Laura Sullivan

Laura Sullivan

CONCORD Board Member

Article written by Laura Sullivan, CONCORD Board member.

Laura Sullivan, Vice President of CONCORD and Director for Europe and the Americas at ActionAid International, was representing CONCORD in the Closing Ceremony of the European Development Days 2017. Here are her main takes (part 2).

In her first blogpost, Laura addressed the necessity of rethinking the logic behind economic growth as the central goal of our policies and politics on Development and beyond. Well being and justice should be at the heart of our investment in Development, for the future of the people and the planet.

(The beginning of the story is available here).

The myth behind economic growth


A fixation with economic growth means we are losing the one planet we have. Look at the example of Latin America (see this video by our partners Alianza por la Solidaridad, ACT Alliance EU, CIDSE, Cifca, Grupo Sur, Oidhaco) one of the most biodiverse and unequal places in the world. Nine of the 15 most unequal countries are in Latin America. Meanwhile the EU is the third trade partner and the first source of FDI. Exports are growing.


Primary goods exports

Whilst this is leading to the creation of jobs, decent work is not happening. Meanwhile a huge depletion of non-renewable natural resources is happening coupled with land grabbing.

In Guatemala:

1% of the population own 40% of the land.

Families were evicted in 2011 in the Polochic Valley

Women were most affected. At the same time it is putting at risk human rights defenders – the likes of Berta Caceres – the very ones that the EU’s programmes and political diplomacy is seeking to protect.

In 2014, over 90 people were killed defending the land and peoples’ rights to it.

The necessary switch of mindset


There in an alternative. There is a different model. Look at inclusion and redistribution before economic growth. Put communities and civil society at the centre of the plans from the first step.  Help countries to industrialise and grow their own sustainable employment. Support domestic Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that are the real source of potential growth in decent work. Make sure governments have the policy space to put in place gender responsive public services. Make sure companies pay their taxes everywhere where they are operating, so that governments can actually pay for those public services.  Support the legally binding treaty on human rights and business that ensure corporations are respecting rights. Look at alternatives like agro-ecology as a real solid alternative to large-scale agriculture that can stop the concentration of land ownership, degradation of soils, promote healthy food production, reinvigorate rural communities, stop the exodus to over populated cities and respect the fact that we only have one planet.

Whilst current EU development policy is intended to tackle poverty, many other EU policies go in an entirely different direction. This is the idea of ‘Policy Coherence for Development’. Let’s look at EU trade. An impact assessment on the upcoming EU-Vietnam trade deal shows that the deal will force the country to concentrate production in a few sectors (shoes, leather, textiles).

In reality, countries need to diversify production and create opportunities for people to skill up and move beyond low paid work – this is something Vietnam had been doing quite well up to now. The Free Trade deal will not help development but diminish it (for more, see the ActionAid report). The essential message here is this: in implementing EU development policy, think about inequality first. Think about inclusion and redistribution and the conditions to create that before considering the conditions for growth.

So what about the specific role of the private sector in all of this?


Or the real question – which private sector can catalyse inclusion? There is great potential here if we weren’t so one size fits all. The EU needs to focus on supporting the domestic private sector, particularly on SMEs that have the real potential to generate jobs that stay. And for those transnationals that are already operating in developing countries, again we need binding rules to ensure they’re upholding human rights.

What about alternative financing sources for development? Let’s take a look at blending and how that is working out for the poor.  An independent assessment of the EU blending operations during 2007-2014 was released in Brussels in May. It shows that it has been impossible to measure the impact of blending on job creation, women’s economic empowerment or poverty alleviation because those were not initial criteria for the projects. It also shows that blending has been mostly effective in middle income countries and for large infrastructure projects. The EU has nevertheless decided to further expand blending while it is uncertain whether this is the best tool to achieve poverty alleviation, women’s rights and job creation. If our goal is tackling inequality, then blending is a false alternative. We know where the real ones are.

In Malawi:

Tax bill cut of mining giants "Paladin" ($)

The equivalent of nurses paid for a year with this amount

And yet Malawi is pressured to put in place an enabling environment for corporations which includes tax cuts. Lasting change on financing development will come with a change to the rules on taxation of corporations.

Time to change the rules


To actually invest in development, let’s invest in civil society, well being, equality, tax justice, decent work and accountability. Margaret Thatcher famously said ‘There Is No alternative’ (TINa). Meanwhile people on the ground are teaching us that in fact ‘There are Many and Real alternatives’ (Tamara). If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to change how we are engaging with people. But that doesn’t mean dropping our commitment to well being, rights, justice and sustainability.