Archiv für den Monat November 2013

Ghana’s cashew nut farmers struggle to profit from fruits of their labour. Cashew nuts have become a global industry, yet small-scale farmers in Ghana are battling to get a fair return for their work

MDG : Brother Patrick at his cashew jam pantry in Kristo Buase, Ghana

Brother Patrick Obeng-Nketiah’s cashew jam factory at the Kristo Buase monastery in Ghana. Photograph: Afua Hirsch for the Guardian

The Kristo Buase monastery, deep in the Brong Ahafo region, is the largest cashew plantation in central Ghana. The 48,000kg of cashew nuts it produces each year are sold to a major company, which then processes and exports them to the burgeoning European, US and Asian markets.

„Cashew has become one of the main cash crops in the region,“ says Brother Patrick Obeng-Nketiah, 69. „As a community, we need to have something to feed ourselves, to be independent, and cashew is a good business.“

Every January, the monastery’s handful of full-time staff is boosted by dozens of local casual workers, who come to pick the cashew windfalls, separating the nut from the fruit.

„Picking the cashew is a lot of work,“ says Obeng-Nketiah. „We hire young people from the local area to do the picking. We pay them per kilo picked – for every 10 kilos they collect, we give them the value of one kilo.“

The recruitment of children in cashew harvesting is widespread, industry insiders say, although they are quick to point out that the work is usually done after school, when many kids follow their parents to collect cashew windfalls off the ground during harvesting season.

„You do see children picking cashew,“ says Mary Adzanyo, director for private sector development of the African Cashew Initiative (ACI), a programme receiving funding from Bill and Melinda Gates and the German government to increase productivity in cashew growing and processing in Africa.

„But for me, if a child follows a mother to pick up the fruits from the ground, this is not a dangerous task. Cashew is harvested before the rains – it comes at a time when there is no other crop being harvested, and farmers are able to use the money from selling cashew to produce their other crops, like maize and sorghum. The profits are used to pay school fees. So it is a good source of income.“

There is growing scrutiny of the conditions in which cashew nuts are picked in Africa, the world’s largest grower of the crop. An estimated 2 million growers produce half the global supply. Among them is Yaw Gbogbolo, 56, who owns a 19-acre farm in a heavily forested valley near Nsawam. He says when the annual cashew harvest comes around, the only labourers he can find are children.

„During the harvest season, school children from the local village come to pick the nuts on the weekends,“ he adds. „The adults aren’t interested in doing it – the money is not attractive enough for them.“

Gbogbolo began growing cashew in 2004 under a government programme to promote production of the crop. He sells for about one Ghanaian cedi (30p) a kilo to a trader in Accra, who he believes passes it on to processing companies for approximately double the price. He is typical of the small cashew farmers in Ghana.

MDG Falling cashew prices are hard on exportersCashews in Guinea-Bissau. Africa is the world’s largest grower of the crop. Photograph: Jasperwiet/Flickr“We don’t have large-scale producers of cashew, and trying to network the marketing of cashew nuts here is a problem,“ says Daniel Nartey, regional crop production officer for Ghana’s ministry of food and agriculture.

„The farmers who have the fields may be able to collect their small quantities of nuts, [but] they don’t know where to sell, because no commercial buyer is interested in going round getting very small amounts of cashew. There have been some attempts to create associations in this part of Ghana, but so far it has not worked – the groups were not very viable.“

Gbogbolo is yet to make a significant income from his cashews. The annual return for his entire crop – about 480 cedis – is less than the 700 cedis he pays the landlord each year to lease the land. But he hopes for better returns in the future.

„I planted these cashew trees in 2004, and they are still maturing,“ he says. „The yield should improve as they reach maturity. Now I live on my other cash crops, but I hope the cashew will keep me going as I get into old age. It’s an easy crop to look after and the work of harvesting it is not labourious.“

Cashew farmers are not alone in hoping the crop will yield increasing returns. The growing popularity of African nuts has been luring companies from Brazil, India and beyond. Usibras Ghana, the offshot of the major Brazilian supplier Usibras, is a case in point. The company buys about 40,000 tons of cashew nuts annually from west African countries including Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali. .

