The big neglected development issue

LCID member Martin Drewry blogs on the War on Drugs

Ask a typical activist what the main causes of global poverty are – and they’ll probably say things like trade, tax dodging, international debt, climate change, 0.7%… But I’m betting not many would mention one of the biggest factors of all – the so-called War on Drugs.

So why is it such a big deal for development?  

  1. Prohibition is the power base of global organised crime.  (Think prohibition era America writ large across the world.)  It means the street price of their product rockets – resulting in them having enough wealth and power to bring states to their knees.  Through combinations of bribery and (terrifying) intimidation, drug cartels render the machinery of states dysfunctional – and to the extent a state does survive it’s often locked in civil war with an illicit empire possessing military might to rival its own.  In this context, what hope is there for pro-poor social and economic development? For those forced into poverty to have a chance of having their rights recognised, they need two things – a state with the resources to deliver, and a state that is accountable. The War on Drugs takes away both.
  2. Prohibition means the drugs market – one of the world’s largest trading sectors – is completely untaxed.  (That’s a form of subsidy!!) A recent report by Health Poverty Action showed that taxing cannabis alone in the UK could raise between £1 billion and £3.5 billion a year for the NHS.  And that’s in a diverse developed economy.  In many poorer countries the drugs market is a far greater proportion of GDP.  Properly taxing it would be beyond transformative in terms of state revenue for essential services like health and education.
  3. Prohibition harms public health.  The one-size-fits-all law enforcement approach clearly doesn’t stopping people taking drugs.  On the contrary, it motivates powerful crime syndicates to increase consumption as much as possible.  Worse still, lack of regulation and harm reductions services means consumption is far more dangerous – consumers have no idea of the strength, and no certainty what is contained. Even the simplest food products are required to give us detailed information about composition on the packaging – but for something as dangerous as drugs there’s no regulation or testing whatsoever.
  4. The War on Drugs disproportionately criminalises minority ethnic communities worldwide.  That’s well known. Lesser known is the fact that it also disproportionately incarcerates women – who are often forced into the more risky and lower paid roles.
  5. Forced crop eradication routinely takes away the livelihoods of poor farmers in marginalised rural areas – with devastating effects for them and their families.
  6. Crop eradication also wreaks havoc with the environment – first through the indiscriminate use of chemicals, and then by new deforestation when the production relocates to a more remote area.  (10% of the rainforest loss in Peru has been caused by this.)
  7. The War on Drugs prevents access to essential medicines.  Excessive bureaucracy (through fear of being perceived as soft on drugs) restricts global supplies of opioid medications – meaning a large proportion of cancer and AIDS sufferers worldwide are denied these painkillers.
  8. It fuels violence and secondary crimes – 29,000 lost lives in 2017 in Mexico alone.
  9. It disenfranchises people involved in the drugs trade from the state and its services – for example making them afraid to seek help, such as health care and police protection, in case their drug involvement is discovered.
  10. Finally, to clinch it… if all the above isn’t enough… the amount spent on the War on Drugs each year is $100 billion.  And that’s just the initial spend – it doesn’t include the secondary costs of tackling the problems caused, so the full total is much more.   This compares with the global aid budget of $130 billion. Imagine all the War on Drugs money being used to eradicate poverty rather than create it.

Putting all this together, a case can be made that the War on Drugs isn’t just one of the biggest causes of global poverty, but possibly even the single most significant factor.  

So where is our involvement?  Why are we so silent on the issue?  

If it’s because development voices have been afraid of the controversy (and I think, in truth, that’s probably been part of it), then that’s outdated.  Drug policy reform today presents far more political opportunity than threat. And even if it didn’t, some things are too important to ignore. We’re at our best in Labour when we stand up and speak out for what’s right.

There’s no question that it’s easy to feel frustrated at how slow we’ve been to engage.  But actually, the most logical thing to feel here is incredible excitement!!

Significant change here is highly achievable.  And because there has been so little involvement by the development sector, none of the low hanging fruit have been picked.  

For a start, Labour should commit to moving drug policy responsibility out of the Home Office.  It’s ridiculous that it’s led from there. Instead, Labour should allocate it jointly to the Department of Health and DFID.  That simple change alone will make a vast difference.

