Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fight for a union

According to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) the share of private-sector workers in a union has fallen precipitously—from one in three in the 1950s to about one in 20 today—wage inequality has risen as a result.

Union decline has exacerbated wage inequality in the United States by dampening the pay of non-union workers as well as by eroding the share of workers directly benefiting from unionization," reads the EPI report. "Rebuilding our system of collective bargaining is an important tool available for fueling wage growth for both low- and middle-wage workers and ending the era of persistent wage stagnation."

The paper notes that several culprits have been blamed for the fact that pay for private-sector workers has "barely budged over the past three and a half decades"—including globalization, technological change, and the slowdown in Americans' educational attainment. "Each of these accounts describes important developments contributing to pay stagnation and pay decline for certain groups of workers," EPI acknowledges. "Yet these explanations ignore a vital contributing factor: the near disappearance of a worker institution that once claimed over one-third of private-sector employees as members." That is, unions.

The think tank found that if union membership rates were as high today as they were in 1979, men who aren't in a union would make five percent, or about $2,700 more, per year. For less educated men, the decline is even more impactful; non-union men without a bachelor's degree would have made $3,016 more in 2013―an 8 percent increase―under 1979 levels of union membership.

"Many American workers can see those unions as either minor bit players in today's economy or good for union members alone to the detriment of society at large," study co-author Jake Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Washington University in St. Louis, said. "This is a study that says that's wrong: unions are good for members and non-members alike."

“…the report's findings are fresh ammunition for progressives who maintain that strengthening unions, rather than, say, closing our borders to immigrants, is the key to restoring broad wage growth and stemming income inequality," reporter Daniel Marens comments.

Another commentator Hamilton Nolan in his analysis of the EPI report wrote: "Don't get mad at foreigners. Unionize. It's the only battle in the class war that lies entirely within your power to win."

SOYMB would however add a caveat to Nolan’s view by saying union/workers' rights and protections are fairly easily surrendered out of fear of the company shutting down and moving out. Capitalism’s recurring crises go way beyond anything that can be addressed merely by providing a measure of security to workers. We have to end the capitalist system. 

Can Capitalism Go Green?

Insurance companies are increasingly shouldering many of the costs associated with a warming planet, whether it be from extreme weather damage or reimbursing farmers for lost crops. Multi-national insurance giants Aviva, Aegon, and Amlin, which together manage $1.2tn in assets, released a statement calling on the leaders of the world's biggest economies to commit to ending coal, oil, and gas subsidies within four years.

"Climate change in particular represents the mother of all risks—to business and to society as a whole. And that risk is magnified by the way in which fossil fuel subsidies distort the energy market," said Aviva CEO Mark Wilson. "These subsidies are simply unsustainable." Wilson added, "We're calling on governments to kick away these carbon crutches, reveal the true impact to society of fossil fuels and take into account the price we will pay in the future for relying on them."

In the first half of 2016 alone, natural catastrophes have caused $70bn in losses, of which $27bn was insured, according to an assessment by insurance and reinsurance company Munich RE—with events of particular note being climate-related "storms in the U.S. and Europe, massive forest fires in Canada, and the complete absence of typhoons in the northwestern Pacific." And housing data firm Zillow recently published an analysis which found that as many as 1.9 million homes across the country could be underwater by 2100 if the seas rise as much as climate scientists predict, amounting to property losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

In 2009, G20 leaders agreed to "rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption." Five years later, this goal rings "empty" to Shelagh Whitley, research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which estimates that such assistance amounts of roughly $444bn each year.
"These subsidies fuel dangerous climate change," said Whitley. "If we are to have any chance of meeting the 2°C target set at the Paris climate summit then governments need to start a program of rapid decarbonization. The finance sector recognizes the importance of moving away from fossil fuels, governments need to realize they may be the only ones left not moving."

The Sierra Club recently launched its Fossil Free Finance campaign to encourage G20 governments to stop pouring public money "into the pockets of Big Coal, Oil, and Gas each year, exacerbating the climate crisis, polluting our air and water, opening up new fossil fuel reserves, and hurting our families and communities. In the past seven years, we’ve seen historic climate progress across the U.S. and around the globe," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "But while the world moves forward toward a 100 percent clean energy economy, G20 leaders have remained stagnant, with the world waiting on empty promises."

The state will not willingly enforce strong environmental protection laws against companies because it does not want to cut into their profits (and its own tax revenue). In addition, it is often feared that strong environmental laws will make countries 'unattractive for investment'. However there is an argument presented that some capitalists especially those who feel the detrimental effects of climate change will try to direct governments in a more environmentally friendly direction.  They argue that we should not underestimate the flexibility of capital to restructure itself in response to the environmental crises and to open up new areas of capital accumulation outside the fossil fuel industries.  But as the journal, Aufheben, says:
 “Green capitalism is still capitalism. Capitalism is still a system of class exploitation that will seek to impose its costs of restructuring onto the proletariat. That remains so even if it manages to stop itself destroying the planet…The costs of reorienting global capital accumulation away from fossil fuels grow by the day. Should capitalism move in this direction, it is inevitable that capital will attempt to impose the costs of this transition onto the proletariat, whether through inadequate adaptation measures leading to population displacements or through 'green austerity'…”

The Pygmies of Itombwe

Another story of how indigenous peoples struggle when their land is declared a nature reserve.

“The state is itself a threat to our forests: it makes a complete mess of things by handing out timber licences. It gives them to anyone willing to pay, and we see these people come and cut down our trees with impunity. They cut down our medicinal trees and, with them, the bark and fruits used for our medical treatments. They cut down our caterpillar trees, our oil trees,” says Irangi, who is a member of the Mbuti Pygmies. He lives on the edge of the Itombwe reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He has watched as trees have been chopped down for charcoal to be sent to Bukavu and Rwanda. “These people come with their weapons and take everything: the trees, the animals,” says Irangi. “They even kill species whose hunting we forbid, like the pangolin and the gorilla. Because they have weapons, they believe that they’re above our laws. “We also know that our subsoil is rich. One company has already come to dig for gold. If we don’t protect our forest, more aggressors will come and invade our lands. This is why we have to conserve it.”

The Itombwe forest is the world’s second-largest forest basin, an incomparable wealth of biodiversity has been preserved: rare trees, tropical birds and some of the last gorillas on the planet. International demand for the DRC’s natural resources, in addition to the country’s gradual economic and rapid population growth – and consequent appetite for exploitable land – are taking their toll on the forest. In 2006, the government created the Itombwe nature reserve, supported by WWF and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The reserve delineated an area of 15,000 square metres within which all human activity was forbidden. But this area doesn’t simply contain flora and fauna. It is also home to the Mbuti indigenous people, who have lived and depended on this ecosystem for millennia. Though not protected as indigenous by the state – which would mean recognising their traditional rights over the land – there are at least 600,000 Mbuti Pygmies in the DRC, according to government estimates, including about 60,000 in the Itombwe forest. They live a semi-nomadic life.