Like many companies that supply cashews to retailers in Europe and the US, Usibras used to buy raw nuts from west Africa and export them for processing. Now, however, the firm – in line with a growing trend – is building a $25m processing factory in Ghana, which will create up to 2,000 permanent jobs when it opens next year.

„In Brazil, my labour costs are higher,“ says Tarciso Falcao, the director of Usibras Ghana. „Ghana has the political and economic stability, and the infrastructure. I also see some potential to develop processed cashews for the local African markets.“

„Processing in Africa has tripled since 2006 … to 105,000 metric tons,“ says Xenia Défontaine of the African Cashew Alliance (ACA). „Ghana is processing 50% of all the nuts it produces, and if its four biggest processing companies were operating at full capacity, it could process 100%.“

West Africa, where 80% of the continent’s cashew nuts are grown, processes only 5-6% of its cashew output. Finance is a major obstacle, with interest rates for loans as high as 30%. This has led to the dominance of foreign processing firms such as Olam and Rajkumar.

To boost transparency, the ACA launched a seal programme last year – a stamp endorsing food safety and labour standards. So far, only a handful of companies have signed up. „We hope,“ says Falcao, „the seal will approve all the factories in Africa; this is just the beginning.“


Burning food crops to produce biofuels is a crime against humanity. EU leaders must vote against a biofuels policy that is increasing world hunger and causing environmental devastation.

Sugar cane being cut in Brazil

Sugar cane being chopped in Brazil, where it is used in the production of the biofuel ethanol. Photograph: Sipa/Rex

Burning hundreds of millions of tonnes of staple foods to producebiofuels is a crime against humanity. Since 2007, the EU and US governments have given lavish support to agribusinesses to fill car fuel tanks with food – compulsory targets, and tax breaks and subsidies(pdf) worth billions annually. The result? Increased hunger, land grabbing, environmental damage and, ultimately, hundreds of thousands of lives lost.


Next month David Cameron and other EU leaders have an opportunity tointervene to put a halt to this idiocy when they vote in Brussels on the future of biofuels policy. With one child under 10 dying from hunger and related diseases every five seconds, they must do so.


It is ironic that biofuels are still promoted by some multinational corporations as an eco-friendly sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Few, except those who directly profit from biofuels policies like the EU’s 10% target for renewable transport energy, believe there are any environmental or social benefits. The reality is just another form of reckless exploitation of resources. Producing one litre of biofuels, for example, requires 2,500 litres of water.


EU policies promoting biofuels have, since 2008, diverted crops out of food markets at the bidding of powerful agribusinesses, in their pursuit of private profit. This use of large quantities of food and commodity crops for relatively small amounts of transport fuel has had three disastrous consequences.


First is an increase in world hunger. Almost all biofuels used in Europeare made from crops, such as wheat, soy, palm oil, rapeseed and maize, that are essential food sources for a rapidly expanding global population. Europe now burns enough food calories in fuel tanks every year to feed 100 million people.


Moreover, prices of vital foodstuffs such as oilseeds are expected to rise by up to 20% (pdf), vegetable oil by up to 36%, and maize by as much as 22% by 2020 because of EU biofuels targets (those that are being reviewed). For slum dwellers across the world, who have very little money with which to buy food, this represents disaster.


Second is a massive new demand for land, destroying smallholder farms as well as habitats. Land speculators, hedge funds, and agro-energy companies have been at the forefront of a global rush for land that has forced hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers off their fields and taken away their livelihoods and water supplies. All too regularly across the world, but particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, themonopolisation of land by large biofuel corporations is accompanied by violence: the victims are small farmers and their families.


Third is environmental devastation. The demand for additional land to accommodate EU biofuels plans means expanding cropland, which will result in felled forests, plundered peatlands and ploughed prairies. The evidence is increasingly clear that the climate change benefits of most biofuels are negligible or nil.


Through fertiliser use, land clearance, deforestation and displacing other crops, most EU biofuels are not reducing carbon emissions – as they are subsidised to do – but emitting millions of additional tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The consumption of fossil fuels must be rapidly reduced – but solutions lie with the reduction of energy consumption, public transportation and alternative sources of clean energy, not land using biofuels with so many detrimental consequences.


