Torex Gold Mine Blockade

This week I took to a useful resource I have used throughout the year; The Human Rights and Business Resource Centre. I love this resource as it gives you easy access to issues from all over the world that I might otherwise miss using my normal news sources. I clicked on a topic I haven’t looked at before: Freedom of Association. I have to say, I don’t know a lot about this topic (although I probably should.)

A quick google has led me back to the Human Rights Act 1998, more specifically article 11:

Freedom of assembly and association

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
  2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.

The article I found under this topic was this one which concerns the removal of a Blockade on the Torex Gold mine in Mexico. I didn’t really understand at first what was meant by a blockade but given article 11 of the Human Rights Act I made an assumption it has something to do with protest. I was right! The entrance to the min was physically blocked due to a peaceful protest by some unionised workers wanting a change to their labour rights.

I thought this an interesting topic, as I know that extractive forms of production such as mining are riddled with human rights issues. What I found interesting about the statement that Torex made about the removal of the blockade was that they said:

‘ The blockade led to conflict between communities and denied to thousands of citizens their constitutionally protected right to work.’

This shows the difficulty of human rights issues, as it’s likely that the workers protesting were only doing so to improve working conditions for themselves and their peers. However, in doing so this caused the mine to be closed for a number of months which meant a lot of people local to the area must have been out of work. The mention of conflict is unsuprising as I’m sure the whole event would tear apart a community. Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken to combat human rights issues, but then in doing so you can breach the rights of others, in this case the right to work. Which then causes tensions and conflict which can impeach on an individuals right to life. I had to do a bit of digging (pun unintended) on this topic but it was definitely worth it.

The Youtube Star Who Fought Back Against Revenge Porn and Won

I’m a bit of a fan of the Guardian long reads section of their website. However, as they are so lengthy in nature, I don’t always have the time to read every single one. This week I discovered that they do a podcast form of their long reads, which means I can listen to them on my commutes to work and uni without having to stare at my phone screen! How very impatient and ‘millenial’ of me. A story that really grabbed me was one concerning a young girl who posted regularly to youtube, who was caught in the midst of a revenge porn scandal. The link to the text version of the story can be found here.

The young girl in question – Chrissy Chambers, had been posting videos to Youtube with her girlfriend for a number of years. Before meeting her girlfriend, Chambers had previously had a relationship with a man, who, upon hearing news of her new relationship, posted videos of himself having sex with Chambers to a number of free porn websites. At first Chambers was oblivious to them, but a commenter on her youtube videos soon started to make her other followers aware of these videos. Chambers had no memory of the videos being recorded, her ex had got her drunk to the point of unconciousness and then slept with her and recorded videos of her without her consent.

I didn’t originally come across this story with the expectation that this would be a business based human rights vilation. ‘Revenge porn’ is a particularly modern phenomenon, one that wouldn’t have been relevent when the Universal declaration was drawn up. However, I definitely think there is a case for this incident violating article 3, particularly the ‘liberty and security of a person.’ After the videos were posted, Chambers recieved death threats which can cause a person to feel extremely unsafe, just from existing. Also, there’s the whole issue with her consent to have sex in the first place, let alone consent to the filming of it.

The section of the story that really grabbed my attention was the part that talked about Chamber’s legal proceedings taken out against her ex boyfriend:

‘A month after finding the videos, Chambers reported her ex to the Atlanta police and travelled to Georgia to make a statement. The police eventually told her that although the videos were shot in the US, they were uploaded in England, so it wasn’t their business to investigate. Chambers and Kam then tried to get help from the police in the UK, who kept referring them back to Atlanta.’

Chambers’ ex boyfriend was British, and seeing as he uploaded the videos there she was essentially told that it wasn’t an issue of concern of her home state, but UK police claimed the opposite.

I also found the fact that even though the UK created a law against revenge porn in 2015, this did not apply to Chambers’ case as the videos were uploaded in 2015. I am noticing more and more that laws are rarely retrospective, and I understand the reasonings behind that. But in cases such as this, it is incredibly frustrating.

The next section of the article I found very interesting is as follows:

‘When it came to her own case, Chambers struggled to make any progress. The websites that host and profit from revenge porn proved impossible to pin down: RedTube is based in Houston, Texas, with servers in San Francisco and New Orleans; it currently belongs to MindGeek, who bought the site from Bright Imperial Ltd in July 2013, long after her ex posted the videos. Trying to establish who was legally liable for what website in which jurisdiction at the time the videos were uploaded would require unlimited legal resources, which Chambers didn’t have. Once the CPS officially confirmed they wouldn’t be pressing criminal charges against her ex, her only hope of getting any redress was to sue him for damages in England.’

