Trade talks collapse 'welcome'

30 July 2008 - 1:54pm

The collapse of the World Trade Organisation negotiations in Geneva today lifts the threat of millions more people facing hunger and poverty as a result of trade liberalisation, the charity War on Want said today.

Trade ministers had gathered for marathon talks aimed at concluding the seven-year negotiations.

John Hilary, executive director of the anti-poverty charity, said: "We welcome the collapse of the trade talks. The deal on the table threatened disaster for millions as a result of forcing open developing countries' markets. Now the WTO must seize this opportunity to rethink its approach. Trade must serve the interests of the majority of the world's people, not just big business."

At the G8 last month Gordon Brown claimed that a deal could help to solve the global food crisis, but War on Want believes that the deal on offer would have made global food, financial and environmental crises worse.

Hilary continued: "rather than trying to revive these failed negotiations, Brown must join with other European leaders in crafting a new EU trade policy. Europe?s relations with the wider world must be based on principles of trade justice, not the self-interest of European exporters."

The failure was due mainly to the US refusal to accept safeguards for farmers and workers in developing countries. The US and EU also refused to offer any meaningful cuts in the subsidies given to their own farmers, which lead to the dumping of agricultural produce on developing country markets and the destruction of rural economies.

These disagreements have led to two previous collapses and are symptomatic of the aggressive tactics of the US and EU throughout the talks, said War on Want.

War on Want points to existing evidence that forcing open developing countries? markets even more in the interests of Western corporations, would further increase poverty and inequality.

Developing countries that were supposed to benefit from a deal have been almost totally excluded from decisions. Any future talks must be conducted on the basis of genuine transparency and democracy, said War on Want.

For comment and further details, phone War on Want trade campaign officer David Tucker on +44 (0)7906 756863 or +44 (0)20 7549 0587

Iraq news: Transfer of IFOU activists reversed

30 July 2008 - 1:54pm

War on Want is supporting the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) in Basra, and its efforts to protect trade union rights and oppose the privatisation of Iraq's natural resources.

The IFOU operates in an extremely difficult environment, where trade unions are still not recognised by law and freedom of association and expression continues to be curtailed. IFOU activists have frequently been harassed or threatened by the Iraqi Government for speaking up on workers' rights and trying to protect the country's most valuable resource – oil – from being sold off to multinational corporations such as Shell and BP. Since the IFOU was established in 2003, the union's bank account has been frozen, some of its leaders have been issued with arrest warrants and others have been forced to relocate.

Only recently, eight prominent IFOU activists were accused by the Iraqi Oil Minister of illegal activities and told that they would have to relocate from their workplaces in Basra to Baghdad and Nassiriyah, areas deemed very dangerous and insecure. The IFOU and human rights activists in the UK issued statements protesting the move, calling it a flagrant attempt to silence the trade unions and their efforts to have a say in the future of Iraq's oil wealth.

War on Want, in solidarity with our partner, also disputed a claim made by the British Foreign Minister Kim Howells MP that the trade unions were being punished for illegal trade union activities. In a letter to the Foreign Minister we urged the UK Government to work with the Iraqi Government for the safety of the trade union activists and ensure that the decision to transfer them was reversed as soon as possible.

We are pleased and relieved to hear the recent news that this decision has indeed been reversed. It was announced at the end of July that the eight trade union activists would remain in Basra. This is a victory for trade unions and War on Want's efforts, and for the rights of Iraq workers throughout the country. However, the challenge remains to reverse the outdated anti-union legislation passed during Saddam Hussein's regime which would mark a real step to achieving the equal rights that Iraqis deserve.

New partnerships from the margins of society

30 July 2008 - 1:54pm

As part of War on Want's work to improve the lives of people living on the margins of society in precarious working and living conditions, we have recently formed two new partnerships with organisations that fight evictions among shack dwellers and council estate residents in South Africa's urban areas.

  1. Background
  2. Fighting the evictions
  3. Video
  4. Gallery



    Following the election of the African National Congress to government in South Africa in 1994, there was great hope and expectation that finally the inequalities that had existed for so long along racial lines would be redressed and black people would see marked improvements in their standard of living and better access to public services such as housing, water and electricity.

