Human Rights

Coming Back to Life After COVID-19

Posted on: April 23rd, 2020 by Lanlin Bu No Comments
Author: Michael Bloomfield

 

As Covid-19 recedes will we resume life as before or create a fairer, more compassionate and self-sufficient society.

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That struggle has begun with globalization promoters touting great economic opportunities as 5G arrives and consumerism re-ignites around the world. Globalization has somewhat reduced poverty and improved education and healthcare in developing countries but at a price, a new colonialism primarily benefiting the rich and powerful.

 

Covid-19 exposed serious flaws in a global system emphasizing economic gain. Over 85% of our antibiotics come from China. Canada imports more food than it exports; 25% of our needs are imported. Surrendering self-sufficiency for food and medical supplies for cheap consumer goods is reckless.

 

Who gained most from globalization? Oxfam reported in 2018 the world’s 26 richest people held more wealth than the poorest 3.8 billion people.

 

Exorbitant CEO pay further exemplifies the growing gap between rich and poor. David McKay of the Royal Bank is paid $14.5M/year, Apple’s Tim Cook received $136M in 2018 and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos takes $9M/hour while the average Amazon worker gets $15/hour.

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Conversely the lifetime income of a Canadian earning $50,000/year for 40 years is $2M. Workers in the 25 poorest countries, people providing us precious metals and luxuries earn less than $1,000/year if they can find work.

 

The gig economy was another injustice exposed. Workers without benefits or job security were on their own while their employers demanded government aid. The gig is up!

 

Adding insult to injury, wealthy Canadians and corporations don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Canadians for Tax Fairness estimate losses of at least $8B/year to personal tax evasion and avoidance.

 

The corporate story is worse. Corporate Knights reported that from 2011-2016 Canada’s 102 largest companies avoided $62.9B in income taxes. The scales are tipped so favourably towards large corporations that Canadians paid $145B in income tax in 2018 while corporations paid $41B. As corporate taxes were slashed individuals and families have had to make up the difference. CRA estimates about 25% of corporate taxes were unpaid, money needed for education, healthcare, social housing and a healthy environment.

 

The cozy relationship between business and government must change. It has compromised democracy and created a dependency on hand-outs. Companies are heavily subsidized by society through generous tax-breaks, credits and loans, infrastructure, healthcare etc. Where’s our return on investment?

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The fossil fuel industry is a good example of malfeasance. In Alberta alone the liability for cleaning up roughly 3,500 abandoned oil and gas wells and the tar sands are estimated at $30B and $200B respectively. The province holds 1% security in a clean-up fund.

 

Bailouts are a similar story. Bombardier has been rescued more often than the neighbour’s cat. During the 2008/09 meltdown Canada provided $13.7B to the auto industry. Some companies never repaid their government loans while forcing creditors and employees to accept concessions. Canada took no equity and taxpayers paid for it. Why does government refuse to identify defaulters?

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Canada also has a poor record for honouring international agreements on corruption, human rights, environment and money-laundering and the appalling honour of being home to the most firms on a World Bank blacklist of corrupt companies.

 

Corporations have persuaded, cajoled and bribed officials in other countries to accept hazardous mines and e-waste and produce luxuries for us instead of food for their people. Forests and rivers have been trashed and we’ve turned a blind eye to child and slave labour so that we can enjoy cheap carpets, shrimp and cell phones.

 

Canadian mining companies have a terrible track record, exploiting lax standards to ignore human rights and pollute environments local people need for food and water. Growers of strawberries, tea and avocados are typically no better. Our government calls it the Canada Advantage. More like taking advantage.

 

And before we get too smug about corporate behaviour, each of us has a part in this messy business. In the global system we are the rich and powerful. We work for and invest in companies that take advantage of low wages and poor labour, human rights and environmental standards. CPP and private pensions invest in mining, tobacco, weapons and private prisons.

 

Our lavish lifestyles corrupt and kill, exploiting children for chocolate, supporting slavery on shrimp boats and pushing many wild species to the brink of extinction for more burgers and coffee. Are we too content to care?

 

Since the 1950s every natural system has dramatically declined. We’ve polluted and over-fished the oceans, poisoned and depleted rivers and lakes, removed more than 50% of the world’s forests and flooded and paved productive farmland.

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We all saw people fighting over toilet paper and governments stealing vital supplies from each other in a nationalistic frenzy. We can and must do much better.