Furthermore, Labour should champion the rights of all countries to explore alternative drug policies, as has happened so effectively for example in Bolivia’s coca control programme.  To do this we don’t need to believe that we should reform our drug policies in the UK (although we absolutely should review those too!).  We simply need to believe that countries should have the freedom to make their own choices.  Labour in opposition should provide moral and political support for those wishing to do this – so that countries in the Global South are able to stand up to pressure from the USA and others seeking to prevent them.  And Labour in government should provide them with financial assistance through DFID, along with support for international policy dialogue informed by an increasing global evidence base.

Finally, I’d like to offer an observation.  Having been a development campaigner for many years, I notice that most of our campaigns have tended to originate in the Global North.  It’s not that these haven’t (mostly) been on important issues, and global justice movements throughout the world have often been pleased to be part of them.  But the War on Drugs is one of the very few issues that I’ve been actively, and passionately, lobbied by leaders of the Global South to campaign on.

When we’re selecting our priorities, that last point should make a difference.  If we choose to listen to them and take action, the cause of development can be transformed.  

 

The rise and fall of human rights

Stephen Tunstall, Palestine & Israel Programme Manager for Embrace the Middle East blogs about why Labour should adopt a humans rights focused foreign policy

@SCTunstall

Tony Blair’s famous 1999 Chicago speech set out a foreign policy doctrine to guide Britain through the twenty first century. It makes for a fascinating read in hindsight. Predicting that the biggest decision Britain would have to make in the following twenty years would be its relationship with Europe, it’s as if Blair could foresee a Conservative Foreign Secretary resigning in July 2018 on precisely this issue. Blair finished by warning America not to look inwards or isolate itself from the rest of the world. As President Trump visits the UK, something Blair surely could not have imagined, one wonders what he would have made of that warning had he been listening in 1999.

The Chicago speech gave Britain’s foreign policy a firmly internationalist agenda: “mutual self-interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish…. liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society… that is in our national interests,” Blair proclaimed.

The rhetoric of human rights was an organising principle of Britain’s foreign policy under Labour.  Labour came to power in the post-Cold War years when there was a genuine, albeit naïve, belief that an era of peace and human security would characterise the new international order. I would not attempt to assess how successful Labour actually was in advancing human rights around the world; it was a mixed bag to say the very least. However, human rights served as a frame through which the government considered Britain’s role in an international community.

Fast forward twenty years and Britain’s Prime Minister is quite clear that human rights are not a pillar of her foreign policy. On the surface, Theresa May’s government makes similar overtures about foreign policy – all the talk about Global Britain and desperate pleas for international cooperation to pull us out of a Brexit quagmire. But that’s where the comparison ends. May’s infamous statement that “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere” derided the idea of international solidarity and a common humanity. Her Conservative government prioritises the traditional concerns of nation states, or ‘valuing stability and respecting sovereignty’ in the words of her former advisor, Nick Timothy. Defending humans’ rights is no longer in Britain’s national interest if it risks infringing on states’ sovereignty/impunity (delete as appropriate).

I’ve seen this posture repeatedly manifested in the government’s response to recent events in Palestine and Israel. For the past five years I’ve been working with civil society groups there and witnessed the increasing confidence with which Israel violates the rights of Palestinians with complete impunity. Take Gaza; the illegal 11 year closure of Gaza has had disastrous humanitarian consequences and is an appalling violation of the rights of innocent Palestinians. The recent protests at the heavily fortified fence separating Gaza from Israel and the rest of Palestine culminated in the killing of over 100 unarmed Palestinians and the maiming of thousands more, including children, journalists, and medics.

There are potential policy options which would help protect human rights and secure accountability for violations, but the government has shamefully rejected all of them. It could be working with international partners to reform the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, a supposedly temporary arrangement which restricts the import of essential goods into Gaza. It could be freezing arms sales to Israel because Israel’s use of those arms for internal repression would be in violation of Britain’s own export licenses. Or it could have meant backing a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate claims of war crimes committed in Gaza.