Law is so incredibly complex, especially when attempting to pin down who is responsible for online based crimes. The internet itself is full of governance gaps, and even more complex ones as the internet itself is seperate from our physical governances. We live in an extremely interesting and turbulant time in terms of online law, I thought trying to sort out international law was complicated enough, adding in the internet just adds whole new layers of complexity.

Counterfeit Goods

Whenever I’m feeling a little uninspired, I’ll turn to a low effort information source, such as a TED talk. I decided to search for a topic I knew very little about, and I came about the above talk by Alastair Gray entitled ‘How fake handbags fund terrorism and organized crime.’

I’ve never thought twice about counterfeit goods, apart from occasionally wondering why you would want something that looks like something else, but isn’t quite the same. Or maybe the likelihood of these items being made via forced or child labour, which is a human rights issue I have prevously covered. I would never have assumed that the production of these goods can actually fund terrorism.

In this talk, Alastair explains how some extremist groups will use the sale of counterfeit goods to purchase arms and fund terror attacks. I was somewhat sceptical at first as he was being quite vague about the details, until he mentioned two brothers; Said and Cherif Kouachi. These brothers had been on a terrorist watch list for three years, but French officials deemed them a low threat after they were monitored purchasing fake trainers from China. This was seen as a ‘petty’ crime and a world away from the exteme behaviour they had previously been showing. Then, seven months later, these brothers became responsible for the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris.

In terms of human rights abuses, this industry is evidently rife with them. The issue lies however with the fact that this industry is underground. Any kind of regulation of businesses or government intervention is difficult, unless the person selling these goods is already under watch for other suspicious activity.

I wanted to get a more rounded view on this topic and after a bit of googling I came across this BBC news article from 2016. In the article, David Wall, professor of criminology at Leeds University states that there’s no substantial evidence to suggest that counterfeit goods sales profit criminal activity. He’s even written a paper on the subject. At the end of the article he says:

“Policing counterfeit luxury goods is not in the public interest. People bow to the norms set by the fashion industry. High demand is an indication of successful brand. That’s the way it is. It’s up to the brand to invest in security for intellectual property.”

Now, I find it interesting that Professor Wall would suggest this, after what I have heard about the Charlie Hebdo attackers. I find it difficult to believe anyone with stories like this, everyone may have a hidden agenda they are trying to push, but it’s definitely something to consider and think about.

The Global South

One of the main things I have noticed through keeping this blog is that there is a definite divide between what we percieve businesses to be doing and what they are actually doing. For example, a corporation can brand themselves as ‘ethical’ and we will accept that as their brand. What we don’t realise is that this ‘ethical’ brand is actually commiting terrible human rights abuses in developing countries. It’s like we are so distanced from the global south, we don’t feel a need to consider it in our purchasing decisions. However, I have never really considered the idea of western intervention in developing countries that need our ‘help.’

This week this story about a Kenyan climate change project really grabbed my attention. The project is known as the ‘Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation project.’ As I understand it, this project’s aim was to protect Kenya’s ground supply of water. However, in attempting to do so, this EU backed project ended up buring down the houses of and killing an indigenous person who lived in the area they were working in. This was conducted by the Kenya Forest Service, a corporate body that works for the Kenyan Government.

I know that this breach of human rights was down to the KFS rather than the EU as a collective, but it just baffles me how many instances I find of people doing ‘good’ things but also doing abhorrent and disgusting acts in the process. This could be an example of the western world intervening in the developing world without considering the wider implications of what they are doing. This idea has led me to read up more on the global north/south divide, which has pointed me to a book entitled Geographies of Developing Areas: The Global South in a Changing World by Glyn Williams, Paula Meth and Katie Willis. A section of this book that really summed up the issues with western intervention is as follows:

‘When students in the north are introduced to the Global South through courses, it is often via a set of problems – such as poverty, debt or environmental degradation – and the development theories and policies used to ‘solve’ these. This coveys some useful information, and links with many students’ personal interests in issues of global inequality or ecological sustainability, but it does so with some considerable difficulties of its own. One of these is that it reinforces negative stereotypes of developing areas, and represents the Global South as a collection of places and peoples in need of external (i.e Northern) intervention.’

