Fragile global politics

Interesting opinion piece in yesterday’s Irish Times by Fintan O’Toole where he considers the worst case scenarios (for some) for global politics in 2016. He muses on the consequences if Trump is elected, the “united” part of the UK collapses, the EU suffers an “existential crisis”, the Communist party struggles to hold power in China, Spain breaks up and there’s another global economic crisis. It’s all a bit apocalyptic (although not that far-fetched) but his main point, that it’s all down to the “fundamental contradiction between politics and economics”, the inequality caused by economics and the equality promised by politics, is an important one and worth holding out for.

Amnesty cobalt mining report

Earlier this week Amnesty International published an extensive report on cobalt mining practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo, highlighting the human rights abuses taking place. Over 40,000 children in the DRC, some as young as 7 years old, work to mine cobalt which ends up in batteries powering electronic devices made by some of the world’s largest companies, such as Apple, HP, Samsung and Vodafone. Children work in dangerous conditions with no protective equipment, sometimes for 24 hours at a time, for the nominal reward of US$1-2 per day.

drc mining

Copyright: Amnesty International and Afrewatch

 The report focuses in particular on the responsibility of these large companies to monitor their supply chains. Amnesty review the OECD’s “due diligence” guidelines for supply chains and conclude that, aside from certain measures they have put in place for a few specific minerals (including gold), these companies are currently “failing to operationalise” the due diligence guidelines. The last pages of the report (pages 58-61) feature the companies’ responses when Amnesty contacted them about the issue, some of which are more helpful than others…

Access the full report here:


Green Campus

Green Campus is an initiative which aims to “enhance sustainability” in third level education institutions in Ireland. Run by An Taisce, a largely government-funded NGO equivalent to the UK’s National Trust, the program is an extension of the Green Schools environmental education program, in turn an offshoot of the global Eco-Schools program run by the Foundation for Environmental Education (

Like schools, third level institutions can now apply for Green Campus accreditation marked by a “Green Flag”. To achieve accreditation, institutions must complete a seven-step process, which includes setting up a Green Campus committee and integrating sustainability into courses and modules. Green Flag institutions in Ireland included Dublin City University (, University of Limerick ( and Cork University Hospital.

Yesterday Green Campus held its annual network meeting in Dublin, where particpants from third level institutions around Ireland gathered to hear seminars on existing projects and participate in workshops to discuss new ideas for sustainability initiatives on campuses.

Speakers presented on topics as diverse as energy management, biodiversity, green healthcare and sustainable marine management. Particularly interesting from a business perspective was the presentation by Edward Murphy, Sustainable Environment Officer at Cork University Hospital, who provided a fascinating insight into the process of applying sustainability at an organisational level. He stressed the importance of top management engagement, observing that “we need to be able to influence the people who make the decisions and the people who hold the purse strings”. Some of the initiatives at CUH that help to keep the organisation focused on sustainability are “green advocates” in each department, benchmarks, rewards and frequently introducing new ideas. More information on sustainability in healthcare is available at and

Later in the morning, Dr Yvonne Ryan and Prof. Richard Moles of the Centre for Environmental Research in the University of Limerick ( outlined their plans for a comprehensive two-year study on “the role of a sustainable third level campus in communities”, which has received funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. Prof. Moles outlined their ambition to make UL an exporter of energy and an organic farm, and highlighted the opportunity to bring about “significant behaviour change” in students. Dr Ryan then outlined some of the common challenges of applying sustainability to universities, such as an “action/awareness gap”, technological solutions, systemic integration and the diversity of actors required.

Further information on Green Campus is available below, with a report on and videos from the network meeting to be posted shortly:


An Economy for the 1%

Ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which begins tomorrow, Oxfam yesterday published its excellent report on global inequality, “An Economy for the 1%”. The report presents the stark facts of wealth inequality: 1% of the world’s population has now accumulated more wealth than the rest of the world put together.

Click to access bp210-economy-one-percent-tax-havens-180116-en_0.pdf

Oxfam also highlights the widening gap between rich and poor; the 62 richest people in the world now hold the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity, a figure which has contracted from 388 individuals in 2010. Furthermore, the wealth of the richest 62 people has increased by 44% in the last five years, while the wealth of the poorest half of the population has dropped by 41%, so the rich are literally getting richer and the poor poorer. The report illustrates these statistics with some nice graphics, such as the one below:

From an ecological perspective, the report also notes that the poorest half of the population are responsible for only 10% of global emissions, but they are the most vulnberable to climate change.

In addition, Oxfam discuss tax avoidance, stating that 90% of the 200 of the “world’s top companies” they analysed “have a presence in at least one tax haven” (Oxfam, 2015:5).

The report includes sections on pay inequalities at work, including a discussion of CEO wages, tax havens and spotlights on particular sectors e.g. extractive, financial, garment. Oxfam’s ultimate recommendations, which include “pay workers a living wage” and “change the global system for R&D and the pricing of medicines”, are outlined on pages 33-35.

For more information on the World Economic Forum, see below. This year’s theme is the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. More analysis in a later post…

Organic v. industrial farming

As this article from last week’s Guardian relates, Oxford recently hosted two parallel but opposing conferences, the Oxford Farming Conference and the Oxford Real Farming Conference. Not unexpectedly, the Guardian is reporting on the latter, a gathering of “small-scale farmers, food campaigners, and the agro-ecology movement”.

The very existence of these two conferences is a fascinating illustration of the divide within the food and agriculture industry between small, organic and local, and big, industrial and global. The tension between these two groups can surely only increase as the targets set at COP21 come into play over the next few years. It will be particularly interesting to watch what happens to the industry in Ireland, where food and agri is the largest indigenous sector.

Sustainable Development indicators at country-level

I read this article today and thought it was a useful resource. In a recent paper in Sustainable Development, Schoenaker et al analyse measurement systems for sustainable development at a country-level. So they compare the SD indicators used by 40 different countries, which include items as diverse as “mineral resources”, “water sanitation” and “smoking prevalence”.

The authors provide a useful review of SD measures developed by the UN since the Brundtland Report (1987) and urge for harmonisation of measurement systems, rather than futher unique frameworks. They note also that developing countries are more focused on basic needs e.g. access to water, and developed countries on more “luxury” indicators e.g. obesity levels. Here’s the link to the article:

Highest paid Executives in Ireland

Just came across this piece naming the highest paid Executives in Ireland (2013) and thought it was useful data. As a counterpoint, minimum wage in Ireland has increased from 01 January 2016 to €9.15 per hour, which makes for an annual salary of about €20k, based on a 40 hour week. That’s over 200 times less than the basic pay of Ireland’s highest paid Exec Owen Killian, CEO of “baked-goods empire” Aryzta… Food for thought? (sorry, couldn’t help it!)

Corporate guff awards 2015

Here’s a fun piece by Lucy Kellaway that appeared in the Financial Times and the Irish Times this week, where she highlights her favourite management nonsense-speak of 2015. For example, we have the (unnamed) big oil company that announced its plans to ventilate, rather than fire, some of its staff. My favourite, though is probably the job title given by McKinsey to some of its consultants, namely its “Master Experts”. As Kellaway puts it “the tautology no doubt a ploy to soften up the client as a prelude to charging twice the normal rate”.

Berlin’s sharing economy

Today’s Irish Times features a really good report on the community sharing initiatives in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin. The article takes us on a tour of the district and interviews the people behind initiatives like public fridges, “borrowing shops” and open source software. Lots of inspiration for other communities around the world.