EEA

The Trouble with (Mobile) Phones

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As supply chains go we very rarely stop to ask where the materials in our mobiles phones (cell phones for the American readers) come from, what the human cost might be. The use of coltan, (a contraction of columbite and tantalite, and its derivative tantalum), to make capacitors for electronic goods becomes a problem when its sale funds a civil war and the social impact on the local population includes death, violence, rape, poor labor conditions and the breakdown of family units.

The battles in Central Africa have been raging for almost twenty years and are funded, in large part, by the localized militias’ control of natural mineral deposits, whether directly, or through taxing and exploiting artisanal miners and local populations.

Artisanal mining is at best described as basic. Small teams with primitive tools clear some jungle, dig up the ground and extract whatever minerals they find close to the surface. Through an informal market, minerals are then sold on to middlemen and make their way along precarious routes, through multiple palms greased with taxes and bribes.

In Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC – democratic? that has got to be a joke, yeah?), at least 5 million people have died in the recent conflicts, of whom it is estimated around 40% were women and children. Recruitment of children as soldiers has been systematic, along with widespread sexual violence as a weapon of war (that’s rape if you were wondering). The warfare is complex and ever changing, with an intricate web of rebel and government-backed militias in combat with each other. Gender-based violence has become a weapon of choice in these conflicts.

According to most experts, smelters and refiners are the main “bottle neck point” of the conflict mineral supply chain. So, an accurate list of smelters would be extremely useful in determining conflict mineral sourcing.  Many of these smelters are highly mobile operations, often based in difficult to reach locations deep within conflict zones and so its likely to be extremely difficult to capture usable data on the operations. 

But hope is on the horizon (well of sorts anyway).  the US has recognized the exploitation associated with, and trade of conflict minerals originating in the DRC is helping to finance conflict characterized by extreme levels of violence in the Eastern DRC, particularly sexual and gender-based violence.

According to Oren Ben-Zeev, a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers who assists companies to comply with the disclosure process, the chain of custody of conflict minerals is difficult to establish.

Ben-Zeev states, “identifying the ‘chain of custody’ between the origin of the minerals and the finished products into which they are incorporated, compounds in difficulty for every supplier tier between the smelter and the reporting company. At the end of the day, companies that are far downstream cannot conclusively determine the smelters in their supply chain.”

Conflict minerals are made into essential components in all advanced electronic devices. There is little we, as consumers, can do to change this. But we can vote with our wallets to support those tech companies that demonstrate their commitment to implementing comprehensive due diligences processes in their supply chains.

The Fairphone initiative, based in Amsterdam, offers the first conflict mineral free smart phone, and Intel now manufactures a conflict mineral free microprocessor. Raise Hope for Congo, a campaign of NGO the Enough Project, ranks electronics companies based on their actions to contribute to a clean minerals trade in the DRC.

Next time you reach for your smart phone or tablet, perhaps it’s worth considering what your response will be.

Much of the above is based on work by Jude Soundar and Alex Newton

Food Alert!

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If nothing changes by the end of 2014 the TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement) will be in force; a catastrophe for those who believe that food and drink are serious issues not to be messed about with so much.

If the agreement comes into force as planned then you will soon be saying hello to genetically modified milk, beef hormones, and chlorinated chicken, not to mention shale gas and oil… And then you will have to say farewell to managed environments, free-range, freedom foods, and a pleasant and green landscape pleasing to the eye as well as our collective conciseness. The influx of products will adversely affect our European food security for what I ask? A populist agenda and cheap shopping!

This project opens the doors to American domination so that they can make by 2029 $0.03 per person with nothing in it for Europeans I venture. The deal will remove trade barriers and tariffs designed to keep safe our own food supply, our own farms and associated businesses. American companies will enjoy commercial equality with our European companies. European jobs will be lost, a new recession is peering at us over the horizon at the end of the decade.

NON

European social structures will be damaged, possibly beyond repair by this agreement. Social standards will be diminished, economic standards will be diminished, industrial, cultural, and personal freedoms will be diminished because this agreement will attack our basic democratic freedoms through an unprecedented level of influence that will be exercised by the American mega-companies vying to control our food supply chains.

What gain for Europe? Well its suggested that Europe will gain 0.5% of total European GDP but its also said that this figure should be treated with scepticism, it might not happen!

There is also the further very thorny issue of energy supply. The agreement allows for free trade across Europe of energy supply but there is no universality of agreement between European states on the status of energy supply. In some countries certain types of energy (shale gas) is illegal. This is without question a massive area of concern not currently addressed by the agreement or the EU. Democratic rights will certainly be trampled under the American free trade boot when it comes to energy supply.

