How Media Technocrats Manipulate Public Opinion

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Oct 2 2019 – In a 1974 article, Woody Allen poked fun at biblical stories presenting ludicrous paraphrases of The Book of Job, Abraham´s intended sacrifice of his son Isaac, as well as The Book of Proverbs. One of Allen´s invented proverbs was: “The wicked at heart probably know something”, thus implementing that the “pure of heart”, i.e. credulous people, know nothing. 1 Giuliano da Empoli, a well-known Italian politician, culture personality and founder of the influential think tank Volta makes use of this Woody Allen quote to introduce his book Gli ingegneri del caos,2 The Engineers of Chaos. da Empoli describes that everywhere in Europe and elsewhere the rise of populism takes the form of a frenzied spectacle, overthrowing established rules and political decency by converting them into their opposite. In the eyes of their supporters, unscrupulous and power-hungry demagogues are currently transforming what previously was considered as political incorrectness and abuse into a desirable quality of fearless truth-seekers. To their followers, the inexperience of populists becomes proof of their unattachment to corrupt, elitist circles, while their incompetence is considered to be a sign of authenticity. The tensions such populist politicians create at national and international levels are by disenfranchised citizens assumed to be manifestations of their independence, their ability to think “out of the box” and a capacity to express the inner feelings of an otherwise silent majority.

da Empoli assumes that populism, like Communism once was, now has become a spectre not only haunting Europe but the entire world. However, da Empoli does not consider current populism to be just an expression of spontaneous dissatisfaction. He points to the fact that much of the emotions stirred up in support of populist parties have been devised by behavioral sciences and smart marketing, something he calls “quantum politics”. Techniques that originally were developed to sell goods and services are to a much greater extent than before now being used in politics. In what da Empoli denominates as the Selfie-era unscrupulous politicians are exploiting people’s need to manifest their personality in social media, allowing experts to apply sophisticated technologies to record and manipulate people’s thoughts and behavior. It is such experts da Empoli labels as “engineers of chaos”, spin doctors, ideologues, scientists and data experts without whose assistance populist leaders never would have come to power.

da Empoli introduces his readers to stories about a small, web-marketing company that created a powerful Italian political party, to web technicians who ensured the Brexit victory, to communication experts transforming the political landscape of Eastern Europe, and to the American right-wing theoreticians who propelled Donald Trump to the White House. An almost carnivalesque cavalcade of colourful characters, many of them almost unknown to the general public. A small group of people is by da Empoli accused of changing the rules of the political game and the face of our societies. He uses the Italian Five Star Movement as a conspicuous example of how a “non-organization” with a “non-leader” and without any statues or charter and no ideology in a short time could become one of Italy´s most powerful political parties.

Gianroberto Casaleggio (1954-2016) was an Italian entrepreneur and politician, who together with the comedian Beppe Grillo founded the political party Movimento 5 Stelle, Five Star Movement. Casaleggio is generally considered to be the brain, the guru, behind this movement. He created its network strategies and edited a highly influential blog written by Beppe Grillo. By the beginning of his political career, Casaleggio had been managing director of Webegg, a “multidisciplinary group for consulting companies and public administration on the net [with an] objective to position companies on the network.” 3 In 2004, he founded Casaleggio Associati, with customers such as Hewlett Packard, Philip Morris, JPMorgan Chase, PepsiCo, Marriott, IBM, and Best Western. In 2005, Casaleggio began to publish Beppe Grillo’s books and the following year Casaleggio Associati carried out comprehensive studies of the role and importance of e-commerce while publishing books and videos about the effectiveness of the web when it comes to convincing people to buy anything and even change their views and opinions. In June 2012, Casaleggio had a private meeting with Michael Slaby, Chief Integration and Innovation Officer for Obama’s electoral campaign, explaining his theories about how the internet could be an essential tool for “direct democracy”. Casaleggio implemented his ideas in support of Beppe Grillo and his populist party. He is now credited with designing a first-rate entrepreneur plan adapting the internet to market strategies influencing political choices of network users. One of Casaleggio´s many controversial methods was the use of ”fake news” and unsubstantiated “facts”.

