Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh: Are your gifts conflict free?

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If you are engaged in seasonal gift giving during December, or at any other time of the year for that matter, have you thought about the origin of what lies inside the box? All gift givers might like to tune into this week’s events at the United Nations.

If you are lucky enough to ever receive a diamond (the way Naomi Campbell is reported to have done one night in South Africa in 1997), then there is a chance you will know, or can find out, the mine from which it was dug. “Diamonds are forever”, but perhaps “blood diamonds” are not – given the publicity generated by the film of that name, the International Criminal Court (especially when supermodels testify) and the Kimberley Process between states –which has tried to establish some certification from the mine for larger diamonds at least, albeit a flawed one according to the NGO Global Witness who left the Process in 2011.

However, conflict metals and minerals are a much broader issue than glamorous rocks alone. For most of us, a mobile phone is a much more likely gift: there as many phones as people on the planet now.  Three wise men bearing gifts these days are unlikely to bring Frankincense and Myrrh, but there will be Gold – in their phones that is – together with Aluminium and small amounts of Antimony, Barium, Beryllium, Cobalt, Copper, Chromium, Gallium, Indium, Lead, Manganese, Nickel, Palladium, Platinum, Ruthenium, Rare Earths and Silver. In the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), known for its horrendous internal conflicts, it is Tin, Tantalum, Tungsten as well as Gold that are most associated with fuelling the conflict and which are the focus of Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank Act in the USA and now extended internationally through the OECD Due Diligence Guidance. You might like to hope that your electronic gift contains no conflict minerals but how do you know? You might like to ask your high street brands what precisely they are doing about it before making the purchase and hopefully there will be a coherent response. Some niche brands (such as “FairPhone”) make specific guarantees whilst helping to maintain trade with conflict-free miners in the DRC, many steps down the supply chain. For those only interested in the hard stuff, Fairtrade Gold is also available, where miners will receive a minimum price of 95 per cent of the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) price for their gold.

For those of you who think it is just western governments think about this, think again. Global Witness does not often commend a government but it did on 24 October 2014 when the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Imports and Exports, which is supervised by the Ministry of Commerce, launched its due diligence guidelines for Chinese mining companies operating abroad. These guidelines cover a range of environmental, labour and human rights considerations. This is part of a wider trend towards a stronger focus on companies disclosing payments to host governments in order to fight corruption, as highlighted by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, as well as the reporting criteria of an increasing number of stock exchanges. In Switzerland, one of the leading global hubs in commodity trading, the Government has committed itself to bringing the industry and civil society around a table to agree standards and an implementing mechanism. It is a shame, at least to me, that the recent European Commission proposals stopped short of requiring companies to report on such issues, and that the American Petroleum Institute still fights mandatory disclosure of revenues as set out in Dodd Frank 1504.

On 2 December I have the privilege to moderate a discussion in the United Nations in Geneva (as part of the UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights) where representatives of both the US Government and China will elaborate further on their plans, as well as perspectives from key mining countries such as Chile and Myanmar.

There is much moving in the wrong direction in the world at the moment, but for those looking for stars to wish upon, here is one – that governments from all corners of the planet might increasingly cooperate to ensure global supply chains are free of conflict minerals and human rights violations. There are no awards to be given out, the domestic nature of mining in all these and other countries is still far too hazardous and communities all too often adversely impacted upon and inadequately consulted. But if we can all help to make state-state cooperation on such issues more normal, then there is a greater chance that business too will not compete on their social and environmental responsibilities. Conflict-free metals and minerals – what better gift could there be?

Men. Just say no, politely…

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No more male-only panels or boards

Gender inequality is returning in new forms, and of course in most places it never went away.

A recent debate in the UK has been about whether a football player, who is a convicted rapist, should be allowed to return to his former football club after serving his prison term.  For some, this has reaffirmed a view that once the letter of the law has been followed, there is no further ethical issue. Curious. Many commentators, mostly male but not exclusively, cannot accept that such a football player has lost his social licence for a high-profile job which provides a role model to many young men (and women). He could not conceivably run in politics and therefore nor should he run for any other position in public life where his behaviour influences others.  This should not have to be an issue of legislation, but one of good governance and sound decision-making by the Boards of sporting bodies and football clubs.

You think I am over-reacting? Then ask yourself why so few British footballers are openly gay, when there must be hundreds who are. Its a different issue but the answer is the same. Culture plays a very significant role in hiding human rights abuse, whether it be in society, business or sport (don’t get me started on this week’s FIFA report).

The revelations about how so many British celebrities secretly behaved in the 1970s and 1980s have not yet served as enough of a wake up call. Now there are even allegations of murders in political cover-ups perhaps the biggest revelations are yet to come.

Even more pernicious are the hateful tweets that female BBC journalists received this week after robustly questioning a British comedian who tells rape jokes. Even some of the liberal left make light of sexual violence, defending the right of Julian Assange not to face justice in Sweden for charges of alleged sexual assault. Incredible. This is not to mention the everyday sexual violence that women face all around the world and the bravery of women who stand up to this.

