From the TUC

Is Cameron up to rewriting the world’s anti-poverty agenda? And what should be on it?

10 May 2012, by in International

No, he’s just co-chairing a UN panel to look at the issue, with the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia, according to the (much anticipated) announcement yesterday. But there is a radical and progressive agenda that goes beyond 2015, and unions have a major part to play in formulating the new development roadmap. Certainly the panel David Cameron will co-chair – and which will be revealed at or after the Rio+20 UN conference on green jobs – must not consist solely of politicians (and yes, there should be a trade unionist on it.)

Civil society has been discussing for at least the last two years what should replace the UN Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000 and due to be achieved by 2015. Everyone knows that, even though progress has been made, the global financial and economic crisis of the last few years put an end to hopes that the MDGs would be realised on schedule.

The MDGs were an ambitious attempt to give the world measurable goals for poverty reduction, and they include many measures that unions welcomed, such as education for all or combating HIV/AIDS. Unions have a development agenda, of course – we are a movement dedicated to poverty eradication, equality, and economic and social justice, and with members across the world, north and south, after all. Much of what we are committed to is shared by others in civil society and in many political parties that form Governments.

But we are focused in a very particular way on the key determinant of poverty – the world of work. So we would like to see some new targets that currently aren’t part of the MDGs (except obliquely: decent work is one of the indicators for MDG 1, on poverty itself). What about full employment, a commitment to which is required by ILO Convention 122? Or the ratification and implementation of the core ILO conventions against forced and child labour, discrimination at work, freedom of association and collective bargaining?

Even more fundamentally (I’ll come on to ends and means) what about setting targets for equality within nations using indicators like the OECD’s Gini coefficient, which could, among other things, radically redefine the recipients of overseas aid? There are more poor people in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa but India is considered a richer country than most of those sub-Saharan countries, for example.

David Cameron has indicated that he wants whatever replaces the MDGs to focus more on the economy, so I’m half with him. But then he had to spoil it by suggesting that this meant property rights, entrepreneurialism and investment. These are only means to an end (and not necessarily the means I’d choose, either!) but they are not sensible objectives for a strategy aiming to make people healthier, wealthier, wiser and more free.