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

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

 

Tesco 'sweatshop shame' fury

26 June 2008 - 3:40pm

Clothes workers paid 16p an hour

Workers making clothes at a factory in India for the top British retailer Tesco are toiling long hours for as little as 16p an hour - only half a living wage.

This warning is signalled today by the charity War on Want and the campaign group Labour Behind the Label, which will bring the Indian researcher who uncovered the scandal to protest at Tesco's annual meeting tomorrow (Friday 27 June 2008).

It follows BBC TV's Panorama on Monday (23 June) which showed some of India's poorest people, including children, working long, gruelling hours for poverty pay on Primark clothes in slum workshops and refugee camps.

According to the research, employees at a large Tesco supplier factory in Bangalore are struggling to survive on less than £1.50 a day for a 60-hour week, with a 20 per cent hike in rice prices making life even harder.

Employees in the factory earn on average £38 a month, and the lowest paid receive just £30, while the Bangalore Garment and Textile Workers' Union last year calculated a living wage as at least £52 a month. Employees complained that bosses forced them to work overtime or face the sack and they receive only half the extra hours recorded.

Workers say the high pressure to produce orders means they risk dismissal for failing to meet double their normal targets, requesting sick leave or arriving late on two consecutive days. Some employees, fearing the loss of their jobs if they miss targets, skip lunch and do not drink water in order to reduce the number of times they go to the toilet.

Haneefa, who lives with her parents and is also their carer, earns just £38 a month. She admits: "I don't buy anything for myself. I can't save anything from what I earn. It is difficult to survive on this money."

The factory does not recognise a trade union. And some workers fear managers are targeting them for potential firing for their individual union membership, which would flout Tesco's ethical code of conduct. One employee told colleagues about a forthcoming union meeting on a Sunday, the workers' only day off. Bosses then imposed compulsory overtime and threatened staff with severe punishment if they failed to work on that day.

At last year's Tesco AGM, War on Want submitted a shareholder resolution demanding Tesco guarantee the fair treatment for workers as promised under its ethical code of practice. Tesco opposed the resolution that sought to ensure decent pay and conditions for overseas workers. But an unprecedented one in five Tesco shareholders refused to support the retailer's opposition to the resolution.

The new research follows War on Want's earlier report Fashion Victims that revealed workers in Bangladesh paid as little as 5p an hour to produce clothes for Tesco.

Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "Our new evidence again reveals how Tesco's cheap clothing comes at the shameful price of workers' poverty. Again and again, scandals exposing UK retailers exploiting garment workers underline that the public cannot trust stores to police themselves. It is high time the British government legislate to stop this abuse."

Martin Hearson, campaigns coordinator at Labour Behind the Label, said: "How many times do we need to hear stories like these before Tesco gets its act together and pays workers a living wage? Every little really does help garment workers living below the breadline, especially as food and rent costs shoot up."


NOTES TO EDITORS

  • The research, Tesco and Indian garment workers - lessons forgotten, can be downloaded below.
  • The researcher, Suhasini Singh, who works for the Indian labour rights organisation Cividep, is available for interview.
  • Tesco's annual meeting will take place at 11am tomorrow (Friday 27 June) at the National Motorcycle Museum, Coventry Road, Solihull B92 0EJ

CONTACTS Paul Collins, media officer, War on Want (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728 Martin Hearson, campaigns coordinator, Labour Behind the Label (+44) (0)7727 235391

'Sweatshops' protest hits Primark

23 June 2008 - 11:12am

War on Want targets flagship London store

War on Want story wins award

13 June 2008 - 2:32pm

A front page splash news story in a leading British newspaper, produced with help from the anti-poverty charity War on Want, secured a coveted prize in the One World Media Awards last night.

TV film sparks 'curb mercenaries' call

11 June 2008 - 5:00pm

Panorama brings new pressure on the UK government to regulate private armies.

The WTO's Doha Round will not solve the global food crisis

5 June 2008 - 7:06pm

War on Want has joined an international coalition of 237 farmers' organisations, trade unions, aid agencies and social movements in an open letter to government ministers, UN chiefs and other officials attending this week's food summit in Rome. The letter argues that the global food crisis must not be invoked as a reason to rush through a WTO trade deal, but that a fundamentally new approach to agriculture is needed.

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