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Don't Chicken Out on Trade Justice
Jenny Ricks informs us about THE TRADE JUSTICE MOVEMENT

Four years ago, international trade was a mystery to me. A murky world of acronyms and jargon that meant little to my life. Travelling during a gap year and university holidays to various developing countries led me to ask questions about the poverty I saw. How did the inequalities between the developed and developing world become so great, and why were most people getting poorer? I began to question the institutions, economic policies and power relations which underlay these problems. I did not like the answers I found and felt a profound sense of injustice that the people on the receiving end of this system had the least say in what was being decided.

I had wanted to be an investigative journalist. I imagined myself uncovering hidden scandals and righting wrongs with the might of my pen. At university I worked on the student newspaper and I became involved in a campaign to make the university invest its share portfolio ethically. By the end of my second year, the university had disinvested all its shares in tobacco companies and was considering doing the same for other industries such as arms. I enjoyed this taste of success and started to realise that there were other ways to achieve the results I wanted to see. I enjoyed the freedom to write more targeted stories about the issues I believed in, rather than about the latest student burglary.

After leaving university, I moved to London, still not knowing how to go about starting my career. I began volunteering at an anti-poverty NGO called War on Want. This was where I learnt about campaigning and that there was an active and vibrant global justice movement in the UK. From there, a paid job followed and I then moved on to become Assistant Co-ordinator of the Trade Justice Movement in 2003.

Morning March
The Trade Justice Movement began in 2001. Building on the success of the Jubilee 2000 debt movement, civil society organisations had realised the increased impact of campaigning together for change. A wide variety of organisations have signed up to join the coalition from across the civil society spectrum – from the TUC to the Women’s Institute – all concerned for various reasons about the impacts of neo-liberal trade policies on people and the environment. The Trade Justice Movement has given a collective voice to peoples’ frustrations and sense of powerlessness at the way globalisation has been run in the interests of rich countries and multi-national businesses, creating deeper poverty for the majority of the world’s population. The campaign is about enabling people to challenge and hold to account the institutions and governments that are pursuing policies which are making and keeping people poor.

My best moments working at the Trade Justice Movement have been the mass public events we’ve run. In April last year, we organised an all night vigil in Westminster, as part of a Global Week of Action for Trade Justice. I will never forget the buzz I felt watching 25,000 people stand in Whitehall at midnight with candles in their hands. It was incredibly empowering to know that so many people felt moved by global injustices to come and stand there (in the cold!) in solidarity with people around the world to demand change. 10,000 even stayed through until the next morning when we marched around Westminster. All those who took part felt completely delirious and tired, but incredibly alive through their collective sense of power.

The most inspiring part of the job is working with the supporters of the campaign. Their dedication and commitment is staggering. People who will do anything that is asked of them with a smile, even if it’s completely unreasonable. Last November, we held a Mass Lobby of Parliament at Westminster, ahead of a big World Trade Organisation meeting taking place in Hong Kong. Thousands of people from across the country queued outside Parliament all day in the rain to talk to their MPs. That kind of energy and enthusiasm is infectious, even to the most hard hearted and cynical politician. The campaign received a massive boost last year, working as part of the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY coalition. It was a busy and challenging time trying to cope with the increased attention from politicians, the media and the public whilst trying to ensure the interest was translating into concrete action from governments.

No Privatisation of Services
It is heartening to see the campaigning having an impact. In the UK, the Government has changed its rhetoric about international trade to agree with our demands. This has not been met by the changes in practice needed yet, but we must recognise it as a step. The fact that there is now a moral dimension firmly inserted into trade negotiations is no mean feat. The challenge for campaigners is to keep up the pressure to turn those words into action. There are difficult times ahead. As the current Doha Round of World Trade Organisation negotiations reaches its conclusion this year, we must work to ensure developing countries do not get a bad deal forced on them by rich countries and big business.

We are also working in the UK to ensure the Government lives up to the promises it made last year to make poverty history. We are challenging corporate power and asking the Government to make UK companies legally accountable for the impacts they have on communities, employees and the environment around the world. People across the UK are meeting with their MPs to get them to support this demand. The Government must now respond by showing the political will to follow through and take the action needed to address the global scale of poverty and injustice.

These are exciting times in the world of economic justice campaigning. Awareness levels among the UK public are at an all time high, particularly after the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign last year. I am struck by the fact that people at parties understand what I do for a living now. I used to get a lot of blank faces and polite nodding when I tried to have the same conversation three years ago. Now, people are more likely to ask me what I thought about the outcome of the G8 summit, or what I think of Bob Geldof. I am proud to be a part of a movement that is changing attitudes and challenging governments. I always hear politicians and sections of the media talking about how disconnected young people are from politics and the world around them – not from where I’m sitting.

A big thank you to Simon Rawles for use of all the photographs.

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