As much as I’m an advocate for foreign aid and helping developing countries, sometimes the global north can do so haphazardly. Take child labour as an issue for example, although we can agree that child labour isn’t a good thing, there are examples of organisations such as Amnesty International who make it their goal to ‘eliminate’ child labour without considering the wider issues. In a lot of cases child labour can be vital for a countries economy. What’s worse, child labour? Or families starving to death because they can’t afford to eat?

Focusing back on the original story, I started to think a bit more about the rights of indigeonous people generally. The global north has a hideous history in terms of indigeonous genecide, (take a look at the U.S.A!) The rights of indigeonous people are often overlooked as they can be seen as ‘under developed’ but who are we to say that their way of life doesn’t hold the same value as everyone else? We as the global north definitely need to change our attitudes and stop pitying people from countries that are ‘less’ developed than our own. Not just you and I, but the EU and other NGOs and charities too.

Tax as a Human Rights Issue

I have to admit, I never really understood what tax avoidance/evasion has to do with human rights. Until very recently I couldn’t quite put it together. I have been enlightened to learn that tax is a massive human rights issue for one simple reason. Tax is used by governments to benefit everyone. It’s used for hospitals, public services, keeping us safe etc. Now, if a big business is not paying the tax they should be, then we the general public are missing out on a lot of funding.

That’s when I came across this article about French Tax activist group Attac being taken to court by everyone’s favourite huge corporation; Apple. The article notes how Attac have been peacefully protesting alledged tax evasion from Apple within their stores. An Apple spokesperson stated: ‘that while it respected the group’s right to expression, its recent actions had “put the security of our customers and employees at risk.”‘ Apple are seeking 3,000 euros from Attac, and a ban on the group staging further protests in their stores.

Now although Apple’s tax avoidance is well known, especially since the release of the Paradise Papers, it’s very hard to find any clear evidence of tax evasion on their part online. Either way though, in my opinion whether you are avoiding tax in a legal or illegal manner, you’re still not paying the tax you should be. The problem with tax avoidance though is that it’s a global issue, offshore accounts in countries with low or no tax rates means that tax avoidance is simple. Surely some kind of global effort needs to be undertaken to help tackle this?

I came across the Anti Tax Avoidance Directive from the EU, it’s a hopeful piece of legislation that means a group effort from Europe to try and tackle tax avoidance. The interesting thing I have noticed however is that the UK has agreed to this directive, although it doesn’t come into force until after the UK leaves the EU.

Will be very interesting to see if we stay involved in this directive after Brexit.

Human Rights Risks in the Technology Sector

I found this excellent summary from the BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), on the top human rights priorities for the technology sector. The section of this report that I really liked was the section on the current risks that this sector is facing. I thought I would pick out the risks that sparked my interest the most and briefly comment upon them.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data Analytics

Artificial intelligence honestly terrifies me. The idea that the technology exists to learn the most intimate details of our lives, through devices we use every day baffles me. I don’t understand how everyone can be so blase about it. (I am a hypocrite of course, as I regularly use apps that use algorithms to learn about me and what I am interested in.) But I don’t understand how people don’t seem to think about how dangerous this technology could be if it gets into the wrong hands. One of the risks of AI that BSR highlighted is automated systems making discriminatory decisions. After all, AI learns from us, and there is so much racist, sexist, homophobic speech out there. And again, if the wrong people use this technology, they can use this to their advantage to profile the people using their services.

Internet of Things

I had to do some outside research on this as I wasn’t entirely familiar with the term. As I now understand it, the internet of things is the networking of everyday objects, such as smart phones, smart toasters (yes they exist), or anything else with an internet connection. All of these objects communicate with one another and collect data and information for the ‘benefit’ of their users. Much like AI, this sort of thing also terrifies me. People are so quick to just accept technology into their households, we’ve seen this in the rise of users of virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. As pointed out in the BSR report, the risks include gaining consent from their users. When someone purchases an Amazon Alexa, where is the waver they have to sign that gives Amazon the right to listen in on conversations and use that data to paint a picture of who you are?

Hate Speech and Countering Violent Extremism

This topic makes me feel very conflicted. As much as I can see how hate speech online can be incredibly detrimental to people’s lives, the idea of censorship is worrying. Drawing the line between policing genuinely hateful personal attacks and people’s opinions and useful discussions that progress society is very difficult. Again, if this kind of censorship power gets into the wrong hands, I fear our freedom of speech could be impaired.

