Posts Tagged ‘capitalism’

Reproduced from the Daily Mail and other sources. At Wellthisiswhatithink we are hugely in favour of clean energy and clean cars. But the world needs to tackle this scandal:

  • Sky News investigated the Katanga mines and found Dorsen, 8, and Monica, 4
  • The pair were working in the vast mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • They are two of the 40,000 children working daily in the mines, checking rocks for cobalt

Picking through a mountain of huge rocks with his tiny bare hands, the exhausted little boy makes a pitiful sight.

His name is Dorsen and he is one of an army of children, some just four years old, working in the vast polluted mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where toxic red dust burns their eyes, and they run the risk of skin disease and a deadly lung condition. Here, for a wage of just 8p a day, the children are made to check the rocks for the tell-tale chocolate-brown streaks of cobalt – the prized ingredient essential for the batteries that power electric cars.

And it’s feared that thousands more children could be about to be dragged into this hellish daily existence – after the historic pledge made by Britain and other countries and cart manufacturers to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars  and switch to electric vehicles.

Eight-year-old Dorsen is pictured cowering beneath the raised hand of an overseer who warns him not to spill a rock

Eight-year-old Dorsen is pictured cowering beneath the raised hand of an overseer who warns him not to spill a rock

Young children are working at Congo mines in horrific conditions. A future of clean energy, free from pollution is proposed, but such ideals mean nothing for the children condemned to a life of hellish misery in the race to achieve this goal.

Dorsen, just eight, is one of 40,000 children working daily in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The terrible price they will pay for our clean air is ruined health and a likely early death.

Almost every big motor manufacturer striving to produce millions of electric vehicles buys its cobalt from the impoverished central African state. It is the world’s biggest producer, with 60 per cent of the planet’s reserves.

The cobalt is mined by unregulated labour and transported to Asia where battery manufacturers use it to make their products lighter, longer-lasting and rechargeable.

The planned switch to clean energy vehicles has led to an extraordinary surge in demand. While a smartphone battery uses no more than 10 grams of refined cobalt, an electric car needs 15kg (33lb).

He then staggers beneath the weight of a heavy sack that he must carry to unload 60ft away in pouring rain

He then staggers beneath the weight of a heavy sack that he must carry to unload 60ft away in pouring rain.

Goldman Sachs, the merchant bank, calls cobalt ‘the new gasoline’ but there are no signs of new wealth in the DRC, where the children haul the rocks brought up from tunnels dug by hand.

Adult miners dig up to 600ft below the surface using basic tools, without protective clothing or modern machinery.

Sometimes the children are sent down into the narrow makeshift chambers where there is constant danger of collapse.

Cobalt is such a health hazard that it has a respiratory disease named after it – cobalt lung, a form of pneumonia which causes coughing and leads to permanent incapacity and even death.

Even simply eating vegetables grown in local soil can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, thyroid damage and fatal lung diseases, while birds and fish cannot survive in the area.

No one knows quite how many children have died mining cobalt in the Katanga region in the south-east of the country. The UN estimates 80 a year, but many more deaths go unregistered, with the bodies buried in the rubble of collapsed tunnels. Others survive but with chronic diseases which destroy their young lives. Girls as young as ten in the mines are subjected to sexual attacks and many become pregnant.

Dorsen and 11-year-old Richard are pictured. With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.

Dorsen and 11-year-old Richard are pictured. With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.

When Sky News investigated the Katanga mines it found Dorsen, working near a little girl called Monica, who was four, on a day of relentless rainfall.

Dorsen was hauling heavy sacks of rocks from the mine surface to a growing stack 60ft away. A full sack was lifted on to Dorsen’s head and he staggered across to the stack. A brutish overseer stood over him, shouting and raising his hand to threaten a beating if he spilt any.

With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.<

Dorsen’s friend Richard, 11, said that at the end of a working day ‘everything hurts’.

In a country devastated by civil wars in which millions have died, there is no other way for families to survive. Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) is donating £10.5million between June 2007 and June 2018 towards strengthening revenue transparency and encouraging responsible activity in large and small scale artisanal mining, ‘to benefit the poor of DRC’.

