News

UK ‘blocking progress' at UN summit

28 November 2008 - 12:00am

Brown isolated on development finance

Anti-poverty campaigners today attacked the UK government for attempting to prevent progress at the UN conference on financing for development which opens in Doha tomorrow (Saturday 29 November).

The charity War on Want criticised British prime minister Gordon Brown for blocking essential tax and finance initiatives which could help developing countries survive the global economic downturn.

The UK government is increasingly isolated in its position on tax cooperation, new sources of development finance and regulation of financial markets, according to War on Want.

The UK government has joined with tax havens such as Liechtenstein and Switzerland to oppose upgrading the UN tax committee, a key measure proposed for Doha by the G77 group of developing countries and supported by the majority of world governments.

Tax dodging by multinational corporations costs developing countries an estimated £250 billion a year in lost government revenue, enough to enable them to meet the anti-poverty UN Millennium Development Goals. War on Want warns that in the current economic climate developing countries need tax revenue more than ever to fund essential public services and anti-poverty programmes.

The EU council of ministers, under the presidency of the French government, has affirmed the importance of new sources of development finance, especially in light of the challenge of climate change. Yet Brown has consistently rejected a stamp duty on sterling currency transactions that would raise billions of pounds each year for development at no cost to UK taxpayers, says War on Want.

Despite pledges to meet the UN aid target of 0.7% of gross national income by 2013, the UK government's aid budget is still only 0.36% of GNI – lower than it was 30 years ago.

It is also clear that developing countries need to control their financial sectors in order to achieve stability. Instead, Brown is calling for further deregulation of financial services through world trade talks that would harm poor countries' ability to manage their own monetary sectors.

Ruth Tanner, Director of Campaigns and Policy at War on Want, said: “While the rest of the world struggles to put the global economy back together, Gordon Brown is blocking key initiatives which could make a real difference to the world's poor. The UK needs to come back in line with global efforts to fight poverty. Gordon Brown cannot be allowed to block progress on such important tax and finance measures.”

NOTES TO EDITORS:
The International Conference on Financing for Development takes place in Doha, Qatar from Saturday 29 November to Tuesday 2 December. It will review progress since the first international conference on development finance held in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002.

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

‘Brown blocking G20 progress on regulation'

14 November 2008 - 12:00am

Finance moves threaten poor, says War on Want

NEWS HOOK
Friday, 14 November 2008 to Saturday 15 November 2008

Washington DC, United States

British premier Gordon Brown takes part in G20 summit of the world's richest economies on the global finance crisis

John Hilary, executive director of anti-poverty charity War on Want, comments below and is available for interview

John Hilary, executive director of the anti-poverty charity War on Want, says: “For all his claims to be leading the world out of the crisis, Brown could well be the one blocking progress at the G20 summit.

“Brown is resisting proposals that regulation of the financial sector should be anything more than a light touch.

“Instead, he aims to secure further deregulation of financial markets through his call for a swift conclusion to the current round of global trade talks. The UK government's main objective in these negotiations is the liberalisation of financial markets in emerging economies such as India, Brazil and Chile, with the aim of increasing business opportunities for UK financial service companies overseas.

“Britain is also attempting to hinder progress on international cooperation over tax dodging which costs developing countries £250 billion a year in lost government revenue.

“And the prime minister has obstructed moves to introduce a stamp duty on sterling currency transactions, which could raise billions each year for development.

“Brown has made much of his commitment to the fight against poverty. It is time for him to come clean on whether he supports restructuring international finance in the common interest or a return to casino capitalism.”

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

War on Want up for more awards

12 November 2008 - 12:00am

War on Want has been shortlisted for the consumer award in the world's first dedicated prizes for ethical fashion.

Judges have nominated the charity for this honour in the RE: Fashion Awards, organised by the group Anti-Apathy, the Ethical Fashion Forum and the communications agency Futerra.

The fair trade fashion company People Tree and the women's magazine Marie Claire are also on the short list.

The consumer prize is among the awards to celebrate action which has achieved positive change in the fashion sector.

War on Want is up for the honour through its campaign for a living wage for garment workers overseas producing clothes for British stores.

Its fashion push has also been shortlisted for the communications campaign prize in the magazine Third Sector's Excellence Awards.

This honour is for an innovative drive which has delivered its message to its target audience.

The others shortlisted are Help the Aged, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation, Sustrans and the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: “Our campaign has exposed the scandal that workers producing clothes for high street retailers face poor wages and conditions. There is now growing support for UK government regulation to ensure a living wage for these workers.”

Earlier this year War on Want helped Guardian reporter Karen McVeigh win the press honour in the One World Media Awards for her story on Bangladeshis paid 4p an hour to make clothes for Primark, Tesco and Asda.

