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.

Rio Tinto axe sparks divestment call

10 September 2008 - 1:00am

War on Want today urged ethical fund chiefs to review investment in British mining giant Rio Tinto after Norway excluded the multinational from its pension fund over controversial Indonesian operations.

Only 10 months ago the Norwegian finance ministry, with $13 million worth of shares in another UK mining corporation, Vedanta, dropped the firm from the fund over human rights violations and environmental abuse.

War on Want’s call followed the decision by Norway to sell off the £500 million stake held in Rio Tinto through its sovereign wealth fund because of problems concerning the company’s joint venture with Freeport McMoran.

The fund’s ethics council judged that Rio Tinto was directly connected with environmental contamination linked to operations at the Grasberg complex, the world’s biggest gold mine and the third largest for copper in West Papua.

War on Want, in its report Fanning the Flames last November, said Rio Tinto earned $122 million in 2006 from its Grasberg copper mine stake, amid local people suffering years of serious human rights and environmental abuse.

Norway has deemed other UK firms as too unethical, including arms maker BAE Systems and support services group Serco, which was removed from the fund last year due to its involvement in the UK's Atomic Weapons Establishment.

War on Want also questions Gordon Brown’s move to include Rio Tinto in a business anti-poverty coalition with other firms the charity has cited for dubious records, such as mining giant Anglo American, Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola.

These companies signed a declaration which will go to the UN Millennium Development Goals summit this month.

Ruth Tanner, Campaigns and Policy Director at War on Want, said: "After Norway’s decision to exclude Vedanta from its pension fund, we welcome the government’s move to eject Rio Tinto for similar reasons. The Norwegian government has again put its money where its mouth is to ensure a real ethical investment policy. More and more funds are withdrawing investment in notorious mining corporations. Now other funds should follow Norway’s example. It also underlines the need for the UK government to make all British firms accountable for their operations abroad."


* War on Want’s report Fanning the Flames can be downloaded here.
* The charity’s film on Anglo American profiting from abuse in Colombia can be viewed by clicking here.
* The Business Call to Action signatories can be seen here.

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

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.

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



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