Working Conditions

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 18th March 2015.

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Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 11:30 am, 18th March 2015

What steps her Department is taking to improve working conditions in developing countries

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne The Minister of State, Department for International Development

We are improving working conditions through our country programmes and through global standards. For example, in Bangladesh, we are providing £7 million to improve working conditions and safety in 1,800 factories, and we support labour practices globally through the ethical trading initiative.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am sure that the Minister agrees that decent work is central to people’s well-being, as it provides income, paves the way for broader social and economic advancement, and strengthens individuals, their families and communities. Given the International Labour Organisation’s vital action on that agenda for almost 100 years, why have this Government withdrawn their funding?

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne The Minister of State, Department for International Development

We have not withdrawn funding. After the 2011 multilateral review, we withdrew core funding because we had reservations about value for money and we wanted to shift our focus to fragile states. We continue to work with the International Labour Organisation. We have a £7.4 million project with the ILO in Bangladesh, and, together, we are pursuing the Work in Freedom project. We will review that work with the International Labour Organisation at the next multilateral aid review, as the Secretary of State has already said.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

Does the Minister agree that the Government’s inclusion of a specific clause on transparency and supply chains in the Modern Slavery Bill will help to improve dialogue between workers and management in Bangladeshi garment factories?

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne The Minister of State, Department for International Development

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend’s analysis. Getting corporates to take control of their supply chains is crucial and the Act, as it will become, will be vital in that respect.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

World Vision tells me that there are 168 million child labourers worldwide. A Guardian investigation has revealed that child labour was used in a DFID-funded project in Nepal. Will the Minister tell us whether that is correct and indicate what will be done to ensure that it does not happen again?

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The hon. Gentleman is right about the figure of 168 million. The only positive thing that one can say is that it has fallen by a third since 2000. The World Food Programme was involved in the project in Nepal, and the services of the supplier were discontinued. None the less, it reinforces the message—we must get this through using our international ethical trading initiative—that producers must take control of their supply chains.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

The Government’s successful International Citizen Service led by Voluntary Service Overseas also promotes good public health and good business practice, including better working conditions, but an unintended consequence of the new universal credit rules may be inhibiting young claimants from volunteering for ICS. I know that the Secretary of State has been supportive of VSO, but will DFID Ministers raise this matter with the Department for Work and Pensions to prevent this unintended consequence on an excellent Government programme?

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne The Minister of State, Department for International Development

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is alive to that problem, and we are working across Government to deal with it.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Opposition Whip (Commons)

Nearly two years on from the Rana Plaza disaster in which thousands of garment workers were killed or injured when their factory collapsed, will the Minister update the House on the work he is doing with UK brands and retailers to ensure safe working conditions and fair pay?

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne The Minister of State, Department for International Development

Our £7.4 million programme with the International Labour Organisation is training some 575 factory inspectors and carrying out, with our funding, some 1,800 factory investigations for electrical, fire and structural problems. We are driving forward that agenda.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

I think we can probably agree that, as a result of recent events, working conditions in Vanuatu are rather challenging. Will my right hon. Friend take this oblique opportunity to indicate what we are doing to assist?

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne The Minister of State, Department for International Development

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced up to £2 million of aid to Vanuatu, principally through UN agencies and our rapid response facility.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

In 2012 Human Rights Watch documented the loss of jobs and violent forced evictions of the Anuak people from their ancestral lands in Ethiopia. The World Bank project linked to those abuses was funded by the Minister’s Department. What steps did he take in 2012 to investigate those allegations of human rights abuses?

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne The Minister of State, Department for International Development

My understanding is that the programme is designed to lift some 50 million people out of poverty by 2022. With regard to the seed provision, my understanding is that it is not compulsory to take it and that the legislation that has been put in place is standard.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

The right hon. Gentleman’s Department decided to stop funding that World Bank project only in January this year, and it announced that decision only the day before the World Bank published the findings of its investigation into those issues. Why did he take three years to act, and what steps has he now taken to ensure that British aid truly supports better working conditions and jobs for the poorest, and is never again linked to human rights abuses?

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne The Minister of State, Department for International Development

By next year we will have spent £1.8 billion on promoting employment. We are shifting to economic generation and job creation. I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Lady’s approach.