The Black Lives Matter Movement and Police Brutality

The Black Lives Matter Movement and Police Brutality

Business & Politics

The Black Lives Matter Movement and Police Brutality

Black and white photograph of yemeni children

3rd July 2020

 

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was founded in 2013, as a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin, which occurred in February 2012. The movement was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, who met through the Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD); a not for profit organisation which ‘facilitates social transformation and improves the living conditions of Black people by (re)building the social justice infrastructure’. Although the founders met through this organisation, the movement began with a Facebook post by Garza titled ‘A Love Note to Black People’ in which she stated ‘Our Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter’, to which Cullors replied #BlackLivesMatter. With Tometi lending her support, a movement was born. The movement continues to embrace social media as a tool to mobilise and garner attention for their causes and has been dubbed ‘a new civil rights movement’ by prominent media outlets such as The Guardian and The New York Times. According to Pew Research, between July 2013 and May 2018, #BlackLivesMatter was tweeted nearly 30 million times, averaging 17,002 tweets a day.

 

The BLM movement is now a global organisation, with branches in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. According to the movement’s website, their goal is to ‘eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes’. The organisation remains decentralised, with ‘leaders’ encouraging organisation at a local level, rather than national leadership. Local BLM chapters commit to the movement’s 13 guiding principles but operate in the absence of a hierarchy or central structure.

 

The BLM movement is particularly known for coordinating demonstrations protesting the deaths of numerous members of the Black community as a result of their interactions with law enforcement. They have advocated for community control of law enforcement officials; through empowering communities to hire and fire officials and issue subpoenas and promoting the community’s role of deciding disciplinary consequences and controlling the funding of the police department. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd on May 25 2020, due to the actions of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the movement gained international attention once again. They coordinated protests via social media, which spread to all 50 US states and six continents. The impact of this movement has been felt globally, reaching unlikely corners of the world including Syria, where a mural for George Floyd surrounded by rubble was unveiled in Idlib. Importantly, these protests have sparked conversations around all forms of systemic racial inequality worldwide, from Direct Provision in Ireland to protesting the glorification of slave traders in the form of statues in the UK and Belgium. The protests have spearheaded the ‘Defund the Police’ slogan in the US and in response, the Minneapolis City Council voted to disband their police department on June 7 2020 with the City Council president Lisa Bender stating ‘Our efforts at incremental reform have failed. Period’.

Police target the African American community at disproportionate rates. 13% of the US population are Black, yet, according to Vox’s analysis of the FBI’s 2012 Supplementary Homicide Report, they account for 31% of all people killed by police and 39% of unarmed suspects killed by police. When you examine the data relating to white people, the reverse happens. They make up 63% of the US population, yet account for 52% of all people killed by police and 46% of unarmed suspects killed by police.

 

“Importantly, these protests have sparked conversations around all forms of systemic racial inequality worldwide, from Direct Provision in Ireland to protesting the glorification of slave traders in the form of statues in the UK and Belgium.”

In the US, police are required to complete, on average, 672 hours of basic training. In contrast, a barber requires 1,200 hours of training to cut your hair. When you compare the training period in the US with other countries, the disparities are startling. In Germany, 2.5-4 years of basic training are required before joining the police force. Even more concerning is the content of this training in the US. In a 2006 report by the US Justice Department, it was found that police officers clock up 111 hours on firearm skills and self-defence but spend just 8 hours being trained in mediation and conflict management, 11 hours on cultural diversity and human relations, 8 hours on community policing strategies and a mere 4 hours on hate crimes. This demonstrates the priorities rooted in police recruits from the beginning of their career. Rosa Brooks, Georgetown Law Professor, stated ‘many police recruits enter the academy as idealists, but this kind of training turns them into cynics’.

 

A significant part of the problem is police unions. They have stood against reforms of police departments and advocated for increased pay and quality of working conditions. They have successfully created a ‘hero narrative’ which puts the police on a pedestal of unquestionable power. This narrative states that the ordinary citizen could not possibly understand the daily difficult work a police officer does, therefore, they are not in a position to question them. The unionisation of police departments has been shown to encourage police brutality. A study by the University of Chicago Law School found that the unionisation in Florida resulted in a 40% increase in violent incident complaints.

