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Does Apple really deserve an award for its efforts to crack down on slavery and trafficking?

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does Apple really deserve an award

Apple has announced its intention to employ victims of human trafficking in support roles at its retail stores after being handed a prestigious award for its efforts to eradicate modern slavery from its supply chains. The iPhone maker was handed the accolade at a glitzy ceremony in London last night by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which gives out the Stop Slavery Award to organisations it believes have gone the extra mile to identify and crack down on forced labour and abusive employment practices in their supply chains. After accepting the gong, Apple said it will work with the UN’s International Organisation for Migration to find employment at its retail outlets for survivors of modern slavery and forced labour.

But while Thomson Reuters heaped praise on the company for apparently being at the forefront of efforts to tackle labour abuses, some campaigners questioned the wisdom of giving the award to Apple, a firm that is no stranger to allegations that abusive employment practices have been used in its supply chains. Speaking with the BBC after news of Apple’s awards glory broke, Executive Director of China Labor Watch (CLW) Li Qiang described Thomson Reuters’ decision as a “joke”, arguing that Apple is doing nowhere near enough to tackle modern slavery at the factories that produce its products in his country, despite the huge resources the company has at its disposal.

While it may be the case that Apple has attempted to improve the way in which it deals with modern slavery and forced labour in its supply chains, a number of recent revelations support Li’s assertion that the technology giant might not have been the most worthy recipient of the Reuters award. Apple likes to make much of the initiatives it has in place to crack down on the mistreatment of workers by its suppliers, boasting in a report on human trafficking and slavery in its supply chains that it is raising “the bar every year to improve conditions and protect human rights”.

However, the fact that fewer stories appear in the press relating to sweatshop-like conditions at Apple-linked factories than used to be the case a decade ago should not necessarily be considered a reason to pat the firm on the back. In fact, revelations about abuses in the company’s supply chains still arise with alarming regularity, suggesting we might be wise to take pause to consider whether the largest company in the world by market value, which earlier this year became the first firm on the planet to be valued at over a trillion dollars, is doing all it can to tackle the issue.

Back in January, CLW said the suicide of 31-year-old worker at a Chinese factory where iPhones were made raised serious concerns about working conditions at the site. Li Ming is said to have leapt to his death from a building in the city of Zhengzhou owned by Foxconn, one of Apple’s largest suppliers. Apple has been accused of failing to tackle abuses at Foxconn facilities for years, and is said to have turned a blind eye to employees at the company’s plants being compelled to work gruellingly-long hours, and being exposed to humiliating punishments for failing to carry out orders.

In March, Apple’s own Supplier Responsibility Progress Report highlighted a number of labour violations in its supply chain, including an increase in the number of manufacturers breaking rules on working hours, and the “improper provision of wages and benefits”. The iPhone maker discovered 44 serious breaches of its compliance rules last year, including numerous instances of bonded labour, the falsification of working hours and two cases of underage workers. Only last month, it was widely reported that Apple was investigating claims that Chinese students had been forced to make its smartwatches while working on “compulsory internships” unrelated to their field of study. Some students said their tutors told them they would not be allowed to graduate on time if they failed to complete the “internships”, according to Hong Kong-based labour rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM).

It beggars belief not only that these types of abuses are still occurring with such regularity in Apple’s supply chains, but also that the company is now being handed awards for its efforts to stamp them out. If the iPhone maker invested a fraction of the money it spends on new product development and protecting its brand and patents into initiatives designed to eradicate modern slavery and abusive employment practices from its supply chains, its record would likely make it a much more worthy recipient of the accolade it was handed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. But in light of Apple’s still-questionable record on abuse committed by its supplier companies, the handing over of the award seems little more than a cynical opportunity for both companies to virtue signal over the issue, while taking no real action to protect the vulnerable workers who are its victims.

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It is only a matter of time before terrorists use drones to launch mass-casualty attacks

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terrorists use drones

Fears that followers of extremist groups such as Daesh, al-Qa’ida or Boko Haram might use commercially-available drones to launch terrorist attacks on civilian targets have been debated by security experts for a number of years now. But as drone technology advances, some analysts believe it is now only a matter of time before such an attack takes place. Underlining the threat that weaponised commercial drones could pose in the hands of terrorist organisations, and the seriousness with which security agencies are now taking the possibility that extremist groups could use them to carry out a large-scale atrocity, authorities in Sri Lanka this week banned the use of hobby drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings. While it was unclear as to whether the country’s security authorities had intelligence that militants still on the run from police were planning to launch a drone attack, Sri Lanka’s civil aviation authority said it was taking the measure “in view of the existing security situation in the country”.

In light of claims that Sri Lankan authorities failed to act after repeatedly being handed intelligence from a number of sources that suggested a major Islamist attack was being planned on their soil, this was probably a sensible move, particularly when recent anecdotal evidence suggests that experts’ fears over terrorist groups using drone technology to launch attacks could be well founded. In December last year, a drone incident that shut London’s Gatwick Airport for the best part of three days inspired Daesh supporters to call for the group’s followers to launch UAV attacks on targets in the West. A mocked up poster (pictured) shared online by supporters of the jihadi group showed a drone carrying a bomb over the skyline of New York. Days later, police in New York revealed that they would for the first time deploy “counter-drone technology” to protect revellers celebrating across the city on New Year’s Eve.

