In Paris this week on an official visit, Azerbaijan’s autocratic President Ilham Aliyev has already scored one photo op. Anyone reading yesterday’s Azeri media could see dozens of photos of Aliyev posing with leaders of top French companies, including Airbus, Suez, and Credit Agricole.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (L) shakes hands with his French counterpart Francois Hollande as they visit a local French school under construction in Baku, May 11, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

Today, President Hollande will receive President Aliyev and host an official dinner at Palais de l’Elysee. Again, Parisian photo ops abound. But amid the flashing cameras, one has to wonder where Azerbaijan’s repression of critics and the jailing of opponents fits in the new relationship between Paris and Baku?

In the past few years, Azerbaijani authorities have aggressively gone after the country’s once vibrant civil society, jailing dozens of activists, journalists, and political opponents. It also adopted draconian legislation making it virtually impossible for independent non-governmental organizations to operate.

One year ago, as Azerbaijan’s economy started to suffer from falling oil prices, several of those detained on political grounds were released. That was an important first step, but hopes for progress were short-lived.

Many of those released face travel bans or obstacles to their activities. Dozens are still locked up on political grounds, including opposition activist Ilgar Mammadov, despite repeated calls by the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe for his immediate release. And more activists have been thrown in jail. Recently, one of the country’s most popular journalists and bloggers, Mehman Huseynov, was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly defaming the police, in response to his brave public denouncement of the police abuses he suffered.

When visiting Paris, Brussels, or other European capitals, President Aliyev hopes to get more business opportunities and investment in Azerbaijan. But he prefers to ignore that the people of Azerbaijan want human rights protections, transparency, and good governance. Those standing up for these values are routinely exposed to attacks and harassment.

Yet what more clear message that Azerbaijan’s crackdown cannot be ignored by potential investors than last week’s decision by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international coalition promoting better governance of resource-rich countries, to suspend Azerbaijan – precisely because of its actions against civil society.

President Hollande should reject a narrative that only finance and economy matter in Azerbaijan. Human rights should be as central to France’s foreign policy as other topics.

Hollande should publicly call for the release of Ilgar Mammadov and all those detained in retaliation for their activism and criticism. A failure to explicitly support human rights principles would be the worst message to those unjustly waiting behind bars.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Arvind Ganesan is the director of Human Rights Watch’s Business and Human Rights Division. He leads the organization’s work to expose human rights abuses linked to business and other economic activity, hold institutions accountable, and develop standards to prevent future abuses. This work has included research and advocacy on awide range of issues includingthe extractive industries; public and private security providers; international financial institutions; freedom of expression and information through the internet; labor rights; supply chain monitoring and due diligence regimes; corruption; sanctions; and predatory practices against the poor. Ganesan’s work has covered countries such as Angola, Azerbaijan, Burma, China, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, India, Indonesia, the United States, and Nigeria. His recent research has focused on predatory lending practices and governance issues on Native American reservations in the United States. He has written numerous reports, op-eds, and other articles and is widely cited by the media.

Ganesan has also worked to develop industry standards to ensure companies and other institutions respect human rights. He is a founder of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights for the oil, gas, and mining industries and is a founding member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI) for the internet and telecommunications industries, where he also serves on the board. Ganesan has helped to develop standards for international financial institutions such as the World Bank, and regularly engages governments in an effort to develop mandatory rules or strengthen existing standards such as the Kimberley Process. He serves on the board of EGJustice, a nongovernmental organization that promotes good governance in Equatorial Guinea, and is a member of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)’s steering committee.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Ganesan worked as a medical researcher. He attended the University of Oklahoma.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Human Rights Watch welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the Subcommittee on International Human Rights for their study on child and forced labor in supply chains. We appreciate the Canadian government’s recognition of child and forced labor in supply chains as a serious issue meriting further study and its exploration of legislative options to combat this problem. According to the International Labour Organization there are approximately 10 million in child slavery and nearly 152 million in child labor.[1] An estimated 40 million people around the world are effectively held in modern slavery conditions, including forced labor, debt bondage, and forced marriage.[2] Forced labor in supply chains is used to provide goods and services to markets around the world, though these chains are often hidden from view and shielded from accountability. It is incumbent upon governments across the globe to commit to combatting all forms of child labor and modern slavery found throughout supply chains and operations.

Some governments have taken steps to address modern slavery or other human rights abuses in supply chains. Some of the existing models include the UK Modern Slavery Act, the French “Duty of Vigilance” law, and the transparency act in California. The Netherlands and Australia have also been considering legislation. Human Rights Watch has concerns about some of these attempts, particularly related to their limited scope and application, low bar for compliance, and lack of recourse and accountability. As a result, these laws have not had their intended effect of eliminating forced labor in supply chains. For example, as of June 2017, only 14% of companies that submitted reports under the UK Modern Slavery Act comply with the basic legal requirements, but the lack of penalties under the law means companies face no consequences for non-compliance.[3] The Government of Canada has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership on this pressing issue, and build on existing models to ensure that legislative efforts are effective in combatting child labor and modern slavery.

Human Rights Watch has conducted research on child and forced labor in global supply chains for over two decades. We have interviewed thousands of workers, employers, government officials, and other affected individuals in the context of global supply chains in agriculture, the garment and footwear industry, fishing, mining, and construction. A list of relevant Human Rights Watch reports can be found in the attached Annex. Based on Human Rights Watch’s research and advocacy, we submit the following recommendations for Canadian legislation to combat human rights abuses in global supply chains.

  1. Legislation should address all serious human rights abuses in supply chains

Child and forced labor in supply chains are pressing problems requiring legislative action. In addition, corporate practices in global supply chains contribute to a variety of serious human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch has documented such rights abuses including dangerous working conditions, verbal and physical abuse by employers, impediments or violations of the rights of free association and collective bargaining, and reduction or non-payment of wages. Such practices have profound and damaging impact on workers’ lives. The Government of Canada can and should take steps to ensure that supply chains providing goods and services to its markets exclude those that benefit from these abusive practices.

  1. Legislative requirements should be broadly applied

The Government of Canada can set a powerful example for responsible sourcing through its own public procurement practices. Any legislative efforts to address human rights in supply chains should include purchase of goods, services, and works by all government entities, including transparency and due diligence requirements.

Human Rights Watch also recommends that the Government of Canada consider banning import of all goods produced or manufactured using forced labor, slave labor, child labor, or labor of persons who have been trafficked. In the United States, for example, existing law provides for the banning of goods made with forced labor.[4]

Legislative action to combat human rights abuses should be broadly applied, both to Canadian corporations and to all corporations operating in Canada. While a threshold for application of the law may be set initially, it should be based not only on size of operation or revenue, but should also focus on all industries that have elevated risks for serious human rights abuses in supply chains. These include the agriculture, mining, and apparel sectors. Any threshold limits on size and revenue should be reduced over time, with additional support to small and medium enterprises, to ensure company supply chains are free of serious human rights abuses.