 

Another consideration is the robust employment contracts the police unions fight for. In light of George Floyd’s death, it was revealed that Derek Chauvin, the policeman who knelt on the victim’s neck, had 17 complaints against him. However, this is unlikely to be representative of the actual number of complaints. It is extremely difficult to investigate the number of complaints against individual police officers as union contracts allow for the erasure of these records, which prevent us from knowing the nature of the grievance and act as built in protections making it difficult to discipline officers as a result of a complaint. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the police chief fired all officers involved in the incident. However, this is not necessarily permanent, as union contracts prevent the firing of officers, even by the police chief. Therefore, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that all of the officers involved will be reinstated through an adjudication process. Union contracts are a major hurdle in ending police brutality, holding police accountable and getting justice for victims.

 

Traditionally unions tend to identify with the ideological left. However, police unions are outliers and tend to draw support from the ideological right. The Republican party, who have historically sought to weaken unions, have supported and strengthened police unions. This has led to the politicisation of police unions. Standing against police unions or suggesting police reform is considered political suicide in the US, as unions have incredible fundraising power. San Francisco District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, ran for the office in 2019 and had a campaign agenda that included decarceration, eliminating cash bail, establishing a unit to re-examine wrongful convictions, and promoting police reform. In response, a coalition of police unions across California raised $700,000 for his campaign opponents and spent $400,000 on TV ads against Boudin’s campaign. Their efforts were unsuccessful, and Boudin was elected as District Attorney, but given their power, it is unsurprising that politicians often cower in the face of police unions.

 

The BLM movement works for a world in which ‘Black lives are no longer systemically targeted for demise’. However, it is clear that the agenda of police unions is fostering a culture of impunity, permeating the police force and enabling police brutality, directly translating into an unacceptably dangerous environment for Black communities in America. Police union contracts put accountability beyond the realm of possibility and fortify the notion that law enforcement are truly above the law. The obstacles and exceptions created by police unions protecting police officers such as Derek Chauvin, are not obvious to all people celebrating his arrest for the murder of George Floyd. It remains to be seen if these latest Black Lives Matter protests will be able to take on the hypocrisies of the American justice system.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Clay Banks

 

 

The Extraction and Sales of Minerals and Natural Resources: A Modern Day Colonialism?

The Extraction and Sales of Minerals and Natural Resources: A Modern Day Colonialism?

Jewelry, watches and high-end technology signifies wealth and power for many people all over the world. According to a Human Rights Watch report, roughly every year almost 1,600 tons of gold and 90 million carats of diamonds are mined for jewelry, generating over US$ 300 billion in revenue. However, the countries that have the abundance of these resources more often than not find themselves in the Global South where they either lack a solid governance system, resources, or both, to extract and distribute these highly valuable resources at their own will. Multinational Institutions and companies have been known to come in and extract minerals from countries in the Global South like Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo since colonial times. Companies like De Beers who introduced the concept of using diamond rings to propose marriages during the late 1940s have been present in the Global South since their formation. 

 

For millions of workers and many states, the mining and minerals industry is their primary source of income. However, the conditions under which mining takes place can be brutal. People including young children have been killed during the extraction of various resources. But more importantly, there is an ongoing pattern of displacement of indigenous people and local residents who have homes around the mines. In times of war, like in the DRC, civilians are suffering continuously at the hand of armed groups and rebels who have enriched their interests by exploiting various resources. The conditions under which the mines are run are also very hazardous; no environmental precautions are in place and therefore many residents and mine workers constantly face health risks.