“When we learned that the reserve was created we were angry,” recalls Marie, a woman from Kitale village in the mountains. “If you found out that the place where you gather and hunt your food, where you find your medicines, where the resting place of your ancestors is located, was to be taken … would you be happy? We were afraid that they would steal all of this from us. So we met and decided: we’re not going to let this happen.” She continued “In this forest we find the wood to build our homes, the fruits and the takus [caterpillars] we eat … We gather plants, we hunt, we fish – it’s our life.”

In the 1980s, in the neighbouring national park of Kahuzi-Biega, nearly 6,000 Pygmies were expelled from their villages, condemned to re-establish themselves outside the forest without government support. Today, these groups live in extremely precarious conditions along the major thoroughfares. Deprived of their traditional food sources, lands and identities, they work as manual labourers. Irangi and his community know this story all too well – it took place only 200km from Itombwe. “We don’t know what will become of us, but we know it’s not a good thing for our forest to belong to the state,” he says. “This land belongs to us because our entire lives are here: we find our food here, our pharmacy, everything we need. We, the Bambuti [plural of Mbuti], can’t live outside of the forest; our nature is to live here.”

“It’s an old approach to conservation that pushes people out of protected areas in order to conserve nature,” says Lars Løvold, director of Rainforest Foundation Norway, an NGO that defends the rights of indigenous people. “This comes to us from the classic American vision of wild and pristine nature, while in reality, what one thinks to be a virgin forest has in fact been inhabited and delicately manipulated by man for millennia.”

The Mbuti Pygmies have a traditional knowledge of their land, and have their own methods of conservation, which they call their “traditional technologies”.
“We know how to protect our forest because nobody knows it the way we do. We know where the animals give birth, where they sleep and during which periods one must never kill them,” says Mapenzi, a young hunter. “I know all of the traditional methods and was trained by the guardians of our customs. I know the sites and the periods for hunting and fishing. During the dry season, we don’t hunt, because the animals give birth. And there are authorised animals, like the mokumbi [the Gambian pouched rat], and those which must not be killed, like the gorilla. We have our own traditional conservation technologies. The animals that the modern law wants to conserve are already under our customary protection. These are the laws our ancestors established. We will continue to use our technologies to manage our forest with the knowledge of our ancestors.”

The rules are numerous, and those who break them are subject to severe punishment. “The malambo are the sacred sites where the animals give birth,” says Irangi. “There, we don’t have the right to hunt. Just as we don’t set traps near the river where the animals go to drink. If you don’t obey, the guardians of custom will place the muzombo on you. It’s a punishment by death.” Whether a spiritual death sentence or more probably an excommunication, the members of the community believe in the punishment and respect the rules.

Løvold explains, “The majority of conservation organisations have adopted the rhetoric of working with local communities, but in practice their approach remains very instrumentalising, which indicates that they engage members of the community for certain tasks but don’t work deeply with them. It’s not enough to give indigenous peoples a little job; one must truly implicate them in every step of the management of the ecosystem.”

The Pygmies certainly want to conserve their lands and traditions, but they also want access to modern services such as health and education.
“Pygmies are going through profound change,” says Jean de Dieu Wasso, coordinator of Africapacity, a Bukavu-based organisation. “They have suffered forced displacements and violence within a general framework of discrimination as minorities … The community must be free to make its choices and to evolve. The important thing is to respect the international principle of self-determination, guaranteed by the declaration of the UN on the rights of indigenous peoples.” 

The Future is gloomy for benefit claimants

The UK’s social security system is rapidly becoming unfit for purpose, as successive cuts leave children and working-age adults with an increasingly inadequate safety net for when families fall on hard times, according to a study.

Most low-income working households will be worse off by 2020, while years of social security squeezes mean the income of families on out-of-work benefits will have fallen by up to one-fifth, the analysis by the Fabian Society shows.

At the same time, the cash value of the basic personal tax allowances is on course to have increased by 80% in 2020 from what it was in 2010, meaning that by the end of the decade a typical high-income household will receive more financial support from the state than low-income families reliant on benefits.

The crisis in living standards for poorer families will get worse over the next few years as their incomes deteriorate, while child poverty and inequality will rise sharply, even with strong economic growth, the study says. Under current policy, social security spending as a percentage of national income is likely to half in the next few years, a prospect it says is unsustainable. It calculates that if there is “reasonable economic growth” in the next few years it will be possible to invest billions in working-age social security without raising taxes.

Andrew Harrop, the general secretary of the Fabian Society, said: “For six years of the Cameron government, ‘austerity’ dominated all discussion of benefit policies. But social security for non-pensioners will be worse in 2020 than it was in 2010 and will carry on getting worse in the decade that follows…”

Hundreds of thousands of private sector tenants would face a £100 a month shortfall between rent and housing benefits by the end of the decade.


Under Investor State Dispute Settlement, (ISDS) a legal system enshrined in thousands of global treaties, empowers corporations and rich investors at the expense of citizens and democracy. Multinationals are granted a parallel legal system through which they can sue governments, and therefore taxpayers, for loss of "expected future profit," with the power to overrule national laws and judicial systems.

"Workers, environmentalists, and human rights advocates don't get the right to use ISDS; only big corporations do," US senator Elizabeth Warren has said. "That's a rigged system."

Journalist David Dayen outlined how "ISDS has increasingly become a way for rich investors to make money by speculating on lawsuits, winning huge awards, and forcing taxpayers to foot the bill."

Here's how it works

“Wealthy financiers with idle cash have purchased companies that are well placed to bring an ISDS claim, seemingly for the sole purpose of using that claim to make a buck. Sometimes, they set up shell corporations to create the plaintiffs to bring ISDS cases. And some hedge funds and private equity firms bankroll ISDS cases as third parties—just like billionaire Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan in his lawsuit against Gawker Media.” A "huge number of opportunities to sue," plus the prospect of uncapped awards, "have the ISDS claim-financing industry booming," according to Dayen. "Hedge funds, private equity firms and institutional investors are flocking to fund lawsuits as they would any other speculative asset," he said, citing experts in the field. "And the lack of transparency means that lawyers acting as arbitrators or advocates in one case could be unnamed investors in other cases, and nobody would ever know." He wrote, "Once a venue of last resort for corporations wronged in a foreign jurisdiction, ISDS is now a playground where investors with no connection to the initial investment can get rich." Dayen warned, “Giving financiers the ability to extract taxpayer dollars from around the globe transfers wealth upwards. It's another way the rich get richer by accessing tools unavailable to most citizens. That has massive follow-on effects for economic and political power worldwide, including right here in the U.S.”

According to investigative journalist Chris Hamby, “companies and executives accused or even convicted of crimes have escaped punishment by turning to" ISDS. “Reviewing publicly available information for about 300 claims filed during the past five years, BuzzFeed News found more than 35 cases in which the company or executive seeking protection in ISDS was accused of criminal activity, including money laundering, embezzlement, stock manipulation, bribery, war profiteering, and fraud.” Hamby tells the story of how battery factory owners in El Salvador, accused of aggravated environmental pollution and neglect, used the threat of ISDS to evade accountability—despite devastating lead contamination in Sitio del Niño, the town where the factory was based. 

