The Price of Palm Oil

If you look up Wikipedia for general information on palm oil, it explains that it is an edible vegetable oil derived from the reddish pulp of the fruit of the oil palms, primarily the African oil palm. Along with coconut oil, palm oil is one of the few highly saturated vegetable fats and is semisolid at room temperature. It is a common cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of Brazil. Its use in the commercial food industry is widespread because of its lower cost and the high oxidative stability (saturation) of the refined product when used for frying. Palm oil is a commodity in massive demand for its use in a wide range of basic products from ice-cream and chocolate to shampoo and toothpaste.

The use of palm oil in food products has attracted the concern of environmental activist groups as the high oil yield of the trees has encouraged wider cultivation, leading to the clearing of forests in parts of Indonesia and Malaysia to make space for oil-palm monoculture. This has resulted in significant losses to the natural habitat of the orang-utan, of which both species are endangered (one of these, the Sumatran orang-utan, has been listed as critically endangered).

Currently, Amnesty international is conducting a campaign to raise awareness that the reason for its lower cost is that the palm oil industry uses child labour and exploits its workers. Children as young as eight are doing back-breaking work to produce palm oil for household brands that we use everyday. In fact, some of the world’s best known companies, including Nestlé, Colgate-Palmolive and Kelloggs, are using palm oil from Indonesian plantations where child labour is the norm and workers suffer from hard labour and long hours

These big brand producers source palm oil from Wilmar International, one of the largest Indonesian palm oil plantation owners. Most of these companies will tell you that the palm oil they use is ‘sustainable,’ meaning that it is environmentally friendly and that workers are treated fairly. But an investigation by Amnesty International has uncovered some disturbing exploitation of plantation workers including:

  • Children as young as eight are doing hard labour which can cause physical damage. A 10-year-old boy told Amnesty investigators that he works six days a week. He doesn’t go to school and he carries the sack with the loose fruit by himself but can only carry it half full. He reported that he does this also in the rain.
  • Women are forced to work long hours under threat of pay cuts, and are paid below minimum wage – earning as little as $2.50 USD a day in extreme cases.
  • Workers labour for long hours to meet high targets with tasks that are physically demanding, such as cutting fruit from 20-meter-tall palm trees.

The abuse of workers on these plantations is clear – yet these producers are failing to do even basic human rights checks on their supply chain. Something is wrong when six companies turning over a combined revenue of $325 billion in 2015 won’t do something about the abuse of palm oil workers earning a pittance.

The list of companies that Amnesty International names as implicated include:

  • Ben & Jerry’s – in their Chocolate Peppermint Crunch ice cream;
  • Unilever – a Dutch-British transnational consumer goods company co-headquartered in Rotterdam, Netherlands and London, United Kingdom. Its products include food, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products.
  • Colgate – in its toothpaste;
  • Kelloggs – in their breakfast cereals;
  • Dove – in its soap products
  • Magnum – ice cream;
  • Pantene – in its shampoo;
  • Nestlé – in many of its food products;
  • Head & Shoulders – shampoo;
  • Covergirl Australia – in its cosmetics.

This campaign by Amnesty International is current, so if you want to do something about this issue, go to Amnesty International’s website. It will give you options such as signing petitions, which also can appear of social media such as Facebook and Twitter; sending messages via Facebook or Twitter directly to the companies listed above; or making a donation towards this campaign.

Such exploitation is rife in developing countries because, though the Free Market Economy is touted as the fairest system, with its trickle down economics ideology, the scam is that this is only true in a perfect world where there is total employment. In such a world, say you have 40 people employed in the palm oil industry getting paid $3.00 a day, and 3 companies want to attract workers, they would have to offer more pay or better working conditions to be able to do so. So this means that things continue to improve for workers.

In the real world there is no 100% employment. So in a situation where 20% are fully employed, 30% partially employed, and 50% not employed, and 3 companies want to attract workers, they can offer what they want, as for those unemployed poor wages are better than no wages. So instead of a perfect world where it becomes a race to the top, without 100% employment, in the real world it becomes a race to the bottom.

As a member of ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans) I have a particular interest in this issue as it is a perfect environment for the abuse of slave labour as well. Please join me in supporting this campaign by Amnesty International to stamp out exploitation of children, workers, and the conditions that fuel human trafficking and slave labour.

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Power Over Justice

As members of the Passionist Congregation of the Province of the Holy Spirit, which takes in Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and Vietnam, I can confidently say that my Province has been greatly heartened by the efforts of Pope Francis to put our Church back on track to implementing the reforms of Vatican II. The more traditional elements of our Church have had a good run in holding things back, which, while disappointing for us, can be understood. It is normal to grieve for something that has been part of your life for so long and now you are asked to let go of it. It is also to be expected that they will put up a resistance to the forward direction that Pope Francis is driving. But when that resistance includes holding back the reform of the Church in the area of protecting minors from clerical sexual abuse, that is where they cross the line of justice that cannot be accepted.

On the 1st of March of this year, Marie Collins, an Irish national and one of two survivors of clergy sex abuse who had been appointed to serve on Pope Francis’ Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, resigned from that position. She wrote the following statement for the National Catholic Reporter about her decision:

“The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors has had difficulties to overcome in its three years of existence.

Obviously I intend to respect the confidentiality of my former colleagues on the Commission and the work they are doing, but some of the main stumbling blocks that I can mention have already been detailed by Commission members who gave testimony Feb. 23 to Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

These stumbling blocks include: lack of resources, inadequate structures around support staff, slowness of forward movement and cultural resistance. The most significant problem has been reluctance of some members of the Vatican Curia to implement the recommendations of the Commission despite their approval by the pope.

In her testimony, Kathleen McCormack, the Commission’s Australian member, summed up the struggles and emphasized the need to keep hope. “Like water on a rock,” she said, “we’ve just got to keep at it.”