 

However, if we want a peaceful, healthy and prosperous world we must address the systemic flaws of globalization 1) inequity within and between countries 2) consumerism’s role in injustice and environmental degradation, and 3) our disastrous relationship with nature.

 

Personally, we must personally adopt ethical practices in how we live and work and oppose governments and corporations doing harm in our name. Together we must urgently adopt clean energy as part a world-wide movement to meet our needs without harming other people, future generations and other species. It’s time for real change, lasting change, the kind we can be proud of and for which future generations will say thank you.

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Michael Bloomfield, ecologist, philanthropist and educator

Founder and Executive Director, Harmony Foundation of Canada

www.harmonyfdn.ca

Earth Day April 22, 2020

 

 

Recommended Actions for Your Consideration

 

For Individuals and Families

 

  1. Celebrate real heroes who make our communities healthy, well-educated and prosperous; teachers, healthcare professionals, farmers, artists etc. Celebrity culture is corrosive.
  1. Buy local and support our farmers; they are essential for our food-security.
  1. Demand strong universal healthcare and well-funded schools.
  1. Insist that our elders receive compassionate care from better trained and paid staff.
  1. Stop real estate speculation. We need homes to raise and shelter our families.
  2. Choose a zero emission vehicle. Gasoline cars are like billions of burning cigarettes, bad for health and environment.
  3. Push for greater investment in quality, affordable public transit.
  4. Eat less meat; animal agriculture harms our health and the environment and causes animal suffering.
  1. Stop eating shrimp involved with slave labour and destruction of important wetlands.
  1. Choose chocolate from companies not using child labour or dangerous pesticides.
  1. Reduce, repair, re-use. Avoid disposal products; they waste resources and harm the environment.
  1. Stand up against racism, discrimination and hate. Silence is the enemy of justice.
  2. Oppose arms sales to non-democratic countries; self-defence only.
  3. Demand CPP and your fund manager stop investing in enterprises harmful to people, animals and the environment.
  1. Choose businesses that support local arts, education, healthcare etc. Box stores and online sellers often contribute little or nothing to communities.
  2. Back tougher laws and enforcement on environment, labour and human rights.
  3. Get involved with and support practical reconciliation with First Nations.
  4. Make family, community and healthy, meaningful lives our priority.

 

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For Society

 

  1. Support local farmland and farmers. They are essential for our food-security.
  1. Strong universal healthcare and well-funded schools. They have been under-valued and under-funded for too long.
  1. Compassionate eldercare and better training and salaries for staff.
  1. Stop real estate speculation. Only citizens or permanent resident should be entitled to buy residential. We need homes to raise and shelter our families.
  2. Promote zero emission vehicles and greater investment in quality, affordable public transit.
  1. Ensure that The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Export Development Canada (EDC) and all government funding for business clearly serve the public interest.
  1. Demand stronger regulations for animal agriculture that protect land and water, eliminate antibiotics and growth hormones and stop animal cruelty.
  1. Stop shipping our electronic and other waste to other countries.
  1. Reduce packaging waste and disposable products and pressure companies to produce more durable, longer lasting products.
  2. Stronger laws to reduce racism, discrimination and hate, including online.
  3. Demand that the behaviour of our companies overseas is at least as good on environment and human rights as it is at home and that must improve too, especially in the territories of indigenous people who are not treated equally either. Child labour must end.
  4. Make it illegal for companies to lobby government secretly; all such activity must be publicly revealed and balanced through fairer access for public interest advocates.
  5. Stop the revolving door between government and business; it’s a dubious form of delayed compensation. There needs to be a waiting period of at least 3 years.
  6. Stop arms sales to non-democratic countries and for political adventurism; self-defence only.
  7. Ensure our universities serve the public not donors or internal ambitions.
  8. Stop CPP from investing in tobacco, arms, prisons and other harmful enterprises in Canada and around the world.
  9. Impose their fair share of taxes on foreign and online companies operating in Canada.
  10. Rebuild domestic industries for food, medical and other essential supplies and stop relying on global supply chains for these goods.
  11. Tougher laws and enforcement on environment, labour and human rights.
  12. Increase practical reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples.
  13. Increase foreign aid. Canada spends 0.27 percent of Gross National Income (GNI) on foreign aid. That’s less than the 0.3 average of other donor countries, far below the UN target of 0.7 percent we agreed to in 2005.
  14. Adopt strict gun control and ban assault weapons in Canada.