Casaleggio Associati´s innovative use of the internet for political purposes was only one of many such endeavors. The British company Cambridge Analytica, established in 2013, was until its bankruptcy in May 2018 involved in several political elections, not the least Donald Trump´s presidential campaign. Trump´s infamous advisor Steve Bannon served for a while as Cambridge Analytica’s vice-president. In 2014, British behavioral scientists presented on Facebook a “personality test” called This is Your Digital Life. About 270,000 people activated this Facebook application and unaware provided Cambridge Analytica with their personal data. Methods developed from these data were then used all over the world, sold to political parties and thus allowed to influence electoral processes in countries like Mexico, Malaysia, Brazil, Kenya, and India. Cambridge Analytica was also contracted by campaign managers who tried to convince people to leave the European Union. Ahead of the 2016 US presidential election, Cambridge Analytica was hired by Donald Trump’s campaign to advise on how to influence voters by using the company´s comprehensive data bank and efficient, manipulative methods.

In March 2018, former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie went out in the media with information on how the company had acted to influence elections. The same year, a video was released in which Cambridge Analytica´s CEO, Alexander Nix, was captured by a hidden camera while revealing how his company had been involved in elections in about 200 countries and how it had laid traps for politicians by luring them into compromising situations. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom authorized a house search to examine Cambridge Analytica’s servers and could thus prove that accusations leveled against the company had actually been based on unequivocal facts.

In a Netflix documentary, The Great Hack, Brittany Kaiser, a former senior director of Cambridge Analytica tells her story; how she as an idealistic intern had been working on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and after that obtained a Ph.D. in international law and diplomacy at the Middlesex University in London. In 2014, Kaiser was hired by Cambridge Analytica to ”help commercial and political clients use data insights to solve problems and achieve campaign goals.”

In April 2018, Kaiser was summoned to give evidence to a British Government committee investigating Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. She confirmed that Cambridge Analytica had indeed used Facebook data to influence elections around the world, admitting that the true scope of the abuse was likely to be “much greater” than the number of 87 million accounts that had been suggested by other whistleblowers, declaring:

    Now I’m blowing the whistle on the whole industry. The problem starts with the Silicon Valley tech platforms, which track our every movement and make us easy to target.

da Empoli is probably right when he states that it is not enough to draw attention to similarities between the catastrophic rise of xenophobic and fascist parties of pre-war Europe and today´s populist parties, what we now are witnessing is partly an entirely new phenomenon fuelled by innovative and manipulative technocrats who sell their expertise to unscrupulous politicians. The wicked at heart probably know something that the pure of the heart do not comprehend.

However, are companies based on technical expertise on mass communication evil entities? I doubt if they can be characterized like that. More likely they are like most other big companies trying to find answers to their clients’ demands while expanding and increasing profits for their shareholders. They are part of a complex system, which is extremely difficult to scrutinize and regulate. For example, Wall Street’s collapse in 2008 was not the result of some vicious plan, but of thousands of actors’ self-serving behaviour within an unregulated financial market. The mass manipulation staged by communication companies like Casaleggio Associati and Cambridge Analytica is perhaps just the beginning of a Brave New World where the financial market controls politics to an even greater extent than today. A liquid world described by the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman – an existence dominated by a diffuse fear, fragmented and non-anchored, freely floating around without any clear cause or destination, where threats are perceived everywhere, without being clearly defined.4

1 Allen, Woody (1974), “The Scrolls,” The New Republic, August 31.
2 da Empoli, Giuliano (2019) Gli Ingegneri del caos: Teoria e tecnica dell´Internazionale populista. Venezia: Marsilio.
3 Orsatti, Pietro (2010) ”Grillo e il suo spin doctor: La Cassaleggio Associati,” MicroMega No. 5, September 30.
4 Bauman, Zymunt (2007) Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

China Wants to Mainstream Environmental Protection

Credit: UN Environment

By Junjie Zhang
KUNSHAN, Jiangsu, China, Oct 2 2019 – In the 2014 China-US joint announcement on climate change, China promised to peak its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions around 2030. Later this commitment was cemented in the Paris Agreement signed in 2016.

However, China’s climate ambition has been shadowed by its dwindling economic growth rate, which declined from 14.23 per cent in 2007 to 6.6 per cent in 2018.

As the world’s largest emitter and second largest economy, China is striving to strike a balance between economic growth and climate mitigation. The climate-economy trade-off has become even more tricky in recent years especially as the China-US relation sours.

On the one hand, the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement shakes the foundation of China’s climate commitment. On the other hand, the deceleration of economic growth, partly thanks to the ongoing trade war between China and the US, constraints China’s capacity to curb its GHG emissions.

China is searching for efficient means to reduce GHG emissions while continuing to grow its economy rapidly. Its climate mitigation efforts are focused on five areas: upgrading industrial structure, cleaning energy mix, improving energy efficiency, reducing non-energy related GHG emissions and increasing carbon sinks.

