Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Book Launch: Africa's New Oil @ SOAS


Date & Time: Monday 8 June 2015, 6:30-8:30PM

Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG

Speakers: Celeste Hicks, author & journalist; Gonyi Ajawin, Associate at Fasken Martineau LLP; Barnaby Briggs, Managing Director, FTI Consulting; Jim Cust, Director of Data & Analysis, Natural Resource Governance Institute. Chaired by Bronwen Manby, Visiting Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, LSE.

In recent years, technological advances, higher commodity prices and an insatiable global thirst for energy have meant that African oil is increasingly in demand. Countries as far apart as Niger, Uganda, Chad, Ghana and Kenya are looking at the prospect of almost unimaginable flows of money into their national budgets.

But the story of African oil has usually been associated with conflict, corruption and disaster, with older producers such as Nigeria, Angola and Cameroon having little to show for the many billions of dollars they’ve earned. In this eye-opening book, former BBC correspondent Celeste Hicks questions the inevitability of the so-called ‘resource curse’, revealing what the discovery of oil means for ordinary Africans, and how China’s involvement threatens a profound change in Africa’s relationship with the West.

Join us as the author and a panel of experts explore oil production on the continent, an issue that will likely transform the fortunes of a number of African countries – for better or for worse.

This is a free event but please register for tickets here to ensure entry.



                      

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Election is Irrelevant: The Racket Always Wins

By Matt Kennard, author of The Racket 
When you go to vote tomorrow, do it knowing that it won’t make any difference. The Racket always wins. 

Low-intensity democracy

If voting mattered, be sure they’d outlaw it immediately. The United Kingdom is what is known as a low-intensity democracy: we put a cross in a box every five years but the social relations of the country, the protection of our rich elite, remains solid, untouched. We go out to vote for the puppets, and can’t see the puppeteers.
Former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said: “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” In the UK, we’ve chosen the latter, and our democracy has become like Father Christmas to a toddler: most want to believe it exists, but have nagging doubts based on the evidence. Can you have democracy in a country where 0.6 per cent of the population own 50 per cent of the land? Doesn’t that sound like feudalism? Isn’t a country where the richest 1% own as much as the poorest 55% of the population a plutocracy?

The racket rules, OK?
The people who really run our country, the racket, are a small collection of financiers, bankers and businessman. They don’t do losing. They back all the horses. And if they don’t back you – well, good luck. They own our media, our economy, our housing, increasingly our schools and hospitals, and, most important, you owe them money. That’s your credit card and mortgage. Our politicians owe them, too. For their generous no-strings-attached donations. They have the three main parties – the only ones that can conceivably lead a government in the next parliament – bought and sold, stitched up.
Perhaps the best indication of people’s sense that the main parties should have a big R after their name for the “Racket Party”, instead of Labour/ Conservative/ Liberal Democrat, is the turnouts at general elections in recent decades. The last four elections have seen the lowest percentage of Britons since 1945 turning out to vote. People know that it’s futile – the system is rigged, the horses have different stripes but all have the same owner. In the UK, we now have a sort of bastardised version of Argentina’s Peronism, where everyone is a member of the Peronist Party, but you can choose your “wing”. Here all our mainstream candidates are standing for The Racket, but you can choose whether to be on the “left” (Racket-Labour) or “right” (Racket-Conservatives) tendency.
If anyone tried to combat the structures that ensure this inequality, the racket will crush them. But no viable candidate will ever try it because they know they will be ruined – largely by the racket-owned media. Ed Miliband put forward the tepid idea of capping energy prices and the corporate media went apoplectic, casting him as the Second Coming of Lenin. That’s how extreme the “centre” is now in the UK – you cannot touch the racket’s bottom line. That’s de facto unconstitutional now.
Of course there’s a whole ideological industry constructed to legitimate theft from the poorest to the richest. They tell you that we need a “business-friendly” economy that of course means they pay less tax. They tell you we need to “cut the deficit” because it gives them an excuse to destroy any sense of solidarity with the less well off. They say we our NHS is “inefficient” and “insolvent” so they can get their hands on what has already become endless lucrative money-generating contracts. They also have the ultimate blackmail tactic. Since Margaret Thatcher destroyed industry in the UK, and switched our development model to being the “financial capital of the world”, growing fat on unregulated Wild West money, the tax receipts from the financial sector have become vital to our country. Tax from just the financial services industry in the year ending 2013 totalled £65bn or nearly 12 per cent of all tax receipts. You have to keep these guys happy or they’ll tank you.
Hope lies with the people
What is amazing to me is how humane and decent the British people remain even though they live under maybe the most disgusting and reactionary press in the Western world (which spouts this guff endlessly). The indoctrination only goes so far. In the leaders debate, Nicola Sturgeon became an overnight star because she argued for not selling off the NHS, defending migrants as like us, and generally acting like a human being. She was attacked because the racket knows they are at massive odds with the population. There is a lie that Britain is a genetically “conservative” nation. But despite endless brainwashing from the racket’s media organs about the benefits of privatization and against tax hikes on the wealthy, 48% of people polled in 2014 believed that tax increases to support the NHS were favorable, while just 21% supported introducing fees instead. It’s quite incredible that the mountain of lies and dissembling hasn’t worked. And it scares the racket.
When Sturgeon hit that chord with the people, away from the mediation by the racket’s media infrastructure, they went after her. The FCO memo which purported to have her favoring David Cameron to stay on as Prime Minister was a typical dirty trick by the racket when it sees it’s power, and the delusions that sustain it, seeping away. But the pollution they pump into society may be starting to dissipate.
Labour is no alternative

