27 May 2010


World Environment Day on 5th June provides another opportunity to reflect on our response to one of the most important social justice issues of our time.

The theme for World Environment Day this year, the International Year of Biodiversity, is 'Many Species, One Planet, One Future'.

Scientists are unsure about the number of species that share our planet. Whilst about 2 million different species have been identified, estimates of the total number of species varies from 5 million to 100 million!

Humans are among the handful of species whose numbers are growing – most animals and plants are becoming rarer and fewer with over 17,000 known to be threatened with extinction.

Human activity is responsible. With our present approach to development, we have caused the clearing of much of the original forest, drained half of the world’s wetlands, depleted three quarters of all fish stocks, and emitted enough heat-trapping gases to keep our planet warming for centuries to come.

World Environment Day asks us to consider carefully the actions each of us must take, and then address ourselves to our common task of preserving all life on Earth. Some practical steps we can take can be found on the above website.


Writing in the most recent edition of 'Pathways' the newsletter of Catholic Religious in Australia, CRA President Sr Clare Condon ponders why political leaders at home and abroad have not been able to grasp the significance of the changes in our environment that are confronting us now as evidenced in the failure of the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 and the retreat from any commitment to action from Australia’s political leaders.

"Is it the immediacy of the populace in which the electorate, in the end, simply looks at the now and one's own personal gain, forgetting the impact for the future?" she asks. "The only imperative, then, for the politicians is being elected again."

Most politicians tend to just follow public opinion rather than to try and provide leadership – particularly in an election year.

Here the role of the media can be important in shaping public opinion. A science advisor to the Australian government, Professor Will Steffen, recently castigated the media for its role in relation to the climate change issue. Speaking at a Melbourne summit on the green economy, Professor Steffen criticized the policy of treating climate change science as a political issue in which two sides should be given a voice, a debate he described as 'infantile' and akin to debating whether the earth was flat.

He pointed to the existence of tens of thousands of scientific papers in the peer-reviewed literature pointing to the fact that the world was warming and the primary cause since the middle of the last century had been industrial greenhouse gas emissions, and noted that fewer than ten papers have been put forward to challenge those fundamentals – all of which had subsequently been disproved.


According to International Labour Organization estimates there are more than one hundred million migrant workers around the globe.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their families.

The Convention sets out legal standards and provides guidance for national laws and policies that recognise the specific vulnerabilities of migrants and promote humane and lawful working and living conditions.

Following its April meeting the UN Committee on Migrant Workers committed to a timetable for working together with NGOs and international organizations to adopt a final text as the first General Comment under the Migrant Workers Convention at its next session in November.

The purpose of a General Comment is to draw upon the experience of the Committee and other interested parties to make recommendations in order to assist States in the implementation of the provisions of the Convention.

This step was welcomed by the International Catholic Migration Commission as a step towards providing greater protection for migrant domestic workers.

In a separate development Edmund Rice International has made a submission regarding the US guest-worker program as part of the Universal Periodic Review of the United States due to take place in November.

The submission and its recommendations were based on the 'Close to Slavery' report prepared by the Southern Poverty Law Center.


The Edmund Rice Centre in Sydney has condemned the Federal Liberal Party’s recent television advertising campaign broadcast in Western Australia and Queensland and called for an immediate withdrawal of the campaign.

"This ad campaign is a prime-time attack on asylum-seekers, and can only be regarded as another low in Australian politics," said ERC Director, Phil Glendenning.

Against the background of a small asylum-seeker boat in open ocean, the ads show a map upon which five large red arrows progressively stream towards Australia from the north-west – with the arrows bearing the names: Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

Recent months have seen the issue of asylum seekers in Australia return to prominence in the media.

The Australian government has been criticized as being in breach of its own and international law by its decision to suspend the processing of some claims for asylum while the Leader of the Opposition first signaled a return to the shameful policies of the previous government in a recent interview in which he used (deliberately?) inflammatory and misleading terms such as 'illegal boat arrivals' and 'jumping the queue' before subsequently announcing that if elected later this year a Liberal government would re-instate the policies of the previous government; policies described by a dissident member of his own party as ’cruel’ and ‘regressive’.

As the Australian Bishops pointed out in a recent media release "Refugees are desperate human beings who have suffered great trauma. As a nation, we are called to respond with justice and compassion"

The Bishops called on the government to lift the suspension of processing for Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers and for all sides of politics to show positive leadership on refugee policy, pointing out that political leaders have a particular responsibility to avoid demonizing or stereotyping asylum seekers.

