By Domeisen, Natalie; Hulm, Peter
International Trade Forum , No. 2
Q Oxfam's campaigning for fairer trade rules and your emergency work are well known. But you are also heavily involved in ground-level work on trade and business development. What are these activities?
A The purpose of our programmes on the ground is to help vulnerable and poor people build more sustainable livelihoods. For instance, we work directly with small farmers' coffee cooperatives in the developing world. Through funding and training, we help raise capacity to access markets on better terms. As part of these activities we consider fair trade products as a very important tool for cooperatives to differentiate their products and improve quality, as well as to understand marketing and how the supply chain works.
Q What major challenges do you face?
A We are currently reviewing our "five-year plan". There is growing demand for us to go further in helping developing countries with trade policy at the national policy level. One reason is that policy-makers know that organizations like Oxfam are progressive and trust their advice. What's on offer in traditional channels is not always sufficient or adequate. It is not enough just to train trade negotiators, for example, or to argue generally for freer trade. One clear example: developing countries were promised a detailed assessment of the implications of the Doha Development Agenda on their industries, but there is still no country-by-country analysis of its impact.
So the demand on us to offer more training and provide policy analysis is enormous, but is this really Oxfam's role in trade development? The humanitarian side of Oxfam has faced the same pressures: since the 1970s some emergency NGOs have found themselves asked to provide essential health services. In trade, the trend now is to ask us to provide essential services too. They ask questions such as, can you propose a new label for textiles? Can you advise us on how to build a generic pharmaceutical industry? Can you help us develop a coffee trademark?
Even if it is tempting to try and fill this gap, we do not have the capacity to do so on our own. Moreover, our long-term priority is to build capacity of NGOs and trade union groups in developing countries--not governments. To ensure pro-development outcomes, it is crucial for civil society to be able to demand a pro-poor trade policy at home.
Q How much do you work with business?
A We have been collaborating with business for a very long time. Sometimes this is through funding from business for projects, but we are much more interested in working with corporations to promote improved business practices. For instance, we produced a report together with Unilever on their practices in Indonesia. In other cases, we put pressure on companies through public campaigning. For instance, we have criticized the pharmaceutical sector for pricing antiretrovirals out of poor people's reach in most developing countries. It is a question of finding the right approach. We are certainly not anti-business, because we know that developing countries need a vibrant private sector. But we think that the private sector needs to do much more to promote development and that it is good business to do so. …