IPS Blog

Obama BP Speech Should Signal Shift in Energy Future

This blog post was originally posted on Grist.

Tonight President Obama addresses the nation to talk about how his administration will hold BP accountable for the damages incurred by what has become the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and how he plans to reregulate the oil industry. The American public will be looking for bold action.

Obama has a golden opportunity to show the growing ranks of disappointed progressives and moderates that his administration is about changing politics as usual – if he and his advisors have the political courage to seize the moment. Obama must harness the public outrage at BP and momentum toward economic revitalization to make concrete steps toward U.S. leadership in the global transition away from dirty fuel to clean, renewable energy.

In less than two weeks, leaders from the 20 wealthiest countries (the G20) will meet in Toronto to discuss global economic recovery and closely related matters such as climate change. Outstanding on their agenda – as proposed by Obama last September – is the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies.

Worldwide, developed countries spend up to $100 billion a year making oil, coal and gas cheaper for energy companies through tax breaks, subsidized loans, price controls and other giveaways. Estimates of federal handouts to the U.S. oil industry range as high as $39 billion a year.

The idea behind fossil fuel subsidies is to keep the cost of producing energy low so that company profits are high enough to incentivize continued production. That might have made sense when oil, coal and gas were the only feasible sources of power to run the American economy. You could have even argued for oil company handouts or when the price of a barrel of oil was only $18 – as it was in 1995 when Congress established a royalty waiver program for deepwater drilling. But today the price of oil is more than $70 a barrel. BP just posted a $6.1 billion profit in the first quarter. And scientists, governments and schoolchildren around the world understand that burning fossil fuels is putting the future at risk from climate change. Enough is enough.

Obama should return to his commitment tonight, outlining not only how to regulate the out of control oil industry, but how to shift the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars going to dirty energy each year into safer, cleaner and more secure energy sources in the U.S. and abroad.

But he’s got to get the cuts right. The OECD – a group of 31 industrialized countries – have their eye on consumer subsidies in the developing world. Eliminating tax exemptions that make energy accessible in impoverished countries and communities should be off the table until government handouts to oil, coal and gas companies raking in billions have ended.

And we should make sure that these incentives go to the right place – to deployment of proven technologies like wind and solar, research and development of innovative ideas, and to small and medium sized energy companies that can help decentralize and localize the energy sector, making energy companies accountable to the communities in which they operate.

In his speech to an anxious country, Obama should lay out how federal support for a vibrant clean energy economy will usher in a new era of environmental and economic security.

Getting the right laws on the books, and then enforcing them, is clearly critical to avoiding another environmental and economic disaster like BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion. No question. But until we collectively kick our oil addiction – and dependence on other dirty energy like coal, gas and nuclear power – we can expect to continue reading headlines like Deadly Coal Mining Disaster in West Virginia, Radioactive Waste from Nation’s Oldest Nuclear Power Plant Reaches Aquifer in New Jersey, and Massive Oil Slick Hits Battered Gulf Coast. Obama can help us start tonight.

New Thinking on Cutting the Deficit

The Hill reported Friday on a congressional panel, commissioned by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), which proposed a new mindset toward defense:

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, a commission of scholars from a broad ideological spectrum…laid out actions the government could take that could save as much as $960 billion between 2011 and 2020.

Measures presented by the task force include making significant reductions to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which has strong support from Defense Secretary Robert Gates; delaying the procurement of a new midair refueling tanker the Air Force has identified as one of its top acquisition priorities; and reducing the Navy’s fleet to 230 ships instead of the 313 eyed by the service.

The taskforce also “recommended cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal, a reduction of 200,000 military personnel, smaller U.S. military presence in Asia and Europe and fewer tactical Air Force fighter wings. Other savings would come from shrinking the Navy to 230 ships from 287 currently, spending less on research, cuts or delays in big weapons programs, and higher health care premiums for the military,” according to Reuters.

Even Frank admitted that getting Congress on board with many of these recommendations would be an uphill battle. The acceptance of the recommendations would depend on a “philosophical change” and a “redefinition of the strategy,” Frank said at press conference on Capitol Hill.

