Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties.

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties.

Business + Politics

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties

free speech covid-19
brandon lynch

Brandon Lynch

8th September 2020

 

Freedom of speech is understood to be fundamental to the democratic system, a system that, thus far, has stood the test of time. We hold our freedom of speech dearly as human beings, with constitutions such as the United States reserving its first amendment to uphold such a right.  

 

Historically, the ancient Greeks pioneered this principle around the early fifth century B.C as “Parrhesia” or “to speak candidly or to ask forgiveness for so speaking”. Parrhesia was fundamental to the democracy of classical Athens, with courts, theatres and assemblies subscribing to its proponents, much like today’s contemporary structure. However, protection of speech was first introduced by King John of England in 1215 with the signing of the Magna Carta, a charter of liberty and political rights, subjective to who you’re asking of course.   

 

Today,  free speech centres around the 1948 United Nations International Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes free speech as a human right.  

 

‘If the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and press is to mean anything, it must allow protests even against the moral code that the standard of the day sets for the community’ – William O.Douglas (1957)  

 

In the past outbreaks of disease have shaped our politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and social discrimination. Epidemics have also altered the societies which they have spread through, affecting personal relationships, the work of artists and intellectuals, and man-made and natural environments. COVID-19 is much the same in this sense, with its presence rapidly altering the political, social and economic landscapes of our modern world.  

 

Now COVID-19 is attacking not only our ability to be heard, but also the legitimacy of that voice. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is one of the many prevalent examples of where freedom of speech has been hindered by COVID-19’s continued exponential growth. However, I do feel Ethiopia, unlike many other examples I could use, will disproportionately suffer from the stripping of such scarce personal freedoms.  

 

In the past outbreaks of disease have shaped our politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and social discrimination.

 

As of July 23rd, Ethiopia, the ‘Land of Origins’, where humans first walked uprights, ranks 75th in world COVID rankings, with 11,524 cases. For a country of 115 million inhabitants, this stat isn’t particularly daunting. However, when we look at the additional statistics of testing capacity and availability, the issues become more cognizant. Arbitrary arrests, persecution of government critics and journalists have spiked following the declaration of a state of emergency on April 8th 2020. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed cited such arrests under enforced emergency legislature, stating “media institutions are to deliver accurate information to the public”.  

 

However, if we are to critically analyze such statements, a reality of biased corruption and state censorship shines through. This lockdown on free speech has been exacerbated by the change in government., Under the current administration, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation legislation grants government authorities powers to fine and imprison citizens for their social media activity, infringing on the autonomy to speak, organize, mobilize, and challenge the government’s narrative.  

 

We have seen the impacts of this on a personal level, with stories such as that of Yayesew ShimelisShimelis, an employee of Tigray TV, a regional government-owned station, published on his personal Facebook and YouTube the proposal and preparation of 200,000 graves in anticipation of deaths from COVID-19. The following day Oromia police arrested Shimelis at his family home, seizing his laptop, cellphone and notebooks.  

 

Other examples of free speech infringement can be seen in examples like that of Elsabet Kebede, a prominent member of the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyers Association. On April 4th, Addis Ababa police detained Kebede and transferred her to the custody of Harari regional authorities. Reports suggest officials have not charged her with an offence but accuse her of disseminating false news on Facebook posts they claim could ‘instigate violence’.  

 

Alp Toker, executive director of Netblocks, a non-profit organization that monitors internet censorship expressed his concern on the ever-increasing powers of censorship in Ethiopia.  

  

“On 22 June 2018, his government (Ahmed) declared free expression a foundational right and ordered the unblocking of over 200 websites. Instead, exactly one year later, the entire internet  has been blocked and Ethiopia is digitally isolated from the world”  

 

Such issues are unfortunately not pandemic exclusive, beyond arrests of some high-level officials in November 2019, there has been little progress on accountability for past abuses within Ethiopian institutions. A national reconciliation commission was set up in December 2018 but it has an unclear mandate.  

 

For the roughly 16 million internet users in Ethiopia, internet shutdowns have been routine since 2015, with newly implemented emergency powers exacerbating restrictions. Internet access is key to unlocking the country’s economic, social and political potential. Continuing internet blackouts and censorship are costing Ethiopians roughly $4.5 million each day the internet is cut, hindering proposed social initiatives to lift inhabitants from poverty.  

