Tearfund's Policy Blog

October 1, 2013 by sarahwiggins1

Last week I reversed into someone’s car and, sincerely sorry for the damage to their passenger door that I had caused, of course I immediately provided my details and paid to put it right – it diminished my household budget, but was the human thing to do.

The leading climate IPCC report, out its full fifth version yesterday (the initial summary came out on Friday), tells us that scientists are 95% certain that humans caused global warming. We must remember, however, that it’s the richest few that are, by far, the main contributors, with our gas guzzling, leaky homes, consumption-reliant, lifestyles. ‘The 1.2 billion poorest people account for only 1 per cent of world consumption while the billion richest consume 72 per cent.’ (Report of the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda)

Photo: Taken at the end of a long day, a partner in southern Nepal shows me how one local community is strengthening the river bank to protect their fields from floods from the river, resulting from glacier melt.

So, even though they have done next to nothing to cause the problem, our partners in Nepal tell us that farmers have noticed changes in the weather that threaten the livelihoods of almost half the population, and the IPCC report today provides science that supports this. It says, for instance, that in Nepal, temperatures are getting warmer, rainfall is getting heavier, cloudiness is reducing, soil moisture is decreasing in some regions, and melting glaciers mean that water stress will get more severe and risk of floods will be higher. Unlike me, most people in developing countries do not have the luxury of insurance policies to help bail them out – men and women lose their livelihoods and they and their children go hungry and thirsty, get ill and even die.

Current action falls far short of matching the urgency of the issues: the UK and other developed countries must act on their responsibility to reduce our carbon emissions and to transfer money to developing countries for the damages caused by climate change and to help them to lower their emissions. In the UK we have a climate budget and carbon emissions targets that on paper, from some angles at least, can be argued as ‘our fair share’ and ‘better than what other countries are doing’. But the money is only shifted from normal government aid pots and there is no clear plan for how to find more money once the commitments increase substantially from 2020. The climate change act which sets out a commitment to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 must be upheld and strengthened at all costs, and politicians are not giving us confidence that this will happen.

That’s what makes it so appalling when Osborne says he doesn’t want the UK to continue to lead on climate change, and that we need to wait for other countries to catch up: this is not the fighting talk we need! Governments need to be crystal clear in setting out ambitious steps for how they are going to respond to the challenges that the climate report sets out. This year the Conservatives and Lib Dems need to make key decisions about fracking, renewables and flood protection – will they drive away and abandon their responsibilities, or will they press on, overcoming the challenges and obstacles, to get us to a destination that is safe and just for current and future generations?

September 27, 2013 by BenNiblett

Climate change is very risky. That’s what we’re expecting the IPCC to say this morning when they announce their latest summary of climate science. Over 600 scientists and over 9,000 peer-reviewed papers later, we expect to hear that climate science is now 95% certain that human activity is making the world warmer. Their last report six years ago was only 90% sure.

95% is a big risk. I wouldn’t get in a car with a 95% chance of crashing. I wouldn’t light a match with a 95% chance of burning my hand. I wouldn’t even eat a sandwich with a 95% of containing sand. So I’m really hoping  people around the world listen to this report, and decide to do more about it.

Tearfund did a survey of 2,500 people to see what worries people in the UK have about climate change, and found the most common concern was unusual and extreme weather for future generations.

(We found some interesting variations round the country, which I can only speculate on – is the North East more worried about this and Londoners less worried because Londoners are mostly younger and not so bothered about future generations yet? Or are Londoners less worried because their higher propensity to be religious gives them hope? Or are they more relaxed because of the Thames Barrier, whereas the North East has more recent experience of major floods? I’d love to know. But I don’t.)

We also asked what people were most willing to do to help reduce their carbon emissions, and found 70% of us want to recycle more. That’s encouraging, because that’s a big cultural change after 60-odd years of more and more disposable stuff.

But the second most popular was using energy efficient light bulbs, which 60% of us are willing to do. 60%? Disappointing. Energy efficient light bulbs are a big saving of carbon, a decent saving of money, and one of the easiest changes we can make. Why don’t 90% of us want to do this yet? Because avoiding what the hardnosed, unexcitable folk at Price Waterhouse Coopers call ‘the mother of all risks’ means we can’t stop once we’ve switched lightbulbs. We need less consumerism, less coal, less beef, more insulation, more renewables, and more sharing.