    However, during the nineties in South Africa there was widespread privatisation of water and electricity provision which saw the introduction of user fees. This made it very difficult for the poorest people to have access to these important services. Little has been done to restructure the economy to improve the inequalities of the past and land redistribution is proving to be very slow.

    As South Africa prepares for the Football World Cup in 2010, the government wants to show the rest of the world how far the country has come in terms of its development. Using the Millenium Development Goals as its justification, the South African government has introduced the Slums Act with the view to ‘eradicating' all slums by 2014.

    This has meant that many shack dwellers on the outskirts of large South African cities are being evicted and moved to ‘temporary' settlements where they often find themselves living in poor conditions for many years. They are removed from their communities and places of business with added transport costs as a result and are plunged further into poverty.

    Furthermore, authorities are reluctant to develop water and electricity infrastructure in slum settlements as this could be seen as giving legitimacy to their existence. This has led to several fires in shack settlements where people resort to using paraffin for cooking and heating.

    Slum residents want good public services at a cost they can afford with the possibility of upgrading their dwellings rather than moved arbitrarily to precarious accommodation and away from their communities.

    Fighting the evictions

    War on Want will work with two organisations which are campaigning to end the evictions of residents and ensure they are given permanent housing with decent public services wherever they live.

    The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC) was founded in 2001 in response to mass evictions and water cut-offs being carried out by local government in slum communities and council estates throughout Cape Town. Developed as a means of informing and mobilising community members around a set of concrete demands, the AEC has consistently called for adequate public housing, basic service delivery, a halt to privatisation, and the accountability of police officers and public officials.

    Since its inception, the AEC has primarily relied on public meetings, grassroots education and mass marches to directly oppose the South African government's indifference to the needs of the poor. Within its first two years, the AEC's community organising had already resulted in a moratorium on evictions from council housing, a flat rate for basic services, and the scrapping of arrears for pensioners in bank housing.

    As one AEC activist put it: “As coordinators of the Anti-eviction Campaign, we are not leaders in the traditional authoritarian sense. Instead, we are like a set of cutlery. We are the tools that are there to be used by poor communities fighting against the cruel and oppressive conditions of South African society. Power to the poor people!”

    The Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers) Movement was established in Durban, South Africa, in early 2005. The movement that began from a road blockade in protest of a sale of land in a settlement quickly grew and now includes tens of thousands of people from more than 30 settlements.

    The movement has adopted the slogan, ‘Speak to us, not for us', and has developed a sustained voice for shack dwellers by mobilising them to demonstrate against the offices of local councillors, police stations, municipal offices, newspaper offices and the City Hall in actions that have put thousands of people on the streets.

    The movement's key demand is for ‘Land & Housing in the City' but it has also successfully politicised and fought for an end to forced removals and for access to education and the provision of water, electricity, sanitation, health care and refuse removal as well as grass roots democracy. In some settlements the movement has also successfully set up projects like crèches, gardens, sewing collectives, support for people living with and orphaned by AIDS.

    Abahlali baseMjondolo has also embarked on popular education through the creation of the University of Abahlali which also runs the IT department to enable members to acquire the necessary computer skills needed today. Furthermore, the establishment of the Abahlali Library propelled the movement's stance to further the need for knowledge and understanding for all of Abahlali's activities.

    We look forward to working with these organisations to achieve improvements for the poor of South Africa who are fighting for better lives, free from poverty.

    A video by Aoibheann O'Sullivan made in 2005,
    documenting the struggle of shack-dwellers in Durban, South Africa.

    {slide=View gallery}{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=8}{/slide}

    Blood, Sweat and Tears: Las maquilas in Honduras

    30 July 2008 - 1:54pm

    Over the last 20 years, sweatshops, or maquiladoras as they are known in Latin America, have become an integral part of the Honduran economy. Honduras is now the 4th biggest exporter to the US worldwide and the largest exporter in Central America.

    Employing 133,000 people, of which 70% are women, the main export is clothing to well-known brands like WalMart, Fruit of the Loom and GAP. Though the maquila industry has brought much needed investment to Honduras, few have benefited and any gains have come at the expense of poor labour rights.

