Human rights are no longer a “top priority” for the Government, Britain’s most senior Foreign Office official has admitted, as ministers put resources into supporting trade deals ahead of tackling injustice in other parts of the world. According to this report in Fridays Independent he added that the Conservatives’ “prosperity agenda” was now “further up the list” of areas on which the department was concentrating its dwindling resources. These statements were made by Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office speaking to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The Conservative chair of the Committee, Crispin Blunt, added that it was “one of the consequences of inadequate resourcing to run a sensible foreign policy”. All of this is incredibly short sighted as anyone running a business would know. The idea that one can benefit from long term sustainable economic benefits without considering the needs and security of the people whose hard work lies behind the growth has been disproven both by our own history of movements such as the slave trade, and also by the best economic understanding of successful modern businesses. Of course there are always men and women who believe they can extract value from the lives of others without paying attention to the needs of the people who they are exploiting. However in most examples of this sort of activity, the exploiters or their successors ultimately get found out and often end up having their objectives thwarted. Surely David Cameron will understand that following his visit to Jamaica last week which was overshadowed by the need for reparations for the slave trade which our nation played such a significant part in. The personal involvement of one of Camerons ancestors who ‘owned’ 202 slaves working on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica should have ensured the issue remained in the forefront of his mind. Perhaps even more important is the impact on nations whose residents are willing to use weapons and terror as a way of achieving the sort of world they wish to inhabit. If our foreign policy is focused exclusively on profits and wealth, we may miss the signs of growing unrest in nations that we are judged by the inhabitants as being exploiters of.
Arguing for improvements to Human Rights in other nations will always be challenging when these nations are not persuaded that such matters are any of our business. However the success of initiatives such as Fairtrade show that in many cases, all can benefit. As a former Imperial nation that has previously been humiliated for many mistakes in other nations, we must not fall into the trap of allowing a short term political policy to reverse our long term restoration as nation with some ethical strength. More importantly we still have a long way to go if we are to inhabit a world which allows all residents to benefit from the human rights which we enjoy.