Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Proof that activism really can work

BFTF often hears people saying that there is no point challenging governments or companies because :

"they will do what they want to do anyway"

"what can I as a single person do"

"they won't listen to me"

All of the above fundamentally attitudes fail to understand a number of basic truths about collective action.

Firstly, that if the Afro-American community in the 1960s, or disenfranchised British women at the turn of the century, or Black South Africans in the 1980s - had taken the approach suggested by the quotes above then none of these groups would have won the basic human rights that they did. Such is the power of sustained, organised, collective action.

Secondly, whilst we cannot all do everything, we can all do something. And that whilst results are not within out gift, our efforts are. Many guests on the BFTF radio show have commented that it only takes a few, independently written, letters on a particular subject to land in the mailbox of a large company before the company starts to take action to change its policies.

All the same, BFTF would like to offer people some concrete examples of how activism has really made a concrete difference to the policies of a company or government....

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April 2014 : Activism pressure forces Tesco and Oriental&Pacific to switch to sustainable Tuna
A month long campaign by Greenpeace, in combination with pressure from television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has forced tuna supplier Oriental and Pacific to switch from its current practice of using nets and "Fish Aggregating Devices" (a combnination which kills large numbers of other marine creatures as "bycatch") to a more benign longline fishing method.

As UnderCurrentNews comments :
" 'Greenpeace today welcomed the move, which puts Oriental & Pacific on a par with other major UK tuna brands. But Tesco still comes in for stinging criticism. The supermarket had previously committed to making its own-brand tuna sustainable, but as soon as it fulfilled that promise it then introduced unsustainable Oriental & Pacific tuna, in a stroke undermining its public commitment to protecting the oceans,” the activist organization explained."


See also this report

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Feb 2014 : Orcas no longer to be displayed at Winter Olympics
A campaign by Sumofus.org (and others) to stop the display of two Orcas that had been caught from the sea specifically for display at the Winter Olympics has achieved success. The Orcas will not longer be displayed there - but they remain at risk of being sold to other dolphinariums. Sumofus wants "White Sphere", the company responsible, booted out of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IIAPA), the world’s largest trade association for amusement parks and aquariums (see here)

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Jan 2014 : Burberry commit to eliminating dangerous chemicals from their production processes
A campaign by Greenpeace had resulted in Burberry implementing a pretty comprehensive programme (pdf) to eliminate certain chemicals from their manufacturing process.

BFTF is a bit disturbed by the focus on the presence of very low levels of chemicals in the actual clothing - just because you can detect something does not mean it is at a dangerous level. Indeed, Greenpeace itself admits that "as far as toxicologists know, these concentrations don't present an acute risk for children".

In contrast, it is hard to find any information on the dischages to local water systems that occur during the manufacturing process, which is where, BFTF suspects, the real damage is being done.

But if one digs hard enough, items like this, very interesting, this article can be found, in which a Mr Li Changlin, who lives downstream from a major textile works in Dongguan, China is quoted as saying "We used to eat fish and crayfish out of this river...We swam in it. There were green plants on the banks and the water was clear. After 1989, the factories came and the water turned black.". The article also points out discount clothing stores have put a lot of pressure on the textile industry in China, with one industry executive pointing out that "The first thing they say when they sit down in a meeting is, 'How much discount do I get from last year?'".

Another article also describes some of the bad practice in the textile industry in China, and its effects on the river environments.

Also relevant is this Greenpeace Report

Actions
Sent Tweet to Burberry saying well done in commiting to eliminate dangerous chemicals from its production processes.

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Dec2013 : Giant palm oil trader commits to ending deforestation
http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/forests/victory-giant-palm-oil-trader-end-deforestation-20131223 Making palm oil shouldn’t mean destroying Indonesia’s rainforests. But dangerous and greedy companies are trashing them to grow oil palms. It’s pushing orangutans and tigers ever closer to extinction.

Greenpeace has spent months investigating the palm oil industry. Everywhere they went they came across the same name : Wilmar International, a commodities trader through wose hands pass 45% of the world’s palm oil. The evidence linked Wilmar and its customers to the destruction of tiger and orangutan habitat, human rights abuses and conflict with forest communities.

And throughout the autumn, Greenpeace exposed how Wilmar was laundering this dirty palm oil and selling it to major brands, like Gillette, Ferrero, Cadbury, L’Oreal and Clearasil. Our campaigners in Indonesia protested at Wilmar’s offices and rolled out massive banners in freshly-cleared forest, showing Wilmar’s customers just what they were buying.

Then something interesting happened.

First Ferrero announced a detailed, ambitious plan to only buy forest-friendly palm oil. Then Mondelez (which makes Cadbury) and L’Oreal made an initial commitment to no deforestation (although they’re still working out the details).

And when its customers started moving, Wilmar had no choice but to follow suit.

On 5 December, Wilmar announced that it would stop clearing forests and stop buying oil from companies that it knew were engaged forest destruction. “We know from our customers and other stakeholders that there is a strong and rapidly growing demand for traceable, deforestation-free palm oil,” said Wilmar’s CEO, Kuok Khoon Hong as he launched their new ‘no deforestation’ policy, “and we intend to meet it.”

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Jun2013 : Challenging Nestle to stop buying from companies that destroy rainforests
People around the world took part in a Greenpeace campaign to stop Nestle working with companies who were destroying the rainforests. The campaign included 1.5m views of a short Youtuve video, over 200,000 emails sent, hundreds of phone calls and countless Facebook comments.

The end result was that Nestle "developed a plan which will identify and remove any companies in their supply chain with links to deforestation so their products will have "no deforestation footprint".

And that plan is already bearing fruit with Nestle cancelling their contract with the Sinar Mas group ( Sinar Mas is company that is "destroying Indonesia’s rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands.")

