Weekend reading: on Tohoku, Myanmar, education and the loneliness of work

At the edge of the weekend, a quick round-up of some online articles I spotted this week.

Three years on

Of course, this selection wouldn’t be complete without a few articles looking back at the past three years since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on 11 March, 2011.

The Japan Times looks at what happened to the children, and reports rising instances of trauma and stress for children living in Fukushima prefecture dealing with what happened and their uprooted life: Tohoku kids stressed by trauma

Dutch Tokyo-based correspondent Daniel Leussink visited the region and spoke to several people on reconstruction in Tohoku, which you can read about (in Dutch) here: Three years on, an empty coast

Work is lonely

An article that struck a chord this week is from Gianpiero Petriglieri, who I have been following on Twitter for some time for interesting insights on leadership and organisational development. He published a blog for the Harvard Business Review titled Why Work Is Lonely in which he talks about speaking up in organisations and sharing your opinion and about why people don’t. But also, why it is so important to do exactly this: have the courage to speak up.

We keep forgetting that our closest relationships are not those where tension is glossed over but those where it can be aired and worked through safely enough.

This is not only true of professional workplaces of course, but you can apply this – I think – to other organizations as well where people work together and where there is some type of hierarchy, whether intended or not. The challenge is to make everyone feel comfortable enough to actually say what they want to say.

Measuring business & human rights

The past two weeks for me were mostly about learning about how business can respect human rights. I attended a conference on due diligence and spent a few days in a course on implementing the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights.

Michael Addo writes on the LSE-blog about the importance for businesses to work with indicators to be able to measure their progress on respecting human rights: Business and human rights indicators: Opportunities and challenges in measuring corporate respect for human rights

Notwithstanding the great potential of indicators, measuring and comparing respect for human rights by corporations is not an easy task.

He rightly also says this is very difficult to do: how do you measure discrimination? How do you measure whether or not a company-based grievance mechanism is accessible enough for the intended users? Luckily, there are various organisations working on this, including GRI and Shift.

Education in Myanmar

The NY Times highlights the lack of education in Myanmar and what organizations – NGOs but also businesses – are doing to address this. Raising the level of education will be vital for the further development of the country, so it’s good to read about these initiatives which are happening: Education Programs Try to Close Gaps in Myanmar

Weekend reading: Beijing vs Delhi, SMEs vs MNCs and Sochi

This weekend I spent almost completely at the Korzo Theater for the Holland Dance Festival: seeing an expressive dance performance on stage, but also getting a glimpse of different workshops on Saturday and Sunday for dance professionals by well-known Dutch choreographers. I’ve loved getting this behind-the-scenes look at how dance is created. Listening in on a workshop on choreography where workshop leader Soosan Gilson shared some of the essential ingredients of the creative process, I also realized that maybe this isn’t so different from the process of developing yourself as an entrepreneur and creating (and realizing) business ideas. This also takes time and you need to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone.

“You have to enjoy being lost.”

With those words, below is a belated selection of articles and online reading of the past week which I thought are worth sharing. Happy reading!

Beijing vs Delhi

There’s always a lot being written about the (bad) state of the environment in China. So why is it we hear so much less about pollution in that other big Asian giant, India? As it turns out, the level of air pollution in Delhi is worse than in Beijing yet we don’t hear about it and neither is this a (political) issue in the city itself. ChinaDialogue explores why this is.

SMEs vs MNCs

The following link is to only a short article, yet I thought it was quite an interesting illustration that yes, indeed, the questions that small businesses and large multinationals are confronted with are largely the same. It’s easy to think that these would be widely different. What IS different though is how a business can deal with these questions. Whereas MNCs will often have their own specialists in house or have more resources to get in the needed expertise, this is a lot more difficult for SMEs to do easily. This is also why several government programmes (for instance, in the field of international business or CSR expertise) are aimed specifically to SMEs.

The Olympics, business & human rights

There’s no escaping it for the next two weeks, so why avoid it on here: the 2014 Winter Olympics started on Friday in Russia. The Dutch are off to a golden start. But, the Olympics have also been surrounded by a lot of controversy this time: gay rights, corruption and exploitation of migrant workers are just a few examples. But an article in The Guardian on Friday asks what companies connected to the Olympic Games have done to speak out about these topics. Does business have a responsibility to speak up?

I’m leaving you with a long-read still on my wishlist for later: the Council on Foreign Relations published an extensive piece on China’s environmental crisis which looks like an interesting read.

The picture accompanying this post is not actually taken at this year’s Holland Dance Festival – I wasn’t able to take any good shots this time. So instead, I’ve used one from last year’s Cadance Festival.

