Oxfam volunteers dressed as Starbucks workers cut up a check to Ethiopian coffee famers in protest against Starbucks. Credit: Andy Aitchison/Oxfam
Oxfam works with businesses big and small to address global poverty.

Private sector

Is good business merely about making money – or should it be about something more?

Poverty and the private sector

Poor countries could benefit fully from everything the private sector has to offer – from decent jobs and a skilled work force through to new investment and new ideas. Making sure that the private sector plays an important role in addressing global poverty is imperative. In fact, beating poverty depends on it.

There is growing recognition in the developing world that while multinational companies are making huge profits by producing for and selling to the world’s poor, when it comes to improving their economic and social well being the corporate contribution is sorely lacking. People are aware of this growing inequality and they are demanding change.

Businesses – big and small – can help.

Demanding justice

The private sector has the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty. Large, powerful trans-national companies and corporations in particular, have an enormous impact on poor people in the developing world.

Investing far more than governments can ever deliver through overseas aid, they can create new jobs and opportunities, generate wages for buying more goods and services, and teach important new skills.

But when large international companies pay low wages, allow bad and dangerous working conditions, and neglect people’s rights – as they sometimes do – it’s much harder for people to lift themselves out of poverty.

It’s this power to affect lives that makes it essential Oxfam works with the private sector. So we aim to influence companies to improve their policies and practices when they source their products in factories in poor countries.

For instance, more than 96,000 Oxfam supporters recently backed us in an important campaign to get Starbucks to support Ethiopia's attempts to trademark the names of its best-selling beans. In June 2007, Starbucks and the Ethiopian government struck an historic deal, enabling farmers to get a fairer price for their coffee beans.

Working with the community

We also work with businesses that are committed to making a positive impact in the developing world. Many local communities are organizing themselves, demanding that businesses – at the regional, national and international level – invest in communities around which they work. Oxfam supports these local entrepreneurs, family businesses, producers and workers, helping them to make a success of what they do, and find lasting solutions to their poverty.

And finally, we campaign for change at global level too. Our Make Trade Fair campaign has put international drug companies Pfizer and Novartis under pressure to stop blocking poor countries’ access to cheap medicines – another example of Oxfam’s commitment to challenging business, big and small, to work for everyone.