  1. Legislation should require transparency in supply chains

A first step to ensuring meaningful legislation would require companies to be transparent about their supply chains and operations. This would include detailed guidance to businesses on transparency and reporting requirements. With the goal of achieving meaningful transparency, Human Rights Watch recommends that the Government of Canada create a level playing field on transparency by introducing mandatory minimum transparency standards by sector, including identifying and publishing entities along the supply chain. Companies also should be required to disclose the results and methodology of their human rights due diligence. This would include disclosure of any child labor, modern slavery, and other serious human rights abuses found to be present in their supply chains and operations; their methods of ensuring appropriate remedies; and steps to prevent or mitigate future human rights abuses.

  1. Legislation should require companies to conduct human rights due diligence

Human rights due diligence would require companies not only to identify human rights risks in their supply chains, but also the methods to prevent, mitigate, and remedy any abuses found, supporting efforts to end abuses in supply chains. In addition, reporting requirements promote transparency and accountability for harm. Reporting requirements on their own, however, fall short of meaningful action to combat and prevent serious human rights abuses in supply chains. Detailed guidelines on due diligence and reporting will support company compliance with these requirements. Human Rights Watch strongly encourages the Government of Canada to incorporate mandatory human rights due diligence requirements in any proposed legislation consistent with existing international frameworks, such as those associated with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

  1. Legislation should include penalties for non-compliance

The Government of Canada should promote a business environment that respects human rights and works to prevent abuses in supply chains and operations. The government should work with businesses to ensure they understand and can comply with human rights due diligence and transparency requirements. Resources and guidance can be made available to ensure all necessary steps are taken to address serious human rights abuses in supply chains. In cases where companies have not taken good faith efforts to comply with regulation, they should face penalties. Penalties not only ensure that all companies subject to the law are compliant, but also ensure that companies committing resources to following through with human rights obligations are not disadvantaged by those who do not. Penalties can ultimately promote greater compliance, reducing the incidence of serious human rights abuses in supply chains.

  1. Legislation should create a civil course of action for those harmed by non-compliance

When companies choose not to follow reporting or due diligence requirements at the expense of workers in their supply chain, the government needs to ensure that workers around the world have a clear path to remedy and justice, including access to Canadian courts. Some countries are taking steps to address remedy gaps. For example, the French “Duty of Vigilance” law allows people to bring a claim in court if a company is not following through with the law. Canada should similarly create avenues for redress, such as a civil course of action, for workers harmed by companies that fail to identify and address serious human rights abuses in their supply chains.

  1. The Government of Canada should ensure adequate budget and infrastructure to enable implementation

Any legislation to combat serious human rights abuses in supply chains should be accompanied to by adequate budget and infrastructure to support effective implementation, including periodic public reporting on company and government performance. Government websites can support implementation with resources for companies on human rights due diligence and reporting requirements, including guidelines for remedying situations of child labor, forced labor, and other forms of modern slavery in supply chains. A public database on company reporting will also promote transparency and accountability for legislative requirements.

Thank you for your commitment to ending abusive human and labor rights practices in Canada’s supply chains. We appreciate the opportunity to provide input in this study. Should you like to discuss our findings or recommendations, please feel free to contact Human Rights Watch Canada Director, Farida Deif (deiff@hrw.org).

 

 

 

[1] 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery and Child Labour, Regional Brief for Africa, Alliance 8.7, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_norm/---ipec/documents/pub... (accessed December 11, 2017).

[2] Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, International Labour Organization, Geneva, 2017, http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/... (accessed December 11, 2017).

[3] Modern Slavery Reporting: Weak and Notable Practice, June 2017, http://corporate-responsibility.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Core_Exam... (accessed December 11, 2017).

[4] The Tariff Act of 1930, 19 USC. § 1307, and the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (TFTEA), Pub. L. 14-125, 130 Stat. 122, sec. 910(a) (2016).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Dear Mr. Dar,

Human Rights Watch is an independent international organization that monitors human rights in more than 90 countries around the world. I am writing to request your input and perspective to incorporate into Human Rights Watch’s reporting on surveillance abuses in Ethiopia. Our reporting is based on a forthcoming report by Toronto-based research group, Citizen Lab.

We have recently learned through research conducted by Citizen Lab that several Ethiopian activists and commentators based in the United States and United Kingdom, along with one of Citizen Lab’s own research fellows, were targeted with email phishing attacks that, if successful, would have infected their electronic devices with spyware. The report also identifies dozens of other successfully infected devices belonging to unidentified targets in 20 countries. Once infected, the entity that controls the spyware would have unauthorized access to information stored on the targets’ devices. Citizen Lab’s analysis of the spyware log files for these attacks links them to Cyberbit’s PC Surveillance System (PSS) product and places the spyware’s operator inside Ethiopia. The report also identified potential product demonstrations to possible clients in several other countries, including Kazakhstan. Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

The Ethiopian government has a documented history of abusing surveillance technologies, which has facilitated a range of other human rights violations. In a 2014 report, Human Rights Watch documented how the Ethiopian government misused telecommunications surveillance systems and spyware to monitor the activities of perceived political opponents and to silence dissent and intimidate critics.[1] The report describes how Ethiopian authorities have previously used spyware products sold by two other companies, UK/Germany-based FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team, to similarly target journalists and government critics outside of Ethiopia. Ethiopian authorities continued to misuse Hacking Team’s system to spy on individuals abroad through at least 2015, when a widely covered breach of the company’s corporate data confirmed its business in Ethiopia.[2]

Ethiopia’s national laws lack meaningful protections for the right to privacy, and the country’s broad security and law enforcement powers are not adequately regulated to prevent arbitrary, unlawful, or disproportionate surveillance. The Ethiopian government has also long invoked national security as a pretext for clamping down on human rights. For example, in a 2015 report, we documented how the government used counterterrorism laws to target journalists and others critical of government.[3] At least 75 journalists have fled into exile since 2010.

Given this context, we want to better understand the circumstances under which Cyberbit’s product was obtained by the Ethiopian government and the steps Cyberbit takes to address any abuse of its products and services by its governmental customers, particularly government agencies seeking lawful intercept, intelligence, or offensive capabilities. We would appreciate specific replies to the following questions. This will greatly assist our understanding of Cyberbit, the products and solutions it offers, its approach to human rights risk, and how it would respond to credible reports of illegal surveillance and other human rights abuses linked to its products and services.

  1. What products, services, or training has Cyberbit provided to the Ethiopian government? Has Cyberbit specifically sold its PC Surveillance System (PSS), PC 360, or a similar product that enables covert information gathering from remote computers to any Ethiopian governmental agency?