So I’m hoping and praying that the IPCC’s message of climate risk gets through loud and clear. But I want more. I want the church in this country to become a beacon of low-carbon behaviour, a noisy hotbed of climate campaigning, and an ever-turning turbine of climate prayer. We already want the world to be fair, but we need to see that it can’t be fair if it’s not sustainable. Climate change is damaging the people God loves so much and the planet he made so carefully, so the church should be leading the way to respond faster.

We’ve got some ideas for how, here


September 25, 2013 by Sue Yardley

Networking with non NGO folk is always interesting, and a welcome change.  Last week I found myself honing my networking skills with scientists and lawyers. There was a bit of stumbling on my part when I had to scratch around for a follow up question after a scientist had shared with me their specialism. It was an insightful time.

It was organised by the Planetary Boundaries Initiative.  Planetary Boundaries (see picture) are rising up the wonk vernacular but other than that it still only sounds interesting to my Trekkie or Doctor Who friends. If you haven’t come across this term yet, it basically refers to the systems that help keep the earth habitable for humans. The problem is human activity is now biting the hand that feeds it, so to speak, so much so that we are causing some of those systems to break down. The PBI was set up to explore how a legal governance response could help us live within our limits, and therefore keep those systems functioning. For example, one of those systems is CO2 levels and this week marks the publication of the latest scientific findings on the projections for climate change and impact on us – a governance response for that would be legally binding UN resolutions.

Here are a few of reflections from the event:

1.     Are we prepared to face the real problem?

Absolute poverty has decreased but social equity and environmental degradation have worsened. Is this the future we desire? These problems – associated with PBs – are symptomatic of something deeper: the system we’re locked into.  What’s driving it? Growth came up a lot when discussing barriers for change. Economic growth ultimately, but growth in so many areas – population, continued growth in our incomes, the desire to have more stuff and the latest version of multiple gadgets, growth in industries, GDPs etc. We’re not content with what we have and this incessant pursuit of growth means that the earth is bulging at the seams and could be tipped over into unknown consequences for humans within my lifetime.

But the solutions seem to be too slow, only scratch the surface or, quite frankly, viewed as too barmy. One participant admitted she had wanted to raise the issue of no-growth economics at an EC meeting in Brussels recently but didn’t want to be laughed out of the room. Is it a viable option or can we make capitalism work for us in new and better ways? Either way, if we want to flourish without pushing the earth’s limits, it requires major changes in the lifestyles of the world’s rich – mostly us in the west. There are also big implications for the growth trajectories of developing countries. Both of these are bitter pills to swallow and what politician wants to be the first to taste that medicine?

2.     Rational arguments rarely win on their own

As one participant asked, “if the public aren’t taking note of the science, what will make them change?” For some, mostly those convinced by evidence and logical arguments, can’t believe that science won’t win people over. This reminded me of a quote I saw in the Guardian last week by the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He placed firm support in the fact that ‘rational people’ will be convinced by the report due out at the end of this week. While I eagerly await the findings (though not much will be a surprise due to the amount of leaks), I’m in the minority – if my friends are even aware of the report, it certainly won’t change their lifestyles.

Another participant got a bit closer by asking how we get an article in Metro newspaper. But that’s still just one part in bringing about change in people’s behaviour and for me; some key people were missing in the room that would have helped us in our discussions

3.    We need a wide range of help

Behavioural scientists, psychologists, political economists, communications experts and more of civil society, to name a few who need to be round the table. The event with PBI was a great starting point but we need to get to grips with what changes people’s values and behaviours if we are going to see radical change. This is often the long route to change, but arguably longer lasting. Civil society has a key role to play too – and it was great to see a couple of other NGOs there and also a representative from trade unions.


At one point I had that depressing sinking feeling, after I had chatted with an academic over lunch and I reflected on the enormity of the problems, and the political and business inertia to really respond at scale and in time. But overall I came away hopeful and ready to get back to the office as we dig deeper into all this and explore how our advocacy experience and global networks can help bring about change.

September 9, 2013 by Rosanne White

I went on my first demonstration when I was seven.

