Mary Creagh

Working hard for Wakefield

Speech to Soroptimist International Yorkshire Regional Conference

It would be easy in the current climate of political frustration and cynicism to turn away from addressing the world’s most intractable problems.

To say now is not the time for global ambition, especially on international development.

I disagree.

Social justice and human rights are central British values.

The world today is globalised and connected: we will tackle climate change, terrorism, economic shocks and disease outbreaks together. Or we will not tackle them at all.

Our commitment to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable is not just morally right, it is in Britain’s national interest.

In September 2015, in New York, the United Nations agreed the replacement to the Millennium Development Goals.

The 17 new Sustainable Development Goals are an ambitious plan to transform our world by 2030.

They set minimum standards for everyone, from ending poverty, hunger and violence to protecting our oceans and forests.

Two ideas are central: that they apply evenly to everyone everywhere.

And that no one is left behind.

They are not just a challenge for international development; we have to implement them here at home.

As the Chair of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, I want to talk today about how we can work together to achieve those goals.

We will do it through addressing three huge challenges: first, tackling conflict; second, tackling inequality; and third by working in partnership with civil society and the private sector.

First, by tackling conflict.

As the former chair of a Parliamentary group on genocide prevention I have visited some of the most challenging countries on earth: Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, South Sudan, which are both now falling back into civil war.

Last September, I visited Lebanon to see the front line of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Working with Birmingham-based charity Islamic Relief, I met men, women and children who had fled Assad’s barrel bombs and Daesh’s nihilistic jihadi brutality.

Iman, a 65-year-old grandmother from Aleppo, told me how she was imprisoned by Assad’s regime for more than two weeks.

She had returned from Lebanon to Syria after her son was killed to rescue her five grandchildren.

She was living with them in a shack made of breeze blocks, cardboard and plastic sheeting on rocky land generously donated by a Lebanese man.

I met Hadia, whose husband, a Red Cross volunteer, was killed by a bomb. Four of her children are still trapped in Homs.

The United Nations had offered to take her and her younger children to Germany. She refused, because her mum could not go with her.

At a church north of Beirut, I witnessed Islamic and Christian charities working together to help Christians in need.

I met Imad, who lost an eye when terrorists blew up his café in Baghdad.

And Yousif, who fled Mosul with his four children when Islamic state took over his city.

One man said he was grateful for the food aid, but told me "education is more important than food".

I promised these refugees I would share their stories to help people in Britain understand why they fled their homes.

The people I met are refugees, not economic migrants.

This is the great exodus of our age.

In autumn 2014, Lebanon was receiving 10,000 Syrian refugees a day.

That's more than the total number of refugees from all countries that Britain accepted in the whole of 2014.

David Cameron’s promise to take 20,000 refugees by 2020 is a welcome U-turn.

As is his U-turn on accepting 3000 unaccompanied child refugees from European countries.

But his five-year timescale is simply too long for desperate people to wait.

Having escaped the twin evils of Assad and Daesh/ Isis, the refugees I met deserve a second chance at life.

This Government must take the lead internationally and focus on the difficult tasks of peacebuilding and nation-building.

Our huge second challenge: Britain should lead the global fight against inequality.

Inequality matters.

Nearly half of the world’s wealth belongs to just one per cent of the world’s population.

But inequality is about more than money.

Gender, caste, race, community, disability, religion, and ethnicity – too often these are the things that determine your life chances.

If more is not done to protect the most vulnerable people, countries can never fully develop.

I believe the UK should export our knowledge and know-how to tackle inequality in key three areas:

Human rights, climate change and universal health coverage.

Why human rights?

Basic human rights are essential to be free to develop fully..

Women and girls must be free from the fear of violence, coercion or intimidation; and have the freedom to choose who they marry and how many children they have.

We want girls to have the same chances as boys: to enjoy their education, free from the threat of forced marriage and rape.

And we want LGBT communities to be free to love and marry whom they wish, the disabled to participate fully in society and protection for indigenous peoples.

Why climate change?

Because although Climate change affects rich countries, as the wildfires in Canada show,  we know that it hits the poorest hardest.

Eradicating poverty will only be possible if we tackle climate change.

If we do not cap temperature rises below two degrees then millions of people will fall back into poverty.

At the Paris talks, the United States, the EU and, most importantly, China, have all shown a willingness to act.

We need global targets to reduce carbon emissions, with regular reviews towards the long-term goal of what the science now tells us is necessary.

Zero net global emissions in the latter half of this century.

If we fail, more countries will suffer the destruction of flooding and drought.

Our children will inherit an unstable, unpredictable planet.

Why healthcare? Because Ebola has shown that the best way to protect against disease is to build a resilient, government funded health service.

Good Health is the bedrock of development.

As the country that invented the NHS we want others to enjoy the protections that we take for granted.

Ensuring everyone in the world has access to affordable healthcare is essential to end poverty.

It is not right that three million people die every year from preventable illnesses.

It is not right that last year there were 1.5 million AIDS-related deaths when we have treatments that could have saved those lives.

Three-quarters of those living in low-income countries lack access to decent healthcare.

Can you imagine living in a country where you had to choose debt or bankruptcy to access lifesaving cancer treatment?

And while I support the help our government has given to the Ebola crisis, the best way to protect against disease is to build a resilient, government controlled and government funded health service.

