Around 70 academics, activists, campaigners, and writers came together at the Militarisation in Everyday Life in the UK conference organised by Forces Watch.
Last month, some 70 academics, activists, campaigners, and writers came together in London at the Militarisation in Everyday Life in the UK conference organised by Forces Watch.
Many areas of UK society have seen growing involvement and visibility of the military and military approaches in recent years: from schools, to local communities, to ‘militainment’ (military-themed films, TV programmes ad video games).
This process of privileging and prioritising the military is often referred to as ‘militarisation’; Cynthia Enloe, one of the foremost thinkers on the subject, states that “To become militarised is to adopt militaristic values and priorities as one's own, to see military solutions as particularly effective, to see the world as a dangerous place best approached with militaristic attitudes.”
In response to the recent developments in the UK, there has been an increase in critical academic studies, media coverage, and work by campaigning organisations and others on these issues.
The main aim of the conference was to allow academics and activists to share their work and ideas, through a series of plenary presentations and group discussions, and to develop ideas on how to raise public debate and encourage critical thinking on the issues.
Forces Watch has issued a report on the 19 October 2013 conference. It reads:
In the introductory plenary, the conflict transformation consultant and writer Diana Francis pointed out that war – organised lethal violence on a mass scale – is a relatively recent development in human history, asserting that we can un-learn militarism, which is closely linked to dominating structures such as patriarchy.
Brian Mabee from Queen Mary University gave an overview of militarism as something that changes over time and regionally. It is driven by nationalism (seen for example in the UK’s Armed Forces Covenant), which makes dissent very difficult, and global dynamics such as the arms trade and liberal ‘interventions’. War itself brings about transformations in terms of what preparedness for it look like which adds to the momentum of militarism.
David Gee from ForcesWatch outlined current changes within the armed forces, noting current recruitment difficulties, despite the apparently favourable conditions created by the financial crisis. However, he asserted that this is likely to lead to more use of drones and more privatisation of defence. He highlighted the importance of finding ways to communicate a critical analysis to a wider audience.
The first of the two themed plenaries was on ‘Militarisation and the Individual’. In the first presentation, Falklands veteran David Jackson was interviewed by Sarah Bulmer from Exeter University – a novel and engaging approach which conveyed how a military identity is embodied, and emphasised the importance of giving veterans a voice: asking them what support they want, and challenging our assumptions about when war begins and ends.
Daniel Bos, from Newcastle University explored 'militainment', which Roger Stahl defines as “state violence translated into an object of pleasurable consumption”, giving examples such as The Millies (The Sun’s Military Awards, for which the public can submit nominations), TV programmes that give the viewer a first-person perspective of the frontline, and the armed forces’ involvement in major sporting events.
He emphasised that we need to analyse 'militainment' critically, asking questions such as who was involved in its production?
Emma Sangster from ForcesWatch outlined the multitude of policies and other influences creating an environment in which the military can increasingly 'engage' with young people. For example, military involvement within education is driven by two main defence outcomes: recruitment, and raising awareness of the armed forces to maintain public support for them. This is validated by the promotion of unquestioning support for the armed forces, the development of which can be traced through recent changes in policy and practice.
Kevin McSorley from the University of Portsmouth, talked about militarism and the body, stressing that war is ultimately embodied – it is on bodies that war has most impact. He agreed with Catherine Lutz that militarism is often more felt than articulated, which makes it harder to think critically about it: from the continuity of bodily habit among veterans to the fact that many of us increasingly experience war through footage from soldiers’ helmet cameras.
During group discussions, it was observed that the Department for Education are once again responsible for youth services which limits the latter’s autonomy; that the National Citizen Service – with the cadets as one of the providers – has been promoted while funding for other youth projects has been cut and that there is a need to support non-military alternatives. The military also has a significant presence in universities.
On 'militainment', it was acknowledged that it is hard to avoid and hard to compete with the thrill that these games and films offer, and that the links between militarised entertainment and recruitment advertising are now mainstream.However, there is some encouraging work being done in developing non-military alternatives, particularly with computer games.
The importance of young people hearing the varied experience of veterans before signing up was emphasised, particularly as recruiters may not give a balanced view of what is involved in a military career.
Mental health and other post-service issues and the different experiences of being a veteran need to be given more prominence.
It was noted that bodies are increasingly viewed a a product – something to be worked on and improved – which the military fitness industry plays into. There is also an unrealistic attitude sense that war injuries can eventually be overcome. It was suggested that one response to current, often sanitised representations of warfare, would be to show more realistic portrayals of how war impacts the body.
In the second of the themed plenary sessions, ‘Militarisation and the Community’, Victoria Basham from Exeter University spoke on recent trends in the militarisation of childhood, asserting that the recruitment outcome of some of the military youth initiatives should not be overlooked, and that some – such as military-led ‘alternative provision’, part of the military ethos in schools programme – are targeted at particular children: those who will get few or no academic qualifications, but who will develop a skill set very appropriate to the armed forces, where inequalities can be reproduced.
She concluded that “these everyday practices have a global resonance”: the normalisation of the military and military approaches leads to military violence being seen as a commonsensical response to conflict.
Vron Ware from the Open University explored the impact of Armed Forces Community Covenants which aim to promote society's 'moral obligation' to the armed forces. However, the focus too often suggests a privileging of the military rather than just removing disadvantage for members of the forces, she said.
Barnaby Pace from Scientists for Global Responsibility talked about the militarisation of ‘security’. The risks in the next 5-30 years, which have been identified by the government’s own research, all have non-military solutions and yet security and defence spending is focused on hardware such as aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. Far more is spent on ‘offensive’ defence than on sustainable security solutions that address the roots of armed such as militarisation, climate change, resource competition, and economic and political marginalisation, he said.