There is little to show for these efforts so far. There is a DRC law forbidding the enslavement of under-age children, but nobody enforces it.

The UN’s International Labour Organisation has described cobalt mining in DRC as ‘one of the worst forms of child labour’ due to the health risks.

Soil samples taken from the mining area by doctors at the University of Lubumbashi, the nearest city, show the region to be among the ten most polluted in the world. Residents near mines in southern DRC had urinary concentrates of cobalt 43 higher than normal. Lead levels were five times higher, cadmium and uranium four times higher.

he worldwide rush to bring millions of electric vehicles on to our roads has handed a big advantage to those giant car-makers which saw this bonanza coming and invested in developing battery-powered vehicles, among them General Motors, Renault-Nissan, Tesla, BMW and Fiat-Chrysler.

Chinese middle-men working for the Congo Dongfang Mining Company have the stranglehold in DRC, buying the raw cobalt brought to them in sacks carried on bicycles and dilapidated old cars daily from the Katanga mines. They sit in shacks on a dusty road near the Zambian border, offering measly sums scrawled on blackboards outside – £40 for a ton of cobalt-rich rocks – that will be sent by cargo ship to minerals giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt in China and sold on to a complex supply chain feeding giant multinationals.

Challenged by the Washington Post about the appalling conditions in the mines, Huayou Cobalt said ‘it would be irresponsible’ to stop using child labour, claiming: ‘It could aggravate poverty in the cobalt mining regions and worsen the livelihood of local miners.’

Human rights charity Amnesty International also investigated cobalt mining in the DRC and says that none of the 16 electric vehicle manufacturers they identified have conducted due diligence to the standard defined by the Responsible Cobalt Initiative.

Monica, just four-years-old, works in the mine alongside Dorsen and Richard

Encouragingly, Apple, which uses the mineral in its devices, has committed itself to treat cobalt like conflict minerals – those which have in the past funded child soldiers in the country’s civil war – and the company claims it is going to require all refiners to have supply chain audits and risk assessments. But Amnesty International is not satisfied. ‘This promise is not worth the paper it is written on when the companies are not investigating their suppliers,’ said Amnesty’s Mark Dummett. ‘Big brands have the power to change this.’

After DRC, Australia is the next biggest source of cobalt, with reserves of 1 million tons, followed by Cuba, China, Russia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Car maker Tesla – the market leader in electric vehicles – plans to produce 500,000 cars per year starting in 2018, and will need 7,800 tons of cobalt to achieve this. Sales are expected to hit 4.4 million by 2021. It means the price of cobalt will soar as the world gears itself up for the electric car revolution, and there is evidence some corporations are cancelling their contracts with regulated mines using industrial technology, and turning increasingly to the cheaper mines using human labour.

After the terrible plight of Dorsen and Richard was broadcast in a report on Sky News, an emotive response from viewers funded a rescue by children’s charity Kimbilio. They are now living in a church-supported children’s home, sleeping on mattresses for the first time in their lives and going to school.

But there is no such happy ending for the tens of thousands of children left in the hell on earth that is the cobalt mines of the Congo.

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yoThis well-researched article gives the lie to those that argue that corporate tax rates in America are too high, and continually blame the state of the economy on welfare recipients and the unemployed. If you tire of hearing this nonsense parroted daily by right wing politicians and commentators, I suggest you share this post widely with your friends.

What is bizarre is that here in Australia, and in the UK, American corporations are coming under increasing fire for not paying any taxes locally either. So one is obliged to ask, where is all the money going?

From RT.com

Twenty-six of the most powerful American corporations – such as Boeing, General Electric, and Verizon – paid no federal income tax from 2008 to 2012, according to a new report detailing how Fortune 500 companies exploit tax breaks and loopholes.

The report, conducted by public advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), focuses on the 288 companies in the Fortune 500 that registered consistent profit every year from 2008 to 2012. Those 288 profitable corporations paid an “effective federal income tax rate of just 19.4 percent over the five-year period — far less than the statutory 35 percent tax rate,” CTJ states.

One-third, or 93, of the analysed companies paid an effective tax rate below 10 percent in that timespan, CTJ found.