 

Mining and extraction has contributed to the abuse of human rights on various levels. An estimated one-million and perhaps many more children globally work in mines in defiance of international human rights law. Children who work in mining are often exposed to extremely dangerous environments. Many of them  are forced to work in deep, unstable mines and end up being injured or even killed in accidents. In some mines, both adults and children have become victims of forced labour and human trafficking and those who try to escape end up facing abuse and other forms of violence. In many cases, international mining companies like Shell and De Beers and governments have abused the rights of local and indigenous people, especially when they need land for extraction and mining. In Zimbabwe for example, the government has been accused of forcibly displacing villagers in order to make way for diamond mining. 

 

A lot of mining companies have been linked to direct violation of international humanitarian law, which also applies to armed conflicts and war. The mining and trade of rare valuable resources have helped fuel and finance various authoritarian governments and the income generated has helped them stay in power. For example, the oil giant Shell has been continuously accused by human rights agencies like Amnesty International for killing and displacing indigenous and local residents by “motivating” the military to do so in order to free up land for oil mining and extraction. The illegal trade of these resources has  also benefitted armed groups who are responsible for horrific crimes against humanity including massacres and systemic sexual violence. 

 

The involvement of companies from the Global North has  to a large extent contributed to the continuous offences  mentioned above. Companies have a responsibility to maintain the human rights of all the people involved in their work. This is clearly stated in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and under this, companies are expected to take proactive steps to ensure that they do not contribute to any breaches of human rights within their global operations and respond to abuses if they ever occur. Despite these organs, numerous international companies are accused of being  involved in infringing the human rights of millions of people in the Global South.

 

The question here is, who will ever take accountability for all these actions? Governments in the North? The Companies? Will these abuses and violations ever come to an end? Most of the international companies have enough resources to face off courts and governments in order to continue their multi-million dollar operations but the victims of their abuses find themselves in life and death situations, without any support and most of them therefore decide to migrate either within the state or to other countries where they hope to be safe, creating a large continuous upsurge of migrants. 

 

On 1 January 2020, the Conflict Minerals Regulation developed by the European Union came into effect. The purpose of this regulation is to ensure that EU importers of four  key minerals (Tin, Tantalum, Tungsten and Gold) meet international, responsible sourcing standards set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It is also  meant to help break the link between conflict and illegal exploitation of minerals and to help put an end to the abuse of local people and communities, including mineworkers, and promote local development. The EU says that it only covers four minerals because the above-mentioned minerals are the ones that are most linked to conflict and human rights abuses. However, resources like oil, diamonds and coltan are also linked to these issues. As mentioned before, Shell, who have been extracting oil in Nigeria, have been accused of fueling the killings and displacement of thousands of people without being held accountable. So despite the creation of this regulation there needs to be greater attention paid to all forms of extraction and mining and regulations should involve far more companies than those that operate within the EU only. 

 

The demand for these resources is created by us, the general population. We have equal responsibility to ensure the rings, watches and jewelry we buy do not contribute to the destruction of a family thousands of miles away but, at the same time, companies and governments should be held more accountable for all the resource-related crimes and abuses that go on in the Global South. There should be more attention paid to the already existing mechanisms that ensure international companies operate within their boundaries. But more importantly, there needs to be solidarity with the people who are affected by these abuses, their protection should be at the forefront of both government and organizational policy. The international community needs to stand together with them because without their sacrifices the world perhaps would not be as revolutionized as it is today.

 

 

Photo from JSTOR Daily

 

 

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Voices from Direct Provision: An Online Conference 2020

On 27 September, the organisation Abolish Direct Provision Ireland (ADPI) held an online conference titled “Voices from Direct Provision.” The purpose of the event, which was chaired by ADPI volunteer Louise, was to raise awareness about the adversity experienced by asylum seekers and provide a platform to share their stories.

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

Detached reporting of asylum crossings in the English Channel resemble “a sports commentator watching a boat race or a tour operator on a whale watching tour.” Dehumanising refugees is is a long-standing problem within UK journalism that is seeping into politics and impacting the lives of those seeking international protection.

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 5

Welcome to episode 5 of our new podcast series on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Listen in to learn more about the history of the DRC – an intricate web of events that seem to have remained in the shadows.

