Ctrl.Alt.Podcast

At last, after many months of deliberating the Ctrl.Alt.Shift Podcast is off the ground in conjuntion with the excellent SOAS Radio.

Episode one focuses on gender equality and was done for International Women’s Day which was on March 8.

Check it out at the SOAS Radio website.

Episode 2 should be out at the beginning of April and will centre on Tax Justice. We are hoping it will be bigger and better so watch this space.

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Zambian Government Called On To Investigate Copper Unfairness

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on March 1 2011

A leaked report has surfaced which accuses a mining company working in Zambia of shady business dealings and cheating the country out of tax money. Amy Hall reports…

Tax dodging is big at Ctrl.Alt.Shift. Developing countries could be losing out on US$billions because of it, while some dodgy multinationals are making US$billions.

Zambia is one of these countries; as one of the poorest countries in the world it has a life expectancy of just 47. Mopani Copper Mines Plc, a subsidiary company of Glencore International, has been accused of shifting its profits out of Zambia so it has to pay less tax there.

A draft of a report into Mopani, which mines copper and cobalt, has been leaked and accuses them not only of ‘tax irregularities’ but also of not following the ‘arms length principle’ meant to stop tax dodging when selling to different parts of the same company. Doing this makes it easier for companies to offload tax bills and shift profits around.

Copper is big business in Zambia, accounting for three quarters of the value of its exports. It is one of the eight largest copper producers in the world but there are dramatic differencesbetween the prices Zambia gets for its copper and the prices received by Switzerland for identical products. If Zambia was able to receive the prices it would have almost doubled the country’s GDP.

Auditors, from Grant Thornton and Econ Poyry, said they didn’t think that Mopani’s records of how much money was coming in and out of the company were trustworthy, leaving US$50 billion unexplained. They are now calling on Zambia’s tax authority to reassess their tax bill.

The Centre for Trade Policy and Development, a partner organisation of Christian Aid, has also joined calls for the government to investigate. Their director Savior Mwambwa said: “The auditors’ report appears to confirm the claims of Zambian civil society that mining companies are depriving the people of Zambia of social and economic benefits that are rightly theirs.”

Glencore International have been quick to defend Mopani. A spokesperson for the company said: “This draft report contains factual errors and inaccuracies. It is based on broad and flawed statistical analysis and assumptions.”

Mopani has received a €48 million loan from the European Investment Bank owned by EU member states. David McNair, Senior Economic Justice Adviser at Christian Aid says that the Bank should investigate the accusations against the company and possibly review who they lend to, “Given that tax abuse runs counter to European development policy.”

Meanwhile campaigners are concerned that countries like Zambia all over the world are missing out on money that could contribute to the welfare of their people, thanks to dodgy multinationals, a shady world finance system and lack of political will.

Call on the G20 to End Tax Secrecy here.

CAS @ Battlefront Debate – Getting You To Hear Us

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on February 18 2011

Are young people apathetic or bored with politicians? Would they rather get their voices heard through voting, protests or Facebook? These were some of the questions flying around at Tuesday (February 15) night’s Battlefront Debate – Getting You To Hear Us. Ctrl.Alt.Shift headed over to Channel 4 HQ in Westminster, London, to see what people had to say…..

Battlefront is a Channel 4 project that gives young campaigners a TV and digital platform to make some noise about an issue they’re passionate about. At the debate, an audience of young activists, journalists and students tackled a panel on issues around youth empowerment and successful campaigning.

Those in line for questioning were Tory Tim Loughton MP (Minister for Children and Families), Aaron Porter (NUS President), brand wielder John Stopp (Head of Production at The Viral Factory), Miquita Oliver (T4 and Battlefront host) and road safety campaigner Manpreet Darroch (displaying the fruits of Battlefront 2008).

Questioning went straight onto the topic of Anastasia Kyriacou’s campaign calling for the voting age to be lowered to 16. Manpreet Darroch pointed out how 16 year olds can start families, join the army and work full time; so why shouldn’t they vote? And most of the panel agreed – Aaron Porter, despite assuring everyone he had “no plans!” to become a politician himself, thought young people needed more ways to get into politics in general.