It was 1992 and John Major’s government had announced yet more education cuts. I lived in a small town where no-one had very much really and this was yet another thing in a long line of off-the-cuff policies that restricted potential and kept us in our place.

So we took to the streets. I clutched my mother’s hand as we huddled in the shadow of the war memorial in the centre of town, others holding lanterns and homemade banners. We sang hymns and clapped our hands. My memory of my first foray into activism is fairly foggy, but I can quite imagine that the local policeman stopped by to have a chat and a cup of weak tea. Beyond tame, particularly when you consider the far more impressive story told by one of my schoolfriends of being held aloft during the poll tax riots.

My point here, other than indulging my own memories of a precocious childhood, is that while the bobble-hat wearing, banner-toting group of locals in that small Somerset town didn’t even come close to stopping the tide of cuts which crashed over us so forcefully in the weeks and months that followed, we had stood up for what we believed in. Everyone wrote letters to the Education Secretary, (including me, receiving a broadly sympathetic but generally patronising response a month later) and spoke to the local MP.

Why had we taken the time to protest? Because education was, and still is, one of a number of hugely important political issues which quite rightly define the outcomes of elections. After all, democracy is about being free to question and speak out on the issues that concern you, whether you agree with the Government of the day or not.

Last week, MPs voted to plough on with the ‘Transparency, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration’ Bill, or the Lobbying Bill. It was introduced a couple of days before the summer parliamentary recess and aims to crack down on illicit influencing of politicians by introducing a ‘Register of Lobbyists’. This all sounds pretty positive – as a lobbyist myself, I’m frankly disgusted that so-called corporate ‘in-house lobbyists’ can lay on the hospitality, tip those in power the wink and pave the way for big business to get what it wants.

The thing is, it would be perfectly understandable if illegal lobbying by corporates was the main focus of the Bill – although incidentally, the Register of Lobbyists bit doesn’t go far enough as it only deals with the lobbying of Government Ministers and their Permanent Secretaries by lobbying consultants, whereas MPs, Peers and Special Advisers are still fair game – but it isn’t. The Bill has two other parts, dealing with ‘non-party campaigning etc’ and trade unions respectively, which is when things start to get slightly sinister.

Part Two of the Bill introduces new, strict rules which will very likely impose significant restrictions on the campaigning of organisations like Tearfund, as well as much smaller organisations and community groups, such as churches, for the twelve months leading up to a General Election. Our expenditure on awareness-raising activities like media and events would now be covered, as well as logistical things like transport and the costs of employing our staff.  The Bill also lowers how much organisations can spend on these activities by 60%-70% – if we spend more, we could face prosecution if these activities are deemed to be ‘for election purposes’. A little will now have to go a very long way. On top of that, the Government plans to aggregate the spending of campaigning coalitions (like the IF campaign), so every involved organisation or agency will likely have to account for the spending of the whole. The upshot? It’s not just the big organisations that will be affected, grassroots campaigners might also feel the force of the Bill’s bile too. In fact you could say (if this goes ahead), we’ll all be in it together. Ironic, really.

Let’s be clear, there are existing rules on non-party campaigning, namely the ‘Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000’ (PPERA). This means that UK charities, NGOs and other voluntary organisations can’t engage in election-bending activities like the so-called US super-PACs. Thanks to the new legislation, in-house corporate lobbyists will still be able to have their quiet dinners and behind-closed-door chats in those all-important pre-election months, while civil society will be restricted by how much we can call the Government up about it. In short, as it stands, the Bill won’t clean up politics or properly right the wrongs we’d hoped it would.

21 years after my first demonstration, I’ve lost count of the number of campaign cards I’ve signed, events I’ve organised, protests I’ve attended. I’ve seen ground-breaking policy change (the Arms Trade Treaty anyone, 0.7, debt cancellation?) and I’m only one person. What would it mean if we all stopped taking legitimate action because we were worried about breaking the rules or getting the organisations we support into trouble?

Today, MPs will be taking part in the first of three days of Committee Stage of the Bill. This will be heard as a Committee of the Whole House in the Main Chamber, rather than in a Public Bill Committee of a few MPs poring over the Bill line-for-line. With the Prime Minister’s G20 statement and a tribute debate to Prince George on the agenda preceding it, the opportunity for discussion during day one of Committee Stage looks like it’ll be limited. Right now, from where I’m standing, it all seems pretty bleak.