Weekend reading: on WeChat, ‘sea turtles’ and more

While I’m on a long flight back to Europe, here are some interesting reads from the past week(s) on – mostly – China.

‘Are you on Wechat?’

This is probably one of the questions I’ve heard most while here. So, clearly, this is a major communications channel for people living here. And WeChat is much more than just a Chinese version on Whatsapp, as is explained in this extensive and interesting article on TheNextWeb.

Journey of the ‘Sea Turtles’

Another article on contemporary society in China, posted on TeaLeafNation this week, goes into the background of Chinese who’ve studied abroad and decide to come back to China, or don’t come back, or come back and leave again. It’s a complicated discussion, and the article shares some examples of why this is also a very personal discussion for many Chinese people in this situation. There’s a lot to gain in China in an economic sense: job opportunities and the fact that you are not a migrant in an unknown country, but at the same time this isn’t always as easy as it seems with having to build a new network and being confronted by a lot of social issues (high cost for housing, schools, etc).

Shenzhen Architecture Biënnale

At the moment, the Shenzhen Architecture Biënnale is taking place, which is curated by Dutchman Ole Bouman. As you can tell from this blog I’m interested in (sustainable) urban development, especially as it is such a huge issue in the Chinese context. This article (in Dutch) offers a critical perspective at this year’s biennale, and asks why none of the questions relevant to the ever-continuing Chinese urbanisation are asked at this important event.

Still to see:

And on my list to watch back in the Netherlands is this episode of Rambam on supply chain transparency in the textile industry, specifically focusing on two Dutch companies (Wibra & CoolCat) which have been very negatively featured in the Dutch media the last months (especially CoolCat). From a Dutch perspective, when talking about CSR in international business it almost firstly arrives at supply chains and then it immediately links to the textile industry. I am currently doing some work on this with a group of Dutch companies in Shanghai and am very curious what this programme will present in this case (as especially in the CoolCat case, I think there is a lot of misrepresentation going on).

Weekend reading: on Myanmar, rural China and coal

While I’m out of my routine exploring a relatively new city and meeting many interesting new people, I still keep an eye on anything interesting that pops up online of course. This week I came across a few things I thought are worth sharing.

Due diligence in Myanmar business operations

The Institute for Human Rights and Business published a review of Coca Cola’s report on their Myanmar business operations, which is required by US law currently. I was particularly impressed to read in what way Coca Cola has used this report to describe their due diligence process: how to do business in a high-risk country such as Myanmar while working in line with the company’s internal policies for human rights and other issues.

Both business opportunities in Myanmar and due diligence are important topics in the Netherlands right now. The Social Economic Council will be organizing a conference on how to set up a proper due diligence process within multinational corporations in March, and the Dutch government published their National Action Plan on Human Rights and Business at the end of December. So reading about how a company is successfully putting this in to practice is very interesting – and encouraging!

Life in rural China

I really liked coming across this article earlier this week. It describes a project in China aimed at revitalizing rural China, now that so many people are migrating from the villages to the cities. It shares experiences from the Bishan project where new activities have been started in smaller villages. But, the article also contains links to several Instagram accounts of migrant workers in Beijing, where they share images from their villages when they travel back, such as @Mulanhuangling. Especially timely now that China is getting ready for the spring festival at the end of next week.

The elephant in the room

This afternoon I found this opinion article on CNN by the head of the International Energy Agency, Maria van der Hoeven. In China, the problems with air pollution are well known and one of the main causes – especially in winter – are the coal plants used to generate energy. In this piece, Van der Hoeven has some strong words to say about the necessity to shift away from coal to more sustainable energy options:

When it comes to a sustainable energy profile, we are simply off track — and coal is the elephant in the room.

Good to hear this coming from such a high level. But, when will this lead to any change in world wide energy policies?

China’s soil and food security

And closing off with a China article on food security: huge issue with so many different aspects. This article via UrbaChina touches on the scale of soil contamination and the options the government has to chose from – none of which sound great.

Weekend reading: on plastic bags, CR reporting in Asia & carbon emissions

It’s been a while since I took some time to collect a few interesting online articles for the weekend. So, for your reading pleasure this December weekend, here are a few pieces I think are worth your time.

‘Every little bit helps’?

The Guardian published a piece on the question whether it is really true that, when it comes to adapting to climate change and creating a more sustainable society, every little bit helps: does it matter if you re-use plastic shopping bags? I agree with the conclusion of the author, that small actions such as re-using shopping bags only matter when it is a catalyst for other, more impactful, activities – instead of it remaining a ‘token’ activity.

