Choose from the list below to find out more about the countries of the Commonwealth
Which bank lends money to people traditionally ignored by lending institutions? How can your finances help small producers and what kind of development initiatives are being devised in India?
Four development and human rights specialists were online during the conference to answer your questions - browse through the debates by clicking on their photographs.
"Most poor people don't have access to credit. Women are particularly ignored by traditional banks. The Grameen bank believes poor people are bankable and that women can achieve empowerment through micro-credit schemes."
Dipal Chandra Barua, General Manager, Grameen Bank, Bangladesh.
"Third World countries are increasingly being denied any freedom to control the terms upon which foreign capital flows into their countries. A new generation of co-operative international financial institutions is needed to channel risk-bearing capital from people in the North to people in the South."
Mark Hayes, Shared Interest, UK.
"Although banned in South Africa since February 1997, landmines are still a scourge. We must not forget the need to clear the remaining mines and assist the victims. To paraphrase Desmond Tutu: "It's a moral campaign".
Sue Wixley, South Africa Campaign to Ban Landmines
"DAINET aims to promote sustainable development through environmentally sound and appropriate technologies. It builds bridges between sustainable development activities at grassroots and global levels by disseminating information - making information accessible to those who need it is our motto."
John Borgoyary, DAINET, India
Bananas are one of the most popular fruits eaten in the world today, but how many know the real truth behind the banana industry?
Coffee is one of the success stories of fair trade, but is it making a difference? Much remains to be done, but we can learn from those already producing for fair trade coffee suppliers.
Our image of sweatshops is often one of hot and crowded conditions in South and East Asia, but the truth could be much closer to home. However, there maybe some lessons in some surprising places.
In one year, Kabula, a young women farmer in Western Tanzania, earns only a little more from her cotton harvest than it takes to buy herself one kanga, the garment traditionally worn by women and men in Tanzania. Yet in any one harvest she grows enough cotton to make 720 kangas. 'Cotton is the only cash crop we grow around here, and we have to grow something for cash in order to pay local taxes. to buy books for my brothers an siste who are still at school. and to buy essentials like salt, shoes and clothes.'
Kabula is caught in the trade trap. She relies on cotton for a cash income, yet the price that she receives for it is so low that she is consigned to a life of rural poverty.
Cotton is an important export crop for Tanzania, contributing around 15 per cent of the country's export earnings, yet in recent years its price on international markets has been low. Tanzandi has had to produce more cotton to keep up but in doing so has contributed to ge the plunge in world market prices . Other cotton-producing countries , desperate for foreign-exchange earnings to fuel their development efforts and pay off their international debts , are doing the same , causing global supply to outstrip global demand, and international prices thus to fall still further. Cotton is not the only product to have suffered from low prices in recent years. They have become a feature of the markets for nearly all internatioanlly traded primary commodities, such as sugar, coffee, tin , tea and copper. Yet these commodities are critical to the economies of the producer countries.
The nature of poverty and its causes varies a great deal from country to country. Yet a major unifying feature is the developing world's dependence on primary commodities. All over the Third World there are people struggling to survive the vicious cycle of overproduction and low prices which so fundamentally undermines their own and their countries' development efforts. Even when prices are high, the producer receives only a fraction of the amount paid for the end product by consumers in the industrialised countries. Third World producers continue to face an array of escalating tariff barriers and are denied access to rich-world markets. The experience of development NGOs is that the terms of North/South trade disadvantage the poor and there is a need for fundamental structural change.
The Fair Trade movement sets out to address this imbalance, not only through words but also with deeds. The Fair Trade movement aims to improve the living conditions of the poor producers in the South and to change unfair structures of international trade. Producers of handicrafts and food products from the developing countries come together directly with buyers and managers of alternative trading organisations (ATOs) as equal partners They cast aside the traditional trading system of middlemen and create an "alternative" way of doing business that is beneficial and fair.
With trade as one of the issues at the top of the CHOGM agenda , People to People Online focuses on organisations and campaigns across the spectrum of Fair Trade initiatives. The banana farmers of the Caribbean call on the Commonwealth to act together to protect their livelihoods; Bangladeshi NGOs alert us to the human terrible toll of accidents in garment factories; while Tanzanian coffee farmers provide insight into growing the coffee for the new cafedirect RICH blend.
by Neil Thorns
Christian Aid UK
Wandering around our supermarkets or clothes shops we see products, including fresh food, which have been made thousands of miles away. Our everyday decisions about what to wear or what to eat can have a dramatic effect on the lives of people in the countries who provide those products. As global trade grows the barriers between countries are disappearing.
