Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown Measures

Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown Measures

OPINION 

Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 lockdown measures

climate migration and covid-19
lydia howard Chevalier

Lydia Howard Chevalier

6th October 2020

Unfortunate, though it may be, the initially positive reactions of eco-activists after the introduction of strict lockdown measures may have been premature. Online reports of crystal-clear water running through the canals of Venice and visible starry skies in China proved to be the glimmer of hope we were all desperately searching for in the midst of these unprecedented times. That sense of hope was short-lived, however, and data soon emerged showing that although levels of carbon emissions declined somewhat thanks to lockdown measures, this was merely a temporary slowdown – and environmental damage from the burning of fossil fuels is continuing, unabated. Indeed, pandemic safety measures, such as the wearing of PPE, is contributing even further waste – non-recyclable face masks and gloves can be found discarded carelessly on our streets and in our landfills. Whilst our attention has been almost exclusively focused on COVID-19 during these past few months, we must not forget that nothing on our planet exists in a vacuum – climate change is inextricably linked with public health as well as with migration.

 

In 2019 alone, extreme weather events displaced 24 million people within their own countries – an alarmingly high number, serving as a stark reminder that we must not ignore the seriousness of the issue. Climate change is likely to result in even more frequent and intense weather events in the future, which will inevitably lead to a dramatic shift in the demographics of our planet. The displacement of large numbers of people is a high-risk scenario, particularly during a global pandemic – how can migrants obey stay-at-home orders when their homes have been destroyed by hurricanes, bush fires and major floods? Can we reasonably expect social distancing in cramped refugee camps or frequent handwashing in places where soapy water is often unavailable due to damage to infrastructure? Consider the example of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti; survivors in crowded camps were often forced to drink water that had been contaminated by flooded rivers and latrines, resulting in a serious cholera outbreak, killing many of those who already displaced. If we wish to suppress the spread of COVID-19, we must also simultaneously address climate change.

 

Hurricane Matthew: Haiti storm
Hurricane Matthew: Haiti storm

Hurricane Matthew: the impact on housing in Corail and Jeremie, Haiti (BBC, 2016)

Migration due to environmental change is not a new concept; however, the levels of climate migration have increased dramatically in recent years. According to the Migration Data Portal, in 2019 alone, nearly 2,000 disasters triggered 24.9 million new internal displacements, the highest number since 2012. These were mostly the result of tropical storms and monsoon rains in South Asia and East Asia and Pacific. While it is difficult to measure exactly how many have fled their homes as a direct result of climate change, it is categorised as a “threat amplifier”: something which exacerbates an existing situation, such as conflict or competition over scarce resources. Those who are forced to flee their homes as a direct result of sudden-onset weather changes face a complex legal situation when attempting to access assistance or seek asylum; the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) currently refuses these migrants refugee status, designating them merely as “environmental migrants” and leaving them out in the cold without legal protection.

 

Unlike the measures introduced to tackle the pandemic, there is no organised effort to monitor the migrant population, and the UN lacks the resources to address their needs. The Sustainable Development Goals mention climate action and the urgent need to address it; however, the refusal of the US to adopt the Global Compact and its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement are not very encouraging signs of a commitment to future action. The Global Compact on Migration represents a unique opportunity for the international community to understand the climatic drivers of migration as well as the impact of migration on the environment, while the Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to climate change by setting out goals involving carbon-emission mitigation, new technologies and the reinforcing of countries’ adaptive abilities in the face of severe weather events.

 

How a situation is perceived is critical when planning an effective response. Too much doom-and-gloom on the news can lead to “crisis fatigue” – a phenomenon many are already familiar with, watching the ever-rising death toll on television every night. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness, which is only amplified when the population also views extreme weather events as “acts of God” over which they feel no sense of control. Utilising a crisis-narrative inhibits effective action, as crises are typically short-term, unexpected events of which we could have had no prior knowledge or indeed, any level of preparedness. This can be applied to both COVID-19, which proved to be the “Disease X” public health experts have warned us about for many years, as well as climate change, the effects of which we have long been aware of. We cannot keep burying our heads in the sand when faced with mounting evidence of the effects of both of these threats.