Thoughts swung left, right and centre regarding how that can be done, with some claiming it was also the responsibility of those in Parliament to get off their backsides and do more to engage the next generation… a spot of tension ensued as Tim Loughton was challenged by an audience participant for not responding to her emails (though he did demand to have a chat with her following the debate to exchange details… once again).

Questioning moved on to how to turn engagement with politics and society into real change and youth influence. Manpreet Darroch said a good campaign was all about authenticity and passion. John Stopp agreed and Aaron Porter said a variety of methods was important, including direct action “within the law”. The compare then pointed out historical figures such as Nelson Mandela (who is now seen as a hero to many), have broken the law through direct action to gain a shift in the status quo.

So what new innovative techniques can young people use in campaigning? While John Stopp thought media attention was key, others thought it was more to do with authenticity, grassroots campaigning, and going straight to the source of power.

And what about Battlefront itself? Is it an example of grassroots campaigning; with campaigners supported by Channel 4 and mentored by experts? Miquita Oliver stood firm stating how Battlefront is merely an opportunity, only a platform for people who had already been campaigning for years, with passion for the good cause engrained with and without the project. This was on show during the debate as many of the Battlefront campaigners (past and present) sat in the audience, hands held high throughout to grill the panel and relay their opinions.

One of the final questions of the night regarding voting and political engagement was “how young is too young?” My stand up highlight of the event was the response by Youth Engagement Worker Nikki Brocher, who said we should be talking about an age cap on voting (not a minimum age); as some people over 25 had already closed their minds, and that more young people should have a say as it will be the next generation who will have to pay for the past generation’s mistakes…

But note – whether or not you agree with Nikki or any of the members on the panel, whether or not you’re supported by the media and politicians, whether you take action through Battlefront or Ctrl.Alt.Shift – keep on campaigning, and follow in the footsteps of those all over the world who have kept going until they got what they wanted for their futures.

Dust From A Distant Sun: Cambodia’s Garment Workers

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 4 February 2011

Over 300 garment workers in Cambodia have lost their jobs after striking for a ‘living wage’ in the latest dispute between workers and bosses for better pay and conditions.

So why should you care? Well, next time you’re choosing your out-of-office / weekend attire, remember that certain high street brands such as Gap, Zara and H&M, get some of their clothes from many of the factories involved (according to Labour Behind The Label).

Before my own trip to Cambodia – alongside a reporting crew in December 2010 –  we had been briefed on the country: the cultural dos and don’ts, the weather, and what issues the country faced. One of the things that interested me particularly was that some freedom of speech was slowly being eroded in Cambodian society, and there were people who were becoming more reluctant to take part in strikes or protests.

While doing further research for the trip, a story about Cambodian garment workers clashing with police caught my eye . The workers had gone on strike after the suspension of a union official. I was curious after what we had been told so tried to find out more on my trip…

In Cambodia I had a chat with a local development worker Simorn, who works for DCA/CA’s Joint  Programme* (a partnership between Danish Church Aid and Christian Aid). Simorn said often the companies say no to things like higher wages because they have to pay out money for things like electricity, as Cambodia’s garment industry wasbadly hit by the recession.

Simorn also explained how some garment workers suffer abuse at the hands of management in the factories. Some union workers have tried to negotiate for better conditions but have had little success, and unrest among workers had been worsened by the assassination of one of the most popular and outspoken union leaders,Chea Vichea in 2004.

According to the president of the Cambodian Labour Federation, Ath Thom, the latest dispute over unfair dismissals involves 379 workers from 18 factories. But Ken Loo, the secretary general of Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said he thought these figures were inflated and that most of the suspended workers had been reinstated.

Ath Thom has appealed to the Prime Minister and sent a letter to the Ministry of Labour about the situation. According to Labour Behind The Label, the government has called on employers to reinstate workers, and the charity says the actions of employers are in contravention of the Cambodian Constitution and Labour Laws.

