Ivory progress in Thailand, recycling benefits disputed and better wages in Cambodia

WWF’s win in Thailand

Environmental group WWF successfully petitioned Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to ban the country’s long-standing trade in ivory, which makes Thailand the world’s largest unregulated ivory market.

The global petition was launched in March in the run-up to the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (Cop16) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. With public support from actor Leonardo DiCaprio, a WWF board member, and the global web movement Avaaz.org, WWF was able to spread the word about illegal wildlife trade and amass more than 1.4m signatures in under two weeks. As a result of the new policy, WWF predicts that up to 30,000 wild African elephants will be saved every year.

Despite the milestone, the Thai prime minister has yet to announce a timeline for the ban to become official.

“We hope, and expect, that this commitment will curb poaching of African elephants by closing a major global loophole,” says WWF chief executive Carter Roberts. “Americans and other tourists must continue to educate themselves on what not to buy while travelling, so that they are not unknowingly contributing to this illicit industry.”

Coke’s legal win over Australian government

Drinks giants Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA), Schweppes Australia and Lion won their lawsuit against Australia’s Northern Territory government, challenging the legal validity of its year-old Cash for Containers scheme, which added 10 cents to soft drink bottles to help incentive recycling, but which Coke said took too much work and investment to make it worthwhile.

When the lawsuit was filed, activist organisations including SumOfUs, Boomerang Alliance, Greenpeace and GetUp! Australia quickly called on consumers to ask the drinks companies to drop the lawsuit, but to no avail.

According to a letter to GetUp! Australia from Paul Henderson, former chief minister of the Northern Territory, drinks sold in South Australia after its government instituted the same container deposit scheme did not become more expensive or affect sales, so there is no reason to believe there would be a problem in the Northern Territory.

Additionally, Henderson said that the drinks industry waged a well-funded public smear campaign in an effort to prevent the scheme from getting passed. When the Northern Territory parliament approved the legislation in January 2012, three major drinks companies sued the government soon afterwards.

The Northern Territory government says the programme has encouraged citizens to recycle 35m containers since January 2012. CCA says, however, that the scheme has been “an environmental failure, with two out of every three cwwwontainers sold not being recycled – well below the national average.”

“CCA is not, and has never been opposed to recycling – we just think there are better ways of achieving maximum recycling rates for all litter, instead of CDL [container deposit legislation] schemes,” says Michelle Allen at CCA. “It's not just industry that says CDL schemes cost money to implement. The Council of Australian Governments found the cost of a national CDL scheme to the economy would be between A$1.4bn [£1.0bn] and A$1.76bn.” 

While the ruling can’t be overturned, Rob Kelman from the Boomerang Alliance says the Northern Territory government is working to get a permanent exemption from the existing law that helped Coke win the lawsuit, which could reactivate the Cash for Containers programme in a matter of weeks. Kelman says the government asked drinks companies to voluntarily keep the scheme operational in the interim, but Coca-Cola and Schweppes declined. 

Clean Clothes Campaign rallies for Cambodian workers

In the lead-up to negotiations between Cambodian trade unions and government and industry officials over garment workers’ minimum wage, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) rallied activists across Europe to petition high-street fashion companies to support a minimum wage increase.

Big name brands such as Zara, H&M, Gap and Levi’s rely on Cambodian factories to produce their wares, and some have already expressed support for increasing the country’s minimum wage of $61 a month. The CCC and Cambodian Allied Workers' Democratic Union insist that the figure is far too low for workers to support themselves and their families, and ask that the wage be raised to $150 a month.

The CCC has gathered 20,000 signatures thus far, but negotiations are proving difficult, with factory owners agreeing to increase minimum wage by just $11 a month. Subsequently, Cambodian trade unions have lowered their original $150 demand to $100 in the hopes of coming to an agreement.

On a positive note, however, the government has agreed to establish annual minimum wage revisions, which will help ensure that wage increases are at least in line with inflation, says Jeroen Merk, research and policy co-ordinator at CCC.

“The topic won't disappear from the activist agenda,” says Merk. “Instead CCC will separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of companies that respect the human right to a living wage, and those that do not.”

Jeni Bauser Yaghoubi  ngo news  ngo roundup  NGOwatch  stakeholder engagement 

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