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing more inhumane Greek refugee policies. The revelation by the New York Times that Greece has secretly expelled more than 1,000 asylum seekers, abandoning many of them on inflatable life rafts in the Aegean Sea, is one example of this disturbing trend. Meanwhile, refugees are being locked inside Oinofyta refugee camp while Greece welcomes tourists and allows them to roam freely.

Friendship SPO: ‘Nothing will happen if voices from the field aren’t put on a plateau’

Runa Khan, Founder & Executive Director of Friendship SPO talked to us ahead of this year’s STAND Student Festival about climate migration and Friendship’s work in empowering at-risk communities who face environmental and human rights issues.

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 4

Welcome to episode 4 of our new podcast series on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Listen in to learn more about the history of the DRC – an intricate web of events that seem to have remained in the shadows.

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

The Intersection of Human Rights And Covid-19 Restrictions in Europe

It is a dangerous time to be living in Europe. As of 29 March 2020, of the ten countries with the most covid-19 related deaths in the world, seven are European, and medical experts and epidemiologists believe the continent could be as far as two weeks away from the peak. The EU has produced a €37 billion emergency fund for sectors impacted by the coronavirus. The outbreak of this virus requires increased involvement by individual governments to protect their populations and ensure procedures are in place to help the most vulnerable. Measures like social distancing, or indeed, cocooning, are necessary and have obvious and immediate implications to ‘flatten the curve’. It is understandable that citizen’s rights such as free movement and public assembly have been temporarily curtailed.

 

But what happens when governments overextend their executive power during a state of emergency? In China, citizens have been instructed to install an app which tracks one’s movement and proximity to others using facial recognition, while in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has frozen courts, including postponing his own trial concerning three counts of corruption. Across the world, from Somalia to Lesbos to the Mexican border, those living in refugee camps await with bated breath for the potential arrival of the coronavirus. 

 

This month, concerns have been raised regarding the emergency measures introduced by some European democracies. Six European countries – Armenia, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova and Romania – have notified the Council of Europe that during this outbreak they will forgo commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) under Article 15 which allows derogation during “public emergency threatening the life of the nation.” Yet it seems unlikely that non-compliance with the ECHR will, in any case, save more lives than continuing compliance. Derogation by these countries could be seen as attempts to limit freedom of the media or freedom of information. 

 

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, of the right-wing populist Fidesz party, is straddling the line between democracy and authoritarianism after the introduction of an Emergency Powers bill was passed into law this week. It allows Orbán, individually, to rule by decree. He can single-handedly override any existing legislation. As well, the new bill states that the spreading of ‘false’ or ‘true but distorted’ information could lead to a five-year prison sentence, and that all public information concerning government actions must come through him. This clause directly targets freedom of thought and expression, namely anyone – journalist, citizen – critical of Orbán’s actions. Parliament is suspended and there will be no elections while this law is in place. Orbán has been Prime Minister of Hungary since 2010, and in that time has curtailed NGO activity and media independence in Hungary. It is likely his party is taking the ‘opportunity’ afforded by the coronavirus pandemic to implement tighter civic control in line with their populist stance. Because the law has no time period attached to it, MEPs are worried that these measures could continue past the outbreak and curb freedoms for years to come.

 

 

In France, Emmanuel Macron’s new doctrine passed on 22 March has specifically targeted workers’ rights, or “acquis sociaux”, including the right to vacation pay, delaying salary bonuses for low-paid workers, and the power for employers to force overtime work on staff. In Britain, Boris Johnson’s lockdown measures allow for the arrest and detaining of those believed to be infectious, including children, by state authorities. Those detained can be placed in custody facilities for up to 14 days. Doctors can sign death certificates without seeing the patient’s body. Measures like these are a large jump from the Prime Minister’s previous “herd immunity” tactic. For those living hand to mouth across the continent, lockdown measures directly cut through a right to livelihood, food and shelter. In recent days, as Italy enters week 3 of lockdown, a notable increase in social unrest has been reported, stemming from those living in the poorer southern regions where hunger is increasingly rampant. 

