News

Rio Tinto axe sparks divestment call

10 September 2008 - 1:00am

War on Want today urged ethical fund chiefs to review investment in British mining giant Rio Tinto after Norway excluded the multinational from its pension fund over controversial Indonesian operations.

Only 10 months ago the Norwegian finance ministry, with $13 million worth of shares in another UK mining corporation, Vedanta, dropped the firm from the fund over human rights violations and environmental abuse.

War on Want’s call followed the decision by Norway to sell off the £500 million stake held in Rio Tinto through its sovereign wealth fund because of problems concerning the company’s joint venture with Freeport McMoran.

The fund’s ethics council judged that Rio Tinto was directly connected with environmental contamination linked to operations at the Grasberg complex, the world’s biggest gold mine and the third largest for copper in West Papua.

War on Want, in its report Fanning the Flames last November, said Rio Tinto earned $122 million in 2006 from its Grasberg copper mine stake, amid local people suffering years of serious human rights and environmental abuse.

Norway has deemed other UK firms as too unethical, including arms maker BAE Systems and support services group Serco, which was removed from the fund last year due to its involvement in the UK's Atomic Weapons Establishment.

War on Want also questions Gordon Brown’s move to include Rio Tinto in a business anti-poverty coalition with other firms the charity has cited for dubious records, such as mining giant Anglo American, Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola.

These companies signed a declaration which will go to the UN Millennium Development Goals summit this month.

Ruth Tanner, Campaigns and Policy Director at War on Want, said: "After Norway’s decision to exclude Vedanta from its pension fund, we welcome the government’s move to eject Rio Tinto for similar reasons. The Norwegian government has again put its money where its mouth is to ensure a real ethical investment policy. More and more funds are withdrawing investment in notorious mining corporations. Now other funds should follow Norway’s example. It also underlines the need for the UK government to make all British firms accountable for their operations abroad."

NOTES TO EDITORS

* War on Want’s report Fanning the Flames can be downloaded here.
* The charity’s film on Anglo American profiting from abuse in Colombia can be viewed by clicking here.
* The Business Call to Action signatories can be seen here.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

Iraq news: Transfer of IFOU activists reversed

30 July 2008 - 1:54pm

War on Want is supporting the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) in Basra, and its efforts to protect trade union rights and oppose the privatisation of Iraq's natural resources.

The IFOU operates in an extremely difficult environment, where trade unions are still not recognised by law and freedom of association and expression continues to be curtailed. IFOU activists have frequently been harassed or threatened by the Iraqi Government for speaking up on workers' rights and trying to protect the country's most valuable resource – oil – from being sold off to multinational corporations such as Shell and BP. Since the IFOU was established in 2003, the union's bank account has been frozen, some of its leaders have been issued with arrest warrants and others have been forced to relocate.

Only recently, eight prominent IFOU activists were accused by the Iraqi Oil Minister of illegal activities and told that they would have to relocate from their workplaces in Basra to Baghdad and Nassiriyah, areas deemed very dangerous and insecure. The IFOU and human rights activists in the UK issued statements protesting the move, calling it a flagrant attempt to silence the trade unions and their efforts to have a say in the future of Iraq's oil wealth.

War on Want, in solidarity with our partner, also disputed a claim made by the British Foreign Minister Kim Howells MP that the trade unions were being punished for illegal trade union activities. In a letter to the Foreign Minister we urged the UK Government to work with the Iraqi Government for the safety of the trade union activists and ensure that the decision to transfer them was reversed as soon as possible.

We are pleased and relieved to hear the recent news that this decision has indeed been reversed. It was announced at the end of July that the eight trade union activists would remain in Basra. This is a victory for trade unions and War on Want's efforts, and for the rights of Iraq workers throughout the country. However, the challenge remains to reverse the outdated anti-union legislation passed during Saddam Hussein's regime which would mark a real step to achieving the equal rights that Iraqis deserve.

