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Richard Miller, Action Aid
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CAMPAIGN HERO: Richard Miller of ActionAid UK

Matilda Lee

14th December, 2010

The Director of ActionAid UK talks to us about ending global poverty, achieving trade justice and making supermarkets accountable

What has been your most successful campaign (or case) to date?

RM:A couple of things. We've been part of the global campaign for education and as a result, in last 8 years over 40 million more children are now in the school worldwide. The campaign links north and south and involves behind the scenes lobbying as well as public campaigning. On the UK end, over one million people have been involved through the 'Send my friend to school' campaign.

We also had a ‘Who Pays?' campaign demanding a new supermarket ombudsman in order to play fair with supermarket suppliers. As a result, in 2011 the government will introduce new legislation calling for this. We'll be on the lookout to make sure this happens.

What has been your least successful campaign to date?

RM: I think the trade justice campaign because the Doha development WTO deal was meant to be about wins for developing countries but so far we've only been able to stop a bad deal from happening and not create a good deal for poor people.

Corporations: work with them or against them?

RM: A bit of both. The private sector can be a force for good but there are many instances where individual rights are violated. We speak out on different issues and in particular press for legal frameworks where corporations can be held to account. I think corporate campaigning is ever changing, it's not simply enough to bash corporations, you need a wide range of strategies. You need both carrots and sticks.

Methods used include harnessing competition between companies, using business influence over government, or to put out a new product either which uses goods sourced from a poor community, or which would provide low-cost environmental solutions for people could use.

What is the best way to motivate people?

RM: You've got to involve them in something they enjoy and be clear about the impact it will have. Real stories about real people are a huge motivator. That helps. If you connect people to a campaign in a way they can identify with then they will be much more passionate about it. For instance, we brought Gertruida Baartman a South African farm worker in a Tesco supplier farm to come and speak about pay conditions at a Tesco AGM 2006-7. To this day, our campaigners still ask about her. They could really identify with her.

What is the best way of reaching politicians?

RM: Constituents raising issues with MPs can be very powerful. There is a more complex political mix, backbenchers can have more influence and politicians will do anything to raise their profile.

Andrew George has been a big patron of our ‘Who Pays' campaign. He's raised the issue, tabled questions, and lobbied ministers. He's a supporter of both international development and has a rural constituency in Cornwall - so it's an issues that is close to his heart.

What is the most important thing to avoid when campaigning?

RM: Campaigning is an art, not a science. There is no one way to achieve change. Don't assume what worked last time will work the next. Having too many goals is a pitfall, if you have too many goals then you'll have to have multiple campaigns to achieve them.

Most important thing government could do this year?

RM: A quick win would be to scrap biofuel targets in petrol and diesel. At a time when food prices are rising, pursuing this could be disastrous for poor people. More long term, we'd like to see tax justice as a major international development issue because we think it could transform economies of developing countries and end their help dependence on aid.

Most important thing individuals could do this year?

RM: Staying engaged and vocal about international development issues. The government ring-fenced the international development budget and because of that it has come under more attack. The domestic agenda is crowded out, with the effects of the recession and spending cuts. We need people to remain vocal about the importance of aid.
We are organising a massive lobby of parliament in June 2011 to encourage MPs to keep tackling global poverty.

What (other) campaign has caught your attention recently?

RM: In the last few weeks, we‘ve been taken aback by the UK Uncut campaign targeting tax dodging by major UK companies. We are concerned about tax justice for developing countries but I think what is interesting about that campaign is that it has taken minimal resources and organisation but it has achieved a huge profile. It is a new way of campaigning using social media and quick action.

Who is your campaign hero (past or present)?

RM: Bratindi Jena, an action aid staff member from India. Who went to live with the Kondh community in India whose traditional ancestral homelands Niyamgiri in Orissa were going to be taken for mining of bauxite. She helped that community launch a campaign against Vedanta. I don't think anyone gave them a chance of winning, but we supported them in the UK with a media profile and actions at the AGM. In the end, not long ago the Indian government forced Vedanta to scrap their plans. It is a really unusual situation of an indigenous tribe taking on a huge multinational and she went was able to help out.

Further information: ActionAid

 

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