Author Archives: izabeladelabre

Geographies of Human Rights and Responsibility

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

As Hillary Clinton stated in the 1995 United Nation (UN) Fourth World Conference on Women, “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” Twenty years later, this message remains critical.  Commemorating International Women’s Day, on 8th March 2015, President Barack Obama stated, “in too many places, women are treated as second-class citizens. Their abilities are undervalued. And their human rights – the right to learn, to express themselves, to live free from violence, to choose whether and whom to marry – are routinely violated.”

Writing in Geography Compass (2015), Nicole Laliberté explores the contribution that Geography can make in the critical study of human rights. She describes the language of “human rights” as emerging from relative obscurity in the 1940s, to being incorporated into the humanitarian and development industries in the 1980s. Today, human rights is the contemporary common language of justice claims (Cmiel, 2004). In the article, entitled “Geographies of Human Rights: Mapping Responsibility,” Laliberté identifies a gap in the critical geographic scholarship on questions of responsibility, including the multiple and conflicting claims of responsibility tied to spatial variations in the understandings, experiences, and deployments of human rights.

Human rights has become the contemporary lingua franca of justice claims

Helsinki Pride 2013: Human rights has become the contemporary lingua franca of justice claims (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Early geographic engagements with theories of responsibility were challenged for emphasizing a “top–down” approach. This view perceived richer countries as being responsible for less affluent countries and individuals, rather than interrogating how the rich are implicated in unequal distribution of resources. Critical geographers have used geographic theories of place, space, and scale to demonstrate how responsibility is not restricted by proximity and can function as a means of tracing and shaping social relations between distant individuals.

Laliberité finds that critical geographic analysis, when applied to the politics of human rights and the relations of responsibility associated with them, can provide a means of mapping injustice, analyzing landscapes of power, and practicing emancipatory politics. A number of feminist scholars argue that human rights are a modern form of masculinist and imperialist mediation that maintains injustice. Laliberté, however, recognizes the potential value in using human rights in specific contexts to fight injustice. She challenges the assumption that promoting human rights equates to promoting social justice, and argues against a singular normative meaning of either human rights or social justice.

References

60-world2   Clinton, H.R. (2015). First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Remarks for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. Beijing, China. September 5th, 1995.

books_icon   Cmiel, K. (2004). The recent history of human rights. The American Historical Review 109 (1), pp. 117–135. doi: 10.1086/ahr/ 109.1.117.

books_icon   Laliberté, N. (2015). Geographies of Human Rights: Mapping Responsibility. Geography Compass 9 (2) pp. 57-67. doi: 10.1111/gec3.12196.

60-world2  The White House (2015). Statement of President Barack Obama Commemorating International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2015.

Who lives, who dies, who cares?

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

Advances in healthcare technologies and pharmaceutical breakthroughs politicise and manipulate our lives.  An article in The Guardian last week describes how French doctors are challenging the patent of a new and highly expensive drug for hepatitis C in an attempt to bring down the price (the drug, Sofosbuvir, made by the pharmaceutical multinational Gilead Sciences, costs $1,000 (£650) a pill for a 10-week course).  It is a cure for the viral infection that can lead to liver cirrhosis, cancer and death.  The struggle against health inequality persists, with large numbers of people lacking access to healthcare.

A new biopolitical regime judges an individual’s ‘worth’ through their economic productivity

A new biopolitical regime judges an individual’s ‘worth’ through their economic productivity. Image credit: Elvert Xavier Barnes Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

Writing in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Emma Whyte Laurie’s article entitled, “Who lives, who dies, who cares? Valuing life through the disability-adjusted life year measurement” provides a critique of the disability-adjusted life year (DALY) measurement. The World Health Organization defines a DALY as one lost year of “healthy” life. It is a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.  Emma Whyte Laurie argues that DALYs have ‘become normative because many health policy makers and their funding partners use the DALY as their only measure of disease impact in programmatic analysis’ (King and Bertino 2008, 2). DALYs have supported the emergence of an epoch in global health governance whereby resource allocation is justified on the premise of ‘cost-effectiveness’, ‘value for money’ and ‘good return for investment,’ and this is compounded with the global financial climate which has negatively impacted the available budget for health interventions.