 

 

Featured photo by wiredforlego

 
 

 

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

HUMANITARIAN

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

rubber dinghy refugees uk media
ellen mcveigh

Ellen McVeigh

4th September 2020

 

Earlier in August 2020, during a live item on BBC Breakfast, presenter Simon Jones and a small crew filmed a group of around 15 refugees on a precarious dinghy attempting to cross the English Channel from Calais to Dover in order to seek asylum in the UK. In an unsettling, almost dystopian piece of television, Jones explains in real-time the incredibly dangerous and desperate scene taking place behind him, as the individuals in the overcrowded dinghy attempt to drain the water collecting in the boat using buckets. The whole item is presented with the detached demeanour of either a sports commentator watching a boat race, or the tour operator on a whale watching tour. Despite asking them where they are from and if they are OK, there is a palpable lack of any kind of insight into the context of this journey, what they were fleeing from, or really any sensitivity towards the incredibly complex situation the refugees had found themselves in. What does the public learn from stories such as these?  

 

While this is an issue which is essential to report on, many are sceptical about the timing of these news stories while the UK is still deep in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and the government continues to face public scrutiny. With a death toll of more than 40,000, the worst in Europe, it could be argued that a few dozen people attempting to seek asylum in the country is not the most significant issue to be focussing on right now. The question of what led people to make this journey is the much more important issue, but these 10 minute live segments simply are not able to get to the crux of these issues. Around the same time as the BBC Breakfast show came out, Sky News had a similar piece on individuals from Sudan attempting to cross the Channel in a small dinghy without life jackets. Despite both news outlets reassuring their viewers that they were conscious of the safety of the refugees, many critics were worried not only about the risk of death but also the incredible depths to which these mainstream media outlets could stoop when covering these issues. To turn this dangerous situation into a television spectacle, filming vulnerable people who are unable to properly consent, highlighted a long-standing issue which the UK media has had with refugee and migrant issues for many years.  

 

In 2016, a report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that the volume of mainstream UK news coverage of asylum seekers and refugees has been increasing noticeably since the early 2000s. The report found several elements of this coverage which have had an impact on the British public’s perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers. They found that stories about migrants secretly crossing the English Channel from France had been a persistent feature of the British press, and particularly in right-wing newspapers such as The Telegraph and the Daily Mail. The report found that British newspapers regularly conflated stories about asylum seekers and refugees with other migrants, using the terms refugees and migrants interchangeably and sometimes even within the one article. In the more right-leaning papers, the UNHCR found frequent usage of the trope of the ‘bogus asylum seeker’, and the creation of distinctions between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ asylum seekers, often used to support hostile policies from the UK government. They found that these right-wing newspapers are likely to detach stories about refugees entering the UK from their home countries and that this lack of context leaves readers “badly informed about the factors behind refugee flows”. Even the BBC was found to divorce refugees from the push factors in their home country, instead largely focussing on political opinion from across the UK regarding the intake of refugees to the country. 

 

The framing of the issue of refugees crossing the English Channel on dinghies as an interesting topic for political debate, rather than an increasingly urgent human rights concern, allows the UK Government to shirk a certain amount of responsibility.”

It could be seen as the result of decades of cynical reporting on refugees from the British press, as well as the rising mainstream prominence of far-right groups such as UKIP, that we could see asylum seekers in such a desperate situation being shown live on breakfast television as a kind of visual spectacle. In an article in gal-dem magazine, Diyora Shadijanova speaks to the ‘Faragification’ of the media; the idea that the British media can continuously debate issues surrounding asylum and immigration in a detached, theoretical way rather than real situations happening to real people, which the UK government has a direct hand in affecting. Diyora highlights the fact that British media debates refugee issues in isolation, not addressing the circumstances which push someone to board an unsafe dinghy on the English Channel. They often fail to address the part the UK Government has to play not only in the global conflicts which produce refugees but also in creating a ‘hostile environment’ through the removal of safe, legal routes to seek asylum in the country. The obsession with ‘civilised’ debates on complex human rights issues has led to the normalisation of anti-immigration rhetoric. While waiting for the media to come to a balanced conclusion, people will continue to risk their lives on the Channel because they simply have no other choice. 