But it’s time for such a change. The vast amounts of money spent on faulty or deteriorating weapons systems and unused nuclear weapons are sorely needed for jobs, infrastructure, and green technology research. And a good place to start consolidating existing defense funds would be through a unified security budget. Writes IPS research fellow Miriam Pemberton (who was also on the taskforce):

The budgets they draw up for the Pentagon keep on growing, and the cuts in military programs they support are almost exclusively designed to be plowed back in to other military programs.

As our nation continues to struggle with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it’s even more important that every penny of our tax dollars is spent wisely. It’s encouraging to hear Obama administration officials taking a fresh look at more balanced and efficient national security budgeting.

You can read the Sustainable Defense Task Force’s full report here.

Reader Challenge: Is Afghan Mineral Find a Game-Changer?

The New York Times reports in U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan.

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

At first glance, it looks like, fate-wise, Afghanistan has finally caught a break. Do Focal Points readers think this will fundamentally improve the country? Or will Afghanistan’s rulers and military siphon off the money? The Taliban have to be drooling. Suddenly, drug trade seems like kid stuff. How will it react?

A Bad Week for the Monroe Doctrine

It is hard to find words that quite describe U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s performance at the June 7 meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Lima, Peru. Cluelessness certainly comes to mind, but leavened with a goodly dash of arrogance and historical amnesia.

Clinton leaned on the 35-member grouping “to move forward and welcome Honduras back into the inter-American community,” urged the OAS to step up the fight against drug trafficking, and scolded the organization for a “proliferation of priorities and mandates that dilute its efforts, drain its budget, and diminish its capacity.” She added that the OAS should “refocus” on such tasks as monitoring elections.

Where does one begin? Well, Honduras and elections for starters.

While Clinton characterized the election that followed the coup against Manuel Zelaya “free and fair,” it was boycotted by 51 percent of the population. The U.S. has been silent about the fact that the new president, Porfirio Lobo, has overseen a reign of terror that, since the June 28, 2009 coup, has seen the assassination of some 130 anti-government activists, including seven journalists. The murders bear a close resemblance to death squad assassinations carried out under military dictator Policarpo Paz Garcia in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Reporters Without Borders recently designated Honduras “the world’s deadliest country for the media.”

“We are living in a state of terror,” says human rights activist Dr. Juan Almendares, a former director of research projects at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. Almendares currently runs a free clinic in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.

Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told the OAS meeting that the Honduras coup has put the “inter-American order at risk,” and that “My government cannot recognize the new government in Honduras while there are violations against human rights.”

In the old days, the U.S. would have steamrolled any opposition, but now-a-days supporting the Colossus of the North can be a lonely business. Only a handful of countries, including Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Peru, and Guatemala backed re-instating Honduras to the OAS.

Tone deaf was all you could call Clinton’s call for stepping up the war on drugs. A few months ago the 17-member Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, chaired by three former heads of state, concluded “The U.S.-style anti-drug strategy was putting the region’s fragile democratic institutions at risk, and corrupting the judiciary system, government, the political system, and especially the police force.” Former Brazilian president and Commission member Fernando Cardoso said, “The war on drugs is a failed war. We have to move from this approach to another.”

Several Latin American countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and Uruguay have moved to legalize personal drug possession, and other countries in the region are considering how to move from punishment to treatment.

And what did Clinton mean by that phrase “proliferation of priorities”? There was no question as to how OAS members read it: “Keep your nose out of the Middle East,” not an instruction likely to be followed. Brazil and Turkey’s effort to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully has drawn widespread applause throughout the continent, and a number of Latin American countries have become increasingly critical of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians. Argentina, El Salvador, Panama, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Mexico, Chile, and Brazil were sharply critical of the Israeli attack on the recent Gaza flotilla, and many called for lifting the blockade of Gaza.

Clinton’s efforts to lobby Latin American nations to support sanctions against Iran fell flat.

What Clinton did not mention was why the Obama administration has not ended the blockade of Cuba, failed to tackle the immigration issue, and remained silent on a plan by Britain to drill for gas and oil in waters north of the Malvinas (Falkland Islands).

Back in February the newly minted Rio Group—which excludes the U.S. and Canada— held a Unity Summit in Cancun and endorsed an Argentinean document accusing Britain of violating international law by allowing the British oil company, Desire Petroleum, to drill near the islands. Geologists estimate that the area could hold up to 60 billion barrels of oil, not much smaller than Brazil’s vast offshore Salto Deposits.

