News Article | April 27, 2017
Yesterday was a notable one in the efforts to improve working conditions for U.S. poultry processing workers. At a Perdue chicken processing plant in Salisbury, Maryland, faith leaders and worker advocates delivered some special packages to company officials. Thirteen hundred miles way in Springdale, Arkansas, the U.S. largest poultry company announced new initiatives to improve conditions for its poultry processing workforce. I tip my hat to the diverse coalition of worker advocates who set the stage for these event. More on their contribution below, but first the story from Salisbury, Maryland. The demonstration was organized by Oxfam America and the Comité de Apoyo a Los Trabajadores Agrícolas. The demonstrators held signs that read: “We stand with poultry workers to improve working conditions,” and “Jobs on the line shouldn’t put lives on the line,” and “I love chicken. I love justice.” Their demand to Perdue is to implement changes in their poultry plants to ensure their employees earn fair wages and are protected from injuries. A Perdue official met demonstrators outside the plant gates. Alex Galimberti with Oxfam America spoke to the official: The Perdue representative accepted the tall stack of familiar yellow Styrofoam packages. Instead of raw chicken, they held the names of more than 100,000 consumers. Perdue employs 20,000 workers at locations in 10 states. Very few of its workers are represented by a labor union. At just about the same time but in Springdale, Arkansas, Tyson Foods made an announcement. The U.S. largest poultry processing company said that worker health and safety is going to be integral to their goal of sustainable food production. The company’s COO released a statement saying: I’ve been skeptical of firms that tout their sustainability efforts because typically they focus on protection of natural resources but exclude the work environment. Former OSHA chief David Michaels, just before leaving office, urged employers to integrate occupational health and safety within their business sustainability program and metrics. In December 2016, Michaels joined with another former OSHA director, John Henshaw, to write: Is this what Tyson Foods has in mind? The statement they released yesterday includes a number of promises to its poultry plant workers, such as reducing worker injuries and turnover, hiring more trainers, and publicly sharing the results of third-party social responsibility compliance audits. Tyson describes these changes as part of its focus on sustainability. But Tyson saying something is quite different from Tyson doing it and doing it well. Poultry companies have a long, troubling record of employees suffering from disabling musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome and other injuries. I’ve written previously about Tyson’s alarming number of amputations. (I’ve probably written three dozen blog posts about other safety problems in U.S. poultry plants.) Tyson Foods says it wants to reduce injuries by 15 percent per year. What it must not do to achieve that goal is engage in recordkeeping gimmicks and medical management practices that distort the truth about worker injuries. Too many companies, especially poultry companies, game the injury recordkeeping system to deceive the public about working conditions. Tyson has also racked up hundreds of thousands of unpaid OSHA penalties for safety violations. When a company routinely challenges OSHA findings, I can’t help but be wonder whether their safety talk is just lip service. One thing Tyson could do immediately is to cooperate with OSHA on a corporate wide settlement agreement in which they commit to fix the hazards identified by OSHA—-and fix them in each and every one of their plants. But I’m an outsider. I’m not privy to Tyson’s sincerity about these commitments. A number of groups however have been talking with leadership at Tyson Foods. They are pleased with the company’s announcement. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) applauded Tyson for their pledge to create and expand initiatives on safety, compensation, and transparency. The union’s president Marc Perrone said: Magaly Licolli, the director of the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center (NWAWJC) is optimistic, too. NWAWJC is a worker-led organization whose membership includes employees at Tyson poultry plants. She remarked: The UFCW and NWAWJC are part of a coalition of advocates who have been collaborating since 2012 to improve working conditions for poultry and meatpacking workers. Other groups in the coalition include the Southern Poverty Law Center, Nebraska Appleseed, Oxfam America, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, and Interfaith Worker Justice. These organizations and others began coordinating efforts five years ago to vigorously oppose the USDA’s plan to allow poultry plants to increase line speeds from 140 to 175 birds per minute. Since then—individually and collectively—the groups have issued reports, prepared petitions, briefed lawmakers, and held press calls and protests. Like the UFCW, Oxfam America staff have also met with Tyson Food officials. Their conversations took place following the release of Oxfam’s report “Lives on the Line: the Human Cost of Cheap Chicken” and accompanying social media campaign. Last year, Oxfam published an attention-getting report called “No Relief” about poultry workers being denied bathroom breaks. A hard-hitting two-minute Oxfam video calls on consumers to demand humane working conditions from the country’s four major poultry companies: Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms. Oxfam’s video is one I show to my students. In fact, I used it in class on Tuesday night. I’ve no doubt that the negative publicity caused Tyson to pay attention. My colleague Peter Dooley with the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health and I were talking yesterday about both the Tyson announcement and the demonstration at the Perdue plant. Peter’s been around the block a few times fighting corporate giants who treat workers as disposable cogs in production. I asked for his view on whether the poultry worker coalition has made a difference. And ever the optimist of the power of good over greed, he added: Peter and I agree that neither the event at Perdue yesterday nor the announcement by Tyson Foods would have occurred without the coalition’s efforts. Attention alone doesn’t solve the problem of unfair and dangerous working conditions, but it’s a vital step. A key player in that coalition’s work has been Oliver Gottfried, senior campaign strategist at Oxfam. About Tyson’s announcement he said: And co-president of A Better Balance Dina Bakst said: I’d say these reactions to Tyson’s announcement as encouraged but with a good dose of healthy skepticism. For more than five years, a small, diverse coalition of labor and human rights groups have raised awareness about unsafe and unjust treatment of poultry workers. I’ve been part of the coalition and proud of each group’s contributions. Change is possible and as Peter Dooley says: “the sky’s the limit.”