Ann Feltham, parliamentary spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade, spoke on the privatisation of military functions, from army recruitment to the possibility that MoD equipment procurement will be handed to private business. Private entities are less accountable and their primary duty is to maximise profits for their directors or shareholders.
The discussion on local communities explored the impact of the community covenants on the ground and asked how involved are veterans, rather than those still in the forces, in the process. The charity Help for Heroes does not help those injured before 2001. Are the covenants, and the veterans' charities a way for the government to put the onus on society to look after ex-personnel, rather than take responsibility itself?
The discussion around corporate involvement highlighted the ‘revolving door’ issue, whereby former MoD politicians or high-ranking officers go on to senior defence company jobs, and vice-versa. There is a need to challenge arguments that the arms trade is inevitable – government subsidies means it does not operate as a free market – and the argument that if the UK does not supply arms, 'someone else will'. How can the fact that the UK is making money out of war have the public resonance it deserves?
It was noted during the security discussion that aid was itself being increasingly ‘securitised’ and that responses to the root drivers of insecurity seem to be focusing on military mitigation rather than addressing the cause. In the UK, the problem of how to shift the focus away from military-related industries is not just an economic one as the industries confer an identity or status on particular areas that needs to be addressed.
Concerns about the militarisation of policing – such as the proliferation of armed police, the use of drones in policing, and the recent announcement that former high-ranking armed forces officers from abroad could be hired to run police forces here – were raised.
In the final plenary - ‘Working together to raise awareness and take action’ – Saskia Neibig, a young campaigner from the Woodcraft Folk who instigated their 'Military Out Of Schools' campaign, talked about her experience in challenging the development of a cadet unit in her own school. She recognised the difficulties young people face in terms of choosing an alternative to armed forces activities or an armed forces career where that may be the only option. She urged people to contact and support the Woodcraft Folk campaign.
Chris Rossdale from Royal Holloway University reflected on the relationship between academia and activism that challenges militarism. He stated that anti-militarism is essentially not succeeding, but that it could be strengthened by academics and activists working more closely together and by using more accessible media to disseminate their work and stories.
He added that militarism cannot be separated from other oppressive systems and social relations, and thanked the conference for taking a wide perspective on the issue.
Sian Jones, a feminist nonviolent anti-militarist activist, outlined the importance of a gender analysis of militarism, and described her work with Women in Black, whose regular silent protests mourn all victims of the continuum of violence. She identified the interconnectedness of activism and research, pointing out that information is always necessary to successful challenge.
Finally, Shahrar Ali, Green Party spokesperson on International Affairs, concluded the day by bringing the discussion back to the individual: how are we going to turn our awareness into action? He emphasised that there are many possibilities in terms of nonviolent action.
Most of the plenary presentations were filmed and can be viewed here: http://www.forceswatch.net/resources/presentations-militarisation-everyd...
Operation Noah has called on UK Churches to follow the lead of the Quakers and disinvest from fossil fuel companies .
In a challenge to bodies advising and managing Church investments, Operation Noah called today (26 November) on UK Churches to follow the lead of the Quakers and end the policy of engagement with fossil fuel companies with whom they hold multimillion pound investments.
Responding to a statement from the Church Investors Group (CIG), Operation Noah argues that engagement is no longer appropriate in the light of scientific evidence on climate change, the failure of the COP talks in Poland to make significant forward progress, and massive investment by oil, coal and gas companies to develop new fossil fuel assets. The time has come for Churches to disinvest from fossil fuel companies such as Shell and BP, the charity said today.
"The long held policy of engagement with companies with whom Churches hold investments has achieved many things', said Mark Letcher, Coordinator of Bright Now, Operation Noah's campaign calling for disinvestment. "But what it has never managed to do is to change the entire raison d'être of a business. That's why Churches choose not to invest in tobacco, gambling or pornography.
"Companies such as BP and Shell know only too well that existing reserves of fossil fuels already exceed many times the global carbon budget for holding the average global temperature rise to two degrees C. Yet they continue to invest billions of dollars a year in developing new fossil fuel assets, and give no indication whatsoever of changing their current business model."
Today's announcement follows a statement from the Church Investors Group, issued in response to the launch of Bright Now and other disinvestment campaigns. In it, the CIG cautioned against "over-simplifying climate change as an ethical investment issue".
But speaking today, Mark Letcher said, "At the heart of this debate are some basic facts. We know that changes to the atmosphere and the oceans are directly related to the quantity of greenhouse gases they absorb. And that burning fossil fuels releases a vast volume of this greenhouse gas pollution. It is clear that the fossil fuel sector is intent on finding, and developing new fossil fuel assets with the intention of burning these, despite stark warnings from scientists that we need to do the opposite. There is nothing to suggest that a policy of engagement will persuade companies to change tack now when it has failed to do so to date."
Operation Noah's campaign 'Bright Now: towards fossil free Churches' was launched in September this year and is calling on UK Churches to do three things:
- disinvest from companies involved in the extraction of fossil fuels
- take a leading and influential role in the national debate on the ethics of investment in fossil fuels
- support the development of clean alternatives to fossil fuels through their investment policies.
Pressure on Churches in the UK to reconsider their current position on investments in the fossil fuel sector continues to grow. In September, the Synod of the Diocese of Southwark passed a motion for the Church of England's General Synod calling upon the national investing bodies to ensure that their investment policy (including the option of disinvestment) is aligned with the theological, moral and social priorities of the Church. Further resolutions on disinvestment are now in preparation in other dioceses.
Meanwhile, Quakers in Britain announced in October that they are to divest from fossil fuel extraction.
The Scottish Government’s wide-ranging guide to an independent Scotland, entitled Scotland’s Future, was published earlier today.
The Scottish Government’s wide-ranging guide to an independent Scotland, entitled Scotland’s Future, was published earlier today.
