A man called out numbers against the murky darkness of the Libyan night: “400, 500, 600, 650.” These were bids in Libyan dinars during a slave auction. Video footage of these scenes, aired in mid-November by CNN, thrust concerns about the conditions facing migrants at Europe’s borders back into the spotlight.
In response, the EU called for “swift action”, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, announced a plan to launch “concrete military action” against the perpetrators. The Nigerian government also said it had begun to bring home some of its citizens stranded in Libya.
Efforts to enable people to escape from situations of slavery, violence and exploitation in Libya are certainly welcome. But they will need to go beyond the short-term perspective that so often accompanies responses to proclamations of crisis. And these new efforts will reek of hypocrisy if they do not also recognise the relationship between existing migration control policies and the vulnerability of migrants using routes into and through Libya.
The story of young men sold as slaves in Libya was the focus of debates at the UN Security Council and topped the agenda at a major summit of European and African leaders. Slavery and other abuses are an “abomination” that “can no longer be ignored”, stated Filippo Grandi, the UN’s high commissioner for refugees.
“I was arrested and imprisoned in southern Libya… I was sold to a slave trader, along with other Eritreans, Somalis and Nigerians. This person took us to a farm, where we could not leave except to go to work at a construction site and return. We were always guarded by armed people.”
But stories of forced labour, exploitation and the buying and selling of migrants are not particularly new. I heard them myself in 2015 when I was part of a research team which carried out interviews with nearly 200 people who had departed from Libya by boat, towards Italy and Malta.I was arrested and imprisoned in southern Libya … I was sold to a slave trader, along with other Eritreans, Somalis and Nigerians. This person took us to a farm, where we could not leave except to go to work at a construction site and return. We were always guarded by armed people.
These words, from a young Malian man, were mirrored by many others who spoke of being held captive, put into forced work or bought and sold. Some were set free once they had gathered enough ransom money, wired over to them by family and friends. Others might be released when their labour was no longer required or if they managed, somehow, to escape. But it was also not unusual to hear people being beaten and even see others die at the hands of their “owners”.
Our project has not been the only one to report such findings. In 2016, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) found that 71% of migrants who crossed the central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Europe had experienced exploitation, particularly kidnapping, forced labour, carrying out work without being paid and being kept at locations against their will. In February 2017, a Sky documentary described Libya as “hell” for migrants and a study of trafficking and smuggling there referred to “the extortion economy and new slave trade”.
Public figures are right to condemn people being sold as slaves in Libya. But their concern has an air of insincerity when they have known about it for years. The EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, expressed her “total condemnation of these despicable acts” but also stated that “this is not something that began one month ago. Everybody has known about it for years”.
For officials to say now that violence, exploitation and slavery can “no longer be ignored” belies the fact that these issues were downplayed and pushed aside as the EU pursued collaboration with the Libyan authorities to control migration.
The primary objective of European approaches has instead been to stem the flow of people departing Libya by boat. Since the declaration of a migrant crisis back in 2015, the EU has given increasing amounts of funding and training to the Libyan coastguard and to detention centres to keep migrants on Libyan soil.
In the summer of 2017, an emboldened Libyan coastguard then made threats of violence to international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaged in search and rescue missions at sea. Soon after, an armed militia west of Tripoli with backing from the Libyan authorities – who are themselves supported by Italian and EU authorities – stepped in to intercept boats and prevent people leaving towards Italy.
These policies to stop boats arriving on European shores have had significant implications for the conditions of migrants in Libya. Many of the people we interviewed told us that they saw boats to Europe as the only way to flee. Now, once they are pushed back to Libya, they are held in detention centres, many of which have been criticised by international observers as overcrowded, unsanitary places where migrants are exploited.
Research reports point to “abundant evidence” which shows that “detention facilities in Libya are the site of sustained criminal activity, as recruitment grounds for smuggling activity but also processing centres for ransom extraction and slavery.” Another report by the NGO Refugees International noted how often “in Libya the policeman is a smuggler, and the smuggler is a policeman”. Despite this, just a few months ago Macron claimed that Libya could be an appropriate place to process asylum requests.
The containment of migrants in Libya is therefore likely to be reinforcing the very situation that Europe’s leaders appear to be so angry about now. Médecins Sans Frontières described it as “feeding the business of suffering”.
Moving beyond a crisis
European approaches to migration across the Mediterranean have repeatedly been shaped by urgent attempts to address sudden crises. But the situation in Libya cannot easily be addressed by such a short-term response. People smuggling has been a thriving economic sector for years. The profits from smuggling, exploitation and now slavery provide important funds for different groups around the country. One report describes migrants as “simply another commodity to be exploited” by the various armed groups vying to control parts of Libyan territory.
An important contribution to finding a longer term solution could come from a newly announced “transit and departure facility” in Tripoli providing opportunities for people to escape from Libya. They would be resettled elsewhere, transferred to UNHCR facilities in other countries or returned to their country of origin. But so far there are only 10,500 places available – far below the number of places required – and this is little more than the nearly 9,000 returns already carried out by the IOM in 2017.