Want to take action? Click here for a Tearfund Nudge.

A briefing on the Lobbying Bill is here.

September 3, 2013 by BenNiblett

Jubilee 2000 making their point

Next time Justin Welby wants to have a go at Wonga, it looks like he’ll need a permit from the Electoral Commission first. I’m worried the Lobbying Bill – or Gagging Bill – will stop charities, churches, and civil society speaking out about things that matter.

Campaigning’s a vital part of a living democracy. I remember the Sun ran a ‘Bash the Bishop’ campaign a few years ago, inviting people to tell off the Archbishop of Canterbury after he said something they didn’t like. I liked the headline, I loathed the campaign. But I want to live in a country where newspapers, archbishops, charities and all of us are free to hold different views and say so, loudly if we want to, and whether I agree with them or not.

And I want charities and churches to be free to be controversial when the people we serve need us to. Syria, fracking, food banks, disability rights, fostering – there are many reasons for voluntary groups to speak up and represent people. Charities have a purpose, serving people in poverty around the world in Tearfund’s case, and campaigning’s often a useful way to do what we exist to do.

But the government’s draft Lobbying Bill looks likely to shut us up. When both Conservative Home http://t.co/zWOcBD6UFp and Polly Toynbee http://t.co/eRJRPeGo6p oppose something, I sit up and take notice.

I’m not sure if it’s a deliberate attack on civil liberties or a mess made in a hurry, and Tearfund supports more lobbying transparency (through the Open Government Partnership here for example), but at the moment the bill’s set to stop any group that’s not a political party from talking about anything that might feature in any election campaign – local, Europe, national, referendum or any other kind – and tie us up with vague, expensive and complex regulation. As the NCVO – the voluntary sector’s umbrella group – explains

Jubilee 2000 was a great campaign that worked – the kind of campaign this bill would jeopardise. Party politically, it was neutral, but it changed what politicians did. Tearfund and many others spoke out asking governments to cancel the unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries. We knew that countries which couldn’t afford it were struggling to make interest payments to countries with far more money. Partly we just thought it was wrong, and partly we could see a chance to use that money to reduce poverty instead.

So far $130 billion of debt has been cancelled. Uganda used the money they saved on debt payments to abolish primary school fees – so children who couldn’t afford to go to school could now start their education. Mozambique have immunised over a million children against deadly diseases. The list goes on. I reckon it would take Tearfund roughly 1,000 years to raise the kind of money our campaigning unlocked – I think we’d spend it even better, but campaigning to get governments to do things on a scale we could only dream of has been a great investment of our time and money. This video follows the story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg6yXYIYG08

As Christians, we liked the idea of Jubilee – a special year every 50 years for setting slaves free, forgiving debts, and restoring equality. It’s set out in the bible in Leviticus 25, and mentioned again in Isaiah 61, which Jesus quoted at the start of his ministry. Justice is part of our faith, and campaigning’s one way we live it.

Campaigning doesn’t always work – for example the Jubilee Debt Campaign hasn’t yet won a system for countries to go bankrupt and start again in the way companies and people can. But it often works well for charities, churches, and civil society more generally, as Martin Luther King told us.

Do pray for the government to amend the Lobbying Bill so it doesn’t gag churches, charities and civil society, and do ask your MP to push for the changes it needs. Tweeting @david_cameron and @nick_clegg wouldn’t go amiss either.

Ben Niblett (Head of Campaigns)

August 7, 2013 by Rosanne White

This morning I woke up in what appeared to be the eighties. In those first blurry moments, I wondered how long I’d been asleep. Not only was the ‘racist van’ topping the headlines again, but UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom was instructing Radio 4 listeners on why he believes it is a travesty that UK taxpayers fund aid to ‘Bongo Bongo land’. Coupled with the link sent to me by a friend to the band ‘Scott and Charlene’s Wedding’ (who married in 1987 fact fans), I honestly did feel like I’d somehow managed to sleepwalk my way into the DeLorean.

While I’m writing this, I’m clicking through as many online atlases as I can, trying to locate ‘Bongo Bongo’ land. Maybe I’ve got the spelling wrong but I’m not having much luck finding it really, maybe because I failed to secure a GCSE in geography, or (as Mr Bloom might contend), as a lady of ‘baby-making age’, I should be at home cleaning behind my fridge and not worrying about such matters.