 

COVID-19 and climate change pose immediate and long-term challenges to our well-being and everyday survival; the New York Times estimates that in South Asia alone, the living conditions of 800 million people could dramatically diminish due to climate change. Therefore, both must be addressed with an equal amount of urgency, long-term planning and multilateral cooperation. One significant difference must be acknowledged, however: flattening the curve of climate change will take many years, as opposed to mere weeks, and will require effective, pre-emptive intervention. International organisations such as the UN should specifically target the most vulnerable populations when planning to provide assistance and support, as it is often the countries with the lowest adaptive capacities who suffer disproportionately from the effects of flooding, droughts and desertification.

 

“The lockdown measures we have all recently been subjected to has offered us a brief insight into the impact on human wellbeing of restrictions on mobility.”

The idea that closed borders represents safety while open borders bring chaos and danger is a flawed and dangerous one that right-wing populists across the developed world have capitalised on throughout both the 2015 refugee crisis and the current pandemic. The lockdown measures we have all recently been subjected to has offered us a brief insight into the impact on human wellbeing of restrictions on mobility – a mere snapshot of what it is like for those fleeing parts of the world rendered uninhabitable by the devastating effects of climate change. Whilst all public health experts recommend travel and border restrictions as a necessary part of the pandemic response, they emphasise that this must be done on a test-and-trace basis, instead of an all-encompassing blanket ban. Such measures could lead people to fear “outsiders” or “foreigners” as potential sources of infection, a fear which could translate into a long-term policy if we are not careful. We need to remember the opportunities and benefits of welcoming migrants into our communities: many societies are experiencing a demographic decline and ageing populations – a fresh injection of migrant workers can provide a significant boost to local economies, a much-needed necessity in many post-COVID nations. The irony seemed lost on U.K. politicians recently when many applauded and expressed gratitude to the NHS for saving lives throughout the pandemic, despite the fact that many of its healthcare workers are migrants living in a nation whose Home Office is fighting to maintain policies that promote a “hostile environment” for such workers in order to deter any future influx.

 

And so, we have arrived at our current situation, through a combination of denial, ignorance (politically motivated or otherwise) and a preference for short-term gain, all whilst ignoring the true long-term pain. This myopic attitude must change if we are to ensure the survival and quality of life of the inhabitants of this Earth. We cannot simply relocate the problem, irresponsibly dispose of our waste in developing nations, and perpetuate an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. The evidence is clear: the developed world may be more capable (but perhaps not always willing) to prepare for and manage the effects of extreme weather events, while many in underdeveloped nations lack this capacity. Yet as true as it is that we will all suffer through our own inaction, this conversely means that we will surely all benefit through positive, coordinated action.

 

To learn more about ‘Climate Migration’ check out STAND’s online student festival taking place between the 12th – 24th of October 2020. To register for online workshops, creative events and panel discussions, click here!

 

 

 

Featured photo by Wallpaper Flare

 
 

 

The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

OPINION 

The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

anti-mask far right grafton st ireland
olivia moore

Olivia Moore

4th October 2020

If you have wandered through O’Connell Street in the past number of weeks, you may have noticed certain groups protesting outside the GPO. Upon first glance, it may have been difficult to identify exactly what was being protested: some raised placards call to “Protect Our Children”, and Irish tricolours are plentiful. Then, however, you may see the signs that beg you to “take off your mask”, claiming that “it’s only a common cold”. It becomes clear that the demonstration in question is an anti-mask one, protests that have been ongoing in Ireland since July.

 

The latest in these strings of incidents took place yesterday afternoon, October 3rd, as hundreds of anti-mask campaigners held a sit-down in the middle of Grafton Street as part of a protest in Dublin city centre. The protesters started with a rally outside the Custom House before marching to Grafton Street chanting “no more lockdown” and “no more masks”. While Gardai are investigating the organisation of the protest, it was believed to be linked to the group Yellow Vest Ireland. Yellow Vest is a populist movement that was founded to imitate the French Gilets Jaunes, describing itself as a “people’s movement” that is “not aligned to any political group, organisation or politician”. It has protested on a range of issues in recent years, like vulture funds, property taxes, the banking system and the immigration system. Their most recent activism has been aimed towards the anti-face-mask movement, however, with no social distancing and, of course, no face-masks, present at the event. Some of these demonstrations’ attendees may merely be believers of conspiracy theories about the virus, while others might simply be of the opinion that Government restrictions have gone too far. But is there a more sinister edge? It has come to light that such issues like direct provision, child protection, and most recently, this opposition to measures taken in response to Covid-19, have brought a growing far-right movement from existing almost entirely online, onto the streets.