“Our attitude is one of solidarity with Argentina,” said Brazilian President Luiz “Lula” da Silva, speaking for the 32-member group. “What is the geographical, political, and economic explanation for England to be in the Malvinas? Is it possible that Argentina is not the owner while England is, despite being 14,000 kilometers away?”

It increasingly looks as if the Rio Group—rumor is that its new name will be the “Latin American and Caribbean Community”—will eventually replace the OAS, which partly explains Clinton’s plea for the organization to “refocus.” The OAS is “refocusing,” but that means members no longer has to curtsy to the United States, that countries in the region should determine diplomatic priorities, and that Brasilia has as much right to become a player in the Middle East as Washington.

Just to show you how the world has turned upside down, the June 6 Financial Times told its readers that “the safest place to be” in a risky world was Latin America.

In her address to the delegates, Clinton complained that the OAS “has not always lived up to its founding ideals.” Now it is, and Washington is less than happy. All in all, a bad week for the Monroe Doctrine, and a very good week for Latin America.

Hostility to Plans for New Mosques

It has been said before that Al-Qaeda’s greatest victory was not September 11th but Abu Ghraib. Indeed, the images of Americans reveling in the humiliation of Arab prisoners enhanced the potency of al-Qaeda’s narrative and won it scores of new recruits.

But to achieve this propaganda victory, the terrorist organization first had to accomplish something more basic: provoking a vigorous hatred of Arabs and of Islam among Americans. In that sense, September 11th was not so much a lesser victory as it was preparation for the real goal.

As Muslims in New York are learning, that preparation continues to exercise a powerful effect.

Some New Yorkers—egged on by Israeli loyalists who are eager to intensify American animosity toward Muslims—are expressing increasing hostility to plans for new mosques.

To take one example, The New York Times reported yesterday on a meeting Wednesday night on Staten Island, where tensions have erupted because of a Muslim group’s plans to convert a Catholic convent into a mosque; the church’s pastor has signed an agreement to sell the property. but a slew of administrative hurdles remain.

The meeting, held by the local civic association with the aim of defusing tensions, merely shed light on the mob mentality of much of the audience. The three invited Muslims, leaders of the Muslim American Society, were interrogated, jeered, shouted down, and booed by an audience that included rabid supporters of Israeli colonialism such as Robert Spencer, the presiding ayatollah at Jihad Watch.

Spencer, following the neoconservative rulebook to the letter, lobbed predictable smears and loaded questions, asserting that MAS had ties to Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood. In a touching display of restraint, he apparently did not assert the three guests were hiding Osama bin Laden under their beds.

But Spencer, along with more than a dozen other audience members, did insist that MAS was on some sort “terrorist watch list.” As the Times noted, that is false:

“The State Department maintains a terrorist watch list for foreign organizations, and the Justice Department has identified domestic groups it considers unindicted co-conspirators in various terror-related prosecutions. The American Muslim Society is on neither of those lists.”

The interrogation session ended abruptly when it “eventually collapsed in shouting around 11 p.m., prompting the police and security guards to ask everyone to leave.”

Before that happened, however a shamefully revealing exchange took place:

“But just 20 minutes earlier, as Bill Finnegan stood at the microphone, came the meeting’s single moment of hushed silence. Mr. Finnegan said he was a Marine lance corporal, home from Afghanistan, where he had worked as a mediator with warring tribes.

After the sustained standing ovation that followed his introduction, he turned to the Muslims on the panel: ‘My question to you is, will you work to form a cohesive bond with the people of this community?’ The men said yes.

Then he turned to the crowd. ‘And will you work to form a cohesive bond with these people — your new neighbors?’

The crowd erupted in boos. ‘No!’ someone shouted.”

It is dispiriting to see these Americans—who probably imagine themselves to be patriots—united in hostility to fundamental First Amendment rights. But Muslim organizations have nonetheless adopted a posture of engagement, secure in the conviction that, in America, bigotry slinks away under the enduring gaze of fairness.

“We are newcomers, and newcomers in America have always had to prove their loyalty,” Mahdi Bray, MAS’s executive director said. “It’s an old story. You have to have thick skin.”