I’m not going to launch into a detailed, worthy defence of aid here, mainly because people like Godfrey Bloom will stick like glue to their misinformed and frankly offensive opinions, regardless of how much evidence exists to the contrary. And judging by Jim Naughtie’s fairly resigned response to Mr Bloom’s tirade, coupled with the reaction on Twitter, I’m guessing most people are aware that his appraisal of international aid is up there with the Harry Potter series.

However, what I did find mildly interesting was how convicted Mr Bloom was that aid somehow goes on “ray ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it”.

Every time aid gets mentioned, I count under my breath until the cries of ‘corruption!’ rise up. It’s a bit like bingo really – charity begins at home (tick), all the money goes to dictators (tick), they blow it all on space programmes (tick), HOUSE! – but what people like Godfrey Bloom have failed to notice is how much work has been done and is still being undertaken, to ensure that aid goes where it’s most needed and to support citizens in developing countries in building their capacity to hold their own governments to account for its expenditure.

Back in June, the EU passed unprecedented legislation to ensure that multinationals publish what they pay for developing countries’ natural resources, which for some, amounts to seven times what they receive in aid. A significant breakthrough, which will have a serious impact for people living in some of the world’s poorest countries. The next step will be to ensure greater budget transparency, so that citizens all over the world can access information about how their governments are spending their taxes and investments. We hope that this will be considered by countries attending the Open Government Partnership annual meeting in the Autumn, currently chaired by the UK.

But going back to the EU Accounting and Transparency Directives. Eighteen MEPs voted against the groundbreaking transparency legislation in June and Godfrey Bloom was one of them. I’m honestly baffled that someone who opposes UK overseas development assistance on the grounds of corruption, would also openly counter legislation which not only paves the way for far greater transparency in our international and business relations, but might also one day end the need for aid entirely.

Aid works. It really does. In the last ten years, more than 50 million children have started going to school in sub-Saharan Africa, while deaths from measles have fallen by nearly 75%. I could quote and quote and quote statistics. And yet 2.3 million children still die every year from malnutrition. I’m not sure I want to know what Mr Bloom thinks about that, or what he’d say to the 2.3 million mothers who will mourn the desperate loss of their children this year, all because they didn’t have enough food to eat. But I hope that the Great British public drowns out his racist ramblings with furious compassion for those who are worse off than us, because it’s what we do best.

June 27, 2013 by Melissa Lawson

Last week the G8 delivered some real encouragements on transparency – from natural resource transparency, ownership of companies, to an Open Data Charter.

As part of this, the UK is committing to enhance transparency at home as well as abroad – and is a founding member of the Open Government Partnership – an international initiative whereby governments commit to make progress on becoming more ‘open’.  The UK’s draft revised OGP National Action Plan, as published today, outlines how the UK will strive to work towards this agenda.[1]

Ok, so this may not sound particularly ‘sexy’ but it does deserve some thought-time (or at least a blog).  The drafting of this National Action Plan (NAP) has been a test-case in how the UK does open policy-making.  And the content of the draft published today will, for many, be a measure of the success of the process.

So what have the successes been so far?

The process:  Through the action plan drafting process (which involved civil society policy officers meeting weekly with civil servants), there has been greater dialogue between Government and civil society – allowing for both sides to have frank conversations and to better understand the concerns and challenges of the other.  This participation has allowed NGOs to increase the prominence of key issues such as beneficial ownership and extractive industry transparency – key features of the G8 discussions.

The content:  There has been some progress.  The revision has taken the action plan beyond open data to look at open government i.e. not only looking at publishing government data, but ensuring that there is citizen participation that generates accountability, a key thing that civil society has pushed for.  There has been movement on specific areas, for example the draft NAP recognises the need to have strong enforcement of anti-corruption legislation in order to truly have ‘open government’.

And the draft action plan doesn’t avoid some of the difficult areas – such as the UK needing to work with the UK’s Overseas Territories (OT’s) and Crown Dependencies (CDs) to take action on bribery – a previous ‘no-go’ area due to constitutional challenges.  Perhaps particularly interesting in light of the Prime Minister’s successful efforts to get all the UK’s OTs and CDs to sign-up to the multilateral convention on information exchange.

