Archive for the ‘“Human rights”’ Category


UK big four accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers in bid to help Saudi Defence

We still tend to think of professional accountants as respectable members of society.  Accountants are often the butt of jokes about being dull, boring and pedantic their very dullness being some kind of recognition of respectability.  This (respectability that is) is still likely to apply to the small and middle sized firms that inhabit the high streets around the country.  It does not apply to the big four firms of which PwC is one.  There has been a string of financial failures involved these accountancy firms and in the case of PwC, they have recently been fined a staggering $625m for audit failure of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp in the USA on top of other audit failures including Merrill Lynch, RSM Tenon and famously BHS.  They are also involved in the Carilion collapse.  It is a wonder therefore that they continue to enjoy the influence they do but they are closely involved with both main political parties in the UK and in advising the Treasury.

In addition to audit incompetence is their role in tax avoidance.  This is on an ‘industrial scale’ according to a parliamentary committee and involves the design of complex schemes to shuffle money to various tax havens.

We believe that PricewaterhouseCoopers’s activities represent nothing short of the promotion of tax avoidance on an industrial scale,” said Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). 2015

Billions of tax is thus avoided and the moral element of their actions is being questioned more and more.  As the Journal of World Business puts it:

These included apparent PwC entities based in jurisdictions known as tax havens, including for example the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Luxembourg and Mauritius.  In regards to the Big 4′s role in the overall tax strategy of Multinational Enterprise’s (MNEs), it is the earlier ‘LuxLeaks’ of November 2014 which has provided a number of clear insights. These documents showed that PwC assisted MNEs to obtain at least 548 legal but secret tax rulings in Luxembourg from 2002 to 2010.  53(2018) [accessed 1 August 2018]

Further damage

So in addition to audit blunders, and tax avoidance activities on an industrial scale, what more can PwC do to damage its reputation still further?  Never underestimate the skill of a big four accountancy firm to carry on digging once it’s in a hole. It was revealed in Guardian newspaper on 1 August that the firm is negotiating to land a major contract to help streamline and modernise Saudi Arabia’s military.  Readers of this blog will be aware of the role Saudi Arabia is playing in the humanitarian crisis engulfing Yemen, aided by weapons and personnel supplied by the UK.  That a major UK accountancy firm should risk its reputation still further by getting involved in the conflict is hard to understand.

It is also hard to understand in the context of its stated policies of which its website is replete.  This is their human rights statement :

We believe it’s our responsibility to respect and uphold the human rights of our people and any other individuals we are in contact with, either directly or indirectly.  Our unwavering commitment to human rights is demonstrated through our actions, our involvement in voluntary initiatives like the UN Global Compact1, PwC’s Global Human Rights Statement and related guidance for our people.

We work to guard against complicity in human rights abuses, comply with applicable labour and employment laws, and draw on internationally recognised labour principles in how we do business. Our approach to human rights is already well integrated into our existing business practices, for example as part of our Human Capital, Procurement, Ethics & Compliance and Corporate Responsibility activities.

In connection with human rights issues with clients :

If we have concerns that our work will be directly linked to human rights violations by a client, discuss our concerns with relevant parties, seek to mitigate the impacts and only proceed if we are comfortable that our work will not contribute to human rights violations.

Be prepared to walk away from clients and engagements where our integrity could be called into question if we continued

Pious words indeed and giving the impression of a firm committed – sorry, ‘unwaveringly committed’ – to protecting and upholding human rights standards internally and with those it does business.  Yet it is bidding for work in Saudi where beheadings are routine, torture is endemic, women’s rights are tightly restricted and which is engaged in a brutal war in Yemen with thousands dead and many more suffering from disease and malnutrition.

Amnesty

In a statement, Amnesty International said :

Like any company, international accountancy firms should ensure that they avoid contributing to human rights violations in their operations, or being directly linked to them by their business relationships.

We’d like to know what due diligence the company has done.  The United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights make it clear that a company may be viewed as complicit if they are seen to benefit from abuses committed by another party

In the Guardian piece, they say they asked PwC what due diligence it had done but the firm did not respond.

Assisting this regime – and in particular its defence activities – is to be deprecated.  One wonders whether the firm will rethink its tender?  Will it walk away?’  Unlikely.  The big four accountants are now so large (PwC had revenues of $37.7bn in 2016) so infused with hubris and so imbedded with the political process and government that a rethink is unlikely.

