8 is actually a lot more involved than you might think. There isn’t just one meeting in July; there is a whole calendar full of meetings. Those meetings aren’t just for G8 leaders like Gordon Brown. A whole cast of characters is involved.

The Sherpas are key players. Named after local guides essential when climbing Mt Everest, the Sherpas do all the hard work at the G8 too. In addition to endless rounds of Sherpa meetings, there a several important meetings of Ministers from G8 countries. No, not the religious kind. Ministers for Finance, Development and Agriculture are among the G8 groups that have already met this year.

This morning I joined a group of other charities in meeting Gareth Thomas. He was reporting back to us on the G8 Development Ministers meeting that took place earlier this month. He gave us an update and then took questions. The meeting was off the record, so I can’t tell you what he said. But I can say that it looks like we need more people to take action on hunger. The UK government is not yet convinced that hunger should be at the top of the G8 agenda.

Doing strange things with my hands

The G8 is just weeks away, and a whole team is involved in our preparations. Meeting politicians, preparing briefing papers, making travel arrangements: lots of people are hard at work. If you’d like to play a part, why not add your voice to our petition to Gordon Brown?

I’m going to be one of ActionAid’s representatives to the summit, so I have a fair amount of work to do myself. One of the main reasons I will be there is to talk to the media. We want to make sure that issues affecting poor people are front and centre in the coverage of the event. The hunger crisis, levels of international aid, climate change, and the impact of the global recession on poor people are top of our list.

Yesterday I made a start by doing a short interview with Voice of America. They wanted to know what we were expecting from the G8 summit. A reporter and cameraman came to ActionAid’s office to film an interview. The questions were just what I was expecting.

But then the odd bit started. When you are filmed doing an interview like this, they film just you talking. It makes for pretty boring TV. So sometimes they also film you doing other things so that they can put the soundtrack of you talking over (vaguely) more interesting footage. I walked up and down a corridor, typed, and looked serious at my desk all for the camera. So far, so standard. But they also wanted close up shots of my hands. I had to have them on my lap, on the chair arms, still, moving- anything I could think of. So I have decided that part of my personal preparations for the G8 will include giving myself a manicure. It seems I need to be ready for my hands to take centre stage.