Thursday, 28 February 2008

Social Watch: New Gender Equity Index

The economic dimension is the next challenge towards global gender equity. More than half the women in the world live in countries that have made no progress towards gender equity in recent years. That is one of the findings of the Gender Equity Index (GEI) 2008 that Social Watch launched here as a contribution to the 52nd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women that will end next March 8, the International Women’s Day. The GEI, developed and calculated by Social Watch, ranks 157 countries in a scale where 100 would imply complete equality between women and men in education, participation in the economy and in decision-making bodies (empowerment).

Yet the highest-ranking country in the world (Sweden) has an index of 89 and the world average if of 61. Finland (85) and Norway (84) follow Sweden in the table, and after that come Germany and Rwanda, both with 80. While the first four countries are among the richest of the world, Rwanda is one of the poorest. German Women are obviously better educated and live longer than those in Rwanda. What the index shows is that the gap separating their condition from those of men is similar. “The GEI for 2008 clearly shows that income alone is no guarantee for gender equity”, emphasizes Social Watch coordinator Roberto Bissio. Countries with very high per capita incomes, such as Luxembourg or Switzerland, have the same equity level as Mozambique, a country with a much lower income level.

For the first time this year, the GEI is able to show recent evolution (last five years) in 133 countries. While there is no enough evidence yet to show the evolution of very populous countries like China and India, the indicators do show that progress towards gender equity is difficult and vulnerable to regressions. Education is the dimension that is closer to complete equity, with a global average of 90. But in education more countries are regressing than those making progresses. Empowerment is the dimension where most countries are showing progress, but it is also the one where the global average is the lowest, reaching only 35 points out of 100. In terms of the economy, there are as many countries where women make progress as countries regressing.

The economic dimension of the gender equity index measures gaps in women's participation in the labour market and in the salaries earned by them as compared to men. Among the 15 top places in economic participation, the Nordic countries – Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland - share the honour with ten of the poorest countries in the world: Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda, Cambodia, Ghana, Viet Nam, Uganda, Madagascar, Kenya and Guinea. At the root of most of the national regressions in the total GEI the index points out to setbacks in the participation of women in the economy. This is the case of Eastern Europe, the region presenting the biggest reversions in this area. Latvia, Belarus, Slovakia or Macedonia, all of them countries that used to enjoy high levels of female participation in the economy are now to be found in the group of those regressing.

According to Genoveva Tisheva, managing director of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation and a member of the Coordinating Committee of Social Watch, “in Eastern Europe women are more often unemployed after the completion of a higher educational degree”. Tisheva argues that “legal and regulatory measures should ensure access to the labour market of young women and other groups of women with less bargaining power and from vulnerable groups”. Tisheva warns that the global trends of trade liberalization “have made of women one of the most flexible participants in the labour market, subjected to deregulation, informalisation, lowering of the social and labour standards”.

Affirmative measures such as gender quotas for political participation in elected bodies and pro-equity regulations in the labour market are behind most of the success stories of countries making progress in the Gender Equity Index.

Find more information about the Gender Equity Index and the complete statistical tables >>> here.

Friends of the Earth launched 'Big Ask' climate campaign across Europe

A Europe-wide climate campaign launched this week by Friends of the Earth Europe and the Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke aims to get governments and the European Union to commit to annual cuts in emissions to fight climate change. The Big Ask brings together Friends of the Earth groups from 17 European countries each of which is asking its government to introduce legally binding annual emission cuts. Together they are asking the European Union to force all member states to cut their emissions year-on-year. Thom Yorke launched the European campaign in Brussels where he presented a symbol of the Big Ask to the European Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas. Thom Yorke has supported the Big Ask campaign in the UK where thanks to two years of campaigning from Friends of the Earth, a ground-breaking climate change bill is currently being made law. Now he is bringing the campaign to the rest of Europe.

Around Europe people are being asked to send a message to their politicians asking them to commit to annual cuts in emissions. Individuals can find out more about their national campaign at the Big Ask website. Different activities took place across the continent to mark the start of the European campaign. In Finland activists raised awareness with snowman rallies in 22 towns and cities while in the Netherlands activists built a dyke in front of the parliament building and invited politicians and celebrities to fill the gaps with sand-bags. At a European level Friends of the Earth Europe wants to see annual emission reductions for all member states and a strong compliance system to guarantee that these cuts really take place.

