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


Tesco 'sweatshop shame' fury

26 June 2008 - 3:40pm

Clothes workers paid 16p an hour

Workers making clothes at a factory in India for the top British retailer Tesco are toiling long hours for as little as 16p an hour - only half a living wage.

This warning is signalled today by the charity War on Want and the campaign group Labour Behind the Label, which will bring the Indian researcher who uncovered the scandal to protest at Tesco's annual meeting tomorrow (Friday 27 June 2008).

It follows BBC TV's Panorama on Monday (23 June) which showed some of India's poorest people, including children, working long, gruelling hours for poverty pay on Primark clothes in slum workshops and refugee camps.

According to the research, employees at a large Tesco supplier factory in Bangalore are struggling to survive on less than £1.50 a day for a 60-hour week, with a 20 per cent hike in rice prices making life even harder.

Employees in the factory earn on average £38 a month, and the lowest paid receive just £30, while the Bangalore Garment and Textile Workers' Union last year calculated a living wage as at least £52 a month. Employees complained that bosses forced them to work overtime or face the sack and they receive only half the extra hours recorded.

Workers say the high pressure to produce orders means they risk dismissal for failing to meet double their normal targets, requesting sick leave or arriving late on two consecutive days. Some employees, fearing the loss of their jobs if they miss targets, skip lunch and do not drink water in order to reduce the number of times they go to the toilet.

Haneefa, who lives with her parents and is also their carer, earns just £38 a month. She admits: "I don't buy anything for myself. I can't save anything from what I earn. It is difficult to survive on this money."

The factory does not recognise a trade union. And some workers fear managers are targeting them for potential firing for their individual union membership, which would flout Tesco's ethical code of conduct. One employee told colleagues about a forthcoming union meeting on a Sunday, the workers' only day off. Bosses then imposed compulsory overtime and threatened staff with severe punishment if they failed to work on that day.

At last year's Tesco AGM, War on Want submitted a shareholder resolution demanding Tesco guarantee the fair treatment for workers as promised under its ethical code of practice. Tesco opposed the resolution that sought to ensure decent pay and conditions for overseas workers. But an unprecedented one in five Tesco shareholders refused to support the retailer's opposition to the resolution.

The new research follows War on Want's earlier report Fashion Victims that revealed workers in Bangladesh paid as little as 5p an hour to produce clothes for Tesco.

Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "Our new evidence again reveals how Tesco's cheap clothing comes at the shameful price of workers' poverty. Again and again, scandals exposing UK retailers exploiting garment workers underline that the public cannot trust stores to police themselves. It is high time the British government legislate to stop this abuse."

Martin Hearson, campaigns coordinator at Labour Behind the Label, said: "How many times do we need to hear stories like these before Tesco gets its act together and pays workers a living wage? Every little really does help garment workers living below the breadline, especially as food and rent costs shoot up."


  • The research, Tesco and Indian garment workers - lessons forgotten, can be downloaded below.
  • The researcher, Suhasini Singh, who works for the Indian labour rights organisation Cividep, is available for interview.
  • Tesco's annual meeting will take place at 11am tomorrow (Friday 27 June) at the National Motorcycle Museum, Coventry Road, Solihull B92 0EJ

CONTACTS Paul Collins, media officer, War on Want (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728 Martin Hearson, campaigns coordinator, Labour Behind the Label (+44) (0)7727 235391

'Sweatshops' protest hits Primark

23 June 2008 - 11:12am

War on Want targets flagship London store

War on Want story wins award

13 June 2008 - 2:32pm

A front page splash news story in a leading British newspaper, produced with help from the anti-poverty charity War on Want, secured a coveted prize in the One World Media Awards last night.

TV film sparks 'curb mercenaries' call

11 June 2008 - 5:00pm

Panorama brings new pressure on the UK government to regulate private armies.

The WTO's Doha Round will not solve the global food crisis

5 June 2008 - 7:06pm

War on Want has joined an international coalition of 237 farmers' organisations, trade unions, aid agencies and social movements in an open letter to government ministers, UN chiefs and other officials attending this week's food summit in Rome. The letter argues that the global food crisis must not be invoked as a reason to rush through a WTO trade deal, but that a fundamentally new approach to agriculture is needed.

War on Want story up for award

3 June 2008 - 6:19pm

Guardian shortlisted on Primark 'shame'

Shell blasted on Iraq oil

20 May 2008 - 11:31am

'Plans risk more conflict'

Murders spark palm oil alert

12 May 2008 - 11:22am

Shoppers warned on Colombia



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