     

  2. Does Cyberbit currently have any governmental clients in the other countries identified in the Citizen Lab report as locations of potential product demonstrations, including Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Rwanda, Serbia, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, or Zambia?

 

  1. What policies and procedures does Cyberbit have in place to vet potential sales or governmental customers? To what extent does Cyberbit inquire about the end use or end users of its products and services?

 

  1. Has Cyberbit ever conducted due diligence with respect to sales to the Ethiopian government, particularly by examining the government’s human rights record and past surveillance abuses targeting journalists and activists (for example, using FinFisher or Hacking Team products)?

 

  1. Can Cyberbit elaborate on any policies or procedures it has in place to address and prevent human rights abuses linked with the use of its products or services by governmental customers?

 

  1. How does Cyberbit monitor whether governmental customers are complying with the terms of their contracts or otherwise misusing its products? What steps, if any, does Cyberbit take if it uncovers violations of company contracts or the use of its products to facilitate human rights abuses by its customers?

 

We would appreciate a response by December 5, 2017 in order to reflect your response, as well as any other perspectives you may wish to share, in our reporting.

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your responses to our inquiries. We would also welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you further.

 

[1] Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do”: Telecom and Internet Surveillance in Ethiopia, March 25, 2014, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2014/03/25/they-know-everything-we-do.

[2] “Ethiopia: Digital Attacks Intensify,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 9, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/03/09/ethiopia-digital-attacks-intensify; “Ethiopia: Hacking Team Lax on Evidence of Abuse,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 13, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/08/13/ethiopia-hacking-team-lax-evidence-a....

[3] Human Rights Watch, “Journalism Is Not a Crime”: Violations of Media Freedoms in Ethiopia, January 22, 2015, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2015/01/21/journalism-not-crime.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Ethiopian authorities have carried out a renewed campaign of malware attacks, abusing commercial spyware to monitor government critics abroad, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should immediately cease digital attacks on activists and independent voices, while spyware companies should be far more closely regulated.

On December 6, 2017, independent researchers at the Toronto-based research center Citizen Lab published a technical analysis showing the renewed government malware campaign aimed at Ethiopian activists and political opponents. These attacks follow a long, documented history of similar government efforts to monitor critics, inside and outside of Ethiopia.

“The Ethiopian government has doubled down on its efforts to spy on its critics, no matter where they are in the world,” said Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These attacks threaten freedom of expression and the privacy and the digital security of the people targeted.”

Based on analysis of attacks starting in 2016, the Citizen Lab report identified several targets who received phishing emails, including several ethnic Oromo activists and scholars, one of Citizen Lab’s own research fellows, and Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo activist and executive director of the US-based Oromia Media Network (OMN). During the period of the infections described in the report, there were widespread protests in Ethiopia, beginning with Oromo protests over development plans around the capital, Addis Ababa, which culminated in a 10-month state of emergency that was lifted in August 2017. Security forces responded to those largely peaceful protests with lethal force, killing over one thousand protesters and detaining tens of thousands more since November 2015.

The government has gone to various lengths to restrict OMN – an independent media network that covers current events in Oromia, Ethiopia – and other diaspora media outlets. Given Ethiopia’s stranglehold on independent media and access to information, diaspora media outlets provide an important source of information that is independent from government, albeit often heavily politicized.

OMN played a key role in disseminating information during protests in 2015 and 2016. The government has routinely jammed satellite television programs, arrested informants, pressured satellite companies to drop OMN, arrested people who show OMN in their places of businesses, and charged OMN under the antiterrorism law in October 2016.

Identified targets in the most recent round of malware attacks were commentators on Ethiopian affairs, who received emails that were tailored to their interests. The emails invited the targets to download and install a software update, which contained malware, to view the content. The phishing attacks, if successful, would have infected their personal computers with spyware. The Citizen Lab report also uncovered dozens of successfully infected devices belonging to other targets in 20 countries, including in the US, UK, Eritrea, Canada, and Germany.

Citizen Lab’s analysis of the attacks and logfiles places the operator inside Ethiopia and links the software to Cyberbit, an Israel-based cybersecurity company. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems, an Israel-based defense company. The analysis suggests that the spyware in use is Cyberbit’s PC Surveillance System (PSS), which the company may have recently rebranded as PC 360.

Cyberbit’s marketing materials describes PSS as a “comprehensive solution for monitoring and extracting information from remote [personal computers].” Once a computer is infected, the spyware’s operator would gain access to virtually any information available on the device, including files, browsing history, passwords, emails, and what the target types into the computer. The spyware can also take screen shots and activate a computer’s microphone and camera for live surveillance. The marketing materials indicate that PSS was created for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to “reduce crime” and “prevent terrorism.”

Citizen Lab’s report also identifies potential Cyberbit product demonstrations to possible clients in several other countries, including Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Rwanda, Serbia, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia.

This is the third known spyware vendor that the Ethiopian government has engaged since 2013. Human Rights Watch and Citizen Lab previously wrote about the government’s use of malware sold by UK/Germany-based Gamma International (reorganized as FinFisher) and Italy-based Hacking Team to target journalists and activists in the Ethiopian diaspora. Authorities continued to misuse Hacking Team’s product through at least 2015, when a widely covered breach of the company’s corporate data confirmed its business in the country.

The government also has a history of abusing other surveillance technologies, which has facilitated a range of human rights violations. Inside the country, Ethiopian authorities have frequently used mobile surveillance to target independent voices. Human Rights Watch has documented how security agencies would play intercepted phone calls during abusive interrogations in an effort to intimidate critics and political opponents into silence.

Spyware companies often market their products to government agencies tasked with fighting crime or preventing terrorism. However, the Ethiopian government has a documented history of abusing its counterterrorism laws to target journalists, bloggers, protesters, and government critics. At least 85 journalists have fled into exile since 2010 as a result of the government’s ongoing crackdown on independent media. Ethiopia’s laws lack meaningful protections for the right to privacy, and the country’s broad security and law enforcement powers are not adequately regulated to prevent arbitrary, unlawful, or disproportionate surveillance.

Human Rights Watch wrote to Cyberbit to request comment on Citizen Lab’s findings, the company’s approach to assessing the human rights impact of spyware sales to government customers, and what steps the company would take if it uncovered government abuses linked to their product. In a December 5 response, the company stated that it is “a vendor and it does not operate any of its products. Cyberbit Solutions customers are the sole operators of the products at their sole responsibility and they are obliged to do so according to all applicable laws and regulations” in their jurisdictions.

The company also stated that it offers its products only to government authorities, and any sales of “lawful interception and intelligence products are subject to export control due to their nature and they were sold only after obtaining all relevant authorizations,” including specific approval of a designated government end user.

Finally, the company stated that while it cannot confirm or deny any specific transaction or client, the company appreciates the concerns raised and is “addressing it subject to the legal and contractual confidentiality obligations Cyberbit Solutions is bound by.”