DALYs are established on the conceptualisation of individuals as exclusively economic beings, but individuals may fail to live up to the economically productive ‘ideal.’  DALYs may be partly responsible for the devaluation of the lives of certain individuals, by asserting the values of individualism in relation to wider economic gain where, individuals lose humanness when they become poor, and also unproductive.  Emma Whyte Laurie states that the problem may be less associated with DALYs as a measurement in itself, but rather with the faith that has been placed in them by mainstream institutions.

The question of who benefits from health interventions is heavily value-laden. Priority-setting is essentially a political and social process (rather than a scientific one), involving deliberation and public accountability. Through the exact numbers provided by the DALY measurement, important questions of ethics and politics are omitted, potentially hindering important and difficult discussions of setting priorities in the health sector.

Emma Whyte Laurie considers the question posed by Farmer: ‘[if health is a human right, who is considered human enough to have that right?’ (2005, 206). According to Agamben (1998), throughout history, the humanity of living man has been judged by each society, which has decided whose lives have value. Today, these judgements are increasingly based on economic productivity or the pursuit of capital accumulation where certain (wealthier) lives are considered more valuable than others. DALYs reflect this, capturing the ‘disease burden’ through economic loss, but also addressing Farmer’s question as to who is valuable, or who is human enough, to be afforded the right to health.

References

books_icon   Agamben G. (1998). Homo sacer: sovereign power and bare life. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA

60-world2   Boseley S. (2015). Doctors challenge hepatitis C drug patent in price protest. The Guardian, 10 February

books_icon   Farmer P. (2005). Pathologies of power: health, human rights and the new war on the poor. University of California Press, Berkeley CA

books_icon   King C. H. and Bertino A-M. (2008). Asymmetries of poverty: why global burden of disease valuations underestimate the burden of neglected tropical diseases. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 2 e209

books_icon   Laurie E.W. (2015). Who lives, who dies, who cares? Valuing life through the disability-adjusted life year measurement. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40:1 pp. 75–87.

60-world2   World Health Organization (WHO). Metrics: Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY).

CSR, Mining, and Culturally Articulated Neoliberalisation

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

According to this month’s Ethical Corporation report, the drop in commodity prices will put pressure on extractives companies to cut back in all areas, including Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  Sadler (2004: 852) describes CSR as “the notion that companies should accompany the pursuit of profit with good citizenship.”  Society’s increased demand for CSR in the mining industry is considered inevitable due to the sector’s impacts on the environment and people (Kepore and Imbun, 2011).

Mine in New Caledonia. Image credit: Fourrure via Wikimedia Commons.

A paper by Leah Horowitz in the January 2015 issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, entitled, “Culturally articulated neoliberalisation: corporate social responsibility and the capture of indigenous legitimacy in New Caledonia,” develops our understanding of CSR as roll-out neoliberalism.  It considers CSR as elements of a capitalist system actively working to create its own social regularization in order to secure a geographically specific socio-politico-economic context that supports (or at least, does not prevent) capitalist development.  CSR can thus re-legitimise market-led development and counter resistance.  Horowitz argues that processes of neoliberalisation must articulate with specific politico-economic conditions and also with cultural ideologies and local hegemonic relationships.

Horowitz’s ethnographic analysis of an indigenous protest group (Rhéébù Nùù, meaning ‘eye of the country’) that targeted a multinational mining project in New Caledonia describes how the company undercut and ultimately co-opted local resistance, through its ability to successfully capture culturally-based ideologies of customary and indigenous legitimacy.  Neoliberalisation’s articulations may therefore involve attempts to capture both formal and informal regulation or regulators, through direct benefits and indirectly by capturing culturally valued ideologies.  These ideologies then interact with culturally grounded hegemonic processes.

Horowitz goes on to explore different forms of hegemony, based in distinct cultural formations, and how they interact with each other as well as with counter-hegemonic forces. Through the company’s direct engagement with customary authorities, rather than exclusively with activists, it was able to delegitimise the activist opponents and reposition them as subordinates within their own culturally informed social hierarchy. Although some customary authorities were sympathetic to protestors’ aims, the privileged hegemonic status of customary authorities was re-instated, and the company re-legitimised itself.

