Jesuits against conflict minerals

This week yielded a breakthrough for campaigners against the importation of conflict minerals into the European market.  The EU has finally agreed to introduce legal requirements on companies to check their supply-chains.  Whilst the EU’s proposed regulations are not all advocacy groups like the Jesuit European Social Centre had hoped for, they are at least a start.  Below is a Q&A on the subject.  A bit more background on the Jesuit involvement is available in an article on the Jesuits in Britain website.

EU Conflict Minerals Regulation Q&A

What is the latest?

On 22nd November 2016, the EU issued a text for a proposed law (“regulation”) designed to restrict the importation of so-called “conflict minerals”. This is the fruit of years of campaigning by faith and civil society groups, including JESC. We have joined others in calling for the introduction of legally-binding obligations requiring companies to ensure that imported minerals are not linked to conflict or human rights abuses.

Why is it significant?
For the first time in history, companies will need to carry out checks on the origin of “3TG” minerals, namely tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. 3TGs are vital for a range of everyday consumer items like laptops, mobile phones, engines, and jewellery. Many 3TGs are sourced from regions of the world, especially Central Africa, which are affected by deadly conflicts. A tragic reality is that the trade in minerals often helps finance human
rights violations. The proposed regulation attempts to remedy this situation.

eu-conflictIs it all good news?

Sadly no. The final version of proposed regulation is severely limited in scope and contains a number of loopholes which will blunt its effectiveness. For example, in contrast to the EU Parliament¹s more rigorous draft of 2015 that reflected relevant OECD Guidance, the proposed regulation applies only to imports of raw minerals. Thus companies do not have to carry out checks for components or finished products containing 3TGs. Another weakness is that the regulation¹s provisions only “bite” when certain volume import threshold are reached, meaning that a great number of companies will escape having to comply with the legislation. Further problems arise from the ability for companies to outsource their obligations to certain private industry bodies. Worryingly, inadequate mechanisms exist to scrutinise these industry bodies.boy-digging_400

When happens next?

The proposed regulation will be voted on by the EU Council and Parliament. Once passed, there will be a lengthy “phase in” period before the legislation must be complied with by companies. Early indications suggest the regulations won¹t come into full effect before 2021. So in the meantime, faith and civil society groups will continue to apply pressure on political leaders and business leaders to support further strengthening of measures to combat the trade of conflict minerals regulation.

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Duty free? virtue ethics in Laudato Si

Here’s a link to an article I wrote for Thinking Faith, a superb online journal run by the British Jesuits.

In summary, I argue that (1) the ecology encyclical deliberately avoids “stewardship” language to explain how we relate to the nonhuman world (2) its focus on “care for creation” is instead based on virtue ethics rather than duty-based ethics (3) there’s been a similar shift within secular philosophy.

I conclude that there’s a good opportunity here for dialogue with all “philosophers of good will”.


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Laudato Si – Green Jesuit’s 2 Page Summary


An “urgent challenge to protect our common home … to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” [13]. Thus introduces Pope Francis’s plea of Laudato Si, a text of such landmark significance that it may well become one of the most important sources of Catholic Social Teaching since its inception with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum in 1891.

Both the title of the encyclical (“On Care For Our Common Home”) and its opening quote from St. Francis’s canticle establishes the focus of this text.

It’s all about relationships.

In the introductory section, Francis, following his Thirteenth Century namesake calls the earth, our “common home”, which is like our sister and our mother. But we are damaging this familial relationship as we harm the environment. In so doing we are damaging our relationship with other humans, particularly those least equipped to defend themselves, the poor and future generations. We are forgetting our interconnectedness with the earth that sustains all life and those around and ahead of us who depend on our good stewardship of the gift of creation.

Given the universal nature of our common home, Francis makes it clear that the encyclical is addressed to not only members of the Church but is vehicle to “enter into dialogue” with all people who are “united by the same concern” [3, 7]. Such a global target audience explains the immense range of sources the encyclical draws on. Theologically, the document looks to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Bonaventure, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, but also to Eastern Christian traditions. It even quotes a Sufi Mystic. Twentieth Century thinkers Teilhard de Chardin and Romano Guardini deserve special mention. Secular documents are referred to too: for example the Rio Declaration, 1992 and the Earth Charter, 2000. The reader is also struck by the many references to previous papal writings, particularly those of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The relationship between Francis and his predecessors on ecology is strong.

imageAfter a comprehensive introduction, the encyclical divides into six chapters, each examining different aspects of the rupture between humans and creation, and the prospects for healing this relationship.

