equality

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

The Problem with OXFAM

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The problem with OXFAM is typical of most large NGO’s; the need for cash, and lots of the it. But if you listen to OXFAM you could be forgiven for thinking that the problem with OXFAM is SodaStream & Scarlett Johansson.

Scarlett Johansson has been an OXFAM Ambassador for around 6-years and so she says, she’s rightly proud to have been associated with the organisation. However, as with many of these organisations there’s a but and big but at that. Scarlette Johansson has a sponsorship deal with a commercial organisation, in this case SodaStream. Nothing unusual in that sort of set-up, famous people are often associated with a brand to promote further brand awareness. Makes perfect sense.

And here in lies the problem for OXFAM; SodaStream are an Israeli company who’s operations are based in Judea & Samaria (Ezor Yehuda VeShomron), what most people would understand as the West Bank Palestinian Territories. Under international law this area is classified as occupied. This is debatable but not the issue at hand. OXFAM actively campaigns against the Israeli occupation.

I wont go into the spoils of war argument here but I could.

150px-Judea_and_Samaria_Area_in_Israel_(all)_(semi-Israel_areas_hatched).svg

But wait a minute, SodaStream who’s employee base is 15% Jewish Israeli and 85% Palestinian Israeli operates an equal pay and conditions policy for those doing the same work. Effectively their policies are colour blind. Scarlett Johansson recognises this and is proud to be linked to SodaStream on this basis.

In many other countries companies foreign owned or not are generally welcomed as wealth promoters and employers and as tax payers. So what does OXFAM say, well their stance is the same as those who support the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement (BDS). OXFAM is a human rights organisation. In their view the company is illegally based on occupied territory and they cannot have an Ambassador who is linked with such a company, its a contradiction that cannot be maintained.

Well they may hold that view but if they honestly do hold that view then they should have sacked her and not allowed her to leave. OXFAM have plainly took the gun, loaded it up, took aim and shot themselves in the foot!

The fact is that most if not all large NGO’s are heavily reliant on sponsorships for their finances. They have huge, almost crippling salary bills to pay and they therefore need the corporate support to survive. The issues of deprivation, human rights and equality become very quickly a secondary thought. In short OXFAM took the view that they needed Scarlett Johansson more than she needed them (she didn’t).

By contrast Ms Johansson has said she is proud to be associated with SodaStream as a company that promotes cooperation and interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestinians. She said the company was committed to “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day.”

The reason, the real reason why OXFAM didn’t tell or even ask Scarlett Johansson to leave; she was no longer welcome as an Ambassador, is that they relied on her for good branding. I have to think that they may live to regret this decision.

As for Scarlett Johansson, well she has handled her self with dignity and has shone a light on the ridiculous BDM movement. Trade is without question a leveller and a conduit for peaceful cooperation.

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.

Dieudonne; A Sinister Clown

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SINISTER CLOWN

I have been following with interest and repulsion in equal measure the Dieudonne saga in France, partly because I’m obsessed with France and partly because of my innate fear of all things fascist/right-wing/nazi and following the very public goal celebration in the UK by Nicolas Anelka recently.

Dieudonne shows have been cancelled in some parts of France but not without a public outcry from some sections of the society that this is an attack on freedom of speech or freedom of expression. But I find myself thinking as one who will willingly defend the right of freedom of speech even when I fundamentally disagree with the sentiments being expressed, that actually even a bad clown can make a mistake and may even break the laws of the land. Wearing a red nose or pretending to give humor never prevented anyone from committing a crime. If a thief steels a motorcycle he has committed a crime even when he does in an amusing way.

However, Dieudonne, the sinister clown seeks to further his obnoxious views through so called humor. By going on a tour, publishing dates and venues he is being provocative and foolish. The French have not prevented his freedom of expression but have prevented public discord and a potential for civil conflict. Dieudonne is not a victim, he has not suffered a crime against humanity, he has had his talentless show which trades on scandal and abuse brought to a close in the name of public safety.

Dieudonne only speaks to those who cling onto the unintelligible thought of anti-Semites, to them his act, if indeed that is what it is, is a source of humor. He therefore only speaks to a small but nonetheless nuisance minority of people. To this day there are conferences and a vast number of books which speak of the Nazi Holocaust, a permanent stain on modern society. To think that this could be a subject for humor frankly beggars belief.

The notion that the law can impose limits on public behavior to me is something which should and must be challenged frequently. But the exploitation of crimes against humanity for the humor of a very few is not an area I would recommend to anybody as a place to challenge accepted decencies. His act is a cynical insult for his own reward. His act is one of many which seeks to raise the infamous beast of anti-Semitic thought from the ashes of hate.

It is quite amazing to me to notice that resistance of Dieudonne and his like comes from all sides, both left and right leaning thought. Of course Dieudonne argues that he provides a refuge in humor from the Zionist, he may well do this but I ask what is Zionism in 2014?

Certainly 100 years ago when the thought was to make a Jewish state the idea was simple; to provide a state that all Jews from around the world could come to where safety was guaranteed. I recognize the visionary genius of Theodor Herzl without question. However, Zionism in 2014 may look as if it is all about the West Bank and Gaza but really is this so? I think Zionism today is the same as it ever was, especially when you consider the threats from Iran, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Hesbollah, Hammas…

If only Dieudonne could see the threats from without the ‘Zionist’ state maybe then he wouldn’t be such a sinister clown about it all.

To add to the anti-Semitic attacks which are frequent the need for humor at the expense of the dead is an insult. To do this at the expense of Holocaust dead is a crime!

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?