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5.19 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I warmly welcome this debate and thank the Department for International Development for its two very fine White Papers. In one sense, this debate is poorly timed, coming, as it does, at the end of the Parliament--we are all rather frustrated that it did not come earlier--but in another it is well timed, because the May day demonstration on Tuesday should have highlighted to the rest of the country and of the world what we in this Chamber are about. Unfortunately, the media seemed to be searching for a riot. Every time I turned on the television, the media were waiting for a riot to develop, but it never came.

I have a suggestion for the demonstrators and the police. We could save all the money and spend it on development causes if the demonstrators and the police would each nominate a small group. The two groups could then execute a modern morris dance in Trafalgar square, with wooden planks, instead of staves, and riot helmets. That would be a token demonstration of the protesters' point, because we all know that they have a valid one. It has not been said often enough this afternoon that globalisation is exploiting poor people and the environment, and trying to make us all the same the world over--all eating burgers, wielding mobile phones and drinking coke.

In an editorial, The Times mentioned a banner waved by the demonstrators that said, "Replace capitalism with something nice". I asked myself whether communism was

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nice. It was tried, and it did not last because the people who lived under it did not think that it was nice. Is the primitive life style nice? The Victorians spoke of noble savages, living in their wonderful villages and engaging in subsistence farming to try to stay alive. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) mentioned Gladstone's hill villages of Afghanistan in a debate last week. If anyone is interested in globalisation and needs inspiration, I refer them to my right hon. Friend's speech. I am only sorry that the official Opposition missed it, because it was an extraordinarily good speech--

Mrs. Gillan: I was there.

Dr. Tonge: Apart from two Front Benchers, the Conservatives missed it totally.

Mr. Leigh: The hon. Lady's colleagues are missing her speech.

Dr. Tonge: It has been handed round to them. I have visited villages in India and Bangladesh and across sub-Saharan Africa. In southern Sudan, people want peace more than anything, but they do not see their previous life style of crop growing and cattle grazing as especially nice. It was grinding slavery just to keep alive. In all the places I have mentioned, globalisation of communication has occurred; people know now what our capitalist life style is like, and they think it is much nicer than theirs. The villagers of India and Bangladesh want their fridges and cars. The people of southern Sudan would accept decent housing and a few roads for a start. To them, capitalism looks nice, and they do not want it replaced by anything else until they have sampled it.

I have tried to point out to people terrible working conditions, including the use of child and slave labour, filth and disease in the workplace, and the destruction of the environment by mineral extraction and the cutting down of forests, but they ask me, "Who are you to criticise us? Sorry, British people, but your country became rich in the 19th century on the backs of the poor at home and abroad."

I originally hale from the black country and if I had enough time I would read out passages from J. B. Priestley's "English Journey", which describes that area, just before our lifetimes, as a hell hole.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East): Read it!

Dr. Tonge: With that encouragement, I will. Priestley said:

He added:

He spoke of the area's

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That is very familiar to me. We did that here, so who are we to criticise people abroad who want to get rich?

The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) accused Tuesday's demonstrators of mindless chanting, but they are right to be worried about globalisation and the activities of the multinationals. Those activities often benefit people in this country, and a few people in the developing countries who are already rich, but no benefit accrues to the poor in those countries.

The multinationals, of course, disagree. They produce wonderful, glossy brochures extolling their own virtues. They say that they would not dream of disobeying OECD guidelines on the environment and labour standards. However, NGOs and representatives from countries all over the developing world frequently tell me stories of exploitation and destruction allegedly carried out by British companies.

Sometimes it is worth naming names, and this debate is one such occasion. I shall use the word "allegedly", even though I am in the House of Commons. Weir Pumps and Rolls-Royce are accused of contributing indirectly to the terrible civil war in southern Sudan, where people were killed, abducted, enslaved and murdered. BP is claimed to have been involved with paramilitary organisations to protect its oil interests in Colombia. Shell's involvement in Nigeria is legendary, as is Nestle's promotion of baby formula in Africa and India.

Chocolate manufacturers everywhere--Cadbury, Nestle, and Thornton--are alleged to have used child slave labour. Rio Tinto's exploits in south-east Asia offer numerous examples of bad practice. Other stories circulate about Balfour Beatty's involvement in the Ilisu dam project. Supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury's are alleged to use third-world countries to grow foods and flowers for the western market.

The list goes on, but I stress that these are allegations. The multinationals tell a different story. I have mentioned their brochures, which describe their aims and their missions to educate and treat the sick as part of their projects. Members of the Select Committee on International Development have seen those projects. I recall the model clothes factory in Bangladesh making clothes for Gap. In that factory, the Department for International Development was providing health care for the women. We were troubled about that at the time, but good practice does exist.

I am sure that the Select Committee was shown the best examples, but hon. Members are not easily fooled and we know that that was not the whole truth, unfortunately. Local managers in developing countries cut costs to attract more multinational investment, and they will do so by exploiting people and the environment. Because OECD guidelines and WTO regulations are not legally binding, the multinationals will continue to turn a blind eye for the sake of profits for their shareholders.

Clare Short: I am not saying that there are not some multinationals that exploit, especially in the mining and extraction sector, but the standard of jobs offered by multinationals in agricultural sourcing and textile

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production, for instance, in developing countries across the world is greater than what is otherwise available in those countries. We want improvement, but those people need investment. A million young women in Dhaka work in the textile industry who previously lived in rural areas and had no income. It must not be suggested that such investments do not bring benefits, because they do.

Dr. Tonge: The Secretary of State must not think that I am condemning all multinational companies, but NGOs and others constantly report examples of multinationals not following good practice, and of people being exploited.

I remember a wonderful film on television called "Mangetout"--everyone must have seen it. People in Zimbabwe--or perhaps it was Tanzania--went up and down the mangetout plantations singing something like, "Up the hillsides, down the valleys, Tesco is our greatest friend." They sang that little song as they picked the mangetouts. They were happy and well cared for; it was a good project. I am not suggesting that all is bad.

What can we do about the deficiencies that used to exist in our country and now exist in other parts of the world in the name of economic growth? How effective are we in our own policies? As the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) asked, how joined-up is our policy? We have no criticism of the Department for International Development. It has made tremendous strides and produced two White Papers. There have been other positive steps such as the cross-departmental initiative to combat conflict in Africa. That is excellent stuff. The export credit guarantee review is being carried out, and efforts on debt relief are being made with the co-operation of the Chancellor. Again, that is all wonderful stuff. A draft export controls Bill will be introduced in the next Parliament. I welcome greatly the pre-Budget support for the vaccines for TB, malaria and AIDS. However, the co-operation of other Departments, which is so essential, seems to be lacking.

The Department for International Development did not sign the annual report on human rights this year, having done so for the past two years. It is not a permanent member of the Cabinet Committee on Defence and Overseas Policy. I think that it should be--after all, as DFID cleans up all the mess, the Secretary of State should be a member of that Cabinet Committee.

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