News Article | April 23, 2017
My father, Jon Vogler, who has died aged 77, used his skills as an engineer to set up the UK’s first large-scale recycling system. In 1974, when recycling at home was virtually unknown in Britain, Jon designed a household scheme in West Yorkshire for Oxfam called Wastesaver. His innovative “dumpy” device, made of metal tubing, held four different coloured bags into which households sorted their waste. With the co-operation of Kirklees council, the sorted material was collected from 20,000 homes and taken to a disused mill in Huddersfield for recycling. The project revealed for the first time the public’s appetite for such schemes. When the collection of waste became unviable due to fluctuations in commodity prices, Wastesaver changed tack to deal with clothes and textiles. Wastesaver still operates today, from a huge warehouse in Batley, West Yorkshire, where many of the clothes donated to Oxfam shops and clothing banks are sorted and recycled. Jon’s publications sold all over the world, serving as handbooks to community organisations and governments on how to reclaim waste. In the 1980s, with funding from the Commonwealth and the United Nations, he undertook research into the reuse of waste materials. His consultancy, Interwaste, aimed to help people in developing countries. He was born in Hackney, north-east London, son of Sidney Vogler, a public health inspector, and his wife, Thérèse (nee Jinks). Their Jewish-Catholic marriage was unusual for the time. After attending Haberdashers’ Aske’s school in Hampstead on a state scholarship, Jon gained a degree in aeronautical engineering from Bristol University. He was among the first Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) volunteers and helped to finish building and then taught at the multiracial Bernard Mizeki school in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Back in the UK, he took up an industrial fellowship with English Electric and married Jill Hughes, a doctor, in 1962. In 1966, they moved to Nigeria, where Jon was resident engineer on the Kainji dam on the River Niger. The family returned to the UK the following year, and in 1971 settled in Leeds. From the mid-80s Jon’s focus shifted to computing, then cyber-security, when that concept was in its infancy. He became a prolific technology journalist and an expert witness testifying in industrial disputes and criminal cases. In later life he gained a BA in fine art at Leeds Metropolitan University and an MA in contemporary art practice at Leeds College of Art, specialising in letter-cutting and sculpting in wood and stone. Jon and Jill’s sculpture-filled garden hosted many charity events, often in support of refugees. For almost two decades, too, Jon led volunteer working parties of the Friends of Roundhay Park, and for this he was awarded a British Empire Medal in 2014. Although his energy gradually decreased, his curiosity remained undimmed after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a consequence of his early career in industrial engineering. He is survived by Jill, their three daughters, Miranda, Pen and me, and son, Justin, five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
News Article | April 19, 2017
Aid workers have been discussing the issue of expat versus local worker salaries for some time now. From one side of the argument, it looks pretty simple: why should expat workers swing into town and get paid far higher rates than their national colleagues? It’s worth taking a more nuanced assessment of the professional realities in the aid industry that are changing rapidly. We also need to put aside ideology and look at the administrative realities of living the expat aid worker life. And finally, we need to think about how we can move the debate forward beyond salaries. The aid industry, including both humanitarian and development work, has been changing significantly over the past few years. “Localisation” is a term being used to describe this: large international NGOs such as ActionAid and Oxfam have moved or will move their global headquarters to the global south. And despite the fact that a recent Overseas Development Institute report states that development organisations are “behind the curve” on changes in the workplace, discussions are taking place that will transform the sector. Aid work is professionalising and that will mean more opportunities for local workers and changing roles for expats. Skilled professionals for project management, IT and creative industries are already in demand in growing economies across Africa and Asia, and the relatively small aid industry will have to offer incentives to attract and retain local talent. A new generation of internationally educated, global professionals with local language skills is sought in many sectors. That said, expat aid workers will continue to exist. And the fact is that most of them are embedded in a secondary financial economy, as well as the country they have been posted to. The unexciting reality of earning a taxable income abroad, maintaining a link to their home countries and preparing for a life after aid work means they need to earn a higher salary to make aid work a viable career. The simple truth is that most aid workers do not have generous UN or diplomatic housing, or moving allowances. And since claims of paying professionals a professional salary apply globally just as they do locally, it also means finding a balance between paying a project officer in Brussels or Nairobi. Despite anecdotal evidence about local prices hikes, a study from 2006 (pdf) suggests that UN missions, often the epitome of expat aid work, contribute significantly and in diverse ways to the local economy. Often, local staff in the back office work close to a regular 9-5 job, whereas many expats work different – often longer – hours, travel more or need to engage with global headquarters across time zones. National staff’s long-term perspectives may also differ from a six-month contract for an expat colleague, so comparing the two is tricky. And yet, this discussion strikes a chord with many professionals in the industry. I agree that the issue of benefits such as travel allowances or schooling support for local staff in addition to their salaries needs more attention. The truth is that many expat NGO workers probably live less privileged lives than those in diplomatic missions and they can’t always freely chose how to live, as they are entangled in security protocols and the desire of their home countries to create a competitive and comparative global service across countries – regardless of where they are posted. One issue that seems to get lost in the salary discussion is the risk of aid work being reduced to a capital city-centered endeavour. The global elite is as much present in Geneva or London as it is in Bangkok or Nairobi, but the bulk of aid work takes place in the field and we need to ensure adequate benefits for local and expat aid workers in different environments. So how can we ensure that frontline health workers or drivers in the regional hubs are included in the conversation rather than focusing on who should have the right to send their children to the private American school? There should be a more nuanced discussion on absolute and relative privilege beyond salaries that takes more dimensions of wellbeing and professional development into consideration. How can stress, long-distance relationships and the ethos of aid work as an impartial and solitary endeavour be redefined in a globalised world with many challenges? Expat aid workers are also needed as vocal advocates for public debates around global development at home. Rather than approaching the topic purely from a moral perspective of “Do expat aid workers deserve higher salaries?” we should also discuss how entrenched inequalities, outside the control of the aid industry, cause different salaries and benefit structures to exist. Tobias Denskus is a senior lecturer in communication for development at Malmö University, Sweden and edits the Aidnography blog. Follow @aidnography on Twitter. Join our community of development professionals and humanitarians. Follow @GuardianGDP on Twitter.
