What do the 2017 Election manifestos say about our key issues?

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Shortly after Theresa May announced a snap election for 8th June, we published a short list of the priorities that we as Traidcraft Exchange wanted to see the next government take into office.

The main parties have now announced their election manifestos, many of which contain policy positions that reflect our priorities. Given the context of Brexit and its implications, the overall focus on trade is not surprising and offers us a unique opportunity to advocate for our main policy aim of ensuring that trade can offer people a route out of poverty.

A Brexit that is fair to developing countries

We called for the next government to commit to a non-reciprocal market access scheme, providing certainty to economically vulnerable countries that we will continue trading with them on terms that support development.

The Conservatives’ manifesto repeats Theresa May’s previous commitments that we should be a ‘global, outward-looking Britain’, but contains little further detail on how this approach will inform trade with developing countries.

Labour have an interesting focus on their ‘Just Trade’ initiative, which they say will break down the barriers to trade whilst also supporting the rights of governments to regulate in the public interest. Furthermore, they offer the welcome commitment that ‘Labour will guarantee the world’s least developed countries continued access to the UK market to protect their vital export revenues’. Whether this means that they would take on our proposals outlined in this briefing remains to be seen.

The Liberal Democrats have a similar focus on ensuring that trade arrangements are scrutinised from a development perspective. Their manifesto calls for the Sustainable Development Goals to be used as a basis for auditing new deals so that their impact on ‘people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership’ is fully understood. The SNP cover the importance of ensuring that the UK ‘will support development as part of its trade with developing countries’.

Meanwhile, the Green Party have said that Parliament should have the final say on new trade deals (something that Trade Justice Movement has called for), whilst UKIP say that they ‘will not engage in unethical trade practices with developing countries’.

Make sure UK supermarkets play fair

Traidcraft have been calling for the next government to expand the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA), to ensure that farmers and workers in groceries supply chains get a fairer deal when they sell food that ends up in UK supermarkets.

The Conservative manifesto stopped short of recommending more powers for the GCA, but did say that they want to set up ‘new frameworks for supporting food production’. Any such framework must consider the importance of creating a food system that allows small-scale producers to compete fairly.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats explicitly called for the extension of the powers of the GCA, saying that the change would mean greater fairness for producers.

Update the law to enable prosecution of corporate crimes

This was the focus of our Justice Campaign, which called for a change in the law to ensure that UK-linked companies are held to account for crimes overseas.

Labour say that they will ensure ‘…respect for human rights, workers’ rights and environmental sustainability in the operations of British businesses around the world, and we will work to tighten the rules governing corporate accountability for abuses in global supply chains’. It is not clear if this would extend to proposals to change the law so that UK companies could be prosecuted for failing to prevent serious abuses abroad.

Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats mention corporate crime, although both confirm support for the Modern Slavery Act.

Other elements of note

Beyond our three main areas of focus, there are a number of interesting policies that somewhat overlap with our work. For example:

  • Labour call for an amendment of the 2006 Companies Act to update director’s duties so that they are required to give greater regard to employees, suppliers and the environment, rather than just focusing on short term profits. Our blog – here – explains why this is a good idea. The Lib Dems have a similar but less specific call for reforms that would encourage ethical practices to be considered by company directors and fund managers.
  • The Conservatives have committed to getting listed companies to publish ratios comparing executive pay with that of the broader workforce. Our arguments for pay transparency, including a call for any published ratio to consider those on the lowest wages, are here. They also include a section on corporate governance which builds on the Green Paper released earlier this year, on which Traidcraft submitted comments.
  • The SNP have a focus on investment agreements, calling for human rights to be considered before any agreement is signed. Traidcraft’s thoughts on how to ensure that investment supports development are here.

We’ve put together some questions for anyone wanting to engage their election candidates on issues of trade justice and responsible business. The questions, with supporting detail, can be found here.