The document runs to 670 pages and 170,000 words. It was described by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as "the most detailed prospectus for the independence of a country that has ever been published," setting out a vision of economic prosperity, social fairness, long term environmental sustainability and non-nuclear security.
It also promises to end controversial welfare reforms brought in by Westminster, including the bedroom tax and a flawed universal credit system.
Nicola Sturgeon said the document was "based on the belief that decisions about Scotland should be taken by people in Scotland". The First Minister said that independence presented a "once in a generation opportunity".
In his statement to the Scottish Parliament on the publication, Ms Sturgeon declared: "The Government promised the people of Scotland, and this Parliament, detailed proposals for independence – the opportunities of independence, the benefits for individuals, families, communities and the nation as a whole and the practicalities of how we move from a Yes vote in September next year to becoming an independent country in March 2016. Scotland’s Future provides all of this detail and more.
"I realise that members will need time to read and digest the contents of this landmark document. The Government has therefore made time for a full debate tomorrow afternoon, and I am sure that there will be many opportunities to discuss and debate the detail of it, both in parliament and across the country, in the months leading up to the referendum.
"Today I want to set out the key themes of Scotland’s Future and provide information on how the Government intends to raise awareness of it and ensure that the public knows how to access the guide and the detailed information that it contains.
"The guide is in five parts. Part one gives an overview of the compelling case for independence and describes what our newly independent Scotland will look like.
"Part two sets out the financial strengths of our country, forecasts Scotland’s fiscal position at the point of independence, and makes clear how this government – if elected in 2016 to be the first government of an independent Scotland – would deliver our early priorities within sound public finances.
"Part three details the benefits and opportunities of independence across the entire range of government responsibilities that will transfer from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament in the event of a Yes vote and illustrates, through a set of Scottish Government policy choices, how we can start to use the new powers of independence to grow our economy and tackle the inequality that is so unacceptable in our rich country.
"Part four describes how we will become independent – the negotiations, agreements and preparations that will be required in the transition period between a Yes vote next year and Independence Day on 24 March 2016. It also considers the opportunity that independence will give us to develop a modern, written constitution fit for the 21st century.
"And, finally, Part 5, provides a comprehensive set of answers – 650 in all – to the range of questions that we have been asked about the practicalities of independence".
'No' campaign representatives immediately rubbished Scotland’s Future,. Former UK chancellor Alasdair Darling, who critics point out was at the helm during the largest single financial crash in history, took to the right-wing Spectator magazine to denounce the document’s alleged "fantasy economics".
The UK government claims on the basis of its own predictions that Scottish households will be £1,000 worse of in tax terms under independence. The Scottish Government points out that on the basis if measurable past performance, rather than selective speculation, it would have been a £600 average benefit in recent years.
“Supporting greater participation, particularly amongst women, in the economy and ensuring that work pays – for example through a decent minimum wage and promotion of the living wage – is central to our economic and social approach. We won’t succeed and reach our full potential as a nation if we remain locked into an unbalanced UK economy that disproportionately benefits one region and one section of society,” Nicola Sturgeon said last week.
“Westminster government has seen the UK evolve in recent decades into one of the most unequal and unfair societies in the whole of the developed world. This is a trend that has accelerated year on year whichever party has been in office in London. Whether Labour, Tory or Lib Dem ministers have been in charge of the economy and welfare, the growing inequalities in the UK and the over-concentration of wealth in and around London have continued apace,” she added.
Scottish Greens are describing the publication of Scotland’s Future as the start the journey towards a better Scotland.
Patrick Harvie, MSP for Glasgow and co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said: "The White Paper is a hefty document that deserves serious consideration. It’s simply not credible for Better Together campaigners to dismiss it out of hand within seconds of the launch.
"With Green Yes the Scottish Greens have already begun to outline a compelling vision of the future with a rebalanced economy, high quality jobs and a peaceful international outlook. With today's White Paper the Scottish Government has provided the routemap for the start of this exciting journey."
He added: "Today’s launch struck an ambitious tone, just as it should. The SNP as the party of government have the responsibility to lead Scotland in post-Yes negotiations, but they must achieve a mandate in 2016 if they want the right to implement all their policies in an independent Scotland.
"Of course, voting Yes or No is only the first choice we face. If we say Yes we open up all sorts of opportunities to achieve a better Scotland.
“For those who are already convinced that a fairer future can be won, it’s time to seize this moment and deliver the Yes votes in our communities. For those who remain unsure, they should now ask more questions of the No campaign and how they intend to deliver a better Scotland,” said Mr Harvie.
* More about Scotland's Future and download the whole document - *.PDF or e-book: http://www.scotreferendum.com
* More on the Scottish independence referendum from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/scottishindependence
A new report from the legal and human rights charity Reprieve shows that 75 per cent of prisoners in Dubai central jail allege they have been tortured by police.
A new report from the legal and human rights charity Reprieve shows that 75 per cent of prisoners in Dubai central jail allege they have been tortured by police.
The release comes just days before the country will find out whether its bid to host the 2020 World Expo has been successful.
The report, ‘Systematic Torture: Statistics from Dubai Central Jail’, compiled by a number of prisoners and analysed by lawyers at Reprieve, reveals that 75 per cent of prisoners report some sort of torture or abuse by police upon arrest. Prisoners have also detailed the type of torture to which they were subjected with an alarming number including threats of a sexual nature. One prisoner reported that “They kept saying if you don’t co-operate, we will all [expletive] you one by one.”
Other techniques allegedly used by police include electrocution, severe beatings, and death threats. One prisoner said: “I was beaten so badly I could not kneel to pray for 15 days” while another alleges that “Police said this is their country so they can kill me and throw my body in desert as I am foreign.” Many prisoners featured in the report say that they were tortured in order to extract confessions, for example one prisoner who said that “the CID police pointed his gun at me and said he would shoot me if I don’t tell I sell drugs”.