Sources: Guardian; Tax Justice Network; Independent; Accountancy Age; Economia; Internal Audit 360°; PwC’s website


If you feel outraged by activities such as these why not join us.  It is free to join locally.  Keep and eye on this site and on Facebook for our next activity and come along and make yourself known.

 

 

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Torture report released

Amnesty has just published a report on the use of torture in Yemen.  This adds to the severe stress the country is in.  UK involvement and the critical comments by a select committee can be read here.


We have pleasure in attaching the minutes of the July meeting in which we discussed the Death Penalty, the barbeque, the Trump protest and urgent actions.  Thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.

July minutes (Word)


Local protest planned

The local group is planning a short demonstration against the visit by Donald Trump to the UK.  It will take place in the market square on 13 July starting at 11am for an hour.  The purpose is to highlight his attitude towards immigrants and the decision to withdraw the USA from the Human Rights Council.

Readers are welcome to join us.


Parliament’s concerns are very partial

This week saw parliament reconvene and a major debate take place concerning the attack on chemical weapons facilities in Syria.  These attacks took place in a coordinated way by British, French and American forces and the reason for them was claimed to be the crossing of a ‘red line’ by Assad because of his use of chemical weapons in his latest attack.  This led to calls for parliament to be recalled and considerable debate about whether we should have joined in the bombing.  The Labour leader Jeremy Corbin called for a War Powers Act to be enacted to clarify when a prime minister could and could not engage in military actions.

The death and destruction in Syria is appalling.  The use of barrel bombs dropped on civilian areas has caused terrible damage and thousands of innocent citizens have been killed.  The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates that over 217 thousand civilians have been killed; over 13 thousand have been tortured to death and over 27 thousand children have been killed.  Of those, 80% were killed by Syrian forces and 6% by Russians.  These figures have been broadly supported by the Syrian American Medical Society and White Helmets, an aid agency working in the country.  There has been universal condemnation including by the UN’s Secretary General.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, another conflict is underway also causing considerable death and destruction.  As we noted in an earlier post, thousands have died, cholera is widespread, and the country is being steadily bombed back to the stone age.  Millions have been displaced and medical and other humanitarian supplies are prevented from entering the country because of a blockade.  There has not however been much in the way of outrage from parliamentarians about this and no calls to recall parliament.

Another key difference is while Assad is treated as a pariah, the Saudis who are carrying out the Bin Salman sits flanked by Theresa may and Boris John <figcaption> Boris Johnson and Theresa May rolled out the red carpet for the Saudi Crown Prince. c. Getty Images/Bloomberg </figcaption> </figure> son, with members of his entourage and other Government Ministers seated in rows behind bombing of Yemen – including schools, hospitals, civilian facilities and weddings – are feted in the UK, get to meet the Queen and receive visits by Prince Charles and other members of the royal family.  This is because we are major suppliers of weapons to the regime.  RAF personnel are involved in some way helping the Saudis. (Picture: Campaign Against the Arms Trade)

It was claimed that the justification for the bombing of Syria was the crossing of the red line.  This suggested that Assad had used chemical weapons for the second time and we had to send a message to deter him.

One problem: it is not the first or even the second time he has done this.  The SNHR estimate that he has used them on 207 occasions and on 174 occasions since the Ghouta attack.

207 chemical weapons attacks by Assad

The very notion that a red line has been crossed is therefore not tenable as Assad has regularly used these weapons, on average three times a month.  In addition to chlorine he has on occasion used Sarin.

Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives or have lost loved ones in these terrible conflicts.  The destruction of buildings will take decades to do and billions to repair.  In one case we continue to profit from the supply of arms and roll out the red carpet to those who are responsible: in the other case we say a red line has been crossed – which it has on many, many occasions – and bomb the country.

New followers

Posted: April 16, 2018 in "Human rights"
Tags: , ,

It is gratifying to have seen, over the past few months, a steady increase in the number of people following this site.  If you are one of those, welcome.  We hope you find the mix of local group news and some comments on international human rights issues, interesting.