 

 

The Yellow Vest protest was led by a formal “colour party”, comprising members of a Donegal-based far-right group named Siol na hÉireann. Its founder, Niall McConnell, spoke at the protest, rallying against “LGBTQ+ propaganda” and equating immigration to plantation. Earlier on the 12th September, veteran LGBTQ+ activist Izzy Kamikaze was struck in the head with a piece of wood wrapped in an Irish Tricolour at an anti-mask demonstration on Kildare Street that she was counter-protesting. The masked man who assaulted Kamikaze was part of a smaller group of protestors wearing badges that read “Antifa Hunting Permit. Open Season. All 58 Genders”. Antifa is short for Anti-Fascist, which is a decentralised left-wing protest movement that gained prominence in the U.S. recently for aggressively protesting against the far-right. And on August 22nd, a small number of far-right protestors, wearing face-masks and surgical gloves and armed with weapons such as iron bars and batons, attended a large anti-mask protest outside Custom House. These protestors were believed to be members of the Irish branch of Generation Identity, a thought-to-be deplete white nationalist organisation focuses on street activism and thought to have attended combat and survival training courses abroad.

 

“Opposition to measures taken in response to Covid-19, have brought a growing far-right movement from existing almost entirely online, onto the streets.”

Gardaí have been concerned about the expanding far-right in Ireland for many months now. In November, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris expressed that he is “concerned about right-wing extremism. We can see evidence of it on our shores as we have seen it spread across Europe.” In June, Europol warned of a meaningful escalation in far-right activity in Ireland. Dr Eileen Culloty, a disinformation researcher at DCU, explained that far-right activity has merely accelerated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures taken. “Back in March, they were mostly scapegoating minorities for breaking the lockdown rules, even though minorities are making up a large proportion of the key workers keeping Europe open. Then over the summer, it moved towards exploiting people’s frustration over the restrictions and claiming Covid was a hoax. And then, in the last month or so, it has culminated in these anti-mask demonstrations that are popping up around Europe.”

 

Opposition to lockdown measures is merely the latest cause commandeered by the far right. This is clearly seen in the case of McConnell and his far-right ideals infiltrating the supposedly non-political Yellow Vest protest. Yellow Vest leaders later spoke out against McConnell’s speech, claiming that all were welcome at their protests – and it is true that the far right is just a tiny minority of the attendees at such protests. But they are present. They are able to utilise the platform to advance their own agenda. They have an audience, willing to listen and capable of being persuaded. This is where the danger begins.

 

 

Featured photo by Paul Dunlea

 
 

 

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

OPINION + WOMEN

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

Women and the military representation
Aoife Burke

Aoife Burke

4th October 2020

In recent years, the relationship between women and the military has become topical in countries such as the UK. In 2018 all positions in the British Army became open to women for the first time, and since then the army has been using increasingly feminist rhetoric in their PR and recruitment campaigns. However, during the same period, government reports and individual testimonies have shed light on the level of discrimination, abuse, and sexual harassment experienced by women in the British armed forces. These issues have fuelled important discussions on the compatibility of feminism and the military – or lack thereof. These discussions have been largely focused on the experiences of female soldiers, questioning whether army service can be empowering to women on an individual level. However, the stories of female civilians (the group that has historically been most affected by war) have been consistently left out of the discourse. Women who have witnessed the reality of imperialist military intervention and shouldered the true cost of war should be at the forefront in discussions about gender and the army. Instead, both historically and in the present day, female civilians in conflict have had their voices spoken over and their stories twisted and misused, for the benefit of imperialist powers.

