‘We must not turn our back on the people who most need our help’
THE power of the Fairtrade concept has always inspired me, right from the time when I first encountered it some time early in my teens. It’s the idea that you might not need charity to improve the lives of the world’s most disadvantaged people – because you can do so just by buying products that have been purchased at fair prices, from workers who’ve been paid fair wages, in a work environment that is at least reasonably safe and dignified.
Your simple choices of tea or chocolate can help to change the lives of people half-way around the world. My best friend and I set up an impromptu tuck-shop at school to try to help promote it.
Fifteen years later, it’s no less inspiring than it was then.
Doing the round of the wedding fayres earlier this month, my beloved and I both pounced on the idea of Fairtrade Gold for our wedding rings.
It also matters to me professionally. The Overseas Aid & Development Commission now leads on Fairtrade issues for the States of Guernsey and our ethos of ‘a hand up, not a hand out’ – promoting sustainable development by providing people with opportunities to earn a decent living, as well as through better health, education and basic infrastructure – fits well with the Fairtrade idea. Over the next two weeks, local events to mark Fairtrade Fortnight will be a helpful reminder of the life-changing impact it can have for some of the world’s poorest producers.
But, of course, there are many things that cannot be fixed by trade alone. The most disadvantaged communities the world over are still in need of international development support. Development work matters – so I have to pause and acknowledge what a dispiriting few days it’s been for all of us who care about it. When you choose to give aid, you expect it to make a positive difference. You don’t expect to hear that some aid workers have been exploiting the people they should have been helping – abusing their power and betraying your trust at the same time.
The worst possible outcome of the current scandal would be for donors to turn away from international development. The outrage is that people who should have been helped were harmed instead. That doesn’t change their fundamental need for assistance, or our duty to give it. Theresa May was quick to acknowledge that, reaffirming the UK’s commitment to its international aid target. In the same way as serious failures in a hospital or a care home would lead to reforms of the care sector, with much more emphasis on standards and training – so the international development sector will now need to go through a similar process of reform. Restoring confidence in the sector will be a long and painful process but, throughout it all, we must not turn our back on the people who most need our help.
Meanwhile, at home, we’ve all gone rather off-script. It’s mid-term syndrome, I think. There’s a period that runs through most of 2018 and into the early months of 2019 where we are far enough into the States’ term for new members to have learnt how to make policy effectively and far enough away from the next election that people aren’t yet too worried about how they will be judged in 2020. It’s peak productivity time for the States, and time for some bold, perhaps even brave, decision-making.
In fact, I’d say that mid-term syndrome kicked in relatively early in this States’ term, with the two- or three-schools debate. Deputies Matt Fallaize, Richard Graham, Rhian Tooley and Mark Dorey have been installed – along with Deputy Peter Roffey – as the new Committee for Education, Sport & Culture, tasked with putting into practice the alternative model, which they designed. The proof of the pudding will be their success or otherwise in doing so. But it’s worth recognising the significance of what has already happened. States members who don’t like Deputy Fallaize caricature him as rule-bound – more obsessed with dotting Is and crossing Ts than with matters of substance. But he has just driven through one of the most substantial policy changes in a generation and won the support of two-thirds of the States in the process.
That’s no small feat. It shows a far higher degree of effort and effectiveness than most States members can lay claim to. And leaving aside the specifics of the Education debate, it reflects something important in general terms as well. What we saw happen in January was the triumph of a proposal based on research evidence and practical professional recommendations, put together by deputies, from four very different political perspectives, applying their own intellect rather than relying on papers written by officers. I found that positive and reinvigorating – a reminder that States members can play a very hands-on role in shaping and communicating policy, and that the States can be persuaded to do the right thing, however controversial it may seem.
Consciously or not, I think most States members realise that now is the time to focus on pushing for the changes they want to see this term.
That’s why we’re about to plunge into a debate about assisted dying – a serious, emotionally and ethically fraught issue which will bring out powerful arguments on all sides.
It’s why issues such as changing our policy on drugs, which have slowly been building a head of steam for a while, are beginning to come to the fore in political discourse.
It’s probably also why political movements are starting to form – although the ‘Charter 2018’, the only one that has fully surfaced so far, has yet to present its big policy idea. To be fair, their membership is, in general, drawn from the most deeply conservative ranks of the States, so it’s unsurprising if their focus is on stopping change rather than making it happen. But, beyond that, there is a sense of possibility in the air, and – although any member of the public will say it has taken far too long to get here – States members are beginning to grab at it and see what they can do. It ought to be an interesting year.