But while supporters of extremist groups such as Daesh regularly call on followers to launch drone attacks in propaganda posted online, a number of recent developments suggest that Islamist fanatics are genuinely working on new ways of incorporating UAVs into their terrorist armoury. In September last year, Danish police used counter-terrorism laws to arrest two suspects who were said to have bought drones that they planned to send to the group in Syria and Iraq. The following month, a report from Israel’s Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center cautioned that Daesh was plotting to smuggle drones out of Europe to be used in attacks across the globe. Prior to the fall of the group’s caliphate earlier this year, it was reported that Daesh militants had been using drones to attack US forces seeking to eject it from its then-de-facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. This came after the US government warned that the Islamist organisation was planning to use UAVs to drop chemicals and viruses such as anthrax on American civilians.

While a terrorist drone attack on a civilian target has thankfully yet to materialise, experts and security agencies across the globe agree that it is now only a matter of time before one takes place. Contributing to a BBC Panorama documentary broadcast earlier this month that examined last December’s Gatwick drone incident, Professor David Dunn from the University of Birmingham said it is inevitable that terrorists will use drones to attack the West. “Terrorists like novelty, and there’s also a symbolic value of using a drone to attack Western targets,” he said. “Everyone that we talk to who is concerned with security regards this as inevitable.” The potential threat is now considered so acute in the UK that Britain’s Defence Select Committee has begun an inquiry into what the government should be doing about the risk posed by terrorists and other extremists maliciously using drones. Similar preparations are being made in the US.

Highlighting how far the technology has come in recent years, it was reported this week that the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has approved Google-owned UAV home delivery company Wing as an airline, clearing the way for the firm to start delivering goods within months. But as the number of legitimate use cases for drone technology increase, so do the opportunities for terrorists and extremists to use UAVs in new forms of attack. On the whole, security agencies across the Western world do a pretty good job of thwarting terrorist plots, even when they are planned by small cells or lone wolf attackers. Despite this, their capabilities are going to be severely tested once extremist organisations perfect the art of using drones to kill innocent people, which is a scenario many fear could become reality sooner rather than later.

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Why organised criminal gangs are actively grooming teenagers to become the next generation of cyber hackers

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next generation of cyber hackers

More than two years have passed since Europol warned in its 2017 Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment that traditional organised crime networks had belatedly gone digital. It was noted at the time that these groups were increasingly turning to Crime-as-a-Service (CaaS) offers, which were being sold on the dark web by people with the technical skills required to make this happen. Fast forward 24 months, and it would appear that gang bosses may be becoming tired of having to rely on the CaaS business model whenever they need access to individuals with hacking skills. Last week, senior British police officers warned that organised crime gangs are now actively recruiting their own hackers, and are targeting teenage gamers on the autistic spectrum as part of their efforts to do so. Quoting research that suggests more than 80% of cyber criminals have a background in gaming, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) launched a campaign intended to turn teenagers away from cyber crime, and encourage them to use their hacking skills for good. But noble as the initiative appears, it is unlikely to reverse a trend that is making teenage hackers the new elite of the organised criminal underworld.

It is not difficult to see why crime gangs are eager to secure the services of a new generation of young hackers. A slew of recent cases have demonstrated just how much money can be made from their skills, somewhat contacting a 2017 National Crime Agency (NCA) report that claimed young cyber criminals were more interested in the notoriety their activities garnered than any financial reward.

Earlier this month, 24-year-old Zain Qaiser was handed a six-year sentence by a British court after being found guilty of using malware to blackmail visitors to pornography websites. Between 2012 and 2014, the former computer science student is thought to have helped an organised criminal gang from Russia make millions of pounds by infecting adverts on legal adult websites with ransomware that demanded payments of up to $1,000 from victims. Prosecutors said Qaiser was personally paid more than £700,000 ($910,370) for his part in the scam, which he is said to have spent on prostitutes, luxury hotels, gambling and a Rolex watch. The NCA, which is often referred to as the UK’s equivalent of the FBI, described it as the most serious case of cyber crime it has investigated to date.

Just days later, an unemployed university drop-out from the city of Liverpool in the UK was sentenced to more than five years behind bars after being convicted of running the Silk Road 2.0 dark web illicit marketplace. Thomas White, 24, had helped run the original Silk Road until it was closed down by FBI investigators in 2013. Just one month after it was taken offline, White launched Silk Road 2.0, which like its predecessor was used by vendors to offer illicit items including drugs, weapons, cyber crime tools and stolen credit card details. While it is unknown how much money White personally made from creating the site, investigators estimated that it was used to sell illegal items worth $96 million, on which the former accounting student would take a commission of up 5%. White should consider himself lucky he is not in the position of Ross Ulbricht, the creator of the original Silk Road website, who was jailed for life with no chance of parole in 2015.