 

As we can see in the British Army’s current PR campaign, particularly in their podcast episode with Laura Whitmore, feminism is being appropriated in order to paint military service as empowering to women. Another, perhaps even more dangerous way in which feminism has been misused is in the portrayal of Western military interventions as liberatory to civilian women. Both of these narratives are used to expand the military reach and both erase the lived experiences of women who have suffered at the hands of militarism. 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. In the process of colonisation, the social, legal, and economic structures of patriarchy were often forced upon native societies. For instance, in pre-colonial Canada, indigenous society generally valued women, and indigenous women often held leadership and decision-making roles. Furthermore, because of strong kinship systems, women were not economically dependent on men. However, colonial settlers ignored the position of women in indigenous culture, refusing to engage with female spokespersons and enforcing the patriarchal norms that had been well-established in Europe by that time. The lasting impact of patriarchal colonialism can still be seen in Canada today, where indigenous women face the highest rates of violence, poverty, and poor health.

 

“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.”

The colonisation of Africa also saw the European ideals of patriarchy imposed on native women. The arrival of cash crops and the exclusion of women from the marketplace meant that African women generally lost power and economic independence during the colonial period. Because colonial authorities relied on the testimony of men to establish customary laws, the legal systems that developed under colonialism disadvantaged women. Furthermore, the pre-colonial political activity of women was largely disregarded and colonial agents worked exclusively with men in establishing political offices. For instance, in many parts of West Africa, associations run by and for women had deciding authority in disputes related to markets and agriculture. However, because these institutions were completely disregarded by European colonisers, they tended to lose power after the late 19th century. Overall, Britain, alongside other imperialist powers, has a long history of reversing the rights and freedoms of civilian women in colonised countries.

 

Despite this reality, the subject of women’s rights was used to defend British imperialism. This phenomenon relied on the portrayal of women in the Global South as victims, who need to be saved from their own culture by “civilised” Westerners. This paternalistic and racist narrative has been used time and time again to justify devastating wars and exploitative invasions, particularly in Islamic countries. As scholar Leila Ahmed discusses in her book Women and Gender in Islam, the late 19th-century British coloniser Lord Cromer used the veiling of women in Islam as evidence of the inferiority of Islamic civilisations, and ultimately as justification for the colonisation of Egypt. Lord Cromer actively opposed women’s suffrage in Britain and hindered the progression of women’s liberation in Egypt – yet none of this stopped him from using women’s rights as a pretext for his colonial endeavours. Disturbingly, a similar pattern is still playing out in the 21st century.

 

Since the early 2000s, Britain and the United States have used “feminist” rhetoric to help justify imperialist military invasions in the Middle East. In 2001, George Bush pushed the idea that war in Afghanistan would free “women of cover ” – reverting to the same patronizing portrayal of Muslim women that was used to defend British colonialism over a century prior. Concerningly, women were also complicit in promoting this storyline, with both Laura Bush and Cherie Blair being wheeled out to speak on the plight of Afghan women in the lead up to war – as though Western military invasions and bombing raids would somehow help liberate them. Yet in 2011, ten years into the war, Afghanistan was named the “most dangerous place in the world to be a woman”, with ongoing conflict and NATO airstrikes among the primary reasons cited. In a similar fashion, the narrative of rescuing women was used to legitimise the Iraq war. Bush repeatedly made vague, non-committal statements about women’s rights in the lead-up to the invasion. “Respect for women can … triumph in the Middle East and beyond”, he said in a speech to the UN in 2002 in which he urged action on Iraq. While Iraqi women were granted some benefits on paper during the war period, in reality, they were disproportionately harmed by conflict and left with less security and economic autonomy than before. The vast suffering of female civilians at the hands of British and U.S. military action highlights the utter emptiness of feminist language in this context.

 

George W. Bush gives a speech on war in the Middle East, focusing on the rights of women (videocafeblog, 2008)

The trend of world leaders appropriating feminism to sell militarism ultimately contributes to public ignorance about what war really means for women. According to the United Nations, war and conflict exacerbate pre-existing gender inequalities and leave women at a heightened risk of human rights violations. During conflict, women and girls are increasingly targeted through the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war. In late 2019, the British government and army were accused of covering up war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including sexual abuse. As well as a serious increase in the risk of gender-based violence, women are also disproportionately impacted by unstable access to essential services. Access to healthcare, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, can often be disrupted during conflict, leaving women and girls at risk of unplanned pregnancy, maternal mortality and STI’s. Furthermore, due to additional domestic responsibilities and fear of targeted attacks, girls’ right to education is disproportionately threatened during war. Continued instability in post-conflict periods means that the threats posed to women’s rights can last long after war officially ends. These issues, and the immense suffering they cause, are too often swept under the rug in discussions about gender and the military.