"The mere threat of an ISDS claim" is often enough "to halt or roll back legitimate public-interest laws. It's like flashing a gun at a tense negotiation—better not to use it, but the guys across the table know it's there," Hamby writes of the threat of arbitration.

Pending trade agreements would dramatically expand this system—and in turn, these corporate-friendly consequences. Dayen pointed to a Public Citizen estimate that 9,000 new companies would gain ISDS rights to sue the United States under TPP alone. "That's 9,000 new opportunities for financiers to reach down into state and local coffers, in addition to the federal government, to grab cash," he wrote. Both reporters note that countries including Indonesia, Ecuador, and India are "trying to renegotiate or nullify treaties containing ISDS," as Hamby puts it.  But perhaps, as Dayen wrote, "the easiest way to fix ISDS is to throw it out."

Meet Tisa

Now that agreement to Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is floundering, meet Trade In Services Agreement (TISA), an international trade deal being negotiated in secret, described as a “turbo-charged privatisation pact” that poses a threat to democratic sovereignty and “the very concept of public services”, campaigners have warned.

TISA is a deal backed by some of the world’s biggest corporations, such as Microsoft, Google, IBM, Walt Disney, Walmart, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase. While TTIP is only between the EU and US, those behind TISA have global ambitions as it involves most of the world’s major economies – with the notable exceptions of China and Russia – in a group they call the “Really Good Friends of Services”.

According to Global Justice Now’s report, the deal could “lock in privatisation of public services”; allow “casino capitalism” by undermining financial regulations designed to prevent a recurrence of the 2008 recession; threaten online privacy; damage efforts to fight climate change; and prevent developing countries from improving public services.
Nick Dearden, director of group, said: “This deal is a threat to the very concept of public services. It is a turbo-charged privatisation pact, based on the idea that rather than serving the public interest, governments must step out of the way and allow corporations to ‘get on with it’. Of particular concern, we fear TISA will include clauses that will prevent governments taking public control of strategic services, and inhibit regulation of the very banks that created the financial crash.” He continued to explain “Many people were persuaded to leave the EU on the grounds they would be ‘taking back control’ of our economic policy. But if we sign up to TISA, our ability to control our economy – to regulate, to protect public services, to fight climate change – is massively reduced. In effect, we would be handing large swathes of policy-making to big business.” He added, “TISA threatens public services. From postal services to the NHS, TISA could lock in privatisation and ensure that big multinationals increasingly call the shots on areas like health, education and basic utilities.”

Daniel Bertossa, PSI’s director of policy, said: “Anybody who’s interested in maintaining democratic control of national institutions should be very concerned about the Trade in Services Agreement that is being negotiated in secret. “It will remove large sections of national sovereignty and the ability of any government, including the UK Government, to regulate important service sectors [on issues] such as energy, such as transport, such as privacy. The Trade in Services Agreement is part of a radical project to limit governments’ sovereign right to regulate and freeze it almost in permanence in the interests of foreign corporations.”

The report says there is a danger the final TISA deal would “undermine efforts to regulate risky financial products” with a proposal that firms should be allowed to offer “any new financial service”. The danger is that TISA will deter governments from limiting the use of such ‘innovative’ financial products and leave us powerless to stop the next financial crisis.

TISA could also potentially prevent governments from favouring renewable energy over fossil fuels – despite the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the health effects of air pollution. Private firms would also be allowed to move online data from one country to another under one proposal being considered. While the original country’s privacy laws would have to be respected, the report said it was “not clear how this will be … enforced”.

In many developing countries, if they signed up to the deal, it could effectively prevent them from setting up public institutions taken for granted in the West.

A so-called “ratchet” clause in the deal means that after a service – like trains or water or energy – is privatised, this is almost impossible to reverse even if it fails. Also in included is a “standstill” clause that means “no new regulation can be passed that gives foreign companies worse treatment” than when TISA is passed.

Dearden  goes on to explain “Taken together, the standstill and ratchet clauses could make it much
harder for a future government to renationalise the railways, a move backed by a majority of the British public. Similarly, it could mean that the creeping privatisation of the NHS becomes more and more irreversible with greater involvement of companies from countries like the US. And forget taking control of the electricity system back from the big six energy firms.”

Migrant workers could be classified as “independent service suppliers”, the report says, meaning they would not be eligible for the minimum wage or be allowed to join a union. People going to another country may find their visa is tied to their job, so if they were sacked, they would be deported.
“This sort of system of modern indentured labour is wide open to abuse by unscrupulous employers who may get away with illegal practices safe in the knowledge that they can threaten any employee with deportation if they complain," the report says. “This sort of system is used in countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar and has resulted in working conditions that have been described as being close to slavery.”

The war the British government wishes to ignore

The United Nations has significantly revised the estimated death toll from Yemen's 18-month civil war to up to 10,000 people - a huge increase on the previous estimate of more than 6,000.

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator, said the new figure was based on official information from medical facilities in Yemen. The number could rise further, McGoldrick said, as some areas had no medical facilities, and people were often buried without any official record being made. "We know the numbers are much higher but we can't tell you by how much," McGoldrick explained. “The figures we have are probably incomplete because we take the numbers from functioning health services, and in some of these areas there are no functioning health services. People get killed or die and are actually buried before they are recorded, and we don't have a way of recording that."

The conflict has displaced three million Yemenis and forced 200,000 people to seek refuge abroad, McGoldrick said. Some 14 million of Yemen's 26 million population need food aid and seven million are suffering from food insecurity, he added.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

China and the Amazon Forest

China is searching constantly for supplies from overseas. And it wants to obtain them, naturally, as cheaply as it can. Now in prospect is China’s trans-Amazon railway— a 3,300-mile-long (5,000 km) artery to link the soya-growing areas and iron ore mines of Brazil to the southern Peruvian port of Ilo, providing a cheaper, shorter route than the Panama Canal. China is keen to build the railway because it would reduce by U$30 a tonne the cost of importing grain and minerals via the Panama Canal. Once operational, the line would be expected to carry  a third of Brazil`s soya exports to China, some 35 million tonnes annually.

Feasibility studies on three different trajectories were carried out by the China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group (CREEC). The route preferred by the Chinese, because it is cheaper and avoids the complex engineering work needed to traverse the Andes, would instead pass through heavily forested areas in the Amazon, home to many indigenous groups in both Brazil and Peru. Both Brazilian and Peruvian environmental protection agencies have criticised those who chose the route for showing little concern for its impacts. The Peruvian ministries of culture and the environment said that native communities must be consulted. But CREEC representatives told a Brazilian senate subcommittee that the responsibility for conducting studies on the environmental viability of the railway lay with Brazil and Peru. A study carried out by Brazil’s state-run rail operator, VALEC (Portuguese only), concluded that, besides impacting sensitive ecosystems, the railway would also require the construction of an entire town in the heart of the Amazon to house all the workers it employed.