It is time to stop this biofuels madness – which allows a few transnational corporations to make large profits while causing devastation to the environment and to millions of helpless victims. On 12 December, when EU leaders vote, they must immediately cancel targets and support for biofuels that compete with food. Failure to do so would make them an accomplice to a crime against humanity.

Pope Francis calls unfettered capitalism ‚tyranny‘ and urges rich to share wealth. Pontiff’s first major publication calls on global leaders to guarantee work, education and healthcare

Pope Francis leads a mass at St Peter's basilica

Pope Francis leads a mass at St Peter’s basilica. The document, the first he has authored alone, is effectively an official platform for his papacy. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as „a new tyranny“, urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.

The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, amounted to an official platform for his papacy, building on views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March.

In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticising the global economic system, attacking the „idolatry of money“ and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens „dignified work, education and healthcare“.

He also called on rich people to share their wealth. „Just as the commandment ‚Thou shalt not kill‘ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‚thou shalt not‘ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,“ Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.

„How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?“

The pope said renewal of the church could not be put off and the Vatican and its entrenched hierarchy „also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion“.

„I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,“ he wrote.

In July, Francis finished an encyclical begun by Pope Benedict but he made clear that it was largely the work of his predecessor, who resigned in February.

Called Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), the exhortation is presented in Francis’s simple and warm preaching style, distinct from the more academic writings of former popes, and stresses the church’s central mission of preaching „the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ“.

In it, he reiterated earlier statements that the church cannot ordain women or accept abortion. The male-only priesthood, he said, „is not a question open to discussion“ but women must have more influence in church leadership.

A meditation on how to revitalise a church suffering from encroaching secularisation in western countries, the exhortation echoed the missionary zeal more often heard from the evangelical Protestants who have won over many disaffected Catholics in the pope’s native Latin America.

In it, economic inequality features as one of the issues Francis is most concerned about. The 76-year-old pontiff calls for an overhaul of the financial system and warns that unequal distribution of wealth inevitably leads to violence.

„As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems,“ he wrote.

Denying this was simple populism, he called for action „beyond a simple welfare mentality“ and added: „I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.“

Since his election, Francis has set an example for austerity in the church, living in a Vatican guest house rather than the ornate Apostolic Palace, travelling in a Ford Focus, and last month suspending a bishop who spent millions of euros on his luxurious residence.

He chose to be called Francis after the medieval Italian saint of the same name famed for choosing a life of poverty.

Stressing co-operation among religions, Francis quoted the late Pope John Paul II’s idea that the papacy might be reshaped to promote closer ties with other Christian churches and noted lessons Rome could learn from the Orthodox church such as „synodality“ or decentralised leadership.

He praised co-operation with Jews and Muslims and urged Islamic countries to guarantee their Christian minorities the same religious freedom as Muslims enjoy in the west

When will we acknowledge that asylum seekers are human beings? Isa Muazu is dying on hunger strike. A court’s ruling that he must stay in custody is part of a grotesque, hardening political approach

asylum seeker clutching cage grill

With current immigration policies, ‚it is difficult not to see a pattern of criminalising an entire demographic of people – a demographic whom the British authorities appear to view as naturally duplicitous and grasping‘. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Isa Muazu is 45 years old. The youngest of three boys, with one younger sister, he is softly spoken and polite, and suffers from mental health problems. In July 2007, Muazu fled from his native Nigeria to the UK because he feared that members of Boko Haram, a hardline Islamist group, would kill him. He says they have already killed several members of his family.

Muazu is now being held in Harmondsworth removal centre, an immigration detention centre, and has been on hunger strike for nearly three months. He has lost vision in both eyes, is suffering from chest pain and shortness of breath, and is too weak to sit up unaided. In the next few days, it is likely that he will die on a mattress on the floor, surrounded only by private security staff. Shortly before writing this article, I spoke to him. „I am struggling, I am scared,“ he said. „I have never committed any crimes; nothing like this has ever happened to me before.“

How is it that a vulnerable man who came here in fear of his life has ended up in these most terrible of circumstances? I would like to say it was an aberration; that he just slipped through the cracks. The truth is Muazu’s fate is a banal and grotesque inevitability of an ever-tougher government policy towards immigrants and asylum seekers. The move to keep him in custody, even though it may result in his death, is part and parcel of a hardening of ministers towards people in Muazu’s situation – an entrenching of the suspicion that people who undertake extreme acts such as a hunger strike are simply trying to worm their way into British citizenship.

