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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Our Challenges, Our Opportunities

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Whilst in Australia on a Ministerial visit, Meg gave the following speech at the Oaktree Foundation. For details about the Foundation visit: http://www.theoaktree.org/Public/Home.aspx?Page=o2nVYiHOxg4=&opt=t+qdIzohkJM=


I’m very pleased to be here today and have the chance to speak about some of the challenges and opportunities facing the world. Challenges and opportunities that will largely determine what sort of world that you will live in.  

But you are not powerless in the face of these challenges and opportunities, not powerless to change things. Young people who are committed to creating a fairer, better world, can take steps that make a difference to other people’s lives. By working together you can, and have, raised awareness of difficult issues. You have made an informed contribution to political debate, which in turn has helped galvanise politicians and private sector organisations to take action.

Your advocacy campaign, the Child Slavery Project, will help ensure more children across the world attend and do well in school, instead of surviving in conditions that amount to slavery. Here I’d like to commend the Oaktree Foundation for helping you with your valuable work. 

I understand that Oaktree are to launch in the UK later this year, I look forward to hearing from them. Whatever the particular projects that the UK branch chose to undertake, I am sure the same level of thought, energy and dedication will be seen.    

Child Slavery

The International Labour Organisation estimate that nearly 218 million children aged between 5 and 17 are engaged in child labour.  The Asia Pacific region has the highest number of working children, with millions suffering from sexual exploitation, bonded child labour, or hazardous work in harsh conditions. Many children are routinely trafficked abroad, to suffer exploitation, or are recruited into armed conflict or drug trafficking. 

This is an appalling situation. The physical and psychological scars of which will remain with them throughout their lives, shaping generations to come.  

For the United Kingdom Government, upholding children’s rights is an important priority. We are working internationally to ensure progress is made. We have signed up to the International Labour Organisations conventions, which aim to protect children from the worst forms of child labour, and call for 15 to be the minimum age at which children are allowed to work. We lobby Governments who have failed to sign up to these agreements, pressing them to do so. 

It’s important we also work to tackle the issues that make children vulnerable to exploitation.  The UK Government is helping projects worldwide which provide children with a good quality education, and their families with an alternative source of income to enable those children to go to school. 

Last week I spent two days in Manila, and during my visit went to the area known as Smoky Mountain. It’s where families live on the city’s rubbish dump, and spend their time collecting items to recycle to try and make a living. It is the worst squalor I have ever seen. There is an organisation, founded by a British woman, building a new school for up to a thousand children made out of containers. The opportunity to go to school and get an education is crucially important to these children for their future chances in life.

By working together, governments, non-governmental organisations and individuals, we can end the injustice of child slavery. We can help create a future that is economically and environmentally sustainable, a future that your generation will inherit.

Millennium Development Goals

In 2000, world leaders agreed to spare no effort to achieve eight Millennium Development Goals.  These goals included - halving world poverty, putting all children into school, and halving the number of people without access to drinking water - all by 2015.

Progress has been made; here are just some of the achievements:

  • in Ethiopia and Bangladesh, 26 million more children are now in school,
  • two and a half million more people across South Asia and the Middle East have access to fresh water, and
  • free health care for five million more people in Zambia.

But progress has not been fast enough. There is a serious risk that the Goals will turn from ambitious to unachievable, that our promises to the poor of the world will be broken.

Last year, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched a Call to Action to encourage the international community to pick up the pace of progress. He warned that the risk of failure to achieve the Millennium Development Goals constituted a “development emergency”.    

2008 is a critical year to make progress. People in communities all around the world must put their collective energies and determination into achieving the Millennium Development Goals. 

Britain and Australia made that commitment by signing the Call to Action. Both countries committed to make significant increases in our overseas development budgets during this UN-led year of action on the Millennium Development Goals. I particularly welcome the Australian Government’s commitment to overseas aid in the Pacific, where many states have fallen behind in their progress towards the Goals.

Last year, at the Pacific Islands Forum, I met with Ministers from a number of countries from that area. Papua New Guinea, for example, has committed itself to doing all it can, but faces an up hill struggle. They are often caught between a desire to tackle poverty and environmental concerns. Parents want to send their children to school, but the only way they can do so is by accepting payment to allow their trees to be cut down. They need our help, so their children can attend school and the trees can stay standing.

But achieving the Millennium Development Goals relies upon more than just development assistance. Economic growth is vital to ensure a just and sustainable world and that means increasing trade.

The UK and Australia are both pushing for a pro-development outcome to the Doha Development Agenda trade round. We need an open and equitable global trading system. But this is another area where we have to speed up activity. A breakthrough over the next few months is essential if this world trade agreement is to be completed this year.  

All parts of society must play a role if we are to see global poverty become history particularly the private sector. They can open up new markets, create jobs, share technology and improve labour standards internationally.

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals has come to be seen as a test of the world’s values.  Are we committed enough to make the necessary effort, form the necessary coalitions and put business interests and political rivalries aside for global social justice? 

Climate Change

Another troubling topic raises the same questions climate change. This debate is no longer simply of interest to environmentalists.  It is one of the great moral challenges of our generation, one that is particularly relevant to you, who will inherit what we leave behind.  

These two global challenges - poverty and climate change - are inextricably linked. 

Achieving environmental sustainability is essential to lift people out of poverty, but also to prevent large numbers of people from falling into poverty. Land and resources will become scarcer, droughts, flooding and unpredictable weather patterns will become more frequent. Inevitably it is the poorest who will suffer the most they are vulnerable to extreme environmental changes and have the least capacity to respond to them.

To illustrate the scale of the problem, by 2080, an extra 600 million people could be affected by malnutrition and an extra 400 million people exposed to malaria.  We are also likely to see large scale migration as rising sea levels force people to flee their homes.  Many of the small islands in the Pacific are beginning to experience the impact of climate change. People of the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea are already preparing to leave their homes.

In the United Kingdom we are taking this issue seriously. A Bill currently before Parliament will make the UK the first country in the world to have a legally binding long term framework to cut Co2 emissions and adapt to climate change. 

We have provided over 13.5 million to push the development of the Clean Energy Investment Framework at the World Bank and Regional Development Banks. These help developing countries take advantage of new technology. 

We have also committed ourselves to spending over 100 million over the next five years on research into the science, social and economic impact of climate change for the most vulnerable developing countries. In addition we are helping those countries put the information to good use. The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize is doing some excellent work in collaboration with the UK’s Meteorological Office.

I am particularly pleased that the UK and Australia have pledged to make tackling climate change a central element of our partnership. There is plenty that we can aim for:

  • a credible, fair and ambitious global climate change agreement,
  • help for countries to achieve sustainable growth in a low carbon way,
  • effective emissions trading systems,
  • climate resilient societies, and
  • international institutions that are fit to tackle this challenge.


Climate change, world poverty and child slavery are large issues to tackle. They may appear too large to be able to do much about them but that’s not the case. The challenges facing us are formidable, but if we work together we can tackle them in a positive way and start pushing them in the direction we want to go.  

Thank you for listening.

Associated Photograph :

Meg with some of the young people involved in the Oaktree Foundation

Meg with some of the young people involved in the Oaktree Foundation

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