Cyberbit should immediately investigate misuse of its products by Ethiopian authorities, publicly disclose its findings, and end any plans for future sales and any ongoing support it may be providing, Human Rights Watch said.

Despite some progress in recent years, the sale of commercial spyware remains poorly regulated at the national and international level, as Ethiopia’s repeated purchase of such tools demonstrates. Since 2014, the European Union and 41 member countries to the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies have begun to introduce regulations to control the sale of systems like those sold by Cyberbit. However, even where they exist, national implementation of such export controls has been uneven. Some governments do not adequately consider the risk to human rights when evaluating a company’s application to export spyware to repressive regimes.

While Israel does not formally participate in the Wassenaar Arrangement, it nonetheless incorporates the Wassenaar control lists into its national regulations. Exports of spyware systems from Israel’s thriving cybersecurity industry to foreign governments for security purposes require approval from Israel’s Defense Export Control Agency. Though the agency consults with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is unclear whether the government requires an examination of the end-user’s or destination country’s human rights record and whether the sale might facilitate violations of rights.

According to 2016 media reports, the agency had previously approved the sale of similar spyware by the Israeli technology company NSO Group to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), despite its record of surveillance abuses. The UAE later used this technology to target a prominent human rights activist, Ahmed Mansoor. In October, the export agency announced that it will loosen some export restrictions, though how the changes will apply to spyware systems remains unclear.

The latest Ethiopian malware campaign raises significant questions about whether Israel’s export controls are adequate to prevent human rights abuses linked to spyware sales, Human Rights Watch said. Israel and other governments should ensure that such sales are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and evaluate the end-use and human rights record of the end user.

“It is troubling if Israeli authorities allowed the sale of Cyberbit’s spyware to Ethiopian security agencies, given their established record of using malware to violate rights,” Wong said. “Spyware should be kept far from known human rights abusers.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Manuela Ferro 

Vice President of Operations Policy and Country Services 

World Bank  

1818 H St. NW 

Washington, D.C. 20433 

December 4, 2017 

Re: Environmental and Social Standards Guidance Notes 

 

Dear Ms. Ferro, 

 

We wish to express our deep concerns with the current draft Guidance Notes for Borrowers recently released by the World Bank for public comment. While we appreciate the opportunity to finally review and comment on these Notes, our understanding of their aim and scope has not been realized.  

 

Throughout the safeguards review process, civil society participants were repeatedly assured that the Guidance Notes would reflect pressing questions and concerns about the ESF. They were also held out as an opportunity to provide greater clarity and crucial assistance for borrowers in implementing a new Framework that embraced extraordinary flexibility in its approach. The Bank’s website states that the Notes will serve as a “resource to help explain requirements” and “provide helpful examples.” While a small number of the draft Notes refer to resources and recommendations on certain issues, we feel the great majority of the objectives for the Notes are not achieved in these drafts.  

 

As they currently stand, it is difficult to see how the draft Notes can contribute to strengthening Borrower systems, or clearly identify what it is that the Bank requires from its clients.  They lack tangible, specific steps for Borrowers to use in implementing the new Framework and fail to put them on notice for how they will be monitored.  This is particularly surprising given that even the IFC Performance Standards Guidance Notes provide such steps and information. In another departure from the IFC, the drafts make no reference to human rights obligations or treaty bodies, leaving gaps in the Bank’s standards and ignoring an authoritative body of scholarship on implementing social protections.  

 

Rather than provide helpful advice, in numerous places the draft Notes fail to clarify the vague language in the standards—instead introducing new ambiguity that further undermines the binding nature of the safeguards, or simply restating what is already in the Standards in ways that are confusing and inconsistent. The redundancy, lack of clarity, and absence of substantive content in the draft Guidance Notes could therefore serve to further dilute the new Standards and weaken the Framework as a whole rather than provide a helpful resource, as promised during the ESF consultation process. 

 

We believe the draft Guidance Notes should be substantially revised to ensure that the Bank’s social and environmental protection framework will not be substantially diluted. We therefore urge you to seriously consider the detailed comments that many organizations and individuals will submit to you in the coming weeks in order to develop a new set of drafts for public comment, as well as a comment period of sufficient length to enable robust input from civil society on the new drafts. We look forward to working with you to ensure the Guidance Notes and forthcoming Staff Guidance meet their objectives and provide the resources and clarity necessary for Borrowers and staff to carry out their responsibilities under the new Framework. 

 

Sincerely, 

 

The undersigned organizations: 

Access Bangladesh Foundation
Accountability Counsel
Association Tunisienne de Droit du Développement, Tunisia
Association Tunisienne de la Transparence dans l’Energie et les Mines (ATTEM), Tunisia
Bank Information Center
Both ENDS
Bretton Woods Project
Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO), Uganda
Center for International Environmental Law
Centre national de coopération au développement, CNCD-11.11.11
Conectas Human Rights
Disabled People International (DPI)
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Egypt
Forest Peoples Programme
Friends of the Earth US
Gender Action
Human Rights Watch
Inclusive Development International
International Accountability Project
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
Jamaa Resource Initiatives, Kenya
La Toile des Associations pour le Civisme et le Développement, Tunisia
Le Conseil Régional des Organisations Non Gouvernementales de Développement, Democratic Republic of Congo
Mongolian Women's Employment Supporting Federation
Narasha Community Development Group, Kenya
National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU)
NGO Forum on ADB
Oakland Institute
OT Watch Mongolia
Oxfam International
Rivers Without Boundaries Mongolia
Rivers without Boundaries Russia
Social Justice Connection, Canada
The Arab Forum for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (AFRPD)
The Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union (LPHU)
Ulu Foundation
Urgewald
Women and Children's Affairs Organization, Iraq

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Washington, DC) – Draft Guidance Notes that will accompany the World Bank’s new Environmental and Social Framework are inadequate to protect people in communities affected by the bank’s projects, 38 nongovernmental groups said in a letter to bank officials.  
 
The framework, developed over the past four years, will replace the bank’s current safeguard policies that aim to mitigate potential environmental and social harm from the projects it finances. In a departure from those policies, the World Bank’s new standards place much more responsibility oborrowers and give them more leeway to police themselves, leading Human Rights Watch and other organizations to worry that the World Bank will not have effective oversight and some borrowers may not effectively follow the standards. The Guidance Notes, which are non-binding, were billed as a way to provide much-needed clarity to borrowers and assist their implementation of the new standards. 
 
“If the World Bank is serious about protecting communities against harm from its projects, it needs to make sure borrowers have a detailed and practical blueprint on how to do that,” said Jessica Evans, senior researcher and advocate on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch. “But the draft Guidance Notes are so vague and offer woefully little help to borrowers on how to implement the new Environmental and Social Framework.” 
 