Yesterday the high court ruled that the home secretary, Theresa May, was not holding Muazu unlawfully. The judge who granted the case at the high court prefaced it with the remarks: „It is important to appreciate that those who use a hunger strike to manipulate their position will not succeed in doing so provided they have mental capacity.“ Muazu was very clear with me that the judgment will have no effect upon his hunger strike. How can a man who would rather die than return to his native country be gaming the system?

Muazu came to the UK in 2007 on a valid visa. Once his visa expired he overstayed because he was too afraid to return to Nigeria. In 2011 he applied for leave to remain in the UK but was refused. In July of this year he claimed asylum seeking to remain in Britain and remain safe. He was immediately detained – on the same day he claimed asylum, which was refused after a few days. This is standard procedure in the government’s „fast track“ system of assessing asylum claims.

According to a 2013 briefing paper by Detention Action, 99% of people on „fast track“ asylum applications are refused. Applicants are granted a solicitor, but more than 60% are dropped by their solicitors after the initial refusal and are then forced to navigate the immigration appeal system alone. Often there is no time for applicants to get evidence from their home country because they are only given three days to appeal the first decision.

Muazu initially stopped eating because Harmondsworth removal centre couldn’t accommodate his health problems, including hepatitis B, kidney problems and stomach ulcers. Since then, he has continued his strike in protest at the inhumane way he and other asylum seekers are treated. For the detention of people like Muazu is fast becoming not the exception, but the rule in this country. We are one of the few countries in the world to have no time limit on the length of detention of asylum seekers. If the immigration bill unveiled last month is passed, immigration checks will be carried out before anyone can open a new bank account, be issued with a driving licence or access routine health treatment. After an experiment by the government to drive vans that instruct undocumented migrants to „go home“, around racially mixed communities, it is difficult not to see a pattern of criminalising an entire demographic of people – a demographic whom the British authorities appear to view as naturally duplicitous and grasping.

Immigration has always been a thorny issue politically, and successive governments have ratcheted up the tensions in order to win easy points from the electorate. Now we seem to be in a position where any public figure who says something in defence of immigrants is accused of failing to understand the concerns of ordinary people, concerns that were preyed upon and magnified by politicians in the first place. And with former Labour politicians such as Jack Straw confirming the worst by apologising for his own government’s immigration policies, it is likely to become ever more politically difficult for future governments to change existing practices.

But where does that leave people like Muazu? When can we acknowledge that immigrants and asylum seekers are human beings who deserve some measure of safety – some quality of life? There has to be some point at which these policies give way to compassion and civility. There needs to be lines drawn in the sand in order to protect human life, regardless of the political noise going on in the background. But there isn’t – clearly there isn’t; because Muazu’s line came and went a long time ago.

Typhoon Haiyan: children in disaster zone are vulnerable, warns Unicef. Charity says 1.7m children have been displaced and may be at risk of exploitation, abuse and trafficking

Typhoon Haiyan children

Children by a road in the typhoon-hit village of Mercedes near Guiuan, the Philippines. Photograph: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

Aid workers have warned that children in the disaster zone left bytyphoon Haiyan are particularly vulnerable, as they set up child-focused services to mitigate the impact.

Unicef estimates that 1.7 million children are among the 4.4 million people in the Philippines displaced by the disaster and said it was receiving reports of missing and separated children in Tacloban and Ormoc. The death toll now stands at more than 4,000.

„Children who are alone are particularly vulnerable to a range of risks including potential exploitation, abuse and even trafficking. These were pre-existing issues in the Philippines including in Tacloban and the typhoon-affected areas,“ said Pernille Ironside, Unicef’s child protectionspecialist.

The agency is working on programmes to identify children and reunify families.

It has also worked with Save the Children to set up centres designed to establish a daily routine for children, give them somewhere safe to play and offer them access to counselling.

„Evidence suggests that the faster children get back into school and back into normal and regular activities, the faster they will be able to recover,“ said David Bloomer, Save the Children’s regional adviser on child protection.

