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UK Gov’t Moves to Improve Working Conditions for Garment Workers

The UK government has agreed to more than double its investment in emerging economies in an attempt to end their dependency on aid by encouraging growth and creating jobs.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening gave a keynote speech at the London Stock Exchange Monday, where she outlined the Department for International Development’s (DFID) new plan for supporting developing nations.

“I have restructured my department to focus on jobs and growth and can now commit to more than double the amount we will invest in this crucial area,” Greening said.

For 2015/16, DFID plans to target £1.8 billion ($2.9 billion) of its budget on economic development compared to the £620 million ($1 billion) spent in 2012/13.

As part of the DFID’s new approach, the organization will also partner with twelve UK high street retailers to help improve working conditions and job opportunities for more than 700,000 workers and farmers in Kenya, South Africa and Bangladesh.

Recent garment factory tragedies in Bangladesh have prompted specific initiatives aimed at shoring up surroundings and improving quality of life for workers and some retailers have joined the effort.

According to a statement, the DFID collaboration with retailers will include, “working with Sainsbury’s to help workers gain qualifications; Marks and Spencer to develop leadership and management skills for farm workers; Debenhams, Primark, Asda, River Island, John Lewis Partnership, C&A, M&Co, Next and Morrisons to improve management in Bangladeshi garment factories; and Tesco and Asda to invest in young fruit farm workers from disadvantaged backgrounds in South Africa.”

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Giles Bolton, director of ethical trading, Tesco Plc, a British multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer, said, “We’re committed to further improving the working environment there, which is why we have launched a mentoring and leadership programme.” He added that, “In Bangladesh and India our work with DFID and other retailers on skills has meant that 67,000 Bangladeshi garment workers have received an extra £3.4 million in pay.”

The UK government will also agree to new partnerships with leading British and international companies to improve business conditions in Africa and South Asia, kick-start embryonic capital markets and drive more investment into frontier economies, the statement noted.

The Swedish government made a similar move recently when it agreed to strengthen its contribution to the World Bank’s fund for low and middle-income countries to enhance prospects for continued growth in Sub-Saharan Africa specifically.

DFID plans to take the risk out of investing with frontier economies by backing investment insurance in Myanmar, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Nepal. Under the new plan, DFID will invest up to £9 million ($14.9 million) in Novastar, a venture capital fund based in East Africa, to allow it to support more entrepreneurs and businesses that provide low-cost schooling, healthcare, energy, housing and safe water to workers and communities. DFID will also sign the UK’s first Memorandum of Cooperation with the London Stock Exchange Group to support emerging capital markets in Africa.

“Economic development is, without question, the only way countries can leave behind enduring and chronic poverty for good,” Greening said.