 

The framing of the issue of refugees crossing the English Channel on dinghies as an interesting topic for political debate, rather than an increasingly urgent human rights concern, allows the UK Government to shirk a certain amount of responsibility. In May 2020, The Guardian reported that the recently drafted Brexit text showed the UK Home Office’s plans to terminate the current system of family reunification, a policy which currently grants unaccompanied minors sanctuary in the UK. Despite earlier commitments to reunite refugee children with family in the UK, the draft negotiation text for Brexit seeks to ensure that family reunification will be on a discretionary basis, rather than a mandatory obligation. This news outraged refugee charities such as Safe Passage and Amnesty International, who warned it would endanger already vulnerable minors, and drive them into the hands of smugglers and gangs. In August, following the controversial BBC Breakfast Channel crossing segment, Safe Passage warned that more children and families would risk their lives by crossing the Channel through unsafe means if the UK government scrapped the legal routes to family reunification. They are concerned that many are already running out of time to seek a legal route before the Brexit transition period ends, and are instead being forced into lorries and dinghies.  

 

bbc refugee report english channel
sky news reporting refugees english channel 2020

 

The warnings from charities about children risking their lives in an attempt to cross the Channel became incredibly poignant on the 19th of August when it was reported that a 16-year-old Sudanese boy had drowned in the English Channel while attempting to reach the UK. When tweeting her condolences for the boy’s death, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed that the incident was “a brutal reminder of the abhorrent criminal gangs and people smugglers who exploit vulnerable people”. She faced a backlash from charities and other organisations who made the point that it was the UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ was the very thing forcing people into these situations. Safe Passage highlighted that this tragic news was a “direct consequence of a lack of safe alternatives”; whilst Amnesty International UK demanded that both the UK and French governments share their asylum obligations. Just days earlier, Patel had announced plans to send royal navy warships into the English Channel to block migrant crossings, despite warnings that this was dangerous and unlawful. Amnesty International UK had warned that the only people who would benefit from these dangerous proposals would be the very smugglers and gangs who Priti Patel claimed to abhor.  

 

Years of intensifying anti-immigration rhetoric across the British press have calcified during the Brexit era, heightened by a Tory government which are openly committed to evading their responsibility to some of the most vulnerable in society. The divorcing of any context, for people making dangerous journeys across continents and seas, from the political situations in their home country or the lack of safe alternatives to entry as a direct result of UK government policy. This detachment from human rights issues, to the point of dehumanisation, allows a reporting on refugee issues which focuses entirely on political debate as opposed to empathetic framing of these issues which focuses on first-hand knowledge of the situation. Rather than seeing this lives as disposable, a tragic inevitability of the curious quirk of Channel crossings, it is important to reframe the conversation not in terms of personal responsibility but in terms of government policy which directly impacts on the paths that incredibly desperate people take when they are given no other choice. No human being is illegal, travelling across the Channel in a boat is not illegal, seeking asylum in the UK is not illegal. 

 

 

Featured photo by Pikist

 
 

 

The Politics of a Global Pandemic

The Politics of a Global Pandemic

Business & Politics

 The Politics of a Global Pandemic

Statues of female steel workers with facemasks

21st August 2020

The complexities of coping with the current pandemic revolve around more than just measuring intensive care unit capacity, calculating the R rate or searching for a vaccine. The political, social and economic features of this crisis are just as dangerous. 

While this pandemic will have devastating, far-reaching consequences, a person’s income level, ethnicity, political ideology and worldview all combine to determine not just their individual risk of infection, but also how seriously their country or region may be affected.  

When politicians of different ideological beliefs clash, and the authority of science is called into question, you have a very fractured and uncoordinated response, perpetuating coronavirus transmission globally. Globalisation and its accompanying cross-border travel and trade only serve to exacerbate the situation.  

An article by the University of Pennsylvania has used the data from a study of 146 countries to shed light on the effects of democracy, state capacity and income inequality on the dynamics of epidemics. They found that in democratic nations, greater levels of transparency, public trust and accountability were associated with increased compliance in terms of public health measures and faster response times. 

However, income inequality was found to have a profound effect on compliance – in many cases, those earning a lower income, especially those who are unable to access state supports, simply can’t afford to stay home and therefore, cannot always comply with social distancing. Unfortunately, as was the case in the UK, democracy isn’t always associated with strong state capacity, or indeed, the willingness to utilise it.  

Despite its position as number two on the Global Health Security Index for pandemic readiness, conservative political forces in the UK bungled the response through its policies on healthcare and the public service, in addition to its prioritising economic interests and Brexit. Six months before the pandemic, the then-Prime Minister Theresa May abolished the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingency Committee” when a no-deal Brexit appeared to be a more threatening reality, resulting in the government shifting its focus significantly. The committee, which included senior cabinet ministers, could have resulted in a faster, more effective response, saving lives in the process. 

