International aid organisations have warned the government against using global development funding to promote the UK’s commercial and security goals over helping the world’s poorest people.
Bond, the network organisation of more than 450 international development NGOs, and international development campaign group Global Justice Now, have issued the warning after secretary of state for international development Penny Mordaunt set out her vision for overhauling international development aid.
In a speech this week Mordaunt said that she wanted more British firms and pension funds to sell to and directly invest in developing markets as well as create programmes “that are a win for the UK and a win for the development world”.
She said: “We are going to have a new trade offer, which includes a new partnership with the City of London to bring down the barriers to trade and unlock investment for emerging markets in Africa and Asia.
This will have the aim of “achieving the global goals and delivering financial returns, innovation and markets for the UK,” she added.
But Tamsyn Barton, chief executive of Bond, said that it would be “concerning” if international aid was used to promote UK interests rather than supporting those in need abroad.
Barton said she welcomed Mordaunt’s commitment to “putting solidarity with the world’s poorest at the heart of British values” adding “it will be vital that the whole of UK government shares the objectives of preventing suffering and building global prosperity for all, leaving no one behind”.
“However, it would be concerning if today’s proposal distorts the primary objective of aid and development policy and instead promotes the UK's own commercial and security goals,” she said.
“Evidence clearly shows that if aid and development are used to serve the UK’s national interests it will be less effective and poorer value for money. UK values are better reflected by keeping those we seek to help at the heart of what we do.
“Time is against us to get every child into education, access to healthcare for every person with a disability, treatment for every person suffering from Polio, and support for every person who strives to escape poverty and insecurity”
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, warns that Mordaunt’s strategy risks future financial crises across African and Asian countries.
He said: “We’ve clearly seen the dangers that the big financial corporations in the City of London have done to the world over the last 10 years. We’ve seen the way that unregulated free trade has trashed poorer economies while boosting the profits of big business.
“What the developing world needs is the control and regulation of these institutions so they can gain some control over their own economic development. Unfettered free trade and free markets will not solve poverty. They will make the world more unequal, more insecure, more dangerous.”
He added: “We are deeply concerned by the idea that anything which helps British business and the City of London invest in Africa will help reduce poverty.
“This is trickle-down economics – pour money in at the top and it will eventually help those at the bottom. Sure, investment and trade can be useful, but only if properly controlled and regulated democratically by African governments. Otherwise, the flow of capital will simply enrich the bankers in the City and the elites of the recipient countries.”
Mordaunt’s speech also references the Oxfam scandal, which involved accusations that the charity’s aid workers were involved in sexual exploitation while working in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
She said that the scandal had “shook the public” because they care about values such as “freedom, equality, independence and democracy”.
Last month Charity Times revealed that more than 60 per cent of donors feel negatively about international aid workers and the charity sector following the allegations.
Earlier this month a group of leading international aid charities, including Oxfam and Save the Children, launched a social media campaign in a bid to rebuild public trust.
This features personal accounts from their frontline staff, who are involved in supporting communities in developing countries.