New partnerships from the margins of society

30 July 2008 - 1:54pm

As part of War on Want's work to improve the lives of people living on the margins of society in precarious working and living conditions, we have recently formed two new partnerships with organisations that fight evictions among shack dwellers and council estate residents in South Africa's urban areas.

  1. Background
  2. Fighting the evictions
  3. Video
  4. Gallery

abahlali

    Background

    Following the election of the African National Congress to government in South Africa in 1994, there was great hope and expectation that finally the inequalities that had existed for so long along racial lines would be redressed and black people would see marked improvements in their standard of living and better access to public services such as housing, water and electricity.

    However, during the nineties in South Africa there was widespread privatisation of water and electricity provision which saw the introduction of user fees. This made it very difficult for the poorest people to have access to these important services. Little has been done to restructure the economy to improve the inequalities of the past and land redistribution is proving to be very slow.

    As South Africa prepares for the Football World Cup in 2010, the government wants to show the rest of the world how far the country has come in terms of its development. Using the Millenium Development Goals as its justification, the South African government has introduced the Slums Act with the view to ‘eradicating' all slums by 2014.

    This has meant that many shack dwellers on the outskirts of large South African cities are being evicted and moved to ‘temporary' settlements where they often find themselves living in poor conditions for many years. They are removed from their communities and places of business with added transport costs as a result and are plunged further into poverty.

    Furthermore, authorities are reluctant to develop water and electricity infrastructure in slum settlements as this could be seen as giving legitimacy to their existence. This has led to several fires in shack settlements where people resort to using paraffin for cooking and heating.

    Slum residents want good public services at a cost they can afford with the possibility of upgrading their dwellings rather than moved arbitrarily to precarious accommodation and away from their communities.

    Fighting the evictions

    War on Want will work with two organisations which are campaigning to end the evictions of residents and ensure they are given permanent housing with decent public services wherever they live.

    The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC) was founded in 2001 in response to mass evictions and water cut-offs being carried out by local government in slum communities and council estates throughout Cape Town. Developed as a means of informing and mobilising community members around a set of concrete demands, the AEC has consistently called for adequate public housing, basic service delivery, a halt to privatisation, and the accountability of police officers and public officials.

    Since its inception, the AEC has primarily relied on public meetings, grassroots education and mass marches to directly oppose the South African government's indifference to the needs of the poor. Within its first two years, the AEC's community organising had already resulted in a moratorium on evictions from council housing, a flat rate for basic services, and the scrapping of arrears for pensioners in bank housing.

    As one AEC activist put it: “As coordinators of the Anti-eviction Campaign, we are not leaders in the traditional authoritarian sense. Instead, we are like a set of cutlery. We are the tools that are there to be used by poor communities fighting against the cruel and oppressive conditions of South African society. Power to the poor people!”

    The Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers) Movement was established in Durban, South Africa, in early 2005. The movement that began from a road blockade in protest of a sale of land in a settlement quickly grew and now includes tens of thousands of people from more than 30 settlements.

    The movement has adopted the slogan, ‘Speak to us, not for us', and has developed a sustained voice for shack dwellers by mobilising them to demonstrate against the offices of local councillors, police stations, municipal offices, newspaper offices and the City Hall in actions that have put thousands of people on the streets.

    The movement's key demand is for ‘Land & Housing in the City' but it has also successfully politicised and fought for an end to forced removals and for access to education and the provision of water, electricity, sanitation, health care and refuse removal as well as grass roots democracy. In some settlements the movement has also successfully set up projects like crèches, gardens, sewing collectives, support for people living with and orphaned by AIDS.

    Abahlali baseMjondolo has also embarked on popular education through the creation of the University of Abahlali which also runs the IT department to enable members to acquire the necessary computer skills needed today. Furthermore, the establishment of the Abahlali Library propelled the movement's stance to further the need for knowledge and understanding for all of Abahlali's activities.

    We look forward to working with these organisations to achieve improvements for the poor of South Africa who are fighting for better lives, free from poverty.