Alongside emergency powers aiming to prevent the spread of coronavirus, governments must implement social security measures to help the most vulnerable populations. Citizens can only comply with social distancing and lockdown measures should they have food, shelter, and peace of mind that they will have a livelihood to support themselves and their loved ones once this epidemic is over. We are living in an age of anxiety – and, should you follow President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, a time of war. Covid-19 is the invisible enemy. But, governments should not take this pandemic as an opportunity to over-extend power structures, or exploit humanity. 

 

 

Photo from freepik

 

 

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Voices from Direct Provision: An Online Conference 2020

On 27 September, the organisation Abolish Direct Provision Ireland (ADPI) held an online conference titled “Voices from Direct Provision.” The purpose of the event, which was chaired by ADPI volunteer Louise, was to raise awareness about the adversity experienced by asylum seekers and provide a platform to share their stories.

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

Detached reporting of asylum crossings in the English Channel resemble “a sports commentator watching a boat race or a tour operator on a whale watching tour.” Dehumanising refugees is is a long-standing problem within UK journalism that is seeping into politics and impacting the lives of those seeking international protection.

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 5

Welcome to episode 5 of our new podcast series on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Listen in to learn more about the history of the DRC – an intricate web of events that seem to have remained in the shadows.

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing more inhumane Greek refugee policies. The revelation by the New York Times that Greece has secretly expelled more than 1,000 asylum seekers, abandoning many of them on inflatable life rafts in the Aegean Sea, is one example of this disturbing trend. Meanwhile, refugees are being locked inside Oinofyta refugee camp while Greece welcomes tourists and allows them to roam freely.

Friendship SPO: ‘Nothing will happen if voices from the field aren’t put on a plateau’

Runa Khan, Founder & Executive Director of Friendship SPO talked to us ahead of this year’s STAND Student Festival about climate migration and Friendship’s work in empowering at-risk communities who face environmental and human rights issues.

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 4

Welcome to episode 4 of our new podcast series on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Listen in to learn more about the history of the DRC – an intricate web of events that seem to have remained in the shadows.

“Marry-Your-Rapist” Bill to Be Passed in Turkey

“Marry-Your-Rapist” Bill to Be Passed in Turkey

In rape cases, there is a victim and there is an aggressor. For some members of the Turkish ruling party however, this distinction doesn’t appear to matter. The government is currently attempting to progress a horrific “Marry-Your Rapist” law as part of a controversial new “judicial package” – as Berfu Şeker and Ezel Buse from the Turkish NGO Women for Women’s Human Rights – New Ways explained to STAND in a recent interview. This Bill would allow rapists to escape any judicial penalty through marrying their under-aged victims if the age difference between them is less than ten years (for this reason, the legislation is also being called a “child rape law”). Turkey’s current civil code views child marriages as illegal. 

 

This regressive legal step is largely inspired (according to Human Rights Watch researcher Rothna Begum) by Article 357 of the 1810 French criminal law, written under Napoleon, which states that if a girl is kidnapped and married to her ‘seducer’, he can only be prosecuted if the family declares the marriage void. Such laws consider rape not as a crime that should be punished in its own right, but as an act which is disrespectful to religious or moral laws. Besides increasing the risk of child abuse, passing this law could mean Turkey will witness similar situations to those seen in Morocco before it repealed Article 475 of its Penal Code. In Morocco, the suicide of Amina Filali, a 16-year-old girl who killed herself with rat poison after being forced to marry her rapist, shocked the country and acted as a catalyst for change. 

