Earth Day 2014 | The problem with palm oil

Buying ethically sourced products has become a part of everyday life for consumers wishing to minimise their impact on the environment. However, many of the products we don’t think twice about purchasing may actually contain one of the most harmful ingredients of all, palm oil. Sean Mowbray introduces the ubiquitous culprit and the measures being taken by both activists and industry to clean up its production.

 

Cargill's Problems With Palm Oil

The raw product: palm fruit being harvested in Sumatra, Indonesia. © Rainforest Action Network/Creative Commons

Palm oil has become one of the essential foodstuffs of the modern world. Often listed under the vague term ‘vegetable oil’ it can be difficult to find out whether a particular product actually contains palm oil. However, it is thought to be present in around 1 in 10 grocery items (including ice cream, breakfast cereals, ready meals, washing up liquids and cosmetic products) and to account for roughly one third of global vegetable oil usage, making it nearly impossible to avoid.

As one of the cheapest and high yielding oil crops, palm oil production has increased substantially since the 1960s. Today, the industry produces approximately 50 million tonnes of palm oil annually, but it is estimated that demand will have doubled by 2030, and tripled by 2050.

Palm oil is clearly an extremely important – even staple – commodity of the twenty-first century, and provides an essential source of income for nearly 4.5 million people in Indonesia and Malaysia alone, together responsible for 85% of global output. The problem is not the product itself, but the environmentally destructive methods involved in its production. Continue reading

Power Africa: the ethics of electrification

The face of aid is changing; However, when energy is involved, sustainable solutions remain as elusive as ever. June Sun questions U.s. plans to power Sub-Saharan Africa with renewable energy while the richest country in the world continues to enjoy the dirty benefits of coal.

 

Power to the city

Sunset over Johannesburg, South Africa: one Sub-Saharan country that has benefitted greatly from electrification. © J Endres/Creative Commons

Power Africa, a U.S. government initiative, was announced by Barack Obama in June 2013. Its aim is to double the number of people with access to power in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has six initial partners: Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, and Liberia. It has the support of a number of U.S. government bodies, including USAID and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. development finance institution.

Supporters of the initiative have argued that electrical power – or the lack of it – is the single greatest obstacle to Africa’s development. 70 percent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa lack electricity. The costs of this are enormous. An estimated 3.5 million premature deaths occur every year due to health risks from burning solid fuels. The time available each day for work and study is limited by natural light and there are obvious limitations on economic growth. Even something as basic as keeping food fresh is impossible.

Efforts such as Power Africa are thus incredibly important. The scheme has generally been lauded as innovating on traditional humanitarian aid, by encouraging private sector investment in the continent’s energy sector. Yet, despite all the positive press surrounding the initiative, it fails to recognise the dirty side of the electrification issue. Continue reading

New kid on the subcontinent: Arwind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party

All eyes are on India as the world’s largest democracy prepares to go to the polls on Monday 7 April. While Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi have received the most international media attention ahead of the general election, Vasundhra Singh introduces a third candidate whose people-powered, anti-corruption agenda has been making waves in the national capital.

 

Arvind Kejriwal, anti corruption movement leader, addressing the media.

AAP leader, Arwind Kejriwal, addresses the media. © Joe Athialy/Creative Commons License

It is safe to say that this year has been the most turbulent for Indian politics, as the National Congress – which ruled Delhi for the last 15 years – was finally given the boot in December’s state elections, following an unprecedented run of scandals and corruption charges. What was surprising was that Congress was replaced not by its main rival – the right-wing, nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) – but by a new party, born from the anguish of the everyday Indian, known as the AAP (Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party). Fed up with the ‘Big Two’ Delhiites put their faith in the AAP’s humble leader, Arwind Kejriwal, and the party was elected to form a minority government, with Congress support. Suddenly change was more than just a word thrown around in interviews and speeches: it had a face and a name. Continue reading

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014 | Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus

Every March, the Human Rights watch Film Festival showcases a selection of independent films and documentaries that deal with today’s pressing social issues. We sent DiA Communications and Marketing Manager, Tal Gurevich, to the 2014 London premiere.