But there have been some challenges.

The drafting process has proved lengthy.  The Government originally intended for the draft to be published in April, but with the high number of Government departments involved and needing to agree the content, it has been delayed until now.

The draft plan omits some essential areas of open government. These need to be addressed and included in the text rather than the ‘civil society-asks annexe’. Specifically, the plan omits commitments to:

–          Strengthen OGP’s eligibility criteria on budget transparency.  Budget transparency is a fundamental part of open government – without extensive, accessible and understandable budget information citizens are unable to hold leaders to account for public expenditure.  Although the UK has made an individual commitment to this area, as current Co-Chair, the UK should prioritise strengthening OGP’s budget transparency eligibility and reporting requirements.  This should be discussed and agreed at the OGP steering group meeting in July, and included as a UK commitment.

–          An anti-corruption strategy or plan.  There have been positive steps with the UK beginning to bring greater coordination to its anti-corruption efforts.  But efforts need to be crystallised and a transparent action plan put in place so that UK citizens know what actions the Government is taking to tackle corruption at home and abroad.

–          Strengthen international accountability initiatives.  Information is useful in so much that it leads to accountability (by citizens, parliament and civil society) and the UK should not shy away from supporting initiatives that build this capacity internationally e.g. Making All Voices Count.

The OGP open policy making process is fascinating in the light of the resurgence of concerns about lobbying. Whilst there is the desire on both sides to engage the public directly in policymaking, it is clear that engaging intelligently is much easier for those who have time and expertise through private, not-for-profit and charitable employment.

The real test of OGP national action plans and this open policy making pilot will be what happens next.  Will NGO’s continue to engage in this process or will they think that the government has been unresponsive?  Will ‘ordinary people’ participate directly in the public consultation (ongoing until 19th September), not just through supporting NGO policy officers to invest time? Ultimately, will policy reflect the will of the people, or the will of the politicians?

A success story?  We will have to wait and see.

Photo: gov.uk

[1] Draft, because this is for wider consultation before the final plan is launched in the Autumn, revised, as the first action plan was published in 2010.

June 17, 2013 by laurataylor

It’s become a slightly tired cliché to say that sunlight is the best disinfectant.  But there is no question that transparency – about what payments are being made to governments, and then how that money is being spent – is vital for development. Giving citizens knowledge about key financial decisions being made in their countries empowers them to get involved in the debate about whether companies are paying the right taxes or fees, and about how much of it should be spent on schools, hospitals, and other issues close to their hearts – helping to wash away the stain of corruption.

It is great that David Cameron has made this a high priority at this year’s G8 Summit – no doubt responding to the public outcry about tax dodging in the UK, as well as out of a desire to tackle poverty around the world. And there has been lots of encouraging progress so far. But, what will be the acid tests of his success when the G8 communique is published tomorrow?  There are a couple of things that we’ll be keeping a keen eye on:

1. Will Japan and Russia agree to make oil, gas and mining companies publish what they pay?

Recent months have seen big strides forward in improving transparency in the oil, gas and mining sectors. With the Dodd Frank legislation in the USA, the EU legislation passed last week, and Canada’s recent announcement that they will follow suit, all companies listed on their stock exchanges (around two thirds of the global trade) will soon need to publish what they pay to government to access their mineral wealth.

These efforts to unearth the truth have been hugely encouraging. But, as businesses such as Rio Tinto have noted, we don’t yet have a level playing field, and companies not listed in these countries, but in places like Russia and Japan, don’t yet need to publish their payments. Cameron has said he will prioritise this in G8 discussions so that momentum can then build in the G20 and beyond, so there is no place where companies can hide their payments. Let’s hope he delivers.

2. Will all G8 members agree to share tax information with developing countries as well as each other? And will they create public registries of the “real” owners of all companies?