For me, personally (and I’ve said this before), participating in the No Impact Project has been very important in being that catalyst to make changes in my life (though I’ll be the first to admit that I still have a long way to go).

On reporting about corporate responsibility (CR)

This month saw the publication of KPMG’s survey on CR reporting in 2013. And, one of the main conclusions in the report is that the Asia-Pacific region sees the strongest growth worldwide in CR reporting. This growth – from 49% in 2011 to 71% in 2013 – is attributed in part to new countries being included in the survey (such as Indonesia and Malaysia) but also to, for instance, the introduction of new regulations on voluntary and compulsory CR reporting in India and Singapore.

However, does an increase in reporting about environmental and social issues also mean that these companies are acting more responsibly as well? BusinessWeek looks at CR reporting in China, another Asian country where the number of companies reporting on environmental and social issues has increased strongly. Yet, this doesn’t necessarily correspond to ‘better’ behaviour.

A more in-depth article on CR reporting in China by China Dialogue expands on this point, with examples of companies which have been awarded for their reporting achievements while simultaneously being involved in serious environmental problems caused by their activities. This leads China Dialogue to conclude that CR reporting in China is still mainly greenwashing. It also recommends for more Chinese companies to adhere to international reporting standards (such as GRI) so that the reports will become easier to understand – and become more transparent. Another point in this article is the need for more monitoring of corporate behaviour – and CR reports – so that changes actually happen.

Both of these articles are based on a recent analysis of Syntao on CSR reporting in China.

Reducing carbon emissions

The consultancy firm BSR shares some insights this week on how to improve corporate behaviour, focusing on how companies operating in China can reduce carbon emissions through their supply chain.

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Do you want a more regular dose of reading suggestions? I keep track of news on sustainability and CSR also on Twitter, via @MVOinAzie (which translates to ‘CSR in Asia’ but covers many more topics than just CSR). You can find (re)tweets on topics as diverse as sustainable palmoil and labour issues and from South-Korea to India.

Weekend reading: on reviving rural Japan & boat refugees

I always collect a lot of bookmarks throughout the week to read when I have some time – though I don’t often make the time to really sit down and catch up on those bookmarks. I’m happy I did today: the following online articles really impressed me.

Japan, depopulation & history

Let’s start with Japan where I’ve found two pieces to share – surprisingly by the same man: Alex Kerr. I mostly know this author through his book Dogs and Demons, published already more than 10 years ago on how modern Japan works, which I would recommend anyone interested in Japan to read. Coincidentally this week I found two things online about him.

First, in this TEDxKyoto talk Kerr talks about the depopulation which is happening in Japan in many rural areas and his solution for some towns: revitalizing rural towns by making use of its traditional elements and renovating old houses to use in sustainable tourism. A great talk, and I love how you can see the personal connection and passion of Kerr about this topic.

In the same week, Kerr is interviewed in the Asahi Shimbun where he discusses Japan’s difficult relationship with China and South-Korea.

Boat refugees
However, the article that impressed me most this morning was a long piece in the NY Times Magazine: journalist Luke Mogelson and (Dutch) photographer Joel van Houdt risked their lives in following the journey that hundreds of people take all the time – and we often hear about the disastrous endings of those journeys. In Europe, many boats aiming for the Italian island of Lampedusa never make it – in the Pacific, Christmas Island is its equivalent. Many refugees from countries ranging from Syria and Lebanon to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan try to reach the island by boat from Jakarta. Only a few boats make it across instead of being intercepted by Indonesian police or being obstructed by the force of the ocean. Mogelson and Van Houdt share their experience of following this route – from Kabul, via Jakarta to Christmas Island. Impressive journalims and heartbreaking to read: The Dream Boat

 

And still on my list to read:

Weekend reading: Myanmar, closing the loop & the story of solutions

It’s been a while since the previous weekend reading, but these are some of the online articles that stuck with me this week. Enjoy reading!

Responsible business in Myanmar
Following the session on opportunities for responsible business in Myanmar at the CSR Asia Summit I am slowly reading up a bit more on developments in Myanmar: what is happening locally? But also, what are Dutch organizations doing to support doing business in Myanmar, and is there an awareness for the need of responsible business practices? Over the next few weeks I’m meeting with a few people to talk about this more.
This week I came across two articles which highlight the challenges in doing business responsibly in this part of the world. The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) posted a commentary on developments locally, focusing on the impact business can have and how to work with local communities. And, Global Post asks whether the textile industry in Myanmar will be ‘the next Bangladesh’ and what will be needed to prevent this.

Closing the loop
This week in the Netherlands, the conference Closing the Loop took place: what can business do to become part of the circular economy? GreenBiz just posted an interesting article on a best practice in Canada: quick service restaurant chain Tim Hortons is closing the loop on coffee cups.