These policies are generally aligned with China’s overall economic growth strategy that targets developing new industries such as information technology and renewable energy as well as cutting overcapacities in backward industries such as iron and steel.

Junjie Zhang

China’s structural reform

In order to better design and implement its climate policies, China is in the process of streamlining climate regulations through institutional reform. China’s climate regulatory regime went through significant shakeup in 2018.

The most notable change was the shift of the Climate Change Department from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) to the newly established Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE).

The rationale of the reform is to consolidate the regulations of climate change and environmental pollution. Global warming and air pollution originate from many same sources; air pollution control measures — such as improving energy efficiency, switching from coal to renewables and shutting down backward production facilities — will also lead to GHG emission reductions.

Therefore, the co-control of GHGs and air pollutants, instead of targeting individual pollutants, can lower the cost of both climate and environmental regulations.

Air quality has become a top priority for the central government since 2013. The tightening air pollution control policy becomes a significant contributor to China’s GHG emission reductions.

By linking the climate change issue to the air pollution concern, climate policy can also gain more support from local governments since for them air quality has a much higher priority than climate change.

Credit: UN Environment

The reform enables the climate regulator to take advantage of many policy instruments at the MEE. In 2017, the MEE established a nation-wide emission permit system to consolidate fragmented environmental regulations. It is becoming the core regulatory tool for the emissions from stationary sources.

The emission permit system keeps track of facility-level information about production, emission, and pollution control. Although the system only covers environmental pollutants at this moment, it can be easily adapted to include GHG emissions.

Incorporating GHGs in the emission permit system can ensure that GHG emission reductions are measurable, reportable, and verifiable (MRV). In this sense, shifting the GHG regulation from the NDRC to the MEE helps to harmonise climate and environmental management.

China’s reform of climate regime is overall positive. With the pledge to build ‘a community with a shared future for humankind’, China is determined to continue its path of low carbon development.

The institutional reform has the potential to expedite climate change legislation. Without a law of climate change, the NDRC tended to use departmental rules to regulate GHG emissions. Because the NDRC has powerful influence on economic and energy matters, the rules are generally followed by other ministries and local governments.

In comparison, as a newer and weaker ministry, the MEE is more likely to advocate the rule of law for climate governance. The MEE has strengthened its power through environmental legislation. A case in point is the revised Environmental Protection Law promulgated in 2015.

The new law gave the MEE teeth to dramatically strengthen environmental enforcement. Therefore, the MEE would have more incentive to advocate climate legislation than the NDRC. Should this happen, it will bring China’s climate commitment to the next level.

Mainstreaming climate legislation

The ministerial shake-up also re-opens the debate of alternative climate policy instruments. Specifically, whether to use carbon market or carbon tax to regulate GHG emissions is becoming a live topic again. The Climate Change Department in the NDRC era advocated carbon market.

It created seven regional carbon market pilots in 2013; it also announced the establishment of national emission trading scheme in 2017. When MEE took over the climate regulatory power, it also inherited regional and national carbon markets.

Unlike the NDRC, the MEE has no particular reason to stick to carbon market. Carbon tax should be a viable policy option given that China started environmental tax in 2018. It would be convenient to incorporate GHGs in the existing environmental tax code.

Carbon tax has several advantages over carbon market. In general, carbon tax can provide a more certain price signal to emitters. In China’s context, carbon tax requires legislation, which is important to cement China’s long-term climate commitment. In addition, carbon tax can prevent local governments from interfering the implementation of national climate regulations.

As evidenced in the regional pilots, excessive intervention by local governments can lead to the failure of carbon market. Furthermore, carbon tax can leverage the power of the Ministry of Finance (MOF). The MOF is influential in setting key economic policy agenda. Its involvement can strengthen the compliance and enforcement of climate regulations.

However, the reform of climate regulation also comes with some concerns. The major concern is the weakening linkage between climate change and economic issues. Climate change is not a pure emission problem but also a comprehensive economic problem.

As China’s macroeconomic and energy regulator, the NDRC can move forward the climate agenda by including it in industrial, investment, and energy policies. In comparison, the environmental ministry has much less capacity to influence the national agenda of economic development and energy transition. It will be challenging for the MEE to coordinate various ministries that have more power than the environmental ministry.

A related concern is whether the MEE can tackle the economic and financial challenges associated with the regional and national carbon markets. The MEE has the capacity to ensure the MRV of GHG emission reductions, which is the foundation of a functional carbon market. However, carbon market is intrinsically connected with the financial market.

The MEE needs to work with other ministries, such as the NDRC and the securities regulator, to make sure that the operation of the emission trading scheme does not create unintended economic and financial consequences.