I have come to the point where I can no longer be sustained by hope. As a survivor I have watched events unfold with dismay.

During our first year we had to go forward without an office or staff. Then finding a method by which the Commission could enter into dialogue with Vatican dicasteries was difficult for a very prolonged period.

This was eventually overcome in 2016 when liaison persons for each Vatican department were appointed to be available to interact with the Commission but there was a long delay in this very important area of communication and cooperation.

The Commission’s recommendation for a Tribunal to be put in place whereby negligent bishops could be held accountable was approved by Pope Francis and announced in June 2015. Yet it was found by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as Baroness Sheila Hollins stated to the Royal Commission, to have unspecified “legal” difficulties, and so was never implemented. 

With his motu proprio “As a Loving Mother,” Francis followed up last year with another accountability initiative. This would not only cover negligent bishops but also negligent religious superiors. It was to come into effect Sept. 5 but it is impossible to know if it has actually begun work or not.

The Safeguarding Guidelines template developed by the Commission, intended to be used by bishops’ conferences around the world as a basis for drawing up their own policy documents has not yet been disseminated. The dicastery which has the responsibility for reviewing existing bishops’ conference policy documents and which has its own template is refusing to cooperate with the Commission on the combining of the work.

In his testimony to the Royal Commission, member Bill Kilgallon from New Zealand, who is the Chair of the Guidelines working group, used the analogy of government to understand how this sort of resistance can come about. He spoke of “how jealously government departments guard their own domain and there can be some pushback about taking advice from others.”

The reluctance of some in the Vatican Curia to implement recommendations or cooperate with the work of a commission when the purpose is to improve the safety of children and vulnerable adults around the world is unacceptable.

Is this reluctance driven by internal politics, fear of change, clericalism which instills a belief that ‘they know best’ or a closed mindset which sees abuse as an inconvenience or a clinging to old institutional attitudes?

I do not know the answer but it is devastating in 2017 to see that these men still can put other concerns before the safety of children and vulnerable adults.

The last straw for me, on top of the refusal to cooperate on the Safeguarding Guidelines, has been the refusal, by the same dicastery, to implement one of the simplest recommendations the Commission has put forward to date.

Last year at our request, the pope instructed all departments in the Vatican to ensure all correspondence from victims/survivors receives a response. I learned in a letter from this particular dicastery last month that they are refusing to do so.

I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse, yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters! It is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the Church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.

When I accepted my appointment to the Commission in 2014, I said publicly that if I found what was happening behind closed doors was in conflict with what was being said to the public I would not remain. This point has come. I feel I have no choice but to resign if I am to retain my integrity.

I know my former colleagues on the Commission will forge on and I hope in time succeed in overcoming the difficulties and bringing the real change that is needed. 

There is still a survivor member in the group, though he is on leave of absence. I do not know if when his term of office ends another survivor will be brought on board. I do hope in whatever way things go forward that a survivor’s voice will be included.

In the past three years I have never had the opportunity to sit and talk to the pope but if I had I would ask him to do three things: 

Give the Commission the responsibility and the power to oversee implementation of the recommendations when they are approved. No matter how much work is put into the recommendations given to the Holy Father and no matter how much he supports them they must be properly implemented to have any effect.
  • Give the Commission an adequate, independent budget to do its work without having each item of expenditure go through the internal Vatican approval process.
  • Remove the restriction on the recruitment of professional staff from outside the Vatican.

                                                                                                   Despite everything I have said, I do believe there is value in the Commission continuing its work. The members are sincerely putting every effort into very important projects with the intention of moving things forward.

Notwithstanding recent disappointing news on the reduction of sanctions for convicted perpetrators, I believe the pope does at heart understand the horror of abuse and the need for those who would hurt minors to be stopped.

Although I do not agree with them, as far as I am aware none of his actions have put a perpetrator back into a position where children would be at risk. If they did I would have a very different view.

Those who appeal to his commitment to mercy in these cases do a disservice to all, including the man himself, who I feel does not appreciate how his actions of clemency undermine everything else he does in this area including supporting the work of the Commission.

I wish my former colleagues well as they go forward. The issue of improving safety of children and vulnerable adults is so important it has to continue no matter the stumbling blocks in its path.”

Marie Collins statement was taken from, and was an exclusive statement given to the NCR for publication.

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Conflict-Minerals Unchained

On the 9th of February of this year, through one of the internet news sources I follow from the USA called, ‘Reader Supported News’ (RSN), I was dismade to read about a leaked Trump Presidential memo that would free US companies to buy ‘Conflict Minerals’ from Central African Warlords. According to the report, Donald Trump was expected to sign trumpthis Presidential Memorandum within days. In effect it suspends a 2010 rule that discouraged American companies from funding conflict and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo through their purchase of  “conflict minerals.”

I have written on conflict minerals on my Blog a few times in the past. In March of 2015 I published an article entitled, “The Curse of Coltan.” Coltan is short for Columbite Tantelite, which is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of The Congo. When refined, Coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties make it a vital what_is_coltan_bigelement in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops, computers, iPads, flat screen TV’s, pagers and many other electronics.

Coltan is classified as a ‘Conflict Mineral,’ because the global demand for Coltan has fueled a bloody civil war in central Africa; one that has claimed six million lives to date. A UN report claims that all parties involved in the Congolese civil war have been involved in the mining and sale of Coltan. The multimillion-dollar trade of Congolese Coltan and other warnatural resources by foreign armies, rebels, and militias fuels the conflict by motivating armed groups to wage war, and by providing them with cash to do so.