China’s trans-Amazon railway was given the go-ahead in May 2015. The 3,300 km Brazilian stretch of the line begins on the Atlantic coast in the newly built port of Açu and runs due west, through the grain heartland of Mato Grosso state, then through the Amazonian states of Rondonia and Acre, to the Peruvian border, and then a further 1,700 km to the Pacific at Puerto Ilo. In Brazil the line would join other planned railways like the Centre-West Integration Railway, FICO, which will bring grain from neighbouring states. Some of the environmental licences necessary for the building of the railways have yet to be granted, although a bill to speed up the normally lengthy process is now before congress. CREEC wants work on the ambitious US$10bn trans-Amazon railway to begin in 2017, with completion set for 2025.

The environmental cost of a railway literally bisecting the Amazon region would be huge. Already about 20% of Brazil`s share of the forest (it is the country with the largest part) has been cleared for roads, cattle or grain. Between 2000 and 2010 the total Amazon region lost an area the size of the UK, about 240,000 sq. km. In 2005 and 2010 there were serious droughts. The dry season is growing longer, the rainy season shorter.  Scientists believe deforestation is contributing by sending more CO2 into the atmosphere, adding to climate change, which in turn contributes to the droughts. Some even believe that the Amazon rainforest is approaching a tipping point. Concerns for its devastating social and environmental impacts may not be enough to stop the railway because both the Brazilian and Peruvian governments seem keener to do business with China than they are to protect their indigenous communities and the so-called lungs of the world, the Amazon rainforest.

What could, however, prevent the line from becoming a reality is the possibility of an alternative, faster route, which is now taking shape. The BR163 highway, not yet fully paved, runs due north from Mato Grosso to connect with the new river port of Mirititiba on the Tapajos river, near the town of Itaituba.  From there, barges will take grain and minerals downriver to the terminal port at Santarem, located at the junction of the Tapajos with the Amazon, and then downstream to the Atlantic. Using the river system would cause much less environmental damage than a railway, although the BR163, which will feed the ports, has already caused considerable deforestation.

The Chinese onslaught on the Amazon is not confined to the railway. They have signed a deal with Ecuador to explore for oil in its part of Amazonia. And they are part of a consortium seeking to build a giant dam on the Tapajos river in Brazil. This project was recently suspended by a federal court because it would invade an indigenous area, but the consortium is appealing against the court’s decision.

Support the Unions

In America, according to an estimate from Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the top 1 percent of earners take home 25 percent of the nation’s income and control 40 percent of the wealth. Meanwhile, working-class wages have fallen over the past 40 years.

Membership in labor unions peaked in 1954 with 34.8 percent of workers, according to the Congressional Research Service, and has fallen since.

In 2015, 11.1 percent of American workers were members of a union, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. And that year median wages for union members were about 26 percent higher.

Why has union membership fallen?

One reason is that America’s workforce has largely shifted from low-skill manufacturing jobs — which are largely homogenous and easy to organize — to jobs involving high-skilled tasks that require a college education, and which are often more individualized. Moreover, with globalization and the outsourcing of jobs, American workers and the U.S. economy have been forced to compete against other countries where labor is often cheaper. Unions, by offering members higher wages, push up the cost of production and make it harder for American firms to compete. Add factory automation and the “demand for unskilled labor fell relative to the demand for skilled labor,” researchers at the Center for Economic Studies of the Census Bureau explained in a 2012 report. The Bureau defines unskilled workers “as clerical workers, laborers, operatives, and sales personnel, while skilled ones are taken to be craftsmen, managers, and professionals”

Dierk Herzer of Helmut-Schmidt-University in Hamburg, Germany examined the relationship between union membership and income inequality. He looks at two figures: The income share of the top 10 percent of earners in each U.S. state over the years 1964-2012, to measure inequality, and the rate of union membership in each state.

His findings were that in every state, the top 10 percent of earners gained control over a larger share of the wealth at the same time union membership declined. He saw a causal relationship between the density of union membership and income inequality over the long run. A 1 percent increase in union membership reduces the income share to the top 10 percent by 0.000514 percentage points. Given the average annual decline in union membership, that translates into the wealthiest 10 percent receiving an increase in income share of 0.00016 percent per year. The overall decline in union membership is responsible for about 5 percent of the increase in the income share of the top 10 percent. There is no evidence that income inequality led workers to leave unions. Moreover, a decrease in inequality does not boost union membership (even if it does hurt the wealth of the top 10 percent).

New York State had the highest union membership rate in the country at 24.7 percent; South Carolina had the lowest at 2.1 percent. Men were more likely to be members than women (11.5 percent compared to 10.6 percent). Public-sector workers were five-times more likely to be union members than private-sector workers. 

Black workers were more likely to be members than White, Asian or Hispanic workers finds a recent report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Black immigrants are more likely than native Blacks to be unionized. In 2015, Black immigrant workers had a unionization rate of 16.9 percent compared to 13.8 percent for native Blacks. Unionization rates for Black workers have declined across all sectors, but the decline has been especially steep for manufacturing (from 42.3 percent in 1983 to 13.3 percent in 2015).
The report, “Black Workers, Unions, and Inequality”, finds that Black union workers experience higher wages and better access to health insurance and retirement benefits than their non-union peers.  Black union workers on average earn $24.24 per hour, compared to $17.78 for non-union Black workers. Black union workers on average earn 16.4 percent higher wages than similar non-union Black workers. Black union workers are also 17.4 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance 71.4 percent of Black union workers have employer-provided health insurance, compared to 47.7 percent of non-union Black workers. And 18.3 percentage points more likely to have an employer-sponsored retirement plan. 61.6 percent of Black union members have employer-sponsored retirement plans, compared to 38.2 percent of non-union Black workers. Black union workers in low-wage occupations have wages that are 18.9 percent higher than their non-union counterparts.

Despite the clear benefits of being a member of a union, decades of anti-union policy decisions have resulted in a tenuous environment for collective bargaining. Over the past three decades, the Black unionization rate has dropped 56 percent while the overall unionization rate has fallen 48 percent. The deunionization that has occurred over the past thirty years has occurred alongside and contributed to a rise in U.S. wage inequality.

Cherrie Bucknor, author of the report added that “unionization for Black workers is critical to narrowing the wage gap between Black and white workers. When talking about growing wage inequality, you can’t exclude unions and the role they play in that discussion.”

The Cruel Sea

Today’s media report of 6,500 refugees being rescued from numerous unseaworthy and sinking small ships off the coast of Libya. This, not long after another 1,100 refugees were saved near Sicily.  More than 100,000 refugees have now reached Italy after crossing the Mediterranean in the past year, most coming from Libya. Libya remains the main gateway to the Central Mediterranean, and officials there claim the country’s severe cash crisis is driving a surge in the number involved in migrant smuggling trade. 

The Mediterranean is becoming even more deadly for migrants. The first half of 2016 saw a 67 percent increase in the number of migrants who died or disappeared trying to cross the Mediterranean compared to the same period last year, according to figures released in a report by IOM last week. The vast majority of deaths occur in the Central Mediterranean, where one in 29 migrants lost their lives attempting the crossing between January and June. This is compared to one in 410 who used the much shorter Eastern Mediterranean route between Turkey and Greece.

Experts say smugglers are using increasingly dangerous strategies to maximise their profits.