Now various NGOs and organisations, led by Clean Clothes, are calling for people to contact H&M, Gap and Zara to increase pressure on their suppliers and show their customers that they are committed to ‘freedom of association’ in Cambodia.

It’s your choice how you take action – but do acknowledge that our Cambodian brothers and sisters need our support; support that is warranted, as we, as the consumers of the products they make, play a part in this equation.

Building A Forum For Women In Bangladesh

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 31 January 2011

Discover how women in Bangladesh are learning more about their rights, their purpose and potential power in the home, government and society as a whole. Amy Hall reports…

Traditionally, women in Bangladesh are not encouraged to take part in public life and have less access to education; but increasingly Women’s Forums and savings schemes mean that groups of women have strong voices within their communities.

Christian Aid’s Gen Lomax recently visited Bangladesh and met women involved in groups that work with Christian Aid’s partner organisation CCDB. Perceptions of women’s equality have begun to change since these groups were set up and some Women’s Forums have received training in influencing politics. They have learnt about their rights, and are becoming increasingly demanding towards the local government ensuring that it is more accountable.

The women Gen spoke to found these groups valuable in increasing the voice of women within their community but also in gaining independence as individuals. Mononoma Kunda, 49, is a member of Bashundhara Forum and has been since 1985.

She has received training on rights and advocacy which she put to good use when a powerful neighbour occupied some of her land: “When I joined the forum, I raised my voice and we discussed this problem. We then took this to the local government and they measured the land, and now the man has left!”

Mononoma has not always had this independence though, “My husband did not want me to go to the forum because he wanted me to make meals and stay at home. Sometimes he was very angry. Now he always encourages me. He sees that now I am independent, I earn money and his opinion has changed…We have built faith, love, trust, and now we respect each other. Now I make joint decisions in my family. The forum is our pride.”

Another proud husband is Shakti Kirtoniya. His wife Monika Kirtoniya has received agricultural training via the Sonali Swapna Forum (Golden Dream Forum). “I feel happy that my wife is part of this forum.
Before she just worked at home. But now she has a business and works outside. She earns money which we can spend on our children, on our lives. Now she knows so many things, she has received so much training and is a skilled woman with experience.”

At 16 Nipa Mojumder is already part of the Sonali Swapna Forum. Nipa is not part of the forum, her mother is. Her parents are supportive of her activities and she says that their generation is beginning to change its perceptions. “It is not possible to develop our country if men and women don’t work together… My parent’s generation is very conservative, but now this is changing. They want women to work outside. Previously there were superstitions about everything, now this is changing.”

By organising together women all over the world are raising their voices and becoming active in public life. This empowerment has a positive affect on their families and people around them and seems to be the only way towards sustainable development.

Pakistan Floods: 6 Months On

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 27 January 2011

Amy Hall reports back on what is happening in Pakistan since the massive floods that hit the country six months ago and on what Christian Aid has been doing to help the people affected…

Six months ago Pakistan was hit with flooding which killed 2000 people and left a fifth of the country underwater.

Since then people have been trying to rebuild their communities in a recovery which has been predicted to takeyears. With food prices rising and mass unemployment, life has been hard for the 20 million people affected by the flooding.

Much of the world was slow to pick up on how much devastation the country was facing and some decided to focus on the negativity surrounding how the President was dealing with the situation. Instability caused by the flooding has also led to concerns about the already insecure situation in Pakistan. Despite the slow start however, Christian Aid’s Neill Garvie told us that NGO work in Pakistan has been well coordinated with effective communication mechanisms in place.

Christian Aid has been working with its partners in Pakistan as part of ACT Alliance, a group of 105 organisations working in humanitarian assistance and development worldwide. Christian Aid has raised £4.8million to help the victims of the flooding, and assifrom those funds has reached 15, 460 households so far.