News Article | April 17, 2017
Environmental groups have urged the prime minister to avoid watering down legislation on climate change and wildlife protection after Brexit. The letter, signed by WWF, Greenpeace and others, says action is needed to halt ongoing environmental decline. The UK government previously said it would leave the environment in a better state for future generations. But the letter expresses concern that Brexit could force ministers to backtrack on this promise. Newspaper reports based on leaked documents have suggested that trade and growth would be prioritised at the expense of efforts to tackle global warming and the illegal trade in wildlife. A government spokesperson said the UK's commitment to the environment was as strong as ever. The spokesperson said the documents referenced in the media were old "unclassified notes" based on a conference from several months ago. The letter from campaigners says: "We are alarmed by recent media reports suggesting that the UK's commitments to tackling climate change and ending the illegal wildlife trade could be watered down to secure post-Brexit trade deals." It added: "To be a great, global trading nation, the UK must deliver on its promises for the environment and the climate and honour our international commitments. "In doing so we will help build a greener, better and more prosperous future for everyone, rather than driving an environmental race to the bottom." Campaign groups that have signed the letter include WWF, the Born Free Foundation, Cafod, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Oxfam. A number of high-profile individuals are also signatories: they include Andy Murray, Anna Friel, Will Young, Lord Stuart Rose and environmentalist Sir Crispin Tickell. "A majority of environmental protections derive from the EU - we've probably got the world's leading environmental framework. So as the UK leaves the EU, the risk is that some of those protections don't get brought over into UK law," Trevor Hutchings, director of advocacy at WWF-UK, told BBC News. These protections include a package of legislation to ensure the EU meets climate and energy targets for 2020. He said the EU institutions also provided a strict system of accountability, so that fines could be invoked if member states did not deliver on their obligations to the environment. "We, on the one hand, welcome the government's commitment to nature and to bringing these laws over through the Great Repeal Bill... but in recent weeks a number of things have happened that question that commitment," Mr Hutchings explained. He said this included not only the leaked memo, but also the delayed release of the government's 25-year plan for nature in England and the Clean Growth Plan on reducing carbon emissions, which Mr Hutchings said was expected before March this year. "Things like access to environmental information, the 'precautionary principle', the 'polluter pays' principle are all established in EU treaties. The sense is that those might not come across [into UK law]," he explained. A government spokesperson said: "The UK is a global leader in tackling the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) and a key part of worldwide efforts on climate change, including implementing the commitments made under the Paris Agreement. Our commitment to both issues is as strong as ever. "The Government also has a clear ambition to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it while securing the best deal for the country as we leave the EU." Some observers within the environmental community have expressed concerns that green issues could become bargaining chips in the effort to secure trade deals. "Environmental regulations and standards do make up so-called non-tariff trade barriers - as some people might perceive them," said Mr Hutchings. "It probably doesn't come as a surprise that some of these non-tariff barriers could become a central negotiating point for trade deals with countries that have lower standards. That's the fear, though we don't have any clear evidence of that."
News Article | November 2, 2012
When you look at the size of a clothes moth – and sometimes I look at the size of a clothes moth five times a day prior to mashing it violently against a wall/carpet/treasured coat – it seems extraordinary how useless the human race is at killing this most destructive of pests. Without difficulty, people wipe out badgers, cats, other human beings. How hard can it be to kill a scrap of animated dust that lives on old sweat and cardigans? True, weaponry has advanced, a little, since I was first infested. Two decades ago, when a soft Nicole Farhi cardigan emerged for its first outing with ragged holes already dotting the moth-favoured breast region, the best on offer was mothballs and those bits of amusingly-shaped cedar that are as effective at combating moths as, say, snowballs would be at wiping out the Taliban. That I followed, scrupulously, the advice at the time – discard the principal moth victims, wash out the drawers, launder any survivors, then ceremonially re-inter what remained with mothballs, lavender and pricey bits of cedar – merely ensured every wardrobe would be turned, in time, into a woollens' charnel house. Even tiny hand-knitted dolls' cardigans that had survived decades in Yorkshire were eaten after a few months on the backs of my daughter's moth-infested bears. Another purge brought brief security, before it emerged my next house came pre-infested, with larvae in the carpets. How did the Bayeux tapestry last for hundreds of years before the arrival of poison spray, impregnated strips and the pheromone traps that have finally offered this household a measure of peace? Smug pest controllers like implying that our ancestors were just superior housekeepers – a claim that sits oddly with many accounts of early modern hygiene. Maybe moths just got cleverer? Not that you need a particularly high moth IQ to outwit householders who are already at war on several fronts against ants, mice, woodworm, food moths, nits and woodlice. That said, it is possible to defeat moths. You could, for instance, burn your house down. You could dress the family entirely in synthetic fleece. Alternatively, you could abandon human relations, give up your job and, like Achilles, devote the rest of your life to warfare. Since it will not, in fact, be enough, once, to empty, spray, fumigate, launder, remove soft toys from weeping children, freeze, rebag, spray, then strew with lures hand-dated to facilitate renewal every three months. You have to do that for ever. Also, the heating should be low, preferably off. In the end, even the most passionate knitwear lover must wonder, is any jumper worth it? Searching for someone or something to blame, I identify a combination of vintage clothes and ignorance. In a previous life I lived with a keen collector of dead men's suits, tweeds and dinner jackets from Oxfam, which would have cost more to dry clean than they did to buy: slob no-brainer. Even when a cloud of moths emerged from a fetid tailcoat, it never occurred to me that they were emigrating, not taking exercise. So, 25 years later, what I wish I'd known is: treat vintage clothes like plague victims. Clean them, freeze them, place them in isolation – or, best of all, avoid them entirely, before they kill all your new stuff. Now, the only woollens I own are either on me, in the freezer, or in a zipped bag. Since no normal person has time to hunt through 10 overstuffed bags before they go out, this means you always wear the same things. Maybe the answer to moths is as simple as that: own fewer clothes.
