Thank you so much for contacting me and raising my awareness of Traidcraft.
Liberal Democrats have a proud record of helping the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. It is only thanks to the Liberal Democrats in Government that the UK became the first G8 country to meet the 40 year old promise to spend 0.7% of our national income on international aid. This is already helping developing countries to be safer, more stable and prosperous.
It was my Liberal Democrat colleague, Michael Moore MP, who put forward the successful bill to enshrine in law our 0.7% commitment on development aid. UK aid protects 3 million people each year from poverty; has vaccinated 55 million children against preventable diseases and stopped 250,000 new-born babies dying needlessly. It helps more people access anti-AIDS drugs and sent over 10 million children to school last year. Going back on our commitment would cost lives.
As committed internationalists, Liberal Democrats are dedicated to ensuring the UK leads the way in helping other countries tackle tax dodging and unscrupulous companies that abuse workers and communities. Most UK companies operate responsibly abroad but sadly a minority do not. This seriously harms those they should be helping and damages the UK’s reputation.
If I may, I would like to discuss my reaction to the Traidcraft video you asked me to watch. Such examples arise far too often. One has to ask through, why is it allowed to occur? As it said in the video, if such things happened to you and me in the UK, we would have recourse to the law and the companies would be forced to pay compensation and clean up the mess. Sadly in many nations, the rule of law does not exist in any effective manner. In order to address this issue, the Department for International Development (DfID) have been helping many developing nations raise their own standards of legislation and enforcement, develop Financial Intelligence Units and continue to work closely with them in order to monitor the activity of UK companies, encouraging them to act in lawful and transparent manner. The Bribery Act is not restricted to companies just operating in this country but applies also to individuals and UK companies on a global basis. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has currently thirty projects, including in Brazil, Colombia and China, promoting the rule of law and transparency in business dealings.
While I am not saying that everything is splendid, I would wish you to be aware of ongoing efforts to not only improve the behaviour and standards of UK enterprises overseas, but to help other nations raise their own standards so that normal people may have recourse to justice when it is needed. I can assure you, that as a person who is employed to work on a global basis, companies take every measure to raise with their employees the importance of acting legally and ethically at all times. The consequences for not doing so can be dire.
I was proud that at last year’s G8 summit the UK reached an agreement with other major countries to crack down on tax dodging by setting up an automatic exchange of information between tax authorities.
In Government, Liberal Democrats have ensured UK companies are held to account wherever they operate. We have made tackling tax avoidance a top priority and secured a record £23.9 billion from clamping down on tax dodging and fraud. We need to share these lessons with other countries because we can only tackle the global problem by working together. We are helping developing countries increase their tax revenues by supporting tax capacity projects and working with international organisations such as the African Tax Administration Forum, the World Bank and the OECD to provide technical assistance.
It is fantastic that the Liberal Democrats in Government have ensured that developing countries are protected from exploitative ‘vulture funds’. This is when creditors extract harsh and unfair payments from poor countries. UK courts will never again be able to be used by vulture funds to exploit poor countries.
To have international credibility we need to ensure our own house is in order. Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced plans to hold businesses to account by cutting down on bogus owners and directors and creating a list of true company owners.
Liberal Democrats are leading the way in getting big businesses to take responsibility and I know we will continue to do so after the next general election. If we are back in Government we will ensure companies pay fair taxes in developing countries and ensure that UK and EU development aid, free trade and investment agreements support environmentally sustainable investment. We would also extend the existing requirement for country-by-country reporting from banks and extractive industries to all UK listed companies. We would also ensure that the good work already underway in DfID, the FCO and law enforcement agencies will continue.
If you have further comments or questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Edinburgh North and Leith.