But this is now under threat, with the EU trying to get easier and cheaper access to developing countries’ raw materials.
I lost my job in the tanneries in the 1990s,’ (when the industry was liberalised) ‘Employment was down then and, when I eventually found a job, it was only as a casual labourer. I earned very little. Now I’m back full-time."
Joseph Njugauna, a skilled worker in Kenya.
The government of Kenya has placed export taxes on raw hides and skins in recent years. This has helped to keep the raw materials in the country, boosting the Kenyan leather industry. And it’s clearly worked – since these export taxes were introduced the number of tanneries has increased, 7,000 new jobs have been created, and the sector’s earnings have gone up by almost €8 million.
The leather sector in Kenya is just one example of how a poorer country can achieve benefits for its people when it has the freedom to choose its own approach to managing raw materials. Despite this success, the EU is still calling for major restrictions on the use of export taxes in Kenya and elsewhere, for all raw materials such as hides, ores from mining and wood from deforestation.
SPEAK, with Traidcraft and a coalition of campaigners across Europe, is calling on the EU to let poorer countries: - manage their raw materials and exports in the public interest - negotiate investment agreements in line with their social, economic and environmental needs.