Such reports of police torture are common in Dubai. One example is that of Grant Cameron, Suneet Jeerh and Karl Williams, three British tourists who were subjected to beatings and electric shocks, before being forced to sign documents in Arabic – a language they do not understand – while on holiday in Dubai last year. The men were subsequently pardoned and released, but, despite pressure from the UK Prime Minister to do so, the UAE has failed to carry out an independent investigation into their mistreatment.
Dubai’s bid to host the 2020 World Expo - which has its origins in London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 – has received backing from a number of high-profile supporters, including Bill Gates and former US President Jimmy Carter. The human rights charity Reprieve has written to many of these supporters urging them to reconsider their backing unless the UAE takes action on police torture. The decision on who will host the World Expo is expected on the 27th November.
Catherine Higham, a caseworker at Reprieve, said: “These allegations of torture by Dubai’s police are too numerous and too serious to be ignored. UAE authorities must take seriously these reports and investigate them thoroughly if the country’s reputation as a major tourist and business reputation is to be maintained.”
With a month to go until Christmas Eve, Plaid Cymru has launched a campaign encouraging people to do as much Christmas shopping as possible in local shops.
With a month to go until Christmas Eve, Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales) has launched a campaign to encourage people to do as much Christmas shopping as possible in local shops this year.
Other groups are urging the purchase of Fair Trade and ethical products over the holiday season, while some suggest that a break on consumption might be a healthy thing.
Plaid leader Leanne Wood said that Christmas shopping is the perfect opportunity to support Wales’ independent traders and buy something a little different for loved ones.
Plaid Cymru has long campaigned for more to be done to support small businesses in Wales, and for more ambitious procurement targets, arguing that if the level of local procurement was increased to 75 per cent then a further 46,000 jobs could be created in Wales.
Ms Wood said: “Wales’ economy is built on small traders and businesses and they contribute a great deal to the local economy. When money is spent in a local independent shop, that money stays locally.
“These shops employ local people, are supplied by local businesses, and keep their profits in the local economy.
“This is why on a wider scale, Plaid Cymru has called on the government to do more to support local businesses, because if the amount of public contracts that are awarded to local companies is increased to 75 per cent then up to 46,000 new jobs could be created in Wales. At the moment the government achieves a level of 52 per cent.
“But while there is a lot that the Welsh Government can do to support our shops and businesses, we must also remember that we, as shoppers, play a vital role in supporting these by just choosing to shop with them.
“Every £1 spent in a local shop selling local produce puts twice as much money back into the local economy as £1 spent in a supermarket.
“In Wales we have a strong tradition of food producers and crafts, and Christmas is the perfect opportunity to support them. I’ll be buying as many presents as possible in my local shops this Christmas, and using the hashtag #LocalChristmas on Twitter to encourage everyone else to do the same.”
World Vision has applauded the UN announcement for a set date of peace talks on 22 January 2014 arguing this offers the only real hope for the country's embattled children.
World Vision has applauded the UN announcement for a set date of peace talks on 22 January 2014 arguing this offers the only real hope of shining a light on the dire humanitarian situation faced by Syrian children.
“The international community has failed the children of Syria. Every month that goes by without a peaceful resolution means more children displaced from their homes, missing school or even fighting on the frontlines of the conflict,” said Joe Harbison, World Vision’s response manager for the Syrian crisis. “The time to act is now.”
Nine-year-old Syrian refugee, Abdurahman, said: “If you hear the sound of helicopter, you have to run for your life. But, if you hear a plane, that means you are still alive, because it is very fast and you only hear it after it hits; but that also means that other people have died.”
World Vision calls on all parties join the talks in good faith with an eye toward protecting the most vulnerable and pushing for a lasting end to the conflict.
“This is great news because these talks represent the best chance Syria’s children have had in over two years for a future free from fear and violence,” said Justin Byworth, chief executive of World Vision UK.
“For too long the agonies faced by Syria’s children has been obscured by the complexity of the politics. The simple fact is millions of Syrian’s have had their lives torn apart. As the atrocities continue, we need leaders at the Security Council and beyond to show they are prepared to push urgently for peace and support humanitarian responses. They need to come together to negotiate an immediate ceasefire, followed by peace talks.”
World Vision has released a report called Stand with Me: Ending the War on Syria’s Children – detailing the consequences of the Syrian conflict on young people. More than four million children in the region have been affected by the conflict, including two million children inside Syria who have been displaced from their homes. The recent escalation of fighting has led to a rise in casualties, with more than 7,000 children killed.
In fact, surveyors found that in some cases children are being specifically targeted in massacres and executions.
The report also found an alarming number of children used in the conflict. In some hotspots of the conflict, as many as 25 per cent of children over 15 years old are tied to an armed group. Reports indicate children as young as eight are being used by armed groups as human shields.
Others, such as three-year-old Hamza are expressing a desire to join armed groups, “I want to be in the war, with guns.”
The situation for Syrian children is unacceptable and will likely continue to degrade unless all parties commit to protecting children in the conflict and prioritising their needs.
World Vision is calling for all parties to work together to:
* Resolve the conflict –The fastest way to protect all Syrian children is to end the violence. All parties to the conflict should agree unconditionally to join the talks in good faith to reach a settlement, end hostilities, and create a map towards transition.
* Protect children now – Even before an agreement can be reached and implemented, more must be done to end the targeting of children. Parties to the conflict bear the primary responsibility for ending policies and practices violating child rights. States with influence over parties to the conflict also bear responsibility, and should leverage their influence to ensure children are protected.
* Provide immediate humanitarian access. Immediate actions must be taken in order to ensure children and their families can access desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Children represent the largest and most vulnerable group. They have more specific needs than the general population in terms of their protection, health, nutrition and education and face greater challenges in meeting these needs. Children must be prioritised in all discussions regarding humanitarian access.