China’s reform of climate regime is overall positive. With the pledge to build ‘a community with a shared future for humankind’, China is determined to continue its path of low carbon development.

Whether China can further move forward its climate agenda hinges on the determination of the top leader, which is influenced by the economic consequence of climate mitigation and the global climate commitment. The new environmental ministry has the right expertise and resources to design and implement climate policies.

The ‘war against air pollution’ which had been declared in 2013 has demonstrated the MEE’s capacity to tackle the tough challenge of environmental pollution. Once climate change becomes the top item on its agenda, there is no doubt the MEE can support China’s climate ambition.

This article was originally published in International Politics and Society

*Duke Kunshan University is committed to building a world-class liberal arts university that offers a broad range of high-quality, innovative academic programs. It was established as a partnership between Duke University in the United States and China’s Wuhan University.

Vericel and MediWound Announce Initiation of U.S. NexoBrid Expanded Access Treatment Protocol

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. and YAVNE, Israel, Oct. 02, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Vericel Corporation (NASDAQ: VCEL) and MediWound Ltd. (NASDAQ: MDWD) today announced initiation of the NexoBrid expanded access treatment protocol (NEXT) to treat burn patients with deep partial– and full–thickness burns in the U.S. during the preparation and review of the NexoBrid Biologics License Application (BLA).

"We are excited to initiate NEXT in the U.S. in tandem with preparations with Vericel for the BLA filing," said Sharon Malka, MediWound's Chief Executive Officer. "NEXT, which is supported and funded by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), allows for the continued clinical use as well as non–declared emergency use of NexoBrid for U.S. patients prior to NexoBrid approval by the FDA. We believe NEXT will enhance national preparedness for burn mass casualty incidences, where it has the potential to meaningfully impact patients' lives."

Nick Colangelo, president and CEO of Vericel said, "After a successful pre–BLA meeting with the FDA, we remain on track for the BLA submission in the second quarter of 2020. NEXT will further extend the number of NexoBrid–trained physicians and healthcare providers in the U.S. and generate additional awareness, advocacy and use at U.S. burn centers prior to commercialization of NexoBrid."

NEXT is an open–label, single–arm treatment protocol which allows for the treatment of up to 150 burn patients with deep partial– and full–thickness thermal burns up to 30% of total body surface area. NEXT has been designed to be consistent with current real–life burn treatment practices in the U.S. and up to 30 U.S. burn centers will participate. The increased number of burn centers trained and familiar with NexoBrid prior to FDA approval will improve national readiness for potential burn mass casualty events. To further promote national readiness, the FDA has agreed that in the event of a burn mass casualty event that is not a nationally declared emergency, additional patients could be treated under the NEXT treatment protocol.

About NexoBrid
NexoBrid is a topically–administered biological product that enzymatically removes nonviable burn tissue, or eschar, in patients with deep partial and full–thickness thermal burns within four hours of application without harming viable tissue. NexoBrid is approved in the European Union and other international markets and has been designated as an orphan biologic in the United States, European Union and other international markets. Vericel holds an exclusive license for North American commercial rights to NexoBrid.

In January 2019, MediWound announced positive top–line results from the acute phase of the pivotal Phase 3 U.S. clinical study (DETECT) of NexoBrid in adult patients with deep partial– and full–thickness thermal burns up to 30% of total body surface area. The study met its primary endpoint of complete eschar removal compared to gel vehicle as well as all secondary endpoints compared to standard of care (SOC), including shorter time to eschar removal, a lower incidence of surgical eschar removal, and lower blood loss during eschar removal. Safety endpoints, including the key safety endpoint of non–inferiority in time to complete wound closure compared with patients treated with SOC, were also achieved. In addition, twelve–month long–term safety follow up data have been collected and are now being analyzed.

At the end of July 2019, MediWound and Vericel participated in a pre–BLA meeting with the FDA and received concurrence that the existing safety and efficacy data including the two Phase 3 clinical studies and the twelve–month safety follow up data from DETECT are adequate to allow for BLA submission and review of NexoBrid. Additional twenty–four–month long term safety follow up data will be submitted as a safety labeling update as part of a post–approval commitment. NexoBrid is currently considered an investigational product in the United States. The companies anticipate filling the BLA in the second quarter of 2020.