We are always pleased to see new members join the group and as we have said before, the best way is to come along to one of our events and make yourself known.  It is free to join us in Salisbury.  We welcome people from the Salisbury area generally including Amesbury and the Plain, Downton and as far west as Tisbury and Mere.

We also have a Twitter page and we are on Facebook – both can be found with the salisburyai name.


We have reluctantly decided to cancel an event – planned for June this year – which was designed to highlight the positive aspects of the Human Rights Act and the benefits we all receive from human rights legislation generally.  It was to consist of a week of talks and other events in Salisbury with the overall theme of emphasizing how human rights have improved the lot of citizens in the UK.  It was arranged during the anniversary week of Magna Carta.

The idea for the event was spurred by the negative press this legislation receives and the drubbing that European institutions get from our media.  It is connected loosely to the Brexit debate where one of the guiding principles of those who wish to leave the EU is to be free of what they perceive as interference in our justice system by the European Courts.

In planning the event we had assumed that legal firms in Salisbury would be willing to support it and it was something of a surprise that none would.  Indeed, the majority did not reply to our requests.  One firm even hosts a human rights organisation but still did not reply.  We did eventually secure some financial support (from Poole) but it arrived probably too late for us to be able to do the planning.

So it will not now take place which is a pity.  Salisbury has recently become associated with the poisoning issue and allegations that Russia was to blame: highly likely in view of their previous behaviour and the nature of the attack.  At base is the issue of human rights.  Russia – if it is them – is a state in which lawlessness is now the norm.  There is no free press and corruption is the order of the day.  ‘Dirty’ money is looted by the Putin regime and much of it finds its way into the City of London.  Journalists are murdered and anyone looking like they might be a threat is prevented from standing in elections.

In the UK, despite many unsatisfactory aspects in our political process and the revolving door corruption, we are still able to vote them out – a luxury the Russians do not enjoy.  Ordinary people have more rights as a result of the Human Rights Act than previously yet they are constantly told that the act is a menace and needs to be got rid of.   It is sad that we were unable to celebrate this fact.

 

 


Happy Birthday Taner

On 6 June 2017, our friend and colleague Taner Kılıç, a human rights lawyer and the Chair of Amnesty Turkey, was arrested.  He has been in prison ever since.  Taner is currently on trial, charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organization”.  If found guilty he faces up to 15 years in jail.  He has done nothing wrong.  Taner is not a terrorist, Taner is a human rights defender and lawyer.  Taner was one of the first lawyers in Turkey to advocate for the rights of refugees and has spent his working life trying to better the situation of refugees who have fled to Turkey.

Members of the Salisbury group of Amnesty send birthday greetings to Taner.

Salisbury group, Taner

Members of the Salisbury group. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty


If you would like to join the local group you would be very welcome.  Come along to one of our actions and make yourself known.  Details will be posted here and on Twitter and Facebook – salisburyai


Theresa May’s visit to China and human rights

The human rights situation in China is dire.  The list is long and includes excessive use of the death penalty.  The numbers are unknown because they are a state secret but are believed to be in the thousands.  China leads the world and may even execute more than the rest of the world put together.  Torture is common.  There is precious little freedom of speech and journalists reporting in China quickly find police arriving and stopping any interviews.  Under its current premier, repression has increased significantly.

The Great Firewall of China prevents contact with the outside world.  Lawyers and activists are monitored, harassed, arrested and detained.  Religions have a difficult time practising there.  Finally there is Tibet and the poor treatment of Tibetans.  China is a leading exporter of torture equipment including devices that one might have thought to be confined to the middle ages.  Altogether, China infringes nearly all international norms of good behaviour and it matters especially because they are one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

But they are a massive and growing economy and countries want to do business there.  None more so than the UK which hopes to increase trade following our departure from the European Union.  Hence the prime minister’s visit there this week.  As ever with these visits the question of human rights is brought up.  There is a kind of dance performed where the prime minister or her spokespeople claim the matter is brought up and the Chinese say nothing was said.  The Chinese are very sensitive on the subject and historical memories of the Opium wars and the resultant national humiliation are still keenly felt.

But China wants to be considered a modern country yet its dreadful reputation in the way it treats its citizens and minorities holds it back.