The Big Ask calls on the European Union to commit to at least 30% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within Europe by 2020 and 90% by 2050. Friends of the Earth Europe has criticised the European Union's recent proposal to cut emissions by only 20% by 2020 and for giving no guarantee that these targets will be met.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Former French minister chosen as Ban’s Special Advisor on Innovative Financing for Development

With official development assistance (ODA) still insufficient to achieve global anti-poverty targets by 2015, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed France’s former foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy to develop and promote new sources of funding, citing the urgent need to fill this critical gap. Douste-Blazy, appointed as Ban’s Special Adviser on Innovative Financing for Development, currently serves as Chairman of the Executive Board of UNITAID – the international drug purchase facility hosted by the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

A doctor by profession, he has held ministerial posts in the French Government in health, culture and foreign affairs. During his tenure as France’s foreign minister, Douste-Blazy strongly advocated for the creation of UNITAID and the implementation in France of a solidarity levy on airline tickets aimed at supporting the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Among his tasks in his new post will be to promote UNITAID and other sources of innovative financing for the achievement of the MDGs and to ensure they are coordinated with the global development agenda. “We are halfway in the timetable with the deadline in 2015, but we are not halfway in terms of results,” Douste-Blazy told reporters last week in New York. “The truth is we are late.”

Douste-Blazy is planning to convene next year the first-ever world conference devoted solely to innovative financing, which will focus on the development funds provided by citizens, local and regional authorities, foundations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), economic and social representatives, faith groups and the private sector.

European business: Greening or greenwashing the economy?

At the 6th European Business Summit in Brussels last week, environment campaigners accused companies involved in the event, titled 'Greening the economy', of being anything but green themselves. With an action and exhibition, Friends of the Earth Europe, Corporate Europe Observatory and Transnational Institute exposed the greenwashing practices of the businesses taking part. The campaigners 'greenwashed' the corporate social responsibility reports of high-profile companies taking part in the summit. The action was designed to expose companies' efforts to attain environmental credentials when in reality their operations have detrimental effects on the environment and local communities worldwide and contribute significantly to global warming.

"If the organisers of the European Business Summit seriously want to discuss a greener economy, why do they invite the most polluting companies and sectors?" asks Paul de Clerck, Corporate Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe. "That an event titled 'Greening the economy' is dominated by dirty laggards instead of green leaders is hypocritical." The European Business Summit (EBS) is an annual high-level conference organised by BUSINESSEUROPE, the lobby organisation of big European companies. During the EBS, business leaders and CEOs meet with European commissioners and top national politicians. This year's event was attended by eight European Commissioners, including Commission president Barroso. The summit provides a floor to some of the most polluting companies in the world and some of the worst performers in their sectors.

Among a host of environmentally dubious companies taking part, sponsoring or attending the summit, the green groups drew particular attention to some for the environmentally harmful impacts of their business behaviour:
* BMW and Volvo: For producing the least fuel efficient cars of the 20 top-selling brands in Europe
* E.on: For owning three of the most polluting power stations in Europe
* Fortis: For investing in controversial companies such as Freeport McMoRan, operator of the world's most polluting gold mine
* Gazprom: For owning the controversial Sakhalin II oil and gas project, which threatens the survival of the last 100 Western Grey Whales
* Lufthansa and KLM: For downplaying the fact that aviation has by far the greatest climate impact of any mode of transport
* Shell: For continuing the climate-polluting practice of gas-flaring in Nigeria and harming the environment and local communities near its refineries around the world.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Debt relief: What’s been achieved since the Birmingham G8?

University of Birmingham is holding a conference on 16 and 17 May to support the city's celebration of the 10th anniversary of Birmingham's G8 meeting in 1998. The 1998 G8 meeting is particularly remembered for the human chain formed around Birmingham city centre by 70,000 people to demand debt cancellation for the world's poorest nations from the G8. Ten years on is an appropriate moment to reflect on impacts, innovations, outstanding problems and priorities for the next decade. Taking part in the conference will be a wide range of analysts of debt and development issues, aid practitioners and policy makers, from recipient and donor countries and multilateral organisations. The programme is organised by theme, with keynote speeches, panels and breakout groups.