Britain has done none of these things. In fact, it is actively working against efforts to uphold accountability for human rights violations. Just last month, the government confirmed that Britain would automatically vote against any resolution which specifically addressed Israel’s treatment of Palestinians at future sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. May’s government will vote against a resolution even if it is consistent with British policy, for example condemning the stalled demolition of the Khan al Ahmar Bedouin village to make way for illegal settlement expansion.

It is hard to imagine a British government more hostile to human rights protection that the current one. The new Foreign Secretary is not going to change that. While human rights was fashionable in the nineties, it is very much out of favour in the Brexit and Trump world we now inhabit.

So would a Labour government be any better? Jeremy Corbyn is, of course, well known as a staunch supporter of the Palestinians’ struggle against occupation. But Labour, along with the rest of the political and media establishment, is so wedded to the dogma of a two-state solution that its approach is overly state-centric, liable to approach this as a matter of diplomatic policy rather than a human rights emergency. Its most recent manifesto announced that a Labour government will immediately recognise a theoretical state of Palestine. Labour MPs proudly tout this policy, but recognition alone doesn’t address the daily rights violations that make Palestinian lives insufferable.

Labour needs to get human rights back on the foreign policy agenda. Human security must be elevated as a priority informing diplomacy, defence, and development. For too long Britain has shied away from seeking accountability for Israeli rights violations with the excuse that it won’t help the peace process. Well, there is no longer any peace process and a two state solution is not going to happen. Labour needs to realise this and switch to viewing the situation in Palestine and Israel through a human rights lens, with policies to enhance protection for vulnerable communities and international accountability for violations. Not only will this help protect Palestinian lives and livelihoods, it may help the pendulum swing back towards a political culture where human rights are once again a credible foreign policy priority.

British aid and the defence of internationalism

By Pablo Yanguas, Honorary Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, The University of Manchester. Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of LCID. LCID is a strong supporter of the 0.7% aid target and our views on the future of the UK aid budget can be read here.

Britain’s aid system is full of paradoxes. It benefits from a decades-long consensus amongst elites about the intrinsic and instrumental value of aid; it has been afforded billions of pounds to tackle some of the world’s thorniest problems; and it is led by the OECD’s premier bilateral agency, a ministry that often defines the transnational development agenda by combining expertise, accountability, and vision. None of this can be said of any other donor, bilateral or multilateral. And yet DFID’s ecosystem is tragically misunderstood or neglected by the British public; it faces recurrent attacks from tabloid hacks less interested in development than in scoring cheap rhetorical victories; and it is subject to a level of scrutiny and control that can easily stifle creativity and risk-taking.

DFID and the broader UK Aid system are something to be proud of. They are worth fighting for. But the fight to keep Britain’s leadership hangs on the edge of a knife as the aid community faces two existential challenges going forward – one technical, the other political.

In technical terms, the world of aid is getting smaller, and harder. After the uncertain decades of the late 20th century, developing countries have decidedly entered a new phase in their economic, social, human, and political development. Absolute poverty is on the decline, average incomes are rising, private sectors are flourishing, and a new middle class is beginning to feel a deeper sense of ownership over their countries’ destinies. Governments can now find in financial markets the credit that was long denied them. When loans are too costly, grants and other transfers from rising Southern power are matching – and, in some cases, surpassing – traditional ODA flows coming from bilateral donors or international financial institutions.

All of these trends are a net positive for the world, but they do not reach everywhere. There remain still plenty of countries that are too remote, destitute or unsafe for markets to take an interest. Where that neglect overlaps with a lack of geopolitical relevance one finds the intractable places of the world: Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Honduras, or Afghanistan. But more stable and prosperous low- and middle-income countries also face challenges that cannot be met with financial transfers alone. Intractable problems like corruption, market regulation, and public service reform call for savvy technical assistance and coalition-building efforts. These are contentious issues where reform may take decades to come to fruition, due to vested interests or deeply-rooted social norms.

Luckily, a host of committed and creative actors within the aid community – and increasingly the broader development community – have spent the better part of two decades breaking down these challenges, taking an honest look at business as usual, and developing new concepts, frameworks, and modalities for making aid impactful in intractable places or intractable problems. It is a nascent agenda, an inchoate insurgency that cuts across bilateral agencies like DFID and USAID but also think tanks, charities, and private providers. There is no shortage of good ideas, or people willing to test them. What this community lacks, crucially, is political coverage.