New communications technology in computers and telecoms has shrunk the globe, whilst transport and distribution have become more efficient making it cheaper and easier to trade. But it is the result of political decisions by almost all national governments which has really brought about the new trading system. These decisions have been carried out by Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and investment treaties that have given capital enormous freedom to move around the world.
Since 1947 GATT has formed the basis of the multilateral trading system facilitating a contractual approach to expanding trade through tariff reduction. At the end of the second world war, the average border tariff in industrial countries was 40 per cent. To trade something added nearly half as much again onto the cost. Today, the average tariff is just 4 per cent.
Poverty and inequality have increased:
While some have gained from market-driven global integration, many more have been left behind.
The divide between richest and poorest - both within and between countries - has widened. Over the last 30 years the gap between the richest fifth of the world and the poorest fifth has more than doubled. The extremes are breath-taking: the wealth of the four hundred richest Americans increased from $92 billion in 1982 to $328 billion in 1992, more than the combined income of a billion people living in India, Bangladesh, (Sri Lanka and Nepal. D.Korten When Corporations Rule the World p 108)
The patterns of increasing investment have also been highly unequal, at every level. At a world scale, the vast majority of investment is made within the regional blocs of Harry Potter Europe, North America and Japan. Of the rest, most went to a few countries in Asia and Latin America. The most profound marginalisation has been in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, not counting South Africa, has less than 1% of world trade, even though it now has more than 10% of the world's people. Of all the foreign investment flowing into developing countries, Africa gets only 5%. (UNCTAD ibid, S.George in A.Adedeji ed). Even within Africa there is sharp inequality; most foreign investment goes to a few places, such as Nigeria. And within countries the pattern of unequal investment continues. At every level, the action of the market is to concentrate resources on a few people and a few places.
This sharp rise in inequality means that the miracle of the market has failed to make the curse of poverty disappear. Looking at national averages, the UNDP estimated that bottom 60% of the world's population receive less than 6% of the world's income. (UNDP Human Development Report 1992) And even in the places which have seen recent economic booms, such as Thailand, the rise in inequality has meant that poverty persists here too. Often it is women who are hardest hit.
An increasing number of shoes are now made in countries like Thailand, China and the Philippines, as part of a global industry selling sports shoes worth billions of dollars. Hundreds of thousands of young women work in the factories making the shoes, and although these jobs are contributing to the employment boom in the region, conditions are often poor, and wages low. In one case, workers receive only $1.66 for making a shoe which eventually sells for $70. (B.Brookes and P.Madden the Globe-Trotting Sports Shoe C.A. 1995 p 9)
Similarly in Peru thousands of women are employed to pick and prepare asparagus for export to Britain. Peru earned around $100 million from exporting its asparagus in 1996. Thousands of new jobs have been created in the coastal regions of Peru where it is grown 12 months of the year. Whilst these new jobs are much needed, they are often on very exploitative terms.
Asparagus is a high-income crop. For those who own land, there is a lot of money to be made. But the workers receive only a tiny fraction of this. A farmer will harvest around 12.5 crates per day and sell these for £135. The worker will only get paid £2.30 of this, less than 2 per cent. Villagers are also finding scarce water resources being further depleted as asparagus companies irrigate their fields.
Any attempts to complain about conditions have quickly been suppressed by employers. If you complain or try to demand something from the owner you lose your job, that s it, says Ana Cabrera, president of Christian Aid's partner Fepromu. And when you try to find a job picking asparagus on another farm you re also told there isn't any work.
Consumers in this country are increasingly demanding that the products they buy have not exploited people or the planet. Business has to respond to this demand. Charities such as Christian Aid and Oxfam have been calling on business to implement a set of ethical principles supported by an independently monitored code of conduct.
These principles would mean companies adopting a policy of positive engagement. They must support existing suppliers to improve conditions rather than walking away from problems. They should also commit themselves to long-term relationships with suppliers. This would alleviate the problem of small Third World producers being dependent on rapidly changing markets thousands of miles away.
The code of conduct represents a set of minimum standards and its authority is largely based on conventions of the International Labour Organisation. The code would cover the major areas of concern, including freedom of association, non-discrimination, health and safety, wages and working conditions. An effective monitoring and verification of this code is essential if it is to be more than a public relations exercise.
Internal procedures for companies must be implemented whereby the development and enforcement of these minimum standards becomes day-to-day practice. If this self-regulatory code is to work and be trusted an independent body must verify and monitor these procedures. Such a monitor or verifier must include evidence from the workers themselves, directly, or via a representative labour organisation.
A lot of companies in the UK are working together with agencies such as Christian Aid, Oxfam and the World Development Movement in implementing, monitoring and verifying a code of conduct.