CIRDI: An Investment in Responsible Extractive Industries or Another Business Subsidy?

Posted on: October 6th, 2017 by Lanlin Bu No Comments

CIRDI

Executive Summary

 

CIRDI, The Canadian International Resource and Development Institute, was created in 2013 “to strengthen” the capacity of developing countries “to govern and manage their natural resources for the benefit of their people”.1 With close to $40 million dollars in government funding to autumn 2017 the authors believe the Institute has strayed far from its mandate. Rather than assisting and encouraging Canadian extractive industries to improve their social development, environment and human rights practices to benefit the people of developing countries (as intended) the primary beneficiaries have been the companies themselves. While enjoying more or less complete domination of the Institute’s Board of Directors and Advisory Council, industry’s financial contributions to the Institute has been negligible let alone investment in communities affected by their resource development practices. At the same time, government’s decision to redirect humanitarian aid, traditionally delivered through NGOs, to subsidize industry to meet its own corporate social responsibilities is flawed. Less money is reaching those in need, and corporations and universities have proven to be less effective in delivering aid than NGOs because they often use these funds to serve their own purposes.

 

This paper addresses some important questions. Is CIRDI respecting its mission and meeting its goals? Is it providing good value to taxpayers? Is it as transparent, collaborative and useful as it needs to be to justify its future? Is its relationship appropriately independent from undue industry influence? Why have other stakeholders been squeezed out of CIRDI’s leadership? The paper also evaluates CIRDI’s governance and projects against its stated goals and objectives.

Finally, this paper makes recommendations whose implementation would help CIRDI restore its intended mission, establish balanced leadership and better serve taxpayers and affected communities in developing countries. If the purpose truly is inclusiveness, sustainability, human rights, transparency and independence, then the Institute needs to re- set its leadership, governance and programming, otherwise the authors recommend that CIRDI be closed.

Harmony Foundation of Canada, September 25, 2017

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For the full report, please download HERE

Harmony Sends Kenyan Advocate for Youth with Disabilities to UNEA

Posted on: June 28th, 2016 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

 

My name is John Michael Orimbo. Thanks to the Harmony Foundation of Canada I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd UN Environment Assembly (UNEA2) in Nairobi from May 19-27 2016, where I made some remarkable achievements advocating for children and youth with disabilities.

 

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During UNEA2 I addressed my concerns with Representatives from Member-States, Major Groups and Stakeholders as well as other Partners. My interventions received strong endorsement. I successfully persuaded UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, to remove barriers to inclusivity, accessibility and participation of persons with disabilities on the UNEP Campus in Nairobi. At the High-Level Forums the Major Groups and Stakeholders (MGS) adopted my interventions into their Final Statement.

 

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For too long, persons with disabilities have been excluded from such High-Level Forums on Sustainable Development; I am proud to have brought these concerns to the attention of participants at UNEA2. Currently, I am following-up with the UNEP Regional Office and others to ensure practical progress on inclusivity, accessibility and participation for persons with disabilities at UNEP and in its forums. Building a sustainable, inclusive world for all requires the full engagement of people of all abilities. UN’s 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development commits to “Leaving No One Behind.”

 

I will be attending the High-Level Political Forum in New York on July 17th, 2016, as an Ambassador for Change. With humility and determination I will continue to make strong interventions to ensure that children and youth with disabilities enjoy full access and participation in the Global Sustainable Development Goals Initiatives.

 

 

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Canada, China and Human Rights: Indifference, Self-Righteousness or a Truly Principled Approach

Posted on: April 10th, 2012 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

 
Canada is not only a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but Canadians were among its principal authors. The protection of human rights is a principle that Canadians take very seriously, one that deeply informs our world view and the way we interpret international relations.
 
In 2006 the Globe and Mail conducted a major survey that found that 72% of Canadians agree that promoting democracy and human rights in Asia should be a priority. Concerns include the widespread use of the death penalty, “re-education” through labour and arbitrary detention of minorities such as Tibetan, Mongolian and Uyghur people. No less important are the conditions under which people labour to make the consumer goods we buy from China. Accusations of prisoner abuse, including forced labour are bad enough, but organ-harvesting claims are so outrageous they are beyond our comprehension.
 