    {google.co.uk}3654731347203291932{/google.co.uk}
    A video by Aoibheann O'Sullivan made in 2005,
    documenting the struggle of shack-dwellers in Durban, South Africa.

    {slide=View gallery}{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=8}{/slide}

    Blood, Sweat and Tears: Las maquilas in Honduras

    30 July 2008 - 1:54pm

    Over the last 20 years, sweatshops, or maquiladoras as they are known in Latin America, have become an integral part of the Honduran economy. Honduras is now the 4th biggest exporter to the US worldwide and the largest exporter in Central America.

    Employing 133,000 people, of which 70% are women, the main export is clothing to well-known brands like WalMart, Fruit of the Loom and GAP. Though the maquila industry has brought much needed investment to Honduras, few have benefited and any gains have come at the expense of poor labour rights.

    Working in partnership with the Honduran Women's Collective, otherwise known as Codemuh, War on Want is dedicated to exposing and taking action against the violation of basic human rights within sweatshops. Codemuh has been instrumental in monitoring and documenting these abuses, especially amongst women, and its current campaign focuses on occupational health.

    Maquilas work according to daily production targets set by factory management. There are widespread complaints from workers that these targets are excessively high and not realistically achievable in the legal maximum 8-hour working day. Often workers do not drink water because they can't afford the time to go to the toilet. In many cases workers are forced to put in extra hours in order to comply with targets and in certain cases workers were found doing double shifts of 24 hours.

    One of the biggest complaints amongst workers is of health-problems, of which repetitive strain injury is common. Long-term maquila workers have put their health at risk by repeating the same movement over 6,000 times a day. Once a worker's health begins to deteriorate they often receive little support or treatment from the employer and in certain cases employers have neglected their responsibilities by failing to acknowledge that the problem is a result of difficult working conditions.

    In response to this problem Codemuh has launched a campaign calling for the Honduran National Congress to reform the outdated labour laws. On a recent visit to Honduras War on Want participated in a stakeholder forum: Public Policy in Relation to the Health of Workers, attended by politicians, government officials, health specialists, trade union leaders, the media and women sweatshop workers. This was an opportunity for women workers to share their experiences.

    Santos Lourdes is one such case. A 32-year old single mother, Lourdes has worked in maquilas since she was 13. A fast and reliable worker her daily production target of 400 dozen items, was soon increased to 450 and later to 500 dozen items. Since supervisors were pleased with her performance and she was desperate for extra money, she began taking on double shifts of 24 hours, reaching production levels of up to 1,000 dozen items.

    When she first began to experience muscular pain in her upper left arm Lourdes took painkillers to get through the day, and sleeping pills to get through the night. 4 years on when the health problems prevented her fulfilling production targets, her supervisors began to ignore and mal-treat her. The pain had reached desperate levels when a colleague recommended Codemuh. With Codemuh's help she began the process of negotiation.

    The Canadian factory owners, GILDAN pressured her to leave but offered a redundancy package of only 30,000 lempiras (£800) without accounting for her occupational health problems. She refused and thanks to Codemuh was given sick pay for one and a half years.

    Codemuh is doing fantastic work on behalf of all of maquila workers in Honduras and War on Want is proud to be supporting them in these efforts.

    Trade talks collapse 'welcome'

    30 July 2008 - 1:54pm

    The collapse of the World Trade Organisation negotiations in Geneva today lifts the threat of millions more people facing hunger and poverty as a result of trade liberalisation, the charity War on Want said today.

    Trade ministers had gathered for marathon talks aimed at concluding the seven-year negotiations.

    John Hilary, executive director of the anti-poverty charity, said: "We welcome the collapse of the trade talks. The deal on the table threatened disaster for millions as a result of forcing open developing countries' markets. Now the WTO must seize this opportunity to rethink its approach. Trade must serve the interests of the majority of the world's people, not just big business."