About Vericel Corporation
Vericel is a leader in advanced therapies for the sports medicine and severe burn care markets. The company markets two cell therapy products in the United States. MACI (autologous cultured chondrocytes on porcine collagen membrane) is an autologous cellularized scaffold product indicated for the repair of symptomatic, single or multiple full–thickness cartilage defects of the knee with or without bone involvement in adults. Epicel (cultured epidermal autografts) is a permanent skin replacement for the treatment of patients with deep dermal or full thickness burns greater than or equal to 30% of total body surface area. The company also holds an exclusive license for North American commercial rights to NexoBrid , a registration–stage biological orphan product for debridement of severe thermal burns. For more information, please visit the company's website at www.vcel.com.

About MediWound Ltd.
MediWound is a fully–integrated biopharmaceutical company focused on developing, manufacturing and commercializing novel therapeutics based on its patented proteolytic enzyme technology to address unmet needs in the fields of severe burns, chronic and other hard–to–heal wounds. MediWound's first innovative biopharmaceutical product, NexoBrid, non–surgically and rapidly removes burn eschar without harming viable tissue. The product has received marketing authorization from the European Medicines Agency as well as the Israeli, Argentinian, South Korean, Russian and Peruvian Ministries of Health. MediWound's second innovative product, EscharEx is a topical biological drug candidate for the debridement of chronic and other hard–to–heal wounds using the same proteolytic enzyme technology as NexoBrid. In two Phase 2 studies, EscharEx has demonstrated safety and efficacy in the debridement of various chronic and other hard–to–heal wounds, within a few daily applications. For more information, please visit www.mediwound.com.

About BARDA
The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides an integrated, systematic approach to the development and purchase of the necessary vaccines, drugs, therapies and diagnostic tools for public health medical emergencies. For more information, refer to www.phe.gov/about/BARDA. Funding and technical support for development of NexoBrid including this expanded access treatment protocol (NEXT), the pivotal U.S. Phase 3 clinical study (DETECT) and the marketing approval registration process for NexoBrid in the U.S. is provided by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), under the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under ongoing USG Contract No. HHSO100201500035C. Additional projects for evaluation of NexoBrid funded under the BARDA contract include randomized, controlled pivotal clinical trial for use in pediatric population, establishment of a pre–emergency use data package and development of the health economic model to evaluate the cost savings impact to enable market adoption in the US.

About FDA expanded access program
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) expanded access program allows access to investigational products to treat patients with serious or immediately life–threatening diseases or conditions outside of clinical trials when no comparable or satisfactory alternative treatment options are available.

Cautionary Note Regarding Forward–Looking Statements

This release includes forward–looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the U.S. Securities Act of 1933, as amended, Section 21E of the US Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, and the safe harbor provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. In some cases, you can identify forward–looking statements by terminology such as "believe," "may," "estimate," "continue," "anticipate," "intend," "should," "plan," "expect," "predict," "potential," or the negative of these terms or other similar expressions. Forward–looking statements are statements that are not historical facts, and are based on Vericel's and MediWound's current knowledge and its present beliefs and expectations regarding possible future events and are subject to risks, uncertainties and assumptions. Actual results and the timing of events could differ materially from those anticipated in these forward–looking statements as a result of several important factors, including but not limited to the ability to successfully develop and commercialize NexoBrid; the ability to submit to FDA a BLA in the timeframe expected; the ability to fund the development of NexoBrid until BLA submission; FDA may not accept part or all of the BLA; FDA may not provide marketing approval for NexoBrid in the United States; risks related to the timing and conduct of our NEXT; risks related to the contract with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority; the impact of government laws and regulations; and the additional risks discussed under the heading "Risk Factors" in MediWound's annual report on Form 20–F for the year ended December 31, 2018, Quarterly Reports on Form 6–K and other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), as well as information contained in Vericel's Annual Report on Form 10–K for the year ended December 31, 2018, filed with the SEC on February 26, 2019, Quarterly Reports on Form 10–Q and other filings with the SEC.

These forward–looking statements reflect Vericel's and MediWound's current views and neither Vericel nor MediWound undertakes any obligation to update any of these forward–looking statements to reflect a change in its views or events or circumstances that occur after the date of this release except as required by law.

Vericel Contacts:
Lee Stern
Solebury Trout
lstern@troutgroup.com
+1 (646) 378–2922

David Schull
Russo Partners LLC
David.schull@russopartnersllc.com
+1 212–845–4271 (office)
+1 858–717–2310 (mobile)

MediWound Contacts:
Boaz Gur–Lavie
Chief Financial Officer
MediWound Ltd.
ir@mediwound.com

Jeremy Feffer
Managing Director, LifeSci Advisors
212–915–2568
jeremy@lifesciadvisors.com

Getting out of a Jam in Dhaka

By Asian Development Bank
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Oct 2 2019 (IPS-Partners)

Bangladesh’s capital has some of the worst traffic in the world. But hope is on the way in the shape of a new mass rapid transit system.