The groups said that the draft Guidance Notes, published on November 1, 2017, largely lack practical guidance for borrowers, and frequently restate the vague language of the standardsThe groups asked the bank to make substantial revisions and provide another round of drafts for public comment to address the serious gaps in the documents. 

 

Note: This news release has been updated to reflect additional signatories.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mr. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea
Palacio Presidencial
Avenida de la Libertad
Malabo, Guinea Ecuatorial

Your Excellency,

We write to express our deep concern in response to the unjust arrest and subsequent detention without charge of Ramón Esono Ebalé in Malabo on 16th September 2017, and to urge you to release him immediately.

Mr. Ebalé and two of his friends were stopped by police, handcuffed, and had their mobile phones seized while getting into Mr. Ebalé's sister's car after leaving a restaurant in Malabo. Police then interrogated Mr. Ebalé about his drawings of, and blog posts about members of the Equatoguinean leadership, and told him—in front of his two friends—that he needed to make a statement explaining those drawings and blog posts. It was confirmed by police that only Mr. Ebalé was the target of the arrest, and not his two friends.

Mr Ebalé has learned that he faces potential charges of counterfeiting and money laundering; offences that were apparently never mentioned to him or his friends when they were arrested. Mr. Ebalé’s prolonged detention without charge gives rise to serious concerns that these allegations are no more than a pretext to justify the ongoing arbitrary deprivation of liberty he is being subjected to.

Mr. Ebalé’s extended detention at Black Beach prison without charge appears to be a clear violation of Equatorial Guinean law, which requires charges to be filed within 72 hours of an arrest. A judge has not mandated preventative detention in his case, which under exceptional circumstances would allow the police to hold him without charge for longer, nor does there appear to be a basis for such an order.

Mr. Ebalé, a renowned cartoonist who has been living abroad since 2011, has now spent 60 days in prison. His arrest in Equatorial Guinea—where he returned to renew his passport—has received global attention with calls for his release from fellow journalists, artists, activists, and human rights and press freedom organizations.

As Equatorial Guinea prepares to join the UN Security Council in January 2018, the world is watching the case of Mr. Ebalé closely. We hope that as your country takes this prominent position on the world stage, your government respects all human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In this vein, we call on your Excellency, and the judicial authorities in Equatorial Guinea to respect the rights of all artists, human rights defenders, activists, and, more generally, all individuals in Equatorial Guinea who wish to exercise their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association without fear of being harassed or prosecuted.

To this end, we urge you to order Mr. Ebalé’s immediate and unconditional release from prison. Thank you for your consideration.

Yours Sincerely,

Amnesty International
API Madrid
Arterial Network
Association of American Editorial Cartoonists
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Member of the House of Lords, President of JUSTICE
Cartoonist Rights Network International
Committee to Protect Journalists
EG Justice
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Freemuse
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship PEN International
Reporters Without Borders
The Doughty Street International Media Defense Panel
Transparency International
UNCAC Coalition
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Members of the Boeung Kak Lake community in Cambodia demonstrate at a police blockade in December 2012 on the second day of community activist Yorm Bopha’s trial, on trumped up charges apparently brought for speaking out on forced evictions linked to a World Bank financed project.

© 2012 John Vink/Magnum Photos

The World Bank has spent the past four years overhauling the rules it applies to prevent or mitigate social and environmental harm from the development projects it finances. But human rights are all but absent in its new rules.

These rules, the Environmental and Social Framework, do not acknowledge internationally agreed upon human rights standards. Draft guidance notes released on November 2 that are supposed to provide practical guidance for applying the framework similarly sidestep human rights standards.

Human Rights Watch had hoped that, at the very least, the non-binding Guidance Notes would cite human rights standards and provide borrowers with practical ways to ensure that bank-funded projects don’t harm the very communities they are meant to serve. But they don’t come close to achieving this. In fact, the draft gives borrowers a lot of room to avoid these standards.

The framework requires borrowers to respect international obligations that are “directly applicable to the project under relevant international treaties and agreements,” which should include human rights standards. The guidelines simply repeat the same vague statement instead of explaining where to look for these obligations in international law, how to determine whether they are applicable, and how they have been carried out in practice.

Similarly, the framework’s non-discrimination requirement only refers to “vulnerable and disadvantaged” groups and does not list the well-established protected grounds under human rights law. After repeated requests by nongovernmental groups, the bank issued an accompanying presidential directive listing protected groups, but it still excluded several grounds for protection under human rights law, including discrimination on the grounds of language, sex characteristics, marital or family status, and political affiliation. The guidance notes don’t correct the omission.

Moreover, the notes direct borrowers to make unspecified “special efforts” to ensure that the consultation process includes disadvantaged groups, but they don’t provide concrete advice on how to achieve this, including how to protect project critics from reprisals or to eliminate barriers to community participation.

If the World Bank is serious about building borrowers’ capacity to apply its new Environmental and Social Framework, it should revise the guidance notes to include practical advice on how to do that.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Every few years, a journalist flies to Zambia to write an article about Kabwe, “the world’s most toxic town.

For more than a century, Kabwe was home to an enormous lead smelting plant that belched its dust into the air and poisoned the soil for miles in all directions, heedless of the damage it was causing. The plant closed in 1994, but not much has been done to clean up the worst of it. Residents—particularly children—have continued to get sick and even die from lead poisoning in terrifying numbers.

Ruth Mwitwa (left) and Gloria Kango were convicted of criminal trespass for being on land they have lived and farmed for decades, and now belongs to a commercial farmer. They were sentenced to three months’ imprisonment and were detained with their breastfeeding children. Gloria was also four months pregnant during her detention. 

© 2017 Samer Muscati for Human Rights Watch

The case for corporate accountability is often made by telling stories like these, and it’s not hard to understand why.

Kabwe is a cautionary tale that reminds us what can happen when vast industrial machines are left to their own devices, unchecked and unaccountable. But the spotlight cast on places like Kabwe risks throwing half the story into shadow. When business goes wrong or goes rogue, communities are bled dry by a thousand cuts more often than they are crushed under the weight of one enormous wheel.

When Companies Make Their Own Rules

This is all possible because of a particular kind of lawlessness that “responsible” business actors have grown too comfortable accepting and helping to entrench. And it’s a problem that seems to exist everywhere, in different ways, from India’s mining sector, to Cambodia’s garment industry, to the debt buying industry in the United States.

The problem isn’t just that an approach without robust enforcement of the rules enables massive corporations to run roughshod over rights, but that it creates environments where it becomes impossible to hold the whole vast ocean of smaller companies that never make headlines to any coherent standard.

We live in a moment when many businesses claim to be responsible. But few acknowledge what might be their most important responsibility: to accept that they need to be bound by rules they don’t set themselves. Many leading corporations tout their adherence to meaningful voluntary standards, agreeing to be judged and sometimes audited against them—but not actually bound. Many of the same companies rabidly oppose any move to make those standards mandatory or to enforce relevant legal standards more vigorously.