Boris Johnson’s government and many others, Trump included, fetishise the free market, which leads to certain economic interests taking priority over a robust and coordinated state response. When the goal is to privatise public services and keep wages down; better pay, conditions and funding for the NHS and its workers would interfere with this goal and make it difficult for the Conservativgovernment to outsource their workforces. Similarly, in the US, at a time when it is needed most, Trump has blocked access to new insurance applicants under the Affordable Care Act, leaving the most vulnerable in a desperately precarious position by increasing levels of inequality.  

There have been many discussions about what should be prioritised in the emergency responseto the pandemic. Health professionals view saving lives as the absolute priority; this seems logical, but the public health measures put in place may also negatively impact the health of those with non-COVID-related illnesses who are unable or afraid to access health services. Others have spoken of their desire for the response to remain free from political interference; that government restrictions are too intrusive and reminiscent of Big Government. President Trump has stated that we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem, evidence that he views the crisis through the lens of political ambition. He has accused the Democrats of concocting this coronavirus hoax to damage a booming economy, which would affect his chances of re-election.  

 

“Ideology and political identity play an important role, not just in interpreting individual risk but also willingness to adopt measures such as social distancing and mask wearing”

The Brazilian leader, Bolsonaro, has also prioritised economic interests, perhaps for different reasons. With few resources in his toolbox to fight the pandemic, Bolsonaro chose the economy – both as a way to deflect from the virus and as a means of avoiding responsibility for another devastating recession, not long after the country’s 2015 economic downturn. 

By placing the economy ahead of public health, Brazil may believe it can avoid catastrophic economic collateral damage; however, its extremely high infection rate and death toll will nonetheless wreak havoc on the entire economic, social and political fabric of Brazilian society, not to mention its already overburdened hospitals.  

Ideology and political identity play an important role, not just in interpreting individual risk but also willingness to adopt measures such as social distancing and mask wearing. In a YouGov survey of 1,000 Americans, it was discovered that an individual’s worldview was one of the most important predictors of risk perception around the world; those who scored high on individualism (usually in Western nations such as the US and UK) were less concerned about the virus than their counterparts in more collectivist countries, such as South Korea.

The survey also revealed a partisan divide on important issues such as compliance and trust; 67% of Democrats wore masks compared with 54% of Republicans while 70% of Democrats and only 10% of Republicans trusted the WHO. A significant divide was also noted in the levels of trust regarding Trump’s ability to handle the pandemic; perhaps, not surprisingly, 86% of Republicans trusted Trump compared with only 10% of Democrats. Polarised views on such matters often result in ineffective and inconsistent social distancing and mask wearing throughout the country, thus hampering any effective suppression of the virus.  

A lack of consensus on how to mitigate the pandemic, or even how to interpret/perceive risk has left many states alone, scrambling to find their own solutions. The politics of each state governor can also determine the impact of coronavirus on their community, as evidenced by Florida’s Republican governor, a keen supporter of Trump who often heeds the advice of his wife or the President instead of health officials.  

The wearing of face masks has become a hotly-debated topic; as we have previously observed in France with its burqa ban and the ensuing controversy, face coverings are highly political symbols for many. They are often viewed as a sign of subservience to public health – a Trump official referred to masks as COVID burqas. Until now, face masks were a strong symbol of Asian identity and values, often seen as an inherently communitarian instrument and a hallmark of courtesy and good manners.

Those opposed to mask-wearing do so based on libertarian individualism and its associated personal freedoms. Much of thdebate surrounding face coverings centres around thcolour of the face beneath it; many African Americans harbour concerns about racial profiling, and people of Asian origin/descent have been targeted for harassment and abuse. This has not been helped by Trump’s constant scapegoating of China, repeatedly referring to the Chinese virus. 

The global pandemic has showcased the best and worst of politics and humanity, with responses varying from coordinated, compassionate and communitarian approaches; to individualistic, free-market obsessed and ineffective. There will be many lessons to learn, irrespective of the global outcome. What is clear, however, is that polarising political ideologies and social policies have had a detrimental effect on what could have been a sharp, fair and effective solution to a global problem 

 

 

Featured photo by Martin Sanchez

 
 

 

 

Donald Trump’s Threat to the US Elections

Donald Trump’s Threat to the US Elections

Business & Politics

Donald Trump’s Threat to the US Elections

Statues of female steel workers with facemasks

20th August 2020

 

Donald Trump didn’t think his latest election threat all the way through, but he continues to set a terrifying precedent for a nation which touts itself as a global inspiration for democracy.   