The RE: Fashion Awards will be presented tomorrow at Shoreditch town hall in London.

And London's Hurlingham Club will host the Third Sector Excellence Awards on 18 November.

Last month War on Want secured fifth place among Britain's 190,000 charities in Third Sector's Most Admired Charity award, won by the Children's Society.

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

Brown pressed on 'global greed'

10 November 2008 - 12:00am

War on Want and other anti-poverty groups today pressed Gordon Brown to end his love affair with big business, with activists posing as a fat cat in bed with the British prime minister outside the Bank of England, and the charity's campaigner Nadia Idle as an alarm clock with the slogan 'Call time on global greed.

The protest came hours before Mr Brown gives a foreign policy speech to City business leaders tonight at the nearby Guildhall in the Lord Mayor of London's banquet.

And activists will stage a noise demonstration with bells and alarm clocks outside the Guildhall as Brown speaks.

The protesters represent a broad alliance of global poverty and environmental organisations representing more than nine million people, including War on Want, the Trade Justice Movement, the Jubilee Debt Campaign, the World Development Movement, ActionAid, CAFOD and the New Economics Foundation.

The coalition is urging Mr Brown to end his love affair with big business and push for a radically different global economic system that puts people and the planet first.

The protest comes ahead of a controversial G20 summit of leaders from the world's richest economies in Washington DC on Saturday (15 November) to discuss the financial crisis.

Campaigners are demanding that decisions about reform to the global economic system are made in a much more democratic forum that gives the poorest of the world a full and equal say.

NOTE TO EDITORS
The noise demonstration will take place from 6.30pm-7.30pm GMT today (Monday 10 November 2008) opposite the Guildhall, Gresham Street, London, EC2V 7PG.

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

Fighting corporate expansion on the fringes of the Amazon

7 November 2008 - 12:00am

The women of the Movement of Women Babaçu Breakers, or MIQCB, have been through hard times. To defend their right to access the babaçu nut, the primary source of their income, women nutbreakers, known as quebradeiras, have stood firmly in opposition to large landowners who want to clear the land for mining, cattle ranching and biofuel production. Now, in partnership with War on Want, the MIQCB quebradeiras are beginning to reclaim their way of life.

Maria Altermira is a founding member of the Chapada da Sinda Production Group, which is based in the state of Piauí and is one of 25 local MIQCB groups spread across the north and north-eastern regions of Brazil. An active campaigner against government land seizures, Maria has been imprisoned for her efforts to protect the quebradeiras' access to the palm trees where the babaçu nut grows. To avoid being detected by the authorities, Maria and other quebradeiras would collect the babaçu at night in secret.

More than 350,000 Brazilian women like Maria Altermira earn a living by gathering and breaking the nuts from the palm trees that grow on the fringes of the Amazon. Many of these women have worked in the region for generations collecting, breaking and then selling the pieces of the babaçu nut which, in addition to being a protein-rich food source, can be turned into charcoal, cooking oil and even soap.

This way of life, however, has been under attack for years by large landowners who, backed by the Brazilian government, have been clearing the land for ranching, logging, mining and biofuel production. Palm trees are increasingly being destroyed by large-scale producers, forcing many quebradeiras to walk farther to gather nuts or, in some cases, even pay for the right to collect them. Unlike the quebradeiras who practice sustainable farming, these industries cause extensive damage to the land, denuding huge areas of forest and contaminating the water and soil used by the local population.

In the 1990s small production groups like Chapada da Sinda joined to form MIQCB. The groups, which are based in four different Brazilian states in the north and north-east, share the aim of protecting the livelihood – and way of life – of the quebradeiras against the encroachment of large-scale industries. The movement has emerged as a leading voice for the quebradeiras, advocating for their unfettered access to the land where the babaçu grows and promoting a positive image of their identity and way of life to a national audience.

After years of tireless campaigning, MIQCB's hard work has begun to pay off. By establishing contact with members of local, regional and national government, MIQCB has made significant headway towards achieving land autonomy. As a result of the movement's efforts, bills protecting the quebradeiras' right to collect the babaçu nut have been passed in several municipalities; in 2007 a version of this bill was brought before the Brazilian national government.

As Maria explained to War on Want, these gains have had a huge impact on the lives of workers: “I'm satisfied. We even have visitors from abroad, which shows people have heard our story. Today, we can call it a victory for the quebradeiras.” Equally important, MIQCB has fostered a sense of pride among quebradeiras in their common identity. Maria spoke of the significance of this development: “Before I joined MIQCB, I was excluded from society, I wasn't worth anything. Now I am proud to be a quebradeira.”

