Today the UK government hosted a summit on food and hunger which produced an impressive list of pledges and a long list of signatories. Alongside the big (but not Make Poverty History scale) NGO mobilisation in Hyde Park, it means you’ll be hearing and reading a lot about hunger this weekend. Maybe over your supper this evening, or breakfast tomorrow…
If that sounds a bit cynical, then I plead guilty. The trade union movement has not been part of the Enough IF campaign as we were central to Make Poverty History, and we weren’t even asked to take part in the Food & Hunger Summit or the Hyde Park event. From the start, we’ve had significant concerns about the way the campaign was run (a wholly ’aid charity’ activity, unlike the broader ‘development’ coalitions including unions and green groups), and about the focus on hunger, despite the policies on tax that we would largely agree with.
Because – as the “Global Nutrition for Growth Compact” issued today reveals – this has been a campaign about food, rather than poverty. And since there is more than enough food in the world to feed even the 7 billion mouths there now are, that’s a bit strange. Despite what the Compact says about hunger and malnutrition stunting economies, it’s actually the other way round. Poor people are hungry because they’re poor.
So, there is nothing in the Compact about redistribution of wealth, about providing poor people with the jobs or social protection systems that would enable them to afford enough food. There are a number of good commitments, and good proposals.
But there’s a lot more missing than an appreciation that making hunger history requires good jobs at decent wages, and a redistribution of wealth as well as of food. For a start, some of the companies that were at the summit, and agreed the Compact, are involved in dodging the taxes that would enable developing countries to provide the social protection systems and growth that would enable poor people to buy the food they need. But there’s no mention of those businesses committing to pay what they owe.
Businesses involved in the summit – like Unilever – did, on the other hand, sign up to what is probably a slightly cheaper commitment to put
“good nutrition at the core of business practice. As a first step, we will support the productivity and health of our workforces by introducing a nutrition policy and improving policies for maternal health, including support for breastfeeding mothers.”
We hope they’ll discuss this with the unions representing their employees. But as they weren’t invited to the summit, this will be the first they’ve heard of that pledge. Nor, of course, were the unions representing anyone else in the food chain, like the farmers who produce the food in the first place!
So I’m less than impressed with this Food & Hunger Summit, with its conclusions, and with the governments who organised it. They must try harder, if they really want to abolish hunger, and weren’t just out for a well-fed PR stunt.