Thursday, 21 March 2013

Petitions

Just a list of petitions that BFTF has signed, with the occasional item of, as it were, added value.

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Nov 15 : Appalled that the government is AGAIN trying to allow private companies access to peoples health records - something that risks private companies selling on data; using it to personally identify specific patients and then target them for drug sales; or using that data to deny people insurance, mortgage and other products because they are deemed "high risk". Selling patient data is a six lane highway to a dystopian future. The government knows this, of course.

So happy to take part in a 38 Degrees survey on the issue.

See also here for more background on why private company access to health records is a bad thing.



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Sep 15 : Following a story on SKY that funding for the free school meals for infants program (a manifesto committment) was not ring fenced, and that the government was looking for significant cuts in non-ringfenced funding, 38degrees stepped in with a campaign that amassed some 58,000 signatures to demand that the FSM program be protected. Within a few weeks the government made noises that suggested the program was safe.
NB: Disclaimer - BFTF isn't sure he actually signed this petition.



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Nov 14 : National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill 2014-15 (petition here)

According to 38Degrees, this bill will "amend some of the most controversial bits of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and exempt the NHS from the EU-US trade deal TTIP.

On the other hand, Dr Allyson Pollock, who is professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University of London and has taken a keen and detailed look at recent NHS reforms, has some reservations.

Whilst Dr Pollock welcomes the bill as "a step in the right direction of reducing procurement and tendering procedures", she also comments that it :

"As well as not abolishing the commissioner-provider split, it would for example:
• appear to defer unnecessarily to EU competition law;
• leave untouched the power of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to arrange services they consider appropriate;
• not reverse the 2012 Act’s prospective abolition of NHS trusts, and their transformation into NHS foundation trusts or take over by private companies;
• leave Monitor in place with the same main duty, without a statutory purpose and continuing to licence private providers."

At the time of writing the Bill has passed its initial hurdles in the Commons and has moved on to the House of Lords. It is also known as the "Efford Bill"

The vote was 241 MPs in favour, 18 MPs against. The Conservatives largely boycotted the vote.



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Oct 14 : FCUK suppliers ripping the fur from screaming Angora rabbits
"The UK-based global retailer says it buys angora fur “only from approved suppliers” and tells customers who complain that it ensures angora rabbits are not mistreated. But we know the conditions that these rabbits really endure -- workers in China were secretly filmed by PETA plucking angora rabbits while they scream. Plucking a rabbit without causing harm takes up to two weeks of gently removing the loosened hair, but here it takes only a few, violent minutes.After this torturous experience, which the rabbits endure every three months, many of them appeared to go into shock, lying motionless inside their tiny, filthy cages."

Also Tweeted and emailed FCUK.

Update: Oct 16th : FCUK announces it is stopping the use of Angora.



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Mar14 : Egypt: Stop the Mass Execution
A kangaroo court in Egypt just sentenced 528 people to death. This is likely the biggest mass execution ruling this century, but one man can stop the killings.

Egypt’s most important religious figure, Grand Mufti Allam has 10 days to reject the decision (from 27th Mar). Religious leaders are already condemning the ruling, and as the first Mufti to be elected by his peers, he has a legitimate mandate to be the nation’s moral leader. If 1 million people sign this petition, religious leaders in Egypt will deliver our call for compassion directly to the Mufti

After the hope of Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands took to the streets to overthrow decades of dictatorship, the Egyptian people democratically elected a Muslim Brotherhood government. But last summer the military staged a populist coup, Brotherhood supporters rioted, and then the military declared the party a terrorist organisation and violently cracked down.

The trial was a joke -- on top of charges of rioting and destruction of property, the 528 are all accused of killing one police officer, and defense lawyers were barred from the sentencing session, which lasted less than an hour! Now if the world looks away and allows this cruel mass execution to happen, a dangerous message will resonate across the globe that the world will stand by democracy, except for political Islam. That will empower one small but very dangerous group that can hurt us all: the extremists.



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Feb14 : For sale: your private medical history?
"Starting this year, private companies will be able to buy information on us from the NHS’s new universal patient database -- including everything from mental health conditions, sexually transmitted infections and diseases like cancer -- all linked to your postcode, gender and ethnicity.

We’ve all been opted into the scheme by the government without our knowledge. And the clock is ticking -- the government has said they will upload our private data in a matter of just a few weeks. If we’re going to stop this, we have to act now.

The government claims that individuals won’t be able to be identified. However, many experts have warned that under the current plans, we could easily be singled out through simple cross-referencing of other databases -- especially if you have a rare or unusual condition. Imagine your employer finding that you might have had an abortion when you were a teenager. Or your insurance company finding out you are HIV positive. The consequences for us as individuals could be huge."

BFTF will be opting out of the database in a few days.