It is clear that Christians hold a spectrum of views on sexuality and marriage. However, the popular idea that there are two warring blocks that may be labelled ‘traditionalists’ and ‘revisionists’ is simplistic and can be misleading as well as unhelpful. Current tensions could be reduced and reframed significantly if more church leaders acknowledged the extent of common ground in the middle of this continuum, allowed limited flexibility of practice, and enabled their communities to develop practices of discernment oriented towards the “grace and truth” (John 1.13-15) that lies at the heart of the Christian message. In this paper, Ekklesia associate Savitri Hensman identifies seven widely held positions on sexuality. She suggests that those with supposedly diametrically opposing views often have more in common than they may at first think. Equally, she argues, in Christian terms, that coexistence among those sharing a 'middle ground' is not about weak compromise, but instead reflects an approach both deeply rooted in Bible and tradition and open to change as a living community led by the Spirit.Savi Hensman
The latest TUC fund manager report survey finds investors taking a tougher stance on executive pay and being more likely to vote against pay reports at company AGMs.
Investors took a tougher stance over executive pay last year, with shareholders more likely to vote against pay reports at company AGMs and less likely to abstain when remuneration was being discussed, according to the latest Trades Union Congress (TUC) fund manager survey published today (25 November).
The 11th annual survey – published the day before the TUC’s pension trustee conference takes place at Congress House – looks at the voting records of fund managers, pension funds and voting agencies in 2012.
Reflecting last year’s so-called shareholder spring, the survey finds that there was a drop in support for remuneration. In 2011, three respondents supported over 80 per cent of remuneration reports. Last year only one did so.
In 2012 survey respondents supported an average of 30 per cent of pay reports, down from 38 per cent in 2011. Pay remains the issue most likely to see investor action with all but one respondent saying this was the case. Board structure and capital structure issues are the next most frequently cited causes of concern.
As in previous years there is a distinct variation in the voting positions taken. Two investors indicated that they backed the board’s position in 85 per cent of management resolutions, while three respondents told the TUC they supported less than 20 per cent of proposals from management.
The survey also picks up on the growing influence of overseas shareholders at AGMs. It cites the example of Barclays’ remuneration report and the election of the remuneration committee chair, both of which were opposed by a majority of survey respondents – who represent most of the UK’s major institutional investors.
Despite this opposition from UK investors, the bank was able to easily win both votes largely due to the support of overseas investors, the TUC believes. With recent Office for National Statistics figures suggesting that more than 50 per cent of shares in UK companies are now held by overseas investors, this outcome is hardly surprising, and suggests this could be the beginning of an increasingly common trend.
Investors often blame regulatory barriers as the main reason why shareholders don’t engage more in the corporate governance process – with insider trading and concert party rules the main ones cited. Yet, when asked in the survey, a large majority said that these weren’t major factors explaining shareholders’ lack of involvement with companies, and time constraints were the more likely cause.
Although all but one of the survey respondents now publish some of their voting data, the TUC is concerned that this is still not enough information to allow a proper investigation of their activities. This is because some investors only disclose votes against and abstentions which is a long way from providing a clear picture of what goes on at company AGMs.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “For corporate Britain to be more accountable, more needs to be known about the way investors vote. Shareholders need to be prepared to challenge proposals from the boardroom more frequently.
“Last year when company AGMs were feeling the heat of the shareholder spring, it looked as if investors were at last beginning to curb some of worst excesses of corporate Britain.
“In 2012 shareholders voted down six remuneration reports, suggesting that we might be seeing the emergence of a new breed of more assertive shareholders. But sadly 2013 has failed to live up to expectations. Only three reports have been voted down this year – and none of them were FTSE 100 companies.
“Shareholders who fail to make use of their voting and engagement rights fuel the argument for other stakeholders to play a role in corporate governance. If worker representatives were allowed to sit on boards, they could improve decision making provide an effective challenge to management.
“Ten years ago when the TUC first published its shareholder voting survey, only one institutional investor made public its voting record. Public disclosure is thankfully now more commonplace but the level of detail available is still sketchy, with some investors providing much more than others.
“Clients need to know that their fund managers are using their investments in a way that reflects their wishes and that’s difficult if it’s hard finding out what they are up to."
She concluded: “That’s why earlier this year the TUC and several of its union affiliates launched a share owner group to put union values at the heart of our voting and engagement. For too long fund managers have failed to reflect the views of the ordinary people whose money is being invested. This is something that urgently needs to change."
A leaked map shows large parts of Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve – home to the Bushmen – have been opened up to international companies for fracking.
Large parts of Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) – home to Africa’s last hunting Bushmen – have been opened up to international companies for the controversial practice of ‘fracking’, according to an investigation for the documentary film ‘The High Cost of Cheap Gas’ and the Guardian newspaper.
A leaked map shows that exploration concessions have been granted for half of the CKGR – a reserve larger than Switzerland – raising fears of land grabbing, a drop in water levels and irreparable damage to a fragile ecosystem essential for the survival of the Bushmen and the reserve’s wildlife.
The documentary reveals that Botswana has granted lucrative licenses to companies such as Australian Tlou Energy and and African Coal and Gas Corporation, without consulting the Bushmen. While Botswana’s government has denied any fracking in Botswana, Tlou has already started drilling exploratory wells for coalbed methane on the traditional hunting territory of the Bushmen.
Survival International, the organisation which campaigns for the rights of tribal people, says the revelations expose the hypocrisy of Botswana’s President Ian Khama, who is a board member of Conservation International. Khama’s government has been heavily promoting tourism to the CKGR while driving the Bushmen off their land in the name of conservation.
CKGR Bushman Jumanda Gakelebone said, "The government is doing everything it can to try to destroy us. They have lied in the past about diamond mining, and said there is no diamond mining in the CKGR, but now there is a functioning mine in the Reserve. Fracking is going to destroy our environment and if the environment is destroyed our livelihoods are too."
