These were the questions put to a panel made up of Kate Allen from Amnesty International, Andy Atkins from Friends of the Earth and Barbara Crowther from the Fairtrade Foundation last Saturday( 28 February 2009) night in Woking Surrey.
These are all important issues that face us all but perhaps more so folk in the developing world. My take on this is poor people suffer the worst human indignity known to man, live in the most appalling environments, (if you have been to shanty towns South Africa you may know what I am talking about) and pay the most for services and goods. The question is what can be done to correct all this?
In terms of fairtrade, I must agree that a lot has been done to highlight the plight of developing country producers and having met one of them on Friday 27 Feb 2009, I realised how important it is to have someone that advocates for these folk. you can read more about that farmer here .
The question I had for Barbara, was “why is it that cotton is certified as a FT product but the textile out of the cotton isn’t” another was “why can’t value be added to Coffee for instance at the country of origin so that the farmers can earn more and those governments can collect more by way of tax revenue? Credit where credit is due, Barbara acknowledged that the FT foundation could do more work in this area and that they have started looking at it especially in South Africa.
Human rights, I must admit Kate’s job can’t be easy and possibly takes her and her colleagues in some of the most dangerous places one earth. My interest in this area is premised on property rights for women. In my view women are very important to the economic development of African economies in particular, but the lack of property rights especially agricultural land and housing rights lives them and their children vulnerable to abuse an potentially a life time of poverty.
Kate’s job cannot be easy in this area in particular especially as in some part of the world women are still perceived as the personal property of the man and over the last two years I have met an awful lot of women in that situation, without a voice or anything to call their own. How do we change this? One way would be an increase of formal education for women.
Andy had a sense of urgency about him that left you in no doubt that if we don’t do anything about climate change today then we are heading for some tough and frightening times ahead. He called for the World Trade Organisation rules to be re written and with emphasis on social and environmental consideration as well as for business to behave more sensibly. He made an interesting note too, it appears the recession has had the impact of reduced emissions as factories have closed. But how are those people that used to work in the factories managing financially.
Do you feel like we are in a Catch22 here? I certainly do and have more questions on this matter
Can climate change /environmental degradation be avoided altogether? How easy would that be? Can the poor afford to care about the environment? these are not easy questions and I certainly do not have the answers to them.
When I lived in Uganda and worked in a town called Jinja I used to drive through a forest that seemed to go on for ever before I got my destination, and one could hardly see beyond a few yards for the thickness of the forest. I went back to Uganda in August 2008 and had the chance to head east and drove through the same forest.
I was surprised at what I saw, most of the trees had been cleared and some of the land was being used for food growing, another reason the trees had disappeared I was told was people cutting them down for fire wood and charcoal. Although folk here could use solar energy as opposed to cutting down an entire forest they do not have the means to tap into such technology.
What they do is entirely reasonable as far as they concerned, they are using whatever is available in their environment to stay alive, earn a living etc. We here in the west may not have such concerns but the actions of these folk may have implications for us. It therefore appears to me that one way forward would be to work with such folk and help them develop technology that would help them use what is in their environment without damaging it.
Travelling further east towards the town of Jinja at the source of the River Nile and you find remnants of what was the Owen falls dam a source of hydro electricity, but with water levels so low, not enough electricity can be generated, to export to neighbouring countries such as Tanzania and Kenya, consequently power outages are very common in most towns in Uganda.
Imagine if you will a barber who would earn more money cutting hair with an electrical trimmer as opposed to a pair of scissors. It is Saturday when he can expect to make the most money but at 12 noon there is a power cut for 4 hours! The poor chap has no access to a power generator as he can’t afford one, but a another barber down the road whose shop is located inside a 5 Star Hotel has no such problems as the Hotel has a power generator.
What are you are views
Is there a time to be Fair? Is climate change more urgent than global poverty or human rights?