News Article | May 7, 2017
City Hall occupies a commanding position on the south bank of the Thames. The Norman Foster design, derided by the previous occupant as the “glass gonad”, sits across the water from the City, with its vertiginous modernity, and the Tower of London, perhaps the most famous symbol of London’s ancient history. The postcard panorama is a constant reminder to the building’s inhabitants of the glorious past and thrusting future of one of the world’s great capitals. But today, such thoughts are not on the minds of London mayor, Sadiq Khan, and his phalanx of deputies. They’re forgoing the view and looking instead at the photographer Suki Dhanda’s bewitching lens. Khan, dapper in a blue suit and open-necked white shirt, arrives last, the privilege of being the busiest man and, of course, the boss. He’s still talking about the boxing match he saw at Wembley three nights earlier between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. “Amazing,” he says to Matthew Ryder, who stands tall under the weight of his job title: deputy mayor, social integration, social mobility and community engagement. “Amazing fight. The atmosphere was electric. A bit like mayor’s question time.” There are nine deputy mayors, not counting the night tsar and a walking and cycling commissioner. But today there are seven. They present a diverse picture, which fits with the city’s makeup and the mayor’s outlook. But Khan has strong ideas on how diversity should play out. “One of the things Sadiq talks about a lot is the fact that you shouldn’t confuse diversity with integration,” says Ryder, a successful QC who has played a prominent role in the black community. “You can have a very diverse city that isn’t necessarily a very well integrated city. Sometimes, diversity is considered a euphemism for racial integration but it’s about much more than that. We’re talking about older Londoners feeling better integrated into London. Younger Londoners feeling they can be part of the city and not shut out for socioeconomic reasons. We’re very keen to make sure that income inequality doesn’t lead to London becoming segregated.” For all their different backgrounds, one thing the deputies obviously share is a respect for Khan. “He’s got loads of energy and he doesn’t miss a trick,” says Justine Simons, deputy mayor for culture and the creative industries. Val Shawcross, transport, echoes the point. “He’s one of the hardest-working people in any context. He’s utterly focused. He cares a lot about every last detail. Sometimes, I think he doesn’t rest. He does tend to text me on New Year’s Eve and say, “Why is Blackhorse Road station closed?” Khan says he operates an open-door policy with his deputies. They’re free to drop by for chats anytime, but, he says, he believes in allowing talent its head. “You’ve got to give them the autonomy to run things.” The problem is that, with the exception of transport, the mayor and his deputies have limited territory to run. London is a complex political concept. First of all, it’s divided into 32 boroughs, not counting the City of London corporation. And such is the mammoth size of its population and economy that the politicians who sit at Westminster tend to treat it as a national concern. Squeezed somewhere between these possessive forces is the mayor of the city. It’s not like any other political job. To become mayor of London is a test not just of character but of personality. Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson have almost no common ground except a talent for self-promotion. To be mayor, then, is to be a cross between a politician and a figurehead, someone with a high profile but restricted powers. Khan acknowledges the problem. “We are the most centralised democracy in the western world,” he says, “but I’m not limiting my ambition to the powers given me by parliament.” He looks back with some satisfaction on the past year. Some of the highlights include the first night tube, which he rode from Brixton last August – “a party atmosphere” – and the appointment of Cressida Dick as the Met’s first female commissioner. But many of his more telling contributions have yet to bear fruit. “Fixing the housing crisis is a marathon, not a sprint,” he says. “In the last year Boris was mayor, 13% of homes given permission for building were affordable. It takes two years for these decisions to work through the system. We’ve trebled that figure to 39% of homes being affordable, but the public won’t see the benefits of that for a couple of years. That’s frustrating.” “Try to look relaxed, but serious,” calls out Dhanda to the assembled group. It sounds like a contradictory instruction and you can see some of the deputies wondering how to achieve that paradoxical look. But not the mayor. Relaxed but serious is a pretty good description of Sadiq Khan’s signature style. Barrister and QC Matthew Ryder has represented, among others, the family of Stephen Lawrence and is now adjusting to the challenges of life in government: “I’ve never worked in politics or government before – I’ve had to get used to the culture and complexity of getting things done within that framework.” He was delighted that integration was such a priority for Sadiq Khan – “I’d worked with Sadiq as a lawyer, when he was an MP, and to see him take the subject that he’s really passionate about and have an opportunity to do something about it as mayor – it’s been pretty inspiring. There’s so much energy and positivity and goodwill that goes into what he does.” Ryder is the first deputy mayor for social integration and the role encompasses many aspects of London life. The point, he says, is to make sure London is better for everyone and that all Londoners’ needs are being addressed. “I don’t think you realise from the outside how many different people and different organisations are working across London to try and do positive things until you sit at the centre of it,” he says. Born in Madhya Pradesh, India, entrepreneur Rajesh Agrawal moved to London in 2001. He has founded tech companies, including foreign exchange firm RationalFX, been chair of Oxfam’s enterprise development programme since 2015 and is also a patron of the Prince’s Trust. Given Sadiq Khan’s pledge to be London’s most pro-business mayor yet, the onus is on Agrawal to deliver: so far, he says, they’ve completed a quarter of the pledges made in Khan’s manifesto. “Sadiq is very focused and driven – he doesn’t get distracted.” Of major concern is negotiating London’s place in the business world post-Brexit. “In an uncertain environment, investors don’t want to invest - but we are reassuring businesses around the world with campaigns like London Is Open, making sure confidence remains, that we keep positive and that the investment keeps coming.” Agrawal is also pushing for investment in skills and further education (most recently £114m put into post-16 training), trying to make up for the skills shortage the capital may face if European workers leave after Brexit. A south Londoner with a CBE for services to local government, Val Shawcross alternated between chair and deputy chair of the London assembly transport committee in the years up to her appointment to Sadiq Khan’s team. Her concerns now include keeping transport fares down, promoting cycling and walking (with cycling tsar Will Norman), pushing for a greener, low-emission city (along with Shirley Rodrigues) and long-term plans such as expanding transport and infrastructure and the proposed pedestrianisation of Oxford Street. She considers the hopper bus fare (making a second journey free within one hour of the first) and the start of a night tube service the big successes of the year and is wary of questions about the fare freeze that didn’t quite happen – “We’ve frozen the bit that we can freeze – I think something went wrong with the communication during the campaign, but if you look at the manifesto it’s very clear - ‘we’re freezing TfL fares’ – because that’s the budget that we control.” Khan is one of the hardest-working people she’s worked with “in any context”, she says, with a meticulous eye for detail, though she worries he ought to take a holiday. One of the last deputy mayors to be appointed, Rodrigues previously worked in senior environmental policy roles. “My job entails trying to make London greener – making it one of the greenest global cities in the world – regaining that leadership,” she says. Although the environment strategy has been delayed (because of the general election), Rodrigues has certainly had her hands full – London’s poor air quality has become a major concern and talking point in the past few months. “It’s been bringing on early deaths, harming children’s lungs – we absolutely know that we need to tackle it,” Rodrigues says. To that end, she is working with transport deputy mayor, Val Shawcross, on ways to decrease emissions, extend and bring forward the introduction of an ultra-low emission zone, and advise schools on how children can avoid the most polluted roads on the school run. The proposed pedestrianisation of Oxford Street is also part of the strategy. As well as air quality, Rodrigues’s job entails reviewing London’s waste management, open spaces, energy and biodiversity. Justine Simons has been head of culture for the mayor of London for more than a decade and was awarded an OBE in 2015. “The pace has really been upped,” she says, describing some of what they’ve taken on: appointing “night tsar”Amy Lamé in an attempt to tackle the issues related to the night-time economy, for example. There’s also been work on infrastructure: “London is this great cultural capital but it’s very hard for artists to live here - it’s becoming unaffordable.” They’ve been working on plans to counter this, putting funding into arts venues but also launching a feasibility study into starting a creative land trust that will offer artists access to finance so they can purchase studios and put down roots in the capital. The aim is to embed culture in future planning for the city - “hardwiring culture into the city”. Simons is particularly pleased that last month Gillian Wearing was chosen to make the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square – feminist, political and union leader Millicent Fawcett. “It’s almost 100 years since women got the vote in the UK, so it’s a privilege to be a part of marking that moment.” Londoner James Murray was at Islington council for six years before joining the mayoral team, as executive member for housing and development. “Which gave me an understanding of working in public services and also how the planning system works,” he says. Sadiq Khan promised more affordable housing - and they have started working towards this with £8bn invested in building 20,000 new homes, of which 12,000 will be affordable houses. The outcome of the EU referendum was the low point of the last year, says Murray, not least because many construction workers in London are from Europe: “We have a huge housing crisis and it is going to take time to turn it around, but a question mark over EU nationals and whether they’ll be able to continue their contribution to construction makes for even more uncertainty.” Murray also works with groups trying to tackle youth homelessness. After roles as a political adviser in education and the home office, Sophie Linden became a councillor for Dalston and a deputy mayor at Hackney council. In her new job, she is striving to tackle what she sees as the two big problem areas in London policing: funding and knife crime. “There’s just not enough money for the Metropolitan police right now,” she says, which makes it difficult to fulfil Khan’s pledge to restore “real neighbourhood policing”. Indeed, when the new strategy for a safer city was announced by the mayor’s office earlier this year, it was with the caveat: “New strategy comes at most challenging time in the Met’s recent history.”
News Article | May 4, 2017
Tropical Cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu with devastating force on 13 March 2015. The Category 5 storm brought 250 km/hour winds, heavy rains and flooding that displaced thousands of people, flattened homes, destroyed critical infrastructure and caused extensive damage to agriculture. Initial assessments conducted across all six provinces showed that the cyclone’s damage to agriculture had been severe, extending to all aspects from cash crops to subsistence level farming. As part of the disaster response, FAO consulted with the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster (FSAC) to identify households in need of urgent assistance and targeted them as priorities for seed distribution. FAO and the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) then launched the ‘Emergency Support to Re-establish Food Security in Communities by Tropical Cyclone Pam Project’ to help families become food self-sufficient once again. As part of the project’s implementation, FAO collaborated with the NGOs Oxfam and Act for Peace to reach remote communities in the provinces, while working with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in the capital, Port Vila, to distribute seeds and leaflets for garden restoration. In total, nearly 50 000 individuals were assisted across the country –thanks to the US$211,375 contribution from CERF. Melina Lamai and her family are one of many beneficiaries of FAO’s assistance Melina Lamai is an urban subsistence farmer from Port Vila, Vanuatu. When Cyclone Pam struck, communities were flattened, gardens demolished, access to clean water affected and livelihoods shattered. With over 80 percent of the population dependent on agriculture, including Lamai’s family, the losses were devastating as they relied on food from their garden to feed their families. “I was proud of my garden and also proud of agriculture for helping me have such a productive garden,” said Lamai, adding that the losses from Cyclone Pam were both serious and personal. Lamai lives with her husband, two children and six grandchildren. She spends most days at home meeting the needs of the three generations in the household, with home gardening being their main means of subsistence. Hence, the destruction of Lamai’s garden was a huge setback for her family of ten. The majority of her crops were lost and her family began to rely on emergency food rations, which included rice, packet noodles and tinned fish. With assistance from FAO and partners, Lamai received five types of seeds to rebuild her garden: dwarf beans, pumpkin, sweet corn, papaya and watermelon. These crops start producing after one month of planting (dwarf beans) to three months (sweet corn/pumpkin/watermelon) and six months (papaya). Overall, the garden’s benefit is twofold. First, Lamai uses the garden to support her family’s diet, producing healthy crops for cooking. She uses the excess vegetables to sell at the market where she earns a small income to help further provide for her family. “I am really glad to have received the seeds. Now my garden is better than it was before the cyclone,” said a smiling and confident Lamai. A good example to follow Urban life can be difficult in Vanuatu’s capital. A disaster further compounds existing and underlying issues such as unemployment and high living costs. Without home grown produce many urban households would struggle to get by and would need to rely on store-bought foods rather than their own nutritious fresh produce. Lamai and her family are examples of how small agricultural inputs can greatly improve nutrition, livelihoods and resilience. On the project as a whole Out of a total of 366 households that were surveyed at the end of the project, namely 2.5% of beneficiaries, 98% of households which had received seeds had planted them, 62% were guided in sustainable planting methods and 97% are now eating 3 meals a day, in comparison to the 62% immediately after Cyclone Pam hit.
