Socialist Worker

Make Poverty History

Thousands of people heard Nelson Mandela call for an end to world poverty last week. Louise Richards from War on Want says this is the year to achieve that goal

Issue No. 1938

The year 2005 is critical for anti-poverty activists in Britain. It is a unique opportunity to improve the lives of millions of poor people around the world. The G8 summit of the world’s most powerful leaders will be taking place in Scotland in July and Britain will hold the presidency of the European Union in the second half of the year.

War on Want is part of the Make Poverty History coalition, a broad group of non-governmental organisations, trade unions, faith groups and celebrities. At the core of the coalition are some radical demands, calling for fundamental changes to the policies of rich governments towards developing countries.

Many activists will be familiar with many of the demands at the heart of the Make Poverty History coalition:

  • Cancellation of unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries in full, by fair and transparent means.
  • An end to economic policy conditions like privatisation and trade liberalisation being attached to aid.
  • Trade rules that ensure governments, particularly in poor countries, can choose the best solutions to end poverty and protect the environment.
  • Laws that stop big business profiting at the expense of people and the environment.

We will be pushing for radical change and there are many ways people can get involved. On Saturday 2 July, tens of thousands of people will take to the streets of Edinburgh before the G8 meeting in Scotland to demonstrate for these changes.

2005 is also a key year for the Trade Justice Movement’s campaign for justice in global trade rules. War on Want is playing a central role in the activities planned throughout the year.

Most importantly, April sees the global week of action, with coordinated activities already planned across several countries of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas — for more information go to

Together with 60 other organisations in Britain, War on Want will be taking part in the Wake Up to Trade Justice vigil in central London, from 10pm on the evening of Friday 15 April.

The central trade justice demand throughout 2005 is that Britain and other rich country governments must stop forcing developing countries to open their markets for the benefit of multinational corporations. There is substantial evidence to show that this enforced liberalisation has led to increased poverty, as local markets are swamped with cheap imports and domestic producers are brought into direct competition with the world’s most powerful multinationals.

The result is that local producers in developing countries are driven out of business, with a catastrophic loss of jobs and income for the poor.

The United Nation’s latest report on the world’s least developed countries confirms the evidence on the ground. Those states which have liberalised their markets most dramatically have also seen the greatest increases in poverty over the past ten years.

Despite this evidence, the British government continues to push for “free trade” policies to open up developing country markets. Government officials have confirmed to us that British companies continue to pressure them to open up new markets for the benefit of British business. We say that the needs of poor countries must come first.

2005 brings a new set of challenges to those fighting for trade justice across the world. The European Union is currently seeking to negotiate a set of new Economic Partnership Agreements with African, Caribbean and Pacific island states, which are designed to open up 90 percent of those countries’ markets to foreign competition.

In December, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will be holding its next ministerial conference in Hong Kong, aiming to force open yet more developing country markets for the benefit of big business. The challenges are substantial, yet the Trade Justice Movement has good reason to be optimistic. Our campaign to stop the expansion of the WTO’s agenda into harmful new areas such as investment liberalisation won a fantastic victory when those proposals were finally abandoned in July 2004.

War on Want has won its own success in forcing a review of Britain and the World Bank’s promotion of “free trade” through their conditions on aid. The international movement for trade justice is on a roll — and it’s up to us to keep it going.

To get involved in the campaign go to or e-mail [email protected]

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Sat 12 Feb 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1938
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