The Bishop’s went on to say that "Australia is not being inundated by people seeking asylum. In fact we receive only a small proportion of the world’s displaced people. The greatest burden in giving shelter to refugees is borne by countries that are far poorer and more crowded than Australia".

3 May 2010


Word Fair Trade Day is celebrated on the second Saturday in May each year. In Australia it is celebrated as part of Fairtrade Fortnight

Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices, Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.

Cadbury Dairy Milk milk chocolate is the most recent Fairtrade Certified product to hit shelves across in Australia and New Zealand. It joins products such as coffee, tea, bananas and cotton that now carry the fairtrade label.

Information about the "Big Swap" campaign which encourages people to switch to fairtrade products along with a buying guide for such products is available from the Fair Trade Association website.


The UN Study on Violence against Children estimates that some 150 million girls and 73 million boys have endured forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence.

Violations often take place in settings where children ought to feel safe such as the family home or in schools, or in situations where children are most vulnerable such as detention facilities, during displacement or in situations of armed conflict.

These facts were recalled as the UN Human Rights Council held its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child recently. This year the meeting focussed on the theme of protecting boys and girls from sexual violence.

Speaking to the issue Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said
"Children are physically hurt and mentally scarred in the most terrible way, with lifelong consequences, often by those in whom they place the most trust, such as family, teachers, police and humanitarian workers, among others"

The meeting also noted that that due to the sensitive nature of sexual violence, obtaining accurate data and research on sexual violence against children remain a challenge across regions. A deafening silence surrounds the issue as victims are often ashamed to come forward and seek justice.

"Children are at times blamed for what has happened, coerced to keep it a secret and often stigmatized and marginalised by their families and communities", said Marta Santos, UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children.

One of the conclusions of the meeting was that violence against children is however preventable and that investing efforts and resources in prevention is the most effective means to reduce violence against children.

It was pointed out that while most States have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child there is not have a common definition of sexual violence against children. Nor have States universally ratified a number of pertinent international and regional instruments and some national laws have not clearly defined nor criminalized all forms of sexual exploitation of children.

States were also urged to put in place investigative procedures and prosecution methods that are child-sensitive in order to avoid re-victimization of children. The need for safe and easy access to child sensitive counselling, complaint and reporting mechanisms was also highlighted as was the training of children in order to enable them to identify risk situations.

In light of the debate, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution urging all States to ensure accountability and seek to end impunity of perpetrators of sexual violence and abuse against children.


The burden of Australia's economic recovery from the global financial crisis has fallen unfairly on lower paid workers according to the Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Bishop Christopher Saunders, in a Pastoral Letter issued for the Feast of St Joseph the Worker (1 May).

Comparing the circumstances of the richest and poorest Australians following the global financial crisis, he says, ‘Over the past decade, minimum wages have fallen further behind average weekly earnings. Safety net wages, even when supplemented by family benefits, have not prevented families falling into poverty or coming close to it.'

‘In 2009, the Australian Fair Pay Commission imposed a wage freeze on 1.6 million safety net workers with the aim of preventing job loss and promoting economic recovery. This burden has not been carried proportionally by the average income earner, and still less by those at the highest levels of the wealth spectrum.'

‘While the lowest paid workers endure a pay freeze for the sake of Australia’s economic interests, the Productivity Commission recently dismissed suggestions of pay caps or reduced tax concessions on executive remuneration on the grounds that this “could damage our national economic interests”’
, Bishop Saunders said.

'The minimum wage decision that Fair Work Australia makes in June will be a critical test of this nation’s fairness,’ Bishop Saunders concluded.


Edmund Rice International has agreed to be a signatory to a letter to major hotel chains in South Africa encouraging them to combat human trafficking and child sex tourism as the country readies for the World Cup.

In June, close to one million visitors will travel to South Africa for the World Cup. Past experience shows that this influx of people may also have the unintended consequence of creating opportunities for human trafficking. While not responsible for this tragic crime, the travel and lodging industry is well-positioned to help prevent human trafficking by taking steps to stop the use of hotels for these purposes.

The campaign, organized by Christian Brothers Investment Services (in this case Christian Brothers refers to the De la Salle Brothers) is to be sent to Best Western, Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood and other hotels, expressing concerns about human trafficking and encouraging the hotels to create ethical policies, train staff to help identify human trafficking, partner with social service agencies, and join an industry-wide code of conduct that guides anti-commercial sex tourism policy development.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?