Tackling global poverty means challenging a broken economic system

Under the next Labour Government, the Department for International Development will be tasked explicitly with reducing inequality, the Shadow International Development Secretary said in her speech to Co-operative Party Centenary Conference.


The Co-operative Party / Tehmoor Khalid

Labour has a proud record on international development. It was a Labour Government, led by Harold Wilson, which set up the first ever Ministry of Overseas Aid, and it was our last Labour Government in 1997 that committed to reaching the UN agreed 0.7% of Gross National Income to be spent on aid.

However, the Tories are intent on undoing our movement’s good work. While Theresa May confirmed to maintain the 0.7% commitment, you only have to scratch below the surface to see that they want to undermine the spirit of that pledge.

The Tories’ new economic development strategy cares more about contracts for big businesses and propping up our broken neoliberal system that they do creating decent jobs in the developing world. They are repurposing aid to try and rescue their failing Brexit trade deals instead of spending it on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. They are redefining aid to spend the £13 billion to plug gaps in other departments like the Ministry of Defence. They’re reallocating the development budget, so that even more is spent through opaque, unaccountable funds. They are even trying to redirect aid into our wealthy British Overseas Territories instead of spending it where it is needed most in the aftermath of natural disasters.

How can we make sure the UK’s international development contribution makes a difference? It’s by being even more ambitious as we seek to put our co-operative and Labour values into practice around the world. And that is why I announced that under the next Labour Government, the Department for International Development will be tasked explicitly for the first time to play a special role to reduce inequality.

Not only will we be working to eradicate poverty, but will play an active role in challenging the broken economic system which leaves people reliant on wealth trickling down. Instead, we will champion efforts to reduce the gap between the many and the few, all around the world.

And I am proud to be able to make this announcement from the Co-operative Party’s centenary conference. The co-operative movement has long been committed to an international development agenda that seeks to end global poverty and develop the co-operative economy across the world – economies not just where poverty is eradicated but where ordinary people have a voice, and where wealth and power are shared.

Our commitment to international development does not rely solely on Whitehall – every day we have the opportunity to reaffirm our values and principles by buying Fairtrade products. To put it simply, Fairtrade changes lives for the better. And I have often voiced my support for the Fairtrade movement, which the Co-operative Party has played an important role in championing. In 2015 famers and producers received £2.3 million in social premium from fairtrade sales in the UK. Over just the last year that has gone up to £32.3 million. That stands as a testament to what can happen when farmers, shoppers, producers, workers, campaigners, NGOs and values-driven businesses come together to make our economic system fairer.

I want Fairtrade protected in future trade deals. And I want to see major chains and brands like Sainsbury’s back the Fairtrade standard, not undermine it by creating their own certifications. I want to work with business to defend workers’ rights in supply chains – and I am so proud that the Co-operative Group are such trailblazers in tackling modern slavery and supporting its victims.

And so, as the Co-operative Party celebrates its last hundred years and looks ahead to the next hundred years of co-operation, it is time also for us to look ahead to how we shape the next century of international development. With our shared values of social justice, fairness and equality, together we must be ready to step up and provide the leadership needed to create a global system that works for the many, not the few.