 

Child marriage is extremely damaging and, according to UNICEF, “often results in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupts schooling, limits the girl’s opportunities and increases her risk of experiencing domestic violence”. Approximately 15 million adolescent girls worldwide have experienced forced sex at some point in their lifetime (UNICEF). Under “marry your rapist” laws, victims, including children and teenagers, are considered to have a certain degree of responsibility for having been raped, even when they have not reached the legal age of consent (18 years of age).  This normalisation and downplaying of rape often prevents the victims from seeking professional help after enduring such trauma, with victims facing pressure from family members in some cases. General Recommendation 35, adopted in 2017, of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Violence against Women (CEDAW) has called on states to combat social attitudes which falsely “make women responsible for their own safety and for the violence they suffer.” Sadly, these laws are not that uncommon, and in about ten countries worldwide rapists can avoid prosecution if the victim is underage or ‘forgives’ the rapist. 

 

In December 2019, some female members of the Turkish parliament protested the lack of action on penalizing and prosecuting violence against women by Turkish society, and specifically by the male-dominated political elite. They sang “Un Violador en Tu Camino” (’A rapist in your path’), the Chilean protest song which has been adopted by women worldwide to denounce the role various state actors (judges, the police, and other decision-makers) play in enabling a system that perpetuates rape and rape culture. By forcing women and children to marry their rapists, Turkey’s legislation is just one of many global examples of how women’s protection is not being taken seriously by governments. 

 

Kate Dannies, assistant professor of Global and Intercultural Studies at Miami University, writing for The Washington Post, highlights how this bill is part of Turkey’s general aim of encouraging population growth. “As soon a woman is married, [the sooner] she can have children”, explains Berfu Şeker from WWHR – New Ways. Turkey’s ruling party uses excuses like religion and conservatism in an attempt to erase women as individual subjects and as economic and social actors, in order to constrain them to the role of mothers, she explains. 

 

As Turkey struggles with a severe economic crisis, the government is attempting to limit the increasing number of women joining the labour force and to advance a more traditional and nuclear vision of the family. While women are already disadvantaged within Turkish society, this shift would make them even more dependent on their husbands with even fewer  opportunities to be financially independent – yet another regressive step and a major attack on gender equality. 

 

Even if Turkish society and the international community manages to rally against attempts to pass the bill, another major issue Turkey faces is the lack of efficient and trustworthy democratic institutions and the absence of press freedom. Since the 2017 Turkish constitutional referendum, the parliament has lost almost all of its legislative power. WWHR – New Ways shared its concerns with STAND that, even if the parliament is blocked by protestors, bills can be passed “behind closed doors in the middle of the night” by the ruling party, allowing it to impose “its hidden agenda” on the Turkish population.                                      

 

The patriarchal attitudes which “Marry-your-rapist” laws are built around must be combated, and the line between victims and their aggressors should not become blurred. For Turkish women and their allies, the fightback might take the form of direct protest, or by becoming a member of a women’s rights organisation working on these issues; it might happen in the ballot box, or through difficult discussions with family and community members, or even through a tweet.  Even small acts of protest can spark change – but the message is clear – change needs to come! 

 

 

Photo from Piqsels

 

 

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The Time for Action is Now – Beijing +25

Georgetown virtually held Beijing +25: Commemorating a Watershed Moment for Women’s Rights on Sept. 10 with Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton on the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. What does the conference mean for politics in 2020?

Women in Horror Cinema: ‘Screen Queens’ and changing representations

Horror cinema has always been an extremely nuanced genre of film in terms of its representation of female characters. Conventional gender roles and stereotypes permeate the genre with clichéd female archetypes such as the helpless victim and the sexually promiscuous woman. However, things are starting to be challenged.

Women and the Military: Could pushing female representation do more harm than good?

How useful is representation in and of itself? If individual members of marginalised groups are in positions of power, will the necessary changes for their community be achieved, or do we need a collective movement of oppressed groups to attack systems of inequality from the outside? These questions have been particularly divisive in feminist discussions on women and the military.

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

The image of Western military powers as an emancipatory force for women has been promoted for over a century, yet ultimately could not be further from the truth. Historically, Britain and other European powers have attacked the rights and undermined the autonomy of women in colonised countries.