If you are a man, like me (or unlike me it doesn’t matter), and wonder what you can do about the current state of affairs, here is one small example – inspired by our Scandinavian and Australian brothers. The next time you are invited to speak at an event and you the notice that the panel contains not a single representative of a non-male gender (and gender is more than a binary), then do not accept to speak. Don’t say “no” in a horrible way, but instead suggest the very many well-qualified non-male alternatives to yourself and try to persuade the organizers to invite them instead. I know this is tough advice for any young male trying to get into public life, but believe me a male-dominated public life is not worth the effort (have you ever been to a golf club AGM?).

It might not surprise you that Norway and Sweden have led the way with the “Equalisters” campaigners and the “Men Say No thanks” campaign #tackanej (in Sweden) and #takknei (in Norway). You might be more surprised that Australian men are also getting active. What about the rest of us?

Much less seems to be happening in my own country, the UK, but am pleased to see that the NGO Article 36 raised the issue of gender discrimination in policy making.  In May 2014 at the meeting of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the United Nations, 17 experts were invited to speak and all 17 were men. Nothing more macho than lethal weapons it would seem.

And we all know that only a handful of FTSE-100 or Fortune-500 companies have female CEOs, or Board Chairs. But how many of us have really tried to do anything about it? The change starts with each of us in the day to day decisions we each make.

Of course it is more than gender – it is fundamentally about power. When sitting at the annual stakeholder meeting of a large European multinational I couldn’t help noticing that of the 300 people in the room, 95% were men. But equally as noticeable was that 99% were white, and no one removed their suit jackets (all uniformly black, the jackets that is) until the “chairman” of the Board had done so – oh yes, the chairman was a man. As power gradients steepen, diversity decreases.

You will meet many women working in CSR roles in business, but far fewer in risk management or strategic roles. You might think that you have gender and ethnic diversity sitting on a panel in London, Bogota or Delhi, only to find out at closer inspection that you are sitting exclusively with the elite 1%. Class or Caste discrimination is amongst the most invisible and pernicious but anyone with a working class background will know what I mean here.

So why this diatribe you might ask? Is this just Morrison being all politically correct all of a sudden.  Well I guess we all have the power to say “No thanks”. We might not sit in positions of power, on the boards of multinationals or in the inner sanctums of FIFA, but we can all say “no thanks” to many things and lets start with gender inequality.

Catalonia and some associated thoughts

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The Catalan vote: some more thoughts on the social license of politicians

The unofficial vote in Catalonia today, which will most likely give a resounding “Yes” to the independence movement, is not binding on the government in Madrid but will increase pressure for a formal referendum. This after the recent votes in Scotland  (already discussed in my earlier commentary) and the much more contentious  situation in Ukraine.  I remember waking up in Atlanta, USA, on 19 September this year and feeling relieved that I did not have to choose between my Scottish and English half identities over breakfast, and even happier (and proud) that there had been no violence in what had been a passionate debate.  The doorman at the hotel, half Eritrean and half Ethiopian, had not been so lucky.

What all these votes do have in common is they remind us how much politicians also need social licence – yes they win general elections but voters (or at least some voters) want more. Perhaps this is why we refer to elections as “general”, reminding each other that more specific votes are indeed needed to maintain social licence on key issues that cut across the ebbs and flows of mainstream politics.

The Catalans remember Franco, although very few of them are old enough to remember the Spanish Civil War itself.  When I lived in Barcelona in 1987 there were still those that did, and my host family said they had packed their cases when elements in the Guardia Civil threatened to overturn the fledgling democracy in 1981 – in case they had to drive to the French border through the night. In many ways, Spain has still to deal with the legacy of its civil war and the historical repression of Catalan culture and language give energy to the independence movement to this day. Politicians in Madrid still lack social license when speaking out on such issues: the social contract was destroyed in the late 1930s and never fully rebuilt.

But what is happening in Catalonia cannot be explained in historical terms alone.  As Gordon Brown wrote eloquently in September, these independence movements are more responses to globalization and growing inequalities within nations. What is interesting in Catalonia, and Northern Italy for that matter,  is that it can be the richer regions that most want to leave. The same cannot be said for events in the UK or Ukraine (we once had friends in the US who though UK and Ukraine were the same place, but that is another story). There indeed is something about the shifting power relationships of our economically globalising world that fuels challenges to the nation state, the social contract and the social license of mainstream politicians.

The extremists we see across Europe, whether they be of anti-immigration, anti-European or the religious fundamentalist variety, all offer easy solutions to complex problems. Europe has seen this before and it was not pretty.

It is fitting that that this weekend also marked 25 years of the fall of the Berlin Wall and Chancellor Merkel is right to cite human rights as one of the greatest achievements of unification. This at a time when it has also become fashionable (and politically acceptable) in some quarters to trash the 1951 European Convention on Human Rights – and the legacy of not just Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Kant but also Winston Churchill.

One of the best things commissioned by the BBC for a while has  been Neil MacGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation. It remains to be seen whether the social license of European politicians will continue to be built on the very honorable intellectual, liberal and inclusive traditions of this continent’s greatest thinkers (what might be seen as an enlightened ‘social contract’), or whether social license will once again become an issue of fear, prejudice, arrogance and hatred.