What's wrong with Make Poverty History?

While Make Poverty History might have started as a charity-based campaign independent from the government (with some trade union involvement), it has been quickly and effectively colon-ised. Brown and Blair have been incredibly successful in exploiting this 'deflected humanism' for their own political ends. The July 2 demonstration in Edinburgh has now taken on a totally different character - what started as a protest event looks like becoming almost a celebration of the British government (though there are quite a few radical elements planning to gatecrash the party). Undoubtedly, we will be hearing many speakers in Edinburgh who will praise Gordon Brown and simply echo his calls for even more aid, even more debt cancellation and a bit more trade justice. The problem is, that is exactly where the demands of MPH end. So uncontroversial is the campaign that everybody can take part: the Tories are praising it, Tony Blair wears a white wristband and the Daily Mirror has been carrying 'Make Poverty History' as its subtitle for the last few weeks. Not only is it uncontroversial - it is the latest bandwagon many companies are keen to exploit. Like concern for the environment before it, corporate social responsibility is the latest bestseller - including amongst those companies who are making obscene profits by exploiting workers in the 'developing' world. A number of fashion companies were eager to get their names on a special edition of the wristband, which is being sold by clothing and shoe shops owned by the Scottish multi-millionaire business tycoon, Tom Hunter. Apart from the normal MPH logo, they are also stamped with those of six global fashions brands, including the controversial Hilfiger Denim, owned by Tommy Hilfiger Corporation. "Back in October 2003, the company was accused by labour rights campaigners of cutting and running from its responsibilities to workers when evidence was uncovered of labour abuses at the Tarrant blue jean factory in Ajalpan, Mexico," reports the Sunday Star on June 5, in a story that has since been covered by Red Pepper. The demands of MPH were kept to an absolute minimum in order to keep the campaign broad: more aid, fair trade and debt cancellation. The questions of democracy, transparency or control over aid from below were consciously excluded. Instead, the MPH Manifesto demands that "aid should support poor countries and communities' own plans and paths out of poverty "¦ And aid needs to be made predictable, so that poor countries can plan effectively and take control of their own budgets in the fight against poverty" (www.makepovertyhistory.org.uk). Of course, all conditions imposed by the IMF and similar institutions must be scrapped. But MPH's proposal is not much better: by demanding aid 'without strings', it gives total control to ruling elites - thereby challenging none of the structural inequalities that lie at the root of poverty. That is why we do want strings attached - our strings: all aid given must be open to scrutiny. Trade unions, workers' and peasant organisations should insist on the right to supervise the distribution of aid. Tina Becker Related articles: * Historic con trick * Aid, debt and fair trade * Six months after the tsunami * What's wrong with Live8?