News Article | May 6, 2017
Theresa May is facing calls from Britain’s leading environment and development groups to use her influence to persuade Donald Trump that the US must remain committed to the Paris climate change agreement. In a strongly worded letter, the heads of Oxfam, the RSPB, Greenpeace, WWF, Christian Aid, Cafod and other groups have called on the prime minister to “pick up the phone” to the US president to warn him of the consequences of leaving the Paris accord, something Trump pledged to do within 100 days of coming to power, a timeline that passed last week. The UK played a leading role in the complex negotiations that resulted in nearly 200 nations making the unprecedented commitment to tackle global climate change, signed in Paris in December 2015. The agreement is seen as crucial for the success of efforts to limit the global temperature rise to below 2C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. But reports in the US suggest that support for leaving the climate treaty is gaining ground among Trump’s key advisers as the president – who has said climate change is a Chinese hoax – prepares to deliver his decision, which is expected this week. The reported shift in opinion among White House aides comes despite strong calls from leading businesses and scientists for the US to remain in the climate accord. Last week, major US companies including Google, Microsoft and Walmart wrote to Trump stating the economic and business case for the US continuing to be a party to the agreement. May herself recently came under pressure from cross-party MPs and leading scientists who urged her to use her influence to persuade the US president to acknowledge and act on climate change. A recent ComRes survey showed almost two-thirds of British adults (64%) accept that climate change is happening, and that it is primarily due to human activity. The joint letter warns May that Trump “may be about to undermine a vital global agreement on which the health, security, and prosperity of hundreds of millions of people depend”. It continues: “This climate agreement was an extraordinary feat of international diplomacy, and the UK played a crucial role in securing it. This is now the best chance humanity has to avert full-blown climate change, and may well be the last. A strong majority of people in the UK believe climate change is happening. They will be looking to you as the prime minister to champion science, moral responsibility and international cooperation.” In recent days European ministers and EU officials have been lobbying senior White House staff after hearing Trump was leaning heavily towards leaving the accord. The UN environment chief, Erik Solheim, has also warned the US that it will “shoot itself in the foot” if it quits the Paris deal because China, India and Europe will snap up the best power sector jobs in future. “There is no doubt where the future is and that is what all the private sector companies have understood,” Solheim told Reuters. “The future is green. Obviously if you are not a party to the Paris agreement, you will lose out. And the main losers will be the people of the United States itself because all the interesting, fascinating new green jobs would go to China and to the other parts of the world that are investing heavily in this.” An online petition launched by Greenpeace calling on May to intervene had reached 78,000 signatories by Saturday evening.
News Article | April 10, 2017
In February 2017, garment workers enraged by abusive and illegal working conditions stormed their factory and smashed $75,000 worth of equipment after attacking factory managers. The worker revolt in the one of the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the world also revealed the broken promises of international clothing brands that sweatshop apparel production would lead to better lives and “empowerment” of the overwhelmingly female garment workforce in Myanmar. The Hangzhou Hundred-Tex Garment factory is Chinese-owned and exclusively produces for Swedish apparel giant Hennes & Mauritz (H&M), which considers itself a leader of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the garment industry. H&M, along with U.S.-based Gap Inc., were founders of the “Myanmar Responsible Sourcing Working Group,” coordinated by the San Francisco-based Business for Social Responsibility. In a March 7th dispatch from Myanmar, the former British colony also known as Burma, Reuters news agency reported on the dramatic events: The dispute started with a strike in late January following the sacking of a local labor leader, according to workers and managers. Workers demanded a better performance review system [production quotas] and healthcare coverage… That Paing Oo [the fired worker] had led a labor protest late last year that successfully pushed Hangzhou Hundred-Tex Garment to compensate employees who did not receive overtime payment of 70 million kyat ($51,736) to almost all of its 570 workers based on a settlement reached with the workers in December… It turned violent on February 9, prompting the factory’s closure. Video footage seen by Reuters shows dozens of female workers surrounding and beating a Chinese manager who was struggling to escape. One company manager and a local labor department official confirmed the authenticity of the footage. In late February [February 23rd] hundreds of workers stormed the factory and damaged facilities, including textile machinery, computers and surveillance cameras… The conflict is troublesome for H&M, which is widely seen as being at the forefront among large apparel companies in promoting workers’ rights and fair wages. Because of extremely low wages and abusive management practices, Myanmar’s garment industry has witnessed hundreds of strikes, demonstrations and protests since the end of decades-long military rule in 2011. Management consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft found that Myanmar had the world’s second lowest labor costs in 2015 – higher only than Djibouti in Africa – which were just too low to be passed up by international apparel brands and retailers. In June 2014, Gap Inc. became the first US-based apparel company to source from Myanmar with the blessing of the U.S. Embassy and government agencies. The Gap partnered with US AID and CARE International to sponsor an “award-winning women’s advancement program” to offer women garment workers (poor women coming from rural areas) “interactive training to respond to economic opportunity through increased IT and business skills…to help them become more successful both personally and professionally.” Besides the veneer of women garment workers’ empowerment, Gap proclaimed “by entering Myanmar, we hope to accelerate economic and social growth in the country…so that the garment sector can play a meaningful and helpful role in Myanmar’s continued economic, social and democratic development.” “Gap Inc. is applying industry-leading best practices, which include audits by a well-respected non-governmental organization, to ensure that internationally-recognized human rights and labor standards are upheld in the factories from which the company is sourcing,” the U.S. Embassy press release stated. A more realistic prediction was offered in 2014 by Scott Nova of the Washington-based Worker Rights Consortium: “The attraction for Gap is obvious: the lowest wages in the region, anemic regulation and weak labor unions. This adds up to cheap garments for Gap, at the price of a lot of misery for the workers who will make those garments.” The scale and depth of that misery – accelerated rather than lessened by the actual sourcing practices of the international