He suggested on 30th July that the election be delayed – an idea which most press outlets and even the US congress assured was not going to happen, putting the president firmly in his place.  

But he has continued his attacks on the American postal system (USPS), which is more important than ever in light of COVID restrictions 

More broadly, it’s part of a campaign of confidence-erosion that he started when he first arrived in the White House, suggesting at the time that voter fraud was the reason he lost the 2016 popular vote to Hilary Clinton.  

No evidence has ever been found to support this claim. 

It’s widely considered improbable – although not impossible  for the President to bypass the rulebook and hold on to his job even if he loses this year’s election, but it may not matter whether he remains in office. The damage to trust is already  done.  

A recent NBC/Survey Monkey poll has found that 65% of Republican voters are not confident that the election will be conducted fairly. 55% of independent voters and 46% of Democratic voters believe the same thing.  

Huge swathes of each American political sphere do not trust the contest that’s about to decide their future. Whether this is because of Trump’s rhetoric or in spite of it; it’s clear enough that his words have not helped to defuse things.  

Wind the clocks back 20 years, when another controversial US presidential election took place.  

George W. Bush went up against Al Gore, and their leadership race fell into total confusion. For weeks, Florida couldn’t confirm who won their state-wide vote, since the results were so tight. And without Florida’s verdict, the election was deadlocked.  

Recounts were called, lawsuits were filed, and the US Supreme Court had to step in to settle the argument. This controversially handed the victory to Bush. But afterwards, instead of hostility, there was a truce.   

Al Gore accepted the supreme courts decision and conceded the election ‘for the sake of the unity of our people,’ while George Bush vowed to be a president for all Americans, whether they voted for him or not.  

Fast forward to today, and the present climate would suggest those resolutions and acts of healing wouldn’t fly with the current parties involved. The race, like US politics in general, has become so much more polarised.  

 

“Huge swathes of each American political sphere do not trust the contest that’s about to decide their future”

 

Do Trump’s attacks on election integrity form part of a plan to subvert the constitution and remain in power in an authoritarian way? If they do, they don’t have a lot in common with historical analogues.  

In 1920s Italy, a new law was created to give the largest party – in this case the fascist party – a boosted majority of seats in parliament. In 1930s Germany, emergency legislation was enacted to let the Nazi Party rule without restriction. In Eastern Bloc countries after the Second World War, the presence of the Soviet military ensured that communist-friendly governments would come to power in elections.  

So, to behave like a true authoritarian, it seems that significant political influence, emergency legislation, military power, or a combination are what Trump would need.  

However, Donald Trump has a shaky-at-best political influence over the US congress, half of which is firmly against him. He has limited power to declare emergencies, which congress can also overturn. Furthermore, he has made a lot of critics and enemies amongst the military, some of whom have openly attacked his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The US political machine might be too big for Trump to transform, especially if his only weapon is unsupported claims of voter fraud, but this doesn’t make America immune to large disputes.  

The 1876 election was so hotly challenged amid claims of fraud in four separate but pivotal states, the only way out was a behind-the-scenes compromise.  

It resulted in US troops being withdrawn from the southern states, where they had been stationed since the end of the Civil War. This, at the time, meant disaster for civil rights.  

With the troops gone, white southerners re-established control in those states and passed laws to strip most African-Americans of voting rightslaws which remained in place until the 1960s.  They supported this with the argument that states have the right to legislate as they choose. 

Always a thorny issue in America, the issue of states rights could surface again in a disputed 2020 election. Red states may refuse to recognise a Biden victory, blue states may refuse to recognise a Trump victory.  

American history has always fluctuated between periods of national unity, and periods of fracturing as the states disagree. Perhaps an era of re-fracturing is what’s awaiting us if Trump continues to convince people that they can’t trust their own democracy.  

