Hundreds of millions of people face starvation because five multinational companies control 90 per cent of the world’s grain trade, leading charities were protesting last night as they launched a campaign to reduce levels of hunger in developing countries.
They called for fresh action to crack down on tax avoidance by global corporations, claiming that the lives of 230 young children could be saved every day if firms paid their proper dues in the nations where they operated.
The new campaign challenges David Cameron to take the lead in championing measures to stop tax-dodging by companies, prevent farmers from being forced off their land and ensure western nations live up to their promises on aid.
More than 100 charities and faith groups led by Oxfam have formed the largest coalition of its kind since the Make Poverty History campaign eight years ago. They are being backed by the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates and civil rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
It says five multinationals – ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Glencore and Louis Dreyfus – control all but ten per cent of the world’s grain supplies.
The campaign’s chair, Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of policy, said: “The stranglehold of a small number of companies on food supply is squeezing African farmers’ ability to feed themselves and their communities.
“Rather than protecting the interests of the big five, governments need to ensure that markets are work in the interests of the poor.
“It is nothing short of a scandal that rich countries’ failure to crack down on tax havens is costing developing countries tens of billions of pounds every year - money that could be used to buy food for hungry people.”
In its first report, the coalition condemns the “scandal” which means one in eight of the world’s population goes to bed hungry every night and 2.3m children die each year through malnutrition.
More than one-quarter of youngsters in developing countries are judged to be underweight or stunted and malnutrition will trap almost one billion young people in poverty by the year 2025, it says.
Their earnings potential is reduced in adulthood because of their poor health, costing some of the poorest parts of the world an estimated £78bn in lost economic output by 2030.
The campaign, called Enough Food for Everyone IF, will be launched in London and major cities tomorrow. It will argue that Mr Cameron has a “golden opportunity” to play a leading role in tackling hunger as Britain this year chairs the G8 group of the most industrialised nations.
It urges the Prime Minister to keep his promise to spend 0.7 per cent of income on foreign aid during 2013 – and to enshrine the target in law – and to press for other world leaders to follow suit.
The campaign is arguing for extra help for agriculture in the developing world and to mitigate the impact of climate change. It wants Mr Cameron to “reinvigorate” plans to stop companies using tax havens by putting the issue on the G8’s agenda.
It is calling for action to prevent small farmers being forced off their land and for Britain to reduce the use of “damaging” biofuels often grown by developing countries instead of food for local people.
Archbishop Tutu said in a message of support: “It’s time the world’s decision-makers came to the right decision on hunger. It’s time to end the unnecessary suffering caused by the failure of the current food system. We can make hunger a thing of the past if we act now.”