“Every day, we see more young people are getting involved in smuggling,” a senior official from Libya’s Department for Combatting Illegal Immigration told IRIN. “There is no work, no cash in the banks, and all the young people know that they can get easy cash from this type of work.” The official said ordinary people with an empty garage, farm, or house near the coast are starting to use these as holding places for migrants, while waiting for favourable sea conditions. “There are smugglers currently operating all along the western coast from Tripoli to Zuwara, and, as soon as the sea is good, they are ready to quickly transfer the migrants from these holding places to the sea,” he explained.

The migrant trade on Libya’s Mediterranean shoreline has always operated on the basis of supply and demand, but, with black market exchange rates for foreign currency soaring to more than double the official exchange rate, smugglers have also now dropped their prices, making the journey more affordable.

“A journey that once cost around $1,000 now costs as little $200 or $300, and we are hearing that some new smugglers are accepting as little as $100 per person,” Amjid told IRIN. “There are so many migrants waiting to go that often smugglers are now putting five or even 10 boats out to sea at a time from one departure point, where before it was maybe one or two.” This practice of launching multiple boats at once is complicating search-and-rescue efforts and has contributed to this year’s higher death toll, according to the IOM report. Not only are more boats being launched simultaneously, but they are also being packed with more migrants.
“They’ve gone up from 100 people on the rubber boats to 150 or 160. On the wooden boats, from around 450 to 550 before, we’re now seeing 550 to 800,” said Peter Sweetnam, director of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, a Malta-based NGO that operates two search-and-rescue vessels in the Mediterranean. “People aren’t normally wearing life jackets and the rubber boats often start to deflate when there are so many people on them,” Sweetnam added.

Smugglers began using inflatable boats last year when the supply of wooden, former fishing boats started running low. The EU’s Operation Sophia, launched last year with the aim of disrupting smuggling networks, destroys wooden boats following a rescue operation so they cannot be retrieved and reused by smugglers. But the smugglers have simply switched to using cheaper, rubber boats.

“These boats are meant for 10 people maximum, but the smugglers usually put 100-120 people into each one,” he said. “They don’t care about what happens to them at sea. They are just thinking about the money.”

The majority of migrants who set off from Libya are West Africans like Ali, who came to Libya in search of work. During 10 months there, he said he endured torture, imprisonment and being sold by traffickers. "In Libya, you can be killed at any second. Everybody has a gun. I just wanted to go out from there,” he told IRIN. Migrants from the Horn of Africa, particularly Eritreans, appear to have already started steering clear of Libya and increasing numbers are now attempting to set off for Europe from Egypt. Arrivals from Egypt now make up about 10 to 15 percent of all arrivals to Italy, said Flavio di Giacomo, a spokesman with IOM in Italy.



The pound has dropped and shares are down,
Whilst unemployment has increased;
The jobless Gove wears a new frown,
And the Farage barrage has ceased.
We’ve got no immigration now,
But still the leave camp makes a fuss;
There are no immigrants — but how?
Coz there’s no jobs for them - or us!
North of the Border, Scotland way,
The hairy Scots want to secede;
They’re looking forward to the day,
When they’ll undo the Brexit deed. (1)

Soon Ulster will join Ireland and,
Both Wales and Cornwall will withdraw;
From Britain to another land,
Like Celtic Brittany for sure.
And as for holidays abroad,
Forget the cruise around the Med;
The only break you’ll now afford,
Is lovely Jaywick Sands instead. (2)
We’ve lost the E.U. bureaucrats,
But still the UKIP-mongers moan;
These chuckleheaded Brexit twats,
Forgot we had some of our own!

And now we’ve got ‘our’ country back,
We can fulfil our destiny;
By waving the dis-Union Jack
And sinking into the North Sea!
We’ve got our own democracy,
Since we last had the E.U. Poll;
Our wealthy aristocracy,
Say they will fund the extra dole.
Congratulations, Brexitears,
What you’ve achieved took little brains;
The people in the coming years,
Will reap all your figmental gains!

(1) The SNP hope pro-Europe voters will choose ‘Independence’ at the next Scottish Referendum.

(2) Jaywick-an Essex seaside shanty town with 50% unemployment.

© Richard Layton

"the government cares more about animals than it does about us."

Following on from our earlier blog on conservation refugees, this story was featured on the BBC website

Two decades ago Batwa pygmies were thrown out of their native forests in Uganda to make way for the country's mountain gorilla tourism. They have lived here in abject poverty since being expelled from the forests they lived in as part of a much lauded conservation programme in the 1990s.

Since the days when Uganda's wildlife was hunted down and slaughtered in great numbers, the country has earned a reputation as a conservation success story. Elephant numbers have sky-rocketed and the population of wild mountain gorillas has been steadily increasing. Uganda's national parks now attract tourists from around the world and provide a significant boost to the country's economy.

Yet for the country's estimated 3,000 to 7,000 Batwa it has come at a great cost. The evicted Batwa were never compensated with land by the government and most now live as squatters or vassals to local landowners. A survey in 2000 found the life expectancy of the Batwa to be just 28, with almost 40% dying before the age of five. According to Penninah Zaninka, coordinator for the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU), being landless has left them extremely vulnerable.

"They're completely dependent now," she says, sitting at her desk at UOBDU's headquarters in the nearby town of Kisoro. You can't have a voice if you don't have land. They [the town's non-Batwa residents] see them as inferior; they abuse them and mock them. In some places you'll see the Batwa shaking with fear when people talk to them."

Anette Ntakirutimana, 20, makes her meagre living working as a farm hand, and has to choose between food and money for her payment. If she chooses money, she gets less than $0.90 (£0.70) for a full day's labour, barely enough to keep her and her two young children alive. If she chooses food, then there is no chance of ever saving enough to change the way she is living. Occasionally she makes a little extra money by dressing in fake animal skins and dancing for tourists. She finds it demeaning. Like most of the Batwa, she has faced extreme discrimination. At school she was raped, then, two years ago, she almost died when a local landowner doused her in kerosene and set her alight after he caught her foraging for food in his garden.

To the Batwa the forest was everything. It provided them with meat, honey and fruits to eat, animal skins to keep them warm, herbs to treat their illnesses and, they believe, spirits of their ancestors to protect them. Jossy Muhangi, spokesman for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), says that the pygmies' presence in the forest was damaging to the gorillas and that their eviction has played a part in significant increases in gorilla populations.
"The Batwa were always friends of the gorillas," he says. "They did not eat them, but their snares and traps were dangerous. And they could spread respiratory diseases".

In the 1930s the British colonial government declared vast swathes of the south-west to be forest reserves, forcing out some of the Batwa there and then. Others managed to avoid eviction until 1991 when Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni with support from the World Bank, officially gazetted the land into a series of national parks.

Mahuk Isaac remembers the day it happened as if it were yesterday. He was hunting in the Bwindi forest when the armed men arrived and told his family they had to leave.
"We could not imagine any other life," he says, sitting hunched over on a wooden bench in a dirt-encrusted suit many times his size. "But we could not argue. We were afraid of the guns." Isaac's family collected some personal items; spears, bows, cooking pots, animal skins and pets and walked out of the forest for the last time. In the following years five of his seven children died of disease. It is not the poverty that angers Mr Isaac, it is the humiliation of being dependent on others for everything. "In the forest what we had was ours," he says. "We are not happy here. Our survival depends on begging and working for others.