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Feb14 : UK: Hope from the floods
"As concerned citizens, we urge you to live up to your claim to lead the "greenest government ever" by supporting a 50% target to reduce carbon pollution by 2030. Scientists say the extreme floods happening now are being fueled by climate change. We must move beyond quick fixes and get to the root cause of the problem with deep cuts to our pollution. Europe will set its targets in the next month, your leadership now can bring hope from the floods and set the pace for others to put us on course for a clean, dry and safe climate future.."

See also the dangerously misleading chart on page 9 of the 2013 Infrastructure Plan, which is more realistically shown in this FT article.



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Jan14 : Fructose marketed as a "healthy" sugar
"...companies like Coke will be able to claim their products are 'healthier' thanks to a new EU regulation on using fructose. There’s only one small problem -- high levels of fructose is a leading cause of obesity around the world. The decision was made by EU Food Standards Agency based in Parma, Italy. The agency is very close to the food industry and operates far away from public scrutiny. We need to push back on food industry lobbying by demanding the EU Food Standards Agency thinks again."

Also, a Guardian article states that:
"...the EU has now ruled that food and drink manufacturers can claim their sweetened products are healthier if they replace more than 30% of the glucose and sucrose they contain with fructose...The decision [by the EU] was taken on the advice of the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), on the grounds that fructose has a lower glycaemic index (GI) – it does not cause as high and rapid a blood sugar spike as sucrose or glucose. But, say obesity experts, fructose is metabolised differently from other sugars – it goes straight to the liver and unprocessed excess is stored there as fat, building up deposits that can cause life-threatening disease."

BFTF signed the petition and emailed East Midlands MEP's to ask what they were doing to reverse this decision.

LibDem response
Rather short response from Bill Newton Dunn MEP that said simply: "No, I can not explain that for you. I (nor are any MEPs) am not a member of the Foods Standard Agency."

Labour Response
Rather awesome response from Glennis Willmott MEP:
… I share your concerns about promoting the use and consumption of fructose in this way. Last October, after hearing from health and nutrition experts, I wrote to the European Commission asking whether they would monitor the consumption and health effects of fructose across Europe, whether they would revoke the claim if it led to negative health effects, and whether in the future they would take into account the long-term negative health consequences of promoting certain nutrients.…

All health claims have the potential to be used inappropriately as marketing tools, which is why I am a strong supporter of the EU Health Claims Regulation. This ensures that health claims are pre-authorised and based on substantial scientific evidence. In the past it was up to individual consumers or trading standards bodies to challenge baseless claims, but the Health Claims Regulation has led to a huge number of dubious and misleading claims being taken off the market. However, each claim still needs to be examined very closely to ensure that it will not mislead consumers or actually encourage unhealthy consumption of some foods. I have objected to a number of health and nutrition claims authorised by Member States and the Commission in the past. In some cases I have managed to stop claims, in others I have failed. In this specific case I will continue to keep pressure on the Commission to monitor how the claim is used and what effects it has on fructose consumption, and will call for the claim to be revoked if needed.

Bounced back that the key thing seemed to be to "whether in the future they would take into account the long-term negative health consequences of promoting certain nutrients" as, in this case, the science seems to be pretty much there, the questions is whether the marketing will reflect the long term downside (for everyone) as well as the short term upside (for diabetics)

Conservative Response
Emma McClarkin responded by saying that she has been in touch with her Conservative colleague Julie Girling MEP who has been following this on behalf of the Conservative delegation of MEPs. Her very informative response included relevant links to :

EFSA's Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies in June 2011
Formal adoption in the EU's Official Journal in June 2013.
The relevant legislative process

Ms McClarkin added that "..you are not the first person to have had issues with the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation. In fact during my time as a MEP I have had many discussions with the European Commission about it. This is therefore something I intend to bring up with the next Commissioner after the elections as I believe it will continue to be a ‘hot issue’ into the next parliamentary term."

Further Comments
EFSA seem to have done their job, and mentioned adverse effects in their verdict.

The EU seems to have done their job, allowing a very specific claim only : "Consumption of foods containing fructose leads to a lower blood glucose rise compared to foods containing sucrose or glucose"

BFTF still has two concerns:
i) That soft drink producers, say, will say "healthier*" where "*" is the whole claim written as smallprint no-one reads.

ii) Why this specific claim was sought, and by who. Why, for example, was the focus not on the adverse liver problems caused by fructose?

iii) Why there is such a discrepancy between the SumOfUs statement that the claim allowed is that fructose laden foods are "healthier" and the EU claim which is much more restrictive. BFTF has challended SumOfUs on this.

At the end of the day, however, the real problem is not fructose v glucose. The real problem is too much sugar full stop. And changing that is not just the problem of the food producer, it is the responsibility of the food consumer too, BFTF included!



