Thursday, November 19, 2015

Slave labour seen to be universal in supply chains; World's largest fine of $5.2bn in Nigeria; How philosophy saves from poverty and drugs

1 Slave labour seen to be universal in supply chains (Sydney Morning Herald) All businesses around the world have some form of slave labour in their supply chains but companies can find ways to eradicate this abuse, says a senior official from Britain's biggest retailer, supermarket giant Tesco.

The United Nation's International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates 21 million people globally are trapped in forced labour, generating $150 billion in illegal profits in the farming, fishing, mining, construction and sex industries. Campaigners say forced labour often lurks along the supply chain with multiple suppliers in many different countries involved in manufacturing, packaging and distributing products.

"I think all corporations have slavery in their supply chains and some of those instances are absolutely horrific," Tesco's responsible sourcing director Giles Bolton said. "Sometimes it can be the case, that the pressure of the competition can lead to some of those problems, but for the most part (businesses are) part of the solution," he said.

Mr Bolton said it was no good for companies to boycott countries such as Bangladesh, where more than 1100 people died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in 2013. The tragedy, which sparked urgent demands for global retailers to ensure the safety of workers, dealt a severe blow to the poor South Asian country where millions depend on the garment industry for an income. Up to 150,000 people lost their jobs after 220 garment factories were shut down.

"Some of the more simplistic campaigners out there are saying, 'don't buy 10 T-shirts from Bangladesh, buy one from Italy'. Please don't do that," Mr Bolton said, noting the garment industry had lifted millions out of poverty in Asia.

2 World’s largest fine of $5.2bn in Nigeria (San Francisco Chronicle) Nigeria's fine of $5.2 billion against MTN, Africa's largest telecommunications company, is billions more than any company has been hit with anywhere in the world and may scare off investors, analysts say.

MTN was fined for having 5.2 million active but unregistered SIM cards. The cards are a matter of national security as they can be used by extremists. Still, the sheer size of the penalty shocked the telecoms industry. "It is totally out of proportion," said expert John Strand, an analyst with Denmark-based Strand Consult. "I have never seen any operator receiving a fine of more $100 million and I've been in this business for 20 years."

Until now, the US tended to levy the highest fines on telecom companies. AT&T is suing the Federal Communications Commission over a $100 million fine, the largest ever imposed by that body. The fine's size may be attributed to the fact that unregistered SIM cards are a question of security in Nigeria and may have caused deaths.

Boko Haram Islamic extremists use cell phones to activate bombs and coordinate other attacks, say law enforcers. Mobile phones are also used in rampant armed robberies and kidnappings. Unregistered MTN SIM cards were used to make calls demanding ransom in the September kidnapping of a former Nigerian finance minister — weeks after a deadline for providers to deactivate unregistered cards.

MTN is the biggest player in Nigeria, where it had about 62 million subscribers before the deactivations and, according to Strand Consult, total revenue of about $10 billion in 2014. MTN said it made $2.6 billion in profits in Nigeria last year, making the fine equivalent to two years' profits and three times the $1.8 billion the company says it has invested here. MTN bought its Nigeria license for $285 million in 2001.

Strand warned the fine could hurt foreign investment: "The question is: What is the purpose in giving a company a fine of this amount? Is it just a revenue generator for the government? I think it's a big message to send to other investors in Nigeria: Stay out of this country."

3 How philosophy saves from poverty and drugs (Andy West in The Guardian) When I tell people I teach philosophy to children, they look surprised. Who can blame them? Philosophers stir their tea pondering how we know the sun will rise tomorrow, while the working classes worry whether there is enough money on the electric meter for today, right?

Growing up, my dad, brother and uncle were in and out of prison for violent and drug-related crime, while my mum worked two jobs. Teachers tried their hardest with me, but the more they told me “You have a choice” the more they convinced me that they knew nothing about the real world.

I left school with three GCSEs. To placate my stepfather, I said I’d join the army, but the authority made me even more contrary, and I pulled out. Earlier that year a teacher had photocopied an ex-student’s coursework and written my name on it. His gesture helped me understand there were teachers who were trying to help me. So I went to an open day at a sixth-form college where the philosophy teacher posed the question: “How do we know we’re not just dreaming this reality?”

Marooned in my own unrelatable reality, I embraced this chance to grapple with the true nature of things. In that classroom, my argumentative nature was a virtue and could be moulded into more nuanced skill. I decided to resit my GCSEs so that I could take philosophy. Largely because of the access I had to philosophy, I was brought safely away from the edge of the abyss that my life teetered above.

If philosophy is made more available to working-class children, then stories like mine won’t seem so unusual. I teach philosophy in schools because it allows young people to challenge authority and express themselves in a way that creates rather than destroys their life opportunities. Philosophical questions such as “Who should have power?” and “Can you be a good person if you do bad things?” are universally evocative; if we have the means to make them universally accessible, then we must do so. 

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