The European project seems to be under threat from our American cousins attempts to sell Europe food and energy that it does not need or want in most cases. Do we honestly need more Americanisms? Our food is currently too fast, more not less McDonald’s cannot surly be a good thing.

Blair, Bush, Obama and Cameron Surrender the West

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The inevitable result of a publicized decision to pull troops out of Iraq is coming to bear. The resultant power vacuum is being filled not unsurprisingly by al-Qaeda whose operatives have surged in to the Anabar region of Iraq.

Cue American promises that they will send help but not of the troop kind, what other kind might help in the present situation I’m not certain for sure, but help is on the way! What has got to be understood is that the less than convincing claim of victory by the West is seen very much as a defeat of the West by al-Qaeda and others aligned to the same aims; so begins what may prove to be a long and woeful Iraqi civil war.

Similarly, Afghanistan where the very same fate awaits. Coalition troops are to withdraw and on top of a series of strategic blunders the effect will be to hand the country straight back to the Taliban. The effect would seem obvious that these two regions that the West went to war over and lost many lives in an attempt to neutralize them as threats to our societies will once again be a threat to our societies. Only this time round a whole lot more dangerous I venture.

Blame for this impending shambles is not necessarily to be laid at the doors of Obama and Cameron, they just provided the finishing touches. No, its the prolonged moral misjudgement amply displayed by our political leaders en-masse who refused to acknowledge the true nature and extent of the threat posed to the West from the whole region, not just the isolated cases of Iraq and Afghanistan both of whom it must be said were (and will become again) terror-promoting regimes to be feared. Both wars were dogged by mission drift and western self-loathing. The military as well as the Western political leaders missed completely the complex and many faceted face of Islamic religious war against the West.

Further more, with impending capitulation almost complete the Western leaders then decide to lift sanctions on Iran, meaning they will march ever-more quickly toward their murderous intent of developing nuclear weapons. Although I’m sure its good for business with a whole new Iranian market opened up to Western companies just itching to sell them cars and stereos and all manner of other unspeakable vices (to be enjoyed by the rich and powerful behind closed doors only you know)?

But again the political ineptitude is utterly mind boggling with once more a failure to appreciate the effect of spilling yet greater amounts of arms and resources into an already fragile region. Iran with a nuclear weapon will equate to a nuclear armed Turkey and Saudi Arabia both of whom are intent on dominating the region. This isn’t to speak of the unthinkable threat this will pose to Israel who the Iranian regime would happily wipe off the world map. But still more confusing is that US Secretary of State John Kerry bizarrely suggested that Iran should step in to help with Syrian peace talks. This to me would appear that they are setting a kleptomaniac to catch a thief,I can only think it must have slipped his memory that Iran is Assad’s foremost patron in the region so how that’ll work I’m mystified.

Lest they forget our politicians should be reminded there are many splits and divisions in the Islamic world and particularly those factions committed to war on the West. If they are honestly going to wage war with these people then understanding and acknowledging the threat they pose would be a really good start.

The Hordes are coming?

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Schengen Agreement
Schengen Agreement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since 01 Jan. 2014 Romanians and Bulgarians have had the restrictions on free movement lifted, 7 years since accession to the EU and now they are free to travel for work.

The Disaster Scenario for British PM David Cameron I guess. He announced that Romanians and Bulgarians would not enjoy the same freedoms as those from other European countries, no not a bit of it, they would be excluded from claiming the same social benefits freely available to others. Britain would not be over-run by scroungers!

David Cameron knows this ‘problem’ does not arise, they are coming to work in the main. But he nonetheless continues to agitate the populist radical right who are spoken to by UKIP. He will continue to do this right up to the European Elections in May 2014, after then who knows what his and his party’s position on the matter will be. Add to this political frenzy of over-speculation the British tabloid press coverage and yes we have a storm of Romanian and Bulgarian scroungers just simply queuing to get on planes, trains and automobiles to get to Britain, and only Britain!

This is no shock, back in 2007 when the 2 countries gained accession there were fears, deep seated fears. The British tabloids at the time imagined hordes would come, fill-up the remaining few British social houses, hospitals and school places.

At the time experts in immigration and population movement said that the effect would not be great. Yes, some would move to Britain but not so many as to swamp the country in feckless beggars and scroungers though. All that has to be remembered is that from 2001 Romanians and Bulgarians could travel freely in the Schengen area without a visa. There was no mass migration, there is no reason to believe that there will be a mass migration so spectacular that the social fabric of society will be torn away at the seams.

