People's Stories Livelihood

Food & Migration: Understanding the geopolitical nexus in the Euro-Mediterranean
by IPS, Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN)
Apr. 2018 (IPS)
The 12th International Journalism Festival on April 12-15 drew 710 speakers from 50 different countries.
One panel discussion titled “End poverty, protect the planet, ensure prosperity for all? Food is the answer” took place on the opening day in Perugia, Italy held under the auspices of the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN).
Lucio Caracciolo, presented a report prepared by the BCFN Foundation in collaboration with MacroGeo and CMCC (Centro euro-Mediterraneo sui Cambiamenti Climatici). The report “Food & Migration: Understanding the geopolitical nexus in the Euro-Mediterranean”, is a research study “to explore flows and trends of the current and future nexus of migration and food in specific areas, particularly the Mediterranean countries.”
Caracciolo emphasized the deep links between migration flows and food security in the Mediterranean region and how addressing the latter could be part of the solution to the former.
Luca di Leo, Head of Communications at BCFN, highlighted the crucial importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the UN, shedding light on the clear linkages between the 17 SDGs and food choices.
The Director General of IPS Farhana Haque Rahman and IPS Data Analyst Maged Srour participated as panellists.
Haque Rahman spoke about the urgent need to enhance the capacity of developing country journalists for them to be able to write analytical commentary to enhance awareness of communities on food sustainability and climate change and influence the food choices of the general public while also drawing the attention of decision makers to take the right measures on policies.
Maged Srour explained the nexus between water and security (the latter in terms of geopolitical security). Srour shared data on water insecurity, specifically in the Mediterranean region, and highlighted how the increase in variability of water resources also affects the way countries interact.
“Most of the water in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region is actually shared by two or more nations. So, at the moment we also have climate change hitting this area and consequently an increase in water stress. This obviously increases tensions among those states,” he said.
“Climate change, in combination with the increasing population of the world, is definitely a source of instability which could exacerbate migration flows, and could become fertile grounds for extremism and for conflict,” he warned.
The Mediterranean region was at the heart of the panel discussions with most of the speakers discussing the nexus of food security, water security, climate change, migration and geopolitical security in the region.
Ludovica Principato, a researcher at the Barilla Foundation, presented data and in depth analyses on the Food Sustainability Index, which was developed in collaboration between the BCFN Foundation and the Economist Intelligence Unit, to promote knowledge on food sustainability. The index is a global study that measures facts on nutrition, sustainable agriculture and food waste, collecting data from 34 countries across the world.
“Food systems,” said Principato, “are facing the enormous challenge of feeding increasingly growing and urbanised populations generally demanding a more environmentally intensive diet, while the need to restore and preserve ecosystems for the health of the planet needs to be taken into account.”
Farhana Rahman underlined the importance of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) in the enhancement of sustainable farming and in the overall communication among smallholder farmers to become more productive and move out of poverty.