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Jan14 : Threat to net neutrality
To EU and US decision-makers: We urge you to use your power to stop a two-tiered Internet for the rich and ensure that all data traffic is treated equally. Allowing service providers to prioritise certain content and act as gatekeepers will undermine the democratic and open nature of the Internet. We count on you to show true global leadership and stand strong for Net Neutrality.
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Jan 14 : End the detention of women who seek asylum
Every year, hundreds of women who come to this country to seek safety from persecution are being detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire...The impact of detention on women is devastating. Many become depressed and suicidal...We are asking [the Government] to ensure the government stops detaining women who have come to this country to seek asylum. Women’s asylum cases can be considered while they live in the community.
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Jan 14 :England’s precious ancient woodland is being forsaken, sold out and betrayed
"Following the latest comments made by the Secretary of State for the Environment, we would like to make it absolutely clear - biodiversity offsetting does not work for ancient woods, the planning system doesn’t work for ancient woods and this government doesn’t work for ancient woods."
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Jan 14 :Terminator seeds could mean a few huge corporations totally control the global food supply.
Under pressure from big commercial farms, the Brazilian parliament is about to hold a vote that will allow companies like Monsanto, Bayer, and others to start selling so-called ‘suicide seeds’ to farmers. The genetically modified seeds can only be used once, forcing small farmers into buying seeds from Monsanto or others over and over again -- literally forever.

The use of these seeds is essentially prohibited under a UN treaty on biodiversity which over 193 countries, including Brazil, have signed. But if Brazil overturns its own ban then this will have huge consequences. Poor, small farmers could be locked into a cycle of endless debt and dependency -- and the rest of the world could be handing control of the global food supply to a handful of companies. The stakes couldn’t be higher.


Also mentioned on FB and Twitter and Tweeted to @monsanto, @bayer,@dilmabr
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Dec 13 : A note to Petitioning orgs such as Change, 38 Degrees, Act.One, Avaaz etc
BFTF would like to sign many of the petitions that come from organisations such as Change.org, Avaaz etc

. But BFTF believes that to sign them blindly devalues their worth, so always wants to know the following information before signing:

i) What - specifically - is the issue? Are there case examples?
ii) What legislation / change in policy - specifically - is being requested?
iii) Which people - specifically - are the target for the campaign?
iv) What (and this is where they orgs often fail) is the timescale? If the campaign refers to legislation currently being debated, how long before it is too late?

It often takes BFTF several HOURS to dig out all this information, which is a real WASTE OF TIME.

BFTF does not want waste other peoples time, so is reluctant to share petitions if it is not clear what their "shelf life" is- this applies particularly to petitions asking for the lobbying of MPs / MEPs in relation to legislation this is being debated in the UK or EU parliaments.

In particular, dear orgs, telling me that some undefined debate is going to happen at some undefined time "soon" makes me want to punch you. So please, for the love of God, stop it.

Just give me all the key information, on the same page as the petition. If it makes sense to me, I'll sign and also email government / companies directly.
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Dec 13 : Tell MEPs: Stop allowing criminals to stash the cash
David Cameron is clamping down on "phantom firms" in the UK, with One.org urging the govenment to:
"...deliver on the Prime Minister’s ambition, committing to make public information about who owns and controls companies, trusts and similar legal vehicles established in the UK, its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. This information should be available as open, machine-readable data, available free of charge, in line with the G8 Open Data Charter, in a public register, maintained by Companies House"

Meanwhile, in the international arena, Act.One.org comments that:
"Evidence from the World Bank demonstrates the role that such elusive entities play in facilitating corruption and money laundering, with more than 70% of corruption cases analysed found to involve anonymous shell companies. At a country level, by way of example, the Africa Progress Panel found that the Democratic Republic of Congo lost over $1.3bn – the equivalent of almost twice its combined health and education budgets – between 2010 and 2012 as a result of five dodgy deals in the mining sector, with those deals facilitated by Phantom Firms incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, along with other companies based in Bermuda, Jersey, Gibraltar and the UK."

What Act.One.org's petition is campaigning for is for MEPs to support the introduction of transparency legislation (to show publically who owns and controls companies and trusts) into the 4th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive:
* Give citizens and journalists in developing countries access to the data they need to follow the money and root out corruption;
* Help to improve data quality by enabling more people to scrutinise the data, identify, check and correct inaccuracies;
* Enable banks and other financial institutions to perform due diligence more effectively;
* Ensure that businesses know who they are doing business with; and
* Contribute to more effective law enforcement – investigations, prosecutions and the return of stolen assets.

Apparently, France is also a supporter of these measures whilst Germany is against them.