The World Health Organisation has calculated that Universal Health Coverage would stop one hundred million people a year from falling into poverty.

Yet there is no simple, off the peg solution to help countries that want to set up a health service.

Lasting healthcare systems are about more than the delivery of commodities like vaccines and bednets, vital though they are.

We have seen the devastation that a failure to strengthen health systems leads to.

With no treatment, and no vaccine, we had no option but to watch health-systems in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea all but collapse during the Ebola outbreak.

The World Health Organisation, the World Bank and countries like France and Japan are all clear that UHC is the right direction to move in.

Britain needs to catch up. We can lead the world in this area.

My third huge challenge is to ensure the private sector fully contributes to the success of developing countries.

Because without a thriving economy, without small and medium sized enterprises, and without long-term investment by the private sector: there will never be a world without aid.

Businesses are vital to eradicating poverty and inequality.

But companies make choices about how they operate. We want them to make the right choices.

The right choice to treat workers with dignity and respect.

The right choice to ensure supply chains are ethical and sustainable.

And the right choice to pay tax where they operate.

There is no better route out of poverty than a job.

But not just any job.

Not work that enslaves people.

Not work that keeps children out of school, trapped  in poverty.

There are 168 million child workers.  A scar on the conscience of the world.

Some performing backbreaking work on family farms.

Some are sold into prostitution.

Others sew sequins onto clothes for pennies.

Every 15 seconds a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease

That’s over two million people a year.

We remember the Rana Plaza disaster.

1,200 people killed - many making clothes for British shoppers.

We must have no more fashion victims.

Workers must have access to decent work, decent pay and rest breaks, and the freedom to join a trade union.

The right to negotiate pay and conditions must be universal.

The last Labour government set up the Ethical Trading Initiative to encourage industry to work with unions and NGOs better to understand and address workers’ rights issues.

The ETI now has 84 members who employ over 10 million workers.

And in opposition, Labour MPs have strengthened the Modern Slavery bill.

We secured mandatory reporting by companies of what they are doing to eradicate slavery in their supply chains.

Companies know that they need to make the right choices to have supply chains that are environmentally and socially sustainable.

And given 200 companies account for around a tenth of the world’s output - their improvements can quickly have a large impact.

A national approach to supply chains is not enough in a globalised world.

We need to follow supply chains across borders.

Businesses know that if they don’t have sustainability at the core of their business then they don’t have a sustainable business.

The public cares about how their food is made.

They need the tools to know about how their clothes and gadgets are made.

The horse meat scandal showed us the scale and complexity of modern supply chains.

The desire for quick profits in the mining, oil and timber trades has left developing countries worse off.

Their natural resources forever depleted with no benefits for citizens.

In the worst cases resource extraction fuelled conflict.

In government Labour established the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to shine a light onto companies’ oil, gas and mineral operations.

Because nobody wants a blood diamond on their engagement ring.

And Governments must work together on taxation and tackling corruption, in the news again this week.

Only when countries have a tax base that enables them to provide basic public goods - health, education and the rule of law - will the private sector thrive.

States need the capacity to enact and enforce modern tax laws and to collect tax revenues.

In government, Labour showed what is possible.

Working in partnership with the Government of Rwanda, we invested £20m to create the Rwandan Revenue Authority.

In its first year it collected £60 million pounds, three times our initial investment.

In 2014 it collected £713 million pounds - over £2m pounds a day.

DFID must do more to assist developing countries to ensure companies pay their taxes.

This means tackling corruption, and stopping race-to-the bottom tax competition.

In government Labour acted with cross party support to bring in the Bribery Act to tackle corruption.

We made it a crime to bribe, to be bribed and to bribe foreign public officials.

This has forced companies to audit their activities and has changed the way companies behave around the world.

Tax evasion costs both the British economy and developing countries billions of pounds.

Developing countries lose three times as much every year in tax receipts as they receive in combined global aid.

This scandal is why Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, has led a High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows with the African Union and UN.

This week, Baroness Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, has set out her plans to form a new Commonwealth Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform.

This new network of lawyers, bankers, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies will help the smaller countries in the 53-nation Commonwealth to improve their laws and practices, including parliamentary checks against executive corruption.

Under the plans, agencies operating in Commonwealth countries may need to prove they are meeting anti-corruption standards to get access to aid and loans.

African leaders are sending a clear signal that they plan to clamp down on the loss of $50bn dollars of tax revenues a year from Africa.

The UK government should introduce a public country-by-country reporting format on a unilateral basis.

We should compel the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to stop companies hiding behind a wall of secrecy.

The private sector is essential to development.

It is time for companies to put corporate social responsibility at the heart of their boards, and to make the right choices on workers, supply chains and taxation..

So let me conclude by saying this

Over the next 15 years we must address those three huge challenges:  preventing conflict;  tackling inequality in human rights, health and climate change; and encouraging a new approach to sustainability from the private sector.

I know that you share that hope, that vision for a better world.

Ours is the generation that can end extreme poverty, reduce inequality and tackle climate change.

I firmly believe that we need to work with our friends and neighbours to tackle these challenges, and so I will be voting for the UK to remain in the EU on June 23rd.

We can move to a world beyond aid, and enable people to secure justice instead of charity.

We need for the world to think bigger and do better – for ourselves, our children and the world’s poorest people.

That is a thrilling opportunity. We must not let them 

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