Many governments in the world have a program called COG, or Continuity of Government, which is enacted should the country undergo a serious emergency like nuclear war and allow government to continue operating. Well, the world of finance and business has a COG program in the UK that means they can continue to make their money whoever gets into power. They are often even the same people. Our politico-financial overlords pass through the revolving door between the world of finance and government – making a killing on the way out, and making the climate right for that killing whilst in the parliament. Alan Milburn, the former Labour health secretary who started the privatization of the NHS, left government and became a consultant for Bridgepoint Capital, a venture capital firm involved in financing private health care companies moving into the NHS. He was later appointed social mobility “tsar” in the coalition. These people don’t have political principles – all they see is pound signs, everywhere.
Things like the letter from 103 businessmen in the Daily Telegraph warning that Labour “threatens the recovery” (what recovery?) is to be expected. A full half of Britain’s richest hedge funders have given money to David Cameron in this election cycle - £19m in total.  That’s to be expected, too. But the moralizing from Labour is a sick joke. Just last month it was revealed that the largest donor to Labour in recent years (£600,000) is a London-born hedge fund manager Martin Taylor. People like Taylor aren’t giving to Labour because they thinks the party is opposed to the racket running our country. Taylor is giving the money because he knows Labour support it.
It is true that if the racket get the Tories it will probably be fractionally easier to continue the redistribution of money from the British people into their pockets. But many programs that are making this easier – from the privatization of the NHS to private sector funding in schools – were started under the previous Labour government. Labour have always been a sell-out party – you can gauge that by looking at the state of Britain today. They have been in power collectively for more than 25 years since the Second World War, and we still have five families who own more wealth than 12.6 million people put together. Labour has never been an anti-racket party, but in their current incarnation the extremity of their lust for privatization and selling off Britain is particularly ugly.
The racket is over...if you want it

Not all is lost. It is true that a vote for the Greens in the UK, is an anti-racket vote – but that’s exactly why it’s also a futile vote. If the Greens started being proper players in the electoral system, they would come under concerted attack, and/or coopted by the world of big business, as Labour has been. So vote for the Greens now, but know it won’t make a difference. When they are a threat, you’’ll know about it. If we mock the election rather than revere it we’re halfway to making progress. Now is the time to work outside the system, to push from the sidelines and change the frame of debate. We can enter on our own terms. That’s what has happened recently in Greece and particularly Spain. In Spain, the indignados and Occupy movement have led to Podemos – now the most popular political party in Spain. And it’s anti-austerity, anti-racket, and popular. They waited until the time was right and pounced. Reforming Labour, if it ever was an option, must surely be a dead proposal now.
Despite constant harping on the success of the “recovery” the UK is on the cusp of something big. There has been no recovery for a majority of people under the Coalition – hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable and destitute people have had their lives torn apart. That much pain and anger will not stay subdued. The corporate take over of everything in our society, too, is pulling the elastic-band even more taught. When it snaps, it might look worse than the riots. Or better – we could have our own Syriza.
I’ve just written a book which looks at the mechanics of how the racket runs the global economy, and the UK is a microcosm of a global trend: the ideological convergence of mainstream political parties in societies increasingly dominated by corporations and private capital. Democracy is now a shell – we don’t have political parties, we have a racket. And we must see it – and bring it down. But that won’t happen at the ballot box.