The conference has three objectives: to assess the impact of debt relief in poor countries; to analyse problems in debt relief processes and their underlying causes; to discuss reform priorities and innovations. It will be an academic conference with a difference since it kicks off a weekend of events culminating in a high publicity gathering at the International Conference Centre in Birmingham’s city centre on 18 May, organised by Jubilee Debt Campaign with support of Birmingham City Council. Submitted papers that address the conference objectives, including issues underlying debt relief problems, are welcomed. Papers from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds are invited. The organisers also welcome short research briefs (e.g. describing research recently begun), so that upcoming research is publicised at the conference.

Contacts: (for papers and abstracts) and

Saturday, 16 February 2008

ILO convention to protect domestic workers gets ITUC support

Already grouping over one hundred million workers worldwide, the largely female domestic labour force is continuing to grow in line with the rising demand for these services. Whilst contributing to improving the quality of life and living standards of others, domestic workers themselves remain confined within an invisible and very poorly protected segment of the labour market. Although a vital link in the economic chain, they are often deprived of their basic rights and confronted with exploitation and ill-treatment.

Calling on its affiliates to rally to the cause, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is urging the countries represented on the ILO Governing Body to support the proposal to draw up an International Convention specifically to protect domestic workers. Excessive working hours, low wages, inadequate or no social security, sexual harassment, physical abuse, unscrupulous employment agencies, no trade union rights, forced labour – the inventory of abuses drawn up in the document to be submitted to the members of the ILO Governing Body, which will meet in Geneva from 6 to 20 March, highlights the cruel lack of decent work among this category of particularly vulnerable workers, often excluded from national labour legislations and, until now, ignored by international law. "For the international trade union movement, ensuring better protection for domestic workers is one of the keys to promoting decent work, which is at the heart of our action," declared Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the ITUC.

Friday, 15 February 2008

EU fuelling human right disaster in Indonesia

Palm oil production for food and agrofuels is resulting in widespread human rights abuses in Indonesia according to a report released by a coalition of international environmental groups. Losing Ground exposes the huge social problems being fuelled by EU targets to increase the use of agrofuels (often called biofuels) in transport. The report follows new research released last week which revealed that converting peatlands for palm oil in Indonesia releases 423 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels. According to Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth Europe agrofuels campaigner the report shows that as well as being bad for the environment, fuels from palm oil are a disaster for people. “MEPs should listen to the evidence and reject the proposed 10% target at the forthcoming debate on this in the European Parliament. Instead of introducing targets for more agrofuels the EU should insist that all new cars are designed to be much more efficient. Governments must also take a strong position against the target and do their bit to reduce transport emissions by improving public transport and making it easier for people to walk and cycle."

The report by Friends of the Earth, Sawit Watch, and LifeMosaic reveals that oil palm companies often use violent tactics to grab land from indigenous communities with the collusion of the police and authorities. Previously self-reliant families, who were able to meet their own needs from the forest around them, complain of being tricked into giving up their land with the promise of jobs and new developments. Instead they end up locked into debt and poorly paid work, while the bounty of the rainforest is replaced with monotonous oil palm plantations. Pollution from pesticides, fertilisers and the pressing process is also leaving some villages without clean water.

The European Commission has recently proposed a target for 10% of road transport fuel to come from agrofuels by 2020 in an attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, despite mounting evidence that agrofuels fail to deliver such reductions. These targets will fuel a huge expansion in the amount of land used to grow oil palm. Since 2005, Friends of the Earth, Sawit Watch and LifeMosaic have worked closely together on a project aimed at bringing impartial information to communities affected by oil palm plantations in Indonesia, enabling them to make informed decisions about their land and their futures.

