USA

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

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.

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.

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.

US Debt Crisis Oct. 2013

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English: Barack Obama signing the Patient Prot...
English: Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the White House Español: Barack Obama firmando la Ley de Protección al Paciente y Cuidado de Salud Asequible en la Casa Blanca (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After a shade more than 2 weeks (16 days to be precise) the US debt crisis appears to be coming to a close, well for now at least. America came within a whisper of default on its national debt because the Republicans and the Democrats couldnt see eye-to-eye on a solution.

On Wednesday 15 Oct. 2013 the Democratic leader Harry Reid said that Senate leaders had found an agreement, with non-essential government services to be reopened; but only until a new deadline of January 15, 2014. America’s borrowing authority will be increased until February 07, 2014. Reid said: “The compromise we reached will provide our economy with the stability it desperately needs.”

Yet to outside observers, the past three weeks have been totally baffling; a perplexing cocktail of Tea Party, Ted Cruz, Obamacare and debt.

So how and why did the Washington Administration came so close to pushing the world back into financial chaos.

  1. From the beginning, what was the Default? The US government nearly defaulted on its debt because the two main parties (yes there are only two choices and neither of them are particularly attractive from my European perspective), the Republicans and the Democrats struggled to reach a deal to increase the country’s debt limit (of course this simply means they are allowing themselves to borrow even more, as if the debt isn’t already at eye-watering levels!).
  2. What does that mean? The debt limit set is the total allowable $ value of government borrowing. The limit, set by Congress is usually issued in the form of treasury bonds and securities. If the debt limit isn’t increased, then America can’t honor its debts to foreign countries. We all get to pay for America’s spending!
  3. And why is that so bad? The US $ is the world’s reserve currency (travel almost anywhere and you can get by with US $). If the US can’t pay its debts, the stock markets would react swiftly and badly, plunging the US and the rest of the world back into recession (as if we ever really got out of recession in the first place).
  4. So why didn’t they just raise it without all the argument? This deal was so difficult to reach because the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, was facing massive pressure from within his own party not to compromise with the Democrats. Amounting to, it would seem a ‘screw the economy’ attitude to get what they wanted or to those of us with a little more maturity, plain childishness!
  5. Right then, got that bit; but what did it all have to do with Obamacare? The Affordable Care Act, was passed into law in 2010 (that’s by both Democrats and Republicans), but is despised by the Republican Party, who see it as a violation of free market principles and an expansion of the state, a bit too socialist for them. It’s also President Obama’s signature achievement, making it a high value target for his opponents.
  6. And the Government Shut-down? The shutdown came about because Congress couldn’t (wouldn’t) agree on a debt budget for the country. The Republicans tried to tie the dismantling of Obamacare to the passing of a national debt budget deal. When the Democrats refused to cave-in on the healthcare law, the government closed. The Republicans then tried the same hostage taking tactic over the debt ceiling. Same result.
  7. Go on then explain why they threatened the debt ceiling? Breaching the debt ceiling would be a catastrophe; the US came to the brink of default because a small group of Tea Party-backed politicians (the lunatic-right) who just didn’t care if the government defaulted on its debts. They despise the Democratic government and they despise Obama even more. Had the US have defaulted, it would have happened on Obama’s watch, which would have been a victory of sorts for the Republicans after their failure to dismantle Obamacare. But screw the world!
  8. Right so we know why, now who? Led by Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, this extreme right-wing (wrong-wing) of the Republican Party amounts to only 18% of the elected GOP, however it is hugely powerful thanks to the support of the Tea Party, who have threatened to challenge any Republican who voted in favor of a compromise with the Democrats.
  9. Okay, this takes money, where from? The Tea Party was able to threaten established GOP politicians because they have a lot of financial backing from wealthy businessmen such as the Koch Brothers. So any Republican politician that compromised would face a well-funded opposition campaign the next time voters went to the polls. Its all really about self interest.
  10. Got that, what do they stand for though? Even the Koch brothers didn’t want the US to default on its debt, that’s just bad for business. Meaning something else was driving the Tea Party; IDEOLOGY. The Tea Party came to prominence in 2008 after the global financial meltdown and the subsequent bailouts. They wanted less government regulation, less national debt and more fiscal responsibility! Not particularly bad when you say it like that but hang on just a second…
  11. Just tell me about the reality please? …2008 also saw the election of Barack Obama, the country’s first Black President (some people call him The Kenyan and some believe him to be Muslim, not that either is a bad thing as such but in some peoples eyes either one or both statements if true would be seen as a PR disaster). The Tea Party didn’t like this as they saw it representing a shift away from their view of “traditional America” (traditional America = Christian Right-Wing; the KKK is probably a good example of a Christian Right-Wing organisation in America). As such, they set about challenging everything Obama did, even if that meant bringing the US and the world to the brink of financial disaster. Great idea.