By Matt Kennard, Fellow at the Centre for Investigative Journalism and author of The Racket: a Rogue Reporter vs the Masters of the Universe


Friday, 24 April 2015

Everything Must Go


As part of our plan at Zed to mark Fashion Revolution Day, we wanted to feature the work of an ethical designer and find out a bit more about how they work and how they developed their brand.

We came across the work of Alex Noble through TRAID and were so intrigued and impressed by his EMG Initiative we decided to get in touch and ask a few questions.  

Alex was more than happy to answer our questions and share the Look Book of his most recent project with us.  The profits from 'Rights of Massive' will buy birth certificates for 119 children of garment workers in Bangladesh so they can be recognized as citizens, go to school and get medical treatment.





Zed: Could you tell us a little more about the aims of EMG Initiative and the philosophy behind it?

Alex: The key aim of EMG is to address sustainability by using waste or remnant material to create product or objects, to celebrate design practices by using waste from the creative industries, and to support causes and charities we believe in through the communication of our projects and the sales of the products we create.

The philosophy is 'creative input for a positive output'

Zed: What are some of the biggest obstacles you face when it comes to creating sustainable products? 
Alex: I think the problem lies within the culture of mass consumption. The industry doesn't support sustainable products as its obsolescence that creates jobs, seasons, trends and turn over.
If shoppers were encouraged to buy sustainable products then a huge chunk of the fashion industry would disappear. Which would be great for human rights issues and the environment, but bad for the overall economy.
Sustainable produce is about ethical production, quality materials and production which means it will last, and a timeless design that stands the test of time, or even transforms through time.

Zed: Do you think it is possible for ethical clothing lines and sustainable labels to move into the mainstream and take up the majority of the market?
Alex: I think a lot of communication with the consumer will need to happen first.
The whole psychology behind consumption and shopping needs to be addressed and retrained. Shoppers need to be educated and engaged with the realities of the clothing industry, production chains, how to make healthy choices, and spend more on fewer items.
The whole idea of 'retail therapy' is corrupt, but you could really feel good about your purchases, not just momentarily, if you knew they supported a positive culture in production.
It's extremely complicated because of the difference in price between whats on offer on the high streets in comparison to ethical brands. I think the big brands will need to play a key role too.
Zed: What did the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory mean to you?  Do you think much has changed in the industry in the two years since the disaster?

Alex: It was a confounding moment in the early plans for EMG and the calling towards addressing the industry and my own work on these issues.
Rana Plaza collapse was an awful, needless tragedy that through receiving a global audience, has come to be the representative for so many related issues. Because of the scale it created a broader call to arms, beyond the existing charity work being done in these areas, but a wider industry reaction, which addressed governments and super brands, and started to highlight the corruption of the high street and tarnish the 'cheap' price tags appearing on posters and in shop windows.
I think there is a larger community and focus on ethics and sustainability within the design and editorial industry but it could definitely be bigger. It needs to be top of the agenda for big changes in legislation to happen.
There have been small victories in the factories around health and safety issues but they are predominantly still a place of exploitation and human rights abuses.
There is a long way to go, but there are many charities, activists and passionate designers working towards rectifying the wrongs and cultivating a positive production chain and circular economy.

Follow Alex on Twitter @Alexnoblestudio and @EMGINITIATIVE

Who Made My Clothes?



On 24th April 2013, the dangerously precarious Rana Plaza factory in Savar, Bangladesh collapsed. The death toll reached 1,129 with a further 2,515 people injured following their rescue from the ruins of the building.

Cracks had appeared in the walls and floor days before the building collapsed, prompting some of the commercial businesses and private renters to immediately evacuate the building. The garment workers, however, were instructed to return to the building the following day and continue working or face losing their jobs. The building then collapsed during morning rush hour.