But at the time there was no UKIP, the political tone was much more moderate. This time the press and politicians outdid themselves and their hostile and xenophobic language has attracted amazement and bitterness in Bulgaria and Romania. Many articles on the subject are translated, and often make the headlines in both countries.

But there is a great paradox, in Bulgaria, 18,000 Britons have bought holiday homes in the resorts, enjoying an almost Mediterranean climate on the cheap. There is no animosity between the British and Bulgarians to my knowledge, except in the virtual space of the tabloids and the comments they generate from our political leaders.

So my conclusion: Bulgarians and Romanians do not have much to worry about Mr Cameron. You have expressed your doubts, you have agitated. Although in my opinion, it is losing the European elections that you are worrying about, not the moderate influx of people wishing to better their lives through toil and hard work. But for many reasons, the Bulgarian and Romanian have a bad image in the EU. This has nothing to do with Mr. Cameron and Sofia and Bucharest it is to do with the economic disadvantages of their nations. The EU is large and will do well to continue to enlarge itself for the time being.

Britain was after-all the architect of Romanian and Bulgarian accession, she got what she asked for so why complain?

End of the EDL?

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English: EDL Protest
English: EDL Protest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2013 will be memorable for many reasons for me; personally I have started my journey to a new life in the South East of France with the sale of my home in Manchester. The money is in the bank, I have a nice house on the outskirts of a town in Northern England and a house rented near Grasse from which to conduct my search for a new permanent home.

But what of one of the reasons I despair so much about Britain – the far right!

Well 2013 was a bad year for the EDL, it cannot be denied. They lost their charismatic leader Tommy Robinson in an exit facilitated  by the Quilliam Foundation and a BBC documentary. But the organisation’s demise could have come sooner, had it not been for one key factor, the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich.

The killing, in broad daylight near Rigby’s army barracks, gifting Robinson, aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, a new impetus. In dire financial straits and concerned about neo-Nazi elements in his midst, the EDL leader had wanted a way out for some time, say those close to matter.

“Prior to Lee Rigby’s murder, the EDL was finished. It was physically dead…” said  Matthew Collins of Hope not Hate the anti-Fascist movement. The founder and leader, Lennon (Robinson)  had absolutely no interest, he was worried about going to prison. The EDL had radicalised people, however, people who thought they had no way of expressing what they didn’t like. So 2,500 people came out in Newcastle after Lee Rigby’s murder.

No such response to 7/7 and no response either from the numerous Muslim Organisations. The EDL gave people a branch on which to cling in what they thought were desperate times. But no longer I think. Social integration never really existed in Britain and the EDL spoke to those who believe that the country is being over-run by immigration, the EDL feeds those fears to its own ends based on hatred.

Since Robinsons departure the EDL has become quiet but insists it will go on, but how without the media friendly (well media worthy is probably more accurate) Robinson it is difficult to say. The EDL may pass but the ideology will not. The EDL has radicalised around 3000ish working class men into counter-jihadists who will be looking for a new home, new leadership at the very least. They may (re)turn to the BNP who have a political foothold in the European Parliament through their leader Nick Griffin or they may find solace in UKIP (unlikely though, these are working class men not high rolling bankers).

It would appear however distressing that the tattooed working class racist thug is here to stay and should the Muslim community remain separate; alien to some, then these thugs will persist and may go on to kill in kind.

2014 is probably the last year we will hear that chant of E – E – EDL! but if our French cousins are anything to go by then the far-right will re-emerge again and again in ever more nasty and ugly guises I fear. Helped in recruitment no doubt by the gutter press media and acts of plain stupidity in public by those in the eye of the media. Take for example yesterday where Nicolas Anelka made a goal celebration which appeared to be the quenelle salute made famous by the French comedian Dieudonne. The gesture is strongly linked to anti-Semitism in France. The perfect example of why tensions will be persistent.

The end of the EDL? I think yes. The end of racial hatred and the far right? definitely not I’m very sad to say.

Asylum

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English: Chart showing in-country UK immigrati...
English: Chart showing in-country UK immigration removals, (failed asylum seekers and others), since 1993 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The media is fond of shining a spotlight on our asylum system, it makes good copy or TV. Its not the best way of running a debate but it does illustrate a reality that should not be overlooked. Britain like the rest of developed Europe is facing increasing asylum demands, probably in the region of 70% increase in the last 8 years.