On Saturday at Cameron’s trade, tax and transparency Summit all of the UK-linked tax havens agreed to join an existing multilateral agreement to share tax information. And the Prime Minister announced that the UK would create a central registry of company ownership. Again, these are really encouraging steps. But we need other G8 countries to agree to increase their transparency too and automatically share tax information – not just with each other, but also with developing countries. And we need more G8 countries to commit to create a public register of the “real” owners of all companies in their countries to help stop tax dodging (see the full IF response here)

 Cameron obviously has a lot to talk to Putin and other leaders about – not least trying to find a way forward on tackling the horrendous situation in Syria. But ensuring increasing transparency in these key areas could have a massive and life-changing impact in many poor communities. Something he shouldn’t forget as he enjoys the canapés this evening.

June 13, 2013 by jokhinmaung

As the British Prime Minister hosts a pre-G8 Summit on Saturday, Open for Growth, and G8 leaders meet in Northern Ireland next Monday, they should shine a light on land deals to give people in developing countries more control over their land and protect poor small-scale farmers from land grabs.

In the run up to the events, the UK has recognised that lack of transparency around land deals can both create a barrier to responsible investment, and weaken livelihoods and ignore rights of local communities.

Meanwhile, Tearfund’s local partner in Peru, Paz y Esperanza (Peace and Hope), has been working on issues related to land tenure and use, and their latest research shows why urgent action is needed globally (summary report in Spanish).

Their report shows that environmental damage, social conflicts and loss of food security are security are some of the worrying consequences of the way that land deals or concessions are happening. However, the main concern is that indigenous groups lose control over their land, as they often play no part in negotiations about concessions and have little access to usable information.

Concentration of land in the hands of large companies is proceeding at a rapid pace, as shown in the full report. For example, in some departments in Peru, mining concessions cover nearly two thirds of the land, as shown in this graph.

This has contributed to a number of worrying impacts in Peru:

  • Reduced food security as land is turned over to agricultural exports. This can be seen in the increasing amount of food being imported into the country, the value of which rose from US$ 510 million in 1991 to US$ 2,429 million in 2008.
  • Social conflicts:  230 social conflicts were reported in Peru as of the end of 2012. Conflicts related to environmental issues, including loss of access to water for small-scale agriculture, as it was diverted to large scale agriculture and mining activities, was a particular issue that accounted for nearly two-thirds (150) of all cases.
  • Environmental damage.  The pressure placed on land, by the extractive industry and large scale agricultural activities, often creates environmental liabilities, as well as effects on the health of the population. The mono-cropping of vast areas of the Amazon for pine nut or sugar cane for biofuel has also led to similar damage.
  • Loss of control over indigenous peoples’ territories.  Despite the existence of many so-called “dialogue” processes that take place between the mining companies and communities, the report shows that these have often ended up being unfair because the indigenous people’s leaders have little or no technical or legal information on which to base their negotiations. Related to this is the lack of official information on the actual amount of land that has been granted in concessions.

One case that illustrates this is of a Korean company ECOAMERICA, which was sold 72,000 hectares of supposedly uninhabited land for agricultural development for less than 50 pence a hectare.  The communities found out about the deal months later, took legal action and won the first court case, which was then overturned by a higher court. Last year, the Constitutional Court finally ruled in favour of the communities, although they claim that activities are still continuing on their lands.

Tearfund’s partner, Peace and Hope, strongly recommends the following, based on their report:

  1. Consultation – for any process in which communities may be affected by natural resource exploration or development activities, ensuring that the consultations are conducted in good faith and in the language of the population, with legal and technical assistance and true and fair intercultural dialogue.
  2. Indigenous land titles – the state must prioritise the titling of land for native and rural communities. This requires coordinated efforts between the Ministry of Agriculture and the regional governments, and must include contributions from civil society.
  3. Transparency – of commercial transactions affecting indigenous people e.g. the websites of state bodies, such as the ministries, should provide up-to-date information.

Tearfund is part of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, which is calling for G8 leaders to establish a global platform called a Land Transparency Initiative, which would help improve land rights in poorer countries and support the UN’s Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure. This initiative should also require land investors to share details of both their investments (which can be responsible) and engagement with affected communities. The G8 must also get its own house in order by regulating all G8-based companies investing in land so the details of all deals are shared and affected communities are involved and heard in the negotiations.