Infrastructure investment in Myanmar: Open for business?
by Zeid Ra''ad Al Hussein
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, agencies
On 20 March 2018, investors, the business community, development financing institutions and other stakeholders will meet in Yangon, Myanmar, for the fourth Myanmar Infrastructure Investment Summit, organised by the government under the title: “Building an Inclusive, Integrated and Modern Myanmar.”
Apparently, no irony was intended in the choice of this title to refer to a country where there are strong suspicions that genocide may have recently taken place, bulldozers are now allegedly being employed in an effort to eradicate the evidence, and where ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State – through killings, sexual violence and deliberate starvation – appears to be continuing. Rohingya refugees are still arriving in Bangladesh, which now houses the largest refugee camp in the world.
The Summit, which is likely to be attended by officials from major development financing institutions, will showcase Myanmar’s infrastructure plans and seek funding. This is a worthy objective. Well-conceived infrastructure projects are vital for development, connecting producers to markets and people to sources of education, healthcare and jobs. Only 20% of Myanmar’s roads are paved, and only 35% of the population is connected to the electricity grid: the need is clear. But the shocking violations of human rights which have driven hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country should heighten the vigilance of any investor.
Infrastructure projects can be laden with unassessed social risks, in any country. They include gender-blindness in project design; increases in communicable diseases; child labour; human trafficking and sexual violence; forced displacement and livelihood destruction; land seizures; abusive labour practices, and siphoning off vital public resources for private profit.
Poor stakeholder engagement is another common problem, exemplified in the failure of the Myitsone Dam joint venture between China and Myanmar. Telecommunications tower construction and fibre cable projects have been associated with child labour, debt bondage and other labour rights violations. Civil society groups have criticized a major highway project in Kayin state for contributing to conflict, displacement, and environmental damage.
Land occupied by up to 20,000 indigenous people was confiscated during the construction of an oil pipeline between Kyaukphyu, in Rakhine state, and Kunming, China. In Myanmar, or any militarised state or weak governance environment, project revenue streams may easily find their way into the pockets of the perpetrators of human rights abuses.
Myanmar’s clampdown on the freedom of the press is particularly troubling in this context. In December, two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were arrested for reporting on the massacres in Rakhine state; they could face up to 14 years in jail. This is one among many such incidents. Journalists are now fearful of travelling to ethnic areas and reporting on events in non-governmental controlled regions. Oppression of this kind is one small manifestation of the contagion of authoritarianism sweeping many parts of the world.
It is also a fundamental obstacle to infrastructure development: how can infrastructure investors and financing institutions be sure that they have appraised all relevant risks fully, with due regard to their fiduciary, legal and ethical duties and sustainability objectives, if independent information and free expression are suppressed?
The recent wave of violence unleashed against the Rohingya raises the risks for infrastructure investors. Strong vigilance is needed for redevelopment projects in areas from which Rohingya have been displaced; the government''''s acquisition of “burned lands” under Myanmar’s Natural Disaster Management Law should be ringing loud alarm bells.
If infrastructure plans for Rakhine state in any way frustrate the safe, sustainable return of refugees, those financing or investing in those projects may be complicit in ethnic cleansing. Elsewhere in the country, investors also need to be mindful of human rights risks.
I would strongly urge those seeking investment opportunities in Myanmar to undertake in-depth, regular human rights due diligence in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, guided by a clear human rights policy commitment. Multinational companies, in particular, should analyse and communicate their human rights impacts throughout their value chains, and use maximum leverage to encourage national authorities to “do no harm,” end unwarranted restrictions on freedom of expression, and ensure the safe repatriation of displaced Rohingya populations. And UN human rights monitors must be granted full access to Rakhine State and other areas where violations have been reported.
These measures are vital for informed investments in infrastructure, and for inclusive, sustainable development. They are also vital for accountability. Myanmar cannot be considered “open for business” otherwise. Moreover, though the experience in Myanmar is extreme, it is not unique – and should serve as a reminder to all international investors that human rights and discrimination are everybody’s business.
Apr. 2018
For the first time, plaintiffs from Cambodia have filed a class-action lawsuit against a Thai company after they were forcibly removed from their homes to make way for a sugarcane plantation, reports Rina Chandran for the Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thailand''s businesses and its government must do more to protect the rights of vulnerable people abroad, analysts and activists said, after a landmark case filed by Cambodian farmers in a Bangkok court against a Thai sugar firm.
It is the first time plaintiffs from another country have filed a class-action lawsuit against a Thai company in a Thai court over its operations outside Thailand.
The two plaintiffs represent about 3,000 people who say they were forcibly removed from their homes and land in five villages in Oddar Meanchey province in Cambodia''s northwest, to make way for a Mitr Pohl sugarcane plantation between 2008 and 2009.
As cross-border investments in the region increase to tap resources, markets and cheaper labour, cases such as these will become more common because of differences in legislation and inadequate protections for workers and residents, experts said.
"This is about ensuring that Thai companies respect human rights in the countries they operate in, and holding them accountable for violations," said Sor Rattanamanee Polkla at the Community Resource Centre, which is representing the plaintiffs.
"There is no Thai law against irresponsible outbound investment, and countries like Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar do not have proper frameworks for environmental and social impact assessments. We had no choice but to file a suit," she said.
The plaintiffs are asking for their land to be returned and 4 million baht ($130,000) in total compensation, she said.
Mitr Phol, the Thai sugar producer, said it had received temporary concessions in compliance with all local and national laws, and had assurances from the Cambodian government that the areas had been processed "legally and transparently".
Mitr Phol said it had withdrawn from the project in 2014, and that it had recommended that the Cambodian government return the land to the "affected communities". The case, filed last month, is set to begin on June 11.
Cambodia awarded large economic land concessions to foreign companies - mainly from China, Vietnam, South Korea and Thailand - to operate mines, power plants and farms in order to spur economic growth and alleviate poverty.
Such deals, which covered more than a tenth of the country''s surface area by 2012, have displaced more than 770,000 people since 2000, rights lawyers say.
Following protests and pressure from rights groups, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a moratorium on new concessions in 2012, and promised to review old ones.
But activists say the reviews did not lead to significant changes, and that even when concessions were cancelled, the land was often retained by the government.
In the case of Mitr Phol, the villagers first filed a complaint with the Bonsucro sugarcane sustainability initiative, and then the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Thailand, a government agency.
After a two-year investigation, the NHRC said rights violations had occurred, and Mitr Phol was directly responsible. It asked Mitr Phol to pay compensation in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
But the NHRC''s powers are limited, Sor said, and the Cambodian farmers did not get compensation or their land back.
"The NHRC can issue recommendations, but these are not binding. Filing cases is an option, but it is always a challenge to go through the judicial system," Angkhana Neelapaijit, a member of the NHRC, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The NHRC has received more than a dozen complaints about Thai overseas investments, particularly in Southeast Asia, related to their impact on the environment and people, she said.
In response to the NHRC''s recommendations, the Cabinet issued resolutions in 2016 and 2017, calling for Thai investors to respect and protect the rights of local people, and to prevent adverse impacts on the environment and to livelihoods.
Last year, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the government intended to implement the U.N. guiding principles in a policy plan being drafted in consultation with rights groups.
But the region has proven to be a "laggard" in adopting an enforceable regional human rights system, said David Pred, co-founder of advocacy group Inclusive Development International.
"We shouldn''t hold our breath waiting for governments to adopt one. But that need not stop people from pursuing justice for business-related human rights violations in the national courts of the countries where the companies are domiciled."
Thai outbound investment in 2017 totalled about $20 billion, according to the country''s investment board, much of it going to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
But investors are backing projects "with little regulation and often with disregard for the human and environmental rights impacts", according to a report from the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights published in November.
"Negative impacts commonly include destruction of livelihoods, land grabs, and forced eviction," it said.
Thai investors must apply the highest international standards and offer remedy for abuses, said Surya Deva, a member of the U.N. working group, which concluded a 10-day visit to Thailand last week.
"If Thai companies are benefiting from these investments, and outsourcing negative human rights impacts, it is critical that they also provide opportunities for any victims to file cases in Thailand if needed," he said. "It is a complicated process, but that option should be available," he said.

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