There are plenty of other topics covered in this report, and makes extremely interesting reading. Ever since my post on the right to privacy I have been thinking about these topics a lot. I’ve also discovered a new organisation that I wasn’t previously aware of that may help me further my exploration of business and human rights issues.

Uber’s New Regulations

Gig economy is a section on the Human Rights and Business Resouce centre that I haven’t previously looked into, although I’ve been meaning to. Through there I found this article on a new ruling for Uber to be recognised as a transport firm. Previously they have been operating as a ‘computer service business.’ Uber have been in the press for a while now, along with food delivery service Deliveroo, as many of their employees are unhappy with the way they are treated by the companies.

This new ruling means that Uber’s employees within the EU are now subject to stricter regulations. This could potentially mean Ubers employees being recognised as just that. Many of Uber’s workforce argue that they should be entitled to the minimum wage along with holiday allowances.

As the ruling judge said “It follows that, as EU law currently stands, it is for the member states to regulate the conditions under which such services are to be provided in conformity with the general rules of the treaty on the functioning of the EU.” I understand that to mean that in this country it will be down to the UK government to work out what this means for Uber’s employees. But this seems like a step in the right direction at least.

Uber themselves have said “This ruling will not change things in most EU countries, where we already operate under transportation law.” Unless the UK government get their act together, I can’t honestly see a lot changing for Uber employees for the time being, but none the less this is a step in the right direction for businesses to take some responsibility for their stakeholders.

Merry Christmas!


The #metoo movement has been gaining momentum for a while now. Mainly an online movement, #metoo has meant women from all over the world sharing their experiences with sexul assault, in order to destigmatise and bring awareness to just how many women have experienced it at some point in their lives. The #metoo movement has a big focus on sexual assualt within the workplace, with men in positions of power using this against women in lower positions. The movement started to make waves after the sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein were made public.

The clip above, which is from the BBC show Business matters is a brief interview with journalist Shiori Ito, the first woman in Japan to publically accuse a high profile journalist of sexual misconduct. Ito was lead to believe that she would be given career progressing opportunities by meeting with the famous journalist, but instead he raped her. A huge issue with sexual misconduct, especially in a work based relationship is that many people would be afraid to speak out against what happened to them, through fear that they would never be able to find work again after doing so. This is a big reason why the #metoo movement has been so successful, as it has shown solidarity between women to not put up with this kind of abuse day in day out.

Although I can pick flaws in the movement, the tidal wave of discussion it has caused is so important and long overdue. Even in a developed western society I can still expect unwanted advances from male collegues and feel like I can’t report it as it will make working with that person uncomfortable, or I could lose my job. I admire the bravery of every woman who has come forward but especially Shiori Ito, as initially coming out with the accusation must have made her feel incredibly isolated in her own country. It’s great that as a result of speaking up, Japan are now ammending their rape laws after 110 years.

It’s up to businesses to start taking sexual abuse allegations seriously, and set up a better way for people to be able to report it. In a past job of mine, there was a manager who was well known to make his female collegues incredibly uncomfortable. When I questioned why over the years, no one has formally reported him, I was told that the process would be too traumatic. This company that I worked for had a policy that if you reported another member of staff for something, you would then be made to have a meeting with this collegue, mediated by a manager to discuss your issues between you. The worst part about the whole situation was that the other managers knew how innapropriate this member of staff could be and they did nothing about it.

As businesses will have no legal obligation to improve things, the government will need to step in and introduce tighter laws. In the mean time, movements like #metoo may be enough to pressure companies to take sexual abuse more seriously. Ethical consumerism is on the rise and if a company has a bad reputation for an issue such as this, it may be bad for sales. As long as we keep up this discussion, change might really happen.

Holding Corporations Accountable for Human Rights Violations

This week I discovered an excellent human rights podcast from the University of Oxford called ‘Rights Up.’ I was extremely pleased to find a podcast entitled ‘A No-Man’s Land of Justice – Holding Corporations Accountable for Human Rights.’ You can listen to the podcast here.

The podcast interviewed Professor Boni Meyersfeld, who has written about the links between international law and domestic violence but has a strong interest in the idea of corporations being held responsible for human rights violations.

In class, we have been reminded countless times that in terms of international law, only states can be held responsible for human rights violations, but Professor Meyersfeld points out the reasons why businesses themselves should be held accountable for these infringements.