 

So, the Americans have pulled-back but honestly is anybody fooled? This situation is set for a repeat January/February next year. In short; situation normal, round two set for after Christmas!

 

Ye-Haaa welcome to the wild west!

White Widow

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AMISOM Al Shabab and Somali public
AMISOM Al Shabab and Somali public (Photo credit: macalin)

Today (Tuesday 24 Sept. 2013) the print and on-line media is in a real spin with speculation that Samantha Lewthwait branded the ‘White Widow’ in the British press is involved and possibly killed in the al Shabab attack by islamic extremists on the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

She’s 29 years old, has 4 children and is the widow of Germaine Lindsay one of the 7/7 bombers who killed himself and others in the London June 2005 atrocity. She disappeared not long after driving speculation that she is involved in islamic terrorist activities. Survivors from the Nairobi attack have said that there’s a veiled white woman involved in the killings and of course the press media have made a great leap in their speculation.  That isn’t to say they aren’t right though.

What we do know is that al Shabab is definitely behind the action, they’ve claimed responsibility and they have form. British media has jumped on the claims from al Shabab that Lewthwait is part of the armed group attacking the shopping complex. As far as the islamists are concerned she’s the star turn. Indeed the British sources are suggesting that Lewthwaite is actually behind the attack and is running it.

All this said if she is indeed a member or affiliate of an organisation such as al Shabab the British (and probably the Americans too) have a problem. The Americans backed by the Brits and now the French seem to have a single solution to conflict where there’s an islamic element involved; military action. We (I mean the royal we here) have lost sight of what is happening in our own countries. There are whole areas where islam is the overarching cultural influence. Sections of society are not British but are islamic, and this is a concern. These people are becoming radicalized and using the relative wealth naturally derived from living in a developed liberal western society to get themselves into terror training camps which are on the whole in those places on the globe which are inaccessible (in failed states).

This isn’t new, its just more pressing than it used to be (has anyone read Londinistan?). We are generating our very own terrorists and exporting them to kill and maim those who are the easier targets. A bit more inward concentration, a bit more public action in our own country really wouldn’t go a miss. The British (and I’d guess the American and French public would welcome the action) public would seem a whole lot happier if action was taken at source instead of seeing those responsible allowed to drift almost at will around the world exporting their very own brand of lunatic terror.

I was talking with a colleague earlier today and he was very anxious to explain that those undertaking the attack in Kenya are not real Muslims. Well my understanding of islam is that he is probably right.

There is lesser & greater jihad. Greater jihad is about persuasion, education and evangelism. It also says that islam should not be forced on non-believers. All commendable and those who stick to these rules are perfectly okay with me, I have no difficulty with islam or Muslims. Lesser jihad is concerned with war and is essentially a last resort when an islamic nation is under attack by an unjustified aggressor. Now this too I don’t actually have a problem with except to say that no islamic nation is under attack by an unjustified aggressor. Certainly not by Kenya who through contributing to the African Union force in Somalia are trying to bring peace.

So I say to western governments; get your house in order and deal with the home grown extremists (I don’t just mean islamic either, it could be far-right groups as well). Stop exporting terror.