Thousands Hold Largest Anti-Poverty Lobby in UK

Around 8,000 campaigners gathered outside the British Parliament last Wednesday, urging the U.K. government and world leaders to respect trade justice as a strategy to tackle world poverty.

Around 8,000 campaigners gathered outside the British Parliament last Wednesday, urging the U.K. government and world leaders to respect trade justice as a strategy to tackle world poverty.

The mass lobby on Nov. 2, which the organizer – MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY – called the "largest lobby of MPs in 2005", took place between noon and 6 p.m. Representatives of faith-based organizations, NGOs and the general public from all over the country were among the crowd.

In the run up to the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference to be held in Hong Kong next month, campaigners aim to send a final call to the U.K. Government and the European Union (EU), demanding them to formulate fair trade policies as to protect the economies of poor countries and effectively lift them out from poverty.

According to a statement from the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY, the U.K. Government and EU are urged to stop forcing free trade on poor countries by pushing them to open their economies. Moreover, they should respect the right of poor countries to decide on the best trade policies that will help end poverty and provide social welfare such as water, health and education.

Tearfund, an Anglican charity that is part of the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY coalition, sent a team of supporters to join the lobby. Tearfund supporter Norman Berrill and his wife Janet said in a statement that they were there “to voice our objection to the way world trade is run.

“The campaigning of ordinary people before the G8 Summit was one step forward,” they added. “Unless we take actions like this lobbying today nothing will change."

Ahead of the G8 summit in July, MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY launched a huge rally at Gleneagles, Edinburgh, urging the world’s eight richest industrialized countries to take action against world poverty. Debt cancellation, provision of more and better aid as well as reinforcement of trade justice in poor countries were the three suggested solutions.

However, world leaders appear to remain reluctant to change trade policies, the rally organizers stated, even though certain proposals for debt cancellation and doubling international aid were announced. Campaigners therefore remain determined to push for change.

According to a statement from Trade Justice Movement (TJM), over 600,000 people in the UK have already added their support to the Vote for Trade Justice, a special ballot calling on the Government to urgently deliver a just trade deal for the world’s poor.

Glen Tarman of TJM said, "The UK and the EU will remain obstacles to trade justice unless they make urgent changes to their position on non-agricultural goods and services and the aggressive stance of our trading bloc in WTO negotiations."

"If we are to make poverty history through trade justice, the Government must respond and act now to stop free trade being imposed on any poor country," Tarman added.

Many aid agencies have warned of the impact of inappropriate liberalization of the market in developing countries, which has directly impoverished the societies.

"For example Indian silk weavers and sari makers' livelihoods being destroyed by cheaper imports from abroad and in some cases lives being lost,” MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY quoted Ruchi Tripathi, Head of Food Rights for ActionAid UK as saying. “We are heading for a development disaster unless rich countries allow poor countries to protect their industries and people."

John Hilary, Director of Campaigns and Policy at War on Want, also stated, "At this 11th hour of the talks, we need the government to ensure developing countries are allowed to protect their industries, farmers and services."

According to Tearfund, the mass lobby on Wednesday started with a prayer service in Westminster Central Hall, where Jeremy Jennings, director of prayer at Holy Trinity Brompton Church, said that justice was "at the heart of the character of God" and that "prayer was a powerful weapon in the fight against oppression, poverty, exploitation and injustice."

Andy Atkins, Director of Advocacy at Tearfund also encouraged the congregation to pray for members of parliament.

The message of the mass lobby in London is expected to be echoed across Europe as national governments are lobbied by ordinary citizens for more just trading rules. On Nov. 21, there will be a European wide lobby in Brussels, which coincide with a preparation gathering of trade ministers from the 25 EU nations to finalize the EU’s negotiating position at the WTO in December.

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