He said that women and children were typically more vulnerable in such situations, with much disaster management planning failing to take their needs into account.

Bloomer added that the first priority was creating safe spaces, not least because of the physical safety hazards facing children among the debris.

Oxfam said hundreds of schools had been destroyed. Others were being used as evacuation centres, said Bloomer, making it important to find alternative spaces.

Dr Natasha Reyes, emergency co-ordinator for Médecins sans Frontières, said the organisation was seeing children with gastrointestinal infections and diarrhoea, almost certainly from drinking dirty water.

The organisation is providing maternal and obstetric services, while Action Against Hunger said it was setting up tents in Tacloban where women could breastfeed infants and receive medical and psychological support.

A new study by US economists suggests that typhoons in the Philippines can lead to dramatic spikes in the mortality rate for infant girls – but not boys – up to two years after the disaster.

The research by Solomon Hsiang at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jesse Anttila-Hughes of the University of San Franciscoexamined the impact of the storms over 25 years.

On average, officials in the Philippines record around 740 deaths each year due to typhoon exposure. But the analysis suggests that post-typhoon mortality among baby girls is far higher, with an average of 11,261 deaths. Because the country suffers so many of the storms – on average 20 a year – these deaths could account for roughly 13% of overall infant mortality, the authors believe.

The researchers say it seems unlikely that families intentionally allow the girls to die: „It is more plausible that parents believe their newborn can cope with higher-than-average levels of neglect … Unfortunately, for a small number of unlucky families, the assumption proves false,“ they write.

After a particularly strong storm, incomes can decrease by as much as 15% year-on-year. Households reduce spending on medicine and education by about 25% and high-nutrient foods such as meat and eggs by about 30%, according to the study.

Infant girls are at much greater risk if they have older sisters or particularly brothers, suggesting competition for resources among siblings may play a role, they added.

Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions. Chevron, Exxon and BP among companies most responsible for climate change since dawn of industrial age, figures show. The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

 Sandbag’s report into the emergence of emissions trading in China : carbon pollution

Oil, coal and gas companies are contributing to most carbon emissions, causing climate change and some are also funding denial campaigns. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.


The companies range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon and BP – to state-owned and government-run firms.


The analysis, which was welcomed by the former vice-president Al Goreas a „crucial step forward“ found that the vast majority of the firms were in the business of producing oil, gas or coal, found the analysis, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Climatic Change.


„There are thousands of oil, gas and coal producers in the world,“ climate researcher and author Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado said. „But the decision makers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down to just one person, they could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.“


Half of the estimated emissions were produced just in the past 25 years – well past the date when governments and corporations became aware that rising greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of coal and oil were causing dangerous climate change.


Many of the same companies are also sitting on substantial reserves of fossil fuel which – if they are burned – puts the world at even greater risk of dangerous climate change.


Climate change experts said the data set was the most ambitious effort so far to hold individual carbon producers, rather than governments, to account.


The United Nations climate change panel, the IPCC, warned in September that at current rates the world stood within 30 years of exhausting its „carbon budget“ – the amount of carbon dioxide it could emit without going into the danger zone above 2C warming. The former US vice-president and environmental champion, Al Gore, said the new carbon accounting could re-set the debate about allocating blame for the climate crisis.


Leaders meeting in Warsaw for the UN climate talks this week clashed repeatedly over which countries bore the burden for solving the climate crisis – historic emitters such as America or Europe or the rising economies of India and China.


Gore in his comments said the analysis underlined that it should not fall to governments alone to act on climate change.


„This study is a crucial step forward in our understanding of the evolution of the climate crisis. The public and private sectors alike must do what is necessary to stop global warming,“ Gore told the Guardian. „Those who are historically responsible for polluting our atmosphere have a clear obligation to be part of the solution.“


Between them, the 90 companies on the list of top emitters produced 63% of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane between 1751 to 2010, amounting to about 914 gigatonne CO2 emissions, according to the research. All but seven of the 90 wereenergy companies producing oil, gas and coal. The remaining seven were cement manufacturers.