Defenders of low corporate taxes call the US federal statutory rate of 35 percent one of the highest companies face in any nation. But the report signals how the most formidable corporate entities in the US take advantage of tax breaks, loopholes, and accounting schemes to keep their effective rates down.

“Tax subsidies for the 288 companies over the five years totaled a staggering $364 billion, including $56 billion in 2008, $70 billion in 2009, $80 billion in 2010, $87 billion in 2011, and $70 billion in 2012,” CTJ states. “These amounts are the difference between what the companies would have paid if their tax bills equaled 35 percent of their profits and what they actually paid.”

Just 25 of the 288 companies kept tax breaks of $174 billion out of the $364 billion total. Wells Fargo received the largest amount of tax subsidies – $21.6 billion – in the five-year period. The banking giant was joined in the top ten on that list by the likes of AT&T, ExxonMobil, J.P Morgan Chase, and Wal-Mart.

AFP Photo / Etienne FranchiAFP Photo / Etienne Franchi

 

About 1 in 11 of the 288 companies paid a zero percent effective federal income tax rate in the five years considered.

Pepco Holdings – which supplies utility services to Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and parts of New Jersey – paid a cumulative five-year effective rate of -33 percent, the lowest of any company in that period.

In fact, utilities came out particularly well among other industries.

Reuters / Jonathan ErnstReuters / Jonathan Ernst

 

“The sectors with the lowest effective corporate tax rates over the five-year period were utilities (2.9 percent), industrial machinery (4.3 percent), telecommunications (9.8 percent), oil, gas and pipelines (14.4 percent), transportation (16.4 percent), aerospace and defense (16.7 percent) and financial (18.8 percent),” CTJ reported.

CTJ said the companies are allowed to pay such low federal rates based on factors that include offshore tax sheltering, accelerated asset depreciation based on continued investment, stock options, and industry-specific tax breaks.

“Of those corporations in our sample with significant offshore profits, two thirds paid higher corporate tax rates to foreign governments where they operate than they paid in the U.S. on their U.S. profits,” according to CTJ.

The non-profit group says this lax taxation climate among the most powerful US corporations comes amid an aggressive push by lobby and trade groups on Capitol Hill “to reduce the federal corporate income tax rate, based on the claim that our corporate tax is uncompetitively high compared to other developed nations.”

Just this week, US House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (Republican) introduced a tax reform proposal that would lower the maximum federal effective tax rate to 25 percent.

Though, tellingly, this aspect of the plan – among other attempts at bipartisan consensus in the proposal – renders it no chance of even getting a hearing in the Republican-dominated House during a mid-term election year, when such a conciliatory offering can be used as a cudgel against disapproving conservatives.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) (AFP Photo / Chip Somodevilla)House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) (AFP Photo / Chip Somodevilla)

 

Companies have already disputed CTJ’s report, saying that the study only looks at federal income taxes while ignoring other tax burdens they face, such as on the state and local level. In addition, the companies say low effective rates are part of congressional attempts to offer tax relief to corporate America in order to create larger economic opportunity.

To reverse low corporate federal tax rates, CTJ recommends Congress end corporations’ ability to “defer” taxes on offshore profits; limit use of executive stock options that reduce taxes by “generating phantom ‘costs’” the companies don’t really incur; end accelerated depreciation opportunities; restore the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax; and strengthen corporate income and tax disclosure regulations.

“These findings refute the prevailing view inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway that America’s corporate income tax is more burdensome than the corporate income taxes levied by other countries, and that this purported (but false) excess burden somehow makes the U.S. ‘uncompetitive,’” CTJ concluded.

Centralised wealth creating socialists more effectively than any socialist speaker ... some things haven't changed much since the early 20th century. Indeed, the trend continues.

Centralised wealth creating socialists more effectively than any socialist speaker … some things haven’t changed much since the early 20th century. Indeed, the trend accelerates.

Researching some photos to illustrate this article, and as luck would have it, I came across Charlie Chaplin’s astonishing cry from the heart in The Great Dictator, (see below), calling in both despair and hope for a better world.

It’s a dry old subject, but cracking down on tax avoidance and more equitably sharing the burden of creating a fair and just society would be a good start to creating a world that everyone can enjoy.