Following the disaster, ethical fashion pioneer, Carry Somers founded the initiative Fashion Revolution Day, which has marked, and will continue to mark, the anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza Factory.  We came across the initiative whilst working on the publication of Andrew Brooks' Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes, which Carry and her team have been hugely supportive of.  Carry was kind enough to answer some questions we've had arising from publishing Clothing Poverty and discovering this world of sustainable fashion.


Zed: Do you think much has changed in the industry in the two years since the Rana Plaza disaster?  Will we look back on Rana Plaza as a moment which prompted a shift in consciousness?


Carry: In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza collapse, everywhere I looked, there were newspaper articles calling for a more ethical fashion industry. The Rana Plaza catastrophe was a metaphorical call to arms. Fashion Revolution Day was a way to channel that concern into a longstanding campaign so that the victims of Rana Plaza and all the other tragedies that have occurred in the name of fashion will never be forgotten. An annual day on the anniversary of the tragedy will keep the most vulnerable in the supply chain in the public eye.

The disaster has opened up a policy window for significant change in the sector.   Whilst this is a symptom of the problem, it gives us an opportunity to set a new agenda to overcome the causes. We need to change the fashion industry through a variety of routes: supporting producers and unions, working towards policy and legislative change, and through consumer pressure. 

There have been many improvements in the fashion supply chain since the dust has settled on the Rana Plaza disaster, although it is unfortunate that it took a tragedy of that scale to start to bring about change.

The Bangladesh Accord is a significant milestone towards better working conditions in Bangladesh, and hopefully throughout the global fashion industry. The new business model being developed is based more on a bottom up than a top down approach, with stakeholder engagement throughout the supply chain, trade union engagement, amendments to labour law, improved training and investment in improvements to fire and building standards.

However, there is still more to be done. The increase in the minimum wages in Bangladesh seems good news, but workers have seen little real benefit as this had a knock on effect on prices charged by slum landlords and food shops. The minimum wage still only covers 60% of the cost of living in a slum.  There is a need for more, and stronger, trade unions, and more building inspectors.

What will really keeps factories compliant is when all workers have a voice and they can speak out when something is wrong.   Fashion Revolution helps to give a voice to the makers of our clothes, highlighting their stories through our Meet Your Maker blog, and showing where changes needs to happen.


Zed: Are you ever faced with any hostility from big brands that don’t particularly prioritise ethics and sustainability?

Carry: Never hostility.  Just apathy, which is far worse.


Zed: In Clothing Poverty Andrew takes the stance that the consumer isn’t to blame for the state of the industry, and we cannot rely on them to change it.  Would you agree with this?
 
Carry: The consumer may not be to blame for the state of the fashion industry, but that isn’t to say that the consumer can’t play a crucial role in helping to change the industry. We’re not asking people to boycott their favourite stores; we want to change the fashion industry from within.  By asking the brands and retailers where we like to shop #whomademyclothes? we can put pressure on them to be more transparent about their supply chains and help to build a more open and connected fashion industry. We believe that we can use the power of fashion to catalyse change and help create a more sustainable future.


Ultimately brands and retailers will listen because they care what their customers think.  I was told by an industry insider that for every person who took an inside-out selfie and contacted the brand last year, the brands took it as representing 10,000 other people who thought the same way, but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it. We have incredible power as consumers - if we choose to use it. 
 
Zed: Clothing Poverty ends with a call for activism and critical research to build momentum and find solutions to the problems posed by economic globalisation.  Do you think the problem of sustainability in the fashion industry is gaining momentum and are we getting any closer to finding a solution to these problems?

Carry: Sustainability is gaining momentum, but just not fast enough.  For Fashion Revolution this year, we are focussing on transparency as we believe this is a prerequisite to creating a more sustainable industry. 

The Australian Fashion Report from 2013 found that 61% of brands didn’t know where their garments were made and 93% didn’t know where the raw materials came from. We need to re-establish the broken connections in the fashion supply chain before we can start to find solutions to the many social and environmental problems within the fashion industry.  This is why we are calling on the fashion value chain to engage in a demonstrable commitment to transparency by telling their customers #whomademyclothes on Fashion Revolution Day.

Follow @Fash_Rev and use #whomademyclothes? to join the conversation.