This blog article has received over 500 views since first published and so in March of 2016 I published a follow up article entitled, “Coltan Update.” Then in October of 2016 I published an article entitled, “Cobalt and Congo,” which explained how Cobalt, while not classified as a conflict mineral, is also part of the equation due to its value for the electronics industry and its part is slavery intensive supply chains. Finally, in February of this year I published an article entitled, “Modern Slavery in the Electronics Industry,” which looks at the issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery in the supply chains of the electronics industry.

The leaked memo (document-final), distributed inside the administration, and obtained by The Intercept, directs the Securities and Exchange Commission to temporarily waive the requirements of the Conflict Mineral Rule, a provision of the Dodd Frank Act (the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010), for two years. The reason given in the memo, and which the act allows for, is national security. The idea militiabehind the Act in the first place, which had bipartisan support at the time, was to drain militias of revenue by forcing firms to conduct reviews of their supply chain to determine if contractors used minerals sourced from the militias.

As the RSN reported, human rights advocates, who had celebrated the conflicts rule as a major step forward, were appalled. “Any executive action suspending the U.S. conflict minerals rule would be a gift to predatory armed groups seeking to profit from Congo’s minerals as well as a gift to companies wanting to do business with the criminal and the corrupt,” said Carly Oboth, the policy adviser at Global Witness, in a statement responding to a Reuters article that first reported the move. “It is an abuse of power that the Trump administration is claiming that the law should be suspended through a national security exemption intended for emergency purposes. Suspending this provision could actually undermine U.S. national security.”

Firms such as Intel, Apple, HP, and IBM use advanced chips that contain tantalum, gold, tin, and tungsten – elements that can be mined at low prices in the DRC, where mines are often controlled by militias. American tech companies, such as Intel, lobbied directly against the rule when it was proposed. But since passage of the Act, tech firms have largely used third party business groups to stymie the rule. Trade groups representing major U.S. tech firms and other manufacturers, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, attempted to block the rule through a federal lawsuit. In 2014, a federal court struck down a part of the rule that forced firms to reveal DRC conflict minerals on their corporate websites.

So we can speculate on why Donald Trump wants to suspend the act for reasons of ‘National Security.’ Perhaps the leveling of the playing field, which the rule has produced, has equally disadvantaged those sides in the conflict supported by the US intelligence agencies as well as those opposed by these agencies. Or perhaps ‘National Security’ is the wool being pulled over our eyes, designed to garner favour, or at least a blind eye, from donald-trumpAmericans fearful of terrorism, to allow US companies to increase their profits at the expense of innocent African lives. While we’ve seen this before – US governments for whom the end justifies the means – it should concern us just how low the Trump administration will go to erode all the advances in human rights made over the last 100 years.

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Modern Slavery in the Electronics Industry

The business world most often comes into contact with modern slavery where there are complex global supply chains. Business owners, of course, are primarily motivated by finances. They wish to make a profit – that is to at least cut costs and overheads so as to make their product as cheaply as possible so as to maximise profit. Obtaining the raw materials as cheaply as possible will be most attractive, thus opening the business up to nike-sweatshopssupply chains that involve exploitative labour. Businesses may enter wittingly or unwittingly into the use of supply chains that are not slavery proof.

It is Governments and consumers who are increasingly aware of issues of bonded labour and human rights in supply chains who support, if not demand, that businesses act to implement ethical sourcing programs. It is in the interest of businesses to comply as they can otherwise suffer damage to their reputation and risk losing consumer confidence and market share if they are found to be sourcing from suppliers who use exploitative labour. They may even face legal sanctions if their suppliers are involved in illegal conduct. Businesses obviously wish to avoid these negative consequences which negatively affect their profits. So a good track record of acting ethically can encourage investment and consumer confidence.

Modern slavery affects over 29 million people around the world (Walk Free Global Slavery Index, 2013). The term ‘modern slavery’ describes exploitation so severe that people are not able to leave their place of work. ‘Slavery’ refers to the condition of treating another person as if they were property – something to be bought, sold, traded or even destroyed. People in modern slavery are essentially ‘owned’ by their employers, and are controlled slave-th5lg0r38jthrough a variety of means including massive recruitment debts that they are unable to pay off, and threats of harm if they do try to leave. All work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.
(ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (no.29)). Tragically, more people are in slavery today than when it was legal.

The evidence suggests that the risk of slave labour affects almost every industry – electronics and high tech, steel and automobiles, agriculture and seafood, mining and minerals, garments and textiles, and shipping and transportation. The evidence also suggests that, while modern slavery is illegal in every country in the world, it still occurs in every country in the world.

In previous articles in my blog I have written about Coltan (Columbite Tantelite) and Cobalt, metallic ores used in the electronics industry and mined with slave labour in central Africa. But modern day slavery does not solely exist at the beginning of the supply africachain. One-third of migrant workers in the Malaysian electronics industry, which produces goods for some of the world’s best-known brands, are trapped in forced labour according to new research.

A report by Verité, an NGO working on supply chain accountability, found that forced labour is present in the supply chains of a wide cross-section of household electronics brands, which use Malaysian factories to produce billions of pounds worth of goods every year. The NGO interviewed more than 500 workers and concluded that debt bondage and the illegal confiscation of passports and documents were the main drivers of this “systemic” forced labour, which traps workers in low-paid jobs and prevents them from returning home.

Verité’s investigations found that workers were forced to live in cramped and dangerous accommodation, that female workers experienced sexual abuse by their supervisors, and MDG :  Electronics industry in Malaysia : Women employees on factory line at Flextronicsmigrants were forced to work excessive overtime under the threat of losing their jobs, which would leave them saddled with large debts they couldn’t pay off.

A large number of multinational companies from the US, Europe, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea use Malaysia as their manufacturing base. Thousands of people from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Vietnam and other countries travel to Malaysia every year for work. According to a 2010 Amnesty International report, many enter the workplace at least $1,000 in debt, after being charged high fees by recruitment agents. The interviews or workers conducted by Verité also revealed that although it is gi_78491_veriteillegal under Malaysian law, more than 90% of workers had their passports taken by managers at their place of work or by recruitment agents, with most saying they were unable to get them back.

This year the US state department downgraded Malaysia to the lowest tier of its Trafficking in Persons report, which ranks countries on efforts to end modern-day slavery. In the report, the state department criticised Malaysia for widespread abuse of its 4 million migrant workforce.

Business, however, has the power to end modern slavery in supply chains within a generation through three basic actions:

  • Understanding and commitment – All organisations should understand modern slavery and require their leaders to commit to taking a proactive role in ending it. Government and the private sector should work to make the business environment intolerant of slavery, to drive slavery out of procurement and ‘slavery-proof’ supply chains.
  • Leadership on auditing –
Organisations should reframe their understanding of auditing from a ‘risk and reputational management’ measure, driven by PR teams, to an ethical imperative and essential operational measure driven by Chairpersons, CEOs, CPOs. Organisations should engage reputable, independent auditors to undertake rigorous audits of their supply chains and encourage effective worker/management dialogue.
  • Accountability – Organisations should be accountable for business relationships and work to eliminate vulnerabilities in supply chains. Where modern slavery or other human rights abuse is identified, organisations should take corrective action and work together with suppliers and business partners. The private sector should be transparent about actions taken and lead by example

So how can you take action? Well, like I said at the beginning of this article, it is Governments and consumers who put the pressure on businesses to motivate them to act ethically. If you buy phones, electronics or clothing then there’s a very good chance those products were made in part by forced labour. So you have to take some initiative. You have to go to the brands you like and encourage them to come out of the shadows and deal with 1200x630bfthis issue… If you as consumers tell them that you’re interested in hearing what they have to say about this particular problem it will encourage them to be more open and more transparent. One easy way to do this is to download the ‘Good On You’ app from the Apple App store or from Google play. You can then ask a question of the brand in the Good On You app. The Your Voice feature allows you to send a message to brands urging them to do better on the issues you care about.

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Backward Step on Climate Change

The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency has certainly had an impact on those of us concerned about the environment and Climate Change. Trump has stated that he does not believe Climate Change is actually taking place and has said, “unless somebody151122-donald-trump-smiling-956a_6d624dc0061bbd1233cc33461649ea73-nbcnews-fp-1200-800 can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather.”

The chorus of those expressing concerns include world leaders who were attending the United Nations Conference on Climate Change this year. Throughout the second and final week of COP22, the tenor at the annual conference continued to reverberate with reaction to the U.S. presidential election.

“It is essential that the United States, the greatest economic power in the world, the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, respects the commitments it has made,” cop22_hollandFrench President François Hollande said in his address to gathering in Marrakech, Morocco. “It is [in] their interest.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a press briefing that he had spoken to Trump since his election, including on climate change, and that his hope is Trump “will really hear and understand the seriousness and urgency of addressing climate change,” and reevaluate campaign remarks now that he is president.

There have been many reports over the last few years of the deadly and damaging effects of climate change that are already being felt around the world. Certainly in Australia in the last year there have been worrying developments that have been linked to Climate Change:

Coral Bleaching

Queensland scientists confirmed that this year’s mass coral bleaching has resulted in the largest die-off of corals ever recorded. What is coral bleaching? Many types of coral have a special symbiotic relationship with a tiny marine algae (zooxanthellae) that live inside corals’ tissue and are very efficient food producers that provide up to 90 per cent of the energy corals require to grow and reproduce.

Coral bleaching occurs when the relationship between the coral host and zooxanthellae, which give coral much of their colour, breaks down. Without the zooxanthellae, the tissue coral-bleachingof the coral animal appears transparent and the coral’s bright white skeleton is revealed.

Corals begin to starve once they bleach. While some corals are able to feed themselves, most corals struggle to survive without their zooxanthellae.

As the climate changes, coral bleaching is predicted to become more frequent and severe. Sea temperature increases and coral stress from other impacts may increase corals’ vulnerability to bleaching.

Thunderstorm Asthma

The “thunderstorm asthma” event in Melbourne, which killed eight people, has also been attributed to climate change. Associate Professor Hew said “thunderstorm asthma” thunderstormsevents, which are caused by strong winds stirring up pollen and other irritants in the air, tend to happen every five to 10 years. The recent event has been attributed to Climate Change in terms of the extreme weather that results from raised global temperatures.

Bee population

A steadily warming climate, combined with habitat loss and the increased use of pesticides, is causing bee populations to collapse at an alarming rate.

Bees are crucial to the environment. There are over 20,000 known species of bees, many of which are not just crucial pollinators for wild plants but for the agriculture industry as well.

In Australia, it is estimated that around 65 per cent of agricultural production is 7872372774_b399f5039f_zdependent on pollination by European honeybees.

According to a 2015 study by Nature, rising temperatures near the southern parts of Europe and North America is causing the natural range of some bumblebee species to move north by as much as 300 km.

The decline in Bee population, if it continues, could have a devastating impact on our own and world food supplies, which added to increased damage to crops by drought and storm damage due to increased extreme weather events, all paint a bleak picture for the future in terms of food security.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts the transmission of infectious diseases is “a likely major consequence of climate change”. Dr Peng Bi, and epidemiology and population health expert from the University of Adelaide, told ‘The New Daily’ a warmer anthrax_qtp_848x480_736888387663and more humid climate provided the ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes, which can carry diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

We are also seeing the re-emergence of diseases such as anthrax in Siberia, where thawing permafrost exposed anthrax-infected reindeer carcasses spread to the nomadic peoples who inhabit that region.

Food security failures could lead to war

Climate warming is making extreme drought conditions more common and as a result is having severe effects on crop yields, threatening global food security.

Professor Tim Flannery, the Climate Council’s chief councillor, says the quality and seasonality of crops are “increasingly being affected by climate change with Australia’s future food security under threat”.

“Australia’s food supply chain is highly exposed to disruption from increasing extreme drought-crops-istock_000013388258weather events driven by climate change, with farmers already struggling to cope with more frequent and intense droughts and changing weather patterns.”

A United Nations report forecast that by 2050, the world may not be able to produce enough food for its growing population, which could lead to an increase in civil unrest, war and terrorism.

Ocean acidification

Ocean acidification is proving to be a major challenge for the fishing industry, with the potential to decimate shellfish populations.

Shellfish are hurt by climate change because increased carbon dioxide (CO2) levels from a oysterswarming climate causes oceans to become more acidic – as more atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the world’s oceans, the pH level of seawater drops to make it more acidic. This is bad for shellfish because it makes it harder for the organisms to grow and maintain their shells.

Natural disasters

The Climate Council published a 2015 report that explained how climate change was causing natural disaster events such as bushfires and heatwaves to become “hotter, longer and more frequent”.

Mr Flannery, of the Climate Council, explained that “record hot days have doubled in Australia in the last 50 years and 2016 is likely to be the hottest year on record globally for heat_wavethe third year in a row”.

“These longer, hotter and more intense heatwaves and more frequent and severe heatwaves are in turn driving up the likelihood of very high bushfire risk, particularly in southeast and southwest Australia,” Mr Flannery said.


So far, 112 countries representing nearly 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified the universal climate deal, with the United Kingdom the latest to do so.

In his own message to COP22 delegates, Pope Francis called them to “the grave ethical and moral responsibility to act without delay, in a manner as free as possible from political and economic pressures” in their efforts to combat climate change.

“The Paris Agreement has traced a clear path on which the entire international community is called to engage. … It affects all humanity, especially the poorest and the future generations, who represent the most vulnerable component of the troubling impact of climate change,” Francis said.

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There is no Planet B

On the 2nd of September, 2016, an open letter was posted to the Australian Prime Minister on the climate crisis, from 154 scientists. In light of the ratification of the Paris Agreement, which came into force on the 5th of October 2016, I feel it is worth publishing it below as my November JPIC blog article for those of you who have not seen it or are unaware of it. The letter is as follows:

Andrew Glikson,

Australian National University

Dear The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister of Australia,

The following is an open letter signed by 154 Australian atmospheric, marine, environmental, biological and medical scientists, including several leading climatologists, for your and your government’s attention.

There is no Planet B

In July 2016, global temperatures soared to the hottest in the 136 years of the instrumental record, 0.1℃ warmer than previous warm Julys in 2015, 2011 and 2009. It effects-of-climate-change-and-mitigation-policies-6-728followed a succession of rising temperatures, moving from 0.42℃ above average in 2000, to 0.87℃ above average by 2015.

Developments in the atmosphere-ocean system reported by major climate research organisations (including NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US National Snow & Ice Data Center, the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, the Tyndall Centre, the Potsdam Institute; the science academics of dozens of nations; and in Australia the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology) include:

We are concerned that global warming, amplified by feedbacks from polar ice melt, methane release from permafrost, and extensive fires, may become irreversible, including the possible collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a crucial component of the global climate system that transfers heat from the tropics to the North Atlantic.

According to James Hansen, NASA’s former chief climate scientist, “burning all fossil 22-devastating-effects-of-climate-changefuels would create a different planet than the one that humanity knows“. Joachim Schellnhuber, Germany’s chief climate scientist, has summed up the situation by saying: “We’re simply talking about the very life support system of this planet.”

We note your broad agreement with this point, in light of your 2010 statement that:

…we are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we have got… We know that the consequences of unchecked global warming would be catastrophic… We as a human species have a deep and abiding obligation to this planet and to the generations that will come after us.

While the Paris Agreement remains unbinding and global warming has received minimal attention in the recent elections, governments worldwide are presiding over a large-scale demise of the planetary ecosystems, which threatens to leave large parts of Earth uninhabitable.

We call on the Australian government to tackle the root causes of an unfolding climate tragedy and do what is required to protect future generations and nature, including meaningful reductions of Australia’s peak carbon emissions and coal exports, while there is still time.

There is no Planet B.


  • Dr Christine Adams-Hosking, Conservation planner, University of Queensland
  • Associate Professor Stephen Adelstein, Medical scientist, University of Sydney
  • Professor Ross Alford, Tropical ecologist, James Cook University
  • Dr Wallace Ambrose, Archaeological anthropologist, ANU
  • Dr Martin Anda, Environmental engineer, Murdoch University
  • Dr Marion Anderston, Geochemist, Monash University
  • Professor Michael Archer, Paleontologist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Leanne Armand, Marine Researcher, Macquarie University
  • Professor Patricia Armati, Medical scientist, University of Sydney
  • Professor Owen Atkin, Plant respiration researcher, ANU
  • Professor Elaine Baker, Marine scientist, University of Sydney
  • Associate Professor Cathy Banwell, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Dr Andrew Barnes, Aquatic animal health researcher, University of Queensland
  • Dr Fiona Beck, Renewable energy researcher, ANU
  • Dr Tom Beer, Climatic and environmental change researcher, CSIRO
  • Professor Andrew Blakers, Photovoltaics/energy storage researcher, ANU
  • Professor Phillip Board, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Justin Borevitz, Plant geneticist, ANU
  • Dr Caryl Bosman, Environmental planning researcher, Griffith University
  • Professor David Bowman, Forestry researcher, University of Tasmania
  • Dr Timothy Broadribb, Plant Scientist, University of Tasmania
  • Dr Helen Brown, Environmental health researcher, Curtin University
  • Dr Tim Brown, Medicine and environment researcher, ANU
  • Professor Ralf Buckley, Conservation/ecotourism researcher, Griffith University
  • Dr Florian Busch, Plant scientist, ANU
  • Dr Jason Byrne, Urban design researcher, Curtin University
  • Professor Maria Byrne, Marine and developmental biologist, University of Sydney
  • Dr Martina Calais, Renewable energy researcher, Murdoch University
  • Associate Professor Craig Carter, Engineering and IT researcher, Murdoch University
  • Dr Phill Cassey, Ecologist, Adelaide University
  • Professor Carla Catterall, Ecologist, Griffith University
  • Dr Juleen Cavanaugh, Biomedical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Fred Chow, Plant biologist, ANU
  • Associate Professor David Cohen, Geochemist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Steven Cooper, Evolutionary biologist, SA Museum
  • Professor Rod Connolly, Marine scientist, Griffith University
  • Professor Jann Conroy, Plant scientist, Western Sydney University
  • Dr Lucy Coupland, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Dr Joseph Coventry, Solar energy researcher, ANU
  • Dr Chris Creagh, Physicist, Murdoch University
  • Professor Patricia Dale, Environment/planning researcher, Griffith University
  • Dr Armanda Davies, Planning geographer, Curtin University
  • Dr Ian Davies, Forestry fire management researcher, ANU
  • Dr Kirsten Davies, Ethno-ecology and environmental law researcher, Macquarie University
  • Dr Robert Davis, Vertebrate biologist, Edith Cowan University
  • Professor Keith Dear, Global health researcher, ANU
  • Dr Fjalar de Haan, Sustainability researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Professor Hans Peter Dietz, Medical scientist, Penrith Hospital
  • Professor Bob Douglas, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Associate Professor Mark Douglas, Medical scientist, University of Sydney
  • Dr Jen Drysdale, Climate and energy researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Professor Angela Dulhunty, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Robyn Eckersley, Climate change governance researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Elin Charles Edwards, Environmental geographer, University of Queensland
  • Professor David Eldridge, Evolutionary biologist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor David Elsworth, Environmental ecologist, Western Sydney University
  • Associate Professor Jason Evans, Climate change researcher, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Isabelle Ferru, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Tim Flannery, Climate Council
  • Professor Barry Fox, Ecologist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Evan Franklin, Solar energy researcher, ANU
  • Dr Diego Garcia-Bellido, Paleontologist, University of Adelaide
  • Dr Stephen Garnett, Conservation and sustainability researcher, Charles Darwin University
  • Dr John Gillen, Soil scientist, ANU
  • Dr Andrew Glikson, Paleoclimatologist, ANU
  • Dr Susan Gould, Climate change researcher, Griffith UNiversity
  • Professor Colin Groves, Anthropologist, ANU
  • Dr Huade Guan, Hydro-meteorologist, Flinders University
  • Professor Neil Gunningham, Global governance researcher, ANU
  • Dr Asish Hagar, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Nina Hall, Sustainable water researcher, University of Queensland
  • Dr Willow Hallgren, Atmospheric scientist, Griffith University
  • Dr Elizabeth Hanna, Environmental health researcher, ANU
  • Associate Professor David Harley, Epidemiologist, ANU
  • Professor Robert S. Hill, Paleobotanist, University of Adelaide
  • Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Marine climatologist and Great Barrier Reef researcher, University of Queensland
  • Professor Geoff Hope, Archaeologist and natural history researcher, ANU
  • Associate Professor Michael Howes, Environmental scientist, Griffith University
  • Professor Lesley Hughes, Climate change and species researcher, University of Adelaide
  • Dr Paul Humphries, Environmental scientist, Charles Sturt University
  • Professor Phillip Jenning, Energy researcher, Murdoch University
  • Professor Darryl Jones, Behavioural ecologist, Griffith University
  • Dr Hugh Jones, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Jochen Kaempf, Physical oceanographer, Flinders University
  • Professor Jeffrey Keelan, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Professor Peter Kershaw, Biogeographer and botanist, Monash University
  • Dr Carsten Kulheim, Plant physiologist, ANU
  • Professor Rakkesh Kumar, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Lori Lach, Rainforest conservationist, James Cook University
  • Professor Barry Lacopetta, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Professor Trevor Lamb, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Tony Larkum, Plant biologist, University of Technology Sydney
  • Dr Annie Lau, Geography and environmental management researcher, University of Quensland
  • Professor Bill Laurance, Tropical environment and sustainability researcher, James Cook University
  • Associate Professor Fred Leusch, Soil, water and energy researcher, Griffith University
  • Professor Andrew Lowe, Plant conservationist, University of Adelaide
  • Dr Fabio Luciano, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Justin Marshall, Marine biologist, University of Queensland
  • Dr Melanie Massaro, Ecologist and ornithologist, Charles Sturt University
  • Associate Professor John F. McCarthy, Resource environment researcher, ANU
  • Dr Allison McInnes, Plant biologist, UTS
  • Associate Professor Andrew McKenzie, Landscape planning researcher, University of Canberra
  • Dr Kathryn McMahon, Environmental researcher, Edith Cowan University
  • Professor Andrew Millington, Land change scientist, Flinders University
  • Professor Angela Moles, Evolutionary ecologist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Renee Morris, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Barbara Norman, Urban planning researcher, University of Canberra
  • Professor Nikos Ntoumanis, Behavioural medicine researcher, Curtin University
  • Dr Bradley Opdyke, Climate historian, ANU
  • Professor Richard G. Pearson, Marine and tropical biologist, James Cook University
  • Dr Barrie Pittock, Climate scientist, CSIRO
  • Dr Jason Potas, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Susan Prescott, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Lynda Prior, Climate researcher, University of Tasmania
  • Dr Thomas Prowse, Biologist, University of Adelaide
  • Professor Marie Ranson, Molecular biologist, University of Wollongong
  • Professor Steve Redman, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Associate Professor Tracy Rogers, Evolutionary ecologist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Chris Ryan, Eco-innovation researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Oz Sahnin, Climate change researcher, Griffith University
  • Associate Professor Peter Sainsbury, Climate and health researcher, University of Sydney
  • Professor David Sinclair, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Tom Sobey, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Will Steffen, Climate change researcher, ANU
  • Professor Peter Steinberg, Marine scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Associate Professor Christian Stricker, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Ian Suthers, Marine biologist, UNSW Australia
  • Associate Professor Sue Taylor, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Sebastian Thomas, Sustainability researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Andrew Thomson, Solar researcher, ANU
  • Associate Professor Thomas Thorsten, Marine biologist, UNSW Australia
  • Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts, Marine Scientist, University of Queensland
  • Professor David Tissue, Plant ecophysiologist, Western Sydney University
  • Professor Matthias Tomczak, Oceanographer, Flinders University
  • Mr Shane Toohey, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Gail Trapp, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Patrick Troy, Human ecologist, ANU
  • Professor Tom Trull, Antarctic, oceans and atmosphere researcher, CSIRO
  • Professor David Tscharke, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Chris Turney, Antarctic climatologist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Tania Urmee, Renewable energy technologist, Murdoch University
  • Professor René Vaillancourt, Plant geneticist, University of Tasmania
  • Professor John Veevers, Earth scientist, Macquarie University
  • Professor Charlie Veron, Marine scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science
  • Professor Phil Waite, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Elaine Walker, Physics and energy researcher, Murdoch University
  • Dr Hayden Washington, Environmental researcher, UNSW Australia
  • Professor David Watson, Water and society ecologist, Charles Sturt University
  • Dr Scarla J. Weeks, Biophysical oceanographer, University of Queensland
  • Professor Adrian Werner, Hydrologist, Flinders University
  • Mr Peter Weiske, Medical and environmental scientist, ANU
  • Dr Jonathan Whale, Energy researcher, Murdoch University
  • Associate Professor George Wilson, Wildlife management researcher, ANU
  • Dr Phillip Zylstra, Forests and fire researcher, University of Wollongong


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Cobalt and Congo

In my blog article last March I gave an update on my further research into Coltan (Columbite Tantalite), a ‘conflict mineral’ whose importance in modern technological devices has fueled a bloody civil war that to date has resulted in around 6 million deaths in central Africa. A 2010 U.S. law requires American companies to attempt to verify that any ‘conflict minerals’ such as tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold they use is obtained from mines free of militia control in the Congo region. The result is a system widely seen as preventing human rights abuses.

But to believe that these conflict minerals are the only problem is an inaccurate picture of the global reality. On the first of October, Todd C. Frankel, following on site investigative research, wrote an article in The Washington Post entitled, “Africa’s Cobalt Pipeline: Where Your Mobile Phone Starts,” in which he shows how this mineral, not listed as a ‘conflict mineral’ contributes equally to the violence, poverty, exploitation and suffering of the people of the Congo. In this article I’ve reduced Frankel’s long 15-page article to 6 021222-congolese-miners-052816pages, to make it more accessible. The tragedy of the Congo is that it is an incredibly rich source for these minerals that have found central importance for the technology boom. In particular, Frankel points out, it lies at the heart of the world’s mad scramble for cheap cobalt. 60 percent of the world’s cobalt originates in Congo — “a chaotic country rife with corruption and a long history of foreign exploitation of its natural resources.”

Why is Cobalt important? Because it is a mineral essential to the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles made by companies such as Apple, Samsung and major automakers.

The global interest in lithium-ion batteries is that they are seen to be different from the dirty, toxic technologies of the past. Lighter and packing more energy than conventional lead-acid batteries, these cobalt-rich batteries are seen as “green.” They are essential to plans for moving beyond petrol run vehicles. Already these batteries have defined the world’s tech devices. Smartphones would not fit in pockets without them. Laptops would not fit on laps. Electric vehicles would be impractical.

Cobalt is the most expensive raw material inside a lithium-ion battery. The price of refined cobalt has fluctuated in the past year from $20,000 to $26,000 a ton. Worldwide, cobalt demand from the battery sector has tripled in the past five years and is projected to african_metals_copper_and_cobalt_oreat least double again by 2020. This increase has mostly been driven by electric vehicles. Every major automaker is rushing to get its battery-powered car to market. Tesla’s $5 billion battery factory in Nevada, known as the Gigafactory, is ramping up production. Daimler aims to open a second battery plant in Germany soon. LG Chem makes batteries for General Motors at a plant in Holland, Mich. Chinese company BYD is working on huge new battery plants in China and Brazil.

While a smartphone battery might contain five to 10 grams of refined cobalt, a single electric-car battery can contain up to 15,000 grams. As demand has grown, so has the importance of ‘artisan’ (diggers) mined Cobalt in global markets. Artisan mining has taken a big place in the supply chain. Artisanal cobalt is usually cheaper than product from industrial mines. Companies do not have to pay miners’ salaries or fund the operations of a large-scale mine. Indeed, with cheap cobalt flooding the market, some international traders canceled contracts for industrial ores, opting to scoop up artisanal ones.

The industry should be a boon for a country that the United Nations ranks among the least developed. But it hasn’t worked out that way. The world’s soaring demand for cobalt is being met by workers, including children, who labor in harsh and dangerous conditions. An estimated 100,000 cobalt miners in Congo use hand tools to dig hundreds of feet underground with little oversight and few safety measures, according to workers, congo-cobaltgovernment officials and evidence found by The Washington Post during visits to remote mines. Deaths and injuries are common. And the mining activity exposes local communities to levels of toxic metals that appear to be linked to ailments that include breathing problems and birth defects, health officials say.