The first chapter “What is happening to our common home?” looks at the various symptoms of environmental degradation. The impacts of climate change are considered alongside issues of the depletion of freshwater and loss of biodiversity. There is no substantial discussion of the science of global warming; instead it simply points to the overwhelming consensus concerning the negative impact of carbon-intensive economies on the natural world and human life: “Caring for ecosystems demands farsightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation.” [36]. The encyclical firmly posits that a truly ecological approach is also inherently social: an approach that simultaneously hears the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. The social and environmental impacts of mining is cited as a prime example of this. In many places within the text, Francis lauds the achievements of the environmental movement, whilst at the same time, critiquing elements within it. He forthrightly dismisses the idea that population growth is to blame for environmental damage; such a suggestion is often a way of refusing to reduce overconsumption by the affluent. Later on, the encyclical states that abortion can never be viewed as a justification for the protection of nature.

The second chapter, “the Gospel of Creation”, considers the world the way that God intended it. The chapter surveys the rich scriptural traditions to show that there is no biblical justification for “a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.” [68]. Likewise, there is no room for misanthropic versions of environmentalism since reverence for nature is only authentic if we have compassion for fellow humans. A person who is truly concerned about the trafficking of endangered species is automatically concerned with the trafficking of humans.

The third chapter “The human roots of the ecological crisis” examines the twin notions of what it calls the “technocratic paradigm” and a “modern anthropocentrism” borne out of a view that sees nature as a mere given, devoid of any spiritual or transcendental value. These notions have led to the misplaced ideas that the earth’s resources are infinite and that economic growth and technology alone can solve global hunger and poverty. In reality however, a purely materialistic view of reality has not only resulted in disregard for the environment, but also undermined the worth of a human life, especially those forms viewed as having little or no utility — human embryos, the poor, or people with disabilities. At the heart of consumerist and profit-driven economic ideologies is a wrong-footed idea of dominion. The result is exploitation, and a throwaway attitude towards nature and human life itself. The encyclical calls for a bold cultural revolution in our attitude to development and progress. It puts it rather bluntly: “Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.” [114].

In the fourth chapter, “integral ecology”, the encyclical charts a path to recapture awareness of the interconnectedness of creation. To do so, it is essential to appreciate the impact of environmental degradation on “cultural ecology”, for example those social networks and ways of life which are bound up with the environment in which communities are placed. The experience of indigenous peoples is specifically referred to in this regard.

The fifth chapter, “Lines of approach and action” sets out various international collective actions needed. It highlights the imperative to switch from fossil fuels ti renewables, with the use of government subsidies where appropriate. It identifies the need for international agreements and legislation not only in relation to climate change but also biodiversity and the oceans. Carbon credits are criticised as “an expedient which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.” [171].

The sixth chapter, “Ecological education and spirituality”, shifts attention to the individual believer, families and communities, and invites them to make a difference in small but tangible ways. Consumer choices, cultivating ecological virtues such as reducing wastefulness, and environmental education for the young are explained as practical steps leading to a deeper, spiritual “ecological conversion” through which the follower of Christ recognises the true worth of all created entities. The statement “God created the world, writing into it an order and a dynamism that human beings have no right to ignore” [221] stands in the hallowed natural law tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas that every creature has in its nature an end, a telos, which humans should respect and honour. The intrinsic value of non-humans is noted when the encyclical states that the “ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us” but rather in the Risen Christ who embraces all things [83].

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Reconciling the Eco-estranged?

imageIt’s hard to believe that the run up to a church teaching document could create so much of a buzz. Yet not a day passes without various news items concerning the forthcoming ecology encyclical, which the Vatican has confirmed will appear in June. What’s more, it’s not just readers of the Catholic Herald, the Tablet or the National Catholic Reporter who are lapping up the latest tidddbits about what the Pope might possibly say. There’s also considerable interest from civil society and the business world.

And the Vatican is certainly making the most of attention from secular quarters: so much so that it makes me wonder whether the delay in the encyclical’s publication was a deliberate ploy to stimulate cross-sector engagement.

Take the example of two conferences sponsored by the Holy See in the past month. On 29 April, experts from the worlds of science, politics, business and academia joined religious leaders in a conference entitled “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Humanity.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gave the opening address. Last week witnessed a meeting on “The New Climate Economy: How Economic Growth and Sustainability Can Go Hand in Hand” in which cardinals shared a platform with the CEO of Unilever, directors of HSBC and the former President of Mexico.