War on Want has been supporting MIQCB since 2003. Although the organisation has had many successes, particularly in raising national awareness of the core issues affecting quebradeiras, further challenges lie ahead. In the coming years War on Want will assist MIQCB in its ongoing efforts at both the local and national level to block land seizures, as well as support its broader work towards protecting the culture and livelihood of the quebradeiras.

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Banks slated on arms sales

24 October 2008 - 1:00am

Ministers urged to regulate lenders.

NEWS HOOKS
Friday, 24 October 2008 - UN Disarmament Week begins
Monday, 27 October 2008 - Global week of action to ban cluster bombs starts

EMBARGO: 00.01 hrs BST, Friday 24 October 2008

New research today reveals that all of Britain’s main high street banks are using customers’ money to finance the weapons industry, including the sale of cluster bombs which kill and maim innocent civilians.

The report, launched by the anti-poverty charity War on Want as UN Disarmament Week starts, exposes for the first time how the lenders back the arms trade with billions of pounds from consumers’ savings and current accounts. War on Want says its evidence will increase public mistrust of banks, which has soared amid the current financial crisis.

The charity is calling on the British government to move towards regulation that would stop high street banks funding the arms trade. War on Want says banks are making a killing from a weapons industry which fuels conflict, poverty and human rights abuses around the world in countries such as Israel, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The study is drawn from databases AMADEUS and ORBIS that until now have only been seen by the financial sector and a select number of academics. Both HSBC and Barclays invest in companies that produce cluster munitions and depleted uranium. In the last decade HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB and Barclays have provided loans to at least one producer of cluster munitions. According to HSBC's corporate social responsibility policy, the bank claims to "avoid certain types of business, such as financing weapons manufacture and sales".

Yet HSBC is main banker to UK arms firms BAE Systems and Meggitt, holds shares in the global weapons industry totalling £450.6 million and over the last 10 years has been part of 43 syndicated loans to the arms sector worth £27.1 billion. Each of the banks hold shares in all of Britain’s top arms firms, with Barclays’ holdings in the global arms sector worth £7.3 billion.

The Royal Bank of Scotland heads the lenders' funding of weapons companies, at £44.6 billion in the past decade. All five top lenders act as principal banker to at least two of the leading British arms manufacturers. Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are bankers to four of the biggest ten firms. Last year the UK topped the list of global arms exporters with a record £10 billion ($19 billion) in orders, more than any other country.

According to the UN, civilians represent nine in 10 people killed or wounded in armed conflict. Ruth Tanner, Director of Campaigns and Policy at War on Want, said: "People have seen the mess that the banks have made with customers' money. But few know they are using our cash to fund arms companies. The British government must introduce regulation to stop banks making a killing from the arms trade."


NOTES TO EDITORS

  • The report – Banking on Bloodshed: UK high street banks’ complicity in the arms trade – can be downloaded here.
  • Two people an hour are killed or injured by cluster munitions. One in four cluster munitions casualties are children. Cluster bombs have killed and injured tens of thousands of civilians in the last 40 years.

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

Bid to stop Iraq oil 'raid'

11 October 2008 - 1:00am

Protest targets Shell, BP, US

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Campaigners with a 12-foot puppet of American vice-president Dick Cheney will demonstrate in London today (Saturday, 11 October) against US and British pressure to hand control of Iraq’s oil to corporations including UK-based BP and Shell.

The protest takes place just two days before energy firms meet Iraq’s oil minister, Husayn al-Shahristani, in London to discuss contracts that opponents claim threaten to deepen conflict and poverty and extend the war and occupation for many years.

It also comes 100 days before Cheney and American president George Bush leave the White House in January 2009 as a coalition steps up its campaign to stop them pushing through a long-term oil privatisation agenda that most Iraqis oppose.

The protest has been organised by Hands Off Iraqi Oil, including the charity War on Want and the campaign group PLATFORM.

Ruth Tanner, campaigns and policy director at War on Want, said: “Iraq’s people need sovereignty over their resources to rebuild their country, which has been devastated by war and occupation. The proposed oil contracts would let UK corporations raid Iraq’s oil. Iraq’s oil should benefit Iraqis - not swell multinationals’ profits.”

Since 2005 the US and Britain have been demanding new legislation to privatise control over Iraq's oil. But, faced with strong opposition in Iraq led by the Iraqi oil workers' trade union, achievement of that objective has been consistently delayed. Iraq’s parliament needed to have approved the law. Now, according to Hands Off Iraqi Oil, as public resistance made that impossible, oil companies aim to sign contracts without legislation or any public scrutiny.