    At the G8 last month Gordon Brown claimed that a deal could help to solve the global food crisis, but War on Want believes that the deal on offer would have made global food, financial and environmental crises worse.

    Hilary continued: "rather than trying to revive these failed negotiations, Brown must join with other European leaders in crafting a new EU trade policy. Europe?s relations with the wider world must be based on principles of trade justice, not the self-interest of European exporters."

    The failure was due mainly to the US refusal to accept safeguards for farmers and workers in developing countries. The US and EU also refused to offer any meaningful cuts in the subsidies given to their own farmers, which lead to the dumping of agricultural produce on developing country markets and the destruction of rural economies.

    These disagreements have led to two previous collapses and are symptomatic of the aggressive tactics of the US and EU throughout the talks, said War on Want.

    War on Want points to existing evidence that forcing open developing countries? markets even more in the interests of Western corporations, would further increase poverty and inequality.

    Developing countries that were supposed to benefit from a deal have been almost totally excluded from decisions. Any future talks must be conducted on the basis of genuine transparency and democracy, said War on Want.


    For comment and further details, phone War on Want trade campaign officer David Tucker on +44 (0)7906 756863 or +44 (0)20 7549 0587

    Storm grows over mercenaries 'abuse'

    30 July 2008 - 11:24am

    Miliband challenged on action delay.

    British foreign secretary David Miliband today faces claims that the government is mounting a political block against moves to regulate UK private military companies amid reports of human rights abuse in Iraq.

    This accusation comes from War on Want, which announced that a government document acquired under freedom of information laws reveals ministers went close to launching pre-legislative consultation earlier this year.

    In a letter to Miliband, the charity has expressed concern that a political block delayed steps towards regulation.

    The government document listed issues for public consultation with parliamentarians, industry, non-governmental organisations and academics on proposals for a "twin-track regulatory system" for private military firms. The system would combine a register of authorised companies with contract licences.

    This revelation follows a new report by British MPs on the influential foreign affairs select committee that brands Miliband's failure to act "unacceptable".

    In a response to the Foreign Office's annual human rights report, MPs expressed dismay that the government's draft legislative programme for next year made no reference to private security firms. The committee called on the government to use the forthcoming Queen?s Speech to announce plans to introduce legislation.

    The MPs called for strict curbs on private security companies, with provision for firms to face prosecution in British courts for serious human rights abuse committed abroad.

    War on Want is calling for legislation, including a ban on mercenaries' use in combat, and cites hundreds of incidents which have involved guards from US and UK companies in human rights abuse.

    Ruth Tanner, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "We are extremely concerned that the government has blocked moves towards regulation. We welcome the foreign affairs committee's call for action on private military companies. It is high time to get tough on firms making a killing in Iraq."

    Last month a Panorama film on BBC television featured the incident last October in Iraq when mercenaries working for the British private security group Erinys International opened fire on a cab near Kirkuk. In the same month as the Erinys incident, mercenaries from the Australian company Unity Resources Group killed two Iraqi women. In September mercenaries from the American private military company Blackwater killed 17 Iraqi civilians. And in November an Iraqi taxi driver was shot dead by mercenaries with DynCorp International, hired to protect US diplomats.

    In 2002 the UK government acknowledged the problems over private armies in a green paper which listed options for regulation. In its response to the paper later that year, the Commons foreign affairs committee recommended that "private companies be expressly prohibited from direct participation in armed combat operations, and that firearms should only be carried... by company employees for purposes of training or self-defence". The committee also proposed that the government consider "a complete ban on recruitment for such activities of United Kingdom citizens by overseas-based or offshore PMCs", while remaining activities be subject to licence.

    But since then the British government has failed to move towards regulation despite the United Nations, the British parliament and the industry itself calling on it to take decisive action.


    CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)7983 550728

    Trade deal 'disaster for poor'

    28 July 2008 - 10:20am

    Millions face hardship from proposal

    Millions more people face hunger and poverty as a result of the deal proposed this evening at the World Trade Organisation talks in Geneva, the charity War on Want warns.

