Uzbekistan ends systematic use of child labour and takes measures to end forced labour
Monitors from the International Labour Organization (ILO) have found that the systematic use of child labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest has come to an end over the past few years and that concrete measures to completely end the use of forced labour are being implemented.
These conclusions were discussed at a roundtable in Tashkent on 30 November 2017. The roundtable was attended by members of the Uzbek Coordination Council on Child Labour and Forced Labour, including government representatives, employers and trade unions of Uzbekistan, the development partners, diplomatic representatives, the ILO and the World Bank. The findings will be formally presented to the World Bank in a report, which will be released in early 2018.
The most compelling signals of change were given by the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in his speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations in September, and by the subsequent measures taken nationally to implement a policy of voluntary recruitment for the cotton harvest. Uzbekistan also pledged to engage with independent civil society groups at the IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour , held in Argentina on November 14–16, 2017, and meetings with the civil society activists already took place prior to the Roundtable.
During the harvest, the ILO experts carried out 3,000 unaccompanied interviews with cotton pickers and others involved in the harvest in all provinces of the country. This covered local authorities, and education and medical personnel. In addition, a telephone poll of 1,000 randomly selected persons was conducted. Before the harvest, the ILO experts organized training for some 6,300 people directly involved with the recruitment of cotton pickers.
The results confirm that there is a high level of awareness of the unacceptability of both child and forced labour. There is no systematic use of child labour, and instructions have been given and measures undertaken to ensure that all recruitment of cotton pickers is on a voluntary basis. Certain risk groups (students, education and medical personnel) were withdrawn from the harvest at its early stage.
The picture emerging to the monitors was one of intensifying efforts to ensure voluntary recruitment. The monitoring and assessment confirms that the large majority of cotton pickers engage voluntarily in the annual harvest. They have received wages which have been increased this year in line with recommendations by the ILO and the World Bank. Furthermore, productivity was comparable to previous harvests.”
Some of the issues observed at the local level show that there is a need for further awareness raising and capacity building, which varies somewhat between provinces and districts. All those involved in recruitment should have the information and tools needed to ensure that cotton pickers are engaged in conformity with international labour standards.
The prohibition of any forced recruitment of students or education and medical personnel appears to be well known. Among the issues observed at the local level, the pattern of requesting various fees for replacement pickers has not yet been eliminated. In the immediate future, it is important to make sure that no recruiter should ask for such payments, and that no one should feel obliged to make them.
The Feedback Mechanism is getting to be better known and used, and a certain number of cases reported to it have been solved. It is important to develop this mechanism so that it is accessible and can react in a timely fashion to different issues raised, ranging from immediate problems to specific violations which call for institutional and judicial follow-up.
The 2017 cotton harvest took place in the context of increased transparency and dialogue. This has encompassed all groups of civil society, including critical voices of individual activists. This is an encouraging sign for the future. An all-inclusive exchange of information creates a solid basis for employment and labour market policies not only in agriculture but throughout the economy.
FORBES: Where is the Russian banking crisis?
“Sanctions were supposed to kill the Russian financial sector. It did, and it didn’t. Where is the Russian banking crisis?” – FORBES is perplexed.
Yes, sanctions have hurt Russia’s financial institutions. But a Russian banking crisis, one that looks like we have seen in the U.S. recently with Silicon Valley Bank and in Switzerland with Credit Suisse, has not occurred.
There were never any runs on Russian banks. The ruble strengthened. And while most banks are protected by the state – led by Sberbank and VTB – the Russian Central Bank has spent much of the last decade working to clean up the financial system.
For this reason, Russian banks have survived the West’s sanctions regime and stock market delistings better than anyone would have imagined. For a cynical Russian, watching Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse burn down while their bankers are gainfully employed is like smirking before the camera lens in front of a burning building.
Had the sanctions come at the time when the Russian Central Bank was cleaning up its “zombie banks” – all hell would have broken loose. But seeing how much of that mess was swept away prior to the 2022 sanctions regimes taking hold, Russia’s banks remain safe and sound, even if Russian investors in those banks have lost their shirt.
The sanctions policy, the hardest ever taken out on Russia, is 13 months old. New ones pop up regularly. It is unclear what can possibly be next, as Russia’s financial institutions have already been largely cut off from the Western system.
Russia’s financial sector, and its banks at home, aren’t making headlines like banks in the U.S. and Europe are. They have withstood the onslaught of sanctions.
