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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 →

Mine Workers Struggle for Safety Underground, Justice in the Streets

1:55 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

 

National Union of Mineworkers protest (libcom.org)

Cross-posted from In These Times
 

As thousands take to the streets to protest global corporate domination, the power struggles just below the earth’s surface remain outside the media spotlight. But over the past few weeks, turmoil in the mining industry has also spoken to the divide between the corporate elite and the impoverished multitudes–a faultline running through communities mired in poverty but rich in resources.

Papua’s gold battleground

In Papua, Indonesia, the American gold and copper giant Freeport McMoRan
had to shut down a facility on Monday after protesting workers set up roadblocks. The standoff at Grasberg followed a recent deadly clash between protesters and police—the culmination of an earlier strike that turned out thousands of workers demanding major wage increases. Read the rest of this entry →

Washington’s Anti-Regulatory Crusade, and Why Your Job Hasn’t Killed You Yet

12:42 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Carol Simpson Cartoonwork

Cross-posted from In These Times

On the campaign trail, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry is spreading the gospel of Perrynomics—a magical job-creation formula based on minimal government regulation of industry, combined with tiny tax rates and tight controls on lawsuits. In a state that seems inclined to cannibalize its own government, this agenda plays well. But a closer look reveals the high price of low regulation.

In recent months, politicians in both parties, including the White House, have claimed that scaling back regulations would unleash economic growth, suggesting that businesses should be liberated from rules that protect the environment, occupational health and other public interests. But a new analysis by Public Citizen presents a few unsung gems of federal bureaucracy that help keep us happy, healthy and sane. Several of these regulatory chart-toppers, not surprisingly, were enacted in defiance of heavy political pushback:

Clearing the Air. Since the days of the Lowell mills, so-called “brown lung” has been a hallmark of the miserable toil of poorly ventilated, dust-clogged textile factories. The disease, also known as Byssinosis, has historically hit women especially hard, spreading its signature coughing and lung scarring to thousands of workers around the world. The epidemic was virtually ignored until the 1960s and 1970s. Then came OSHA’s 1978 rule requiring more lung-friendly machinery, and within a few years the prevalence of brown lung in the industry fell by an estimated 97 percent. And employers’ grumbling about the “costs” of the rule faded when it became clear that the reforms improved the industry’s efficiency as well. Read the rest of this entry →