    Working in partnership with the Honduran Women's Collective, otherwise known as Codemuh, War on Want is dedicated to exposing and taking action against the violation of basic human rights within sweatshops. Codemuh has been instrumental in monitoring and documenting these abuses, especially amongst women, and its current campaign focuses on occupational health.

    Maquilas work according to daily production targets set by factory management. There are widespread complaints from workers that these targets are excessively high and not realistically achievable in the legal maximum 8-hour working day. Often workers do not drink water because they can't afford the time to go to the toilet. In many cases workers are forced to put in extra hours in order to comply with targets and in certain cases workers were found doing double shifts of 24 hours.

    One of the biggest complaints amongst workers is of health-problems, of which repetitive strain injury is common. Long-term maquila workers have put their health at risk by repeating the same movement over 6,000 times a day. Once a worker's health begins to deteriorate they often receive little support or treatment from the employer and in certain cases employers have neglected their responsibilities by failing to acknowledge that the problem is a result of difficult working conditions.

    In response to this problem Codemuh has launched a campaign calling for the Honduran National Congress to reform the outdated labour laws. On a recent visit to Honduras War on Want participated in a stakeholder forum: Public Policy in Relation to the Health of Workers, attended by politicians, government officials, health specialists, trade union leaders, the media and women sweatshop workers. This was an opportunity for women workers to share their experiences.

    Santos Lourdes is one such case. A 32-year old single mother, Lourdes has worked in maquilas since she was 13. A fast and reliable worker her daily production target of 400 dozen items, was soon increased to 450 and later to 500 dozen items. Since supervisors were pleased with her performance and she was desperate for extra money, she began taking on double shifts of 24 hours, reaching production levels of up to 1,000 dozen items.

    When she first began to experience muscular pain in her upper left arm Lourdes took painkillers to get through the day, and sleeping pills to get through the night. 4 years on when the health problems prevented her fulfilling production targets, her supervisors began to ignore and mal-treat her. The pain had reached desperate levels when a colleague recommended Codemuh. With Codemuh's help she began the process of negotiation.

    The Canadian factory owners, GILDAN pressured her to leave but offered a redundancy package of only 30,000 lempiras (£800) without accounting for her occupational health problems. She refused and thanks to Codemuh was given sick pay for one and a half years.

    Codemuh is doing fantastic work on behalf of all of maquila workers in Honduras and War on Want is proud to be supporting them in these efforts.

    Storm grows over mercenaries 'abuse'

    30 July 2008 - 11:24am

    Miliband challenged on action delay.

    British foreign secretary David Miliband today faces claims that the government is mounting a political block against moves to regulate UK private military companies amid reports of human rights abuse in Iraq.

    This accusation comes from War on Want, which announced that a government document acquired under freedom of information laws reveals ministers went close to launching pre-legislative consultation earlier this year.

    In a letter to Miliband, the charity has expressed concern that a political block delayed steps towards regulation.

    The government document listed issues for public consultation with parliamentarians, industry, non-governmental organisations and academics on proposals for a "twin-track regulatory system" for private military firms. The system would combine a register of authorised companies with contract licences.

    This revelation follows a new report by British MPs on the influential foreign affairs select committee that brands Miliband's failure to act "unacceptable".

    In a response to the Foreign Office's annual human rights report, MPs expressed dismay that the government's draft legislative programme for next year made no reference to private security firms. The committee called on the government to use the forthcoming Queen?s Speech to announce plans to introduce legislation.

    The MPs called for strict curbs on private security companies, with provision for firms to face prosecution in British courts for serious human rights abuse committed abroad.

    War on Want is calling for legislation, including a ban on mercenaries' use in combat, and cites hundreds of incidents which have involved guards from US and UK companies in human rights abuse.

    Ruth Tanner, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "We are extremely concerned that the government has blocked moves towards regulation. We welcome the foreign affairs committee's call for action on private military companies. It is high time to get tough on firms making a killing in Iraq."

