Defining and implementing Scotland’s values for a just world

Does and should Scotland have distinct values and principles guiding its position in the world? If so, what are they, and how can they be implemented? These questions were put to speakers and delegates at a conference organised by the Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland (NIDOS) on 17th May 2013 in Edinburgh, entitled ‘Scotland 2013 and beyond: our values for a just world’.

With Scotland’s 2014 referendum imminent, organisers were keen to keep international development at the forefront of political debate – rather than allowing such issues to be drowned out by campaigns for and against Scottish independence.

Representatives from NGOs, government agencies and business each suggested key values they consider to be associated with their approaches to international development. MSP Humza Yousaf, Minister for External Affairs and International Development, spoke about a ‘socially-responsible Scotland’ and an ‘outward-facing nation’. He considers Scotland as aspiring to be a ‘good global citizen’, which doesn’t undermine aid efforts with trade and arms deals. Words that recurred throughout the day include: justice, fairness, equality, solidarity, transparency, integrity, respect and (environmental) sustainability. Positive and optimistic sentiments, but how can a nation define which values reflect those of its people? And who is to put such values into practice and how? Governments? Citizens? Civil society? The private sector?

In terms of governments incorporating such values into their practices, Peter Sörbum from NGO CONCORD Sweden explained how Sweden’s 2003 Policy for Global Development calls for a ‘whole government approach’, whereby all ministries must contribute to and not contradict international development efforts. In Scotland, ministers have recently been debating a Procurement Reform Bill. Civil society actors such as the Scottish Fair Trade Forum have been lobbying for the inclusion of a clause to embed fair trade in the concept of sustainable procurement. Here there is potential for civil society to influence government to consider particular values in policy making. The Sustainable Scotland Network plans to develop fair trade specifications for procurers of goods, so that fair trade products can easily be selected over others where available.

As for the private sector, the UK-wide approach of the Cooperative Group was presented by Hannah Newcomb, in terms of how the business is working to put into practice its stated longstanding values of fairness and equality in its global supply chains. Having been stocking fair trade products for many years, it is now aiming to go ‘Beyond Fairtrade’, by supporting smallholder farmers in numerous ways. Reflecting approaches taken by many NGOs and government international development agencies, she described how the Cooperative is working to help agricultural producers form into cooperatives, increase productivity, diversity their production, obtain loan finance, and obtain Fairtrade status. The Cooperative then provides the market for their goods through its stores.

The British Medical Association (BMA) provided another example of how the value of fairness is being considered in the medical supplies sector. The BMA is a founding member of the Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Group, which carries out research on outsourced manufacture of goods used in our healthcare sector and develops guidance for procurers of such goods. They gave examples of how migrant workers suffer poor conditions when manufacturing latex gloves for export in Malaysia, and how scalpels and other surgical instruments are made in Pakistan with no health and safety provisions, leading to many accidents and physical disabilities. Working days are often 12 hours long, there is no job security, and child labour is common. The irony in such negative impacts for health being caused by the manufacture of equipment used to protect our health here in the West was made apparent.

With Scotland having been declared a Fair Trade Nation in February this year, and conferences such as these inviting actors from different sectors to define further values for the nation beyond fairness, there are opportunities for academic research into how such values can be implemented by a nation, its citizens, its NGOs and by its firms.

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