Emily Reilly from Christian Aid visited Pakistan in the months following the floods. She spoke to women affected by the disaster who told her one of most useful things they had received were female specific hygiene kits and mobile medical units with female and male doctors. In the aftermath of the flooding, diseases associated with lack of hygiene became more prevalent as conditions were cramped and many people were living in makeshift shelters by the roadside. Women were suffering from hygine related diseases at a higher rate than men as, because of the conservative culture and lack of facilities, women could not find private spaces in which to wash and keep clean.
In the future, Christian Aid’s partners will keep up their efforts to provide food, shelter, water, sanitation and healthcare to people in the region, whilst also working on disaster risk reduction and helping people to have more secure livelihoods. If this strategy is continued, if Pakistan should face a similar disaster in the future, the devastation will be more manageable.

Christian Aid have also joined in partnership with Muslim Hands, an organisation working to help rebuild a village made up of Hindus, Christians and Muslims, a circumstance unusual in Pakistan. The country is 95% Muslim, and most of the other 5% are Hindus and Christians.

“We’re really excited about this partnership,” Neill Garvie told us. “The aim of this project is about making sure people have somewhere to live, but if another outcome is that people share and participate with each other more across faiths then that’s great.”

“I think situations like this demonstrate that although you can have conflicts between religions, at the end of the day these kinds of disasters affect everyone equally. Whatever background you come from it doesn’t matter and it can bring people together.”

It is hoped that development and disaster reduction projects like this will not only help Pakistan recover from the devastation the flooding has caused, but also help to foster unity amongst its people and lay the foundations for a more stable future.

Bangladesh, And The Aftermath Of Cyclone Aila

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 26 January 2011

Amy Hall finds out from Christian Aid’s Gen Lomax how the nation is getting on after the devastation of Cyclone Aila in May 2009, as well as what help has been provided by our partner organisation, Shushilan…
When Cyclone Aila hit coastal areas of Bangladesh in May 2009 it caused massive devastation. Nearly 300 people were killed and thousands of others displaced in one of Bangladesh’s worst cyclones in recent years.

It is now nearly two years on and the affects are still being felt, including in one of the worst hit areas, the Satkhira district. Many people have had livelihoods disrupted or destroyed but some positive links have been formed as families try and pick up the pieces.

Gen Lomax is a Communications and Development Officer for Christian Aid and has recently visited Bangladesh talking to people in the Satkhira district, one of the areas worst affected by the cyclone. During her trip she learnt about the work of Christian Aid partner organisation Shushilan.

The cyclone, combined with issues like lack of infrastructure and increasing climate change, has had a profound affect on communities. In Bangladesh about 830, 000 hectares of cultivable land has been damaged by saline (salt) water intrusion. This is a problem which has been worsened by the cyclone and is linked to climate change.
However, crabs can survive in this kind of environment so Shushilan has been training people in crab rearing as a more sustainable way of supporting themselves and their families.

Asha (a name meaning hope) is 28. She and her husband, Shonteshi (35), work side by side fattening crabs. As well as helping them provide for their family Asha said that this work has also brought them closer together:
“Before Aila my husband was involved in crab fattening, but now I am involved more too. I feed the crabs, catch them and then sell them in the market.”

Mofazzal Kagzi is 69, in Bangladesh the life expectancy for a man is 67 I am using the figure 66 based on (UNSD, 2008). He is a fisherman but when Cyclone Aila hit his village his pond was destroyed and all his fish escaped. He has been supported in rebuilding his pond replenishing his stocks with fish better adapted to the highly salinated water.

Mofazzal is forward thinking. When asked about the changes he has seen in his lifetime he said, “The positive changes I have seen are in relation to women. Before women never used to go out. Now they go out, they ride bicycles, and they are able to work outside of the home.”

On the more negative side, Mofazzal has also noticed changes to the climate: “Before we used to have six seasons”, he explains. “Everything was going well. But now there are changes. Too much rain, then drought, then heat.”

Climate change continues to be one of the greatest threats the world faces and is particularly putting poor communities in countries like Bangladesh at risk. Scientists have linked more intense cyclones in the Bay of Bengal with warmer seas linked to global temperature rises. Many people, like those Gen met in Bangladesh, depend on the environment to support themselves and it is these people on the front line that are already hit worst.