Six MRT lines are planned to open between 2021 and 2035, and ADB has provided a grant to help plan the system. ADB’s next step proposed is a technical assistance loan for a detailed design of Line 5-South.

Wall Street can Free the World’s 40 Million Modern-Day Slaves

A 2009 study found that almost 250,000 children worked in auto repair stores, brick klins, as domestic labourers, and as carpet weavers and sozni embroiderers in Jammu and Kashmir. A new study says financiers in Wall Street, the City of London and other banking centres should play a bigger role in freeing the millions of people who endure slave-like working conditions globally. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 2 2019 – Financiers in Wall Street, the City of London and other banking centres should play a bigger role in freeing the millions of people who endure slave-like working conditions globally, according to a new study.

A group of experts known as the Financial Sector Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking say that banks and other finance bodies can adopt policies to reduce the 40.3 million men, women and children who are victims of forced labour.

Their 172-page report, Unlocking Potential: A Blueprint for Mobilising Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking, calls for more financial probes into people-smuggling rings and greater support to those freed from slave-like conditions. 

“Slavery and human trafficking are big business, reckoned to generate 150 billion dollars every year over the broken backs, hearts and dreams of people young and old,” said Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok, one of the report’s co-authors.

The report paints a bleak portrait of modern slavery, which sees one in every 185 people globally forced to work in an illicit sector that compares in scale to the trade in illegal drugs and counterfeit goods.

Modern forms of slavery include debt bondage, where workers are forced to toil for free in service of a debt, forced marriage, domestic servitude, and forced labour, in which workers face violence or intimidation.     

Modern-day slaves can be found doing everything from begging to gold-mining, but the biggest sectors in the 150-billion-dollar-a-year global business are housework, manufacturing and construction. A quarter of those involved are children. 

James Cockayne, a co-author of the report and policy analyst at United Nations University, said human trafficking and slavery represented a “tragic market failure” . 

“Modern slavery leaves us all worse off because it treats people as disposable objects rather than full economic and social agents,” said Cockayne. 

“We collectively lose out on a huge amount of potential that is currently locked up.”

Tackling the scourge will be a struggle, says the report. Getting the number of exploited workers down to zero by 2030 will involve releasing 10,000 victims of modern slavery every day for the next 11 years.  

Financial institutions can help to achieve that target by boosting resources for financial probes into people-trafficking rings and lifting the lid on firms that turn a profit through slavery, according to the report’s authors. 

Banks can get better at spotting the illicit cash flows linked to people-smuggling rings, and can cooperate more with other institutions to identify and combat the abuse of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. 

As well as turning people into slaves, trafficking ringleaders have also been known to hijack the financial identities of their victims for money laundering purposes. Once they regain their freedom, some victims also find that they have low credit ratings. 

Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Price for his microfinance scheme and assisted on the commission, says banks should invest more in digital and social finance schemes to make poor people less vulnerable to traffickers.

“Large numbers of people around the world remain unbanked,” said Yunus.

“We must … create social businesses, that is, businesses dedicated to solving problems without seeking monetary returns personally, focusing on reducing, and ultimately eliminating the human trafficking and modern slavery.”

The report was driven by the Liechtenstein Initiative, a public-private partnership that is supported by Barclays, Bank of America, HSBC, Wells Fargo, BMO Financial Group and other well known finance brands.

“The financial sector possesses huge potential to help end modern slavery and human trafficking and to maintain the integrity of the international financial system,” added Blok.

“It can create moral capital markets, and can therefore be a powerful force for good, first and foremost by supporting the victims of these criminal business practices.”

Combining Biogas and Solar, the Best Energy Deal in Brazil

Panoramic view of Vargeão, the town where Anélio Thomazzoni, a pig farmer and large producer of biogas electricity in southern Brazil, lives. The 3,500 inhabitants of the municipality are largely small farmers who descend from Italian immigrants that came to Brazil in the 20th century. As the main economic activity in the western state of Santa Catarina, pig farming represents great potential for biogas production. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Panoramic view of Vargeão, the town where Anélio Thomazzoni, a pig farmer and large producer of biogas electricity in southern Brazil, lives. The 3,500 inhabitants of the municipality are largely small farmers who descend from Italian immigrants that came to Brazil in the 20th century. As the main economic activity in the western state of Santa Catarina, pig farming represents great potential for biogas production. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
VARGEÃO, Brazil, Oct 2 2019 – “Biogas is the best energy, it has no contraindications,” and if you combine it with solar it becomes “the best energy business,” at least in Brazil, says Anélio Thomazzoni.