The power of centralised wealth is reaching epic proportions, greater than at any time in humanity’s modern history.

One does not have to hark back to the trade union-dominated era of much of the Western world post-WWII, nor to toy with ideas of reviving nationalisation and  government-owned enterprises (although in Australia renewed Government ownership of Qantas should be considered in return for taxpayer support) to see that the current situation is a million miles from the idealistic dreams of a participatory, share-owning democracy where capitalism would produce widespread wealth.

Concepts of “trickle down” economics from low-tax regimes have been comprehensively debunked as nonsense. I am a fan of markets that are as free as practically possible, but what business needs to face up to is that with freedom comes responsibility.

Where the Directors and Boards of massive corporations devote the bulk of their time to avoiding tax rather than growing their businesses, democratic Government must intervene to correct the balance.

If they do not, the reaction will be severe. The people are beginning to work it out: machine men with machine minds and machine hearts – be warned.

 

You, the people, have the power. Look up. Look up. Naive? Perhaps. But it is wonderfully, inspirationally naive. Little wonder the “powers that be” in America hated Chaplin with a passion. If you haven’t seen it before, I warmly recommend it.

As you will see from the page I have linked to below, there is a growing movement in Canada and America to persuade people to stop buying crap for the sake of it. Indeed, frankly, to get out of the habit of buying stuff at all.

http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/bnd

The campaign has received worldwide coverage on CNN, Al Jazeera and others. It is, essentially, an anti-consumption movement highlighting the deleterious global economic and ecological effects of consumerism. You can get the message by watching this little ad.

The anti-consumerist message has grown out of both the Occupy movement, which seeks to take back control of the narrative (and actions) of our society from big business and government, and also the ecological movement, the “think Green” or “think Small” thread which has been running now since about the later 60s or 70s.

Instinctively I think this is right. Which is why, on 26th November, which is “World” Buy Nothing Day, my 24th Wedding Anniversary gift to my wife will be to draw her my own greetings card, and give her nothing bought from a shop. I will, instead, dig the garden and cut her some roses, or do some extra housework, or cook her a lovely meal, or take her out for a nice long ramble somewhere we’ve never been before. And I know she will understand and approve, which is probably why we’ve managed to stay married for 24 years.

But my real problem is, I work in an industry which is dedicated to increasing consumerism, while being personally convinced that its effects are toxic. Not just to the planet, but also to people’s lives.

Is this really what we hope for ourselves and our children?

My problem is this. At one and the same time I can believe – sincerely – that advertising is a good thing because it promotes freedom of choice and informed populations, just as I simultaneously weep that it encourages us all to put value on things that are essentially unnecessary or value-less.

Stuff.

We all spend money on stuff we don’t really need, because we are encouraged relentlessly to do so. We are told, repeatedly, that the world judges us by how much stuff we have accumulated, and even though we don’t really believe it, we keep on accumulating just in case. We don’t really believe in the Joneses looking over our back fence, but we check for them from under hooded eyelids anyway.

And it’s not just a rich Western phenomenon. As soon as developing populations get wealthy enough, they enthusiastically show signs of the same sickness. It’s a combination of innate human greed and mass media manipulation, and it worries me deeply.

I don’t want consumerism to end, per se.

I am, on balance, a “growth” believer not a “no-growth” believer.

It’s easy in the West, for example, to sneer at consumerism but ignore the fact that much of the stuff we buy is now made by poorer people overseas, and if we didn’t buy it they’d be even poorer than they are. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that the rest of the world wants TV sets and air conditioning and motor cars, and transferring our wealth (accumulated over centuries of colonial exploitation) to their societies is one way to redress the imbalance of wealth in the world.

What the f*** happened? Why, WE happened, Barney. We happened.

But then as we do that, they become trapped in the same unsatisfying cycle of consumerism that has us in its thrall, and one day the whole planet will be rich consumers and then there won’t be any planet left to divvy up, and we will all sit around and look at each other confused and in mutual recrimination.

The answer, I believe, and it is a messy and slow and inadequate answer, is to prevail on private industry – through intelligent, thoughtful public pressure – and government pressure, acting as our representatives – to ensure that private business takes into account legitimate ecological fears, in particular, that they might not otherwise consider.

