Top Stories

January 19, 2016


Human Rights

16 multinationals, including Apple, Microsoft and Samsung, accused of child labour by Amnesty International

Amnesty International and African Resources Watch (Afrewatch) have traced cobalt used in lithium batteries sold to 16 multinational brands to mines where human and children rights are heavily violated. The joint report documents the hazardous conditions in which artisanal miners, including thousands of children, mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Children as young as seven were found working in life-threatening conditions. Cobalt is a vital component of lithium-ion batteries that ends up in smartphones, cars and computers sold to millions across the world, by household brands including Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony and Vodafone. Of the 16 companies listed in the report using processed cobalt from Huayou Cobalt, one company admitted the connection while four others were unable to say for certain the source of the cobalt they used. Five denied sourcing the mineral from the firm, despite being listed as customers in company documents and two others said that they did not source cobalt from DRC. Six firms said that they were investigating the claims. (Amnesty, BBC, The Guardian)


UK ethical spending increasing despite retail brands’ ‘disappointing’ trading performances

The UK economic downturn has not dented people’s desire to reduce their impact on the environment or spend on ethical products, in spite of some big UK retail brands recently announcing ‘disappointing’ trading performances. According to the Ethical Consumer Markets Report published by Ethical Consumer magazine and Triodos Bank, ethical spending has continued to grow despite difficult market conditions. The overall value of the ethical market grew from £35 billion to £38 billion; the sales of electric, hybrid and other tax-band A-rated cars are booming, growing by 40 percent to nearly £7 billion; and spending on solar panels rose by nearly 25 percent to £716 million. However, not all sectors were as healthy. Fairtrade food and drink sales fell four per cent, the first shrinking sales reported since the scheme was introduced. The authors suggest that this drop may have been caused by a combination of factors such as falling market share at Sainsbury’s and the Co-op, Fairtrade’s biggest UK grocery retail supporters, along with the growing sales of new supermarkets on the high street, Aldi and Lidl, which have smaller Fairtrade ranges. (Justmeans)


False emissions reporting undermines China’s pollution fight

Widespread misreporting of harmful gas emissions by Chinese electricity firms is threatening the country’s attempts to rein in pollution, with government policies aimed at generating cleaner power struggling to halt the practice. Coal-fired power accounts for three-quarters of China’s total generation capacity and is a major source of the toxic smog that shrouded much of the country’s north last month, creating “red alerts” in dozens of cities, including the capital Beijing. The government has found it hard to impose a tougher anti-pollution regime on the power sector. No official data on the extent of the problem has been released since a government audit in 2013 found hundreds of power firms had falsified emissions data. “Data falsification is a long-standing problem: China will not get its environmental house in order if it does not deal with this first,” said Alex Wang, an expert in Chinese environmental law at UCLA. (Reuters)


Weak EU tests for diesel emissions are ‘illegal’, say lawyers

Planned new ‘real driving emissions’ (RDE) test limits that would let cars substantially breach nitrogen oxide (NOx) standards are illegal under EU law, according to new legal analysis. The proposed ‘Euro 6’ tests would allow diesel cars to emit more than double the bloc’s ‘80 mg per km’ standard for NOx emissions from 2019, and more than 50% above it indefinitely from 2021. Shares in the French car company Renault plunged by up to 20% yesterday on separate news that fraud investigators had searched three company sites and seized computers, as a national probe continues into whether other car companies have used VW-style ‘defeat devices’. The auto industry has been pushing back strongly against regulatory pressure in Brussels though, calling for a speedy approval of the RDE package because “the industry urgently needs clarity”. Firms say that exemptions allowing more NOx to be emitted than standards should permit compensate for potential margins of error in testing. But UK MEP Catherine Bearder said the exemptions were not only morally unjustifiable but also “legally indefensible”. (The Guardian)

Sustainable Development

Feeding the world’s cities: a critical challenge for sustainable development

Food security and nutrition needs to be integrated into urban planning and development, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Deputy Director-General for Natural Resources. Speaking at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, Maria Helena Semedo warned of the difficulties that many cities face in ensuring regular and stable access to adequate food for all. “This will worsen as an increasing proportion of the hungry will be living in urban areas,” she said. More than 50 per cent of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, and this is expected to rise to 70 percent by 2050, particularly in developing countries. Increasing effects of climate change, including storms, floods and other extreme weather events, pose an added threat to how people in cities, especially the poor, access food. Providing healthy diets for the world’s growing urban population requires forging stronger links between rural producers and urban markets and building food systems that are more socially inclusive, environmentally sound and less wasteful, Semedo said. (Eco-Business)


Image source: Super Pit gold mine, Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0