    John Hilary, executive director of the anti-poverty charity, said: "The WTO has manufactured this deal by excluding more and more of members from the negotiations. Stitching together an agreement between seven states while shutting out all others exposes the lack of legitimacy at the heart of the world trade talks. The deal threatens disaster for millions as developing country markets are forced open in the interest of corporate profits. Governments must reject the proposal rather than deliver such a bleak outcome for the world's poor."

    Delegates at the world trade talks have been asked to consult with their capitals on a proposed settlement which will allow developed countries to get away with minimal cuts to their farm subsidies, while at the same time opening up developing country markets to both agricultural and industrial imports, according to War on Want.

    Under the proposed settlement seen by the charity, the US will be asked to cap its trade-distorting agricultural subsidies at $14.5 billion, twice what it currently pays its farmers. Yet developing countries will be required to undertake real cuts in their industrial tariffs, and will be restricted in the protection they can afford their own farmers.

    Several countries have protested against being excluded from the negotiations, which have been held behind closed doors between an ever decreasing circle of invited delegations.

    Representatives will reconvene tomorrow at the WTO to continue the talks, while the EU's Council of Ministers is also set to discuss the proposal on Saturday.


    CONTACTS For comment and further details, phone War on Want media officer Paul Collins on +44 (0)7983 550728 or John Hilary on +44 (0)7983 550727.

    Trade summit 'threatens millions with poverty'

    18 July 2008 - 11:57am

    WTO attacked over democracy, hunger claims. Ministers arrive in Geneva to prepare for crunch talks on global trade

    The World Trade Organisation's last-minute push for a global trade deal threatens to throw millions more people into hunger and poverty in developing countries, the charity War on Want warns today. The warning comes as ministers gather at the WTO in Geneva in their final effort to clinch an agreement to end the controversial Doha Round of trade talks launched seven years ago.

    G8 leaders, including British prime minister Gordon Brown, claimed earlier this month that a WTO trade deal could help solve the crisis sparked by soaring food prices, which has seen riots in over 30 developing countries. But, according to War on Want, forcing open the markets of such countries still further will deepen the crisis by handing greater control to multinational corporations which put their own profits before people's needs.

    John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want, said: "Developing countries are still being pressed to open up their markets, despite the risks involved, while rich countries fail to address their own farm subsidies. If the deal on the table goes through, millions of the world?s most vulnerable people stand to lose their jobs and fall into poverty. Ministers should abandon the talks before they cause long-term damage to the prospects of the world's poor."

    War on Want points to the 100 million additional people left hungry by the food crisis in the first quarter of this year, bringing the world's total to one billion. It cites massive earnings in the same period for the world's largest agribusiness corporations, which are cashing in on the crisis: Grain giant Cargill, one of the USA's largest private firms, recorded $1.03 billion net earnings, up 86 per cent, in the three months to end February this year. US grain company Archer Daniels Midland reaped $913 million operating profit in the quarter to end March 2008, 54 per cent higher than for the same period last year. And agribusiness corporation Bunge International made $867 million gross profit, a rise of 189 per cent.

    War on Want also criticises WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy for preventing participation by the broad base of developing countries in the trade talks. Under its own rules, the 152-member organisation was supposed to hold a full ministerial conference by the end of 2007, within two years of the 2005 ministerial held in Hong Kong. Instead, War on Want says that Lamy is pressing ahead with an anti-democratic summit involving just over 30 ministers in closed 'green room' sessions. Other ministers may still come to Geneva, according to the charity, but they will not be invited to take part in the key negotiations.


    NOTES TO EDITORS:

    1. The invitation-only 'green room' sessions are due to start at the WTO on Monday, 21 July 2008. But Pascal Lamy has called for trade ministers to arrive in Geneva from 18 July for bilateral talks.
    2. EU ministers will also be meeting to prepare for the trade summit in Brussels from 18 July.

    CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

     

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