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    Justice, equality and the Paralympics

    Wednesday, 14 September 2016  |  Joanna

    The 2016 Paralympics are taking place in Rio this week and it's been truly inspiring to watch so many elite athletes competing in a huge range of sports. The classification system brings it home to us how many different types of disability, different levels of impairment, para athletes bring to their sport. Clearly it's only fair to ask athletes to compete against others with a similar level of impairment, and so much technology and ingenuity has gone into working out how to best support athletes to fulfil their potential.

    At time of writing team GB has 75 medals including 34 golds

    If you were to set out four chairs at the 100m start line, with gold medal winning athletes Jonnie Peacock, Hannah Cockroft, Libby Clegg (many congratulations to them) and me (an able bodied but unfit 43 year old) sitting on the chairs and then ask us to run 100m with no aids - no prosthesis, wheelchair or guide - I would have half a chance. Give Jonnie a blade, Hannah a racing wheelchair and Libby a guide runner then I would be left in their wake. Which is as it should be. They have spent thousands of hours training, they are supremely talented and they are half my age.

    So why do we put up with this kind of inequity in global trade? A small number of hugely bloated multinational companies have a stranglehold on trade. They are able to use complicated accounting practices to pay minuscule amounts of tax in countries where they trade - this is reprehensible in regimes like the UK and Ireland but it is inexcusable in developing countries where the tax money could really help improve people's lives. Global trade is stacked in favour of those who can use their financial might to beat down prices, resulting in lower wages and welfare, poor working conditions and workers losing their lives. If a garment factory in Bangladesh raises its prices so its workers can get paid enough to live on, and to introduce fire protection, its customer will move to a different factory which doesn't guarantee these things. 

    I talk to a lot of school children about fair trade. They understand that it's not fair that a child who happens to be born in Sri Lanka has such different life chances from one born in Selby. Fair trade starts from the premise that we shouldn't be treating everyone the same. We should be working out what our producers need and tailoring our orders to help in the best way. 

    Fair trade is about understanding that the ladies who make our jewellery in Peru want to work flexibly to fit in with their families. It's about training them in jewellery design and showing them what's fashionable in the UK so each collection is going to be successful.

    It's about providing flush toilets and clean water for the Sri Lankan workers who make our toys when you find out that they have to go home every time they need the loo at work, causing discomfort and embarrassment.

    It's about building an earthquake proof workshop for the Nepalese knitters who make our winter woollies so they can still earn a living when their homes have been destroyed.

    If we treat everyone the same, only the strongest, the already advantaged, will thrive. The Paralympics prove how much of a waste of human talent that would be. If we give everyone appropriate support we can all achieve our potential. And how much more diverse and joyful all our lives will be.