Child slavery lawsuit shines light on multinationals as accessories to human rights abuses

By Mohammed Maoulidi

 

In an interconnected world where communications have never been more sophisticated and penetrating, it is proving difficult for companies to claim that they do not know details of their businesses, even in remote areas. In our information age, ignorance is no longer an excuse; it is not even a plausible defence. Sooner or later malpractices are exposed. Company profits are then compromised by government fines and lost business. The risks of exploiting Africa are proving costlier and harder to avoid, as the chocolate child labour scandal of 2015 illustrates.

But what can be done against multinational corporations that abet human rights violations by turning a blind eye to abuses which boost their profits? Choosing not to act with due diligence regarding the origin of products from Africa or doing such investigations haphazardly or half-heartedly can be costly to a firm. Public relations problems are one result, sometimes leading to a buyer backlash in the form of a consumer boycott. Expensive global brands can have their expensively-maintained lustre tarnished. Customer loyalty suffers if buyers distance themselves from companies for which crimes against humanity are committed for the sake of company profits, whether these companies profess to be ignorant of such crimes or not. Consumers know that by purchasing products tied to human rights abuses they are condoning such abuses.

In late September 2015, a lawsuit filed against the world’s three top chocolate makers for involvement in human rights abuses in Africa illustrated another form of consumer protest that is also costly for multinationals.

This article is extracted from the November 2015 edition of IOA’s Africa Conflict Monitor (ACM) and is authored by ACM analyst Mohammed Maoulidi.

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Mozambique’s governance quagmire may bring down a promising economy: The unstoppable force of booming business collides with the immoveable object of the country’s dangerous political status quo

Violence has broken out again between government forces and the main political opposition party, with the top opposition leader twice escaping death in shootings. The time has come for the former civil war antagonists to lay down arms once and for all or risk scuttling an economic boom.

 

By Sandile Lukhele (1)

Faced with Mozambique’s political stalemate, most countries would muse that they should be so lucky. The head of government, finance minister or central bank governor of any country would salivate at the prospect of a 17.6% gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate, which on 8 October 2015 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted would be Mozambique’s in 2020 once natural gas sales begin. Even the IMF’s news that Mozambique’s 2015 GDP growth would be the worst since 2009 was hardly tragic. A 7% growth is robust and is again the envy of most countries, including China, Russia and the US.

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Cynical African leaders whose motive is not to protect their people but themselves say the concept of human rights is a non-African concept

Cynical African leaders whose motive is not to protect their people
Artwork by ACM cartoonist Mark Wiggett. See www.wiggett.co.za.

By James Hall

Africans have few means to protect themselves against human rights abuses, many of which are perpetrated by their own leaders. Autocratic governments reject international prosecutors seeking justice for human rights victims, and African governments continent-wide are cracking down on NGOs who hold governments accountable.

Just as the domestic policies and actions of highest priority for many African leaders is the preservation of their power, the foreign policy imperative of African leadership expressed in the African Union (AU) is to ensure the survival of their fellow leaders. There is a quid pro quo to this arrangement, an understanding that one African leader will support another when threatened by domestic and international pressure and in return such buttressing is expected to be reciprocated. The arrangement is cynically cloaked in pious pledges to not interfere in the domestic affairs of another country. Read more

What the global media missed with Burundi: Superficial coverage celebrates crisis and overlooks the bigger picture

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza. His lapel pin is the Burundian flag. Photo courtesy World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons
Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza. His lapel pin is the Burundian flag.
Photo courtesy World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons

By James Hall

The media noticed Burundi when street riots and an attempted coup d’état made for interesting visuals for TV news. The superficial coverage ignored what Burundi’s fleeing refugees knew, that a possible genocidal bloodbath was the real story.

If ever the world media acted as if it were a mayfly living only for the day, it was with coverage of Burundi in May 2015. Like the insect that lives approximately the length of a media news cycle, the Western press focused on the crisis de jour  violent street protests, an attempted coup d’état, the politics of an election – as if neither deeper meaning nor long term consequences existed.

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Robert Mugabe and the African Union’s conflict policy

President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe. Photo courtesy www.forbes.com
President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.
Photo courtesy www.forbes.com

By Sandile Lukhele

African leaders agreed to allow Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to become AU Chairman. Mugabe’s appointment could have profound implications if African leaders disregard national and international laws to engage in armed actions or suppress human rights, as the AU chairman is all but guaranteed not to respond during his tenure in the AU’s highest executive position.