 

 

Featured photo by Visuals

 
 

 

 

Olympic Dreams: The Cost of Labour Exploitation for the Worlds Biggest Sporting Events

Olympic Dreams: The Cost of Labour Exploitation for the Worlds Biggest Sporting Events

Business & Politics

Olympic Dreams: The Cost of Labour Exploitation for the Worlds Biggest Sporting Events

Tokyo 2020 Candidacy poster

11th August 2020

 

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would have been happening this summer if it was not for the outbreak of Covid-19. These games, and many mega sporting events before them, have been plagued by human rights abuses of workers. What needs to be done in order to prevent this?

The Olympics and other mega sporting events are exciting events which generally bring people together. The Olympics in particular showcase the pinnacle of sports and athletes. Many watch these games with excitement and pride for the world’s best athletes. It is easy to forget that in order for these events to be held, infrastructure had to be built. It is also easy to forget that in the building of this infrastructure human rights abuses are prevalent. Labourers have been exploited. The building of some major infrastructure has led to deaths. 12 workers died in the construction works for the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship.

People in favour of these large sporting events often state that the preparation for the events leads to urban development and creates jobs. These jobs are generally in infrastructure and construction. Although job creation can be positive there are aspects of this job creation which make it particularly precarious. For example, in many circumstances the labourers are paid less than expected and often less than a minimum wage. In Brazil only 17% of the total workforce employed for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic sites received above Brazil’s minimum monthly wage.

The Tokyo Olympics have not escaped criticism. The Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) issued a report in 2019 which drew to light the labour conditions facing the construction workers who were working on infrastructure for Tokyo 2020. This report highlighted how low pay, overtime hours and poor access to grievance mechanisms created a “culture of fear”. This culture of fear helped allow human rights to be abused.

This came at a human cost. One worker committed suicide as a result of overtime hours worked. He had logged 190 hours of overtime the month prior to his death. He left a note stating “ This is the only answer I could come up with after my body and soul have reached their limits”. The government response to this was to enforce new rules in relation to overtime work. Although these rules are welcome they seem to be without any bite as they did not apply to the Tokyo construction period. Thus the response has been an ineffective one.

The human cost was also visible as there were two on-site fatalities of construction workers. There was a reported unsafe working environment with some workers even having to purchase their own safety equipment. The reason for this is most likely due to their legal status as self- employed workers, which means that their employers do not have to abide by general labour lawsThis legal status is being used to deny people their basic human rights.

 

“20 workers died in the construction works for the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship”

A system is needed to ensure health and safety at construction sites for workers. The London Olympic construction sites recorded zero fatalities. This was seen as a result of London’s Olympic Delivery Authority who embedded principles such as health, safety and security in the procurement process applied when selecting the contractors they worked with. Civil society organizations are also important as a check of safety conditions. These organizations should be allowed to inspect sights and make reports on what they find. Monitoring of these sites by third parties is invaluable and should always be allowed.

Improvements need to be made and the recommendations above should be followed in the future. Integrating health and safety in the procurement process seems to have been highly effective. This ensures that it is not only the main contractors but also the sub-contractors and people further down the complex supply chain who need to adhere to safety standards. This means that the commitment to health and safety will not just be empty promises but actually implemented by all parties.

Migrant workers are often used in the construction of these projects. In Athens, for the 2004 Olympic Games, about 60% of the construction workers were migrants. Although the Tokyo 2020 Sourcing Code contains provisions for suppliers to comply with international human rights and labour standards, there have been complaints about how migrant workers have been treated. Japan’s immigration system has traditionally been closed, but due to an ageing population and a rising demand for labour they have opened up more to migrant workers. Most of the construction workers have come through the Technical Intern Training Programme. However, interns have been recorded fleeing the jobs these programmes provide. Two-thirds of those that fled in 2017 were paid below minimum wage, and roughly 10% of workers on average work 80 hours or more overtime.

The jobs provided are also usually temporary jobs and are therefore unsustainable. In the London Olympics, positive results were gained by non-profit partnerships which supported the transition to sustainable work. This capacity building can be used by the workers in the future to develop hard and soft long-term skills. Thus a capacity building body should be included as a requirement in the bidding process and should cooperate with the organizations. This body would ensure that it is not only primary jobs which are created from the construction but also secondary jobs by training and providing skills to people.

Access to effective grievance mechanisms is a key aspect of preventing further human rights violations. Although grievance mechanisms had been set up for Tokyo 2020, the implementation was weak and there was a lack of information for the workers on these mechanisms, with many even not knowing they existed or how to use them. An effective grievance mechanism should be part of the Olympic Games bidding documentation. This would ensure that if rights are breached there is an avenue which people are aware of and is effective to deal with these breaches.