His enthusiasm is not merely rhetorical. He raises about 38,000 pigs on his property, Gavea Farm, and uses their manure to produce biogas that generates electricity, about 280,000 kilowatts/hour, for his own consumption and for third parties.

He is also building a larger biodigester and is preparing to install 6,000 square metres of solar panels on idle land on his farm, to generate another 130,000 kilowatt hours per month, in a region where a typical family consumes less than 1,000 kilowatts per month.

“I will have solar energy during the day and electricity from biogas when there is no sun”, the “most profitable forula in the world” in terms of energy and with benefits to the environment, Thomazzoni said.

“In addition, solar energy will allow me to save part of the biogas that I will convert into biomethane,” he told IPS on his 100-hectare farm that he owns with his brother.

Biomethane, a fuel equivalent to natural gas, is produced by purifying biogas. It should become more important as a result of the government’s plan to create a “new natural gas market” with a supply at reduced prices due to the growing deep-water production off Brazil’s shore.

“Alessandro Gardemann, president of the Brazilian Biogas Association (Abiogas), told IPS, “The gas pipeline network only supplies areas near the coast, so in the interior of the country the solution will be locally produced biogas.”

Trucks will have biomethane in a country where they are already made to run on natural gas, he said. The country has 1.9 million cargo vehicles, which provide 60 percent of cargo transport and move most of the agricultural production, according to transportation authorities.

The entrepreneurial spirit of Thomazzoni, who has lived all of his 56 years in the municipality of Vargeão, population 3,500, in the southern state of Santa Catarina, is alive and well.

Pig farmer Anélio Thomazzoni stands next to the three biodigesters with which he currently produces biogas for the generation of 280,000 kilowatt/hours on his farm in the small municipality of Vargeão, in southern Brazil. Part of the biofuel will be purified to transform it into biomethane, while 6,000 square metres of solar panels are installed to generate 130,000 kilowatts/hour. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Pig farmer Anélio Thomazzoni stands between the three biodigesters with which he currently produces biogas for the generation of 280,000 kilowatt/hours on his farm in the small municipality of Vargeão, in southern Brazil. Part of the biofuel will be purified to transform it into biomethane, while 6,000 square metres of solar panels are installed to generate 130,000 kilowatts/hour. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

He is building a new farm on another 50-hectare property, to raise an additional 30,000 pigs, but genetically improved breeding animals. In addition to meat, they will produce biogas, electricity and biofertiliser.

The Thomazzoni family moved from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state, to Vargeão in 1957, in one of the waves of southern migration to the north and west of the country.

Initially dedicated to traditional crops, such as corn and later soy, he shifted to pig farming three decades ago. In 2003 they had about 10,000 pigs and began to produce biogas, in response to a demand from environmental authorities, in a state with strict environmental requirements.

He owned the first biodigester in western Santa Catarina, thanks to credits from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the predecessor to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, aimed at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that are warming the planet.

Since 2015 it has been generating electricity from biogas, after two years of technological difficulties and a near bankruptcy, because the distribution concessionaire, Centrales Eléctricas de Santa Catarina, demanded the installation of cables and took 20 months to authorise the generation of electricity.

“I had stopped dreaming,” having purchased the generators and equipment and with no way to pay the loans that were falling due, Thomazzoni said.

A new biodigester, three times bigger than the previous ones, is under construction at the Thomazzoni brothers' Gavea farm in southern Brazil. To the sides are some of the 32 sheds where pigs are raised in different phases of their lives: maternity, nursery and fattening. In the last two decades the business has diversified with the production of biogás, electricity and biofertilisers. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A new biodigester, three times bigger than the previous ones, is under construction at the Thomazzoni brothers’ Gavea farm in southern Brazil. To the sides are some of the 32 sheds where pigs are raised in different phases of their lives: maternity, nursery and fattening. In the last two decades the business has diversified with the production of biogás, electricity and biofertilisers. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The road to success also included other setbacks, such as the loss of a biodigester canvas carried off by heavy winds.

“I planned and did everything we have here,” says the agribusinessman, pointing out some of his own “inventions” with which he replaced equipment so expensive in the market that “it would have made my business unviable.”

One is the use of water heated by an electric generator that pumps it through tubes that run into the biodigester, raising the internal temperature to boost the fermentation and productivity of the manure, especially during the wintertime when temperatures go down.

Another is a compressor that injects air into the biodigester, at a cost of 180 reais (45 dollars) – 330 times cheaper than the three filters he had purchased. “There are swindlers in the market who hinder biogas projects,” he said.

He uses the semi-solid waste from the biodigestion process, technically known as digestate, as fertiliser for planting hay, which is more productive because it is a perennial crop that is incorporated into an “integrated production” system as livestock feed. Corn and soy only produce two alternating annual crops, he explained.

Biogas is at the center of a chain that is the very “description of the circular economy,” according to Gardemann, also director of Geo Energética, a company that runs a large biogas from sugarcane waste project in the state of São Paulo.

Anélio Thomazzoni stands next to one of the three electric generators on his farm in southern Brazil. In addition to electricity, the equipment heats the water that is pumped through tubes running into the biodigesters to raise the temperature high enough to ferment pig manure. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Anélio Thomazzoni stands next to one of the three electric generators on his farm in southern Brazil. In addition to electricity, the equipment heats the water that is pumped through tubes running into the biodigesters to raise the temperature high enough to ferment pig manure. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The waste from the production of food or livestock feed is used to produce biogas, whose by-product is returned to the soil as nutrients for new food production, he pointed out.

“Biogas is a 24-hour battery,” he said, to emphasise that it is “continuously available energy that can be stored and used at any time” of the day or night, qualities that are more necessary now, when the use of intermittent sources such as wind and solar power is on the rise.

Abiogas aims to raise the share of biogas to 10 percent of Brazil’s energy mix, up from less than one percent today. It has the potential to supply “40 percent of the national electricity demand or substitute 70 percent of Brazil’s diesel consumption,” according to the industry association.

“The announced potential is not always real,” warned Ricardo de Gouvêa, Santa Catarina state secretary of agriculture, at the Southern Brazilian Forum on Biogas and Biomethane, held Sept. 4-6 in Chapecó, a city in the western part of the state.

Of the agricultural inputs, listed as the main source, half are not used or have other uses such as direct planting, because there is still no fully validated technology and the benefits of biogas often do not offset the costs of implementation, especially for small-scale producers, he said.

But “biogas is in fact the best source and now is its turn,” said Péricles Pinheiro, head of New Business at CHP Brazil, a company that provides equipment and solutions for distributed generation of electricity produced from gas.

It represents more continuously available energy at a time of unstable electric supply due to the growing use of intermittent sources, the approaching end of the useful life of 80,000 kilometres of transmission lines, and a distortion in national consumption data, he argued.

The higher cost of energy in the hours of greatest consumption, from 5 to 9 PM, made many consumers turn to their own diesel generators in the evenings, causing an apparent “drop” in demand after dark, when people turn on their lights and many household appliances.

If this information is not taken into account, the operation of the national power grid can increase the risk of blackouts. Biogas would help reduce that risk by expanding its share of the energy mix, Pinheiro said.

Centre of Excellence – Industry and Academia Collaboration

Dubai, UAE, Oct. 02, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Heriot–Watt University Dubai aim to work closely with leading industry partners to overcome key challenges facing the construction sector, and to prepare the next generation of qualified construction professionals. With a focus on smart technologies and processes the Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction will push boundaries and will promote and deliver innovation across a number of themes including productivity, sustainability and welfare.

Professor Ammar Kaka, Provost at Heriot–Watt Dubai says: “We look forward to welcoming government representatives, industry officials, technology providers and other academic and research teams to our Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction (CESC). We will use this opportunity to collaborate with like–minded organisations who share our vision and passion and would like to join us in this initiative. CESC will act as a hub for stakeholder engagement, a platform for discussion and a model for collaborative research in a sector that is thriving and ever changing in the region.”

Severin Tenim, Strategic Project Manager at Alec Construction says: "Collaboration unlocks enormous potential and is an essential ingredient for any stakeholder wishing to remain relevant in today's rapidly changing world."

The Centre of Excellence will be led from within the Dubai Campus but draws on multidisciplinary academic expertise, undertakes research and business engagement activities that cut across all of heriot Watt's schools and campuses, hence embracing talent from the university's wider research eco–system.

Jim Parker, Country Manager at Mott MacDonald: “We are proud and delighted to be an inaugural member of the Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction; and look forward to incubating and developing innovative solutions to the perennial challenges of digital connectivity, physical mobility and spatial proximity in one of the most exciting cities with a world class university.”

ENDS

Contact:

Reem Dabat

R.dabat@hw.ac.uk

For more information please visit: https://www.hw.ac.uk/research/facilities/centres/smart–construction.htm