The Story of Solutions
But also this week: the Story of Stuff project launched their new video The Story of Solutions. And as always, it has a powerful message and challenges us to reconsider the goal of our current economic system. What can we do to change the goal of MORE to a goal of BETTER?

Weekend reading, early edition: on shale gas, factory audits and urban vitality

I know it’s not really the weekend yet, but since I will be away enjoying good music and sun over the next few days, I’ll leave you with some good reading for the weekend to come. All China, I’m afraid.

Behind the scenes at factory audits
Factory audits are very common at Chinese factories for foreign companies producing in China as a way of managing risk and ensuring that local circumstances follow whatever guidelines the company has set down in its supplier code. But, how do you know what is really happening? The New York Times published a long read this week uncovering how audits at Chinese factories sometimes do work (I’m hopeful that this isn’t happening everywhere….).

I’ve posted previously about Steven Zhang’s website where he shares his factory stories. His latest post is on factory owners’ environmental consciousness.

Shalegas in China
There’s a lot of discussion currently in the Netherlands whether or not to approve trial exploration of shale gas. Shale gas field are under development in a lot of other countries already, including in China. So, both ChinaFile and the Wall Street Journal published articles this week on how the China developments are going so far.

Comparing Almere & Tongzhou
I have a long list of unread articles waiting to be read on my RSS-feed from the UrbaChina-website. But, I’m highlighting this one I spotted, because of the – for me – unusual juxtaposition of two cities: Almere in the Netherlands and Tongzhou in China. The post highlights a PhD dissertation from TU Delft in which the writer explores the relationship between space and society as a way of studying urban vitality in so-called new towns.

Happy reading!

Weekend reading: travel & food

Marrakesh/ tajines

I’m slowly joining everyone else in summer mood, which is the cause of the delay in this week’s selection of articles. But I hope these will still be interesting for you to read; and they are tied together with a bit of a seasonal theme.

At first, inspired by the book Hungry City, I had intended a food-theme for this week. But because it’s summer, shouldn’t it be about travel?

But what better combination than travel and food? For me, the strange things I get to eat when I’m travelling to foreign places are definitely part of the attraction of exploring a new place, as you can tell from this flickr-set devoted to food on my travels
.

Organic food giant
This week, Forbes published a profile of Hain Celestial, the world’s biggest natural food company. Interesting to see how a company like this has grown throughout the years.

China’s West
From food to travel, and another profiling article, this time of the Chinese city Urumqi way West as published in the Atlantic this week. This city, or rather Xinjiang – the province it’s located in, is still very high on my China-travel wishlist. I got as far as Western Gansu years ago, but will still have to make it further West some day… (when I speak Chinese!).

Afghanistan’s child jihadis
And from Urumqi heading south, I’m looking forward to making some time this week to read this article on Afghanistan child jihadi’s. Should be an interesting read.

Weekend reading: bribery & business, China in the Mekong, and food in the city

Welcome to my new blog space! And my first post written here is, because it’s Saturday, my online discoveries from the past week.

Bribery & business in China
Last week I spoke to a co-worker about CSR in China, and she mentioned that in her view corruption is one of the most difficult issues in China for foreign companies. And the FT is talking about this issue this week, following the bribery scandal at GlaxoSmithKline that broke recently as well. Bottom line: the line between what is business as usual and what is bribery is very blurred.

On environment and China in the Mekong
As usual, this section includes something on China and the environment. China Dialogue has posted several interesting articles this week. One of these talks about how to deal with companies who are heavy polluters.

The second article I’d like to highlight discusses China’s strategy in the Mekong region, mostly focused on infrastructure. But what consequences does this strategy have for topics such as the environment and food security?

To fly or not to fly?
The following article touches on a more general topic, but one which is a bit of a personal dilemma as well: flying. The Guardian’s Jo Confino asks whether it’s okay for sustainability professionals to be jetting all over the world – as many do, including myself (though not nearly as much as some others). For travel within Europe I try to stick to train travel. And I was recently a bit shocked that people from cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam think it very normal to fly to Paris, especially if your work is about promoting sustainable business. But what to do about the trips to Asia… travelling overland isn’t really an option. In a way, it’s even more of an incentive to really make those trips count.

Book recommendation
And not really an article that I found this week, but a recommendation if you’re looking for any books to take on holiday. I’m currently in the middle of Hungry City by Carolyn Steel. I’d heard a lot about it for the last few years or so, and finally got it last week. So good. Really recommended if you love food, but also when you are interested in how cities work, what impact food has on communities etc.