Roofs and rights – protecting homeless people and migrant workers

For views on leadership, read what Canada is doing for the plastic problem, how a Liberian foundation is tracking women in government, and how Kazakh voters are limiting the powers of presidents.

1. Canada

Canada is phasing out single-use plastics to rein in pollution. The manufacturing and importing of difficult-to-recycle plastics will be prohibited this December, while a ban on the sale of single-use plastics will go into effect a year later to give businesses time to use up stocks. Six categories of plastic are part of the legislation, including checkout bags, cutlery, stir sticks, and certain straws. The government estimates the measure will reduce plastic waste by 1.3 million metric tons (1.43 tons) over the next decade, “keeping our communities and the places we love clean,” as Steven Guilbeault, minister of environment and climate change, put it.

Press Association/AP/File
Sixteen million plastic straws are used daily in Canada. Their manufacture, import, sale, and export will be phased out by 2025.

Why We Wrote This

Our progress roundup highlights two approaches to change: In Houston, many different organizations worked together to help vulnerable people. In Indonesia, a lawsuit forced the government to act.

Single-use plastics, which account for 40% of the plastic produced globally, are often used for only a matter of minutes but can remain in the environment for hundreds of years. The United Nations endorsed the world’s first international resolution to curb plastic pollution worldwide earlier this year. But given the scale of the problem, environmentalists worry governments are not moving fast enough. “The government needs to shift into high gear by expanding the ban list and cutting overall plastic production,” said Sarah King, head of Greenpeace Canada’s oceans and plastics campaign.
Source: The Washington Post

2. United States

Twenty-five thousand previously unhoused people in Houston were moved into homes over the past decade. The city used to have one of the highest rates per capita of homelessness in the country and a jumbled and ineffective response system that wasted millions of public dollars. The number of homeless individuals has dropped 64% since public and private administrators together changed tack and adopted a coordinated “housing first” approach.  

The strategy is based on the idea that underlying issues like substance misuse, mental health, and unemployment can only be addressed meaningfully once the most vulnerable individuals have a safe place to live. While critics of the model point out that it prioritizes cases of chronic homelessness and may sideline behavioral intervention, the approach’s success is well documented. The vast majority of those provided houses or apartments through Houston’s program have remained housed two years later.

Importantly, the strategy brought service providers, aid organizations, and corporations that had previously operated in separate silos and even competed for funding into active cooperation. “The bottom line is that nearly everybody in Houston involved in homelessness got together around what works,” said Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston. “That’s our secret sauce.”
Source: The New York Times

3. Liberia

A new data hub was launched to study and promote women’s representation in African governments. Women hold 24% of parliamentary seats across Africa, a number that closely reflects the global average. Rigorous and specific data on women in governance, however, is not readily accessible for most African nations. The Data Hub for Women’s Leadership in Public Governance will compile statistics on every branch of government, as well as research on gender quotas and gender-based legislation.

Jerome Delay/AP/File
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s head of state from 2006 to 2018, has a foundation that is compiling data on women’s leadership in West Africa.

A handful of African countries rank among the top 20 nations for women’s representation in government, led by southern and East Africa. The data hub will focus first on 15 nations in West Africa before expanding. “Only when we know where we stand can we chart a path forward,” said Dr. Ophelia I. Weeks, executive director of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development in Liberia, which launched the hub. The tool “will be invaluable to our work as we champion the rights of women and girls,” she added.
Source: Liberian Observer

4. Kazakhstan

Kazakhs voted overwhelmingly to approve constitutional changes that limit presidential power and strengthen democracy. Since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Central Asian country of nearly 19 million people had long operated under an authoritarian system led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev. When he stepped down in 2019, he left an array of measures in place to maintain his influence.

The changes were proposed by Mr. Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in the wake of violent protests this past January over economic and political grievances. The historic reforms amend one-third of the articles of the Kazakh Constitution, bolstering the role of Parliament, reestablishing a constitutional court, and putting an end to the former president’s powers and privileges. One amendment annuls Mr. Nazarbayev’s right to overrule local or regional leaders; another prohibits his relatives from holding office. Only 19% of voters voiced their opposition in the June 5 referendum, while 77% backed the reforms, with a turnout of over two-thirds of eligible voters.
Sources: Deutsche Welle, The Wall Street Journal

5. Indonesia

Indonesia issued a decree to protect migrant workers on foreign fishing vessels. Ships often hire Southeast Asian deckhands to reduce labor costs; accommodations tend to be poor, safety standards minimal, and labor inspections nonexistent. In recent years, Indonesian deckhands have reported cases of forced labor, withheld wages, debt bondage, and physical and sexual violence aboard ships that operate in isolated parts of the sea, often out of reach of regulators. These problems are exacerbated by diminishing fish stocks as companies struggle to stay profitable.

The recent decree comes in response to a lawsuit filed by three former migrant deckhands in protest of the Indonesian government’s failure to ratify legislation by 2019, as required under a national migrant-worker protection law from 2017. The measure applies standards outlined in a global U.N. International Labor Organization convention on labor in the fishing industry, lays the groundwork for an integrated migrant worker database, and allows for collective bargaining among workers, plus other practical measures to defend the labor rights of thousands of migrant fishers.
Source: Mongabay

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