Just as we no longer produce lead-painted toys for children to lick, so we need to insist that those who feed our addiction to stuff do so with maximum thought about wise energy use, recyclable materials, smart technologies that have a lighter footprint on the planet, and labour and capital practices in developing countries that sees reinvestment in things they badly need, like decent housing, clean water, health care, and sustainable agriculture. And if they don’t, some sort of sanction is needed to ensure they do.

At the same time, we need to persuade consumers in the West to think more globally about the choices they make.

Hamilton Island Sailing by Jenie Yolland

We’re lucky: we’re rich. Maybe we can afford just a little more to buy a high-quality – read long-lasting – handmade item from around the corner, rather than just buy the cheapest possible item manufactured on a production line in India or China.

The result will be both to support local craftspeople and also to encourage overseas suppliers to up their game. Like, er, you could choose handmade beautiful glassware from my wife.

(Blatant plug going out to millions of Wellthisiwhatithink readers, please add that to your wedding anniversary gifts, darling.)

And we need to persuade Westerners to invest in people, rather than just in things, as ways to show our love for our folks back home. Such as giving the gift of food, books and education, technology support, medicine – or even just clean water – to overseas communities in lieu of just buying more crap every time.

Every now and then, as I wrote about a few days ago on World Toilet Day, I buy clean water for an overseas community and give a card with that message in to my gift recipient at home. It’s always appreciated.

And I know that my gift really is the gift that keeps on giving, to people for whom the basics of life are denied without our help.

Years ago, I was in South Africa soon after the ANC government first came to power.

As we sat drinking sundowners at our immaculately manicured whiteman’s house in a delightful English cottage garden, which required watering liberally every day, I watched a long line of Zulu women walking back along the dusty path by the house to their nearby village, singing to encourage themselves as they swung their arms in time to their song.

On their heads were red earthenware pots filled with water drawn from the nearby river.

Trust me when I tell you, these pots were so large and so heavy – empty – that you would have struggled to lift them, let alone walk along, seemingly unperturbed, with them full of gallons of precious water balanced on your head.

Their stoic dignity affected me greatly, and still does to this day.

They would perform this trek (how ironic that “trek” is a word so associated with the white Afrikaaner Boers) twice a day. Once before dawn, once before the evening meal.

The next day, I was privileged to be granted a discussion with a newly appointed ANC government official in Durban, the mother of an old family friend, and we spent much of the hour she graciously gave me talking about water.

She kindly and politely listened to my community politics experience from the UK and Australia, and then put it in the context of a society where maybe a third of the 35 million or so black people did not have access to running water.

We discussed the women with their pots and she sighed deeply. “Imagine the difference it would make”, she said to me, “imagine what it would mean as a feminist issue, if just one tap was centrally installed in their village, or one well dug”.

She made a note of the location on a pad. But she was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the work to be completed.

“We don’t have roads to lots of these places,” she explained.

“No doctors. The homes are little more than corrugated iron sheets, and it gets damned hot. People don’t sleep properly. Do people think black people don’t feel the heat? Preventable disease is rife. The people can’t fix things up for themselves because in some communities unemployment is 100%.”

She looked at me directly. “I am damn glad the world stood up to the apartheid regime on our behalf, but now is when we need the help. We got rid of the Nationals; where is the help we need now?

It would be such a great start, you know, if those women didn’t have to walk there and back every day.”

As I left, her exquisitely beautiful young Zulu receptionist smiled at me with a sudden flash of impossibly white teeth, and shyly said “It must be nice in Australia, eh? I’d love to be in Australia. No money here.”

Yes, yes. Yes it is. It is nice to be in Australia. It’s so nice, I really don’t need anything else to make it any nicer, except maybe another few productive years and good health, please God. And that’s why, on Monday, I’ll be giving someone else that I dont know some water to thank my wife for 24 years of support. Because an ad guy persuaded me I shouldn’t buy my wife a gift she doesn’t really want or need, and another ad guy then reminded me I need to keep giving away water.

And I’ll try and feel better about myself, and my life, and my industry. You can too. Click the link.

Make it “Buy Something That Matters Day”.

http://www.charitywater.org/