Immigrants Head to the Hill

Immigration protest in ChicagoIPS social worker Tiffany Williams, program manager of our Break the Chain Campaign, went to the Dept. of Labor and then an ad-hoc hearing chaired by Rep. Raul Grijalva (link to his OtherWords op-ed) and co-chaired by several other Representatives about Arizona’s new law, SB1070, and its devastating effects on women and children. Here’s Tiffany’s story:

“We started at the DOL, plus reps from the white house and homeland security. They were incredibly moved by the stories and updated us on their planned response (e.g., Obama has 25 lawyers looking into whether the law can be stopped). We then moved on to a meeting w/national women’s orgs, where we shared strategies and actions (letters, demonstrations, etc).

Then on to the hearing. It was so packed that people were sitting on the floor, standing in aisles, craning in to see from the hallway…Even hearing the testimony for the third time had me in tears, and there were few people who were not crying. Even Rep. Polis had to take off his glasses to wipe away tears after hearing the little girl — only 10 years old — talk about her parents, and another young woman describe the abuse she suffered in the jail. Grijalva was composed, but so kind to them, and expressed his urgency that we fix this situation.

It was an emotionally taxing day — a lot of heavy sadness and trauma, juxtaposed with the joy you feel when you finally get to speak that truth to power.”

Part 3-The Futility of Trying to Debate Our Way to Disarmament

“What price security?”

This post is Part 3 of a three-part series. Read Post 1 here and Post 2 here

In the end, disarmament won’t spring from a fruitless quest for ironclad rationales. Its establishment will be the result of a groundswell of reactions ranging from disgust with to bewilderment at a national security policy that puts the lives of tens of millions at risk. Never mind preserving the sanctity of the state, this will even be seen as too high a price a pay to keep not only us from dying, but our families. “What price security?” indeed.

That’s not to disparage the head-banging work of those who hammer out treaties, summits, and posture reviews, as well as the recently completed nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty review conference. At worst, as mentioned above, they’re a cover under which the nuclear-weapons industry can continue to flourish. But viewed in a more positive light, these undertakings are stopgap measures, or delaying tactics, to keep hawks and the nuclear-weapons industry at arms length until the day that worldwide disarmament momentum might build to a crescendo.

But how do we rally Americans around disarmament? For most of us the fear of nuclear weapons has narrowed to a nuclear terrorist attack. We believe either that the end of the Cold War has freed us from the threat of war between nuclear powers or we’re convinced that deterrence works. Speaking of tough arguments to win, demythologizing deterrence is almost as difficult as explaining to pro-lifers that pro-choice is not murder.

Still, avenues to the consciousness of the public, remain. For example, two can play the “messaging” game. In a report titled Talking about Nuclear Weapons with the Persuadable Middle, an organization called U.S. in the World analyzed various research projects undertaken to facilitate communication with what might be called political independents. In the following passage, the phrases that are emphasized highlight two of its essential recommendations:

Peace and security advocates should . . . “re-frame” the issue [of nuclear weapons] to help people see that it is the existence of the weapons themselves — not who has them — that poses the primary threat to global and national security. The fact that nuclear weapons are a source of risk — not the fact that they are morally wrong — should be presented as the underlying reason why the issue of nuclear weapons matters.

An evangelical group, of all things, agrees with both points. As the Two Futures Project‘s founder, Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, sees it, even with the devout, “the moral argument doesn’t [always] run the show. The first question that everyone has is, ‘What makes us safer?’ So it’s important to lead, at least in most contexts, with the fact that nuclear weapons don’t make us safe anymore — that the problems they cause are far worse than any they purport to solve.”

Rev. Stevenson also addresses the “What price security?” question in a piece on the Washington Post website (emphasis added):

There’s nothing wrong with a strong military [but] we cannot simply take a secular utilitarian, value-less approach to security policy. [If] we take seriously the whole witness of Scripture, we must also recognize that the unfettered pursuit of strength — fearing mortal enemies more than God’s judgment — in fact leads to an ungodly arrogance and idolatry.

When it comes to fear, we need to understand that nuclear weapons are not just a greater risk than those who possess them. But, what the messaging reports don’t address, as implied by the word risk they’re a more legitimate source of fear than states we deem hostile.

IR (international relations) types may argue that the human psyche comes in a distant second to political considerations as a cause of war. But as with nuclear methods, there’s no way we can win that debate. Common sense, or our own intuition, tells us that safer methods of addressing our fear than by arming ourselves to the point of overkill exist. They include, on an individual basis, psychotherapy, meditation, and body work. Even better, let’s nip incommensurate fear and its consequence, the reflex to violence, in the bud before they have a chance to gain a foothold in a child as a default state.

