Our choices often help sustain an unfair system, says Patrick Grady
GOING 40 days without a favourite treat can be easier said than done. At the close of the season of Lent, many SCIAF supporters – of all faiths and none – looked forward to enjoying whatever they chose to give up to help people in poverty as part of our Wee Box, Big Change Lent appeal.
But some SCIAF supporters this year might not go back to those treats.
That’s because, alongside asking people to give to the appeal, we’ve been calling on people across Scotland to look closer at how decisions they make as consumers affect people living in poverty. Many people in developing countries are kept hungry and poor not simply because of a lack of resources, but because of an unjust economic system that only benefit the few.
It may be uncomfortable to think about, but our consumer choices can help to sustain an unjust economy which keeps millions of people poor.
Around the world, vital land and water is being used to cater for our growing appetite for meat – up to 40 per cent of cereals produced worldwide go to feed livestock, rather than people.
In parts of Colombia, the focus for this year’s Wee Box appeal, the activities of big business are leading to families being forced from their land to make way for mines and cattle farms, destroying homes, livelihoods and the environment.
So cutting down on meat, perhaps by having a “Meat-free Monday” or fish on a Friday, is a lifestyle choice that can start to make a difference, especially by carrying on beyond the 40 days of Lent.
Food is an issue of justice. While one in eight people go hungry in the world, we in Scotland throw away more than 556,000 tonnes of food every year.
When Pope Francis recently said that “throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor”, his words hit home: because they’re true.
Yet simple steps such as planning meals in advance, and freezing and reheating leftovers can stop this waste. Many supporters have pledged to look closer at their lifestyles, not just for Lent, but for good.
And “for good” in every sense, because decisions such as these can transform lives.
They are an act of solidarity with the poorest, and as part of a collective movement, they can help to reduce the pressure on resources being felt in so many parts of the world.
They could also help us save money and be good for our health.
Our individual actions can be all-the-more powerful when they are backed up by action from government.
The next few weeks will see the Scottish Government’s Procurement Reform Bill complete its final stages in the Scottish Parliament. The bill will regulate how government and public bodies spend nearly £9 billion a year on goods and services – an opportunity to consider Scotland’s global footprint which is too important to miss.
SCIAF is supporting a list of ten demands from charities and third sector groups which call for ethical and sustainable principles to be at the heart of the Procurement Bill.
As a Fair Trade nation, and having passed one of the most ambitious climate change laws in the world, the Procurement Bill is a chance for Scotland to live up to these commitments.
The Scottish Government has repeatedly stated the importance of sustainability, and has listened to campaigners calling for a clear recognition of fair trade practices in the legislation. But the law could be stronger still.
Concerted action by the international community is needed to drive a culture shift that places people, and not profit, at the heart of the economy.
In 2015, the Millennium Development Goals, which have shaped global poverty reduction for the past 15 years, come to an end with a very mixed report-card. Now we are looking beyond 2015 to a new framework.
Reducing the shocking – and growing – levels of inequality and changing the current economic system which perpetuates gross inequality, needs to be central to this. The choices we make as individuals can help transform the world we live in.
Listening to the experiences of those at the sharp end of our unequal system is essential.
If we can live more simply, it will help others to simply live.
• Patrick Grady is the advocacy manager for the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF).