Saturday, May 8, 2010
Published on Friday, May 7, 2010 by GRITtv
Child Labor Down on the Farm: Report by Laura Flanders
We often assume that child labor in the U.S. ceased after the labor movement fought for and won child labor laws many years ago. But a new report from the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch notes that not only are hundreds of thousands of children working on farms around the country--they are doing so legally because of loopholes in the law.
We speak to Zama Coursen-Neff, Deputy Director of the Children's Rights Division, and via phone, Maria S. Mandujano, a former child farmworker who recently testified before Congress on children working on the farm.
Friday, May 7, 2010
Mass. Town Votes to Ban Sale of Bottled Water
Michelle Ruiz Contributor
(May 5) -- Environmentalists have long frowned on bottled water, urging drinkers to go green by sticking to the tap or H20 filtered at home. Now one Massachusetts town has sparked a battle of the bottle with its decision to pull it from shelves altogether.
Residents in Concord, in what seems to be a first for a U.S. town, voted last week to ban the sale of plastic water bottles in their small, affluent municipality effective Jan. 1. The decision has prompted celebration from environmental activists and objection from bottled water industry executives who don't want other cities and states to follow suit.
Ruben Alarcon, of Chicago, buys bottled water at K-Mart.
Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune/MCT
Concord, Mass., residents voted to ban the sale of plastic water bottles in their town effective Jan. 1. Here, a man buys bottled water from a Kmart.
The move is a victory for 82-year-old activist and Concord resident Jean Hill, who spearheaded the effort to ban the plastic bottles. She presented the Town Council with a slide show featuring photos of plastic polluting the ocean and mounting in garbage dumps.
"All these discarded bottles are damaging our planet, causing clumps of garbage in the oceans that hurt fish, and are creating more pollution on our streets,'' Hill told the Boston Globe. "This is a great achievement to be the first in the country to do this. This is about addressing an injustice.''
Hill pointed out in her presentation that more than 100 municipalities across the U.S. have cracked down on bottled water. New York, Illinois and Virginia have cut spending on the product. Elsewhere in Massachusetts, Boston, Somerville and Cambridge have pledged to gradually reduce city spending on bottled water. Hill also decried the plastic-fueled garbage dump swirling in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Hill's impassioned presentation swayed Town Council Chairman Stanly Black, who switched his initial vote against the ban. He told the Concord Journal that he was "so moved" by Hill's presentation that he voted in favor of the ban even though he agrees that the council doesn't have the authority to ban the sale of bottled water.
"The statistics about the amount of trash are appalling," Black said. "There's an island bigger than Texas floating around in the Pacific."
Black and Hill had the support of Concord resident Lal Minton, who wrote in a letter to the Concord Journal that bottled water has become a "scourge."
"People older than 75 were obliged by their mothers to give up the bottle when they were babies," he wrote. "They have survived into their 80s."
Concord apparently is the first U.S. municipality to approve a ban on bottled water, Nick Guroff, communications director for Corporate Accountability International, told the Journal.
Selectwoman Virginia McIntyre told the Globe that she supports the ban in theory but has trouble backing it -- and its potential legal fallout -- in practice.
"It's questionable whether Town Meeting even has the authority to ban the sale of plastic water bottles,'' she said. "We understand it's an emotional issue, and probably the right thing to do, but why should we spend scarce public resources on legal fees defending it? I doubt that's the best use of tax dollars.''
The International Bottled Water Association rallied against the ban in a statement that threatened a potential "legal challenge." It says the $10 billion industry promotes health by encouraging people to drink up.
"Bottled water is a safe, healthy, convenient food product," the statement read. "With the current high rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease, any actions that discourage or prevent consumers from drinking water -- whether tap or bottled -- are not in the public interest."
The association also said that "any efforts to reduce the environmental impact of consumer packaging must focus comprehensively on all product containers and not single out any one product."
Whether the ban will be more than a symbolic move in Concord remains to be seen. Those desperately seeking a sip of bottled water need only cross the Concord town line to buy the bottles at a neighboring Costco.
For Hill, the vote remains a triumph.
"I think it's a disgrace what's going on with these bottles,'' she told the Globe. "This is the starting of making a real change in Massachusetts.''
(photo by Flickr user afromusing)
Published on Friday, May 7, 2010 by GRAIN
The World Bank in the Hot Seat Over Land Grabbing
A curious thing happened last week. A lot of people were under the impression that the World Bank was going to release its long-awaited study on global land grabs at its annual land conference in Washington DC on 26 April 2010. This is what GRAIN was told. It's what many journalists were told. And it's what those involved in producing the study expected. But it didn't happen.
[Environmental impact assessments are rarely carried out, and people are routinely booted off their land, without consultation or compensation. The Bank even revealed that investors are deliberately targeting areas where there is "weak land governance". (photo by Flickr user afromusing)]Environmental impact assessments are rarely carried out, and people are routinely booted off their land, without consultation or compensation. The Bank even revealed that investors are deliberately targeting areas where there is "weak land governance".
Instead, the Bank gave another powerpoint presentation summarising what the study will show, reiterated its proposed seven principles for "socially responsible" land grabs and unveiled its new business-to-business website -- a kind of internet dating service to match up corporate land grabbers and government land givers.
This is not the first time that this study has been delayed. Indeed, ever since the Bank started compiling the data for it, tight political reins have been put on any public sharing of the results. They initially said the report would be out in December 2009. Then it was supposed to be March 2010. Then, we were assured, it would be released at the land conference last week. We do know that all of the research and analysis was completed long ago. So what's holding the Bank back?
The partial glimpse of the study presented in Washington last week sheds some light on an answer. The Bank initially wanted to do a comprehensive study of 30 countries, the hot spots for the land grabs. But it had to cut back severely on its expectations because, as it admits, the governments would not provide them with information. The corporations wouldn't talk either, we were told by people writing the country chapters. This in itself is a powerful statement that says volumes about the hush-hush nature of these deals. If the World Bank can't get access to the information, who can?
The Bank decided instead to base its study on the projects that have been reported by the media and captured on the farmlandgrab.org website. The Bank identified nearly 400 projects in 80 countries in this way, nearly one quarter (22%) of which are already being implemented. The study thus makes it plain that the global land grab is very real and moving along faster and further than many have assumed (See box for a basic glimpse of what the study is expected to say.)
BOX: What the World Bank study is expected to say
[NB: GRAIN has not seen the World Bank's report. The following is drawn simply from publicly available documents, plus some verification from World Bank staff and consultants.]
The World Bank study focuses on large-scale farmland acquisitions of the last few years - what we all call land grabbing. While it largely confirms many things we already know, people have been awaiting the release of this report because the Bank was supposed to get access to more information than anyone else up to now. After all, most of these deals are shrouded in secrecy and controversy, and attract accusations of neocolonialism, even genocide.
The Bank inventorised 389 land deals in 80 countries. The bulk (37%) of the so-called investment projects are meant to produce food (crops and livestock), while biofuels come in second place (35%). Unsurprisingly, Africa is the target of half the land grab projects, followed by Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
In terms of countries being approached for their land, the Bank reveals that, in Africa, Sudan comes in first place, followed by Ghana and Madagascar. In Asia-Pacific, Indonesia ranks first, followed by the Philippines and Australia. In Latin America, Brazil is the favoured destination, then Argentina and Paraguay. In terms of country of origin of the land grabbers, China and the UK tie in the top slot, followed by Saudi Arabia.
Finally, the Bank did statistical analysis of what draws land grabbers to certain countries rather than others - the "probability" factors. Three are particularly noteworthy: land availability, low mechanisation and weak land governance. This means that investors will prioritise places where: (a) it is relatively easy to get control over people's land; (b) large-scale holdings are possible; and (c) bringing in machinery will yield quick productivity gains.
The Bank's most significant findings, however, are about the impacts of these projects on local communities. Its overwhelming conclusion, shared at the land conference last week, is that these projects are not providing benefits to local communities. Environmental impact assessments are rarely carried out, and people are routinely booted off their land, without consultation or compensation. The Bank even revealed that investors are deliberately targeting areas where there is "weak land governance".
It is hard to see how, given these damning findings, the Bank could come up with anything positive to say about this new wave of foreign investment in farmland; this probably explains its reluctance to release the report. The Bank, after all, embarked on the study "to provide guidance to Bank clients (in government and the private sector) and partners who may be faced with or interested in large scale land acquisition so as to enable them to maximize the long-term benefits from such investments." 1 And, while its study waits in limbo, the Bank is becoming more and more committed to making the land grabs happen. European investors, for instance, say that they will be using the Bank's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency to provide them with political risk insurance for their farmland deals. Should anything backfire, "You'll have the World Bank on your side," says Gary Vaughan-Smith of London-based SilverStreet Capital LLP, which recently launched a US$300-million fund to invest in farmland in Africa. "They're going to have enormous clout if there are any difficulties." 2
Not winning anyone over
The problem for the Bank and the other land grab promoters, however, is that hardly anyone is fooled by talk of "win-win" guidelines or codes or principles to make it all work for everyone's benefit. No matter how hard they try, they can't shake the "land grab" label or stigma off these transactions.
"Here's what I'm sure of", weighs in Howard Buffet, son of Warren Buffet, in an Oakland Institute report released in time for the Bank's conference last week. "These deals will make the rich richer and the poor poorer, creating clear winners who benefit while the losers are denied their livelihoods." 3
If the Bank and its friends at partner UN agencies hoped that last week's events in Washington would finally give them some control over the land grab discussion, they were mistaken. More than 100 groups from more than 100 countries crashed their party by releasing a common declaration a few days before, which denounced their "seven principles" for socially responsible land grabbing. They didn't beat about the bush. As they see it, on the ground, this land grab is nothing but a massive transfer of lands from small food producers to foreign corporations, from sustainable farms to industrial plantations, and these groups were making it crystal clear that they are committed to throwing this trend into reverse. Against this, the Bank's "win-win", or responsible investment initiative, looks hollower than ever.
The World Bank conference materials are being posted online here: http://go.worldbank.org/IN4QDO1U10
Reports and statements reflecting the social movement against the World Bank's proposals for "socially responsible" land grabbing are available at farmlandgrab.org: http://farmlandgrab.org/cat/world-bank
Anyone can join or respond to the collective statement against win-win land grabbing drawn up by La Vía Campesina and allies at http://farmlandgrab.org/12200 (English), http://farmlandgrab.org/12259 (French), http://farmlandgrab.org/122 (Spanish) and http://farmlandgrab.org/12262(Arabic).
1 World Bank, "Large scale acquisition of land rights for agricultural or natural resource-based use, Concept note", 18 February 2009.
2 Drew Carter, "Fertile ground for investment," Pensions & Investments, 19 April 2010: http://farmlandgrab.org/12218
3 Oakland Institute, "(Mis)investment in agriculture: The role of the International Finance Corporation in the global land grab," 26 April 2010: http://farmlandgrab.org/12429