The first goal is to halt the abuse of children: emotional, physical violence, and sexual. As the influential and recently deceased Swiss psychotherapist and author Alice Miller wrote (emphasis added): “The total neglect or trivialization of the childhood factor operative in the context of violence . . . sometimes leads to explanations that are not only unconvincing and abortive but actively deflect attention away from the genuine roots of violence.”

In other words — surprise, surprise — abusing a child predisposes him or her toward violence and, arguably, an inclination to advocate or support violent solutions to international conflict.

How do we reverse centuries of violent tendencies? By promulgating methods of enlightened child-rearing. Measures to that end have already been implemented: laws banning corporal punishment’ community centers and high-school programs to teach parenting skills. Or as linguist and “framing” master George Lakoff suggests: “The president should ask the First Lady to sponsor a major government program to do research on and support empathetic parenting.”

The more these programs are implemented, often at little cost with staffing consisting of volunteers, the more children will grow up without being marked by abuse and devoid of the impulse to respond to fear by turning to or supporting violence. One day, individuals in positions of authority will wake up and find that the public is no longer on board with national-security strategies that put enormous numbers of individuals in harm’s way.

Deficit reduction? If and only if…

Progressive economists have told us, quite clearly, that this moment in an extremely fragile economic recovery is NOT the time to focus on deficit cutting ­— that avoiding the even higher unemployment of a real Depression requires another round of stimulative public investments.

HOWEVER. While holding this thought in our minds, we can’t ignore another: that the president has set up a bipartisan commission on deficit reduction. It will make its recommendations in December. In the absence of strong pressure from progressives, we can expect that cutting social programs will dominate this agenda.

What one thought do we need the members of this Commission to keep in their minds? That you can’t take a serious approach to reducing the deficit while exempting the largest portion of the budget that Congress votes on every year. This is, of course, the military budget.

Congressman Barney Frank assembled a group, called the Sustainable Defense Task Force, to make its own recommendations to the Commission on what cuts in military spending could be made with no sacrifice to our security. We came up with $1 trillion in savings over the next ten years. Our report outlining these savings to the Commission is being released today.

UPDATE: The Hill has an overview of a panel commission hearing, featuring Sustainable Defense Task Force members.

The Oil Spills You Never Heard Of

While the news about British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon platform blowout in the Gulf of Mexico is on a 24-hour news feed, it took a long boat ride and some serious slogging by John Vidal of The Observer (UK) to uncover a bigger and far deadlier oil spill near the village of Otuegwe in Nigeria’s Niger Delta.

“We lost our nets, huts and fishing pots. This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest,” Otuegwe’s leader, Chief Promise, told Vidal.

The culprits in Nigeria are Shell and Exxon Mobil, whose 40-year old pipelines break with distressing regularity, pouring oil into the locals’ fishing grounds and drinking water. The Delta supports 606 oil fields that supply close to 40 percent of U.S. oil imports.

This past May, an Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptured in the state of Akwa Ibon, dumping more than a million gallons into the Delta before it was patched. According to Ben Ikari, a writer and member of the local Ogoni people, “This kind of thing happens all the time in the Delta…the oil companies just ignore it. The lawmakers do not care, and people must live with the pollution daily. The situation is worse than it was 30 years ago.”

Just how bad things are is not clear, because the oil companies and the Nigerian government will not make the figures public. But independent investigators estimate that over the past four decades the amount of oil released into the Delta adds up to 50 Exxon Valdez spills, or 550 million gallons. According to the most recent government figures, up to June 3, Deepwater Horizon had pumped between 24 to 51 million gallons into the Gulf.

Nigerian government figures show there have been more than 9000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are currently 2,000 official spill sites. The oil companies claim the majority of them are caused by local rebels blowing up pipelines or siphoning off the oil, and that spills are quickly dealt with.

However, the locals say most of the spills are caused by the aging infrastructure, and they and environmental groups charge that the companies do virtually nothing to clean them up. And when local people do challenge the oil giants, they say they get run off by oil company security guards.

The biggest oil disaster in the world, however, is not in Africa or the Gulf of Mexico, but in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle, where Texaco—now owned by Chevron—pumped 18.5 billion gallons of “produced water” into an area of more than 2,000 square miles. “Produced water” is heavily laden with salts, crude oil, and benzene, a carcinogenic chemical,.

