By Dr Lorenzo Cotula, Principal Researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development; Honorary Professor at the University of Strathclyde.
As our demand for material goods drives natural resource extraction, the law reconfigures control over resources to facilitate the production of tradable commodities. Faced with profound social transformations, indigenous and agrarian movements have mobilised human rights to reclaim land, resources and development pathways. This recourse to rights provides distinctive insights on the place of human rights in social justice struggles.
Resource control and international economic law (IEL)
The growing levels and expectations of material consumption in the rich world rest on the large-scale production of commodities for food, energy and raw materials. The correlative expansion and intensification of natural resource extraction has historically involved large-scale mining, petroleum, logging and agribusiness developments, but also more indirect forms of resource control, for example through the integration of small-scale producers into commercial value chains. (more…)
Don Lane was a DPD courier, whose written contract described him as an ‘independent contractor’, aiming to ensure that he was neither an ‘employee’ nor a ‘worker’ and therefore was not entitled to the legal rights such as protection against dismissal, the national living wage, paid holidays, or even statutory sick pay. He suffered from diabetes and, having already been fined £150 for attending a hospital appointment earlier in the year, died in January 2018 after working through the Christmas season despite illness. His employers knew that he had suffered from a diabetic collapse at work but adopted a system which strongly discouraged him taking any time off for sickness: no income for sick leave and, worst of all, fines. The media has documented other examples of the abusive treatment of ‘gig’ workers in courier companies such as Hermes and Amazon.
While the Government says it is contemplating ‘the single largest shift in employment status since the Employment Rights Act in 1996’, its focus is on clarifying rather than extending its ambit. The reason seems to lie in its endorsement of the ‘flexibility’ of the current UK labour market, following Taylor’s lead, enabling individuals and employers ‘to make the choices that are right for them’. The notion that such choices are structurally constrained is ignored; rather the blame is laid at the door of the exceptional ‘bad’ employer. While some improvements are contemplated, they do not broaden the scope of access to statutory rights at work in a way that would have helped Don Lane or will prevent other forms of abuse. (more…)