These concerns are ones that clearly weigh heavily on the Canadian public’s consciousness. The pursuit of economic and commercial interests can therefore not ignore China’s human rights record without a fundamental clash with Canadian values and public opinion.
 
If we Canadians are truly committed to human rights and ethical behavior aren’t we obliged to speak up at home and abroad, and work for positive change? Shouldn’t our good reputation and relations in the world compel us to play a constructive role in helping to resolve human rights violations as they occur?
 
Arguably yes, but, unfortunately, to speak up can also mean to be shut up.
 
Dealing with Chinese violations of human rights is a difficult balancing act for Canada, as the Harper Government has awkwardly discovered. In the realm of international relations and realpolitik, interests commonly come before principles and to interfere with another country’s internal affairs is often taken as provocation.
 
China considers human rights to be nothing more than domestic affairs, well outside the realm of acceptable external influence. For the Chinese government, Canada has absolutely no right to interfere in these areas and the Chinese leadership has no reservations about saying so.
 
When Stephen Harper first came to power in 2006 he took a principled, bold, and ultimately antagonizing stance with China in regards to human rights and Tibet. He made numerous strong speeches, claiming that Canada would not “sell out to the almighty dollar.” He avoided attending the opening ceremony of 2008 Beijing Olympic Games— though he claimed it was not a snub— and even publicly hosted the Dalai Lama in 2007.
 
After several high profile Chinese snubs, and increasing pressure from Canadian business groups, the Harper government has slowly reversed its tough stance on China.
 
It hasn’t been easy. In December of 2009 Harper made his first state visit to Beijing, the first prime ministerial visit since Paul Martin in 2005. This lapse was not lost on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, whose public rebuke of Harper in front of the international press, the Globe and Mail described as an “unprecedented breach of diplomatic protocol.”
 
Since that time, the Harper government has worked hard to repair relations, and they have indeed improved. Canada has since been awarded “approved destination status” for Chinese tourists, some Canadian beef has been allowed back into the Chinese market, and the two nations have pledged to double bilateral trade.
 
Unfortunately, a part of this campaign of building back the Chinese relationship has been to roll back our focus on human rights, not a comforting development for those concerned about Canada renewing our old habit of tepidly raising concerns and then pursuing business as usual.
 
Our challenge is to build and maintain a healthy relationship with China without kowtowing and relinquishing our core values for the sake of a buck. Indifference is not a respectable option, and nor is cynical posturing. The relationship with China cannot be just interests or just principles. We need a maturity that acknowledges the complex reality of the situation that China is too big, too important, and too proud to be treated like a recalcitrant school-boy.
 
On one hand we cannot be too over bearing, lest the Chinese turn their backs and shut us out. On the other hand, we cannot be silent lest the Chinese take our acquiescence for granted, and ignore our concerns with smiling faces and deaf ears. For both our future and the world’s, we must remain engaged—acquiescence will benefit no one.
 
This position may be obvious and easily preached in the classroom, but in the real world it is much, much tougher. Some recent scenarios make that dramatically clear. The first is a case of three Tibetan brothers, previously honoured by China and the world for wildlife conservation, that were recently thrown in jail because they tried to stop a government official from hunting illegally in a park. They are not Canadian citizens, but their case is regarded by many international observers as a major reversal of Chinese progress that sets an unsettling precedent. How should Canada respond to this? Do we agree that it is an internal issue and stand back or do we acknowledge the greater implications, become involved even if it threatens our economic interests?
 
Is the situation different when a Canadian is involved? Another example: Husein Dzhelil, a Canadian citizen of Uighur descent was sentenced in 2007 to life imprisonment by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court for “plotting to split the country” and to 10 years in prison for joining a terrorist organization. How do we address this? He unequivocally denies the charges. Do we treat it like a one-off consular case, do we risk addressing the broader issues of minority repression? Or do we mumble some objection and then let it go after China rebuffed our enquiries?
 
How and when Canada addresses human rights abuses in China and elsewhere is a difficult issue. Material gain that results from ignoring human rights violations is not something Canadians support. We expect our government to behave with integrity when violations occur, even if we risk political or economic consequences. In an age of sound bites and web trolling campaigns we need to keep our wits about us and hold fast to the principles, integrity and common sense that make us the envy of the world. Unless, of course, cheap consumer goods and wealthy Chinese students and tourists are more important to us.