Oatly Facing Boycotts Following Unsustainable Investment Links to Deforestation and Trump

Oatly has made headlines recently for accepting an investment from Blackstone, one of the largest private equity firms in the world, which has links to deforestation in the Amazon and the Trump administration. The case of Oatly raises the question – is it possible to be 100% sustainable within our current economic framework?

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights” – a Muddy Business in 1995 at Beijing

The Beijing World Conference on Women, took place in September 1995, 25 years ago! Those born after 1990 are probably too young to remember the conference and its significance. But Beijing was a true landmark event. It resulted in more than 30,000 activists, representatives from 189 nations, unanimously adopting the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – a vision of equal rights, freedom, and opportunities for women that continues to shape gender equality and women’s movements worldwide.

Fairtrade Fortnight 2020: The Way to Sustainable Chocoholism

Fairtrade Fortnight 2020: The Way to Sustainable Chocoholism

Have you ever wondered what our life would be like without chocolate? It is hard to imagine such a scenario when you consider how many of today’s products either consist of or contain the beloved food. For Ireland, this would mean an especially great deal. After all, according to Fairtrade figures, Irish people are the third-largest chocolate consumers in the World. Only surpassed by Austria and Switzerland, the average person in Ireland ate about 17 pounds of chocolate in 2017.

 

While chocolate is generally associated with feeling good, there is a side to it that speaks a different truth. The difficulties that many cocoa farmers have to face to produce our chocolate have been repeatedly called out over the last few decades. Hazardous working conditions, exploitation and oppression, a lack of health care and even child labour define the daily lives of thousands of workers and their families. Even though many people are aware of the problem, it often seems difficult to actually do something about it as an individual.

 

Fairtrade Fortnight, a campaign organised by the Fairtrade Foundation, aims to raise awareness of the conditions in which many people in developing countries work to produce our food. For two weeks each year, hundreds of individuals, companies, and groups across Ireland come together to tell others about farmers’ and workers’ stories. In doing so, they want to demonstrate the positive impact of Fairtrade and hope to encourage people to buy more goods made to Fairtrade standards. This year’s Fairtrade Fortnight’s focus is on – as you might have guessed – chocolate. Particular attention will be paid to the women farmers who supply companies with cocoa, seeing that women often make only little profit from the food they grow compared to men. 

 

The campaign takes place from February 24th to March 8th and features a large number of guest speakers, such as Arjen Boekhold and Nicola Matthews from the Netherlands. Their chocolate company Tony’s Chocolonely pursues the mission to make chocolate completely slave-free and create fair conditions for all cocoa farmers. At the event’s opening night in Dublin, Boekhold spoke amongst other things about inequality in the chocolate industry, pointing out the power of the few multinational companies. “How can we talk about a fair economy or a free economy where you can negotiate prices? We have, one the one hand, two and a half million farmers and they have to negotiate with only two companies” Boekhold explained. The chocolate bar also has a unique design. Divided into parts of different sizes rather than even squares, the composition is meant to reflect the inequality between those who produce the chocolate and those who eventually profit from it. Boekhold stated his belief in Fairtrade saying, “I think Fairtrade is one of the few initiatives which really try to strengthen the position of farmers and make cooperatives work […] At this moment, around 6 to 7% of all cocoa worldwide is sold under Fairtrade terms. So that is a minority. But you see an impact, you see change.”

 

Allison Roberts, founder of the chocolate company Exploding Tree and one of the three bean-to-bar chocolate producers in Ireland, is a speaker at Fairtrade Fortnight as well. Located in Cork, her company handcrafts chocolate bars with 100% Fairtrade cocoa and coconut sugar bought directly from farming cooperatives like Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana. Running only a small company, Roberts says she feels freer to experiment with her chocolate and likes to create new flavours that don’t necessarily speak to the mainstream: Salt & Seaweed, Goats’ Milk, Dark Orange or 100% Cocoa are just some of them. And did you know that her company produces the only artisan milk chocolate bar made with Irish milk?  