After a decade of repeatedly declaring migrant crises and emergencies at their borders, it is time the EU took a broader, longer-term approach. This has to recognise the structural relationship between policies of border control, dynamics of migration and patterns of migrant vulnerability and exploitation. Intensifying border controls without addressing the reasons why people move or providing alternatives is likely to reinforce the dangers that they face.
Roadmap For African Startups
Francois Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, explains how African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise.
Does impact investment favor expats over African entrepreneurs? If so, how can it be fixed?
There is a growing recognition all over the world that investment is not a fully objective process, and is biased by the homogeneity of investors, networks and distant locations.
A Village Capital Report cited that 90% of investment in digital financial services and financial inclusion in East Africa in 2015-2016 went to a small group of expatriate-founded businesses, with 80% of disclosed funds emanating from foreign investors.
READ MORE | It’s Time For Africa’s Gazelles To Shine
In a similar trend recognized in the US over the last decade, reports that only 3% of startup capital went to minority and women entrepreneurs has triggered the rise of new funds focused on gender and minority-lensed investing.
There has been an explosion of African startups all over the continent, and investors are missing out by looking for the same business models that work in Silicon Valley being run by people who can speak and act like them.
In South Africa, empowerment funds and alternative debt fund structures are dedicated to investing in African businesses, but local capital in other African countries may not also be labelled or considered impact investing, but they do still invest in job creation and provision of vital services.
There is still, however, a several billion-dollar financing gap of risk capital in particular, which local capital needs to play a significant part in filling. And of course, African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise and engage investors convincingly of the growing and unique opportunities on the continent.
What are the most exciting areas for impact investing and social entrepreneurship today?
After several decades of emergence, the most exciting areas are the explosion of new products, vehicles and structures along with the mainstreaming of impact investment into traditional entities like banks, asset managers and pension funds who are using the impact lens and, more importantly, starting to measure the impact.
At the same time, we’re seeing an emergence of partnership models, policies and an ecosystem of support for the work of social entrepreneurs, who’ve been operating with insufficient capital and blockages in regulation for decades.
The 2019 OECD report on Social Impact Investment mapped the presence of 590 social impact investment policies in 45 countries over the last decade, but also raises the concern of the risk of ‘impact washing’ without clear definitions, data and impact measurement practices.
In Africa, we are also seeing National Advisory Boards for Impact Investing emerge in South Africa and social economy policies white papers being developed; all good news for social entrepreneurs.
What role does technology play in enabling impact investing and social entrepreneurship?
The role of technologies from the mobile phone to cloud services, blockchain, and artificial intelligence is vast in their application to enhancing social impact, improving the efficiency, transparency and trust as we leapfrog old infrastructures and create digital systems that people in underserved communities can now access and control.
From Sproxil (addressing pirated medicines and goods), to Zipline (drones delivering life-saving donor blood to remote areas of Rwanda) to Silulo Ulutho Technologies (digitally empowering women and youth), exciting new ways of addressing inclusion, education and health are possible, and applications are being used in many other areas such as land rights, financial literacy etc.
While we have seen a great mobile penetration, much of Africa still suffers from high data costs, and insufficient investment in education and capacity to lead in areas of the fourth industrial revolution, with the risk that these technologies could negatively impact communities and further drive inequality.
Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future
With every day that passes by it becomes more apparent that the Earth is deteriorating and time is running out to save it. Scientists have estimated that we have less than a decade to save the planet before it is irreversibly damaged, mainly due to climate change.
Businesses claim the largest percentage of global emissions (at approximately 70% since 1988, according to The Guardian) which is an alarming statistic, especially in a time when the planet’s well-being is being compromised.
Many large business corporations are hastily coming on board with operating sustainably by transforming their practices and placing business ethics at the forefront of their priorities.
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Last week, a round table discussion was held at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel, Sandton hosted by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) – the world’s largest sustainability consulting firm. Their aim was to discuss how imperative it is for African businesses to get on board with sustainability.
“We have been talking about how to be sustainable for a long time but now it is time for us to do sustainability,” says Thapelo Letete, Technical Director of ERM.
An engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion ensued with representatives from ERM and mining companies, Anglo American and Gold Fields. They emphasized the importance of sustainability being recognized by investors, especially in mining and oil companies that rely solely on Earth’s natural resources.
Civil society has a colossal role to play in ensuring the sustainability of businesses. Due to the law of supply and demand in production, consumers are being urged to be mindful of their buying habits and to make sustainable decisions. These are as simple as minimizing the utilization of plastic straws by replacing them with metal or paper straws and reusable shopping bags and by recycling selected items.
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“Research suggests that socially and environmentally responsible practices have the potential to garner more positive consumer perceptions of (businesses), as well as increases in profitability,” according to an entry in Sage Journals published in May.
The advancement of science, artificial intelligence and the rapid growth of the technological industry make it an undeniable fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. Many businesses across the globe seem to be well prepared for this change. However, businesses in Africa seem to be vulnerable.
“It is difficult to say that all businesses in Africa are prepared for it. It is not a country specific thing but it does vary across corporations. There will be businesses that are well prepared and businesses that are not so well prepared,” says Keryn James, CEO of ERM.