    Last month a Panorama film on BBC television featured the incident last October in Iraq when mercenaries working for the British private security group Erinys International opened fire on a cab near Kirkuk. In the same month as the Erinys incident, mercenaries from the Australian company Unity Resources Group killed two Iraqi women. In September mercenaries from the American private military company Blackwater killed 17 Iraqi civilians. And in November an Iraqi taxi driver was shot dead by mercenaries with DynCorp International, hired to protect US diplomats.

    In 2002 the UK government acknowledged the problems over private armies in a green paper which listed options for regulation. In its response to the paper later that year, the Commons foreign affairs committee recommended that "private companies be expressly prohibited from direct participation in armed combat operations, and that firearms should only be carried... by company employees for purposes of training or self-defence". The committee also proposed that the government consider "a complete ban on recruitment for such activities of United Kingdom citizens by overseas-based or offshore PMCs", while remaining activities be subject to licence.

    But since then the British government has failed to move towards regulation despite the United Nations, the British parliament and the industry itself calling on it to take decisive action.

    CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)7983 550728

    Trade deal 'disaster for poor'

    28 July 2008 - 10:20am

    Millions face hardship from proposal

    Millions more people face hunger and poverty as a result of the deal proposed this evening at the World Trade Organisation talks in Geneva, the charity War on Want warns.

    John Hilary, executive director of the anti-poverty charity, said: "The WTO has manufactured this deal by excluding more and more of members from the negotiations. Stitching together an agreement between seven states while shutting out all others exposes the lack of legitimacy at the heart of the world trade talks. The deal threatens disaster for millions as developing country markets are forced open in the interest of corporate profits. Governments must reject the proposal rather than deliver such a bleak outcome for the world's poor."

    Delegates at the world trade talks have been asked to consult with their capitals on a proposed settlement which will allow developed countries to get away with minimal cuts to their farm subsidies, while at the same time opening up developing country markets to both agricultural and industrial imports, according to War on Want.

    Under the proposed settlement seen by the charity, the US will be asked to cap its trade-distorting agricultural subsidies at $14.5 billion, twice what it currently pays its farmers. Yet developing countries will be required to undertake real cuts in their industrial tariffs, and will be restricted in the protection they can afford their own farmers.

    Several countries have protested against being excluded from the negotiations, which have been held behind closed doors between an ever decreasing circle of invited delegations.

    Representatives will reconvene tomorrow at the WTO to continue the talks, while the EU's Council of Ministers is also set to discuss the proposal on Saturday.

    CONTACTS For comment and further details, phone War on Want media officer Paul Collins on +44 (0)7983 550728 or John Hilary on +44 (0)7983 550727.

    Trade summit 'threatens millions with poverty'

    18 July 2008 - 11:57am

    WTO attacked over democracy, hunger claims. Ministers arrive in Geneva to prepare for crunch talks on global trade

    The World Trade Organisation's last-minute push for a global trade deal threatens to throw millions more people into hunger and poverty in developing countries, the charity War on Want warns today. The warning comes as ministers gather at the WTO in Geneva in their final effort to clinch an agreement to end the controversial Doha Round of trade talks launched seven years ago.

    G8 leaders, including British prime minister Gordon Brown, claimed earlier this month that a WTO trade deal could help solve the crisis sparked by soaring food prices, which has seen riots in over 30 developing countries. But, according to War on Want, forcing open the markets of such countries still further will deepen the crisis by handing greater control to multinational corporations which put their own profits before people's needs.

    John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want, said: "Developing countries are still being pressed to open up their markets, despite the risks involved, while rich countries fail to address their own farm subsidies. If the deal on the table goes through, millions of the world?s most vulnerable people stand to lose their jobs and fall into poverty. Ministers should abandon the talks before they cause long-term damage to the prospects of the world's poor."

    War on Want points to the 100 million additional people left hungry by the food crisis in the first quarter of this year, bringing the world's total to one billion. It cites massive earnings in the same period for the world's largest agribusiness corporations, which are cashing in on the crisis: Grain giant Cargill, one of the USA's largest private firms, recorded $1.03 billion net earnings, up 86 per cent, in the three months to end February this year. US grain company Archer Daniels Midland reaped $913 million operating profit in the quarter to end March 2008, 54 per cent higher than for the same period last year. And agribusiness corporation Bunge International made $867 million gross profit, a rise of 189 per cent.