 

In conclusion, despite the empty words of political leaders and the vague sentiments of military PR campaigns, war poses a threat to women’s rights throughout the world. The suffering of civilians has always been inherent in the military action of countries such as Britain and the U.S., and women have shouldered the brunt of this injustice. The use of feminist rhetoric in a pro-war context is not only hypocritical but serves to erase the experiences of civilian women in war, including those who have lost their lives.

 

Stay tuned for episode 3 of this series which will explore whether or not gender representation in the military actually promotes equality.

 

 

 

Featured photo by USA Today

 
 

 

Alexei Navalny: Putin Critic out of Induced Coma after Poisoning

Alexei Navalny: Putin Critic out of Induced Coma after Poisoning

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Alexei Navalny: Putin Critic out of Induced Coma after Poisoning

oatly boycott blackstone
Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy

30th September 2020

On August 20th news broke that Alexei Navalny, The Russian “anti-corruption” campaigner and longtime Putin critic, became ill on his flight from Siberia. It was not long before allegations of poisoning were banded about, and the future of Russian politics was called into question.

 

Mr Navalny and his team were due to leave Siberia after a successful trip meeting local political candidates and volunteers. Those close to him have said that other than a cup of tea at the airport in Tomsk, Navalny did not consume anything that morning. Prior to boarding the flight, fellow passengers noted that he was in good spirits, laughing and joking with those who recognised him. The flight which was bound for Moscow was forced to make an emergency landing in Omsk after Navalny collapsed in the plane toilet at some time between eight and nine am.

 

Mr Navalny has long been vocal about this lack of trust in the president and his political party, at times calling them “crooks and thieves” and claiming that the system was “sucking the blood out of Russia”. Although Navalny is barred from running for president due to his embezzlement conviction in 2018, charges he vehemently denies, he has long been at the forefront of the anti-establishment campaign. So when his colleagues suggested that something had been “mixed with his tea”, many could be forgiven for thinking that it lay within the bounds of reason.

 

Of course, this is not the first time critics of Vladimir Putin have fallen ill or died under suspicious circumstances. In 2015 Boris Nemtsov was shot four times in the back, in full view of the Kremlin, by an unknown assassin who was never apprehended. Nemtsov, who had at one time publicly supported Putin, later became one of his most prominent critics, organising rallies and protests against him. In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, died three weeks after “drinking a cup of tea“ that had been laced with polonium-210. Po-210 is a product of radioactive uranium decay, which causes cells in the body to kill themselves and alters the genetic ability of cells to reproduce. A British enquiry later found that Litvinenko was poisoned by Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, who were acting on orders that had “probably been approved by Putin”. It is worth pointing out that not all critics of the Russian president die under suspicious circumstances, but enough well established critics have to foster speculation of Kremlin involvement.

 

On September 2nd, after Navalny was airlifted to Berlin for treatment, the German government stated that a military test found “unequivocal proof of a chemical nerve warfare agent of the Novichok group” in Mr. Navalny’s system. This contradicts what was found by doctors in the state run-hospital in Omsk. The deputy chief of the hospital stated that although unconscious and on a ventilator, Navalny was in fact stable. Neither family nor Navalny’s personal doctor was permitted to see him during his time in Omsk. On September 15th, the Kremlin critic released a photo of himself in hospital, saying that he was able to breathe by himself once again and intended to return to Russia once he had recovered.

 

On September 17th an aide of Navalny announced that traces of the nerve agent used in the poisoning were found on a bottle in his hotel room. This would suggest that he had consumed the agent several hours earlier than previously thought. This has led the European Parliament to call for an international investigation into the poisoning. No such investigation has been launched in Russia.

 

“After Navalny was airlifted to Berlin for treatment, the German government stated that a military test found “unequivocal proof of a chemical nerve warfare agent of the Novichok group” in Mr Navalny’s system.”