It is unclear whether the foreign aid system as we know it can survive in a time of populism. Identity populism has legitimized the moral discrimination between nationals and foreigners, undermining the fundamental humanitarianism that led to the establishment and expansion of the aid system. Economic populism, in turn, has undermined the fundamental internationalism that underpinned the liberal, rules-based world order that emerged from the ashes of World War II. Humane internationalism was for decades the underlying moral vision of foreign aid, in Britain as in other OECD countries. However, the current crisis of public confidence in aid is but a sideshow in a much larger struggle between internationalism and populism.

There is little that the aid community can do by itself to stem the tide of morally and intellectually suspect yet emotionally persuasive populist claims. DFID has defaulted to a reactive modus operandi in which Daily Mail scandals are met with meek press releases. The charity world has internalised a siege mentality that responds to criticism with an impossible commitment to the highest ethical standard, while still peddling the kind of poverty porn that breeds popular resentment and plants the seed of populist backlash. The firms that implement DFID projects around the world are terrified of headlines and reputational costs in a world where accountability is often understood in a strictly contractual sense. And academia has grown increasingly distant from the realities of aid practice, gladly taking ODA funds without bothering to understand the very hand that feeds them. Only ICAI dares to question some of the worst excesses of the aid counterbureaucracy, despite having been set itself to keep an eye on the aid system.

An isolated aid community pins all its hopes on the promise of enlightened leadership. Practitioners yearn for a minister who truly believes in aid, instead of someone for whom a DFID appointment is merely a stepping stone towards better, more important things. They look to Parliament for understanding, succour, and protection. But their insularity has propelled them into a downward spiral, retreating to the safe and comforting camp of Guardian readers, instead of reaching out to fellow internationalists in business, religious congregations, or the free-trade wing of the Conservative movement. It is, by all appearances, a self-defeating strategy. But it is what short-term incentives allow.

Seen in this light, the aid system poses a much larger and more fundamental question for Labour (and the other parties): will our leaders fight to protect and expand the kind of humane internationalism that advances peace, prosperity, equity, and dignity for all? Or will they bow down to our worst instincts, let Britain sleepwalk into a new era of populism, and thereby jeopardise one of the world’s best aid systems?

LCID welcomes focus on inequality in new Labour policy paper on international development

The Labour Party has a proud history of internationalism. From the establishment of the Ministry of Overseas Development in 1964 to the creation of the Department for International Development in 1997, Labour has shown time and again that internationalism is in our DNA. We have always fought for justice and equality at home and abroad, and we must continue to do so. It’s one of the reason why so many are drawn to Labour in the first place.

As a party, we should be proud of what we have achieved. But we must also look ahead to what the next Labour government can do to not only reduce poverty around the world but also reduce inequality – both within and across nations.

Today, the Labour Campaign for International Development welcomes the new Labour paper on the future of international development policy, launched today by Kate Osamor MP, Shadow Secretary of State.

The paper sets out 5 key priority areas for the next Labour government;

  1. A fairer global economy
  2. A global movement for public services
  3. A feminist approach to development
  4. Building peace and preventing conflict
  5. Action for climate justice and ecology

The aim is that all of these will be achieved through the twin action of tackling not just poverty, but also addressing inequality. We know that during conflict or crises, women and girls are hit the hardest; open to exploitation, gender-based violence, and a high risk of early, forced and child marriage to ensure families have enough money to survive. And it is not just women and girls who can fall through the cracks by not tackling inequality, but other marginalised groups – such as those living with disabilities, in the LGBTQ+ community, and those living in refugee camps to name a few. We have long called for a focus on reducing inequality, and it is great to see a number of these things included in this paper – from focusing on the Palma Ratio, to restoring aid funding to public health and education, to creating a Centre for Universal Health Coverage.

For each of the five priorities set out in the paper, Labour will take action not only through DFID – but by working with other government departments and international partners. A whole government approach to development is to be welcomed, and is one of the priorities LCID set out in our submission to the task force.

We are engaging with the shadow development team and were pleased to see that a number of policy demands we’ve been calling for, particularly on inequality, tax and universal health care, made it into their recent policy paper.