With few formal sites to claim for themselves, artisanal miners dig anywhere they can. Along roads. Under railroad tracks. In back yards. When a major cobalt deposit was discovered a few years ago in the dense neighborhood of Kasulo, diggers tunneled right through their homes’ dirt floors, creating a labyrinth of underground caves. Other diggers wait until dark to invade land owned by private mining companies, leading to deadly clashes with security guards and police.

Pay is based on what they find. No minerals, no money. And the money is meager — the equivalent of $2 to $3 on a good day. Deaths happen with regularity too, but only mass casualties seem to filter out to the scant local media, such as the U.N.-funded Radio Okapi. Thirteen cobalt miners were killed in September 2015 when a dirt tunnel collapsed in Mabaya, near the Zambia border. Two years ago, 16 diggers were killed by landslides in Kawama, followed months later by the deaths of 15 diggers in an underground fire in Kolwezi.

The U.S. Labor Department lists Congolese cobalt as a product it has reason to think is produced by child labor. No one knows exactly how many children work in Congo’s mining industry. UNICEF in 2012 estimated that 40,000 boys and girls do so in the childrengminecountry’s south. A 2007 study funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development found 4,000 children worked at mining sites in Kolwezi alone. Local government officials say they lack the resources to address the problem.

Doctors at the University of Lubumbashi already know miners and residents are exposed to metals at levels many times higher than what is considered safe. One of their studies found residents who live near mines or smelters in southern Congo had urinary concentrations of cobalt that were 43 times as high as that of a control group, lead levels five times as high, and cadmium and uranium levels four times as high. The levels were even higher in children. One study the university doctors published in 2012 found preliminary evidence of an increased risk of a baby being born with a visible birth defect if the father worked in Congo’s mining industry.

How such serious problems could persist for so long, despite frequent warning signs, illustrates what can happen in hard-to-decipher supply chains when they are mostly unregulated, low price is paramount and the trouble occurs in a distant, tumultuous part of the world.

The Washington Post traced the cobalt pipeline and, for the first time, showed how cobalt mined in these harsh conditions ends up in popular consumer products. It moves from small-scale Congolese mines to a single Chinese company — Congo DongFang International Mining (CDM), part of one of the world’s biggest cobalt producers, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt. It is this company that for years has supplied some of the world’s largest battery makers.

Apple, in response to questions from The Post, acknowledged that this cobalt has made its way into its batteries. Apple estimated that 20% of the cobalt it uses comes from Huayou Cobalt. Paula Pyers, a senior director at Apple in charge of supply-chain social responsibility, said the company plans to increase scrutiny of how all its cobalt is obtained. Pyers also said Apple is committed to working with Huayou Cobalt to clean up the supply chain and to addressing the underlying issues, such as extreme poverty, that result in harsh work conditions and child labor. Some say cobalt should be added to the conflict-minerals list, even if cobalt mines are not thought to be funding war. Apple told The Post that it now supports including cobalt in the law.

For most artisanal miners in Congo, the global supply chain begins in a marketplace. Small shops, known as “comptoirs,” are stacked cheek by jowl along the highway that leads to the border. The artisans bring heavy sacks of their diggings and each load is minercobaltmine_2720757ktested by a radar-gun-like device called a Metorex, which detects mineral content. The higher the content of cobalt, the better the price. Miners do not trust the machines, believing them to be rigged, but they have no alternative.

There are many shops, but all sold to the same company: Congo DongFang Mining. The Post reported that Congolese workers, in jumpsuits with CDM printed in block letters on the back, stood watching other men loading cobalt sacks from these shops onto a truck. Later, The Post followed the truck until it reached an entrance with armed guards and turned inside. The facility with big blue walls was clearly marked CDM.

It was at these same gates that CDM says its inspection of its supply chain had stopped, never extending to the mines or marketplace. Last year, CDM reported exporting 72,000 tons of industrial and artisanal cobalt from Congo, making it No. 3 on the list of the country’s largest mining companies, according to Congolese mining statistics. And CDM is by far Congo’s top exporter of artisanal cobalt, according to analysts and the company.

CDM ships its cobalt to its parent company, Huayou, in China, where the ore is refined. Among Huayou’s largest customers are battery cathode makers Hunan Shanshan, Pulead Technology Industry and L&F Material, according to financial documents and interviews.

These companies — which also buy refined minerals from other companies — make the cobalt-rich battery cathodes that play a critical role in lithium-ion batteries. These cathodes are sold to battery makers, including companies such as Amperex Technology Ltd. (ATL), Samsung SDI and LG Chem.

LG Chem, the world’s largest supplier of electric-car batteries, said the company it buys cathodes from, L&F Material, stopped using Congo-sourced cobalt from Huayou last year. Instead, it said, Huayou now supplies L&F Material with cobalt mined from the South lg-chemPacific island of New Caledonia. As proof, LG Chem provided a “certificate of origin” to The Post for a cobalt shipment in December 2015 for 212 tons. But two minerals analysts were skeptical that LG Chem’s cathode supplier could switch from Congo cobalt to minerals from New Caledonia — or, at least, do so for long. LG Chem consumes more cobalt than the entire nation of New Caledonia produces, according to analysts and publicly available data.

Cleaning up the cobalt supply chain will not be easy for Huayou Cobalt, even with the support of a powerful company such as Apple. The question is whether Huayou’s other customers, after years of buying cheap cobalt with no questions, will be supportive.

Starting next year, Apple will internally treat cobalt like a conflict mineral, requiring all cobalt refiners to agree to outside supply-chain audits and conduct risk assessments. Apple’s action could have major repercussions throughout the battery world. But change will be slow. Apple spent five years working to certify that its supply chain was free of conflict minerals — and that action was enforced by law.

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