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Report: forced student labour makes UK universities’ servers and ICT equipment

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European universities spend billions on ICT equipment produced by young Chinese students under harsh conditions, which violates their rights and the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention on forced labour.

While young European students enjoyed their summer break from studying, thousands of Chinese students, some as young as 15, were deployed to the assembly lines of the world’s biggest electronics manufacturers.

A new investigation published today by People & Planet and Dan Watch reveals a systematic exploitation of Chinese students in the production of ICT equipment which is then used by UK universities.

Thousands of Chinese students work 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, for up to 5 months under conditions which violate Chinese labour law and educational standards for internship programmes. Furthermore the forced internships violate the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention against forced labour, the investigations shows.

Two days after the report is released UK students from the People & Planet network are joining students across Europe in holding a ‘Day of Action’. They are calling on their universities to take action on student forced labour in their supply chains by joining Electronics Watch, a worker-led labour rights monitoring organisation for the public sector.

“We are all depressed” Xu Min, 19, studies accountancy. She and 300 schoolmates did not have a summer break this year, instead their school forced them to spend three-five months working from 8am-8pm at a Wistron factory in Zhongshan in Southern China – a factory which produces servers for the three IT giants HP, Dell and Lenovo, which are the most used server brands by European universities and higher education institutions.

“We are standing at the assembly line the whole day, doing the same task again and again. It has nothing to do with my education. None of us want to be here. We are all depressed, but we have no choice, because the school told us that if we refused, we would not get our diploma. The work is exhausting”, Xu min says.

The investigation ‘Servants of servers’ shows that Chinese educational policies for internship programmes and Wistron HP, Dell and Lenovo’s own policies dictated that internships should be relevant for students’ studies.

Forced labour

Experts based in China and elsewhere describe the forced internship programmes at electronics factories like Wistron as forced labour. Liu Kaiming, an expert in Chinese law and director of the Institute of Contemporary Observation in Guangdong, says in the investigation ‘Servants of servers’: “It is de facto forced labour if students are obliged to be interns at electronic factories in order to get their diplomas”.

The new investigation ‘Servants of servers’ shows, that European educational institutions spend £3.14 billion on hardware, software and IT services (2015) to secure a quality education for millions of young Europeans. On servers alone, higher education institutions in Europe spent £350 million. HP is the market leader in the higher education sector with a market share of 28 percent. Dell controls 13 percent and Lenovo 11 percent.

After being presented with the findings of the investigation HP and Dell have acknowledged several violations of interns working conditions and and have temporarily suspended the use of student interns in their production lines at the Wistron factory in Southern China.

HP says: “The use of student workers has been discontinued on HP production lines at Wistron Zhongshan and we are working with factory management to ensure students are placed in appropriate educational settings”.

Jim Cranshaw, a campaigner from People & Planet said ‘It’s truly shocking that students here in the UK are using computers and servers made by students as young as 15, forced to labour, in China. Students are calling on universities should use their contracts to insist that suppliers improve conditions by joining Electronics Watch, a workers rights monitoring organisations set up by NGOs for this purpose.’

James Snowden, a student protesting on 7 October over the issues said ‘Students at the University of Sheffield will not stand for the outdated, unethical and unsustainable purchasing of electrical goods, that leads to the mental and physical degradation of those at the bottom of global supply chains. This is why we are campaigning for our university to join Electronics Watch’

Key findings in the investigation ‘Servants of servers’:
– Thousands of Chinese students are forced to complete irrelevant internships at the factory.
– The students work more than 10 hours a day, do overtime and night shifts.
– The work conditions violates both Chinese Labour Law and the International Labour Law’s (ILO) conventions.
– If the students refuses to complete the internship, they will be denied receiving their diploma.

The investigation is based on interviews with 25 students interns, several regular workers, two line managers and a Wistron Corporation recruitment agent in Zhongshan, Guangdong, China. As well as with interviews from the involved companies and several experts on the issue.

People & Planet is the largest UK student network campaigning to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment. DanWatch is an independent non-profit media and research center. Electronics Watch is an independent monitoring organisation working to achieve respect for labour rights in the global electronics industry through socially responsible public purchasing in Europe.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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