Report from the Day of Action 2012

On Monday 27th February, after an inspiring weekend at Soundcheck, SPEAK Network members gathered for our 2012 Day of Action.

This year’s Day of Action was part of SPEAK’s ongoing Unfinished Business Corporate Accountability Campaign.  As the SPEAK Network we wanted to take a public stand and speak out against cooperate misbehaviour of UK companies, and the consequences it has on people around the world.

At Church:

At 10 am, about 60 of us gathered together and began the day worshipping and focusing on God inside the beautiful St. John’s church in Waterloo, London. We were still tired from the Soundcheck weekend, but nothing could take away from the excitement we felt taking part in the Day of Action. Worship was led by our friends from the Worldshapers, and Canon Giles Goddard shared some encouragement from the bible.

Out on the Streets:

It was now time to leave the church building and hit the streets. From the church we walked to the Shell building, and gathered outside the Shell HQ in London to perform a prophetic action to represent the devastation of the Shell’s oil spills and gas flares has on the people living in Niger Delta, and to hand in a letter and an ‘oily-handprint’ petition banner which had been created over the Soundcheck weekend.

As we named aloud some of the groups of people who have been adversely affected by the oil spills, we painted black paint on the clothing and face of one of the participants who symbolically represented the victims of Shell. This visually represented the dirty, invasive pollution of oil spills. It also meant that at the end of the liturgy, when invoking God’s power over sin and destruction on the cross, and praying for God to restore life and beauty in the land once again, we were able to visually represent this by cleaning some of the black paint from the face.

Now we were off to our next prophetic stunt outside the main showroom of Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) in Bond Street. When we arrived at D&G, one of our Network members, Joe, dressed as a sandblasting worker. He soon began coughing and spluttering to indicate the respiratory problems he was having working in this factory.  Following this, Joe pretended he died, and four of other members gathered around him on the steps of the D&G shop with black and yellow tape to suggest that they were at a crime scene. Meanwhile, a liturgy was read and followed by a minute’s silence to remember the victims of sandblasting.

Evoking the biblical story from the Gospels of Jesus spitting in mud and causing a blind man to see by rubbing it in his eyes, we all spat into a bucket of mud, following by wiping this dirt on the steps of D&G as a prophetic action which called for the Company and those in power to open their eyes to the injustice of sandblasting and other abuses of their workers. 

Still feeling excited and on the edge after our stunt outside D&G, we walked over to the London HQ of SABMiller. We gathered outside SABMiller HQ because we wanted to express our call for tax justice. However, we did not go there to protest at that particular company or point an accusing finger. They are simply one of many companies caught up in the tax avoidance dilemma that presents itself in our globalizing world big bureaucratic systems. We went there primarily to pray that we ourselves, and corporations, would act out of love, not just from necessity of sticking to laws.

We repented of the tendency to get caught up in red tape, and as we prayed this we knelt on the pavement, and covered ourselves in a long red ribbon. We asked for God to change our hearts and then laid the red ribbon in the shape of a heart realizing that only God has the power to change the hearts of people. We finished by saying this Franciscan blessing together:

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Lobbying Event at Westminster Palace:

At 2 pm we began to gather at the Gladstone room in Westminster Palace for our lobbying event. Over the next two hours we were able to lobby over a dozen MPs on a range of issues. At 3 pm we heard from MP Lisa Nandy, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on International cooperate responsibility, who spoke on business and human rights. The key points she made were that companies must be rewarded for good practices and people must come before profit. She expressed her thanks for the work that SPEAK is doing on this issue and made a plea to us to make every effort to challenge the narrative that ‘business and human rights’ are in a inherently conflicting relationship.

Following the talk, Ruth Iziduh from SPEAK Nigeria and Claire Danquah from Germany handed in  our MP3 petition. Over the past few years SPEAK had collected over ten hours of recorded petitions from across the country expressing support for the establish a UK Commission on Business, Human Rights and the Environment that will lead to improvements in the conduct of UK companies and will provide access to justice for their victims of human rights violations. It was so inspiring to watch our SPEAK Network members lobbying MPs to act on behalf of people affected by the actions of UK companies.

Concluding thoughts

The Day of Action was all about going beyond listening and talking to doing something publicly about issues of global justice. It confirmed that ordinary people captured by a passion for justice could make a big difference. We believe we are called by God to speak up to our leaders walking the corridors of power to act on behalf of the poor and exploited peoples in our world. Indeed, it was amazing Day of Action! 

Report by Philip Powell