From the TUC

Global hunger: ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’

23 Jan 2013, by in International

It’s undoubtedly unfortunate timing that British international development charities chose a date for the launch of their new campaign which has coincided with the Prime Minister’s big speech on Europe. And it’s doubly unfortunate that, given the number of “IFs” about Cameron’s referendum announcement, the global hunger campaign is called “IF”. They plan to run their campaign all year though, whereas Cameron’s European dithering will soon be forgotten (sic)!

The IF campaign is being run by a group of charities with which the TUC and unions have worked closely for years. We co-operated over Make Poverty History in 2005, helped run the Put People First campaign around the G20 in 2009, and we’ve been working for three years on the Robin Hood Tax campaign (all three of these were broad coalitions that went beyond the international development community, with green groups and unions playing a leading role, while IF is a rather more sector-only campaign.) Many of the specific policy demands of the IF campaign are ones the TUC agrees with, such as legislating for spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas aid; tackling tax havens; and making transnational corporations act openly and honestly.

So I should perhaps explain why the TUC isn’t part of the IF campaign. It’s because there are too many “buts”. Here are three.

One big ‘but’ is that the IF campaign wants global hunger to be the big campaign of 2013, focusing in particular on the G8 leaders’ summit being hosted by David Cameron in Northern Ireland this June. Unions agree that hunger is a big issue and a terrible tragedy (it’s part of the manifesto global unions have issued at the Davos World Economic Forum this week.) But this year, we think the priority should be fighting the austerity that G8 leaders like David Cameron are forcing on their own people and also on the rest of the global economy (this week the ILO revealed that only a quarter of the rise in global unemployment in 2012 had been in the industrialised world – three times as many were thrown out of work in developing and emerging economies.)

Secondly, the IF campaign has identified four key areas for the campaign – aid, tax, transparency and land. But they haven’t addressed one of the main causes of hunger, which is poverty, both at home or abroad. The world produces enough food for everyone to be fed, but too many people simply can’t afford it, and that applies (albeit to a lesser extent, and rarely to the point of starvation) in developed economies like Greece and, yes, even in Britain. Oxfam was started 70 years ago to help feed the hungry in Greece under Nazi occupation, and they have done fantastic work to highlight the scandal of how many people in Britain rely on food banks. People in Europe go hungry because of poverty and unemployment, and in reality the same issues apply around the world, even in famine-hit countries in Africa. But the IF campaign doesn’t cover this crucial issue.

And thirdly, well, we would say this, wouldn’t we? But what about the workers? The campaign focuses on defending smallholders against corporate land grabs, which is fair enough. But it has little to say about the millions of people who are employed in the food industry, not just growing food but processing and distributing it, including the many smallholders who supplement the produce of their own land with work in part-time or seasonal employment. As long ago as 2005, 40% of the 1.1 billion agricultural workers were employed. Decent work in rural areas is obviously a key element in ensuring people have the income necessary to support themselves, as well as pay for social protection, public services and so on, and decent work is the only sustainable route out of poverty, where aid is often only a sticking plaster solution, vital though it is.

Overall, unions are also concerned about the lack of southern voices leading the campaign, and we’re concerned that a campaign that focuses on hunger – despite the underlying demands that go much further in challenging the way the global economy works – will merely reinforce popular images of starving African babies, and reinforce popular misconceptions that people in the global south are powerless victims and that endless charity is the only solution.

So, while we will work with the IF campaign on specific elements of their campaign, the TUC won’t be signing up, and we’ll continue to argue the case for tackling inequality and injustice globally, at home as well as abroad.