Internet freedom, Congo’s conflict gold exposed and poor worker conditions in South Africa’s vineyards

Access Now demands better dialogue  

Access Now, the non-profit group dedicated to defending the public’s digital rights, is not happy with the Industry Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Privacy, established by 11 of the world’s largest telecom companies to help protect internet freedom, in the wake of the 2011 internet blackout in Egypt.

According to Access Now, the Industry Dialogue simply hasn’t lived up to its mission. “During this time, most major global telecoms have shown an inability or unwillingness to push back against rights-violating requests to filter, unlawfully intercept, or completely shut down the communications networks which billions rely on every day,” it says in a blog post.

In a letter to the Industry Dialogue, Access Now asks the group to encourage participation by civil society and the investor community, and to open its drafted guiding principles to public input. It also demands that each Industry Dialogue member publish company human rights policies and procedures, in line with the UN guiding principles on business and human rights.

“While internet-based firms have garnered more attention, telcos have the broadest reach worldwide and the biggest impact on digital and human rights,” says Peter Micek, policy counsel at Access Now. “We laud the Industry Dialogue for their leadership, but feel their lack of progress and closed structure has failed to address their pressing mandate. Their top leadership must take control of the negotiations and account to shareholders, users and the public on their human rights impacts.”

Industry Dialogue members include Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, BT, France Telecom-Orange, Millicom, Nokia Siemens Networks, Tele2, Telefonica, TeliaSonera, Telenor and Vodafone.

Conflict gold in Congo

In the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, the Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo campaign launched a video to shine a light on conflict gold mined in war-torn eastern Congo, and convey how consumers can pressure jewellery companies to clean up the supply chain.

According to Hope for Congo, roughly £390m worth of gold is illegally smuggled from Congo every year, yet the nation has the world’s lowest per capita income. Tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold are mined by Congolese workers, many of them children, under life-threatening conditions, and fuel the arms groups that are tearing up the region.

The latest video is one of many initiatives aimed to keep engagement high. The Enough Project’s electronics company rankings evaluate companies’ efforts to use conflict-free minerals in their products, while the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative (CFCI) rallies campus activists to advocate their respective administrations to pass conflict-free resolutions. In just two years, CFCI participation has expanded from 20 to 150 campuses across Europe, North America and Africa

“Robust leadership from within the electronics industry, from Motorola to Apple and others, has established a new business model that values transparency and increasingly ethical business practices,” says J D Stier, Raise Hope for Congo’s campaign manager. “Champions have yet to emerge from the jewellery industry, but they will. Activists seek solutions, champions, and are eager to partner with industry actors and politicians to achieve peace in Congo.”

The grassroots campaign launched in 2008 with support from American, Congolese and international organisations to advocate for the human rights of all Congolese citizens, and put an end to the most deadly conflict since the second world war.

South African wine workers wage increase

Following months of violent protests by South African farm workers in the Western Cape and calls to boycott South African fruit and wine, labour minister Mildred Oliphant announced that workers’ minimum wage would be nearly doubled from 69 rand (£5) to 105 rand in March.

The strikes began in December as workers demanded better living conditions and liveable wages. “The fruits of their labour bring huge profits to the farm owners, the food processing companies and the retail supermarket giants,” said Tony Ehrenreich, the Provincial Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which represents more than two million workers.  “But hardly any of these profits find their way back to the labourers who create the wealth.”

Despite the wage increase, it still falls short of the 150 rand (£10.65) daily wage demanded by workers. At the same time, many farmers are saying that they can’t afford the pay increase.

Louis Meintjes, president of the Transvaal Agricultural Union, an agricultural group consisting primarily of Afrikaner farmers, says that the wage increase was the result of “undue pressure and intimidation by seasonal workers” and that small and emerging farmers “will have no other choice but to reduce their workforce for the sake of financial survival”.

It appears South Africa’s wage battle is far from over.

business strategy  Human rights  Jeni Bauser Yaghoubi  ngo news  ngo roundup  NGOwatch  South Africa 

comments powered by Disqus