Apple chemicals, action on cocoa and conflict in the extractive sector

NGOs petition Apple on worker safety

A group of 80 environmental and human rights organisations, socially responsible investment firms and occupational health professionals have petitioned Apple to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from its Chinese supplier factories.

Led by the non-profit group Green America, the letter to Apple’s vice-president of environmental affairs says that while Apple does not disclose a full list of the chemicals used in production, two chemicals including benzene and n-hexane have been associated with known worker illnesses in its supplier factories, and have the potential to cause leukemia and nerve damage.The letter also criticises Apple for failing to give information about the resolution of outstanding poisoning and injury compensation cases in its current and former first-tier supplier facilities, such as those run by Foxconn, Flextronics, Pegatron and Wintek.

Beyond eliminating toxic chemicals, the signatories urge Apple to create a fund to cover those who’ve been injured at work, and institute a mechanism for workers to report illnesses, as well as remediating worker abuse by implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“As a global technology leader, Apple can and should be the first consumer electronics company to implement reforms to protect workers from hazardous chemicals,” says Elizabeth O’Connell, campaigns director for Green America. “Apple has the financial resources to make these changes and the global leadership to make it count. Apple is not alone in these offences, but its leadership is needed to make worker health and safety reforms a broader priority within the technology industry.”

Chocolate companies support African workers

Twelve of the world’s largest cocoa and chocolate companies including Hershey’s, Nestlé, Mars, Mondelez International and Blommer Chocolate Company have volunteered to participate in CocoaAction, an initiative co-ordinated by the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) to contribute to building a strong, sustainable cocoa sector in the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

The initiative centres on providing cocoa farmers with a combination of productivity enhancements and community development projects, such as providing quality planting materials, fertiliser and training to cocoa farmers, as well as education, child labour monitoring and remediation, and programmes to advance women’s empowerment. The WCF is also working on a series of specific indicators to track and measure the programme’s progress.

CocoAction was developed by member companies in collaboration with the governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana, which provide 55% of the world’s cocoa. The hope is to improve the lives and productivity of at least 200,000 farmers in Ivory Coast and 100,000 farmers in Ghana by 2020, with plans to extend the programme to other cocoa-producing countries down the line.

The cost of community conflict to the extractive industry

A new study conducted by the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative (CSRI) at Harvard Kennedy School, the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) at the University of Queensland and the non-profit group Shift is the first to systematically evaluate the true costs of company-community conflict in the extractive sector.

The report draws on 50 public cases of sustained company-community conflict, 45 interviews with practitioners in the extractive industry and field research to evaluate the costs to mineral and energy companies as a result of failing to build sustainable relationships with local communities. The types of costs incurred range from the operational price of increased security, to project delays, to material damage, to the effects on personnel, be it a loss in productivity, injuries, or difficulty retaining staff.

The study found that the most frequent cost resulted from a loss in productivity. In the case of a Latin American mining project, for example, a nine-month delay due to local conflict required an additional project spend of $750m.

The most overlooked cost, on the other hand, was the unanticipated time spent by senior staff managing community clashes. What lies at the heart of the problem is a direct tension between the “social time” needed to sufficiently address local concerns before an extractive project begins, and the “technical time” allotted to the project to stay on time and on budget.

“This can lead to community relationships being under-developed and activities to build trust and prevent conflict rushed in their implementation,” the report notes. The study highlights several steps that the extractive industry can take to better manage potential cost increases that arise from community conflict. For one, companies should ensure that project construction schedules are not so aggressive that they inhibit a company’s ability to adequately “sensitise the community”.

Rachel Davis, the report’s co-author, highlights the importance of community relations managers with the right skills, authority and buy-in from internal stakeholders to be truly effective, as well as cross-functional collaboration between these managers and operational departments to counteract the pressure that “technical time” can put on the “social time” needed to build relationships with local people.

“Time and again in the business and human rights space, we hear that internal champions of human rights can’t get traction with their colleagues in key parts of the business because they don’t speak their language,” says Davis.

“These professionals need to be equipped and able to translate the importance of their work into terms that will resonate with business colleagues. Using the language of costs – closely tied to the language of the business’ existing values – is one potential way of being heard.”

African economy  Apple  chocolate  Hershey's  Mars  Mondelez  Nestlé  worker safety 

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