Mega sporting events are exciting events which have the potential to bring sustainable jobs to an economy if they are organized correctly. Improvements are needed in several aspects of the process in which these events are granted to certain countries. Tackling human rights concerns through the bidding process is one way of ensuring that the country in which this event will take place will take human rights seriously.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Danny Choo

 
 

 

 

Greenwashing Austerity: What Do Young Greens Feel About the New Government?

Greenwashing Austerity: What Do Young Greens Feel About the New Government?

Business & Politics

Greenwashing Austerity: What Do Young Greens Feel About the New Government?

Young Greens outside the Dáil

8th August 2020

 

The General Election of February 2020 feels like a world away now. Not only do the pre-social distancing days seem like a weird alternative universe, but also the hopes for radical change which many, particularly young, people dared to hold as they headed to the ballot box are starting to seem like a crazy dream. As the coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party settle into the Dáil, the political landscape of the next five years is beginning to come into focus. 

Many who hoped for a shift to the status quo are worried that this coalition of the old guard is setting us up for more of the same. The younger generation in Ireland, governed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for as long as they can remember; not only have experienced increasing obstacles to third-level education and affordable housing, but have also been involved in two radical campaigns to change to the Irish constitution in the last five years. With Leo Varadkar only achieving the quota for re-election on the fifth count in his Dublin West constituency in the last election, Micheál Martin only on the sixth count in Cork South-Central, and Eamon Ryan very narrowly retaining his position as leader of the Green Party with 994 votes against Catherine Ryan’s 946; perhaps it is already clear that these three men may not be setting out on the most popular coalition in history.

The ‘Vote Left, Transfer Left’ drive in the lead up to the election in February was propelled by the idea that another five years of the same government who has overseen increased homelessness, widespread emigration and the Direct Provision system, may not also be the people to fix these issues. The hope was for a more left-leaning coalition who could tackle issues of housing, health, immigration and climate action with a more human rights-focussed, less profit-driven approach.

It appeared that Sinn Féin were the party that people pinned these hopes on for this radical change, gaining 24.5% of the vote compared to Fianna Fáil’s 22% and Fine Gael’s 21%. The country’s impatience with the status quo resulted in Sinn Féin’s greatest ever result, while Fine Gael suffered their worst election since 1948. In the 18-24 age group these results were even more stark, with Sinn Féin garnering 31.8% of the vote and the Greens coming in ahead of Fianna Fáil with 14.4%. Overall the Greens enjoyed their best ever result; as the fourth largest party with 12 TDs, their entry into a coalition seemed inevitable, but how do some of the youngest members of the party feel about entering into this current government?

STAND News talked to some members of the Young Greens across the country to find out what their attitude to the new coalition is. As the ‘green surge’ at February’s election came largely from younger members of the population, does this coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael represent the desires of these Green voters? Young voters, particularly first-time voters, have seen radical change to the constitution throughout the lifetime of the last government as well as massive youth-led climate strikes, and are less likely to associate the Green Party of 2020 with their previous stint in government. The last surge of support for the Greens was in the 2007 general election where they had their biggest result to date and gained 6 seats in the Dáil. Despite reservations from many in the party, the Greens entered into the already unpopular coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. 

It is often said that smaller parties in a coalition will bear the brunt of any unpopularity which the government generates, particularly parties with a lot of first-time voters such as the Greens, whose loyalties are easier to shift. The fallout from this coalition was huge, with the Greens losing all 6 of their seats at the 2011 election. Despite an unprecedented opportunity for the Greens to influence the government, they ended up compromising on several of their key issues such as the Shell to Sea campaign and the US military usage of Shannon Airport; not to mention overseeing the post-2008 economic downturn. Despite a two-fold increase in seats and therefore influence in this new coalition compared with 2007, it is difficult to imagine that we will not see a repeat of history for the Greens.

As Conall, PRO for UCD Young Greens told us, it’s hard “not to pre-emptively see our own blood in the water”. The key for any junior partner ensuring delivery of promises within a coalition is commitments to timelines and funding, and despite accepting Eamonn Ryan’s redline of 7% average decrease in emissions, the proposed Programme for Government is incredibly lacking when it comes to specifics. As a member of the UCC Young Greens pointed out, “It’s a fluffy document, with too much wiggle room for [Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael] to get out of things if they prove to be unpopular”.