Sources

60-world2 Ethical Corporation (2015) Commodity Prices Briefing: Building a CSR strategy during an era of low commodity prices.

60-world2 Sudip Kar-Gupta (2015). UK’s FTSE flops as fall in copper clobbers mining shares. Reuters UK. 14 January 2015

books_icon Kevin P. Kepore and Benedict Y. Imbun (2011). Mining and stakeholder engagement discourse in a Papua New Guinea mine. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management. 18(4) 220–233.

books_icon Leah S. Horowitz (2015). Culturally articulated neoliberalisation: Corporate social responsibility and the capture of indigenous legitimacy in New Caledonia. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 40(1) 88–101.

books_icon David Sadler (2004). Anti-corporate Campaigning and Corporate “Social” Responsibility: Towards Alternative Spaces of Citizenship? Antipode. 36(5) 851–870.

Understanding land as a resource for global investment

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

Tanzania Independence Monument: Sold.  As part of Oxfam's 2013 Global Day of Action to stop land grabs, activists placed "sold" signs next to iconic landmarks all over the world to protest land grabs in developing countries. (image credit: By Oxfam East Africa, via Wikimedia Commons)

As part of Oxfam’s 2013 Global Day of Action to stop land grabs, activists placed “sold” signs next to iconic landmarks all over the world to protest land grabs in developing countries (image credit: Oxfam East Africa, via Wikimedia Commons)

On 16th November, an article in The Guardian reported how the Tanzanian government was breaking its promise to 40,000 Masai pastoralists. It claimed that the government was going ahead with plans to evict the Masai people and turn their ancestral land into a reserve for the royal family of Dubai to hunt big game. Within one week, 18,000 people had signed a petition run by the campaigning community, Avaaz, against the proposal. As the online petition gained supporters, President Jakaya Kikwete tweeted: “There has never been, nor will there ever be, any plan by the government of Tanzania to evict the Masai people from their ancestral land.”

In a following article on 25th November, Ole Kulinga, an elder and traditional leader from Loliondo, the affected district, said: “Without our land, we are nothing and this commitment from the president lets us all breathe a sigh of relief. But hunters want this land more than anything and we will only feel safe when we have permanent rights to our land in writing.” A community leader, Samwell Nangire expressed caution, noting that Kikwete said on Twitter that there had never been a plan to evict the Maasai. Nangire stated that wasn’t true.

Since 2008, we have been exposed to countless stories reporting on “the global land rush” and “land grabs.” From rising food prices, to growing demand of biofuel crops, investors are taking an interest in agricultural land as never before. In a Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers paper, based on her Plenary Lecture at the 2013 RGS-IBG Annual Conference, Tania Murray Li addresses the question, what is land? Entitled “What is land? Assembling a resource for global investment,” the article stresses land’s materiality, its multiple affordances and the quality it shares with other resources: its intrinsically social character. In order to address the “so-called global land grab or land rush,” she examines the inscription devices that have made land into a resource available for global investment.

Drawing on research among indigenous highlanders in Indonesia, Li states that, for the purpose of analysis, the English word ‘land’ carries cultural baggage that needs to be made strange – not all peoples have this word, not everyone “lumps together the same set of material substances under one label, nor do they assemble material and social relations into equivalent forms.” In her research area, it was only around 1990, when a new element was added (cacao), that land started to be treated like a commodity. This required the indigenous highlanders to invent a term, lokasi, for a socio-material entity that did not exist before (Li later adds that most of this cacao was later killed by an incurable virus).

Land’s material emplacement means that, usually, the people located within the geographical area will have a say on its use, be it through democratic processes or the exercise of force, such as resisting eviction. Assembling farmland as a resource for global investment uses the work of multiple actors drawing on discourses, inscription devices and modes of calculation already available, such as maps, grids, surveys and images. These devices, when pulled together, may produce an expanded capacity to envision “under-utilised” land as a globally important asset capable of producing food, profits and reducing poverty.

