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Israel’s Anti-Migrant Violence Fueled by Racial and Economic Segregation

9:45 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Cross-posted from In These Times

An African man who was attacked following a rightwing rally in Tel Aviv, May 23, 2012 (photo: Oren Ziv/

Israel has always had issues with space, displacing Palestinian populations and carving out new settlements. Now, a growing migrant population has evoked a fresh wave of xenophobic rage. Last month, Tel Aviv was the site of rabid attacks on shops and residents in African migrant communities.

CNN reported:

Israeli protesters chanted slogans such as “infiltrators get out” and “Tel Aviv: A refugee camp”. Three members of the right wing Likud party–part of the governing coalition–were among the politicians who attended. One of them, Miri Regev, was quoted as saying that “the Sudanese are like a cancer in society.”

Amin, an Eritrean migrant whose business, a local bar, was destroyed by rioters, told the Jerusalem Post in bewilderment, “They just smashed the place up. They destroyed everything. Why? What for? What have we done to them?”

In this nation built by refugees of war and genocide, the protesters seemed oblivious to the historical refraction of this display of mob terror and smashed glass. If anything, their hatred for migrants living and working among them resonated with bigotry overseas, particularly anti-Latino jingoist campaigns in the United States.

Haaretz quoted a shoe seller in the Hatikva neighborhood who seemed inspired by America’s legacy of racism.

“It will become Harlem here,” Kuzarov warned. “You walk here on Shabbat and you don’t see anyone our color. This was the happiest place in the world; now it’s become a black grave.” Read the rest of this entry →

Amid Fuel Price Crisis, Nigeria Goes on Strike

9:49 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(Photo: Alashock's Blog)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

Nigeria is a giant on the African continent, a maturing democracy and a major hub for culture and trade. It also contains about one sixth of Africa’s population, many of whom live in abject poverty. So when the government decided to “save” funds by removing a critical fuel subsidy, it lit a tinderbox of populist outrage.

Uprisings have been rocking the country all week. Tens of thousands of protesters amassed to express anger at a jump in oil prices. Labor activists launched a general strike. Oil workers have also threatened to shut down production, jolting global oil markets. Tensions, and the public’s energy, run high as talks between labor and the government are pending.

At the start of the mass actions, the Nigeria Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress issued a joint statement to

congratulate the Nigerian masses for a second successful day of strikes, rallies and mass protests…. By their actions in the past few days, Nigerians have left the Presidency and the world in no doubt that sovereignty belongs to them and that they intend to reclaim their country.

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Food Industry Brings Bitter Harvest to Child Cocoa Laborers

2:55 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(Image: International Labor Rights Forum)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

The taste of hot cocoa or a chocolate bar is one of the classic pleasures of being a kid. But chocolate is a bitter harvest for countless children in West Africa, who spend their days towing around machetes, hacking the cocoa pods that will be made into sweets for someone else’s kids.

Nestlé (best known in Africa for its baby formula-peddling scandal) recently announced that it would take stronger measures to check the exploitation of child labor in cocoa farming. The company has promised to cooperate with the Fair Labor Association to monitor its supply chain, and according to its press statement, this is a first in the food industry.

But evidence of child labor has been an open secret for years in the chocolate trade. And Nestle signed a protocol a decade ago committing it to stamping out these abuses. At this point, child workers in West Africa have been waiting for this supposed breakthrough for most of their lives.
According to investigations by academic researchers and the BBC, child workers are common in the cocoa sector, pressured by poverty, or sometimes outright trafficked, into hazardous working conditions, typically at the expense of their schooling. “At the same time,” Tulane University researchers observed:

…only a very small percentage of children and their caregivers  report exposure to project activities carried out by government agencies, industry and/or civil society organizations, including educational and vocational training activities, and remediation efforts, at any point in their lives.

The report called out the industry for falling far short of its targets for implementing  regulatory mechanisms to ensure ethical sourcing in the supply chain. Despite plenty of corporate social responsibility lip service, as of March 2011, the industry’s efforts to implement remediation activities–voluntary programs to address the most severe forms of child labor–had yet to reach about 70 percent of cocoa growing communities in Ghana, and a startling 96 percent in Cote D’Ivoire. Read the rest of this entry →

Embarrassment of Riches: Conflict Diamond Regulation Breaks Down

6:52 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Men mine for diamonds in Sierra Leone. (Photo by L. Lartigue via USAID)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

The holiday season is a time of material pleasures, but it’s also a time to take stock of how our social values tend to be at odds with the objects we most prize.

While countless American shoppers splurge this month–probably to delude ourselves momentarily that we can still afford to indulge—the social cost of one luxury item has exposed a global crisis. The human rights group Global Witness has abandoned the Kimberly Process, the international regulatory framework aimed at restricting trafficking in “conflict diamonds.” The group argues that the process, which it helped create, is broken and ridden with loopholes.