So what’s behind these forums and the considerable effort to get different “actors’ on the world stage talking to each other? I think a clue is to be found in Francis’ words to the COP-20 in Lima last year. He said that that the challenges of climate change can only be confronted through “collective action” which overcomes mistrust and fosters “a culture of solidarity, of encounter and of dialogue”.

imageIs Francis revealing his Jesuit-ness here? When the Society of Jesus is at its best, it helps build bridges and act as a conduit for dialogue. “Reconciling the estranged” is how the Society’s foundation document the Formula of the Institute (1550) puts it. I think the Pontiff is asking the Church to take up the challenge of acting as an agent of reconciliation on this matter. Sadly the whole issue of ecology is characterised by divergence.  So we get polarisation over the causes of climate change.  We get the perennial argument that we must choose between economic and environmental interests.  And then there are disputes over the obligations of rich countries versus poorer ones.

But do business and civil society leaders who the Vatican is dialoguing with really count among the “estranged”? Well, to the extent that the various “actors” in environmental debate are prone to simply talking past each other, they are. A major message emerging out of the recent conferences is that the type of collective action required to avert ecological meltdown involves governments providing global governance frameworks and for business to bring the requisite enterprise and innovation to find solutions. So the Church can help shepherd this collective response and forge what Pope Benedict termed “fraternal and economic development” (Caritas in Veritate).

All in all, we can agree with Nigel Baker, British Ambassador to the Holy See who comments in his blog, “Pope Francis’s encyclical is likely to provoke and challenge”.

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Celebrating Earth Day the Catholic Way – Connect & Flourish

Regarded by ma440672445_69ed634b34ny as the birth of the modern environmental movement, Earth Day began exactly 45 years ago today.  On 22 April 1970, millions of Americans took to the streets in response to a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Mobilised by Senator Gaylord Nelson and inspired by the student anti-war movement, those early environmental pioneers sought to infuse protest energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution to force environmental protection up the national political agenda.

And it worked!  The Earth Day Movement continues.

Around the globe today, thousands of environmental activities are taking place.  My own organisation, the London Mining Network is assisting in a lively protest to expose and oppose burning biomass and coal in the UK.

But what, if any, might a specific Catholic contribution be to Earth Day?

Well, first and foremost we can join in the activities with great gusto confident we have Church support.

Pope Francis’s eagerly awaited ecology encyclical will probably stress our Christian duty to be proactive stewards and advocates for the natural world.  It will outline how environmental action is to be seen as a virtue, with ecological degradation as its corresponding vice.  As with the early days of the Earth Day movement, there will be a call for Catholics to mobilize and take a lead on promoting care for creation. And it’s happening already. In the past few months we’ve seen instances of the Catholic Church heading up various environmental initiatives. Three important examples spring to mind. Firstly, Pope Francis’s personal involvement in the Lima Climate Change talks, which in the face of a distinct absence of political leadership, was welcomed by NGOs and charities. Secondly, there is the concerted action taken by Catholic bishops on the issue of conflict minerals. Third, this year has seen the setting up of The Pan-Amazonian Church Network to tackle specific issues facing planet and people (particularly indigenous communities) in South America.


Slippery slope to neo paganism? Not really

Perhaps another area Catholics can make a unique contribution to environmental action is on the whole issue of motivation.  Why should we value the natural world? It’s fair to say that in the early days of Earth Day’s existence, the Catholic hierarchy was by and large suspicious of environmentalism, viewing it as a form of new age neo-paganism.  Of course there are vestiges of such a view among some quarters of the church such as Cardinal Pell or the influential Fr. Robert Sirico of the Michigan-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.  But thanks to insights on the environment provided by John Paul II, Green Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and of course Pope Francis, such attitudes now represent a minority view.

A phrase Pope Francis is rather fond of is “Mother Earth”.  Speaking to Italy’s National Federation of Farmers in January 2015, the Pope invited farmers, to love the land as Mother earth in the spirit of St Francis, making an alliance with it, so that it can continue to be the source of life for the entire human family. Similarly in a speech to business leaders on 7 February 2015, he reminded his audience that our planet is “a mother for all of us”, which we must “hand it on to our children, cared for and improved, because it’s a loan they make to us”.  In another remarkable statement, Francis said, “God sometimes forgives, but when mistreated (mother) nature never forgives.”