The Batwa feel they should be entitled to a cut of the country's lucrative mountain gorilla tourism industry, which earns up to $34m (£26m) each year, according to the International Gorilla Conservation Program. From each $600 fee paid by a tourist for a gorilla trek, $8 is allocated to local communities but nothing goes directly to the Batwa.

"If we had even a small part it would help with my childrens' education," says 22-year-old Robert Kaaben, who searches for food in garbage piles to supplement the little he earns from his hairdressing work. "But the government cares more about animals than it does about us."

India's poisoned water

More than half of south Asia's groundwater too contaminated to use. Salinity and arsenic affect 60% of underground supply across vast Indo-Gangetic Basin, a river basin supporting more than 750 million people in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The Indo-Gangetic basin accounts for about a quarter of the global extraction of groundwater – freshwater which is stored underground in crevices and spaces in soil or rock, fed by rivers and rainfall.

The biggest threat to is not depletion but contamination. Up to a depth of 200m (650ft), some 23% of the groundwater stored in the basin is too salty, and about 37% “is affected by arsenic at toxic concentrations”. Groundwater can become salty through natural and manmade causes, including inefficient farmland irrigation and poor drainage. Arsenic, too, is naturally present, but levels are exacerbated by use of fertilisers and mining. Arsenic poisoning of drinking water is a major problem in the region.

Fifteen to twenty million wells extract water from the basin every year. The new study – based on local records of groundwater levels and quality from 2000 to 2012 – found that the water table was, in fact, stable or rising across about 70% of the aquifer. It was found to be falling in the other 30%, mainly near highly populated areas.

If you want the rational use of natural resources contact:
The World Socialist Party (India):
257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East), Kolkata – 700086,
Tel: 2425-0208,

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Doomed Paris Climate Change Agreement

Last December, at the Paris COP21 conference, 178 nations pledged to do their part to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels -- adding on an even more challenging, but aspirational goal of holding temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). To this end, each nation produced a pledge to cut it's own carbon emissions, targeting everything from the burning of fossil fuels to deforestation to agriculture.

Eight months later, a study in the journal Nature finds that those pledges are nowhere near as ambitious as they need to be to keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees. And in August, British scientists reported that this year's record El Niño has already pushed us perilously close to the 1.5 degree milestone. While a temperature rise of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, as opposed to 2.6 to 3.1 degrees Celsius, may not sound like much in numerical terms, many scientists have pinpointed the 2 degree target as the limit beyond which the world would face dangerous climate change. Impacts would likely, many say, become catastrophic if temperatures are allowed to come anywhere near 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Joeri Rogelj, a researcher at the Energy Program of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), said that he wasn't surprised by findings showing that current national carbon reduction pledges would blast past the 2 degree target, leading to global warming of between 2.6 degrees Celsius and 3.1 degrees Celsius. He explained "The pledges currently on the table are a first step in a continuous process of pledging, reviewing, and taking stock to what they add up. This process has been defined by the Paris Agreement, and nations are thus expected to review and adjust their pledges in light of the best science over the coming years." The Paris Agreement was structured from the bottom up, whereby national pledges would be reviewed every 5 years (beginning in 2020) in order to make sure that carbon cut targets are boosted as time goes by. Rogelj cautioned, if pledges aren't sufficiently ramped up – and followed through on – it will make achieving the 2 degrees Celsius goal "significantly more ambitious" after 2030.

For some ecosystems a 2 degree C rise in temperature is already going to be a catastrophe. Tropical ecosystems, just like Arctic ecosystems, appear to be particularly vulnerable because species there have evolved within very specific and often narrow temperature ranges. As many species face escalating temperatures, they may simply not survive.

Nor is temperature the only global warming impact to consider: extreme weather, ocean acidification, and sea level rise are all effects that are currently, and will continue to be, felt across the tropics. Mark Urban, with the University of Connecticut, in a study last year looked at extinction risks for species linked to climate change. To get the best estimate possible, Urban analyzed findings from 131 studies.

He found that currently 2.8 percent of species face extinction due to climate change -- this with a warming of around 0.9 degrees Celsius. If that warming jumps to the Paris pledged 2 degrees, extinction rates could rise to 5.2 percent of all species on the planet. And if we hit 3.1 degrees Celsius this century, as projected by Joeri Rogelj's study, which totaled up the current Paris pledges and the maximum temperature rise they could bring? Then we could lose 9 percent of the world's species due to global warming.

That's nearly one-in-ten species facing extinction from climate change -- and of course that doesn't figure in extinction from other human induced threats like habitat degradation and destruction, deforestation, pollution, over-harvesting, poaching, invasive species, or a lethal combination of any two or more of these combined with climate change.

Population implosion

A couple of months ago, the Socialist Standard, had an article describing the decline in many nations population. South Korea is one such country. 

The South Korean government is urging its citizens to have more children. Among the "emergency measures" to enthuse its populace into starting, or growing, their family are financial support for couples seeking fertility treatment and extra paternity leave for parents welcoming a second child.

The Korea Herald reports that the measure were announced by the ministry of health and welfare following a 5.3 per cent drop in new born babies in the first five months of the year compared to the same time in 2015. South Korea's birth rate has plummeted since the 1960s despite billions of pounds worth of government spending. The government will spend up to £44m on the new measures, according to the Korea Times, although there are fears that state policy will not be able to overcome a corporate culture seen as "family-unfriendly".

Health minister Chung Chin-youb said: “The government prepared such emergency measures with a desperate mind that we must exert all possible efforts to block the current low birth rate that continues to decline” 

When aid isn't humanitarian

Haiti has among the highest rates of chronic poverty in the world. Almost one-third of all childhood deaths are due to under-nutrition. Although almost 80 percent of rural households farm, the agriculture sector with its persistent litany of natural disasters receives less than 4 percent of Haiti’s budget.

Peanut growers in Haiti have united to block the delivery of a 500-tonne shipment of nuts from the US. The shipment threatens to undermine the livelihood of thousands of people in the country. From Oxfam to Partners in Health, there has been fierce reaction to the “commodity dumping” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program does nothing to boost capacity in Haiti and does nothing to address consistent food insecurity,” said Oxfam America senior researcher Marc Cohen.

"The dumping of these peanuts will create a big catastrophe, even bigger than the destruction of our rice production," said Jean Pierre Ricot, an agriculture expert. "Hundreds of thousands of families lost their livelihoods because of those policies. To face the problem, we need a fundamental battle to stop these policies."

