EU Development Year puts fair consumption in the spotlight

Workers sewing garments in Turkey. [Travel Aficionado/Flickr]

Germany and the European Commission officially kicked-off the European Year for Development 2015 with the clear message that, even in the age of globalisation, industrialised countries can also stand to benefit from good living conditions in the rest of the world. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The slogan of the EU’s Year for Development 2015 is an appeal to join the cause: “Our world, our dignity, our future.”

During the campaign’s opening ceremony in Berlin, Germany’s Parliamentary State Secretary for Development Cooperation, Thomas Silberhorn, called on industrialised countries to take on more responsibility for the rest of the world.

“We are moving closer together; we live in a  global village. As a result, our consumption behaviour helps determine the living conditions of those who produce our goods,” Silberhorn explained.

‘We must not stop at indignation

2015 coincides with several other significant events this year. In June, Germany will host the G7 Summit. In September, the United Nations hopes to jointly set the Post-2015 Millennium Development Goals. And in December, a deal is expected in Paris on a new international accord on climate protection to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

At a meeting with the EU’s Development Commissioner Neven Mimica last November, German Development Minister Gerd Müller made it clear that 2015 must be used to “better coordinate European development policy”.

Silberhorn confirmed the objective, adding the topic also has to do with sustainable consumption.

In light of the catastrophic working conditions in textile factories in Bangladesh and India, for example, Silberhorn said, “we must not stop at indignation”. Companies as well as consumers must become sensitised to the idea of shopping more responsibly, he argued.

The current refugee crisis clearly articulates the fact that bad living conditions ultimately also reach us, Silberhorn pointed out.

During the coming week, Germany intends to introduce a mobile phone app that will enable consumers to check garments in the store for the conditions under which they were produced. The idea is a continuation of the Textile Alliance, which was created to develop a label for sustainably manufactured apparel.

People and the purpose of development cooperation

At the meeting in Berlin, EU officials said politicians should not be the only ones advocating for development cooperation.

“A participatory approach is important,” indicated the Deputy Director General for Development and Cooperation in the European Commission, Marcus Cornaro. Private business, universities and foundations must also be included to promote development cooperation and bring its purpose closer to the people, he said.

>> Read our infographic: Europeans support development aid

“After all, development has never been as important as it is today,” Cornaro said. In the end, the roots of illegal immigration and terrorism – “issues that affect us all” – are often concealed within poverty and inequality, he added.

Call for Europe-wide approach

MEP Arne Lietz, a member of the Parliament’s Committee on Development, praised the German Textile Alliance, but warned that such initiatives are only useful when applied across Europe.

Lietz was supported by Gabriele Bischoff from the European Movement network in Germany. “There is virtually no purely German company anymore,” Bischoff remarked. For this reason, one must think in a European and global context, if the goal is to require businesses to ensure fair working conditions abroad, she said.

Here, a rethink is necessary first, said Christa Randzio-Plath from VENRO, an umbrella organisation of development NGOs. After disasters like the collapse of the textile factory in Bangladesh, engagement should not stop at a brief outcry, petering out without long-term changes. Informing civil society is essential to ensure that people are sensitised in the long-term, she said.

Concrete plans lacking

But Germany also still has much to do in this regard. Ahead of the Development Year 2015, German Development Minister Müller presented a “Charter for the Future”, together with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The charter is an 8-point-plan, which was meant to serve as a guide towards a more peaceful, sustainable and wealthy world.

The document calls on actors in politics and business, as well as citizens, to change their way of thinking, but, so far, has not offered any concrete approaches.

However, Germany has already committed to at least one measure, pledging to increase funding for development cooperation to reach the international 0.7% ODA target.

The ODA target triggered considerable criticism from NGOs late last year. EU countries had agreed, at the start of the new millennium, to increase spending for development aid to 0.7% of gross national income (GNI). But in 2013, Germany only reached 0.38%, ranking twelfth in a Europe-wide comparison.

The United Nations set the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be met by 2015. The goals are:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development

In 2008, governments, businesses and other organisations reinforced their commitments to meet the MDGs, raising some €12.3 million in new funds for development. Two years later, the MDG summit adopted a global action plan, again reinforcing the drive towards meeting the MDGs.

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