The Kalahari Bushmen have been suffering persecution at the hands of the Botswana government for decades. Despite winning two court cases which granted them the right to live, hunt and access water in the CKGR, they are forced to apply for restrictive permits to enter the reserve, and are routinely arrested for hunting.
Survival International has written to those companies with concessions in the CKGR, and has called for a boycott of Botswana tourism until the Bushmen are allowed to live freely on their land.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, "This revelation shows once and for all that forced evictions of Bushmen from the CKGR have nothing to do with conservation and everything to do with paving the way for extractive industries to plunder Bushman land. Why does President Khama continue to receive prizes for his ’conservation’ efforts? It’s an absolute scandal that Conservation International accepts on its board a man who has opened up the world’s second biggest wildlife reserve to fracking, whilst persecuting the Bushmen whose home it is in the name of conservation."
Christian Aid called on global finance ministers to unlock UN talks with firm commitments on climate finance, but the deadlock continues.
As finance ministers from around the world arrived at the UN climate summit in Poland earlier this week, UK-based churches' global development agency Christian Aid called on them to unlock the talks with firm commitments on climate finance.
But as the annual two-week summit came to a close on Friday 22 November 2003, the mood in Poland’s national stadium was depressed, with some participants describing the talks as the worst since the series of meetings began in 1992.
Some 200 governments clashed over how to finance the cost of global warming and dragged their heels over setting a clear timetable for action. The stalling contrasted with strong appeals from environmentalists and development NGOs.
Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid's Senior Climate Change Adviser, commented: "Developed countries said this was to be the 'climate finance COP' but so far we've not seen a clear plan to get the level of finance we need.
"Ad hoc announcements by only a few countries, and not by many of the richest, is a betrayal of what they said they would do.
"It is an embarrassment for those developed countries and brings into question whether they can be trusted at all. If they won't honour their word on climate finance why should they be trusted on any other issue?
"Attempts to count private sector money, or money given to support offset markets, is not acceptable. It's a question of them living up to their promises and taking responsibility. Rich countries have promised $100 billion for the Green Climate Fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change and develop sustainably, but that remains almost entirely empty.
"It's the first time in the history of the climate summit that a finance ministerial has taken place. It's time developed countries use it to deliver the cash and show that they are serious about tackling climate change," said the Christian Aid spokesperson.
Sam Smith from WWF added: “This meeting will end with fewer commitments to cut carbon emissions than when it began.” Ms Smith was one of more than 800 campaigners who walked out of the talks on Thursday in protest at the lack of action."
Another WWF spokesman added: “Warsaw, which should have been an important step in the transition to a sustainable future, is on track to deliver virtually nothing… governments have given up on the process.”
The latest international clampdown on tax evasion must involve both rich and poor countries if it is to stop criminals hiding billions, campaigners say.
The latest international clampdown on tax evasion must involve both rich and poor countries if it is to stop criminals hiding billions from the tax authorities, campaigners say.
Their new briefing, 'Automatic For The People', was released as representatives from over 100 countries gather in Indonesia this week (21-22 November) for the OECD Global Forum on Tax and Transparency.
Industrialised countries’ governments are setting up a new global system for automatically sharing information about foreign taxpayers. However, tax justice campaigners fear that little thought has been given to how it can work for developing countries.
Maria Villanueva, Oxfam policy advisor, said: "Without poor countries’ governments having a say on how a new tax system can work for them from the start, there’s a real danger the world’s poorest people will continue to be hit hardest by tax evasion.
"Tax evaders are already robbing poor countries of billions that could pay for vital public services, such as hospitals, schools and roads. Rich countries, whose banks are facilitating tax evasion, have a duty to help change the status quo, instead of continuing to profit from it."
Joseph Stead, Senior Economic Justice Adviser at Christian Aid, said: ‘If the new system is set up in ways which make it impossible for poor countries to participate, or benefit from it, then some of them may follow the logic of staying outside the system.
"And let us be honest – there is a logic. Countries whose governments do not share information about who owns what will – like other tax havens - attract dirty money from people and companies wanting to conceal it from the countries where they live and work.
"But if more countries become tax havens, that can only undermine the effectiveness of information-sharing between other governments. Far better to ensure now that the new information exchange system works for all countries, rich and poor."
Dr Dereje Alemayehu, Chair of the Coordination Committee of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, said: ‘The new system should be flexible enough to accommodate countries with different levels of ability to systematically gather, share and use information about taxpayers.
"This would mirror other international deals – such as trade and climate treaties – which recognise that rich countries have greater capacities than poor ones.
"Rich countries should give developing countries the financial and technical support they need to ultimately achieve the same standards of information gathering, security and use as rich countries."
Martin Hojsik, Tax Justice campaign manager at ActionAid International, added: "It is critically important that tax authorities in poor countries have the information that they need to be able to collect the taxes owed to them. The G20 countries that are supporting this process have a responsibility to ensure that the benefits of this initiative are not missed by those that need them most."
* Read 'Automatic for the People' here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/Automatic_information_exchange_bri...
Over a thousand people will take action against Npower and other Big Six energy companies on the day that the UK winter death statistics are released.
Over a thousand people will take action against Npower and other Big Six energy companies on the day that the UK winter death statistics are released, Tuesday 26 November 2013.
Anti-austerity groups including Fuel Poverty Action, UK Uncut, Disabled People Against Cuts, and the Greater London Pensioners Association reveal Npower as key target (Npower Supply and Trading Offices, 60 Threadneedle Street, EC2R 8HP)
Further protests are to take place in Oxford, Lewes, and Bristol in England, reports UK Uncut and False Economy.
Acting together under the banner of ‘Bring down the Big Six – Fuel Poverty Kills!’ direct action groups will hold "an outrageous, creative and inclusive" protest at the London office of the German energy giant Npower at 12 noon.