The coalition warns of greater conflict and hardship if the American and British governments succeed with pressure to drive through contracts that allow oil profits to be diverted to multinationals instead of helping millions of people hit by the US and UK war on Iraq and the occupation.

Pressure to pass the oil law was tied to the surge in US troops last year. Now the US is seeking an agreement with Iraq to extend their troop presence - which campaigners believe is in part intended to continue the pressure. Oil firms also hope for the security provided by US and British troops and private military and security companies.

Greg Muttitt, co-director of PLATFORM, said: "As long as the US and Britain demand control of Iraq's oil for their own companies, there can be no end to this war. Troops stay to pressure the Iraqis to hand over oil contracts, after which they would stay longer to protect the companies. This vicious circle of violence and greed must stop now. Iraqis want neither the occupation nor oil privatisation.”

Al-Shahristani’s talks will cover deals which would give control over Iraq’s oil to companies for a generation. Campaigners say the process by which the contracts have been drafted and could be signed, while Iraq is still occupied, has been untransparent, undemocratic and inflammatory. Iraqi civil society, including oil experts, oil workers and lawmakers, have not been allowed to see the contracts that could sign away their country's future independence with a pen's stroke.

Protestors will hold a rally outside Shell’s headquarters, with the Cheney puppet trying to grab a giant oil derrick from Iraqi oil workers. A samba band will lead the protest to BP’s offices, before campaigners end their demonstration outside the US embassy.

NOTE TO EDITORS: The marchers will move at 12.30 pm BST from Shell, demonstrate outside BP from 2.15 pm BST and protest from 3.00 pm BST outside the US embassy.

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

The costs of economic liberalisation in Zambia

8 October 2008 - 1:00am

The liberalisation of Zambia's economy mandated by the IMF and World Bank has led to an increase in unemployment and deepening poverty. This summer War on Want visited workers in Zambia's informal economy to find out how they are coping in the aftermath of failed market reforms.

Between the mid-1980s and early 1990s, Zambia introduced free market economic policies to meet the loan conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. As with other countries in Africa, trade was liberalised, controls on foreign exchange were removed, state-owned companies were privatised and the number of public sector jobs were cut drastically. Faced with international competition, manufacturing companies laid off thousands of workers, many of whom turned to the informal economy to make a living.

During a visit in August 2008, War on Want met with many informal workers to see how they were faring. Market vendors told us how their businesses have been undermined by the influx of cheap clothing imports from China. Matthews Nkhoma, a tailor in Lubarma market in Lusaka, Zambia's capital, outlined the problems faced by small businesses: “We are facing a very big challenge with the so-called ‘investors'. Instead of bringing raw materials that could be inputs for our own manufacturing industries, they bring finished goods which they sell at a cheaper price. As tailors in the market, we cannot compete with the cheap clothes that they provide. Our machinery is not adequate and it makes our clothes look poorly finished by comparison. We have really lost out because of foreign investors.”

Nkhoma is also the Chairman of the Lubarma Special Tailors' Association, an affiliate of the Alliance for Zambia Informal Economy Associations (AZIEA), an organisation that War on Want has been supporting since 2001. AZIEA aims to bring together different organisations in the informal economy to ensure they have a say in national policy discussions. With support from AZIEA, informal workers from across Zambia like Nkhoma are able to meet regularly to discuss labour issues and have seen their concerns reach the highest levels of government.

War on Want's second partner organisation in Zambia, the National Union of Plantation and Agricultural Workers (NUPAW), raised additional problems stemming from liberalisation. As part of their structural adjustment programmes, the World Bank and IMF recommended the government of Zambia shift from the production of food crops to high-value agricultural goods such as cut flowers and luxury vegetables (mini maize cobs, sugar snaps) which can be exported to European supermarkets. Foreign investors were encouraged to invest in establishing large farms and seduced with incentives such as tax holidays.

This shift in production has not always resulted in quality jobs for Zambia's poor. Together with NUPAW, War on Want visited a cut flower farm near Lusaka which had been abandoned by a foreign investor, leaving workers without the jobs they had been promised. But with help from NUPAW, members have continued to grow food on the farm while seeking redress for lost income. Beatrice Musowa, NUPAW's Deputy Secretary-General, explained the group's involvement: “NUPAW has been working with the government to trace the owner of the farm. In the meantime, NUPAW is assisting the workers to sustain themselves. They are now growing vegetables so at least they are able to gain some income.”

War on Want is leading the campaign against the structural inequalities in the global economy that affect poor countries like Zambia the most. We oppose unfair trade deals and liberalisation programmes pushed by many Western governments and international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. Just as important, we support organisations like NUPAW and AZIEA which make a difference on the ground for Matthews Nkhoma and thousands of other informal workers.

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