The government of Ecuador has launched a process that aims to produce a binding international treaty on business and human rights. That’s still at an early stage, and its political prospects as well as its substantive content remain uncertain. In the meantime and apart from that, most of the action in the business and human rights space continues to be around the development and improvement of voluntary standards.

Outside of anti-corruption movements, where there’s been a strong trend toward global regulation, this has been true for decades. Across diverse sectors of the global economy—from private security to garment manufacture and from extractive industries to jewelry—leading companies have come together around voluntary standards meant to set a higher bar than the exceedingly low one they often encounter in law and regulation.

Some of these initiatives are valuable and important, and have improved the behavior and awareness of corporations that touch lives and communities around the world. But there’s no way to force everyone to join these clubs, and their existence doesn’t change the fundamental reality: When companies do business in a regulatory vacuum, they make their own rules.

And too often, governments are quite happy to duck the responsibility that comes with regulation, letting companies police themselves instead. But what’s happening to Zambian farmers right now, far from the glare of any media spotlight, helps illustrate the futility of that approach.

No One to Name or Shame

If you leave Lusaka at dawn, drive right through Kabwe without stopping, and keep driving many more hours north, you’ll arrive in a rural district called Serenje in the late afternoon. It is a remote, economically marginal corner of Zambia that the government thinks it can transform by laying the groundwork for enormous agricultural investments.

The megaprojects government planners envision as the cornerstones of prosperous Serenje farm blocks have yet to materialize. But this doesn’t mean that all is quiet; far from it. Commercial farmers are moving in—not the vast operations planners are still hoping to woo, but operations far larger than the small-scale agriculture most people in the area engage in. They have been lured with the promise of land, and they expect to have it.

The problem is that families—in some cases whole villages—are already there.

This was by no means a problem beyond the Zambian government’s capacity to avoid or, having failed to avoid it, to solve. But instead, the commercial famers have largely been left to their own devices to deal with families whose homes stand in the way of their ambitions.

Almost every one of the resulting stories is a different kind of quiet tragedy, as Human Rights Watch chronicled in a new report. Dozens of families who had always lived simple but comfortable lives suddenly found themselves pressured to accept paltry compensation and many became homeless and destitute. One impatient commercial farmer used tractors and chains to rip down the houses of people who did not want to make way. A group of families spent more than a year living in tents in the forest, waiting for help from government officials who seemed to have forgotten their existence.

For every Kabwe, there are many more Serenjes. And when our researchers dug all the way to the bottom of what went wrong in Serenje, they didn’t find a handful of corporate titans who could be shamed, sued, or persuaded as a way to effect large-scale change. Instead, they found a confusing array of smaller actors whose collective impact on the families around them had been devastating—each in their own uniquely terrible way.

But at root of it all were government officials who didn’t understand or care about their own responsibilities, nodding sympathetically and pointing their fingers at one another.

Zambia has laws and policies on the books that should serve as imperfect but useful tools for managing the situation in Serenje, but everyone is ignoring them. Key local officials were entirely unaware of regulations meant to govern any involuntary resettlement of rural communities. The Zambian Environmental Management Agency struggled to find records indicating whether commercial farmers in Serenje had bothered to conduct mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments.

Business leaders need to acknowledge that being responsible means more than just a deliberately narrow focus on their own immediate behavior. It means accepting the need for tough enforcement of rules that bind themselves as well as others to respect rights they might otherwise threaten. And business leaders need to understand that anything less means helping to entrench an approach that inevitably leads to shattered lives.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The long-awaited moment has finally come. Ten years after the project was initiated, President Emmanuel Macron will inaugurate the Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island, the so-called “Island of Happiness” in the United Arab Emirates on November 8, 2017. The museum will open to the public on November 11.

Yet while brochures advertise a project whose roots are enshrined in tolerance and diversity, the construction of the splendid museum was tainted with controversies and violations of the human rights of migrant workers on the construction site. Migrant workers make up approximately 90% of the private workforce in the United Arab Emirates.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the French government and the Louvre to publicly pledge to protect workers’ rights and to ban forced labor on the construction site since 2007. Human Rights Watch has published three reports on construction sites of Saadiyat Island, including one on the Louvre Abu Dhabi, before its staff was denied entry to the country in 2014.

Our most recent report, “Migrant workers’ rights on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates”, released in February 2015, documented a range of human rights violations by employers: unsafe working conditions leading to workplace accidents and deaths, passport confiscations, appalling living and housing conditions, extremely low wages, or sometimes non-payment of wages. Furthermore, the « Kafala », or sponsorship system gives employers tremendous power over their employees and the migrant workers’ rights to association and to bargain collectively on their working conditions are restricted.

The last observations of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Committee of Experts indicate that in 2016, numerous passports were still being confiscated and wages not being paid in the UAE, despite the laws prohibiting these practices. Migrant workers also still suffered sanctions if they went on strike. In 2013, several hundreds of migrant workers were arbitrarily deported and banned from entering the country as a direct consequence of exercising their right to strike. These appalling working and living conditions are also considered to be partially responsible for a rise in suicide among migrant workers.

The pressure exerted by NGO’s and the international community has had a real impact, however: several decrees and resolutions aimed at protecting the rights of migrant workers have recently been enacted. Employers are now required to use Labor Ministry standard employment contracts; and the Kafala system has been partially reformed so employees can legally break their work contract unilaterally, if there has been a contractual breach, without being deported. The ILO has also initiated a program, in cooperation with the government, to train labor inspectors specialized in the protection of migrant workers.

These are positive legislative developments. But it is now crucial to ensure that the laws are carried out by expanding a system for labor inspections. It remains extremely difficult to assess the impact of these laws on migrant workers’ lives and on their working conditions. The crackdown on civil society is so severe that activists have been silenced and few workers dare to voice their concerns. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, but also journalists and academics working on migrant workers issues, have been barred from entering the country and cannot follow-up on whether the legal reforms are being carried out effectively.

The construction of the Louvre is completed, and many consider the building to be a technical and aesthetic feat. But it has been accomplished at the cost of human suffering in a country whose rulers appear to still widely despise human rights and suppress any critical voice.

Behind the grand opening of the museum, the rhetoric about tolerance will be especially difficult to swallow, while the United Arab Emirates is, along with Saudi Arabia, one of the main players in the military coalition behind dozens of apparently unlawful strikes, some that may amount to war crimes, that have killed and wounded thousands of civilians in Yemen. The coalition is also exacerbating and making worse the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, for Yemeni civilians, including through its onerous restrictions on aid into the country.

The champagne and Jean Nouvel’s "rain of light" should not make president Macron, his ministers and the cultural community, who are so attached to universal values and their radiance, forget the human cost of this titanic project and the extent of the abuses for which the United Arab Emirates bear responsibility. President Macron should call upon his close partners to stop the suppression of independent voices in the United Arab Emirates. He should also urge the United Arab Emirates to put an end to the coalition’s severe abuses against civilians in Yemen.