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Jun2013 : Government considering limiting number of appointments with GPs
Articles such as this one suggests the the Conservative party had, as part of a survey, asked party members whether they agreed or disagreed that "There should be no annual limit to the number of appointments patients can book to see their GP".

38 Degrees swung into action and, within 2 days, had got an epetition of over 180,000 people challenging Jeremy Hunt to :
Please reject proposals to limit how many times we can visit our GP. Being able to visit a doctor, whenever we need to, is at the heart of our NHS. Please confirm that you will never limit access to GPs, and that our NHS will remain free and universal, without any restrictions.

Which resulted in Jeremy Hunt sending a Tweet saying:
"In case being mislead by 'neutral' 38Degrees e-petition, it IS NOT and WAS NEVER going to be Conservative policy to limit GP appointments"

Whilst BFTF is a supporter of 38Degrees, feelings about this particular action are conflicted, for the following reasons:
i) Parties should be able to ask whatever questions they wish of their members without fear of censure, there is nothing wrong with being oontroversial in order to generate a debate.

ii) But BFTF worries that, had the response from the Conservative grass roots been positive, GP visits might have ended up being limited, and this might be done by the back door (the NHS and Social Care Bill, for example was not in the Conservative Manifesto for the last election).

iii) A "Tweet" does not strike BFTF as being strong evidence of Government policy - it's hardly the kind of thing one would like to rely on a in court of law, for example.

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May 2013 : Primark and other retailers sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord
Great news from War on Want :

"Global retailers, including Primark, H&M, Tesco, Zara and C&A, have bowed to pressure and signed the Bangladesh Safety Accord. Tens of thousands of you called on Primark to sign the agreement, and hundreds of thousands more around the world joined us in demanding change, following the wholly preventable building collapse which killed over 1,000 people. This is a momentous deal and you helped make it happen.

Together with the Bangladesh National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) we launched a petition targeting the brands, we organised protests outside UK stores of Primark, we did interviews on TV news channels, we went on national and local radio, we sent thousands of emails, and we bombarded the retailers on their social media pages. And the pressure is paying off."

(NB: The heart of the Accord is the commitment by companies to pay for the renovations and repairs necessary to make factory building in Bangladesh safe. The agreement is legally binding. It will save lives.)

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2013 : Telegraph invokes terrorism in article on racial segregation in Israel
A campaign by the The Council for Arab-British Understanding in described in an article by the organisation. The artilcle stated that, on 3 March, the Telegraph published a news article online regarding the introduction of racially segregated bus services by Israel and illustrated it with a picture of a July 2012 suicide bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria that was carried out by a group unconnected to Israel.

Caabu comment that it cannot be right to illustrate a story on wholesale racial segregation by Israel, with a terrorist attack on Israelis. This implies there can be a security justification for comprehensive discrimination against an entire people. In short, the Telegraph have used an image of a terrorist attack, which happened outside of Israel and was not carried out by Palestinians to justify the comprehensive discrimination against Palestinians within Israel.

Following Caabu's highlighting of the issue, The Telegraph have removed the image of the bombed bus and replaced it with an image of a bus in Israel with people queing by it.

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2013 : 38Degrees and the Government sell off of the nations Forests
When it was revealed that the Government intended to exempt private healthcare companies from Corporation Tax, the government body Monitor stated that “...Monitor will not be recommending that private sector providers should be exempt from paying corporation tax."

But within a day of 38Degrees members lobbying Monitor they had backed down and hat was a swift turnaround from the beginning of the day, when Monitor had refused to rule out this tax break:

“We have had responses and held detailed conversations with providers from all sectors and we are taking time to analyse the evidence before drawing our final conclusions.”

Accoring to 38 Degrees, Monitor had commented that they were taken aback by the number of 38 Degrees members contacting them - and they were keen to know what they had to do to get us to stop 38Degrees putting them under pressure!

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2013 : 38Degrees and the Government sell off of the nations Forests
In late 2010, the government announced a plan to introduce a new law to allow all publicly owned woodlands to be sold off in the future. The government might have expected a few predictable protests, but there was nothing predictable about what happened next.

538,107 people signed the 38 Degrees petition and over 100,000 contacted their local MPs. Some 30 local campaigning groups sprung into action around the country and over 220,000 spread the word on social media.

When the government finally did admit they got it wrong, they promised to set up an independent forestry panel to advise them on what should be done next. Again, 38 Degrees members sprang into action:

34,000 wrote to the panel to tell them what we wanted for our woodlands’ future - more that 80% of all the responses they received

And the Independent Panel on Forestry was critical. They found the government had "greatly undervalued" the benefits woodlands provide for people, nature and the economy. They then called for forest policy to be held in public trust for the entire nation, shielded from political interference – with one member saying, “the tree cycle is wholly different to the electoral cycle.”

And now, after two years, the the government has at last, quietly issued an official announcement confirming that they won't try selling off England's forests again.

BFTF is proud to have been a small part of that effort.

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Waitrose, Shell and Greenpeace
Late in 2012, Waitrose announced that they were planning to open a number of shops on the forecourts of Shell petrol stations.

Greenpeace, who were campaigning against Shell's drilling in the arctic, were outraged and wrote to Waitrose three times to ask them to meet with Greenpeace - to no avail.

So then Greenpeace called on the ordinary people of the UK to send an email to Waitrose demanding that they abandon their Shell shops plan. In addition, Greenpeace acivists went to Waitrose stores to talk to managers and customers there.

Very soon, the Waitrose boss wanted to meet with Greenpeace

And soon after, they had put their forecourt shops plan on hold and agreed with Greenpeace that the Arctic should be a protected sanctuary, a move that would make the polar region off limits to oil drillers like Shell.

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