Meeting at 11.30am at Royal Exchange by Bank tube station, hundreds will march on Npower to protest against winter deaths, price hikes and their devastation on the planet.
Simultaneously, Oxford-based protesters will target British Gas at their new Oxford HQ . So far over 1000 people have pledged to take part in the protests so far. At least 7,200 people died last year in the UK due to cold homes.
Npower is the UK’s most complained about energy company. It received 202 complaints per 100,000 customers between April and June – double that of its nearest rival EDF as well as increasing its prices more than any of the other Big Six this year (9.3 per cent for electricity and 11.1 per cent for gas) The company has also defended seeking a five per cent profit margin which is widely regarded as excessive.
Npower have also paid no corporation tax for the past three years despite reporting a 34 per cent profit rise of £413 million last winter due to price hikes as an estimated 300,000 people were pushed into fuel poverty.
Sarah Price of UK Uncut said: "The Big Six are an example of incredible corporate greed. Huge profits are extracted from the public whilst they suffer at the hands of austerity. David Cameron and his cabinet of millionaires are only too happy to stuff the pockets of big business while ordinary people are left out in the cold.
"The combined wealth of cabinet ministers is £70 million and they will never feel the pain of those who can’t afford their energy bills this winter. People must be put before profit, and with creative direct action, we will stand with the elderly, the poor and vulnerable to fight for OUR power. Fuel Poverty must end."
Joseph Murphy of Disabled People Against Cuts added: "Another harsh winter will mean more disabled people will find themselves isolated in their homes, unable to heat them, or cook properly. Many don’t make it through. Politicians and energy firms talk about ‘measures’ and ‘support’, which are only available to a very few.
"The energy firms continue to sit in government departments writing energy policy, in buildings where the heating is paid for by the very people who will die of cold this winter. This is a disgrace. We ask all disabled people to take action, and to show this government, and these companies, that we won't take this and will fightback."
* On Twitter: #JusticeNotJumpers
* UK Uncut: http://www.ukuncut.org.uk
* False Economy: http://falseeconomy.org.uk
* Christianity Uncut: http://christianityuncut.wordpress.com
Libyan authorities must actively protect protesters from attacks by armed militia during ongoing demonstrations or risk further bloodshed, says Amnesty.
The Libyan authorities must actively protect protesters from attacks by armed militia during ongoing demonstrations or risk further bloodshed, Amnesty International says.
The Head of the Tripoli Local Council has called on Tripoli’s residents to pursue a general strike until all armed groups leave the city. Large demonstrations were planned for this Friday in Tripoli’s Al Quds Square. Activists have also called for demonstrations outside militia compounds.
The calls followed the deaths of 43 individuals and hundreds of injured, including children as young as 11 at a peaceful demonstration and subsequent clashes in Gharghour area of Tripoli on 15 November 2013.
“The Libyan authorities must guarantee that protesters taking to the streets on Friday will be protected from violence by militias. Anything short of that could result in a new tragedy,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at the global human rights NGO.
“Two years of militia appeasement have led to a situation where abductions, torture and killings have become the norm in Libya. Those who once fought for freedom are now turning into criminal gangs.”
Last Friday, protesters in Tripoli called on militias based in the neighbourhood of Gharghour to leave the city and demanded that the police and national army return to the streets to ensure public order. The demonstration, which had received authorisation from the authorities who promised to take measures to protect them, was held in protest at heavy clashes in the capital between Misratah and Tripoli militias on 7 November.
Eye-witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International’s delegates in Tripoli said that police had failed to protect demonstrators or intervene when they were being shot at by militias. Most police units stayed behind as the demonstration started marching towards the militia compounds in Gharghour. They failed to take any preventive action to protect demonstrators from militias known to be heavily armed and reckless.
A 51-year-old man told Amnesty International’s researchers: “Many of the demonstrators were old people who had just come out of the mosque after prayer. They were not armed and carried revolutionary and white flags and posters with peaceful messages. The police were in the background but did not do anything to stop the shooting. I was hit by shrapnel in my left leg, which had to be amputated.”
Bystanders were also injured by stray bullets. Mabrouka Muhadab, 42, told Amnesty: “I stepped out onto the balcony to get my son’s blanket when I was hit by a bullet in the back. Libya Shield brigades [a grouping of militias under the Ministry of Defence] were protecting our area, and the fighting was taking place some 10 to 15 minutes away from our home.”
As the violence continued, at about 10 pm militias shot at a nearby camp for internally displaced Tawarghas, wounding a man in the knee. The next morning, militias attacked the camp again with rifles, killing one man and injuring two others. Despite previous such attacks by Misratah militias, the authorities failed to provide protection to the camp.
On 17 November, the Libyan General Prosecutor told Amnesty International an investigation into the events had been initiated. The organisation’s delegates were able to observe the handing over of official forensic reports to families of victims at the morgue.
“The fact that an investigation has been initiated is positive. However, experience shows that investigations into militia abuses in Libya rarely result in successful prosecutions. Letting it happen again will only further embolden militias,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“These deaths and injuries could have been avoided had the Libyan authorities been serious about fighting impunity and investigating militia abuses since 2011.”
In March the General National Congress, Libya’s first elected body, issued a decision ordering all “illegal armed formations” to leave Tripoli. However, the government has been unable to implement the decision since then. Nor was it able to successfully disarm and demobilise militias. Since the end of the 2011 armed conflict, hundreds of anti-Gaddafi militias have refused to disarm and reintegrate into civilian life; most are based in Tripoli and the west of the country.
Following the violence on 15 November and calls by the Tripoli Local Council, Misratah militias started pulling out from the capital. Other cities such as Gharyan have started withdrawing their brigades as well.
In parallel, the government announced a new plan to remove militias from the capital by integrating them into state security forces.
Amnesty International has urged the government to ensure that any disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration efforts are compliant with human rights standards. No one responsible for human rights abuses should be integrated into state institutions, it says.