 

The Navalny poisoning is no longer a feature in mainstream media outlets, nor is it very fresh in the minds of most. But those who possess an interest in the political and business affairs of other nations are once again asking how will this latest attack on the political opposition affect governance in Russia? What does the future hold for political figures in the country?

 

While technically a democracy, Russia is classified as an “authoritarian” country and even those with no interest in politics can see why… In early January, Putin announced some of the most radical political changes in the past 30 years. These changes could allow him to extend his 20-year reign even after his term ends in 2024. The last person to serve as long as him was Josef Stalin, the famous Russian dictator. Some of the proposed changes suggested for the upcoming referendum include greater government control over judges and security services, future president terms limited to 2 years; while never having possessed a foreign passport or residence permit and having lived in Russia for at least the past 25 years.

 

These changes would ensure that of the small pool of individuals that this could apply to, none would be able to legally remain president long enough to gather the political leverage or power that Putin has accumulated in two decades. While he is constitutionally mandated to step down in 2024, these changes could ensure a politically relevant future for the 67-year-old. Prior to this the only noticeable change made during his reign was increased police violence on protesters, in an attempt to quell any uprising that might occur. So it is almost safe to assume that Russia in the future will look very similar to Russia presently, with Vladimir Putin taking less of a public stance, but running the country from behind the scenes. While we all watch with great interest and speculation the words of Pyotr Stolypin hold strong “in Russia, every 10 years everything changes, and nothing changes in 200 years“.

 

There are continuous updates now from Navalny and his staff, as he grows in strength daily. On September 22nd in a satirical post on his Instagram page, Navalny announced: “The ultimate goal of my canny plan was to die in the Omsk hospital and end up in an Omsk morgue, where they would have determined my cause of death as ‘he lived long enough,/ “But Putin outplayed me. He’s no pushover. In the end, I lay in a coma for 18 days like a fool, but I wasn’t able to get my way. The provocation was thwarted!”

 

Alexei Navalny

 

Navalny’s condition has improved enough that he has been discharged from acute inpatient care, he is however to remain under supervision as the long term effects of his condition are not yet known. In separate posts on his Instagram page, Navalny has thanked the hospital staff who have taken care of him, and he will no doubt keep the world updated on his progress via the social media platform.

 

 

Featured photo by Michał Siergiejevicz

 
 

 

parisa
Oatly Facing Boycotts Following Unsustainable Investment Links to Deforestation and Trump

Oatly Facing Boycotts Following Unsustainable Investment Links to Deforestation and Trump

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Oatly Facing Boycotts Following Unsustainable Investment Links to Deforestation and Trump

oatly boycott blackstone
Elizabeth Quinn

Elizabeth Quinn

29th September 2020

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, the Trump administration and the commercialisation of the housing market. The case of Oatly raises the question – is it possible to be 100% sustainable within our current economic framework?

 

Oatly is a plant-based milk alternative which has at its core a message of environmentalism. Oatly state that their mission is “to make it easy for people to turn what they eat and drink into personal moments of healthy joy without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process.”  Now Oatly has made headlines for accepting an investment of $200 million from private equity firm Blackstone. This means that Oatly is now 10% owned by Blackstone and receives financial support from them.

 

Blackstone has been criticised for their links to investment in the Hidrovias– a Brazilian infrastructure company that has been accused of contributing to deforestation in the Amazon. Blackstone denies this. Blackstone’s CEO has also been a prominent supporter of Donald Trump. The UN has accused Blackstone of contributing to the global housing crisis through the commodification of housing. In letters from the UN to Blackstone, this financialisation of housing focused on the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and the US. Blackstone dispute this claim. However, this means Oatly now earn money from a private equity firm which appears to be at odds with Oatly’s goal as a company wishing to create sustainable change for the good of the environment.

 

This case brings to mind the question of the role businesses should play in our society. Should businesses aim only for-profit maximisation or should businesses also have some social aspect to them? Do they have a responsibility to conduct their actions in a socially conscious way? Those believing the answer to be yes led to the evolution of corporate social responsibility (CSR). One of the most famous economists, Friedman, argued against CSR as he saw it as moving money away from profit maximisation. What Friedman fails to acknowledge here is that being socially responsible and engaging with stakeholders could actually provide for better business and may deliver profits.