However, if the anticipated high returns do not materialize – licenses or funds may not being secured, or the intended crop does not grow well – investors may lose interest. The land would still be there, but it would no longer be a global ‘resource’ attracting investment. Land would therefore be considered in new and different ways.

books_iconT. M. Li 2014. What is land? Assembling a resource for global investment. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 39(4): 589–602.

60-world2Tanzania accused of backtracking over sale of Masai’s ancestral land. The Guardian, November 16

60-world2Tanzania’s Masai ‘breathe sigh of relief’ after president vows never to evict them. The Guardian, November 25

Moving towards a living wage in the UK

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

4.9 million people in the UK earn less than the living wage (image credit: By George Hodan, via Wikimedia Commons)

On 18th October 2014, thousands of people took to the streets of London for a mass demonstration, arguing that “Britain Needs a Pay Rise” (BBC News, 2014). In their 2008 report for the Institute for Public Policy Research, Working out of Poverty, Lawton and Cooke found that, for the first time, more people in work are below the poverty line than those out of work. A report by The Resolution Foundation, Low Pay Britain 2014, states that as many as 1 in 5 workers or 5.2 million people earn less than than £7.70 an hour. Last year, the number of people in low-paid work (defined as less than two thirds of median hourly pay) rose by 250,000.

Wills and Linneker, writing in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers in 2014,  describe a living wage as one that reflects the local cost of living and the real cost of life. It is an instrument of pre-distribution, rather than using the state’s mechanisms to re-distribute wealth as a way of alleviating in-work poverty. Wilkinson and Pickett (2010) argue that Governments would be better advised to minimise the production of inequality to start with, rather than spending billions of pounds in welfare initiatives to ‘mop-up’ after the party.

Wills and Linneker write that in the UK, the living wage campaign has targeted both private and public sector employers, and the campaign is gaining pace. The Greater London Authority (GLA) has applied the living wage across its own supply chain to include the Metropolitan Police Authority, the London Fire Brigade and Transport for London. The Living Wage Foundation has been pivotal in deepening the impact and spreading the demand of the campaign through the participation of a wide coalition of champions, including Trust for London, Save the Children, Queen Mary, University of London, KPMG and Linklaters.  Flint et al. (2014), writing in the Journal of Public Health, find significant differences in psychological wellbeing between those who did, and didn’t, work for London Living Wage employers.  Recent figures show that the campaign has a long way to go.

Wills and Linneker argue that, “in the context of a Conservative-led coalition government, along with on-going economic malaise and a weak trade union movement, the demand for a living wage probably represents the best route to reducing the extent and impact of in-work poverty, and ultimately, the degree of inequality within the UK” (2014: 187-188).  By taking on a geographical perspective, the authors find that the living wage is a spatial intervention, which attempts to set a new moral minimum for wages across a labour market in a particular locality. They highlight how the impact of the living wage at one scale is very different to that experienced at other dimensions, and this shapes the arguments to be used in its defence. The living wage also raises important questions for geographers seeking to understand poverty and its potential solutions, as it can “put the scourge of economic injustice and inequality at the heart of political campaigning at all spatial scales” (2014: 192).

60-world2Low paid Britons now number five million, think tank concludes BBC News, September 27

60-world2A. Corlett and M. Whittaker 2014. Low Pay Britain 2014. The Resolution Foundation

books_iconE. Flint, S. Cummins and J. Wills 2012. Investigating the effect of the London living wage on the psychological wellbeing of low-wage service sector employees: a feasibility study. Journal of Public Health. 36 (2):187-193. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdt093

60-world2K. Lawton and G. Cooke 2008. Working Out of Poverty: A study of the low-paid and the ‘working poor.’ Institute for Public Policy Research.

books_icon

R. Wilkinson and K. Pickett K 2010. The spirit level: why equality is better for everyone Penguin, London

books_iconJ. Wills and B. Linneker 2014. In-work poverty and the living wage in the United Kingdom: a geographical perspective. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers39 (2): 182–194. doi: 10.1111/tran.12020. 

izabeladelabre

September 24, 2014

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

People’s Climate March, New York City March 2014 (image credit: South Bend Voice Flickr)

On the eve of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, the city saw an estimated 400,000 people take to the streets in the largest climate change march in history. Marchers gathered in cities across the world to call for ambitious action on climate change policy: 40,000 in London, and 30,000 in Melbourne. In Tanzania, the Maasai marched across their traditional lands to draw attention to the protection of their homelands in the Serengeti from climate change impacts.