    War on Want also criticises WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy for preventing participation by the broad base of developing countries in the trade talks. Under its own rules, the 152-member organisation was supposed to hold a full ministerial conference by the end of 2007, within two years of the 2005 ministerial held in Hong Kong. Instead, War on Want says that Lamy is pressing ahead with an anti-democratic summit involving just over 30 ministers in closed 'green room' sessions. Other ministers may still come to Geneva, according to the charity, but they will not be invited to take part in the key negotiations.


    1. The invitation-only 'green room' sessions are due to start at the WTO on Monday, 21 July 2008. But Pascal Lamy has called for trade ministers to arrive in Geneva from 18 July for bilateral talks.
    2. EU ministers will also be meeting to prepare for the trade summit in Brussels from 18 July.

    CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728


    G8 summit: all talk and no sea urchin

    11 July 2008 - 1:50pm

    Leaders of the G8 have now returned home from their annual summit, this year spent at the luxury Windsor Hotel Toya on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Gordon Brown made headlines with his call for British consumers to waste less food, sparking howls of protest as he then rejoined dignitaries for their next eight-course banquet. Other stories highlighted the astronomical cost of putting on the G8 summits, in particular the staggering £140 million spent by the Japanese hosts this year on security alone.

    Yet beneath the headlines, there is a serious side to these summits. With an agenda remarkably similar to that of its first gathering at the French presidential palace of Rambouillet 33 years ago, this week's summit focused on soaring oil prices and the threat posed to world markets by long-term financial instability. Yet there was still talk of the 'soft agenda' of the global food crisis, climate change and Africa. When it comes to these vital issues of common international interest, can we seriously expect the G8 to come up with the goods?

    Even when examined against the G8's own promises, the record is shockingly poor. Cast your mind back to the G8 summit of 2005, when Tony Blair welcomed the world's leaders to the Scottish golfing resort of Gleneagles against the backdrop of the Make Poverty History campaign. Massive public pressure that year wrung a series of pledges from G8 leaders on the campaign's three central demands of aid, debt and trade. So where are they now?

    On aid, the world's richest countries are way short of the target they set themselves in 2005. According to official statistics, UK aid dropped a massive 29.1 per cent in 2007. While much of this fall was due to not being able to inflate the statistics by 'double counting' debt cancellations to Iraq and Nigeria, as the government had done in 2006, UK aid also fell in real terms last year. Readers with long memories may recall Labour's longstanding pledge that it would reach the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income by the end of its first term of office. After a full 11 years in power, the figure now stands at just 0.36 per cent.

    The G8 record on debt relief is not much better. Despite the pledges made at Gleneagles, at least another $400 billion in debt cancellation is needed if the world's poorest countries are to have the resources needed to fight their way out of poverty. Even now, for every dollar they receive in aid, poor countries have to hand back five dollars in debt repayment. And much of that is 'illegitimate debt' which was simply designed to benefit Western businesses or corrupt elites. Should the world's poor really have to repay loans that brought them no benefit and had nothing to do with them in the first place?

    On trade, the third major demand of the Make Poverty History campaign, things have actually got worse. Aid and debt were relatively easy wins when set against the vested interests and corporate lobbying that dictate the G8's trade agenda. The World Trade Organisation has failed to deliver anything close to the 'development round' promised at its launch in Doha back in 2001, and is now on the verge of final collapse under the weight of rich country self-interest. Gordon Brown may have thrown his weight behind an eleventh hour deal, but the time has come to recognise that the G8's trade agenda has nothing to offer the poor.

    Which brings us once again to the question which has dogged every G8 summit since their first gathering back in 1975: why should we look to this self-appointed coterie to act in the interests of anyone but their own? To be fair to it, the G8 has never sought any legitimacy beyond being a members-only gathering, even now refusing to admit emerging nations like India and China to the club. In this respect, the G8 remains an unapologetic statement of pure power, free from any considerations of democratic participation. Should we really be surprised if its record is characterised by self-interest?