They’ve lost their European and U.S. assets, which will not be recovered for years to come, if ever. Sberbank CEO Herman Gref said in press reports that Sberbank is “the most attacked entity” in the country, which experiences “unprecedented challenges in terms of complexity and power.” He said Sberbank lost nearly all of its assets abroad, leading to massive write-downs.
Yet, Russian president Vladimir Putin smirks at the burning buildings of Credit Suisse and the lost $200 billion in Silicon Valley Bank deposits, needing unprecedented FDIC support to protect account holders. The bank is now insolvent. His biggest banks remain only because most of Russia’s banks over the years have been folded and rendered insolvent. And a danger to the Russian financial system was liquidated.
“Thanks to the professional actions of our banking community, government agencies, and the efforts of the central bank, I want to emphasize that we managed to overcome all these (sanctions) difficulties in general,” Putin reportedly said in Moscow earlier this month after meeting with Sberbank’s CEO. He said that Sberbank’s current stable position was “a good signal for the whole economy.”
With sanctions expected to remain for a long time to come, will Russia’s heavily sanctioned banks fold one day, too?
“Who knows what will happen in Russia, because we all only know what we read in the press and what we read in the press is that Russia did a smart job handling their banks pre-sanctions and so after sanctions they have managed okay,” says famous commodities investor Jim Rogers from his home in Singapore, who has been a director of Russian fertilizer company PhosAgro. “We saw the ruble go down when sanctions were first imposed, then it went up. So in that case alone, the market tells me that somebody in Russia did something right,” he says.
Lemon peel, flax fibres hold keys to eco-friendly car parts
Natural materials including farm waste can make autos and other industries more sustainable, less toxic
By HELEN MASSY-BERESFORD
Think of the car or construction industry and lemon peel, corn starch and almond shells hardly come to mind. Yet manufacturers may rely increasingly on such raw materials as Europe seeks to reduce waste – from both agriculture and plastics.
New high-performance industrial materials from farm waste emerged from the BARBARA project, pointing the way to stepped-up innovation in the European bioeconomy.
Funded in a partnership between the EU and the private sector, the project used agricultural residues including lemon peel, corn starch, almond shells and pomegranate skins as additives for biopolymers, which occur in living organisms such as plants and can be used in manufacturing.
The result: prototypes of car parts and construction moulds made using the 3D printing expertise of Spain-based Aitiip Technology Centre.
‘The most exciting thing from our point of view is that there are no residues, only resources,’ said Berta Gonzalvo, research director at Aitiip, which coordinated the three-and-a-half-year project. ‘Automotive and construction pieces have been successfully validated, demonstrating that a circular economy is possible and contributing to reducing environmental impact.’
The EU is spurring the development of products derived from materials of biological origin, part of a push not just to cut waste but also to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and to make industrial goods safer.
The EU bioeconomy has been expanding for a decade, reaching €2.4 trillion in 2019, and has further growth prospects, according to an October 2022 study.
In a sign of the high expectations for bio-based industries, the EU in 2014 established a €3.7 billion joint undertaking with them to spur research in the field. This was followed in 2022 by a €2 billion initiative with players ranging from farmers to scientists to overcome technical, regulatory and market barriers for bio-based products.
The EU produces around 60 million tonnes of food waste and 26 million tonnes of plastic waste a year.
Making industrial materials from renewable sources including waste is set to become increasingly important and projects like BARBARA are just the beginning, according to Gonzalvo.
When BARBARA began in 2017, only one biopolymer was available for 3D printing. The project increased the number of bio-based materials using a combination of industrial biotechnology, nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing technologies.
It came up with new processes for the extraction and use of compounds such as natural dyes, biomordants that fix dyes, antimicrobials and essential oils from pomegranate, lemon, almond shells and corn.
Doors and dashboards
BARBARA created eight materials containing pomegranate and lemon pigment, pomegranate biomordants, lemon fragrance and almond shell that could be used instead of existing plastics. The new materials led to different colours, aromas, textures and antimicrobial properties.
The 11 partners also printed prototype door trims and a dashboard fascia for the car industry as well as a mould for truss joints for the construction sector.
The new materials have better mechanical, thermal and even aesthetic properties.
As a result, they can be used to improve the quality of the end material, even adding a colour or fragrance.
While the project has ended, the participants hope the technology can move forward to the demonstration phase within the next four to five years. That would show the possibilities for large-volume production.