 

DA_3_795_600_85

Image courtesy of Dogwoof

In the year that marks the 20th anniversary in power of ‘Europe’s Last Dictator’ – Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus – it is only fitting that Madeleine Sackler’s moving documentary about the resolute struggle of an underground theatre movement against his oppressive regime opened London’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

The documentary centres on Belarus’s latest presidential elections in 2010 and their violent aftermath. Hope for change was shattered when Lukashenko was re-elected in a rigged election with close to 80% of the vote. A vicious crackdown followed and thousands of protestors were beaten, arrested, imprisoned and disappeared. Opposition candidates were subjected to torture and sentenced to years in prison, often in solitary confinement. Continue reading

IWD 2014 | Women’s parliamentary quotas in Pakistan: an insider’s view

One aim of International Women’s Day is to encourage and facilitate more women to take up senior leadership positions in politics and commerce. However, there is much debate over how best to achieve this, especially when it comes to positive discrimination. In our 2014 IWD special, Sidra Khalid examines the pros and cons of women’s parliamentary quotas in her native Pakistan.

 

U.S. Congressmen Conduct Legislative Exchange with Pakistani Parliamentarians

Politicians attend a seminar at the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Studies in 2008. © US Embassy Pakistan/Creative Commons

As a Pakistani, I had long been interested in women’s rights issues when I undertook an internship at the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus office in the Pakistani parliament. I also went on to conduct ethnographic fieldwork focussing on the experiences of women parliamentarians as my undergraduate thesis. The internship itself was a unique and strangely humbling experience. If rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous decision-makers of my country was not enough, I was also made highly aware of the layered complexity of Pakistani politics, in particular the marked difference between genders. Continue reading

Corruption, controversy and ballooning costs: the dark side of the Olympics

as consumers in a globalised world, it’s all too easy to forget the hidden costs of our daily conveniences. But what about those of international sporting events? As the excitement of the Sochi Olympics fades, Connie Fisher asks us to look beyond the hype and the glory to the human consequences of the greatest show on Earth.

 

Olympic Cauldron Relit for Sochi Winter Games 2014, Feb 21st

Sochi 2014′s Olympic flame © GoToVan (Creative Commons)

No major sporting event comes without its problems, but as we have seen with this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the pre-games controversy – especially over LGBT issues – was all but forgotten amidst the thrill and excitement of the sport. However, behind the scenes, massively inflating budgets, corruption and health and safety issues require us to ask whether such events ultimately benefit or hinder the host countries, especially considering the increasing number of successful bids from BRICS nations.

With a whopping $51bn price tag (five times the original $12bn prediction), the Sochi Games have become the most expensive Olympics in history, leading the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to question whether it is time to reassess their budgeting and bidding procedures. The blame for the exorbitant price of the Sochi Games, which weighed in at nearly three-and-a-half times the cost of London 2012, has been placed on corruption endemic within the construction industry and, according to opposition politicians, up to $30bn in kick-backs for figures close to Vladimir Putin. Continue reading

After the Spring: the regression of women’s rights in Egypt

Following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Continuing political instability in Egpyt has thrown women’s liberties into a state of limbo. Amy fleming investigates their mounting repression and the difficult road ahead.

Anti Sexual Harasment March to Tahrir

Women on an anti-sexual harrassment march to Tahrir Square in February 2013. (© Gigi Ibrahim/Creative Commons)

The initial optimism surrounding the Arab Spring has faded fast in Egypt, but nowhere more so than in the case of Egyptian women. Their situation has deteriorated to the extent that the country has won its self the title of “worst place for women in the Arab world”, according to research recently published by the Thomas Reuters Foundation.

The rate of sexual assaults and gender violence on the streets has rapidly increased since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime in 2011. On July 3rd 2013, when protesters were out it force in Cairo, over 80 cases of mob sexual harassment, assault and even rape, were reported in Tahrir Square alone. In some instances even foreign female journalists have been publically sexually assaulted, which put the issue in the spotlight internationally. Continue reading