The influx of asylum seekers is as a direct consequence of the numerous conflicts and wars around the globe. Asylum of itself is not a problem and should never be seen in terms of being a problem, its the fact that there is at the same time massive economic migration going on. Asylum is a tradition of most developed western European nations, a proud tradition in most cases and it must be preserved, it must be accepted that we are fortunate and have the honor of assisting those who need our help. I find it shocking that there are some who reside in this country who feel differently.

Nonetheless, it might be fair to comment that our processing centers are perhaps close to full and stretched for staff. The cracks are becoming obvious. The system is unable to deal with complex situations meaning it slows and blocks preventing those who might most need our help from getting it because we just don’t know they need it.

We should feel rightly proud that asylum seekers come to our countries with the intention of seeking help and maybe even settling on a more permanent basis. The contribute to the wealth (economically and culturally) to our societies. But its clear that the social support systems cannot support these people, those employed to help, the case-workers burn-out with massive levels of sickness absence. All the time the human tragedies build. There is a need to protect the individuals but also there is a need for process which is at best a delayed process.

I would agree with anybody who said reform is urgently needed. Without question we should not settle for half measures, current failures should be corrected, but not at any cost. The economic cost of failure is mounting but so is the probable economic cost of doing the job right. My experience in industry is that doing something right first time is the most economically cost effective way of doing a job. I have no doubt that the same apply’s to the asylum system.

Delays might be necessary, so improved holding centers to accommodate the asylum seekers while the initial checks are being done would be a really good start. Simplification of procedures and processes would also help greatly. These two factors would simply add to the quality and speed of service provided, making it more respectful and certain in outcome.

A win-win in anybody’s language I guess.

At the borders of course better directional control would be needed, this is not a resources issue but probably a training and information issue.

And then once a final decision is made the person if successful should be assimilated into society. With a fully renovated procedure the asylum seeker and society will be both better served.

Final decisions are important and really need to be as speedy as possible. I’m sure most would agree that an asylum seeker should not have to face an almost endless wait on deportation or not. There has got to be clear pathways for those who do not gain asylum, they should not be expected to wait for an appropriate moment for return to their own country.  Our collective responsibility as a European Union should be ensuring those who want and need out help can access it but those who do not are dealt with firmly, fairly and quickly.

Gender Gaps

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Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, Internat...
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christine Lagarde, Director of the IMF, said recently, “In the long race ahead, it makes no sense to simply eliminate half the contestants before the starting gun is sounded. Letting women participate more fully in economic life can yield enormous economic benefits.”

Its probably fair to say that in the developed west that women get a better deal in terms of equality in the workplace than probably anywhere else on the planet. That’s no to say there is absolute equality, there isn’t, but they do experience a much closer to the male experience than almost anywhere else. Of course Asia is probably the most desperate place to be a woman right now but the Middle East offers some hope.

The Middle East is a key region of interest because although increasing numbers of women are receiving a good standard of education, the region still lags behind on the core issue of economic equality. On a global scale, the latest figures from the World Economic Forum‘s Global Gender Gap Report show that although the gender gap in education is 93% closed, the gap in economic equality has closed by only 60%. A problem!

There is plainly a disconnect from the classroom to the workplace. Education will continue to be vitally important generally but it has to be questioned where the focus for women’s education is. What educational support do women need to prepare them for the world of business and work?

Perhaps the Middle East is swayed by overt sexual discrimination? This might be too simple an explanation but nonetheless probably forms part of the explanation. Women entrepreneurs seeking loan capital may have their ideas and suggestions dismissed on the basis of them being a woman rather than straight forward commercial measure of the likely hood of success of the business being proposed. Women’s enterprise then is choked-off at source! The net result is retarded economic growth with only 50% (at best that is) of economically active people partaking in forwarding the economy.

Youth is the key to forward growth and engagement economically. The youth of today shape the future of tomorrow. This despite the political and military challenges facing the region at the present time, youth hold the key.

I am quite sure that each country will need a unique approach, cultural challenges presented by national identities possibly being the most difficult of challenges to overcome, but not insurmountable over time. My assumption is that the majority of countries of the Middle East will face many common challenges, possibly more so than any other region and this then may prove to be the deciding factory in regional success and therefore the model for the rest of the world to follow. Well we can hope I guess.

The exception to the Middle East rule is Israel with an economy broadly speaking similar to developed European and US economies. Although I’m not suggesting that Israel is not without economic issues to overcome, but they are much closer (and in some respects further on) than the close by European economies in respect to equality of opportunity.

Women in the workplace, women in business… it simply makes no sense to eliminate half the contestants before the starting gun is sounded. Letting women participate more fully in economic life will yield enormous economic benefits.