 

Being socially responsible has, until now, worked for Oatly. Oatly’s total growth for 2018 was 65%, and a turnover of 1028 million Swedish SEK. This point shows that the sustainable message Oatly gives is one which is resonating through the population. Many people believe in Oatly’s mission and thus bought their product. Oatly’s high turnover gives the impression that Blackstone’s investment is not money which is needed for Oatly to survive, rather it is extra venture capital needed to expand. The argument that if Oatly does not accept these types of investment it will completely fail as a company falls short.

 

“This case brings to mind the question of the role businesses should play in our society. Should businesses aim only for-profit maximisation or do they have a responsibility to conduct their actions in a socially conscious way?

 

Oatly states that they wish to show Blackstone that sustainable investment is the future. At the same time, they have acknowledged that they will have no control over what Blackstone invests in outside of their partnership. Therefore, their idea that they will have an influence on Blackstone’s investments in the future is naïve. Blackstone owns over $538 billion dollars in assets. Oatly is part of a $200 million deal. Blackstone cannot wave a magic wand, invest a fraction of what it is worth and become a sustainable investment company.

 

Rather, becoming sustainable takes work- work which Blackstone does not seem to be willing to do. Oatly needs to judge Blackstone not by their words but by their actions. Oatly states that the decision to engage with Blackstone was an intense thought process. This is very vague. Companies like Oatly have access to toolkits such as human rights impact assessments to gauge the impact their decisions would have adversely on human rights. Whether Oatly has completed this kind of assessment is not clear. If it had, I doubt that it would have come to the conclusion it did. Blackstone now shows on their homepage that they are supporting growth and sustainability. Private equity firms can, on the one hand, state they are supporting environmental goals, while on the other hand directly contribute to the opposite goal.

 

The language of corporate social responsibility has evolved. The UN guiding principles on business and human rights are responsible for this language change. This means that rather than the vague CSR, which is not based on international standards, that companies have guidelines on what they need to do in order to respect human rights in their operations and supply chains. These guidelines should be used in assessing whether there are human rights risks involved in projects. Companies such as Oatly should, in their operations, carry out impact assessments in order to deal with risks which may occur to rights holders.

 

An interesting fact with regards to Oatly is that it is not a publicly-traded company, meaning that the general public cannot own shares in Oatly. The only way for Oatly to be informed by the public that this behaviour is not seen as acceptable is through a boycott, which some have already called for. If the general public own shares in a corporation which they believe need to improve its human rights standards, then this may be an easier way of putting pressure on a company to conform to the human rights standards which the public sees fit.

 

This investment with Blackstone appears to go against what Oatly’s CEO stated in 2019- “If you say you’re ethical you have to back it up”.

 

 

Featured photo by Oatly

 
 

 

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

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

 WOMEN

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

Hillary Clinton at Beijing 25+ 1995
Cassie Roddy-Mullineaux

Cassie Roddy-Mullineaux

28th September 2020

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 (UN Women).

 

This was the event at which Hillary Clinton made the famous declaration, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security recently hosted an online conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeleine Albright where both women recalled their experience of attending the event, discussed the legacy of the Beijing Platform for advancing women’s rights globally, and identified areas where we still need to see significant progress. Their conversation merits watching in full. This article focuses on a few key moments from their discussion, which serve to symbolise the struggle women face – then and now – in working towards full equality.

 

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Remarks to the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing, China, 1995.

In marked contrast to how it is typically portrayed, and despite Hillary’s pink suit, Beijing in 1995 was not always an easy or glamorous experience. Many people wanted to shut down the message of women’s rights are human rights and the practices that obstruct women from claiming those rights. Clinton recalled how during her speech, when she was criticising certain practices towards women (some of which applied to the Chinese regime), the sound was cut off (they had initially been piping it out the conference hall into a big convention centre). Ironically, the sound was suddenly diverted into a department store in Beijing – a site where a lot of women would have been shopping. In a recent article for the Atlantic, Clinton wonders what subversive person managed to achieve that turn of events.

