By Erik Pearse
Only One Earth, the evocative tij tle of a book vvritten last year by Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos for the occasion of the United Nations Conference on the Environment (published by Penguin at 45p) highlights the interdependence of all men on our fragile planet. For better, for worse, we are all on it together, and policies adopted in one part of the globe can affect the lives of people in another.
The recent report in the Guardian concerning the levels of wages paid by British firms in South Africa is a case in point. The report claimed that the great majority of British firms at present operating in Africa were paying at least some of their Hack or coloured employees wages below the "Poverty Datum Line" — the minimum level on which a family can exist.
The Guardian report has had substantial repercussions on Parliament, the news media and business alike. This has surprised many. But is it really so surprising? The firms concerned are among the largest in the country.
Through shareholdings and employment in these companies. a very substantial number of us, individually and institutionally, are directly con nected with these companies. In other words, the return on our shares can he directly related to the payment of starvation wages in South Africa — a disturbing example of interdependence on our small planet.
Another example which has not, unfortunately, attracted the publicity of South African investments — arises from our joining the E.E.C. As I write this article, Mr. Joseph Godber, the Minister for Agriculture, is trying to assuage the fears of ten Commonwealth developing countries which depend on the British market to sell their sugar.
Ninety per cent of the export earnings of Barbados and Mauritius come from sugar, In Barbados, one in five are employed in the sugar industry, and in Mauritius it is two in five. It is no exaggeration to say, therefore, that sugar is the very life-blood of their economy, and other Commonwealth countries are also highly dependent on selling their sugar cane to Britain.
For the past 20 years, steady prices and a secure outlet • for Comrnomwealth sugar have been assured by the Commonwealth Sugar .Agreement, one of the essential provisions of which is to limit sugar beet production on Britain. If no such limitations were imposed, British farmers would increase beet sugar production at the expense of imported sugar cane:
Within the E.E.C., homegrown sugar beet is subsidised and protected from outside sources of supply. The reason why . ten Ministers from Commonwealth sugar-producing countries arc now facing Mr. Godber is that, despite Britain's assurances of good intent, sugar beet production within the E.E.C. (Britain included) is increasing at such a rate that when the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement comes to an end next year, the present guarantees for sugar cane will have been severely eroded.
In other words, the decision by a French, or a British farmei to grow more sugar beet can affect the very livelihood of people at the other end of the world.
The Justice and Peace Commission has prepared a memorandum on the sugar issue for the E.E.C. Commission, to which it -hopes to make representations jointly with the other national Justice and Peace Commissions in Europe. But grass-roots support and 'concern is also essential if the right decision is to be made.
This is precisely what the Europe '73 Campaign, sponsored by the World Development Movement in association with a number of organisations and Churich bodies. including the Justice and Peace Conmiission, is seeking to achieve. It deserves, and will need, all the support it can get in the corning months.