“As militias withdraw from Tripoli, the government must put in place measures to fight impunity and ensure that perpetrators of abuses are held accountable for their actions and brought to justice. Otherwise it is merely shifting around the problem,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. “People throughout Libya – not only in Tripoli – must be able to live without fear of militia abuses.”
* For more information and testimonies from those injured during the 15 November protests in Tripoli, see: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE19/012/2013/en
Scotland’s favourite Time Lord, David Tennant, is supporting the fight against the disease that killed a popular former Glasgow University student.
Scotland’s favourite Time Lord, David Tennant, is supporting the fight against the disease that killed a popular former Glasgow University student.
Mr Tennant, the son of the Very Rev Sandy McDonald, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, has given his support to a book on humorous words written by another former Moderator, the Very Rev Dr James Simpson.
Dr Simpson has dedicated the book to his beloved granddaughter Sally Russell who died just a few days before the book went to press and who was visited in hospital by David Tennant shortly before she passed away.
Mr Tennant sent a message of support to the launch of ‘The Magic of Words’ in an e-mail, which said: “I gather that it is a great read and look forward to doing so as soon as possible. I remember with love and affection my meeting with Sally who has now sadly passed away after her courageous fight with C.F. I honour your huge financial contribution to Research into C.F. Have a great night, Love David.”
Proceeds from the sales will go towards research into cystic fibrosis the cruelly debilitating disease from birth which ultimately claimed Sally’s life despite a double lung transplant in 2011.
Almost immediately after graduation with first class honours from Glasgow University the former captain of Tain Royal Academy became wholly dependent on oxygen. David Tennant visited Sally in hospital shortly before she died.
Dr Simpson who has written over a dozen books and once topped the best seller list in Scotland for three months with ‘Holy Wit’, is now the proud author of ‘The Magic of Words’.
Mr McDonald and the current Moderator, the Rt Rev Lorna Hood came to Dr Simpson's home in Bankfoot, near Perth to receive some of the first copies off the press.
Now well accustomed to being mainly referred to as ‘David Tennant's father’, Mr McDonald says: “It is a long time since I sat down and read a book from beginning to end in one sitting. I just had to start again and read it with more attention because it spoke to me about so much of life and because it was joyously funny too.“
He added that upon enquiry his son currently playing Richard II at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, revealed his own favourite word is the one for grammatical dots which are placed above some letters in German. “I just love Umlaut. I love saying it even if it has little relevance to what I am talking about. I just love the feeling of it in my mouth.”
Dr Simpson who was minister at Dornoch Cathedral for 21 years before moving south, says his own favourite words are those which ‘make him laugh for five seconds and think for ten’.
He also confesses to an addiction. "Whereas some people get tunes in the brain I get words and phrases in the brain."
He tells of a postman who asked a four year old if his baby sister can talk yet. The reply: "She has a few teeth but the words haven't come in yet."
He is a champion for humour, marshalling for his argument a quote from the poet John Milton: "Joking decides great things stronger and better than earnest can."
Speaking for himself Dr Simpson says: "The comic sense is I believe central to what it means to be human."
The book is published by Savage Publishers for £6.95.
Ahead of the Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow, Patrick Harvie MSP says Scotland’s radical voices have a crucial role to play in attracting 'Yes' voters.
Ahead of the sell-out Radical Independence Conference (RIC) in Glasgow this weekend, Patrick Harvie MSP says Scotland’s radical voices have a crucial role to play in attracting voters to the 'Yes' cause.
The conference, which will bring together people from many political persuasions and none (including Green, SNP, socialist and non-aligned participants) is set to host almost 1,000 people at its all-day gathering on Saturday 23 November 2013.
Its organisers say that it exemplifies the resurgence of civic activism and grassroots, non-sectarian politics which the campaign for Scottish self-government has unleashed in recent months.
The themes of the gathering, which will feature high-profile speakers, seminars and workshops, are hope and transformation arising from an analysis of the failures of the British state in a context of globalisation.
Mr Harvie, who is co-convenor of the Scottish Greens, says the wide-ranging conference is further proof that those who claim Scotland is “on pause” are out of touch with the breadth and depth of thinking that has been provoked by the referendum.
The MSP for Glasgow said: "This conference brings together many of the most passionate campaigners for social progress in Scotland. They will be crucial in the referendum because they bring the transformational ideas our society so urgently needs, which can give the idea of independence real purpose for voters yet to be convinced.
"The referendum isn’t just about making decisions in Edinburgh instead of London, it’s about changing society for the better. The RIC conference will be addressing the key questions – what kind of country do we want Scotland to be, and what policies are really going to make our society fair, sustainable and democratic.
"Far from Scotland being on pause when it comes to new ideas, this conference will be bubbling over with creativity and determination to challenge status quo thinking, whether that comes from Westminster or the Scottish Government.
"With just a few days to go until the white paper, this gathering will show Scottish Ministers the demand for an open minded approach to designing a new country."
Radical independence activists stress that the campaign for a 'Yes' vote is far from the separation, isolation or self-regard that the Westminster-driven No campaign run by the the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour hierarchies tries to portray it as. Rather, its outlook emphasises local and global solidarity based on mutual respect between people's and nations.
RIC campaigners want to see a socially and economically just Scotland with a renewed ground-up democracy, a switch of priorities from war to welfare, the rejection of nuclear weapons, and a cutting edge approach to the environment.
Such an approach can support and encourage similar rebellions in other parts of the British Isles and a substantial challenge to the neoliberal Westminster consensus, they argue.
Ekklesia will be reporting and commenting live from the RIC.
* The full Radical Independence Conference agenda is available here: http://radicalindependence.org/index.php/2013/11/18/radical-independence-conference-updates-¦-ric2013/
* More on the 2014 Referendum from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/scottishindependence