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.


Banks slated on arms sales

24 October 2008 - 1:00am

Ministers urged to regulate lenders.

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."


  • 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

Related pages:


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.

Mandelson charged with 'failure'

3 October 2008 - 1:00am

Former EU commissioner attacked on deregulation.

The anti-poverty charity War on Want expressed grave concern today at the appointment of former EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson as Britain's new business secretary.

The charity noted that the Global Europe strategy introduced by Mandelson during his time in Brussels had been based on the same deregulation of markets responsible for the current financial crisis, threatening jobs and livelihoods in Europe and across the developing world.

Mandelson had particularly championed the liberalisation of financial markets through the services negotiations at the World Trade Organisation, despite widespread recognition of the risks involved.

War on Want executive director John Hilary said: “Peter Mandelson has jeopardised the livelihoods of millions of working people through his reckless pursuit of deregulation. This is not the man we need to take over one of the UK's most important ministries at a time of such financial turmoil.”

Hilary continued: “Mandelson failed to deliver the trade justice agenda that he promised when taking on his post in Brussels. Instead he followed a dangerous path of market liberalisation which has exposed millions of people to unemployment and long-term poverty.”

During his time as EU trade commissioner Mandelson presided over the repeat collapse of WTO negotiations, which have failed to deliver the ‘development round' promised at their launch in Doha in 2001.

Mandelson's negotiations of economic partnership agreements with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries brought claims that he was overbearing and secretive, with mass protests in dozens of countries.

And Mandelson's launch of a new generation of bilateral trade deals with the countries of Asia and Latin America under his Global Europe strategy have met with widespread criticism for threatening the livelihoods of millions.

War on Want urged Mandelson's successor in Brussels, Baroness Ashton, to abandon the free market policies introduced by him and to work instead towards a future of trade justice for the world's poor.

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


World failure on poverty 'unacceptable'

25 September 2008 - 1:00am

Brown pressed on UN summit.

NEWS HOOK: Thursday, 25 September 2008 – British premier Gordon Brown attends UN world poverty summit

War on Want executive director John Hilary available for interview

Over a billion people will continue to face desperate poverty and starvation in 2015 as a result of governments' failure to crack down on corporate abuses and eradicate global poverty.

This warning came today from global justice charity War on Want as British prime minister Gordon Brown joined other international leaders at the UN summit in New York on the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals.

New World Bank figures show over 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty in the developing world – 400 million more than previous estimates. With rising food and fuel prices adding to those numbers daily, even the most optimistic projections still predict over a billion people living in desperate want in 2015.

War on Want executive director John Hilary said: “The global poverty epidemic remains a scar on the conscience of the world. It is unacceptable for government leaders to continue with business as usual when one in four of the world's people are condemned to crushing poverty. All we have seen is tinkering around the edges, not the radical change needed to confront such a desperate situation.”

Hilary continued: “Governments seem to have bottomless pockets when it comes to saving banks from their own failings. Yet there is no such action to protect the poorest from the ravages of finance capital. Leaders at the UN summit should examine their consciences and put the needs of the poor before the interests of the banking elite.”

War on Want notes that the developing world loses £250 billion each year through business tax dodges alone – enough to reach the UN's anti-poverty targets several times over. Tax dodging and capital flight costs Africa an estimated £75 billion each year – five times what the continent receives in aid.

The charity urged Gordon Brown to take action against British tax havens – including Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Cayman Islands and Bermuda – used by multinational corporations to rob poor countries of revenues which could finance essential public services such as health, education and clean water supply.

War on Want also pressed Mr Brown to drop his opposition to a stamp duty on sterling currency transactions, which could raise billions for anti-poverty programmes.

The charity attacked the premier for claiming that support for the summit from UK companies including mining giant Anglo American and Wal-Mart, including its British subsidiary Asda, can help achieve the development goals.

War on Want research has revealed that Anglo American operations abroad are fuelling conflict and human rights abuse in developing countries. And in addition to Wal-Mart's notorious anti-union practices, War on Want has found workers still paid less than half a living wage producing clothes for Asda in Bangladesh.

The charity says Britain must share the blame alongside other rich nations for these grim facts:

  • Around one in four children in developing countries are considered underweight and at risk of having their future blighted by malnourishment.
  • Some 2.5 billion people, almost half the developing world's population, lack decent sanitation.
  • More than one third of the growing urban population in developing countries live in slums.
  • Over 500,000 prospective mothers in developing countries die each year in childbirth or of complications from pregnancy.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)207 549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

Fears mount on mercenaries' 'abuse'

23 September 2008 - 1:00am

'Pact threatens bid for tough curbs'

The charity War on Want today expressed concern that the British government would use a new international agreement to avoid strict legal controls on UK private military and security companies, despite many cases of abuse.

Representatives from 17 states, including the UK and the US, agreed a document in talks organised by the Swiss government in Montreux together with the humanitarian organisation the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The document outlines rules and good practice on private military and security firms’ operations in armed conflict.

But War on Want says the accord lacks any binding status and only reaffirms current international law, which has so far brought no prosecutions after hundreds of examples of abuse by mercenaries.

The charity issued this warning in the run-up to next month’s first anniversary of the wounding of two Iraqi civilians by mercenaries with the British firm Erinys International who fired on a cab near Kirkuk.

It also came just over a year since mercenaries working for the US private military company Blackwater randomly shot at and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

War on Want is calling for legislation, including a ban on private military and security companies’ use in combat and combat support.

Ruth Tanner, its campaigns and policy director, said: “This Montreux agreement must not be seen as a substitute to proper binding legislation on private military companies. There can be no more excuse for inaction. We call on the British government to start the process towards a new law as a matter of urgency.”

War on Want in July claimed that the UK government has mounted a political block against moves to regulate UK private military firms.

The charity announced that a government document acquired under freedom of information laws reveals ministers were close to launching pre-legislative consultation earlier this year. 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 followed a report by British MPs on the influential foreign affairs select committee that branded foreign secretary David 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 military and security firms. The committee urged 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.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)207 549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728


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.

The truth behind cheap school uniforms

15 September 2008 - 1:00am

As children settle into a new school year amid corporate rivalry over cut-price school uniforms, War on Want is urging supporters to back its campaign to win a living wage for garment workers producing these clothes.

Recent weeks have seen Tesco school uniforms on sale for only £3.50, Asda sell out its £4 uniforms and Marks & Spencer outfits go for £6.50.

War on Want sympathises with mothers and fathers seeking cheap buys during Britain's economic downturn. At the same time, we ask parents to help the people making the garments in the developing world who pay a high price for store competition.

Corporate pressure on foreign suppliers to manufacture clothing at minimal rates condemns employees to paltry wages. With food prices rising, garment workers face an even bigger struggle to feed their families and send their children to school. War on Want has published a report, Let's Clean Up Fashion, which shows how the workers making the clothing for major UK brands earn below a living wage.

We urge parents and supporters behind our drive for a living wage to protest leading retailers by emailing the chief executives of Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Arcadia (including Topshop) and Primark's parent company, Associated British Foods. With your help, we can call these companies to account and improve the lives of workers in the developing world.



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