At the beginning of this year, police in Germany arrested a 19-year-old man in connection with a hacking incident that resulted in the personal details of politicians and celebrities being published on Twitter. In what was described as the largest such leak in the country’s history, documents including letters sent and received by German Chancellor Angela Merkel were dumped online in December of last year. The teenager, identified only as Jan S in line with Germany’s privacy laws, said that while he had been in contact with the hacker who leaked the documents, he played no part in obtaining them. Last August, a 16-year-old boy from Australia who said he dreamed of working for Apple pleaded guilty to hacking into the iPhone maker’s network and downloading 90 gigabytes of internal files. He was later spared jail when he was sentenced last September at the Australian Children’s Court, despite the offences of which he had been accused carrying a jail term of up to three years.

Prior to the invention of the internet, those who found themselves operating in the world of serious and organised crime did so largely as a consequence of their environment and the people around them. Now, hackers with the requisite skillset can carry out cyber crime activities involving huge amounts of money from their parents’ basement, without ever having to personally interact with their associates. While British police efforts to dissuade young people vulnerable to being groomed into becoming the next generation of cyber criminals are laudable, it is likely that many will find the money and notoriety on offer to major hackers more attractive than the prospect of working for the other side.

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Opinion

Banning begging would help human trafficking victims as well as the genuinely destitute

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banning begging will help human trafficking gang victims

A considerable number of experts on homelessness and poverty now agree that there are far better ways of helping vulnerable individuals who find themselves on the street than giving them money. Accepting the fact that any cash handed over in such circumstances will in all likelihood be spent on alcohol or drugs, professionals who work with the homeless and people who beg in city and town centres often advise that donating to charities that support vulnerable individuals is a far more productive way in which to help. Many people choose to ignore this advice, and generously hand over their hard-earned money to beggars with the very best of intentions, in many cases oblivious to the fact that their kindness could very well be doing more harm than good. Aside from supporting substance abuse and alcoholism among the destitute, those who do choose to give money directly to beggars could also be contributing to the profits of organised crime networks, and prolonging the suffering of modern slaves who are forced onto the streets to pose as being homeless in order to elicit sympathy from passers-by.

The large sums of money that can be made by beggars in many western nations has led to a rise in the phenomenon of forced begging, which involves organised criminal gangs compelling victims of human trafficking to assume the guise of homeless people and ask members of the public for cash handouts. In many cases, those who find themselves forced to work as bogus beggars are persuaded to leave a life of poverty in their home countries with the promise of well-paid work in wealthier locations. In a tactic used widely by traffickers who exploit people for the purposes of prostitution and other forms of forced labour, victims then find they have been lied to when they arrive in the country in which they had been promised work.

They are typically made to live in appalling conditions, are vulnerable to both physical and sexual abuse, and compelled to hand over all the money they make while begging to their traffickers. In Western Europe, those who end up working as forced beggars are typically drawn from poorer countries in the east of the continent. In the US, those forced into organised begging often have an unstable immigration status, or are American citizens who have physical or learning disabilities, according to US anti-slavery charity Polaris.

In October of last year, police in Spain dismantled a trafficking network that shipped disabled Romanians to the city of Santiago de Compostela and forced them to beg and act as human statutes in the street. The gang’s victims were convinced to leave their home country on the promise of receiving legitimate catering work, but once they arrived in Spain, were housed in appalling conditions and forced to beg on their knees regardless of the weather. If victims fell ill due to the horrifying circumstances in which they found themselves, members of the gang would beat them violently if they were unable to work.

The UK has become a major focus for organised begging gangs, partly on account of regular news reports claiming that beggars in major cities such as London can make many hundreds of pounds a day. Last month, a judge in Northern Ireland pledged to come down hard on any organised beggars who appeared before him in court, noting how gangs had been flying cells of bogus beggars into the province every six weeks. Jailing a woman from Bucharest for two months for stealing a bottle of vodka, Judge Barney McElholm made the pledge at Londonderry Magistrates Court, arguing that people such as the defendant were doing a great disservice to those who are genuinely homeless.

Members of a large Romanian organised begging gang were reported to have left Norway in April 2017 after a documentary screened by state broadcaster NRK exposed its members’ activities. Female members of the network were seen to spend their days begging on the streets of the southwestern city of Bergen, before working as prostitutes and stealing credit cards at night. Much of the proceeds of the gang’s illicit activities would then be sent back to Romania, news of which prompted Prime Minister Erna Solberg to urge Norwegians to consider whether it was a good idea to give money to people claiming to be homeless.

Norway has attracted criticism over recent years for daring to consider whether it might be desirable to ban begging, with those opposed to the idea labelling the wealthy country as “mean” for even making such as suggestion. But with more people coming round to the idea that handing over money to genuinely homeless people might be counterproductive, and evidence suggesting that many beggars on the street might not be what they seem, outlawing the practice of asking members of the pubic for money in the street might be the only way of protecting the vulnerable.

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