Global Witness’ withdrawal points to a problem that can’t be regulated away by corporate pledges. It’s not the diamonds, but the global economic role of the mining industries, enslaving poor nations to mineral monoculture. Aside from funneling money into conflicts in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, diamonds reflect an economic tragedy that puts Global South communities at the mercy of both local despots and a global lust for beauty.

The catch phrase “blood diamond” doesn’t tell the whole story of injustices embedded in the world’s mines, which systematically devalue the lives of the the men, women and children in the pursuit of the earth’s riches.

Children have historically made up a large portion of the conflict diamond workforce, under a system that makes full use of their small bodies. In Sierra Leone, according to a report by Harvard’s International Human Rights Clinic, “Beginning as early as ten years of age, child miners perform backbreaking labour under poor conditions where they receive little compensation for their efforts.” In addition to lost access to education and poverty, children interviewed for the study:

complained of body and headaches, worms, malaria and other disease; adult diggers described the dangers posed to child miners from collapsing mining pits. These conditions constitute hazardous work and violate prohibitions on child labour.

Since the industry also employs many traumatized young survivors of the civil war, labor abuses hinder Sierra Leone’s ongoing struggle for “the rehabilitation and social reintegration of children affected by armed conflict.” Read the rest of this entry →

Africa and the International Criminal Court: Is Global Justice Blind?

5:38 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Allies of Kenyan President President Mwai Kibaki (far right) face charges before the International Criminal Court that they stoked post-election violence in 2007.

Cross-posted from Colorlines

When several prominent Kenyans appear before the International Criminal Court in the coming days, they’ll be judged by a legal standard that no one, in theory, should be above. But to critics, the court itself isn’t above politics that too often get in the way of real justice.

The cases center on six men from Kenya’s two main rival factions, who allegedly helped orchestrate an outbreak of post-election violence. For weeks, the country was awash in killings, rapes and the displacement of some half a million people, and then months of tense silence. Many Kenyans are hopeful that the International Criminal Court (ICC) might cut through the country’s “culture of impunity.” Others fear the court will only exercise the cultural impunity of Western powers. Read the rest of this entry →

Political Power Struggle Overshadows South Africa’s Broken Promise

7:27 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Photo by Christopher David Lier (

Cross-posted from

It’s been more than two decades since South Africa overthrew apartheid rule, but ordinary South Africans today live under a different, subtler form of oppression–governed by those who came to power as their liberators.

The crisis that has gripped the regime of the African National Congress (ANC) lately is not the country’s crippling poverty, its festering corruption nor its threadbare infrastructure. All eyes are on Julius Malema, the leader of the ANC Youth League, who has been found guilty on charges of “hate speech” in a disciplinary case brought under the country’s Equality Act. His offense was singing a racially charged old anti-apartheid anthem “Shoot the Boer,” but the verdict reflects general anxiety about the young firebrand’s role in the party. He has angered and embarrassed party higher-ups with remarks attacking South Africa’s ally Botswana and calling for the nationalization of mines and other industries. At the same time, the ANC leadership’s retaliation against Malema has sparked protests among followers who see him as a sort of folk hero who embodies widespread public disgust with ANC rule.

Some call the Malema controversy a “battle for the ANC’s soul,” between the establishment, represented by President Jacob Zuma, and the militant populism that Malema has stirred up. But Malema is a shrewd political player himself, embedded in a political class consumed by corporate cronyism. Some activists view him simply as an opportunist within the regime, and his call for nationalization as a self-serving rhetorical tactic to empower his faction and business allies. The grassroots Unemployed People’s (Shack Dwellers) Movement recently dismissed Malema as a “demagogue,” a product of a society in turmoil, not a force to deal with the nation’s institutional decay. Read the rest of this entry →

To Stop Corruption, Fight the Power, Not the People

7:30 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Protestors rally against corruption in Bangalore, India. (CC/akshaydavis)


Cross-posted from

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and in a world where the gap between the powerful and powerless grows wider each day, corruption in political and economic institutions spreads much faster than shame.

Political power is abused wherever it exists—with scandals ranging from political graft in India to white collar crime on Wall Street to bribery of government regulators in China. Nonetheless, some communities seem especially vulnerable to the cycle of corruption, repression and impunity. And lately, we’ve seen many of them getting fed up with living under regimes that have lost legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Corruption has been one of the major issues driving the unrest across the Middle East and North Africa, and it has catalyzed a Gandhi-esque movement in the streets of New Delhi.

Indian activist Anna Hazare has inspired huge demonstrations in support of his hunger strike to promote a strict, controversial anti-corruption measure known as the Jan Lokpal bill. The government’s recent crackdown on Hazare only steeled protesters’ resolve under the slogan “India is Anna, Anna is India.”

Yet not all have been swept up in Hazare fever. Author and activist Arundhati Roy boldly challenged the public framing of the corruption issue, arguing it has been whitewashed by a bourgeois, nationalistic political class.In a commentary in The Hindu, she describes the obsession with the Lokpal bill, which would institute a “draconian” bureaucracy to monitor officials, as a well-managed charade, designed to absorb popular grievances into a more palatable but no less hierarchical concept of “accountability”:

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