Zimbabwe’s President-for-Life, Robert Mugabe, who at 91 cannot expect to be making 10- or even 5-year policy plans for his administration, on 30 January 2015 assumed the chairmanship of the 54-member state African Union (AU). The chairmanship rotates amongst Africa’s five regions. Mugabe replaced Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz at the body’s annual meeting held at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The African leaders could have passed over the controversial president whose chairmanship complicates AU affairs. The election did not have to be fait accompli.

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African land is a profitable but potentially dangerous investment

Slicing up Africa: Activists cut into an African-shaped cake outside of the British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) to protest DFID’s role in facilitating the acquisition of African land by large multinational conglomerates. Photo courtesy Global Justice Now/Flickr
Slicing up Africa: Activists cut into an African-shaped cake outside of the British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) to protest DFID’s role in facilitating the acquisition of African land by large multinational conglomerates.
Photo courtesy Global Justice Now/Flickr

By Mohammed Maoulidi

African agricultural land is destined to become more valuable and coveted by foreign nationals, but a lack of transparency in land sales to foreigners provokes anti-foreigner sentiments and the plight of Africans displaced by land transfers may convince displaced persons to become violent.

Foreigners mostly seek agricultural land and land for tourism developments, but all foreigner-owned land in Africa holds the potential to prompt violence from displaced people

Private equity funds are aglow with prospects of profits to be reaped by clients who get in on the acquisition of African agricultural land. Why not, when vast areas can be purchased cheaply from chiefdoms and local and national governments who have failed to exploit the potential of the land to feed their own people. Sometimes land is available simply at the price of building local infrastructure and providing local populations with community halls and soccer uniforms. Foreign purchasers sweeten the deals by promising jobs, making available advanced technologies and improving the food security of local populations.

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Al-Shabaab follows ISIS’ deadly playbook

Al-Shabab,Qaeda-linked militant group. Photo courtesy www.cfr.org
Al-Shabab,Qaeda-linked militant group.
Photo courtesy www.cfr.org

By Sandile Lukhele

Somalia’s al-Shabaab is in no position to carry out threatened attacks in Canada, the UK and the US, but may inspire North American and British jihadists. However, the publicity garnered by a propaganda video and another mass murder represents successful manipulations of Western media and American Islamophobia.

Skilful propaganda and a deadly university attack may raise recruits and financial sponsorship

Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahidin, or al-Shabaab as the group is commonly known, faced a dilemma in February 2015 following continuing battlefield defeats from the African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Of paramount concern to the jihadist group whose goal is to transform Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state was the group’s diminishing control of the country due to AMISOM’s effective counter-insurgency campaign. As in any enterprise, success brings young, new individuals drawn to that success, as well as the financial backing of investors who see a likelihood of results for their sponsorship. Failure in the form of shrinking territory under al-Shabaab’s command and news coverage of its defeats inhibited both the recruitment of new members and the largesse of new sponsors.

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Boko Haram and al-Shabaab: Comparable threats to African security

Photo courtesy of www.africaontheblog.com
Photo courtesy of www.africaontheblog.com

By Conway Waddington

Drawing comparisons between Boko Haram and al-Shabaab can be beneficial for analysis of these groups and their activities, but caution should be given to over-simplifying their respective origins, objectives and relationships with each other and with other international terror groups.

Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are militant Islamist sects that are predominantly operational in Nigeria and Somalia, and are both engaged in protracted insurgencies and terror campaigns. Their origins, strategic goals, methodologies and recent track records are comparable to varying degrees. These groups are also compared to other militant Islamist groups with which they associate, particularly al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and more recently the group known as the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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The impact of ISIS’ mentoring of North Africa’s jihadist groups

Photo courtesy of www.thedailysheeple.com
Photo courtesy of www.thedailysheeple.com

By Alex Waterman

By supplanting al-Qaeda as a major influence on North African jihadists, ISIS poses a threat to volatile and fragile North African states. Recognising the reasons for ISIS’ influence with North Africa’s youthful population of would-be jihadists is essential to blocking its expanding influence.

The key jihadist insurgencies in North Africa are choosing to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Islamic fundamentalist group that had declared an Islamic State, or caliphate, in territories its solders have captured in Iraq and Syria has inspired tactics and propaganda of the African insurgencies it is mentoring, and also provides practical support by training and giving experience to fighters who then carry out in Africa what they learned on the battlefields of the Middle East. ISIS’ goal in North Africa is to assist insurgency groups to establish Islamic states in their respective countries. These states would then become part of a larger Islamic caliphate that, as envisioned by ISIS, would dominate the globe in time. North African Islamic states would be strategic allies to ISIS as it controls its own state from the remnants of Iraq and Syria.

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