BFTF signed the petition, emailed local MEP's asking for their stance on the issue, emailed the French Embassy to say thank you; and emailed the German Embassy to ask what they were playing at.

More info here


BFTF contacted the East Midlands MEPs, and you can click here to see what responses were received.


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Dec 2013 : Stop the TTP and TTIP
Tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing Australia for billions of dollars in lost profits because the government took action to reduce teenage smoking. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly is suing Canada for $500 million, just because Canada has laws to keep essential drugs affordable. Worst of all, these cases are happening in secret international courts to which only corporations have access.
Read more here

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Oct 2013 : ASDA and the Bangladesh Safety Accord
"Yesterday, a deadly factory fire broke out at one of ASDA’s supplier factories in Bangladesh. Already, 10 bodies have been recovered, and it’s unknown what the ultimate death toll will be...For months, ASDA and its parent company Walmart have been refusing to take action to prevent disasters like this by signing the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord. And now, Bangladeshi workers are yet again paying the price with their lives."
BFTF also sent a message to ASDA simply saying "Why is ASDA refusing to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord".ASDA responded with the following:

"As I’m sure you know, Bangladesh is currently experiencing a crisis relating to worker safety. Asda remains committed to safe conditions in all of the factories that supply our clothes to our stores. As part of that commitment, Walmart, along with a group of other leading clothing retailers and suppliers, announced the creation of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

The Alliance has been has been signed by 17 leading US clothing companies and suppliers including Gap, Macy’s, Nordstrom and JC Penny. This initiative will lead to safer conditions for the people who work there. As part of the Walmart family, George at Asda is a part of this Alliance.

As part of the Alliance the founding members will adopt common, comprehensive safety standards for factories in Bangladesh and conduct inspections of 100 percent of factories in order to enforce those standards. This will also provide safety training to factory workers and solicit feedback from workers and activities and other causes such as compensating workers who are temporarily displaced due to safety-related remediation

I would like to assure you that the Alliance builds on the series of commitments that Walmart continues to be a part of to improve worker safety. Included in these commitments, we’re paying for teams of engineers to conduct inspections of all Bangladeshi factories that produce directly for our company, and requiring suppliers to remediate any safety issues that are found. In addition, our colleagues at George continue to work closely with suppliers to increase wages, improve working conditions for factory workers and support the communities that we source from. We’re incredibly proud of the work they do and if you’d like to find out more please visit your.asda.com for our Doing The Right Thing report. "


Asked the petitioners what they thought of this reponse.
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Aug 2013 : Paying MP's Interns
Failing to pay interns means that these placements - which are often the gateway to pwerful jobs and networks - are accessible only to those rich enough not to need to earn a living. As well as signing the petition, BFTF also emailed the local Labour and Conservative Parties to ask them whether they paid their interns.

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Aug 2013 : Release of WHO data on birth deformities in Fallujah
The WHO has undertaken research on the high level of birth deformities in Fallujah, Iraq - but has not released the data. This petition challenges the WHO to publish the data so that it can be analyzed.
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Aug 2013 : Zero Hours Contracts at Sports Direct
BFTF supported this campaign by signing the petition and sending a separate email to SportsDirect saying that they had lost all my business.
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Mar 2013 : Children Society "Fair and Square" campaign to ensure all children in poverty are given free school meals
BFTF supported this campaign by sending an on-line email to the local MP, but then had some second thoughts afterwards.

Clearly, children in poverty should get free school meals. No child should have to go through a school day hungry. But a little digging reveals that the Childrens Society of poverty is a household with earnings below 60% of the median wage (see note 6). On that basis, it is likely that there will ALWAYS be lots of poverty, no matter how much people are paid.

It seems to BFTF that the line should be placed on an absolute basis, and notes the following :

According to the DWP, in 2009, 60% of median income (before houseing costs) was £248pwe week

Meanwhile, in 2008, a living wage outside London was £6.88 an hour, which equates to £258per week.

BFTF assumes that families earning a living wage should not need free school meals, and with the two measures being so close together, it seeems that the Childrens Society is being reasonable in its campaign.

Incidentally, the 2013 living wage outside London is £7.45 per hour.
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Mar 2013 : Horror in paradise (Avaaz)
"It's hard to believe, but a 15-year-old rape survivor has been sentenced to be whipped 100 times in public! Let's put an end to this lunacy by hitting the Maldives government where it hurts: the tourism industry. The girl's stepfather is accused of raping her for years and murdering the baby she bore. Now the court says she must be flogged for “sex outside marriage”!..."

Also sent to this to The Presidents Office

"I have been shocked to hear that a 15yr old VICTIM of sexual violence is to be flogged for "sex outside marriage". This is utterly contrary to any notion of justice. I urge you to put laws in place to stop this happening in this case and ever again."

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