brands, including H&M and Gap – are discussed in detail in four recent investigative reports by non-governmental organizations in Myanmar and Europe: These reports document how working conditions have not improved for the nearly 400,000 garment workers (90% women) in 350 factories in Myanmar, half of which are foreign-owned (primarily Chinese, Korean Taiwanese and Japanese) and produce for well-known international brands. Workers typically work 60 or more hours a week, six days a week, earning 35-40 cents an hour, for a monthly wage between $83 to $98 (depending on the amount of overtime). The reports indicate that 43% of garment workers are in perpetual debt because their wages do not cover even basic living expenses. For example, the rent for a 9 to 10 square foot room runs between $36 and $59 a month for workers. Meanwhile the global apparel industry sold $1.7 trillion in products in 2016 and companies like the Gap, H&M, Nike and Adidas enjoyed profits on sales of 40% or higher, compared to average retail sales profit rates of 2-4%. In 2015, Gap Inc. reported profits of $6.3 billion on sales of $16.4 billion, or gross profits of 40.1%. Last year, H&M – the world’s second largest clothing retailer, reported $11.8 billion in profits on sales of $21.4 billion – or gross profit margin of 55.2%. Meanwhile, young women garment workers in Myanmar earned less than $100 a month for four 60+ hour workweeks. The reports above reveal that a majority of garment workers do not have labor contracts and are considered “day laborers.” They do not qualify for the $3.25 daily wage until after their 6-month probation, and they are not eligible for bonuses, benefits or social security coverage. Their piece-work rate wages often fall below the daily minimum. Even for garment workers with contracts, many factory owners consider the daily minimum wage to be the “daily maximum,” a ceiling rather than a floor for wages. In addition to long hours, low wages, underpaid or unpaid overtime, garment workers in Myanmar face very high production quotas to qualify for bonuses and verbal abuse from supervisors. Child labor is prevalent, and community land rights are threatened when land is seized to establish industrial parks and Special Economic or Export Processing Zones. Production quotas are so high that workers regularly forgo lunch and other breaks in an often-vain attempt to meet the targets. Workplace health and safety regulations consist of the 1951 Factory Act that was partially amended last year, which has only the most minimal standards. Enforcement is virtually non-existent, both because of a lack of resources and because of the competition between Myanmar and Bangladesh and Cambodia over who will offer foreign buyers the lowest costs of regulatory compliance. Occupational health and safety (OHS) issues in the garment plants include: indoor temperatures as high as 38-40 degrees Centigrade (100-104 F), lack of drinking water, lack of toilets and access to use them, life safety issues (blocked aisles and locked exits, poor housekeeping and faulty electrical, no fire drills or emergency plans), unguarded machinery, poor ventilation, little personal protective equipment, and near-zero employee health and safety training. Women workers also face hazards on the way home in the dark after 10-12 hour shifts. Needless to say, there are few labor unions in the factories and employer discrimination against union members, including firings, is rampant. As a result, there have been periodic uprisings among garment workers when conditions become simply intolerable. The Myanmar Labor Department reported there were 447 major strikes and demonstrations between 2012 and 2014 alone, with hundreds more occurring since then, including the revolt at the H&M plant this February. Despite all the promises by international brands, the wages and working conditions in Myanmar have not brought a better life for garment workers. The fact that workers at a H&M supplier had been cheated out of a total of $51,000 in unpaid wages, and had to mount major protests to be paid, shows what little impact CSR programs and CSR leaders like H&M have had in Myanmar. Hangzhou Hundred-Tex factory workers had not received any overtime pay for , during which time the factory was “monitored” by various CSR auditing companies and visited by H&M itself. Myanmar has become a case study in the “race to the bottom” where multinational corporations roam the world looking for the most vulnerable workforce and most compliant governments. Myanmar’s poverty and underdevelopment provides the brands with low wages and high profits that are just too good to pass up, regardless of their CSR promises. When the $3.25 per day minimum wage went into effect in September 2015, garment workers reported that conditions actually worsened as factory operators cut even more corners to pay the higher nominal wage while brands’ continually cut prices paid to suppliers. For the fiscal year ending in March 2017, Myanmar’s exports were valued at $1.23 billion, an increase of 196% over the previous fiscal year. The garment manufacturers association projects exports to grow to $8-10 billion by 2022. Currently exports go to Japan (33%), the EU and South Korea (25% each) and 2.4% each to the United States and China. Foreign direct investment in manufacturing in Myanmar increased from $33.2 million in 2010 to $1.8 billion in 2014, and the number of garment factories continues to grow. Like workers in other global supply chains, garment workers in Myanmar are betrayed by the brands’ standard sourcing practices that include squeezing factory operators for the lowest possible price (which are cut further in subsequent contracts), fast delivery times that have draconian financial penalties if due dates are missed, ineffective and corrupted audits of corporate codes of conduct, unfunded requirements on suppliers to meet national and international standards, and the lack of any meaningful participation of workers in factory-level CSR or OHS programs. If H&M and the Gap were serious about women’s empowerment and Myanmar’s economic and social development, then they – and others who designed all these global supply chains just the way they like them – would instead adopt the following practices: Despite the brands’ public relations happy-talk about development and women’s rights, the choice posed by the 2015 Oxfam report remains unanswered by the international garment industry sourcing from Myanmar: “Decision makers and business leaders have two clear choices: they can either allow the country to join the race to the bottom by becoming the next low-cost, exploitative and unstable manufacturing market; or they can learn from tragedies like the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh and from industrial unrest as a result of poor working conditions in Cambodia and Indonesia, and implement better sourcing practices.” Myanmar is the latest opportunity for the global garment industry to prove that all its promises of women’s empowerment, social and economic development are more than just pretty words on paper, and that corporate greed can be tamed by CSR programs. So far, they have failed to do so. Garrett Brown is a certified industrial hygienist who worked for Cal/OSHA for 20 years as a field Compliance Safety and Health Officer and then served as Special Assistant to the Chief of the Division before retiring in 2014. He has also been the volunteer Coordinator of the Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network since 1993 and has coordinated projects in Bangladesh, Central America, China, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Mexico and Vietnam.