June 12, 2013 by Melissa Lawson

On the day the EU voted in favour of extractive industry transparency laws, Tearfund has a guest post by Bishop Stephen Munga.  Bishop Munga is a member of the working group of the Tanzania Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and chair of the interfaith standing committee of Tanzania. He travelled to the EU with Tearfund as part of its Unearth the Truth campaign

Africa has vast riches, whilst being classified as the most economically underdeveloped continent. It astonishes me that with mineral wealth, quite literally splitting at the seams, it still fails to deliver even the basic services for the poorest people. On the surface it makes no sense at all.

I see this as a chronic injustice and one that I’ve lobbied hard to change.

It’s hard to tell where Africa’s wealth goes when there’s a lack of accountability and public scrutiny – and corruption is shrouded in secrecy. That’s why the best way of tackling it is to maximise transparency.

This week the EU voted for laws which will mean revenues collected from mining operations may soon help to benefit the poorest communities. Companies will be required to publish meaningful information about their projects, often directly affecting people who often have little or no access to basic services, which will help them to call their government officials to account for the revenues coming into their community.

For decades minerals, oil and gas have been extracted from beneath the homes of some of Africa’s poorest people. Corruption associated with this industry has resulted in massive economic losses, with human costs in terms of livelihoods lost and poverty increased. Are we at long last redressing the balance?

My country, Tanzania, is ranked among the three poorest countries despite being rich in platinum, gold and phosphate. I meet families in the dioceses I frequently visit who have limited access to the basic essentials we take for granted, such as clean water, a local health centre and adequate education for their children. For too long they have put up with indifference and excuses from officials; worst still, intimidation and marginalization when forced from their homes and land.

It doesn’t stop at mining operations. We currently have an explosive case in Mtwara surrounding the gas sector; the people rioting and property destroyed. They think the government has embarked on the new gas investment behind their backs and they want to make sure that they benefit from the deal with compensation for land and better service provision.

You might say that providing public services and tackling poverty isn’t the business of corporations. Directly it isn’t. But if regulation enforces publishing the accounts of operations, then surely all that transparency can lead to is no more than what a responsible company should welcome.

And it needn’t be seen as too radical for the people of Tanzania to benefit from Tanzania’s natural resources.

Africa needs economic growth. We need employment. We need innovation to improve how industry operates. But sustainable exploration is one conversation; systematic exploitation is a different thing altogether.

In 2010 exports of oil, minerals and gas to Africa were nearly seven times what the continent received in international aid[1].

Funds made available, from what are massive profits and corporation taxes, are crucial in the fight against poverty. They can improve the lives of the poorest people in Africa and around the world and reduce the reliance on development aid.

A year ago in Brussels I heard for myself from permanent representatives, civil society groups and the MEPs who fought for many months for the legislation on behalf of the European Parliament. In addition, tens of thousands of supporters backed Tearfund’s Unearth the Truth campaign.

Together their efforts have paid off, and I thank them. But let’s not be in any doubt that this is just one major river crossed.

I am part of the Tanzanian branch of the international Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The scheme requires companies to report their payments to the government, which must in turn report its receipts. So I am pleased that the UK has now signed up to this initiative, showing continued leadership on transparency issues.

However, the initiative is voluntary, and so far only 37 governments have signed up. It leaves dozens of countries – rich in natural resources – with no publicly available information.

The EU legislation and the similar US Dodd-Frank regulations, passed last August, will now cover approximately two thirds of all listed oil, gas and mining companies worldwide. But it leaves the door open for industry to exploit resource-rich countries that are not bound by it.

David Cameron and his business ministers have showed strong commitment to the Brussels negotiations. He has put transparency at the top of the G8 agenda for next week’s Summit in Northern Ireland. With Canada making an announcement today that it too will pass similar laws, this is an opportunity for Japan and Russia to commit to passing their own legislation – and to encourage the major economies of Brazil, India, China and South Africa to do the same. Society globally must work together to confront corruption and poverty.

With more information available we improve the quality of public debate. Society as a whole will be able to convince government to enter business deals with companies as credible partners – prepared to go the extra mile to increase transparency and ultimately reduce poverty.

The EU vote shows Africa and the world that it will tackle exploitation and injustice. This legislation must now be fully implemented by EU nations without delay or loophole. People have waited far too long for the benefits that must now follow.

[1] OECD, (2011), Development at a Glance. ODA to Africa, p2 and WTO, (2011), International Trade Statistics, Merchandise trade by product, Table II.23