    And finally, just in case you think the feelings above are too cynical, we reproduce here the assessment given by Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times of 10 July 2008:

    The G8 broke up yesterday, having issued the following communiqué

    "The Group of Eight industrialised nations - otherwise known as seven world leaders and Italy - today pledges to make major strides towards cutting carbon emissions which we think are a jolly serious problem. We commit to reducing our carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050. We were going to go for 30 per cent by 2030 or 25 per cent by 2025 but we felt it was better to aim high - as well as long. 2025 really isn't that far away and this isn't the moment for precipitate action. We'd do more but China and India won't play ball. Honestly, we're gutted.

    "The leaders agreed to do more to make it look as if we were doing more to meet the targets we set before - but aren't meeting - to do more to help the starving in Africa. The G8 also deplored the global economic crisis and wished it could do more but concluded it can't, so commissioned some reports and turned to Zimbabwe, where it wished it could do more.

    "We further agreed to meet again, sometime soon, somewhere nice - perhaps with a bit more sun and a bit less sea urchin - to discuss this all some more. It's been great. Do send our regards to Bono.

    "More detail of how little importance we actually attach to anything in this communiqué will be given out by press officers for each nation on the planes home."

    Oil companies tighten grip on Iraq

    3 July 2008 - 4:27pm

    Attempts to pass an oil law which would hand over control of Iraq's oil to multinationals for a generation have so far failed. However, the current US administration still sees it as a crucial goal in Iraq before George W Bush leaves office. There have been two alarming developments which make opposition to the oil law all the more urgent.

    The Iraqi federal government is about to sign oil development contracts with BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and Total on established Iraqi oil fields. The sort of technical contracts being proposed are not problematic in themselves, but in the case of Iraq they are a stepping stone towards the sell-off of Iraq's oil.

    On 30 June 2008 the Iraqi government invited international companies to bid for longer-term contracts on the same oil fields. Until now the Iraqi government was committed to keeping fields already in production in Iraqi hands. If these contracts are signed, foreign companies would gain control of about half of Iraq's known oil reserves.

    Click here to find out more about these developments and to join the Hands Off Iraqi Oil campaign which War on Want has launched with other groups.

    Iraqi government crackdown on trade unions

    War on Want has been supporting the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) since 2005 to improve labour laws and ensure Iraq's natural resources are kept in the hands of Iraqi people. The union represent as many as 26,000 workers throughout Iraq.

    The IFOU, based in Basra, operates in an extremely difficult environment, where trade unions are still not recognised by law and freedom of association and expression continues to be curtailed.

    Only recently, Iraq's oil minister decreed that eight prominent trade union activists from the IFOU, plus four senior managers from the Southern oil Company in Basra, be transferred from their workplaces in Basra to Baghdad and Nassiriyah. Occupation forces and private military security companies are active in these areas, which are thought to be far more dangerous and violent than Basra. The IFOU fears the transfers are a way of silencing trade unionists who are opposing the oil law and oil privatisation.

    For the IFOU, incidents like these represent an attack on the trade unions' efforts to defend workers' rights. Hassan Juma'a, the IFOU President, said: "We condemn this action and believe it is a violation of human rights. We will try to prevent this kind of action against the Union by having a meeting with the Prime Minister in Iraq and those parliamentarians who support our efforts."

    War on Want continues to support the IFOU's attempts to ensure that workers have a say in the future of their country's resources, and that their rights are fully recognised and protected.

    War plc: The Rise of the New Corporate Mercenary

    As the UK government maintains its deafening silence on the need for regulation of private military and security companies, War on Want features in a new book on these private armies. War plc: The Rise of the New Corporate Mercenary by Stephen Armstrong exposes, through first hand accounts, the violent role of British companies in the occupation of Iraq.

    Watch the video below to hear author Stephen Armstrong discussing his new book with Ruth Tanner, Senior Campaigns Officer at War on Want.









    Join the conversation

    The UN Security Council meets in late April to discuss four-decade long occupation of #WesternSahara. Take action!… 15 hours 32 min ago
    Stephanie led the #McStrike to win £10 an hour for McDonalds workers. Hear from her and other powerful #women we wo… 16 hours 3 min ago
    Hear from Housing Assembly Women’s Collective, on the frontlines in the fight for decent housing in #SouthAfrica, a… 20 hours 4 min ago