The conference and training centre was very pleasant. Rooms were comfortable with en suite facilities and televisions, the dining room was large and airy with linen table cloths, and the bar enabled one to sit out in the tropical night air and savour the cool of the evening. (Johnny Walker Black Label was much cheaper than at home).
Of course, the centre was within a secure compound with armed guards at the gates. The people living in destitution in the countryside around could not be allowed near.
Undoubtedly, much was discussed at the conference centre that was directed at improving the lives of the people around; undoubtedly, also, few of the words that were spoken ever translated into any action.
The world is simpler in resolutions.
In university days there was a constant urge to boycott Nestle products because of their promotion of formula milk in poor countries. It seemed a straightforward argument, poor communities had not access to clean water and purchasing the formula was an unnecessary cost when mothers could nurse themselves.
A religious sister at a recent meeting in our own local community reflected on the boycott. “How many of those not buying Nestle products were paying to help poor communities? I worked in a day care centre for children. Poor women would leave their children with us so that they could go and work long hours. Without formula milk, the babies would not have survived. If the women did not work, they would have had no income whatsoever. Were the campaigners going to pay so the women could stay at home?”
It was something I had never thought about.
Joined up thinking and campaigning don’t always go together. Slogans and condemnation of corporations cost nothing and, certainly in student days, were an affirmation of one’s radical credentials. But there are always people at the sharp end – whether it’s the milk formula users, or the sweat shop workers, or the small farmers – who will suffer from boycotts.
Britain’s Prince Charles is at least attempting some joined up thinking in his call today to save the rain forests,
“The trouble is the rainforests are home to something like 1.4 billion of the poorest people in the world.
“In order to survive there has to be an effort to produce things which tends to be at the expense of the rainforest.
“What we’ve got to do is try to ensure that those forests are more valuable alive than dead.
“At the moment there’s more value in them being dead. This is the crazy thing.”
Without rigorous thinking, without examination of cause and effect, most campaigns are as useless as a conference centre in the middle of one of the poorest countries in the world.