 

Bénédicte Jeannerod is the France director at Human Rights Watch

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Worker on APPL tea plantation in Assam, India

© 2015 Komala Ramachandra
The World Bank should fulfill its commitment to protect workers through its investment in tea plantations in Assam, India, six Indian and international nongovernmental organizations said today. In November 2016, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the accountability office of the World Bank Group’s private sector lending arm, released an investigation report that found low wages, abysmal sanitation, lack of pesticide safety equipment, and inadequate housing on India’s tea plantations – but the bank has since done little to address the problems.

On November 6, 2017, the organizations delivered a petition with more than 67,000 signatures collected by the Care2 social networking website to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the bank’s private sector arm. The petition calls on the IFC to urgently remedy the situation.

“The World Bank Group is not honoring its commitment to improve the lives of tea workers in Assam,” said Anirudha Nagar, South Asia director at Accountability Counsel, which supports communities harmed by internationally financed projects. “The bank should urgently disclose the audits it is relying on, address the findings of its independent accountability office, and make good on its promise to ensure workers are consulted in a process moderated by an independent third party.”

In 2009, the IFC invested in the tea producer Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL) with the goal of creating a sustainable worker shareholder program. With more than 155,000 people living on APPL plantations, including 30,000 tea workers, the investment has the potential to achieve a significant development impact. However, the IFC failed to live up to its own goals, including to “support jobs that ‘protect and promote the health’ of workers, and thus provide a way out of poverty,” as the CAO found in its November 2016 report.

“Many workers are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation from plantation management,” said Wilfred Topno, secretary at Peoples Action for Development. “The 67,000 signatures show public support for their suffering, amplify their voices so the bank will hear them, and shine a light on the problem so employers cannot retaliate in secret.”

The IFC disagreed with several of the CAO’s findings, relying on an audit of the plantations carried out by a third-party organization in 2014, which has never been made public. The IFC then proposed a “draft action plan,” which addresses a limited set of findings it agrees with, and made a commitment to select an “independent third party” to consult with workers on its plan. A year has passed, and there is still no indication a third party has been hired for the consultation process.

In 2017, the same third-party organization that conducted the 2014 audit was commissioned to do another audit of two APPL plantations. Yet again, the process was shrouded in secrecy and the report has not been made public.

“The IFC still invests in tea but has done little to stop the labor and human rights abuses on APPL’s plantations more than a year after the investigation,” said Komala Ramachandra, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The IFC should consult with workers and promptly create a meaningful response and action plan.”

In August, advocates for the workers created Project AccountabiliTEA, documenting what they found were the bank’s meager efforts to alleviate the inhumane living and working conditions and its failure to fulfill even the limited commitments it made last year.

“Workers and their dependents deserve what they were promised and what is legally required,” said Jayshree Satpute, co-founder of Nazdeek, which works to bring access to justice closer to marginalized communities in India. “Having workers share in the benefits of the plantation is a good idea, but the way the worker shareholder program was implemented was clearly a failure. The IFC has the chance to make it right and we have tens of thousands of people who agree.”

The petition calls on the IFC to act on the ongoing mistreatment of the tea workers, consult with workers to improve their working and housing conditions, increase wages, and give workers a voice in the management of plantations.

“As an organization that supports tea workers, we are committed to seeking justice for the long term,” said Stephen Ekka, Director at PAJHRA, which advocates for the rights of Assam’s Adivasi population. “To know that we have the support of 67,000 people is incredible and bolsters our resolve to keep going.”

“Employment is a two-way street and should be mutually beneficial for both workers and employers,” said Julie Mastrine, spokesperson for Care2. “Those who have signed the Care2 petition understand this and are urgently demanding the IFC to do more to enter into conversation with tea workers and put pressure on their employer to improve working conditions. No one should suffer at their place of employment.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Germany has a growing club of global apparel brands making their supplier factory information public. Unfortunately, KiK is dragging its feet on transparency, and has stayed out of the club.

Transparency in the garment industry about the factories brands use to produce their clothes is important. When apparel brands publish names and key information about their supplier factories, it allows workers and labor advocates to swiftly alert them to unsafe working conditions or labor rights violations. This kind of transparency can even help avert deadly disasters.

Many apparel brands understand this. Since October 2016, a coalition of nine global labor rights groups and unions, including Human Rights Watch, have been advocating for a basic minimum level of supply chain transparency (known as the Transparency Pledge) in the apparel sector.

A garment worker sews clothing in a building near the site of the Rana Plaza building collapse. 

© 2014 G.M.B. Akash/Panos

The global coalition wrote to leading brands that were members of the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, inviting them to publish their supply chain information, aligning with the Pledge. The Textile Partnership involves various entities concerned about the issue, including the German federal government, apparel and footwear companies, nongovernmental organizations, and trade unions. It enables brand members to develop a roadmap of what they want to achieve annually, and to report progress.

When it comes to supply chain transparency, KiK is the odd one out. All other Textile Partnership brands we wrote to gave us a positive response. ALDI South, ALDI North, Lidl, Hugo Boss, and Tchibo shifted their position and began publishing their supplier factory information for the first time in 2017. Adidas, C&A, Esprit, and H&M—companies that were already publishing the information—made commitments to fully align their disclosure practices with the pledge. Puma too agreed to publish more details about factories than they were already doing. These companies have proven through their action that they suffer no competitive disadvantage from publishing this information.

In a letter from KiK to Human Rights Watch, the company said: “KiK is an active member of the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. We have committed ourselves to fully supporting its goals and objectives. The question of disclosing global supplier lists is currently being discussed in the Textile Partnership. Mandated NGO representatives are part of that discussion. For the time being, however, a binding decision has not been taken.”

Brands have complete freedom to adopt good industry practices if they want to, and don’t need to wait for Textile Partnership’s decisions. In fact, the German Textile Partnership’s Guidelines for Creating Roadmap for 2017 clarify to its members that “[g]oals can also freely be formulated … provided they are related to the key question and the indicators.” In fact, other brands that are members of the Partnership published supplier factory information on their websites.

Using the Partnership to justify its poor decisions not only gives KiK a bad name, but also risks tarnishing the reputation of the Textile Partnership. KiK should drop its excuses, and simply go transparent.

In 2012, a fire ripped through one of KiK’s supplier factories in Pakistan, killing 255 workers and injuring 57. Last year, KiK agreed on a compensation package of more than US$5 million for victims. Paying compensation after a disaster is important and it’s commendable that an agreement was reached. But it’s equally important for companies to do everything in their capacity to make sure that any problems in the factories they source from come to light before they lead to disaster. The best way to make that possible is to make sure workers, consumers and the public at large can find out what brands any given factory is producing. Without that knowledge, brands may not get word of workplace abuses, safety issues and other problems until it’s too late.

