To help explain our new campaign, we’ve answered your top ten questions about this urgent call for our governments to take action.
What do you actually mean by ‘Building Back Better’?
The pandemic has highlighted the structural failures in our existing economic, political and social systems. These failures have created the global crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, conflict, displacement and deepening inequality.
These crises are a result of political choices over decades, along with unregulated corporate power. They have undermined human rights and the protection of the environment. Now is the time to make different political choices.
Building back better means supporting countries with overseas aid so they can build the healthcare systems and infrastructure needed to overcome this severe economic crisis.
Building back better means investing in an economic recovery that tackles the climate emergency.
Building back better means an economic recovery that is fair and just for all, that doesn’t involve exploitation. It means companies respect human rights when their operations have the potential to impact vulnerable groups.
Why should we focus on helping people overseas when we are facing a crisis at home like we’ve never experienced before?
Ireland has a proud track record of looking beyond our borders and supporting some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world. This is a time for us to show our compassion and help protect the most vulnerable around the world, as well as protecting those closer to home. This is not an either/or choice.
Cutting aid budgets in our unequal world would mean that the world’s poorest will be hit the hardest. Many of these countries don’t have safety nets like social welfare, universal healthcare and COVID payments.
Reducing aid will only deepen the crisis and may also prolong the pandemic. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said “the world is only as strong as its weakest health system”. We are all interconnected and COVID-19 knows no borders. Our solidarity and compassion should also have no borders.
Ok, but can we afford to support people overseas when we are facing a recession?
These are difficult and uncertain times for everyone. The Irish and UK governments will face very tough decisions when drawing up their next budgets. Yet what we’re campaigning for is modest - less than one per cent of national income to be spent on overseas aid. In fact, the Irish and UK governments have already made commitments to reach this 0.7% target. We want them to stick to these commitments.
In the UK, despite the fact that the 0.7% has already been reached, the recent merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has led to fears that the primary aim of UK overseas aid - to alleviate poverty - could be threatened.
Due to the current crisis, the UN is warning that 265 million people could be facing starvation by the end of 2020. This is why it is essential we protect overseas aid.
But does overseas aid even have any impact?
Often we only hear the bad news coming from some of the lowest income countries in the world. We hear reports of continued conflict in places like Somalia and DR Congo, drought and locust plagues in East Africa, flooding in Myanmar. Huge problems exist, but enormous progress has been made.
Overseas aid works. It has lifted millions out of poverty. 17,000 fewer children die each day than in 1990, and women dying in childbirth has fallen by 37% since 2000. Enrolment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91%.
These achievements are phenomenal, and overseas aid has plaid a crucial role in supporting countries to make this progress.
If we take action now on Climate Change to try to dramatically reduce our carbon emissions, won’t we just damage our economy even further?
Serious reduction to carbon emissions is needed, yet that doesn’t mean damage to our economy. If a ‘Green New Deal’ is done well, we can have a ‘just transition’, where we begin to seriously phase out of fossil fuels in the coming decade, while providing new jobs to workers.
We can use stimulus packages in the wake of the pandemic to support workers in areas that will be affected by the transition, such as in energy and agriculture. We can create jobs in retrofitting homes, increasing biodiversity and in the clean energy sector.
Ultimately, climate change has the potential to undermine our economy much worse than the damage caused by the COVID-19 crisis. The longer we postpone action, the more difficult the damage will be to our economy. Communities all over the world are already facing severe impacts, including droughts and floods. While the poorest half of the world’s population are responsible for only 10% of carbon emissions, the richest 10 countries are responsible for 50% of all carbon emissions.
This is a matter of global justice. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road.
And what can we do to stop companies overseas exploiting the crisis?
The COVID crisis has hit business hard. Small and medium businesses, in particular, need support to recover. Many large businesses operating in the developing world do so ethically. But many do not.
As many communities cannot access their fields and forests during the pandemic, there have been reports of increased land grabs and illegal logging and mining activities.
This demonstrates why corporations need to be legally required to assess their human rights impact. We need legislation to require companies to implement human rights and environmental due diligence in their operations.
Human rights due diligence is when a business embeds human rights in its operations. It involves assessing actual and potential human rights impacts, acting upon the findings, tracking responses, and communicating how impacts are addressed. It is simply like human rights proofing and then acting on the findings.
Voluntary measures have not been successful in embedding a culture of human rights in all business sectors. This is why we need to make human rights and environmental due diligence mandatory through legislation.
Other countries have already moved in this direction, such as France, and Ireland can learn from their experiences.
But why do we need an Irish law? Are there any Irish companies linked to human rights abuses overseas?
There are allegations of companies in Ireland linked to human rights abuses. For example, the ESB are importing coal from a mine in Colombia that has been linked with human rights abuses.
Airbnb processes bookings, including those in illegal Israeli settlements, through a Dublin-domiciled company, Airbnb Ireland UC. By profiting off settlements Airbnb are contributing to the breaking of international law.
If Ireland introduces this legislation, it may have an impact on companies like these, and prevent future abuses from happening.
Will this impact negatively on business at a time when we need an economic recovery?
This campaign is not anti-business, it’s about responsible business. Jobs and economic growth can allow communities to escape out of poverty. Our campaign is about ensuring that the hunt for profit does not violate human rights in the process.
In fact, business leaders themselves are calling for legislation at national and EU levels and are calling for legal certainty to businesses’ duty to respect people and the planet.
A true recovery will be based on human rights, global social justice and will be environmentally sustainable.
How can I learn more about this issue?
How can I get involved in the campaign?
Please sign up to our campaign and you’ll receive updates over the coming months on how we can take action. People power is essential for our governments to take notice, and you can make your voice heard.