Clearly, Haiti’s own peanut market stands to lose when surplus peanuts from the United States are flown in as food aid. This seemingly noble act of donating peanuts to Haiti has rightly been criticized as undermining the already struggling smallholding peanut farmers in Haiti. The USDA is looking for an international outlet for the domestic surplus of peanuts. From a Haitian farmer’s perspective, such dumping is a dangerous threat to an agricultural economy. It is merely the latest wave in similar policies that have marginalized Haitian farmers and worsened food security. The most notable example is subsidized US rice flooding the Haitian market. People bitterly remember example is the collapse of the local rice market. Haiti was largely self-sufficient in rice by the mid-1980s. But in subsequent years, Haiti repeatedly slashed tariffs on cheaper imported rice at the behest of the U.S. and the World Bank. As a result, U.S. subsidized rice inundated the market and the Caribbean country roughly the size of Maryland is now the second-biggest export destination for American rice growers, Also, in the early 1980s, fearing Haiti’s Creole pigs could spread African swine fever amid a deadly outbreak, the U.S. Congress authorized $23 million to slaughter local pigs and replace them with hybrid pigs from Iowa. The imported pigs struggled to adapt, often became sick and had few litters.

International aid experts warn that the US peanut donation could eventually become another cautionary tale about humanitarian aid from a wealthy nation that undermines a flimsy economy in a poor one. Smallholding Haitian peanut farmers and their families ultimately stand to lose. Critics say agricultural surplus aid and heavily subsidized food imports do more harm than good by undercutting local farmers and pushing Haiti further from self-sufficiency.

In the United States, there is the Marketing Assistance Loan program provides up-front financing to peanut-growers (and growers of other crops). The goal is that farmers repay the loans once they sell their crops. But if the price is too low to recoup the cost of the loan, they can also turning the product over to the government as a form of repayment. In other words, he U.S. government lends U.S. farmers money to grow peanuts, the farmers repay the government in excess peanuts, and the government ships the surplus peanuts to Haiti. A glut of peanuts has pushed prices lower, meaning that more farmers are handing their peanuts over to the Department of Agriculture instead of paying off their loans. Reuters estimates that about 145,000 tons of peanuts were forfeited to government last year. "That stockpile is enough to satisfy the average annual consumption of over 20 million Americans — more than the population of Florida," Reuters's Chris Prentice writes, "and puts the administration in a bind." After all, storing those peanuts is expensive and selling all of them could just push prices lower.

As part of a "humanitarian effort" to Haiti, the USDA crafted a deal that will result in 500 metric tons of packaged, dry-roasted peanuts grown in the United States to be shipped later this year to school children in Haiti who have little access to food," the department reports. Problem partially solved.

Except Haiti already grow their own peanuts. In January of last year, the U.S. government's Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative praised an effort to bolster peanut production by Haitian farmers. That effort was funded in part by the Clinton Foundation, which created the Acceso Peanut Enterprise Corporation to partner with a non-profit called Meds & Food for Kids and the University of Georgia.

In 2014, the Haitian peanut market was hampered when one use for the product -- providing a nutrient-rich food for malnourished children -- was undercut by American food donations. The World Food Programme had been buying peanut butter from Meds & Food for Kids and the Clinton partnership -- about half of the group's sales went to creating the paste -- but switched to a soy-corn blend after the United States Agency for International Development oversupplied the product in anticipation of a bad hurricane season. "No one seems to have pondered the local implications of the decision," the Guardian wrote at the time.

That appears to be the case once again. “If the U.S. really wanted to help Haiti they would focus on serious work improving irrigation and farmers’ access to credit,” said Haitian economist and activist Camille Chalmers, who argues that the peanut aid is mainly about drawing down the U.S. stockpile and benefiting American agribusiness.

Asia's rich get richer

The inequality takes two broad forms: inequality in income and wealth, and inequality of opportunity, which results from unequal access to basic essentials such as health and education, among others.

Asia is home to an increasing number of millionaires and billionaires, with the ultra-rich in the region accumulating wealth much faster than the ultra-rich in any other part of the world. At the other end of the spectrum, the region also accounts for two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor. According to UNESCAP, despite the rapid economic growth witnessed across much of Asia, the region still has 85 million chronically malnourished children under the age of five. Eighty percent of workers are not covered by any pension scheme, and just 20 percent of the region’s population has access to affordable health care.

 In China the richest 1 percent of households own a third of the country’s wealth, while the poorest 25 percent of households own just 1 percent of the wealth. In India, the top 1 percent increased its share of the country’s wealth from 36.8 percent in 2000 to a staggering 53 percent in 2016.

The rich always gets richer

Over that span of time, America’s total family wealth has more than doubled, to $67 trillion. But most average American families haven’t seen a nickel of that gain. In fact, the typical American family headed by someone under age 65 actually lost wealth between 1989 and 2013, after adjusting for inflation.

Families in the upper reaches of the American economy, by contrast, have done just swell. Families in the top 10 percent, the Congressional Budget Office calculates, have seen their net worths increase an average 153 percent. Families in the top 1 percent have done the best of all. Their overall share of the nation’s wealth, the new CBO report finds, has jumped from 31 percent in 1989 to 37 percent in 2013. Other reputable statistical methodologies, the CBO report acknowledges, put the current top 1 percent share of the nation’s wealth as high as 42 percent.

Wealth begets more wealth for the wealthy. Society is becoming ever more unequal.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Expelled from Eden

Last year our journal carried an article about conservation refugees - people evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of conservation and nature reserves. Only a few days ago the blog posted on the plight of the Bushmen. 

In Hawaii at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s congress, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples says, “The world’s most vulnerable people are paying the price for today’s conservation,” She has already sounded the alarm at the UN over the impact that conservation is having on tribal peoples in Kenya, Uganda, Bangladesh, Namibia, Botswana, Ethiopia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador.

Tauli-Corpuz will tell the congress that nature conservation is not working for people or for wildlife. “Houses are still being burned down, and people are being displaced violently. Protected areas continue to expand, yet threats against them are also increasing,” she will say. Vulnerable tribal peoples are being removed by force from India’s tiger reserves and forests; tribal groups such as the Ogiek and Sengwer, the San, Maasai and Baka are being forced out of forests and wildlife-rich plains in Africa; and from Thailand to Ecuador, Cameroon to Bangladesh, ethnic groups are being dispossessed in the name of protecting nature. Most of the world’s 6,000 national parks and 100,000 protected places have been created by the removal of tribal peoples. Hundreds more parks are being created every year as countries commit to meeting the UN’s goal to protect 17% of land by 2020. And the human toll is rising accordingly.

Simon Counsell, director of the UK’s Rainforest Foundation, said: “Much conservation is still in the mindset of being in opposition to people. The ‘conservation v people’ approach to protecting wildlife has worsened the lives of thousands of native people.” The foundation this year documented dozens of cases of human rights abuses in central Africa, where up to $500m has been spent in the last decade by the US, EU and other western donors to protect the world’s second largest swath of rainforest.

Governments are accessing wealthy conservation groups based in the US and Europe to take advantage of the billions of pounds of conservation money being offered by global banks, northern governments and foundations for climate change and biodiversity protection. The international money duly flows in, but recipient governments are not abiding by international laws to protect communities.

“Governments like conservation because there is a lot of money in it. It brings money from the Global Environment Facility and elsewhere. But when your economic priority is to generate money from conservation, you want to get rid of people from these protected areas. That is what is now happening,” Tauli-Corpuz told the Observer. 