 

Furthermore, many people might not know there was actually a separate conference by and for NGOs in Huairou, a small town 30 miles outside Beijing, at which Clinton delivered a version of her speech. Both women recollected how this NGO conference was originally intended to be held in the centre of Beijing; however, Chinese officials decided to move it to Huairou in a thinly-veiled bid to make the conference as inaccessible as possible to those attending it. In order to get to the conference, the NGOs and women activists (including over 400 women in wheelchairs), literally had to wade through fields of mud to get to the conference tents! However, despite the mud and the teeming rain, Clinton and Albright said that they had never seen such enthusiastic, energised people at the event. They both acknowledged how crucial Huairou was in addition to the publicised formal work, which resulted in the famous Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This was because Huairou was the key moment that enabled the NGOs and activists to collectively meet and engage in action around what was being formally agreed and, critically, to bring it home to their networks, their local communities and imbed it into their work.

 

Huairo, Bejing 25+ 1995

Women discuss the issues at the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum held in Huairou, China, Sept. 3, 1995, as part of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing. (U.N. Photo/Milton Grant)

Clinton’s and Albright’s recollections of the events serve as a microcosm of the issues women face in claiming equality. Many people (read: powerful men and patriarchal systems and institutions) are threatened by the idea of women gaining power. For example, the Chinese authorities recognised the power of the message that was being shared at Beijing, and at Huairou, and the threat it posed to their power and regime. This is the reason why they felt a need to censor, sideline, and marginalise this message. Even as both Clinton and Albright were emphasising the “pragmatic” case for women’s participation and representation, e.g. the myriad research that demonstrates that gender equality helps to grow economies (amongst other benefits), those in power still didn’t want to listen.

 

While many feminists are understandably exacerbated that an economic case has to be made to justify women’s inclusion (shouldn’t the fact that we make up 50% of the population and are human beings be justification enough?), the mudslinging, backlash, and censorship that women face as they seek to participate, even in the face of all of peer-reviewed scientific evidence making the case for their inclusion, illustrates the depth of the problem women face in claiming power. The patriarchal system colludes against women’s inclusion, even against its own best interests. We might think money is all-powerful but, in many cases, culture and tradition are still stronger than financial capital when it comes to keeping women subjugated (expect more on why changing culture is all-important to empowering women to claim their rights in Part 2).

 

The recollected events also serve to illustrate the resilience and determination of women in fighting back against the many obstacles that are put in their way. In this case, literally wading through mud – in many cases, in high heels! – in a bid to realise their right to equally participate at all level of society and be valued as citizens. Because women have traditionally not been allowed into the political fold, much of women’s organising of necessity has come at a grassroots level and from informal action, often happening in parallel to formal efforts. While clearly women need to be – and deserve to be – represented formally too, this informal action also has huge power to bring about change and deserves greater recognition and support in its own right (consider, for instance, the incredible activism of the women of Sudan and South Sudan). Further, it highlights the vital role that NGOs and grassroots activists play in translating formal commitments into action on the ground and the need to value and join up formal and informal efforts more.

 

The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on Sept. 15, 1995

The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on Sept. 15, 1995 (U.N. Photo/Yao Da Wei)

As both speakers emphasised, Beijing wasn’t just about having nice conversations; it needed to be about commitments and action. This included implementing the Beijing commitments on US soil. To do this, a tight “tag-team” relationship was formed between Clinton’s and Albright’s roles as First Lady and Secretary of State respectively, and other key figures in the Clinton administration. This network helped them to continue pushing for women’s participation and representation in positions of power such as the Senate and keep a weather eye to ensuring US laws at federal, state, and local levels did not impede women’s equality. Both women emphasised the perennial need for women to work collectively, help one-other to rise up through systems of power, and ensure platforms and networks exist for women to come together globally to share strategies for getting the work done. This is an evolutionary process – not something that happens overnight – and the torch needs to be passed on from woman to woman, including across political parties, because women’s rights are not a partisan issue. Both women discussed the recent setbacks during the Trump administration with dismay. However, their overall message rang loud and clear – these push-backs have to make women even more determined to challenge cultures that prioritise fiction over fact and the subjugation of women over their full inclusion, participation, representation, and flourishing as human beings.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article which discusses the progress made since the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action and where our attention must be focused going forward.

 

 

Featured photo by White House Photograph Office