UK

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!

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.

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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…”

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?