One area where greater clarification is needed is regarding the future of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. The CSSF currently helps fund the White Helmets, who are are strong supporters of (raising funds for them at our Christmas fundraiser), so we would like to see UK aid funding for them continued under any future Labour government (should the terrible conflict in Syria still be dragging on).

We must be realistic. A policy paper is not a new dawn. A new dawn will only come when we have a Labour government. But this policy paper is a good place to start. The Labour Party must now join together – from the PLP, to socialist societies, to the Trade Unions, to its members in each and every constituency, and to all voters to ensure that our vision for a fair and just world is recognised and bought in to by all.

What you can do:

  1. Join LCID and help us campaign for a fair and just world
  2. If you re a Member of Parliament or a member of a CLP and would like to arrange a talk at a member meeting please get in touch
  3. Let us know if you would like to get involved in LCID

LCID Submission to the Labour International Development Task Force

Labour has always fought for justice and equality for all both at home and abroad. That must continue. Whilst the world has changed and remains in constant flux, one thing remains constant: Labour values of cooperation and internationalism are the ones to guide us in a globalised world. This submission presents seven areas of priority for Labour’s International Development team.

1. A whole Government approach

Britain’s role in the world – and our ability to reduce inequality and help people, communities and countries lift themselves out of poverty and fulfil their rights – is about so much more than aid, and stretches beyond what Labour’s flagship Department for International Development (DFID) is able to achieve on its own.

LCID believes in a pro-rights, pro-equality and multilateralist approach to development that not only lifts people out of poverty but fundamentally redistributes power and addresses structural injustices. Aid remains central – but we need to look beyond it. To do this, we need to mainstream global social justice across UK Government policy.

Policy coherence matters on two levels: within our aid policy and across all UK Government policies that have a global impact. Policy coherence has to begin with coherence of objective. If coherence of objective is achieved then, with the right mechanisms in place, coherence of delivery will follow. That is the only way to ensure that we do not entrench poverty with one hand whilst trying to relieve it with the other. An open, globally-minded Britain should aim to be a development superpower.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can only be achieved with a cross-government approach and ensuring all goals are seen as cross-cutting and not in silos. In prioritising some SDGs over others, there is a risk that governments, private sector companies and other stakeholders adopt a ‘pick and choose’ approach. Further to a cross-departmental approach to the SDGs the UK must ensure it is delivering the SDGs for the many and not the few, ensuring that no-one is left behind.

A Labour Government must:

  • Ensure that all policies – on trade, tax, immigration, defence, energy, climate change, foreign policy alliances and growth – are ‘pro-development’.
  • Create a cross-departmental working group to monitor the implementation and success of delivery against the SDGs both at home and abroad, creating a national plan for the UK to deliver from at home.

2. Quality of Aid Spending

Whilst aid is just one of the ways in which a Labour government can help people, communities and countries lift themselves out of poverty, it is imperative that Labour continues to make the case for aid. Since the 0.7% target was enshrined in law, it has come under constant attack and there have been numerous attempts to divert aid money for domestic purposes, and to spend aid money through departments other than DFID.

A Labour Government must:

  • Ensure that we maintain our global leadership position on aid, spending 0.7% of GNI on eradicating extreme poverty and delivering our life-saving support through an independent Department for International Development.
  • Ensure DFID’s poverty reduction mandate is protected with no resumption of tying aid to British commercial interests or diversion of funding to subsidise the Ministry of Defence.

3. Ethical Foreign Policy

Labour is an internationalist party with a proud record of fighting injustices around the world, from supporting Indian independence, to the anti-apartheid struggle, to leading action to protect civilians in Sierra Leone and Kosovo. We must learn from the many successes and failures of our foreign policy decisions. Every situation is different, but we must always be guided by our internationalist principles and by our international obligations such as the Responsibility To Protect Civilians, which we signed up to with each and every government in the U.N. in 2005.

This principle acknowledges that when a government either wilfully fails to protect the security of its citizens, or is unable to do so, the international community has a clear obligation to intervene, choosing timely and decisive action from a wide range of approaches, including diplomatic means, sanctions and in the most extreme cases, military operations.