The list of 90 companies included 50 investor-owned firms – mainly oil companies with widely recognised names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP , and Royal Dutch Shell and coal producers such as British Coal Corp, Peabody Energy and BHP Billiton.


Some 31 of the companies that made the list were state-owned companies such as Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco, Russia’s Gazprom and Norway’s Statoil.


Nine were government run industries, producing mainly coal in countries such as China, the former Soviet Union, North Korea and Poland, the host of this week’s talks.


Experts familiar with Heede’s research and the politics of climate change said they hoped the analysis could help break the deadlock in international climate talks.


„It seemed like maybe this could break the logjam,“ said Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard. „There are all kinds of countries that have produced a tremendous amount of historical emissions that we do not normally talk about. We do not normally talk about Mexico or Poland or Venezuela. So then it’s not just rich v poor, it is also producers v consumers, and resource rich v resource poor.“


Michael Mann, the climate scientist, said he hoped the list would bring greater scrutiny to oil and coal companies‘ deployment of their remaining reserves. „What I think could be a game changer here is the potential for clearly fingerprinting the sources of those future emissions,“ he said. „It increases the accountability for fossil fuel burning. You can’t burn fossil fuels without the rest of the world knowing about it.“

Others were less optimistic that a more comprehensive accounting of the sources of greenhouse gas emissions would make it easier to achieve the emissions reductions needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.


John Ashton, who served as UK’s chief climate change negotiator for six years, suggested that the findings reaffirmed the central role of fossil fuel producing entities in the economy.


„The challenge we face is to move in the space of not much more than a generation from a carbon-intensive energy system to a carbonneutral energy system. If we don’t do that we stand no chance of keeping climate change within the 2C threshold,“ Ashton said.


„By highlighting the way in which a relatively small number of large companies are at the heart of the current carbon-intensive growth model, this report highlights that fundamental challenge.“


Meanwhile, Oreskes, who has written extensively about corporate-funded climate denial, noted that several of the top companies on the list had funded the climate denial movement.


„For me one of the most interesting things to think about was the overlap of large scale producers and the funding of disinformation campaigns, and how that has delayed action,“ she said.


The data represents eight years of exhaustive research into carbon emissions over time, as well as the ownership history of the major emitters.



The companies‘ operations spanned the globe, with company headquarters in 43 different countries. „These entities extract resources from every oil, natural gas and coal province in the world, and process the fuels into marketable products that are sold to consumers on every nation on Earth,“ Heede writes in the paper.


The largest of the investor-owned companies were responsible for an outsized share of emissions. Nearly 30% of emissions were produced just by the top 20 companies, the research found.


By Heede’s calculation, government-run oil and coal companies in the former Soviet Union produced more greenhouse gas emissions than any other entity – just under 8.9% of the total produced over time. China came a close second with its government-run entities accounting for 8.6% of total global emissions.


ChevronTexaco was the leading emitter among investor-owned companies, causing 3.5% of greenhouse gas emissions to date, with Exxon not far behind at 3.2%. In third place, BP caused 2.5% of global emissions to date.


The historic emissions record was constructed using public records and data from the US department of energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information and Analysis Centre, and took account of emissions all along the supply chain.


The centre put global industrial emissions since 1751 at 1,450 gigatonnes.

Empowering Afro-Uruguayans after long history of discrimination. Uruguayans of African descent are more likely to drop out of school and are often being discriminated against. A new law aims at boosting their chances by providing scholarships and a quota for government jobs.

For Afro-Uruguayans, racist comments are a part of daily life. „People say things like, ‚You’re so pretty for someone with dark skin!‘ or ‚Wow, you speak really well,'“ Elizabeth Suarez said.

Others have been physically assaulted. Last year, Suarez’s friend and fellow activist Tania Ramirez was attacked by five women on her way home, sparking protests across the country.

Elizabeth Suárez in front of a mural about Afro-Uruguayan history (photo: Eilis O'Neill)Activist Suarez says racism prevented her from getting a job she applied for

According Uruguay’s 2011 census, the first census to include race on the questionnaire, eight percent of Uruguayans are of African descent. However, this number is disputed because of the way the race question was formulated – it could be up to 12 percent. Half of Afro-Uruguayans live below the poverty line, compared to one quarter of the general population. Half of Afro-Uruguayans never finished high school, and only seven percent have university degrees.