 

It’s encouraging to see that progress has already been made. According to Fairtrade International, cocoa was the fastest-growing Fairtrade product category in 2017 with revenue rising by 57% in volume, and growth still continuing in 2018. But what is it that makes Fairtrade products so special? Why are they different from others and how does the label work?  

 

Fairtrade can be described as a trading partnership with the objective to promote greater justice in international trade. It serves as a certification scheme that ensures socially and economically fair production standards for goods from developing countries, such as chocolate, coffee, tea, cotton, fruits, sugar and also gold. Since these products are high in demand and consumed all around the world, a key mission is to make their production as sustainable as possible. International fair trade networks like Fairtrade International or World Fair Trade Organization have defined standards regarding workers’ rights, fair labour practices and environmental responsibility that organisations are required to follow in order to be labelled ‘Fairtrade’. 

 

First of all, farmers and workers must be paid a minimum price for their products, which guarantees them a stable income. FLOCERT, the audit and certification body for Fairtrade standards, regularly checks that this is implemented. In such a way, workers are given a safety net as they are protected from exploitation and can use income to save money for the future. Fairtrade farmers and workers also receive the Fairtrade Premium, an additional sum of money that goes to a communal fund of their choice. This fund helps workers improve their social, economic or environmental conditions through investment in things like better infrastructure, their children’s education or drinking water supplies. Another important aspect of Fairtrade is sustainable production, which involves farms and plantations avoiding pesticides and fungicides since these often cause great damage to people, wildlife and natural resources. If it’s impossible to circumvent toxicants, their usage has to be reduced to a minimum and resources like soil and water need to be kept clean. Additionally, all employees who might get in contact with the substances are required to wear protective clothing. But that’s not everything that Fairtrade is invested in. Other important issues that are being dealt with include child labour, climate change and gender inequality.

 

All in all, buying Fairtrade chocolate may not be the solution to every problem in the trading industry but it’s a good place to start and it proves that it’s not hard to make a positive impact, even if it’s small. As one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, Ireland has the chance to go ahead and make sure that Fairtrade products will be even more widespread and consumed in the future.

 

 

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

 

 

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Voices from Direct Provision: An Online Conference 2020

On 27 September, the organisation Abolish Direct Provision Ireland (ADPI) held an online conference titled “Voices from Direct Provision.” The purpose of the event, which was chaired by ADPI volunteer Louise, was to raise awareness about the adversity experienced by asylum seekers and provide a platform to share their stories.

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

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Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

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Friendship SPO: ‘Nothing will happen if voices from the field aren’t put on a plateau’

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STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 4

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10000 students working towards a more equal future

10000 students working towards a more equal future

February 20th marks the World Day of Social Justice 2020, and young people across Ireland are finding themselves facing an uncertain future on all fronts. Fighting against ever-increasing university fees, and laden down with the knowledge that just 20 companies worldwide are responsible for one third of all global emissions, it can be hard to believe that any individual can take action to truly level the playing field. 

One person alone might feel as though they can’t make a change, but what happens when 10000 third-level students come together to take one small action each for a better world? This is what STAND, a Suas Educational Development initiative, and the Unions of Students in Ireland (USI) are trying to encourage by partnering on a new platform called 10000students.ie. 

The 10000 students website, which provides examples on how to take action for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in every USI affiliated college across Ireland, allows students to pledge to take one action on their campus. It also counts how many actions are being taken across Ireland as a whole, with the idea being that students will see strength in numbers when it comes to taking action collectively. 

Speaking from the launch event at GMIT, Mayo, USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick had the following to say:

“Pledging to take any action on 10000students.ie is an easy way to raise awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals and to see how simple it can be to make a difference through implementing these changes in their daily lives. Students have always been at the forefront of positive change in Ireland and it is no different when it comes to the SDG’s. Last year, USI was announced as one of the twelve Sustainable Development Goal Champions and we are delighted to partner with STAND to launch this campaign to make it easy for students to make a difference while challenging their friends to do the same.”

Want to see how you can get involved? Visit 10000students.ie today and pledge to take one small action on your campus for a more sustainable planet.