Rosaleen Duffy, a political ecologist at Sheffield University, explained “There are still large-scale, violent evictions, generally in national parks, but they are less common now. But much more common is the everyday form of exclusion [of tribal groups] which makes it impossible for anyone to live in protected areas.”

Gonzalo Oviedo is head of social policy at the IUCN. He told the Observer: “Conservation has changed a lot. Governments are more likely now to restrict the rights of people who live in protected areas. They may ban hunting, or farming, the cutting down of trees or fishing. The effect is to force people to move. They are more careful now about evictions. But in practice they are reducing access to resources and reducing people’s ability to live in protected areas. People in reserves may not be allowed to do anything. They are often poorer than they were before, and the impact can be bigger than if they are moved out,” said Oviedo.

The WWF was accused by tribal defence group Survival International of funding and logistically aiding anti-poaching eco-guards in Equatorial Africa. The guards were allegedly victimising pygmy groups in the region. According to a 228-page complaint made to the OECD, the Baka people in Cameroon had been forbidden to enter many of their traditional hunting areas, despite the fact that their hunting is reported to have minimal impact on the environment. According to Duffy: “Some groups are in danger of becoming complicit in government wrongdoing. They rely on national governments to allow access. Some have very significant links with corporates and corporate sponsorship, and tend not to be very critical of what is going on. It can be difficult for them to talk out of turn. Some facilitate the process.”

The irony is that “anti-people” conservation doesn’t appear to be having a beneficial effect on wildlife and may in fact be self-defeating. Analysis this year of 34 large protected areas in Congo DRC, Cameroon, Gabon, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo found that conservation had displaced villages and led to conflict and multiple human rights abuses – and that animals including elephants, gorillas and chimps were still declining at alarming rates anyway.

“Conservation is clearly not working,” said Counsell. “Despite billions of dollars being poured into protected areas over this period and in spite of legally binding commitments to respect people’s rights, there was evidence that local indigenous and local communities across the world continue to pay a heavy price for protected areas,” he said. “A new model of saving nature is urgently needed because the anti-people agenda now being practised by many countries is not working and undermines attempts to protect nature. Not only is the present anti-people model which is being practised unjust. It marginalises the very people who have protected forests for millennia and who represent one of our best hopes for doing so in the future.”

Studies by the Centre for International Forestry Research and the World Bank have found that when traditional communities are given full legal rights to their land, they protect the environment efficiently and cheaply.
“In India, tribal peoples face arrest and beatings, harassment, threats and trickery and feel forced to ‘agree’ to leave their forest homes. But the evidence proves that tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else”, says Sophie Grig of Survival. “In the BRT tiger reserve in southern India where tribal people have been allowed to stay, tiger numbers have increased at above the national average. There is no reason to believe that evicting tribes helps tigers. In fact, it’s harming conservation.”

Tauli-Corpuz will make the same argument. She will tell delegates that indigenous-owned lands are effective at resisting deforestation in Brazil; that in Namibia, community-based wildlife management has resulted in significant growth in wildlife populations; and in the US and Australia, indigenous peoples manage protected areas effectively. “Studies have demonstrated that the territories of indigenous peoples who have been given land rights have been significantly better conserved than the adjacent lands”.

Leading environmentalists and human rights advocates, including Noam Chomsky, Jonathon Porritt and Ghillean Prance, agree. Last year they appealed to conservationists to protect endangered tribes. In a letter to the Guardian, they stated: “Tribal peoples have managed their lands sustainably for generations. Forcibly removing them usually results in environmental damage. Such removals are a violation of human rights. The cheapest and quickest way to conserve areas of high biodiversity is to respect tribal peoples’ rights. The world can no longer afford a conservation model that destroys tribal peoples: it damages human diversity as well as the environment.”

Thousands of pastoralist Maasai groups in Tanzania have been evicted from a 1,500 sq km area close to the Serengeti, Maasai Mara and Ngorongoro national parks. The government has tried to remove them to establish exclusive game-hunting in the area. In 2009, a mass eviction left more than 200 homes burned and 3,000 people homeless.

Thousands of these tribespeople in India are being forcibly evicted from Kanha tiger reserve, though they do not hunt tigers and have lived in the forests with the animals for centuries. Many other adivasi, or tribal groups, are under notice to leave their forest homes to make way for tourism and tiger conservation. The Baiga have now set up a project to “save the forest from the forest department”.

The indigenous forest pygmy tribe which lives near Nki national park in south-east Cameroon, and the Bagyeli ethnic group of South Kribi have been forced out of their forests or massively restricted in what they hunt and fish. The groups says that they have become squatters on their own land, with entry into the forest restricted.

Thousands of ethnic Hmong and Karen hill tribes groups in northern Thailand have been displaced from their forests after they were designated national parks or protected areas. The groups have been classed as “illegal occupants” or “squatters” even though they have been living there for more than 100 years. The Hmong and Karen are routinely blamed for resource degradation but say their traditions protect nature.

These tribespeople, who have lived in the forests of central Bangladesh for centuries with other ethnic groups, have been evicted or prevented from living in traditional lands rezoned by the government as protected reserves in the 1980s. They are now restricted in where they live, move, and what they grow.

Kenya Forest Service guards have for years harassed and tried to evict Sengwer indigenous people from the western highlands. The 5,000 hunter gatherers were barred from their ancestral forests in 1964 but continue to return. Many now live in makeshift homes, camped out on roadsides.

The San, or Bushmen, peoples of the Kalahari desert in Botswana have been outlawed from their traditional lands to make way for tourism and mining. Even though they have lived in the desert for generations, they are considered a threat to wildlife. In a series of evictions, they have had their homes destroyed and water cut off and have been restricted from hunting. In 2006 the high court granted the Bushmen the right to return to their land, but the government has continued to enforce a permit system.

The Kenyan government has long been seeking to drive the Ogiek and others from the Mau forest to protect national water supplies and wildlife. The forest has been severely degraded after an influx of logging companies and illegal settlers, but the Ogiek, who have lived there for centuries, say they are not responsible and are resisting eviction. Many communities have had their homes burned but continue to fight to return.

The nomadic reindeer-herding Dukha tribe of northern Mongolia are struggling to survive after being banned from hunting in the name of conservation. Their traditional land was declared a protected area in 2013 and they face prison and restrictions on where they migrate to and hunt. The Dukha have hunted sustainably for generations, with their own strict rules governing the number of animals they can kill, and when and where they can hunt.

The Lickan Antay indigenous people from the Atacama desert in northern Chile live in a state-protected reserve but have been overwhelmed by tourism and conservation which leaves them little water and restricts them from access to many places. “Before the creation of the reserve there wasn’t a single tourist, and suddenly they’re everywhere. Our existence is now a constant battle,” says one member of the community.

The “forest people” of Sri Lanka were evicted from their homeland in what is now the Maduru Oya national park. Until recently, they hunted deer and wild boar, and collected honey, fruit and nuts. Today, they live outside their forest with small plots of land to grow rice and vegetables. They need a permit to enter the forest and those caught hunting risk arrest and violence.