Regulation

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

Logic or Loathing, the Scottish question

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There aren’t many things as bitter as a divorce and it very much looks as if Scotland is getting themselves ready to divorce the British Union (England really).

What those Westminster types appear to have missed is the way the arguments are being put; Scottish arguments in favor of independence are all emotion and national pride. The Westminster arguments are all financial logic, well that’s what they’d like you to think at any rate, the manner in which some of them frame their arguments leads me to believe they’ve had a frontal lobotomy.

I have to admit that there are compelling arguments for keeping the union together though, Scottish tax’s may well rise and incomes could be hit. These of course are the logic arguments but when logic, even compelling logic such as this rubs up against loathing of the sort the Scottish Nationalists display there’s no contest.

Bearing in mind I’m not Scottish, I try very hard not to go to Scotland; its on the whole cold, damp and honestly I struggle to understand the version of spoken English used to communicate up there, in short its not the kind of place that suits me, but I have to admit nonetheless that I have a secret respect for what they might just achieve.

They have all manner of energy resources and wide open spaces, and yes it looks very beautiful in the brochures. They also have the British naval base where the nuclear submarines are based and this could prove a bit of a problem for the whole of the union, never mind the suggestion of a Sterling currency union which the English don’t appear to like one bit. But really I think they might just do it regardless the logistical challenges. After all who wants to be part of a dog end of an empire?

What ever the Scottish decide I will wish them well because if they don’t actually get independence I’m certain they’ll get what was termed Devo-Max which basically means they’ll run almost as an independent nation, just with a few Westminster MP’s to pay for. If David Cameron and his cronies hadn’t been quite to pig-headed about not putting the Devo-Max option on the ballot papers he might have had a chance of salvaging some respect in Scotland. Win, Lose or Draw after the vote takes place I would probably bet that he wont be welcome North of the Border any time soon!

From the politics point of view Scotland is broadly speaking a Socialist nation while the rest of the UK isn’t, so you have to have some sympathy for them, they just don’t get the leaders they want. And I can see why the British Labour Party don’t want them to split away either, it’d mean the end of them as an opposition party in the remaining UK with no possibility of taking power for a long time to come. Basically the remaining UK will have a Conservative Government, unchallenged for quite some time to come. On this point alone I selfishly hope the Scottish people remain in the union, but I wouldn’t hold it against them if they didn’t, in fact I’d be quite the jealous one!

So the divorce papers have been served, the marriage is in trouble, the wife wants to leave after years of abuse and feeling like she’s been treated like an idiot. The husband on the other hand cant bring himself to believe she’ll leave, she wont be able to support herself he thinks.

Like most of these sorts of cases, she divorces him and the husband doesn’t see it coming till its actually happened and his suits are cut to ribbons in a bin-bag at the door of his now former home!

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.

McDonald’s Promise Sustainable Beef

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McDonald’s, the biggest purchaser of beef in the US has promised that it will begin buying beef from a verified and sustainable source by 2016.

There is a but… They don’t know what verified sustainable beef actually is!

There is no definition of beef, for anybody that is, so this claim by McDonald’s is ambitious in more ways than one I guess. On the plus side McDonald’s are working with suppliers such as Wal-Mart to come with a definition they can work within, but this sounds a bit like asking a fox to guard the chickens. It’ll be a definition that suits McDonald’s but which may not actually resemble anything you or I might understand as beef. So on the negative side the players are setting the rules!

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When I go to my local butcher and ask for a cut of beef I fairly well know what I’m looking at is beef. This might not be so clear with a McDonald’s definition I venture. Beef could end-up being something that’s mechanically reclaimed beef which is roughly equivalent in terms of protein content.

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Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president has explained that they are not ready to give a figure for how much beef will be from a verifiable sustainable source in 2016, its an “aspirational goal” he says, you better believe it if they don’t actually know what beef is I reckon. But it has been speculated that the process to get from zero to 100% beef from verifiable sustainable sources could take 10-years.

But think about this for a moment; the route the beef takes – cattle farm – suppliers – slaughter houses – patty makers… burger on a bun.  All parts of the supply chain act independently with each taking a profit and still we have the £1.99 Happy Meal!

How do they do it for the money?

Nonetheless verifiable sustainable beef or not a McDonald’s burger will still be 550 calories, and half the recommended level of fat for a day.

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.

A Private Affair

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On the whole the French are not that interested in the Affair Gayet. In a survey 56% of French people in a YouGov poll said that they really thought the Holland-Gayet affair is a private matter. Only 25% said they were interested in any way. The French are not curious!

But there is more, the YouGov poll shows that those who are politically on the left or left looking are less interested. For them the scoop of Closer is an invasion of privacy. They are very protective of their privacy notwithstanding the political resonance of the affair. But the opinions are partisan to say the very least; those on the right and supporters of the odious Marine le Pen do not share this view of privacy, for them it is a matter for the public to debate, discuss and titillate themselves over.

One might suggest a link between small things and tiny minds at this point.

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Respect for privacy or not that the French populace has shown, the media nonetheless is in something of a frenzy. The priority given to the press conference by the President of the Republic, the rolling news reporting and the pitching-up of foreign news agencies has been nothing if not exceptional. The media is doing its very best to try to encourage the French public to take an interest.

The victim of these intrusions, the President Francois Holland has remained tight lipped about the matter to the point of refusing to complain. No doubt thinking about the judicial immunity the Presidential Office enjoys for his entire term. The actress Julie Gayet by contrast has decided court action is in order and is suing Closer for €50,000.00 damages for invasion of privacy. This didn’t stop the magazine going on to promise further revelations however or all sorts of rumors circulating on the internet and on social networking sites.

francois holland

What is interesting however is that the French public have said that they think the budget of the First Lady should be removed. 55% of the respondents to the YouGov poll say the budget of the First Lady is an anachronism of the Republic. But the budget set at less than €20,000.00 is hardly a kings ransom for Valerie Trierweiler the current First Lady (for how much longer she will be we don’t yet know). Furthermore 69% of respondents said the budget is unjustified regardless of political allegiance or age.

In France even the most high profile of affairs is a private matter, the contrast to Britain could not be any starker. You only have to look at any of the tabloids to see the difference in approach. Privacy in the UK is a matter of contention, in the public eye means you are public property, all the time. To quote “every Katie has a Price…”

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!