If an apparel company stands for workers’ rights, there are no two ways about supply chain transparency. KiK should go transparent and join forces with other German Partnership brands that have already done so, and collectively demand that such transparency be made a mandatory part of brand members’ roadmaps.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Teodorin Nguema, Equatorial Guinea's vice president and son of President Teodoro Obiang.

© Getty Images
(Paris) – A Parisian court on October 27, 2017, convicted the president of Equatorial Guinea’s eldest son in absentia of embezzling tens of millions of euro from his government and laundering the proceeds in France.

The court handed down a three-year suspended jail sentence and a suspended €30 million (US$35 million) fine for Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, known as Teodorin, who is also Equatorial Guinea’s vice president. The court seized his assets in France valued at well over €100 million.

“This verdict against Teodorin Obiang is further proof that rampant government corruption in Equatorial Guinea has robbed its people of their country’s oil wealth,” said Sarah Saadoun, business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The French government should repatriate the money ensuring it goes to key services where it should have been spent.”

The ruling comes after more than a decade of litigation initiated by two French anti-corruption organizations, Transparency International France and Sherpa. It is one of three cases the organizations brought against high-level government officials of different countries for allegedly laundering “ill-gotten gains” in France. It was the first of the three cases to reach a verdict and the first time a French court recognized non-governmental organizations’ standing to file a criminal corruption complaint.

Because the sentence and fine are suspended, they will only go into effect if Teodorin commits another crime in France. He has 10 days to appeal.

Teodorin has been the subject of a number of international money-laundering investigations, and his flamboyant lifestyle has been widely cast as a symbol of brazen government corruption. The huge amount of money looted by members of Equatorial Guinea’s ruling elite contributes to the country’s severe underfunding of health and education.

In 2012 the US Department of Justice calculated that Teodorin had spent US$315 million around the world between 2004 and 2011 on properties, cars, and luxury goods. This is nearly a third more than the Equatoguinean government’s annual spending on health and education combined in 2011, the most recent year for which there is data. At the time, Teodorin was the country’s agriculture minister, earning an official annual salary of less than US$100,000.

The Equatorial Guinean government has vigorously defended Teodorin, claiming that his actions were legal because of domestic laws that permit ministers to do business with the state through their own companies. The government has never investigated the allegations against him.

The president promoted his son to vice president in June 2016, days after a French court ordered him to stand trial, in an apparent effort to use diplomatic immunity as a shield from prosecution. When that failed, the government unsuccessfully sued France in the International Court of Justice to stop the prosecution, claiming it violated Teodorin’s immunity.

The court decision gives the French government control over millions of euro worth of assets seized from Teodorin, including a 101-room mansion on the exclusive Avenue Foch valued at over €100 million, €5.7 million worth of supercars, and millions more euro worth of art, jewelry, and luxury goods, according to the court decision ordering Teodorin to stand trial. France has no laws providing for the repatriation of recovered assets, but Human Rights Watch and other organizations are urging the government to ensure that the funds are repatriated to the country to benefit the people who are victims of official corruption.

In 2014 Teodorin settled a case with the US Department of Justice, which alleged that he bought a California mansion, private jet, and US$2 million worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia with money stolen from the public treasury. He agreed to pay US$30 million without explicit admission of wrongdoing. The settlement mandates that the funds be repatriated for the benefit of the Equatoguinean people, which US authorities are expected to do soon. Switzerland is currently investigating Teodorin for money laundering, and in December 2016 it seized a luxury yacht worth US$100 million and several luxury cars.

Official corruption is rampant in Equatorial Guinea. In 2004 a US senate investigation found that Washington-based Riggs Bank, which held Equatorial Guinea’s government accounts, transferred millions of dollars to companies apparently owned by government officials, including the president. Three members of a Russian family are awaiting trial in Spain on allegations of facilitating the purchase of homes for Equatoguinean officials with the money siphoned from Riggs bank.

The discovery of oil in the early 1990s catapulted Equatorial Guinea from one of the world’s poorest countries to the one with the highest per capita income in Africa. Yet the government has invested only a pittance in health and education and progress on health and education consistently lag behind regional averages. Some indicators, such as vaccination and school enrollment rates, have deteriorated since the start of the oil boom.

In June, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting how the ruling elite siphon off the country’s oil wealth, particularly by owning stakes in companies awarded hugely inflated public infrastructure contracts. Graft and mismanagement exist on such a large scale that they leave little money for health and education.

“The promotion of the president’s son to vice president in an apparent effort to shield him from accountability reflects the culture of impunity in Equatorial Guinea,” Saadoun said. “With today’s verdict, the impunity for Equatorial Guinea’s ruling elite has finally been pierced.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on Wednesday approved a US$500 million loan for a crucial piece of a network of pipelines owned largely by the Azerbaijani government that will transport Azerbaijani gas to Europe. The bank made this decision even though an international oil and gas transparency initiative, endorsed by the bank, recently suspended Azerbaijan because the government would not end its crackdown on civil society groups.

Oil derricks are silhouetted against the rising sun on an oilfield in Baku, on January 24, 2013.

© 2013 Reuters
The bank’s decision was expected earlier this year, but was delayed when Azerbaijan was suspended from, and then quit, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in March. EITI is a coalition of governments, corporations, and independent groups that promotes better governance of resource-rich countries by fostering open public debate about how oil, gas, and mining revenues are used. The EBRD has endorsed EITI and is also the only multilateral development bank that has a political mandate, which includes the principles of “multiparty democracy and pluralism.”

The bank appeared to minimize the systematic dismantling of the country’s once vibrant civil society through the arrests and convictions of dozens of activists, human rights defenders, and journalists on bogus, politically motivated charges, as well as the closing of independent media outlets. The crackdown did not spare anti-corruption activists, such as Ilgar Mammadov, a vocal critic of Azerbaijan’s gas industry who had been actively involved in promoting revenue transparency. He’s been in prison for nearly five years on politically motivated charges. The EBRD knew this was happening since at least 2014 when its country strategy for Azerbaijan explicitly acknowledged Azerbaijan’s poor record on meeting its human rights commitments.

The bank claims Azerbaijan will still follow principles of transparency akin to EITI, but this is difficult to fathom given the crackdown on civil society and new allegations of massive corruption. The bank’s decision came just weeks after investigative reporting in The Guardian alleged that Azerbaijan maintained a secret slush fund of about US$2.9 billion that it used over a two-year period to bribe European politicians, including to help whitewash the government’s human rights record. Among those implicated in the scandal is one of the bank’s board members.

The Azerbaijani government is eager to get the pipeline funded. The EBRD could have used its leverage for much-needed reforms. Instead, its endorsement of transparency rings hollow.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am