HUMAN RIGHTS BEFORE TRADE RULES
2010 Ecumenical Campaign – Stop Unfair Trade
[This article published in: Zeit-Fragen, Nr. 12, 3/22/2010 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.zeit-fragen.ch/ausgaben/2010/nr12-vom-2232010/menschenrechte-vor-handelsregeln/
The number of people who suffer in hunger and malnutrition has dramatically risen once again, from 854 million in the 2008 ecumenical campaign to around 1 billion today. However the current food production would be enough to feed all people. The 2008 crisis year was a very good harvest year worldwide. This shows a simple production increase cannot defeat worldwide hunger. Even if future production must increase because of population growth, it is more important to produce and consume fairer and more sustainably. Sustainable agriculture must be promoted today. In Switzerland, the sale of local, seasonable and biological food as well as fair trade products represents an important step.
The international trading system that is closely connected with production and consumption must agree with the rules of fairness to permanently combat hunger worldwide. In the 2010 campaign, Bread for the World brings initiatives of fair trade and proposals of alternative economic systems in the discussion. Bread for the World emphasizes the importance of the local market and shows that a fundamentally different trade- and economic policy oriented in human rights is possible and very necessary.
WE CAN DO SOMETHING
The campaign is directed to every person as a consumer. We have to demand that things we buy are produced under socially just and ecologically sustainable conditions. Through our individual shopping decisions for fair trade products, we convince businesses and retailers that the origin and manufacturing conditions of goods and services interest us. Fair trade products should be part of our budgets and a foregone conclusion in our environment and our workplaces.
Therefore the campaign calls us to do our utmost for socially- and environmentally-friendly products and services in our environs. In the 2007 ecumenical campaign “High Tech – No Rights?,” we showed that sustainably producing products like computers, bringing them to market and preferring them in our shopping is important for fighting hunger and poverty. This is true for goods and services, as for example trips abroad. The aspect of sustainability should be taken into account.
WHEN INTERNATIONAL TRADE PRODUCES HUNGER
Global fair trade rules are vital for the survival of people in cou9ntries in the South. Unfortunately there are many examples that demonstrate that international trade impairs the right to food of many people. Many rich industrial countries subsidize their farmers so their foodstuffs can be produced below the real production costs and sold cheaply on the world market.
On account of these cheap imports from abroad, small farmers in the South lose the possibility of selling their products on the local markets. They cannot compete with the so-called “dumping prices” from the North. For example, the import of rice to Haiti rose around 150% between 1992 and 2003, which led to the extensive destruction of the local market. The bulk of the imported rice (95%) was transported to Haiti from the US at dumping prices. In the meantime the number of starving persons in Haiti’s giant rice areas is greater than ever. The 2008 food crisis struck people very intensely here. In Africa, this kind of trade drives many people into hunger. In Cameroon, cheap chicken imports from Europe contribute to the destruction of local markets. In Ghana, imported tomato paste replaces a large part of fresh local tomatoes. The local market share in Ghana tomatoes fell 30% in the last years. As a result, many small farmer families had to stop their production and become dependent on cheap imported food. This endangers the food security of these families, particularly when – as in 2008 – a general rise in the price of food occurs.
The current rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are far from just. While the rich countries protect their own markets, they exert pressure on the poor countries to force them to open their markets. They use the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, bilateral agreements and binding rules of the WTO to gain unrestricted access to these markets.
The negative effects on Haiti, Cameroon and Ghana are only examples that current trade rules violate the right to food. Additional factors are price speculations in the food sector and the strategies of the World Bank and the IMF in which countries of the South are forced to repay their debts. Affected countries are urged to give up their national grain elevators and instead produce flowers or coffee for export instead of food for their own population. The money earned this way serves debt repayment and makes the countries dependent on food imports.
HUMAN RIGHTS MUST TRUMP TRADE RULES
The special ambassador of the United Nations for the right to food, Oliver De Schutter, is convinced that (properly regulated) trade can serve development and human rights. According to De Schutter, successor of Jean Ziegler, the current trade system must be completely reformed. The right to food should serve as a foundation. That countries threatened by hunger have the possibility of regulating the market to guarantee that people and their families can be fed must be ensured in all trade agreements and programs of the World Trade Organization. Different groups of the United Nations emphasize that international financial institutions are obligated to respect the right to food in all their activities. This includes the awarding of credits and measures for coping with the debt crisis.
Political decision-makers must be pressed to engagement. With a 2006 petition signed by 30,000 persons “Trade for People: For Humanly Just Trade Rules and Practices,” Bread for the World urged firstly ensuring the right to food for all people, secondly making possible just access to all for water, education, health services, information and knowledge and thirdly binding transnational businesses by rules so their activities do not impede the right to food.
In December 2008, the petition was transferred from the Swiss National Assembly to the Bundesrat (Swiss Executive Council). In the 2010 ecumenical campaign, Bread for the World continues its engagement against global injustice and hunger. Fair trade rules and production and consumption of products that contribute to the worldwide realization of the right to food are championed.
RELATED LINK: http://sites.google.com/site/demandside/