Mexico: New ITUC report on core labour standards

Coinciding with Mexico’s trade policy review at the WTO, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) released a new report on the country’s core labour standards. The report highlights that despite the binding nature of the ILO core labour standards that Mexico has ratified, both in law and in practice the country is in breach of those conventions. Furthermore Mexico has only ratified six of the eight core labour standards of the ILO. The report points out that violations regarding trade union autonomy are constant and that many obstacles prevent the effective right to form an independent union. There are numerous examples of government interference in trade union affairs. The ILO’s supervisory bodies have urged the government of Mexico many times to amend its legislation on the right to strike, given the existing broad restrictions on its effective application.

According to the ITUC survey, legislation against discrimination is not enforced adequately in the country and there is a substantial gap between women and men in terms of remuneration, reaching 50% in many sectors. Sexual harassment is a common practice at the workplace, yet is not adequately addressed by the government. Official figures show that there are at least 3 million child workers between the ages of 6 and 14 in Mexico. The ITUC report draws attention to the high degree of drop-out from school in order to go to work. Access to schooling in a language other than Spanish is frequently unavailable, preventing many children of indigenous origin from completing their education. Forced labour, including of children takes place in Mexico, again particularly affecting indigenous people.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

UN members must make decent work a prime commitment, say Global and European trade unions

On the occasion of the 46th session of the United Nations Commission for Social Development, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC) call for agreement on a strong resolution to go forward to the UN General Assembly, asserting the crucial importance of full employment and decent work in the fight against poverty. Trade unions welcome the UN Commission's decision to focus on 'full and productive employment and decent work' as its 2007-2008 priority. Alarming trends in unemployment in the wake of the current global market turmoil and the threat of recession - revealed in the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) new Global Employment Report 2008 - mean urgent action is needed.

A 20-strong trade union delegation in New York is telling the UN Commission that it is crucial for it to agree on a hard-hitting message identifying decent work as a central objective, to be integrated systematically into social, economic and development policies at national, regional and international levels. While global growth in recent years has brought new jobs, many of them are low-paid and low-quality, leaving many working poor unable to support themselves and their families. Worldwide, an estimated 195 million people are likely to be unemployed in 2008.

Policies should aim at quality jobs, education, and skills development, to address youth unemployment and enable people to escape from precarious or informal work – many of them women. Financial resources are key to success, and must be raised through progressive taxation regimes and development cooperation funding. Decent work further entails the full respect of trade unions’ rights to organise and bargain collectively, a lesson all the more important for governments because unions are central actors in achieving greater income equality through fighting poverty and increasing the purchasing power of low-income workers, the trade unions say in a statement.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Food security as key: New biofuels report

If developing countries, particularly commodity producers are to benefit from biofuels sector development, they should consider strategic policy options that do not jeopardise their capacity to maintain sustainable food supply for their populations, according to a new study released by the Common Fund for Commodities at an international forum on biofuels held recently in Kuala Lumpur. “Fundamentally, there is a link between poverty reduction and biofuels sector development that can be promoted,” said Ambassador Ali Mchumo, the managing director of the Common Fund in Amsterdam.

“Both the outcome report and the study offer an assessment of the lifecycle costs and benefits of intensified biofuels production, while providing future outlook; and an attempt to identify the likely challenges and opportunities for commodity producers in developing countries in the coming years,” he said. The Biofuels study is the latest in the Commodity Issues Series commissioned by the Amsterdam-based intergovernmental organisation, whose mandate under the United Nations is to support developing countries that are commodity-dependent to improve and diversify commodities production and trade. It outlines a number of policy recommendations, specifically targeted to commodity-dependent developing countries, interested in broader bio-energy ventures and diversification.

The report further underscores the importance of astute policy formulation around four major areas that are pertinent in the ongoing debate about diversification policies for biofuels sector development, including food security issues and others, such as: energy security; rural and social development; climate change mitigation; export growth and diversification. At the forum in Kuala Lumpur, where member countries represented in the Common Fund were gathered for their annual meeting, prominent international experts made presentations demonstrating how different approaches work in the context of different countries and regions. In the report, the experts, including the lead author of the study, expanded on the potential food security implications of policies that have been undertaken by a number of countries and offered practical experiences gained in various biofuel initiatives in Brazil, India, Madagascar, Peru, Indonesia, as well as in Malaysia.