Taking care of business


The new director of SCIAF, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, explains why development agencies like SCIAF offer economic and social analyses of poverty and encourage their supporters to campaign for long term change.

Something is wrong with our economy. The prevailing idea of progress has come to mean economic growth. In this setting big business has increased its economic and political influence while the vast majority of the world’s poorest people have been left behind. All too often people and wellbeing are secondary to wealth creation and consumption.

Through our work with people in developing countries, SCIAF knows the positive impact business can have on poor communities; creating vital jobs, stimulating local economies, providing goods and services to people who need them, and generating tax revenue.

However, businesses can also have negative impacts. In our new report, Taking Care of Business, we explore the detrimental effect some companies have on people living in poverty and the planet. In Colombia, for instance, the land and livelihoods of poor Afro- Colombian communities are being threatened by foreign mining companies who’ve been given huge swathes of land by the government.

The social teaching of the Catholic Church offers a valuable perspective on the economy and business. As Pope Paul IV reflected in Populorum Progressio, ‘Development cannot be limited to mere economic growth… it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man’. Human beings cannot be seen merely as economic units. Instead we must shift the focus away from economic growth for its own sake towards an economy which puts human dignity and well-being at its heart.

Pope Benedict XVI built on these ideas of authentic human development and human dignity in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. Coming after the sharp economic downturn of 2008, it offered a fresh perspective on the crisis, reminding us that the economy and business activity does not exist in a vacuum. Pope Benedict suggests that markets are not morally self-sufficient; rather, since the economy operates within society – and is influenced by social and political factors – it must be governed by an ethical framework.

This lack of an ethical framework guiding today’s economy is causing significant problems. Pope Benedict writes, ‘Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.’

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis also argues that ‘Growth in justice requires more than economic growth… it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality’.

SCIAF has an important role to play in Scotland in articulating the moral case for action to help people living in poverty when we lobby governments and big business. We do this because it is the right thing to do, even if campaigning for such change is a long term endeavour and offers few quick fixes.

In highlighting the struggle of communities in Colombia and others like them, we are first and foremost giving a voice to the people we work with and helping them influence decisions that affect their lives. We also make sure their voices are heard by key decision-makers in Scotland, the UK, Europe and further afield so the interests of the poor are not forgotten.

The importance of this has been captured by Americo Mosquera, a legal representative of one of our partners in Colombia that campaign on land rights: ‘SCIAF has helped us to have a political impact, which is what we need, at the national and international level; showing all the problems we are facing in the territory regarding the mining… The work of SCIAF is a way of raising awareness of the situation we face.’

Reports and analysis from ALISTAIR DUTTON Taking care of business The new director of SCIAF, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, explains why development agencies like SCIAF offer economic and social analyses of poverty and encourage their supporters to campaign for long term change. International development Alistair Dutton. October 2014 OPEN HOUSE 9 organisations like SCIAF highlight problems to politicians and powerful stakeholders which in turn can help build international pressure to change an unjust situation. This is vital. It also reminds offending governments or businesses that their actions are being watched. In 2007 a SCIAF report and campaign highlighted copper mining in Zambia and the tiny royalties the government was receiving from a subsidiary of a UK-listed company. The report brought the issue to the attention of shareholders in Scotland, civil society in Zambia and the companies involved. We believe this helped to provide some space for the Zambian Government, who subsequently put new royalty arrangements into place which generated a substantial increase in tax income which it committed to spending on health and education.

In the case of Colombia, the UK is the second largest inward investor with £4billion of bilateral trade and investment planned by 2020. The UK Government therefore has real potential to influence the situation on the ground and the behaviour of British companies working there. The regulations made here guide UK businesses working overseas and can therefore have important repercussions for people living in poverty in Colombia and around the world. That is why our new report calls for increased corporate transparency by making all large businesses report their social, environmental and human rights impacts and risks.

Closer to home, SCIAF’s lobbying work can also make a difference. While the Scottish Government may not make the regulatory decisions that govern UK businesses, it can encourage good business practice with those with whom it deals. Scotland currently spends around £9billion a year buying goods and services for the public sector. That’s a lot of purchasing power. It is important that public contracts go to companies that behave in an ethical and environmentally responsible way, respect human rights, adhere to high labour standards and pay their taxes. Doing so could have a real impact on people living beyond our borders.

The backing of hundreds of thousands of Scots in parishes and schools across the country means that government ministers will pay attention to the issues we raise in our reports and campaigns. Last year, over 2,500 supporters joined us in calling for the Scottish Government to make sure its public procurement was carried out ethically and sustainably. The Government’s subsequent Procurement Reform Act responded to our demands, asking public bodies to state their policy on fair and ethical trade. This is an important start and we will continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that accompanying guidance to the Act helps public bodies make ethically and environmentally sound procurement choices.

We also work in solidarity with other organisations that share our goals, which range from Justice and Peace Scotland to the international Caritas and CIDSE networks of Catholic development charities. This has been used to great effect with campaigns such as Make Poverty History and the Enough Food for Everyone… IF, leading to the cancellation of unjust international debts, increased spending on aid and commitments to tackle tax dodging.

The most pressing element of a more moral marketplace is the recognition of and adherence to people’s human rights. These are most clearly laid out in the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We therefore need the Scottish and UK governments, European Union, and other governments around the world such as Colombia to introduce regulatory frameworks to make sure this happens. We also need businesses to take the Guiding Principles seriously and live up to them.

Much progress has been made in encouraging businesses to behave ethically and sustainably, but more is needed. Grounded in the teachings of the Church, and with the backing of people across Scotland, we will continue to strive to create a more just world, so that all people can fulfil their potential and live with dignity.

Alistair Dutton was Humanitarian Director of Caritas International, the global confederation of Catholic aid agencies and interim Director of the Sphere Project, which sets standards for humanitarian aid delivery.

SCIAF’s report, Taking Care of
Business, is at www.sciaf.org.uk

Feb/Mar 2020

In June 2019 Open House held a conference exploring possible new directions for the Catholic Church in Scotland. See conference papers.

Open House also held a conference on the role of lay people in the governance of the Catholic Church in November 2013. See conference papers.