A large part of sustainability also relies on empowerment and equality. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female-owned businesses who contribute a large amount of money towards their respective countries’ GDPs. However, most of these businesses struggle with the issue of scaling.
“Women sometimes underestimate their ability and they don’t necessarily have the confidence that they should have about the value that their businesses present. Women often take less risks than men,” says James.
“The issue of scaling is one that we see globally. One of the issues are access to funding to support in the investment and growth of their businesses.”
READ MORE | Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa
Going forward, the availability of mentorship programmes and skills development opportunities for women, especially black women in business should be encouraged.
According to a study done by the UN Women’s organization, an average of 3 out of 7 women score higher in performance when they are placed in senior managerial positions. Additionally, if more women work, the more countries can exponentially maximise their economic growth.
Women will be empowered when given the correct skills and opportunities to be able to run their own businesses independently which would ultimately lead to the scaling of female-owned businesses in Africa and sustainable development.
The Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards aim to recognize the efforts of businesses that operate sustainably and to encourage other corporations who intend to adopt more sustainable strategies into their practices. Initiatives such as these prove that business value also depends on how sustainable they are.
It is clear that the prioritization of sustainability and accountability in businesses is the only way forward in the midst of this global crisis. With a combination of will and the rigorous work that African businesses have put into sustainability initiatives and strategies, it is easier to be optimistic about our planet’s wellbeing.
Ex-Google Staffer Says After Split With Chief Legal Officer David Drummond: ‘Hell Does Not Begin To Capture My Life’
Former Google employee Jennifer Blakely has written a scathing blog post with allegations about how her affair with chief legal officer David Drummond unfolded.
A former member of Google’s legal team who says she had a child with the company’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, has written a scathing blog post about the way that their relationship unfolded within the search engine giant, including that he issued “terrifying threats” to take custody of their child after initially refusing to pay child support.
In a Medium post, Jennifer Blakely says that she was inspired to detail her experience after an explosive New York Times story last fall put a spotlight on how the company shielded top executives from harassment claims and sparked massive employee protests.
“Looking back, I see how standards that I was willing to indulge early on became institutionalized behavior as Google’s world prominence grew and its executives grew more powerful,” Blakely writes.
“Women that I worked with at Google who have spoken to me since the New York Times article have told me how offended they were by the blatant womanizing and philandering that became common practice among some (but certainly not all) executives, starting at the very top.”
While her relationship with the married Drummond was included in the Times story and first reported byThe Information in November 2017, this is the first time Blakely has written about the experience herself.
Drummond is one of several current and former Google executives who has reportedly had relationships with employees or extramarital affairs, including Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Andy Rubin.
READ MORE | Calling Out Sexual Harassment
Blakely alleges that after their relationship ended, Drummond had another relationship with a subordinate, which is against Google’s workplace policy. He is still employed by Google and made more than $47 million last year.
Blakely says that she started working in Google’s legal department under Drummond in 2001 and that after he told her that he was estranged from his wife, they began a relationship in 2004. She says the two had a child together in 2007 and that Google’s human resources department then told her that one of them had to leave the department.
She moved to sales, an area where she had no experience, and subsequently struggled with her work. Blakely alleges that after she ultimately left the company at Drummond’s urging in 2008, but that while they were living together in Palo Alto, he broke off their relationship via text message.
“‘Hell’ does not begin to capture my life since that day,” she writes. “I’ve spent the last 11 years taking on one of the most powerful, ruthless lawyers in the world. From that fateful night forward, David did things exclusively on his terms.”
She alleges that Drummond initially refused to see their son or pay child support, and then fought against her in a custody battle. While she says they ultimately reached a settlement and he began paying child support, she writes that “months or years” would go by when he wouldn’t see their son. In 2014, Drummond allegedly showed her an article about Eric Schmidt’s reported history of extramarital affairs during an argument, implying that the executive’s position granted him impunity.
“His ‘personal life’ (which apparently didn’t include his son) was off limits and since I was no longer his ‘personal life’ it was time for me to shut up, fall in line and stop bothering him with the nuisances or demands of raising a child,” Blakely writes.
Blakely’s story is the latest in a string of public posts from former Google employees highlighting issues with the company’s culture and policies (or their lack of enforcement).
One of the women who helped organize last fall’s protests, Claire Stapelton, recently wrote about her experience with retaliation, another employee detailed the disappointing way the company’s human resources department dealt with her harassment reports, and former senior engineer Liz Fong-Jones posted about “grave concerns” with the company’s decision making in general.
The outspokenness of Google employees exemplifies — and has helped spur — a broader activism in the tech sector that has seen workers speaking out against their employer’s internal policies and business decisions.
Blakely’s post also taps into the larger #MeToo movement which has drawn attention to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace across industries.
“Until truth is willing to speak to power and is heard, there’s not going to be the sea change necessary to bring equality to the workplace,” she writes.
Neither Google nor Drummond immediately responded to a request for comment.
This story is developing.
-Jillian D’Onfro; Forbes
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