These references to “Mother Earth” can be interpreted on a number of levels which have a profound relevance to people of faith and good will, alike. Most immediately, he is making the basic point that we depend on Mother Earth for sustenance. Without a healthy environment, we simply cannot survive.  Secondly Francis’s approach constitutes a deathblow to an understanding of our “dominion” over the earth as domination.  Language indicating that the environment is on loan to us means that our “dominion” can only ever be construed in terms of stewardship.

Moreover and perhaps most significantly, there’s a deeper theological point at play.  In characterising the planet as a “mother”, the Pope is following St Francis in saying that because the one Father creates all things, other elements of creation are “brothers” and “sisters” in a real sense.  Thus we arrive at a more “horizontal” rather than hierarchical view of the world. As the Australian theologian Clive Hamilton observes, the Pope’s theology is subtly doing away with the notion that the divine order moves down from God on high to man to ever more lowly creatures. Instead there is complete interconnectedness between ourselves and the non-human natural world.

I believe there’s a real opportunity for enriching environmental thinking here.  Secular environmentalism is generally based on a purely physicalist (i.e. materialist) premise, which I think struggles to convey concepts of value, or provide motivation for environmental protection.  A Catholic position on the other hand presents the natural world as something we are part of, as something we are called to protect (and even improve), and crucially, as something invested with a teleological purpose, essential for God’s plan for humanity.

Happy Earth Day!


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Shiny things with a dark history


Could the things in your phone be fuelling conflicts?

The inextricable link between protection of the natural environment and promoting human dignity is definitely something the forthcoming ecology encyclical will focus on. And nowhere is this link more apparent than in questions relating to how we source minerals for our computers, phones, jewelry and other products.

The tragic truth is that the “laundering” of raw materials from places like Columbia, DRC and Central African Republic into “respectable” western markets is helping fund armed groups that visit unimaginable suffering on helpless civilians. This is nothing new. It’s certainly a topic close to my own heart through my involvement in the London Mining Network, a coalition of NGOs seeking to highlight the role of the City of London in financing ethically dubious projects.

The phenomenon of “dirty gold”, “blood diamonds” and “conflict minerals” has been on the public radar for many years. You only have to think of the impact of the film Blood Diamond, released a decade ago.

What is new however is the recent concerted action by Catholic organisations and bishops on the issue.

The impetus has been a drive to improve the European Union’s regulation of supply chains which potentially subsidise wars. In 2010, the US passed legislation requiring companies to ensure minerals are not sourced from conflict zones. Yet in Europe no equivalent law exists and so it is blithely heading towards becoming a trading hub for conflict minerals. The European Commission has noted this and the European Parliament Committee on International Committee on International Trade (INTA) has proposed new rules requiring companies to report on measures to ensure responsible sourcing of minerals.

But as currently drafted, the measures are unsatisfactory.

imageLed by CIDSE, an umbrella group of Catholic development NGOs, there have been calls for the EU proposals to go further. In short, the INTA’s recommendations need sharper teeth (unlike in the US, the reporting requirements would be voluntary, not mandatory), catch more companies (not just importers of raw materials, but also importers of products which contain minerals processed outside the EU) and have a wider application (not just apply to tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold as currently envisaged, but be extended to include copper and diamonds).

In a forthright letter coordinated by CIDSE last month, signed by nearly 200 Catholic bishops from around the globe, there is an appeal for the EU to enact legally binding requirements on companies. As the bishops put it, “As many of us are first-hand witnesses to the powerful dynamics in regions affected by conflict, having engaged in dialogue with all involved, we can assure that nothing less will be able to change the behaviour of companies and other actors.”

It’s surely this first-hand witness of what’s happening on the ground that gives the Church credibility when advocating about these matters. Pope Francis has said that the Catholic Church can never simply be a giant NGO. Of course that’s because it is concerned with peoples’ souls as well as their material welfare. But it’s also because unlike most NGOs, when the Church speaks and acts, it does so as a family, not just an organisation. We have a direct and personal link (and responsibility) to what is happening to our brothers and sisters elsewhere.

imageMgr Fridolin Ambongo, President of the Episcopal Commission on Natural Resources and a DRC Bishop picks up on this theme in a recent interview. He expressed his sense that there is a growing momentum in the Vatican behind the view that we cannot speak of evangelization without speaking of justice for people. From his position as a bishop from Democratic Republic of Congo, he is able to observe with complete clarity that “When we speak about blood minerals, it’s not just a theory. It’s the reality”. As he says “through their supply chains, some European companies are complicit in abuses …this situation is intolerable”.

The European Parliament will debate the proposals for tighter regulation of supply chains next month. Time to lobby your local MEP …

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