These marches indicated the public’s frustration of political failure to reach, and implement, effective climate deals, and this anxiety is compounded by stark warnings from the academic community.  In Nature Geoscience, Friedlingstein et al. (2014) write that global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production have, on average, grown by 2.5% per year over the past decade. Two thirds of the CO2 emission quota consistent with a 2°C temperature limit has already been used, and it is predicted that the total quota will likely be exhausted 30 years from now, using 2014 emissions rates. Friedlingstein et al. find that carbon intensity improvements of emerging economies have been lower than anticipated, and warn that without more strict mitigation measures, these trends will continue.  Therefore, they stress, a break in current emission trends is urgently needed in the short term, to keep within the 2°C temperature limit.

The Global Carbon Budget 2014 found the top five CO2 emitters to be China, USA, EU, India and the Russian Federation. In a BBC article, Professor Corinne Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia stated that a significant proportion of China’s emissions were driven by demand from consumers in Europe and the USA: “In China, about 20% of their emissions are for producing clothes, furniture even solar panels that are shipped to Europe and America.”  Writing in Geography Compass in 2008, Kaplinsky stated that the distribution of income in China moved from being one of the world’s most equal to one of the world’s most unequal economies in a couple of decades. Kaplinsky argued that China and other Asian emerging economies must be included in discussions of global governance.  Six years later, during this week’s Climate Summit, China for first time pledged to take action on climate, with the aim for reducing its emissions of carbon per unit of GDP by 45% by 2020.

Given the impacts of globalization on climate, poverty, and inequality, and considering the scale of the impacts of climate change, the report New Climate Economy: Better Growth, Better Climate puts forward areas in which international co-operation has the potential to make a significant impact on the prospects for low-carbon and climate-resilient growth, as well as a ten-point action plan. The report states that national economic policies will need to be significantly revised in the next 15 years, when the global economy is expected to grow by more than half. On the day of the report’s release, President Obama tweeted, “This study concludes that no one has to choose between fighting climate change and growing the economy”.

Writing for The Guardian Sustainable Business, Professor Tim Jackson argues that the report is framed around the “dubious claim that we can have our cake and eat it,” and highlights how improving our prosperity might not be at all synonymous with growing the economy. Lord Stern, one of the authors of the New Climate Economy report states that in order to prevent runaway climate change, we need to develop broader measures of success, widen our vision of prosperity and return to core values, but it is critical that growth is included as an objective. The two defining challenges of this century are poverty and climate change, and “if we fail on one, we fail on the other.”

 

60-world2P. FriedlingsteinR. M. AndrewJ. RogeljG. P. PetersJ. G. CanadellR. KnuttiG. LudererM. R. RaupachM. SchaefferD. P. van Vuuren and C. Le Quéré 2014. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targetsNature Geoscience. Advance online publication doi:10.1038/ngeo2248 

books_iconR. Kaplinsky 2008. Globalisation, Inequality and Climate Change: What Difference Does China Make? Geography Compass 2(1): 67–78.

60-world2C. Le Quéré, R. Moriarty, R. M. Andrew, G. P. Peters, P. Ciais, P. Friedlingstein, S. D. Jones, S. Sitch, P. Tans et al. 2014. Global carbon budget 2014 Earth Systems Science Data. Discussion Paper, 7: 521-610.

60-world2The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate 2014. Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report

60-world2China’s per capita carbon emissions overtake EU’s BBC News, September 21

60-world2Hundreds of Thousands Converge on New York to Demand Climate-Change Action Time, September 23

60-world2Lord Stern: global warming may create billions of climate refugees Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2The dilemma of growth: prosperity v economic expansion Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2UN climate summit: China pledges emissions action BBC News, September 24