 

 

“While the party voted in favour of the Programme for Government, the Young Greens nationally voted against it, 65% to 35% in favour”

 

With Fine Gael’s popularity waning significantly in recent years, particularly among younger voters, many are understandably concerned about the survival of the Green Party during and after this government. Not only have the Greens already been wounded before in coalition with Fianna Fáil, but the legacy of Labour’s 2011 coalition with Fine Gael is still keenly felt among those on the left. Conall stated that he “saw the demolition of Labour as a clear sign not to go anywhere near Fine Gael”, as Labour have still yet to rebuild their ground following their loss of 30 seats in the 2016 general election. The unpopularity of this coalition can already be seen among younger Green members.

While the party voted in favour of the Programme for Government, the Young Greens nationally voted against it, 65% to 35% in favour. It is clear that the relationship that many young people in Ireland have with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is more distrustful than that of their parents; and with many politically active young people coming up through the Marriage Equality and Repeal the 8th campaigns, the need to compromise in order to push for change appears less and less necessary. As a member of UCC Greens pointed out, many young Irish people are beginning to feel that “direct action can be more effective than small incremental steps in exchange for self-sacrifice”. Perhaps for smaller, particularly left-leaning parties, there is a freedom to be found outside of government.

Of course, the urgency of the climate crisis cannot be played down, and the necessity for environmentalist policies to be implemented over the course of the next five years is incredibly important. The Young Greens who I spoke to highlighted the encouraging aspects of the Programme for Government; namely the termination of the Direct Provision system, the removal of the Shannon LNG from public funding, and the increased funding for public transport and cycling infrastructure. On the surface, many elements of the Programme for Government are appealing to anyone passionate about combating the global climate disaster. For many members of the Green Party this was clearly seen as a compromise worth making in order to achieve these goals. However, many young members of the Green Party cannot divorce their passion for climate justice from social justice and worry that the Greens may end up being seen as a single-issue party who are detached from other important issues. Julie, Chairperson of Trinity Young Greens, highlights that “the climate action [the PfG] promises comes at the cost of fuel poverty, homelessness and inadequate healthcare”.

As the Programme for Government is always aspirational, and only a fraction of the policies ever get implemented, the lack of costing and timelines leads many Young Greens to worry that the Green priorities will be easily sidestepped when push comes to shove. Already the cracks within the party are beginning to show, as the young Green campaigner Saoirse McHugh announced her exit from the party on Twitter at the end of July. She cited her concerns surrounding the Programme for Government as an important part of her decision, believing that it will serve to link environmentalism with “socially regressive policies”. Separately, a Green-left affiliate organisation, the Just Transition Greens, has been set up by members of the party who are committed to upholding issues of social justice inside and outside of the parliamentary party.

 

 

Obviously young people in Ireland are not a homogenous group, and even the Young Greens aren’t unanimous on any issue, but when looking at the issues which are important to young people, Conall states that “from [his] own experience it would be social justice, housing, and… climate action”. As the Greens have experienced before, even if their climate action policies are all implemented, it is likely that they will likely be blamed for any failures by the government to effectively address social issues such as housing.

Their gains at the general election may have provided them with an opportunity to enact urgent climate action policies, but if it comes at the same cost as the 2007 coalition, there may be no one left in the Dáil to see these policies through in the years to follow. For many Young Greens, immediate gains for climate justice are worth little if they come at the cost of long-term social justice. As Julie explains, “any environmental action that isn’t led by and for the people will fail in the long run”.

Issues such as Direct Provision, public housing, a well regulated rental market, affordable education, healthcare, public transportation, reduction in fossil fuel emissions, homelessness, addiction services, affordable childcare, gender equality, protection for minorities, LGBTQ+ rights, (to name but a few), are all interconnected issues.  It is difficult to solve one without the others. As a UCC member pointed out, many worry that any gains for the Greens will be merely superficial, and hope that their presence in the coalition is “not only to greenwash austerity”.

While the Green Party may have the opportunity to make some very real and important changes over the next five years, it is difficult to know the level of power they will have over the two more senior parties in the coalition. Any unpopular policies introduced by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, overseen by the Green Party, could see them lose their support just as rapidly as it was gained. Will the Greens be able to leverage the divides between the other two parties to their advantage, or have they once again done a ‘deal with the devil’ and will soon pay the price?

 

 

 

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