With the global biopolymer industry growing 6% a year and the European sector expanding 30% annually, Gonzalvo said the EU is in a prime position to lead the way.
‘We are one step closer to a real circular economy,’ she said. ‘Waste can be a resource and not just waste.’
On the plastics front, the research outlook also looks promising.
In Europe, only 14% of plastic waste was recycled domestically in 2020, according to the European Commission. The remaining 86% was incinerated, landfilled, littered or exported, highlighting the need to establish a more sustainable system.
With production of plastics set to increase in the medium term, reducing their environmental footprint is all the more important.
The ECOXY project, funded through the same public-private partnership as BARBARA, looked for bio-based alternatives to plastics known as “fibre-reinforced thermoset composites,” or FRTCs.
While FRTCs are light and strong, their green credentials are lacking. Besides being derived from fossil fuels, they can’t be recycled and are often made from toxic materials including an endocrine-disrupting chemical compound called bisphenol A.
‘Fibre-reinforced composites are being used more and more, so these bio-based composites should be able to substitute them in all the fields where they are used,’ said Aratz Genua, a researcher at CIDETEC, a Spanish institute that coordinated ECOXY.
The project, which ran in parallel with BARBARA, included a consortium of 12 research and industry partners from across Europe.
They took as their starting point materials deemed to comply with the three Rs: recyclable, reshapable and repairable. While these 3R materials had already been patented by CIDETEC, they had a downside.
‘We had made it more sustainable, but we were still working with products derived from oil and the most commonly used one is derived from bisphenol A,’ said Genua. ‘We had the opportunity to go one step further and make it more sustainable by using bio-waste to create bio-based FRTCs.’
The consortium looked to lignin, derived from wood and plant fibres. It used bio-based resin from lignin with flax fibres as a reinforcement to manufacture a demonstrator, in this case the backseat panel of a car.
‘Being able to upscale and manufacture a demonstrator was really good,’ said Genua. ‘We started with small quantities of materials, and we have shown that these are usable at an intermediate scale.’
The real challenge was to make sure the new material would have comparable properties to the ones currently in use.
Bio-based resins demonstrated very good properties, equivalent to those derived from fossil fuels, according to Genua. But there is room for improving the strength of the flax fibres.
Future research could include exploring the use of bio-based carbon fibres, also extracted from lignin.
‘We will continue working on the development and optimisation of bio-based 3R resins for different applications,’ Genua said.
For example, the EU-funded BIO-UPTAKE project is working on ceiling panels for the construction industry.
‘In these cases, not only flax fibre but also bio-based carbon fibre will be used,’ said Genua.
In the short term, the new materials are better for the health of workers handling them during manufacturing.
In the long term, the environment will benefit thanks in no small part to the resulting reduction in waste.
Research in this article was funded via the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), which in 2022 was followed by the Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking (CBE JU). The article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
ABC news: Xi signals strength in Russia-China alliance
Chinese President Xi Jinping departed Moscow on Wednesday after two days of highly symbolic meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which the two presented a united front and an alternative vision for global leadership, notes ABCnews.
Despite statements saying that “China-Russia relations are not the kind of military-political alliance during the Cold War,” China and Russia made clear they wanted to “advance the trend toward a multi-polar world.”
“This highly publicized summit may reflect a shift towards a new and more active role for China, as it seizes the opportunity to convey diplomatic – and possibly tangible – support for Russia and any other state that wishes to defy the West,” – Michael Butler, associate professor of political science at Clark University, told ABC News.
Joint animosity towards the U.S.-led world order has kept Russia and China close despite Putin’s war in Ukraine and western sanctions against Russia has made China their biggest customer and economic lifeline.
Beijing increasingly sees Russia as necessary ally as China and United States continue to fallout over numerous fronts not limited to Taiwan and access to semiconductors. It was further exasperated by the spy balloon episode earlier this year.
Beijing had initially hoped that the spiraling tensions with the U.S. would abate in the wake of Xi’s meeting with President Joe Biden in Bali last November, but as they continued to crater, Xi seems to have re-prioritized Russian relationship. He even aimed a rare direct slight at the United States earlier this month, blaming the Americans for “containment and suppression” as the reasons for China’s economic challenges.
Xi highlighted on numerous occasions over the two days of meetings that Russia and China are each other’s largest neighbors and that their partnership is “consistent with historical logic and a strategic choice of China.”
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