It’s not often we get an insight into what was actually said but after this visit, an editorial in the Global Times waxed lyrical over the visit and praised Mrs May for not mentioning human rights.  The prose is odd but the relevant passages are:

[…]

May will definitely not make any comment contrary to the goals of her China trip either.  For the prime minister, the losses outweigh the gains if she appeases the British media at the cost of the visit’s friendly atmosphere.

China’s robust development has instilled impetus for Europe to overcome its prejudices against Beijing.  David Cameron’s government gained Britain strategic initiative by joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Some European media pressed May and Macron on human rights, but the two leaders sidestepped the topic on their China trips.  This shows that the Sino-European relationship has, to a large degree, extricated itself from the impact of radical public opinion.  Leader 2 February 2018

The central problem is that China is a one-party state where dissent is not permitted.  Hence the crackdowns, arrests and suppression of free speech.  As time goes by however, more and more Chinese will travel the world and despite the great wall, gain access to the internet (we note some hits from China on this little site!).  As the country develops, more and more Chinese will look for freedom and to criticize the politicians.  So the Chinese authorities will find it harder and harder – and more expensive – to maintain the status quo.  The denial of human rights therefore is not some kind of esoteric luxury or the west seeking to impose its moral order on them.  It is a crucial part of their development and ramping up repression and arrests is taking the country in quite the wrong direction.

Failure – if failure it was – by Mrs May to bring up the issue of human rights would not have been just another lecture from a western liberal (if that term can be applied to Mrs May) but a crucial issue for the Chinese themselves as they develop into the world’s largest nation.

 

 

 

 

 


Many human rights organisations worried by the Brexit* Bill’s threat to human rights

Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and Liberty are among those who are expressing concerns that the EU (Withdrawal) bill will weaken our human rights protections because it seeks to remove the Charter of Fundamental Rights from our law.  The Charter is important because it protects fundamental issues important to us such as dignity, data, worker’s rights, children and more.  By excluding this, our rights will be weakened.  In their annual report, Human Rights Watch say:

More than six months after the government formally triggered the start of Brexit, significant concerns remained about the status of rights and protection for all UK residents derived from EU law after the UK leaves the EU. A draft law to move EU law into domestic law after Brexit raised serious concerns about granting broad powers to the executive to amend laws undermining rights without parliamentary scrutiny, and excluding rights currently protected under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (HRW, 2018)

Amnesty has raised similar concerns:

While the Bill claims to be copying and pasting EU derived law into domestic law, it leaves one, crucial element behind on the cutting room floor – the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.  The Charter plays an important role in our domestic rights protection architecture.  Unlike the European Convention on Human Rights (which has nothing to do with the EU), the Charter only applies when EU law is in issue – like questions about data retention, or pension rights – but it provides stronger protection than the ECHR in those areas (judges can use it to ‘strike down’ primary legislation, like they did when the Brexit Minister David Davis MP used it himself in a privacy case recently!) It is a clear statement of fundamental rights which we all enjoy.  If this is simply a cut and paste job as the government says, then why is the only thing they are leaving behind our rights protection?

The current government has had a long and at times tortuous relationship with human rights.  It is surprising to compare a Conservative government after the war, led by Winston Churchill, who was instrumental in pushing for improved rights and which led to the current architecture of law on the subject, with the current government who wants to abolish the Human Rights Act and remove the Charter as well.

The reasons are complex and sometimes hard to fathom.  It is connected in part with a dislike of all things European.  Europe is the cause of so many of our problems it is claimed and once Brexit is accomplished, we shall be free.  According to Mrs. May, it prevents us deporting dangerous criminals which it doesn’t.  We are unable to deport some people because of various treaties which prevent us sending people to a country where they are likely to be tortured.  It overrides parliament they claim and so we need to do this to regain our sovereignty.  It does not.  But the myths, endlessly repeated by politicians and some parts of the media are widely believed.

We should be extremely concerned.  The bill also contains what are known as ‘Henry VIII powers’ which enable ministers to by-pass parliament.  Without the Charter in place, which underpins human rights law, the government risks getting clogged up in a series of legal cases.  Fundamental protections can easily be removed almost on a whim.

* Amnesty has no position on Brexit itself


If you live in the Salisbury area and want to become involved in human rights activities, you would be most welcome.  Keep and eye on this site or on Facebook or Twitter – salisburyai – and come along to an event and make yourself known.  Or contact us via Facebook.  It is free to join the local group.