One to buy
Fairtrade Marked products connect the consumer more directly with the grower, offering a much fairer division of the gains from trade, and hence a higher price to the farmer. The success of fairly traded coffee and other products shows that consumers do care about the people on the other side of the planet, who grow the crops which end up on our supermarket shelves. It shows that consumers are willing to take active steps to help - and that this can bring significant benefits to poor communities. Esteba Galiana, a coffee farmer in Nicaragua, explains the advantages of selling through Christian Aid partner-organisation PRODECOOP. "With PRODECOOP we get training and have learned how to cultivate organic coffee. The prices we get from PRODECOOP are fairer too - I didn't used to be able to buy enough for our daily needs but today I can." [Interview by Christian Aid staff, 1996]
The average child leaving school this year in the UK will spend around a million pounds during his or her lifetime. Christian Aid wants people to use their spending power to purchase `people-friendly products' which carry the Fairtrade Mark. This will help guarantee decent wages and better working conditions for producers in the Third World. By buying certain products - and letting retailers know why we are doing it - we can have a considerable impact in London:
thousands of poor communities in the Third World directly benefit from the trading link, enjoying secure contracts and better prices;
major international companies begin to change how they do business in response to increasing consumer awareness;
millions of people in this country learn about where the products they use come from and ask questions about how they are produced.
Fair trade products can be a little more expensive: they do not yet enjoy the benefits of scale, they are usually targeted at the quality end of the market and they send back an extra sum of money to be spent on health and education in the community that produced them.
Fairtrade Mark products currently include: Cafédirect, Equal Exchange and Percol coffees; Clipper, TopQualiTea and SeytÇ teas; and Green and Black's chocolate.
Time for a change
What matters most with the global trading system is the terms on which we enter global markets. Global integration seems irreversible, but what we can do is help people to integrate on terms of their own choosing, economically and culturally. It is a question of markets being there to serve people, rather than the other way around.
In many areas, labour markets are characterised by a dwindling core of well paid secure workers and a growing number of people who are poorly paid, have little employment protection and are highly vulnerable to exploitation. As well as high unemployment, there are also many people who are employed but remain poor.
This situation is exacerbated by the fact that inequalities in land ownership, population growth and rapid urbanisation mean that a growing proportion of the workforce is dependent on wage labour for a livelihood.
In addition, wars and civil conflicts often sparked off by material inequality, are destroying the livelihoods of unprecedented numbers of people, whilst environmental degradation and climate change are undermining the natural resource base on which future generations depend.
For the past half century, trade has acted as a mighty engine of growth in the world economy. It is one of the most powerful forces in a worldwide network of interdependence, integrating national economies into an increasingly global economic system.
Deregulated labour markets, free trade agreements, mobility of capital and modern communications are making it increasingly possible for companies (especially the formidably powerful Transnational Corporations or TNCs) to locate production in sites of maximum profitability - that is, where labour is cheapest and employment standards are lowest.
Fifty years ago, when the Bretton Woods institutions were founded, it was axiomatic that governments should regulate the global market place in the public interest. Today the power of governments is greatly reduced, and there is growing concern that the World Trade Organisation does not create a viable framework for the social and environmental regulation of international trade.
New institutions and policies are urgently needed to create an international trading system which will enhance human welfare into the next century.
xfam and Fair Trade
Employment is of direct relevance to Oxfam's mandate to alleviate poverty and suffering. Sustainable livelihoods are a key focus of the organisation's current strategy, and the right to work in just and favourable conditions, enshrined in key international conventions, is also an important part of Oxfam's Campaign for Basic Rights.
Oxfam has a network of field staff which allow it to put its roots deeper into local communities. The way Oxfam staff work with producers amounts to a great deal more than alternative trading: it is development. Development is defined in Oxfam's 1995 publication, 'The Oxfam Poverty Report' as 'a process of enlarging the range of people's choices by expanding their opportunities and realising their potential'.
Women experience systematic social and economic discrimination from the cradle to the grave. Oxfam achieves its greatest impact on the lives of women producers, who make up 80-85% of Oxfam's producer partners. By listening to their needs, encouraging their participation in decision-making, and supporting such inputs as leadership training and savings schemes, Oxfam facilitates an enabling environment in which women can achieve confidence and self-reliance through their own efforts. Enhanced opportunities brought on by fair trade can go a long way to improving the lives of women.
Strengthening Rural Communities:
There is a close correlation between poverty and distance from markets. Oxfam reaches out to groups in remote locations, and helps them by stages to access local, national and export markets. By supporting impoverished agricultural labourers with seasonal craft orders, and by supporting indigenous people in their efforts to maintain their culture and control the marketing of their own traditional crafts, Oxfam helps to keep rural communities together.