News Article | March 20, 2017
US president Donald Trump’s fortune has fallen by about $1bn to $3.5bn over the past year, as measured by Forbes magazine in its annual list of the world’s billionaires. However, overall it has been a good 12 months for the world’s wealthiest individuals, with a record 233 moving into the billionaire bracket, taking the global number of people with nine-zero fortunes to 2,043 – the most in the 31-year history of the list. The billionaires in Forbes’ list are worth a combined $7.67tn (£6.18tn) – more than three times the UK’s annual gross domestic product (GDP). Kerry Dolan, co-editor of the Forbes billionaires list, published on Monday, said the gains are mostly the result of booming stock markets and the rising price of oil over the past 12 months. Global markets have hit record highs due to the so-called “Trump bump” following Trump’s election, with the Dow Jones soaring above 20,000 points for the first time and the UK’s FTSE 100 closing at a record 7,415 points last week. The fall in Trump’s net worth is due to a drop in the value of office space in Midtown Manhattan, where the president owns about 10 buildings. Forbes said Trump had fallen from the world’s 324th-richest person to 544th. “Forty percent of Donald Trump’s fortune is tied up in Trump Tower and eight buildings within one mile of it,” Forbes said. “Lately, the neighbourhood has been struggling (relatively speaking).” Trump has refused to publish his tax returns to show the true scale of his wealth, but during the campaign he claimed he was worth “in excess of $10bn”. Dolan said that in previous years the real estate tycoon had challenged Forbes for underestimating his fortune. “We contact everyone we can to give them the opportunity for feedback. Over the last 31 years we have been compiling this list Trump has given us a lot of feedback, believe me, ‘You guys are too low I am worth far more than you say’,” she said. “He didn’t call back to dispute our estimate. I would hope that running the country is more important to him right now than Forbes’s value of his net worth.” The richest person in the world remains Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who saw his fortune grow by $11bn to $86bn. He is followed by investor Warren Buffett, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who was this year’s biggest gainer with a $27.6bn increase in his fortune to $72.8bn. The US accounts for the biggest population of billionaires with 565, up 25 on last year. But China is catching up with 319 billionaires, and a further 68 if Hong Kong and Macau are included. Germany is third with 114 billionaires. The number of UK billionaires increased from 50 to 54, with new entrants including Philip Day, the man behind Edinburgh Woollen Mill, and Simon Nixon, the co-founder of moneysupermarket.com. The richest people in the UK are the Hinduja family, who control a conglomerate of businesses including cars and banks and are worth $15.4bn. Property and internet investors David and Simon Reuben come second with a $15.3bn fortune. The third richest, and among the biggest gainer, is Jim Ratcliffe the founder and chairman of chemicals group Ineos. Among the biggest British losers is Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley whose fortune dropped by 25% to $2.6bn. His wealth, which is largely held in Sports Direct shares, has roughly halved over the past two years as shares collapsed following the Guardian exposé of “Victorian workhouse”-style conditions in its distribution warehouses. Sir Philip Green and his wife, Tina, the owners of Arcadia, which owns Topshop and once owned BHS, also lost just over $1bn, with their fortune slumping to $4.8bn. They fell more than 100 places to 339th. Oxfam said the creation of so many new billionaires in one year was a sign of “economic sickness rather than health”. “Our warped economic model leads to more unequal societies that trap millions of people in poverty - it allows an elite group to accrue extreme wealth while one in nine people go to bed hungry every night,” Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of inequality policy, said. “We need to build a more human economy where the super-rich pay their fair share of tax, workers earn a living wage, and governments invest in decent healthcare and education to give everyone a good start in life.” The number of women on the list increased to 227, from 202 in 2016. A record 56 of the women are self-made billionaires – the highest ever. All but one of the 15 newly self-made female billionaires came from the Asia-Pacfic region, including Vietnam’s first self-made female billionaire Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao who took her budget airline VietJet Air public last month. Yoshiko Shinohara, who started her temp agency in her one-bedroom Tokyo apartment, became Japan’s first self-made female billionaire. She enters the list due to a 50% surge in the stock price of her company Temp Holdings, which is designed to get more women into the workforce. The richest woman on the list is France’s Liliane Bettencourt, who inherited a stake in L’Oreal from her father. She’s worth $39.5bn. There are just 10 black people on the list, a drop of two from last year. The richest black person is Nigerian cement tycoon Aliko Dangote with an estimated fortune of $12.2bn. There are only three black women on the list, including Oprah Winfrey who has a $3bn fortune.