„It’s very hard for someone of African descent to make it to college because you have to have the economic support of a family that our community doesn’t have, so we have to start working [at a young age],“ said activist Alexander Silvera. „There’s also a cultural issue. In my case, my grandfather, for example, always told us, ‚Why do you want to study if you’re going to have to work in construction?'“

High unemployment rates among Afro-Uruguayans

It is partly due to lower educational achievement that unemployment among Afro-Uruguayans stands at 14 percent, three points higher than the general unemployment rate in Uruguay. But as Silvera points out, the country’s history is also a factor which is hard to shake off.

„The work that we do has been the same since when we were slaves. Afro-Uruguayan women are still domestic employees, badly treated, earning miserable salaries. Afro-Uruguayan men have precarious jobs with low salaries,“ he said.

According to Suarez, interpersonal racism also plays a role in high unemployment among Afro-Uruguayans. She recalled how she – at a friend’s suggestion – once applied for a job as a secretary at an old people’s home, only to be told the position had already been filled when she arrived for the interview. When Suarez suspected discrimination, she sent her friend along to find out why she was rejected.

„They told her, ‚The thing is, we can’t hire people of African descent because it’s an old people’s home in a residential area where people have a lot of money, and it bothers some people,'“ Suarez said.

A history of slavery

Suarez too sees the country’s history of slavery as the roots of Afro-Uruguayans social and economic disadvantage today. „The enslaved labor force provided free labor for hundreds of years – in the Uruguayan case, for 200 or 300 years. Slaves formed the economic basis of the construction of Uruguay, and they weren’t paid any kind of reparations.“

Alexander Silvera (photo: Eilis O'Neill)Afro-Uruguayans still work precarious jobs, Silvera says

Since slavery was abolished in the early 1800s, the Uruguayan dictatorship of 1973 to 1985 dealt a second blow to the Afro-Uruguayan community. During this time, many Afro-Uruguayans were evicted from their historical homes in Palermo and Barrio Sur, neighborhoods of the country’s capital, Montevideo.

Suarez’s family was one of those evicted in 1976. „We suffered from being uprooted. We were separated from the culture, from the community that had been constructed, from the ties of solidarity,“ she said. Rebuilding the Afro-Uruguayan community in the wake of the dictatorship has been a huge challenge ever since. Most of those evicted still live in Montevideo’s poor suburbs and cannot afford to move back.

New law to right the historical wrongs?

Earlier this year, the Uruguayan Congress passed a new law aiming to right some of these historical wrongs by creating opportunities for future generations of Afro-Uruguayans. The law, which will go into effect in late December, establishes scholarships for Afro-Uruguayan students and aims to reduce school desertion by including Afro-Uruguayan history and culture in the standard curriculum. It also reserves eight percent of government jobs for qualified Afro-Uruguayans and gives tax incentives to private companies who hire people of African descent.

The affirmative action portions of the law will last 15 years, but Alicia Saura, head of the national government’s Commission Against Racism, believes that this period is too short to have a real effect. „I fear that 15 years isn’t enough time, because first our people have to finish their studies and become qualified,“ she said.

Afrouruguayan activists Beatriz Santos and Mirta Silva (photo: Eilis O'Neill)It’s long overdue to repair the historical wrong, says Santons (left)

Saura is also concerned because the law will not have a budget for another two years. No scholarships or curriculum reforms will come into place until 2015 at the earliest.

For Saura, however, it is a step in the right direction. She herself has experienced racism during her career. „I’m a lawyer, and, once, in a hearing, the judge referred to my client thinking that he was the lawyer, because my client was white. So I had to say, ‚No, I’m the lawyer.‘ He had supposed that someone of African descent couldn’t manage to be a professional of this kind.“

While the law has been met with some concern among Uruguayans over positive discrimination, Beatriz Santos, the head of the Government of Montevideo’s Forum on the Rights of People of African Descent, is convinced that it is necessary to repair an historical wrong and change the situation for Afro-Uruguayans for the future.

„Enough waiting already,“ she said. „We can’t keep opposing my people’s needs. I don’t want my grandson and my granddaughter to have to have the same painful experiences that I did.“