Professor Meyersfeld notes that a lot of people argue that companies do not make human rights abuses, individuals within the company do so. However, in other parts of the law such as tax avoidance, the company as a whole is held responsible, rather than the individuals within it, why should human rights abuses be considered any differently?

She then went on to discuss globalisation and the subsequent governance gaps between host and home states, something which we have been studying closely in class. As a result of globalisation, there is more of a need for a standardised international law.

Something she spoke about which sparked my interest was how closely linked corporations are to the state and the amount of influence and power some corporations have, even within politics. She used the example of America invading Iraq, and how Dick Cheney’s oil company directly profited from this political decision. This feels all too familiar, what with the current leader of the free world, Donald Trump, perhaps having a conflict of interests when it comes to business and political ideals. Where do we draw the line in terms of what a business does, and what the state does? Professor Meyersfeld also talks about continued colonisation in developing states. Even though states may have decolonised, corporations remain and exploitation still occurs structurally.

Linking nicely to my post from last week about gender inequality as a result of extractive forms of industry, Prof Meyersfeld then went on to speak about the roles of corporations and certain violations committed against women.

Something she mentioned which I wasn’t aware of was how in certain communities in developing countries, after mining companies move into these areas, women who previously had no issues, suddenly have massive problems with their reproductive health. She notes how we have to draw a link between these issues and the mining companies, whether it’s down to air pollution, water contamination or even just long and tiring distances walked by women just to get hold of food and water.

Prof Meyersfeld then shared what she believes to be one of the best remedies to these human rights issues, and amongst others, she believes impoverished states should unify to create standardised, stronger laws, so that they do not compete for the economic input of large corporations, and therefore reduce their own standards of law.

Something that Prof Meyersfeld mentioned right at the end that we have not talked about in class is the U.S Alien Tort Statute which reads;

“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

This piece of legislation has been used as a way for foreign nationals to bring claims into the U.S courts for human rights violations committed within host states. So far, these cases have never been successfull apart from through settlement, but this piece of legislation certainly brings attention to a need for an international legal system.


Land Intensive Corporate Activity: The Impact On Women’s Rights

Due to the current sociological climate, and all the discussions surrounding women’s rights that is currently so prevalent within the media, this week I wanted to focus on the impact of businesses upon the rights of women.

Now before I start, I know that sounds like a loose connection, what do businesses have to do with women’s rights? I didn’t really know either, apart from perhaps sexual assault within the workplace. That is until I came across this report from CORE and Womankind.

The report is based off a study conducted by graduate students of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Essex and is an eye-opening read.

The report notes how 70-80% of the world’s small-scale farmers are women, however, these women often have very little control over their land or over business decisions. Their work is ‘often undervalued and unrecognised.’

Another section of the report that caught my eye talked about sugarcane plantation workers in Uganda who would beat women passing by, who are simply just trying to search for food and water.

We have discussed in class that extractive forms of industry are some of the most damaging in terms of human rights, however, the report notes how in Kigyayo, the implementation of oil companies in this area has meant girls have been taken out of school. As the destructive quality of oil mining has meant school closures, children are being forced to travel further in order to receive an education. Many parents are taking their girls out of school, as the long journey puts the child more at risk of harassment and violence. Surely big businesses should be penalised for this destruction? Surely both host and domestic states of these businesses should be held accountable?

One of the main points I took away from this report is that because gender discrimination is so normalised within everyday life, it is extremely difficult to remedy issues caused by gendered inequality. Not just within businesses themselves, but also in terms of policymakers and political leaders. If there are few women within powerful positions, how are we to communicate these issues to figureheads who can implement change, when these gender disparities are so deeply ingrained into everyday life that they become unnoticeable?

The report notes that big businesses are breaking Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 11 of International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. (The availability of food, water, clothing, medical aid and living conditions.) Because the rights of a voiceless group of people are being infringed, it is extremely easy to ignore.

The report gives an extensive list of recommendations on how to remedy this topic, including: ‘States should ratify and implement all existing regional and international human rights instruments’ and ‘States should adopt mandatory human rights due diligence legislation and develop gender-responsive human rights-based guidelines for corporations on how to conduct their operations.’ Although these recommendations are promising, they are just pure discussion at this point, with no sign of these issues actually being taken seriously by figureheads.

This is by far one of the most thought-provoking topics I have explored so far, it has really shown me how subtle and nuanced some human rights and business issues can be. It has also made me think about just how important the current wave of feminist uprising we are experiencing is, in terms of making gendered human rights progression.