Top Stories

October 22, 2013

Human Rights

Google to shield news organisations and human rights groups from cyber attacks

Google has announced that it will begin to shield news organisations and human rights groups from cyber attacks as part of a new package of services which is designed to support free expression on the internet.  The company will offer free protection for websites against cyber attacks that flood them with junk traffic from hundreds or thousands of computers to take websites offline. Project Shield is being offered as part of the company’s ‘Google Ideas’ think-tank, which is accepting applicants for the project and is focused on websites that are subject to cyber attacks for censorship purposes, such as human rights, election monitoring and political sites.  CJ Adams, an associate with Google, said that the company was “able to take the people who face the greatest threats to attacks and get them behind our protection. If anyone purchases someone else’s silence, that hurts the Internet and free expression.” (Forbes; Reuters)



China steams at Starbucks coffee prices

Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee chain, has come under fire in China for charging Chinese consumers higher prices than in other countries.  China Central Television, the official state broadcaster, has accused Starbucks of swindling consumers by charging Rmb27, equivalent to $4.43 for a medium latte, a third more than it does in the US.  The US coffee chain is the latest company to have come under scrutiny from Chinese media over its pricing practices; earlier this year Apple and Nestle also faced pressure in China from state media and regulators to change their pricing. Wang Zhendong, the director of the Coffee Association of Shanghai, said that "Starbucks has been able to enjoy high prices in China, mainly because of the blind faith of local consumers in Starbucks and other Western brands." Starbucks said that its pricing strategy is based on local market costs, including infrastructure investment, real estate and labour, and that the higher prices reflect higher costs in China. (BBC; Financial Times*)

CEO vows Co-op Bank will retain its ethical stance

Euan Sutherland, the chief executive of the Co-operative Bank, has pledged that despite a majority stake in the UK bank being sold to US hedge funds and other institutional investors, the bank will stick to its ethical stance.  In its mission statement to its 7.2 million UK customers, the Co-operative Group states that “we don’t answer to shareholders, we answer to you.”  The pledge, which has formed the Co-op’s foundations since its 1844 inception, has led to customers displaying widespread hostility to the prospect of US hedge funds and other investors gaining control of the bank.  Mr Sutherland said that the Co-operative Group was “embedding co-operative principles in the constitution of the bank to guarantee them” after social media sites erupted with customers asking where they should move their money.  Adam Scorer, the director of the UK campaign group Consumer Futures, said that “hedge funds may retain the co-operative ethos for fear of losing customers in droves. But they’ll need to convince us it’s not just another bank.” (Financial Times*)

Responsible Investment

Report: UK universities have £5.2 billion invested in fossil fuel industry

According to a report by the UK student campaign organisation People & Planet, UK universities have invested £5.2 billion in the fossil fuels industry, the equivalent of £2,083 invested per student.  The study, Knowledge and Power: Fossil fuels universities, which was also produced by the UK oil and gas watchdog Platform and the US divestment group, states that senior executives from BP and Shell have received 20 awards and honorary degrees from UK universities over the past decade and that “UK universities have become the victims of corporate capture at the hands of the fossil fuel sector.”  Bill McKibben, the founder of, said that “severing our ties with the companies digging up the carbon won’t bankrupt them – but it will start to politically bankrupt them, and make their job of dominating the planet’s politics that much harder.”  (Blue & Green Tomorrow)


US NGO launches sustainable fisheries toolkit

The US Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has launched a fisheries toolkit to help fishermen and seafood companies to design and implement management systems to restore the sustainability and profitability to fisheries around the world.  EDF said that the toolkit provides low cost and replicable solutions to help fishermen and fishery managers achieve economic and ecological recovery, even in fisheries that are lacking adequate data.  This follows a 2012 study in the Science journal which stated that 80 percent of global fisheries lacked the needed data for stock assessments, which is recognised as one of the first steps towards creating sustainable fisheries.  The launch of the toolkit follows a call by a World Bank panel for collaboration between businesses, governments and the science community to reverse the damage to the world’s oceans. (Environmental Leader)

Less CO2 per passenger by air than by car claims Virgin Atlantic

The UK airline Virgin Atlantic has claimed that travelling by air is greener than travelling by car.  The company has stated that in 2012, its CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre fell to 119.3g, in contrast with the UK 2012 average car emissions which are 133.1gCO2/km.  Virgin Atlantic has attributed its reduction in emissions to carrying “more passengers at higher load factors” as well as investment in more fuel efficient aircraft.  However, environmental groups have questioned the data, particularly after a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson admitted that the car emissions data is based on just one person travelling in a car.  The World Wildlife Fund’s UK head of business, Dax Lovegrove, said that Virgin Atlantic and other airlines should "focus less on per passenger and per kilometre CO2­ efficiencies and more on managing the overall carbon footprint from the general rise in passengers travelling over great distances." (Edie)

*Requires subscription