Through our development work and following any direct interventions we will always stand ready to support communities and countries to rebuild with a long term development plan to secure safety, stability and prosperity for their people. The merits of any actions we take or decline to take must always be carefully considered and scrutinised, recognising that both action and inaction are a choice and each has a consequence. The lessons of Iraq will be important in those considerations – so too must be the lessons of Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Syria. The next Labour Government must make the case for an ethical foreign policy and champion a progressive approach to humanitarian intervention.

A Labour Government must:

  • Uphold the 2005 UN Responsibility to Protect Civilians agreement, and the Arms Trade Treaty.

4. Trade Post-Brexit

Trade is one of the most effective way to lift millions of people out of poverty, and making trade fair should therefore be a key priority for any Labour Government. At a minimum, we must ensure our post-Brexit trade agreements with economically vulnerable countries build on the current trade agreements that exist between the EU and these countries.

A Labour Government must:

  • Offer a non-reciprocal preference scheme for imports from economically vulnerable countries immediately upon Britain’s exit of the EU.

5. Tax

Tax dodging is a major global issue that hits poor countries harder than anywhere – caused primarily by the arrangements that multinationals have to shift profits away from the developing countries where the profit-making activities take place. Tax avoidance by multinational companies costs developing countries around $200 billion every year according to an IMF paper, and tax havens cost developing countries at least $100 billion a year according to UNCTAD.

A Labour Government must:

  • Review all UK tax policies to ensure they do not undermine global agreements, are fair to poor countries, and consistent with the UK’s development objectives. For example, George Osborne’s changes to the Controlled Foreign Companies Rules in 2012 cost developing countries enormously. These changes should be reversed and all future UK tax policy changes should be reviewed in terms of their impact on developing countries.
  • Push for public country-by-country reporting of tax information by multinational companies within 2 years, either multilaterally, or if that fails, unilaterally.
  • Ensure that all UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies finally adopt public registers of who owns which companies and trusts registered there within one year of entering government.

6. Brexit and Development Funding

EU funding for development and humanitarian crises has had a major impact on poverty reduction around the world. UK support to EU instruments, such as Europe’s ECHO humanitarian fund and the European Development Fund (EDF), both of which received good scores in the Government’s own Multilateral Development Review, enables it to reach and support vulnerable people who would not otherwise have access to vital assistance. UK based NGOs also received €356.9m of new commitments from EU funds in 2016.

Beyond a funding relationship the UK and aid sector has had a leading influence on the EU’s approach to development. The effectiveness of UK Aid is in part a result of this close working and it has helped to drive up the effectiveness and transparency of EU aid and in pushing member states to meet the 0.7% of GNI to ODA commitment.

Participation of non-Member States in the EU’s development and humanitarian funds does currently take place and therefore could be replicated for the UK after it leaves the European Union. In the case of Switzerland, Transfer agreement delegated cooperation rules and EU Trust Fund legal mechanisms permits them to channel their ODA via EU funds and programmes and to participate in policy discussions and decisions.

A Labour Government must:

  • Continue a relationship with EU funding instruments and seek to adopt a Switzerland style agreement to ensure the UK can still work with EU institutions to guide programme and policy discussions and decisions.

 

 

Aid should remain focused on the world’s poorest

Our reaction to the Penny Mordaunt’s call to spend UK aid “in the national interest”:

Penny Mordaunt is right to praise the generosity of the UK public, who want our aid budget to be spent on the people who need it the most. Therefore, her call to reshape our aid to address UK interests is not only a betrayal of the public’s generosity, it also threatens to weaken public support for aid.

In speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Penny Mordaunt said that “For me the bar we need to set on aid spending is not just are we spending this money well, but could we spend it better in the national interest”. This agenda directly contravenes UK legislative requirements on aid which require all UK aid to be driven by the goal of supporting poverty reduction.

Penny Mordaunt also suggests there are simple win-win outcomes from directing aid to the UK’s national interest. However, she is not being straight with the UK public. There is already evidence that new programmes – overseen by the Foreign Office – to develop commercial relationships with the likes of Argentina, Chile, Malaysia and Turkey are leading to cuts in aid to the poorest countries.

Penny Mordaunt must immediately get on with her job of securing the development and poverty focus of our aid budget, as demanded by the UK public and UK legislation.