According to the Amazon Defense Coalition, Chevron dumped the toxic waste directly into rivers and streams, in spite of recommendations by American Petroleum Institute that such waste be injected deep into the earth. “The BP tragedy was an accident; Chevron’s discharge in Ecuador was deliberate,” said the Coalition in a press release.

Experts estimate that 345 million gallons of oil have been discharged into the rainforest, one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. The oil and wastewater, along with “black rains” produced by the uncontrolled burning of gas, has created a nightmare for the local indigenous groups—the Secoya, Cofan, Siona, Huarani, and Kichwa.

Ecuador and the five tribes are currently suing Chevron for $27 billion, but the oil company claims it bears no responsibility for Texaco’s practices and says it will not pay a nickel if it is assessed for any of the damage.

As oil resources decrease, the pressure will be on to seek new resources in more marginal territory, including the deep ocean, tropical rain forests, and sensitive artic and tundra zones. Shell is chomping at the bit to start drilling in the Artic Ocean.

Judith Kimerling, who wrote “Amazon Crude” about the oil industry in Ecuador, toldThe Observer, “Spills, leaks and deliberate discharges are happening in oilfields all over the world and very few people seem to care.”

Except, of course, the people who live in the middle of them.

Chocolate: Bitter or Sweet?

Yacouba DarriaAs you are enjoying your summer weekend, maybe stopping for a chocolaty treat after a day out with family or friends, think of 14 year old Yacouba Darria. Take a moment to question how that chocolate you’re enjoying was produced and whether it required Yacouba, or another child like him, to be trafficked into child slavery.

A child-trafficker found Yacouba one week after leaving home for the first time. He enticed Yacouba to join him by spinning tales of the money he could earn. Yacouba had no idea that he was being taken away from his home in Mali to the Cote d’Ivoire. Here, he was forced to complete dangerous work every day — wielding a machete to get through the brush and cutting cocoa pods from tall trees. After a full year, he had collected a total of only $13 US for his work.

Yacouba and 15,000 other children in the Cote d’Ivoire are forced to work as slaves on cocoa farms. This makes up only a small portion of the over 215 million child laborers worldwide in varied industries. The proportion of children involved is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in four children participates in child labor. Over 60 percent of these child laborers work in agriculture to produce goods such as cocoa, cotton, tobacco, rice, sugarcane, and coffee. They work in hazardous conditions and receive little or no pay.

Imagine it was your child. Your nephew. Your little brother.

What are you going to do to help him?

There are already many international laws in place forbidding this practice yet… it’s still happening. The world needs a renewed outrage against child labor. People can make a difference.

A popular solution is often to boycott the good produced using child labor, hoping the decrease in profits will pressure companies to end their practices. While boycotts can be successful if organized properly, they can also be detrimental to the fate of child laborers. The lower profits may actually cause companies to increase their levels of child labor and decrease working condition in order to reduce production costs.

You can, however, shift your buying practices. By attempting to buy more fair-trade goods, you benefit companies who are socially responsible. You also send a message to those companies more focused on their bottom-line that it can be profitable to support just labor practices. The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) created a report rating chocolate companies based on labor practices with the best being Sweet Earth Chocolates, Equal Exchange, and Divine Chocolate. Hershey’s, M&M/Mars, and Nestlé, however, were the worst rated.

Also take a few minutes out of your day to call, email, or write the companies with the worst abuses and demand better working conditions and more transparency in their supply chain. The ILRF makes it easy. Their website lists many ways to take action, including the current campaign to call Hershey’s.

Keep the plight of Yacouba and the other children in mind as you go to the voting booth as well. Examine the trade policies of candidates and makes sure they support fair-trade practices and workers’ rights rather than the corporate bottom-line. Note if they support increased funding and other initiatives to address the root causes of child labor such as poverty, lack of adequate education, conflict, and discrimination.

Remember, chocolate is not the only good produced with high levels of child labor. Educate yourself about how child labor is involved in the production of Firestone tires, Nike apparel, tobacco, cotton, and more.

World Day Against Child Labor is this Saturday, June 12. Take a stand today and demonstrate that children cannot continue to suffer while the world remains silent.

Kaila Clarke is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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