“Common-Good”: Germany to provide greater support for social enterprises

The German government has unveiled its “national strategy” to provide comprehensive assistance and support for common-good-oriented companies. In the future, companies that focus on social and societal goals will find it easier to receive subsidies or loans. Around the world, there are more and more companies that strive for fair supply chains, sustainable production and hiring disadvantaged people. But a strategy, as in Germany, is mostly still missing. 
The German government’s “National Strategy for Social Innovation and Public Benefit Enterprises” comprises a total of 70 proposals for improvement. The strategy is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Economics and the Ministry of Education. It aims to make the economy more ecological, sustainable and socially acceptable. This means less environmental pollution, no more human rights violations in supply chains and more occupational safety and fair wages for everyone involved.

This creates “improved access to financial support”, invests in the “expansion of the ecosystem”, and improves “the legal framework” according to Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister.

The program provides for the reduction of bureaucratic hurdles for start-ups with a common-good-orientation. In addition, the German Government will establish a central contact point for founders of social enterprises in October. 
Beside the simplified legal framework, the criteria for grants and subsidies will also be changed. For example, goals such as sustainable business and social responsibility will play a greater role in the awarding of the EXIST start-up grant. 
According to the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection, no changes to the law are necessary for this. As a result, implementation could take place quite quickly.
Common-good-oriented companies ensure that all employees are treated and paid fairly, from the extraction of raw materials to production and delivery. (Photo: Unsplash)
Companies can get loans more easily if they are not exclusively profit-driven
The German government does not make new money or new funding pots available for the strategy. Rather, it wants to open up existing economic development programs to public-benefit companies and make it easier for them to access loans. 
Until now, companies with a common-good-orientation usually had it very difficult to obtain bank loans or economic subsidies. This is because most banks and funders evaluate applications based on their likely economic success rather than the social contribution a company makes to society. A company that has the common good as its goal is therefore of little interest to them and not worthy of support.
What are Common-Good-oriented Companies?
Common-Good-oriented companies are not concerned with absolute profit maximization. Instead, they pursue social goals that benefit society. For example, by ensuring fair and transparent supply and production chains. This would bring fair wages and safe working conditions for all workers involved in a product or service.
In essence, the common good is about respect for human dignity, preservation of the environment, and solidarity with all. From the extraction of raw materials to production and delivery, the aim is to prevent environmentally harmful and unsustainable production, exploitative labor conditions and human rights violations. 
According to the Organization “Economy for Common-Good” there are more than there are over 1,000 companies in 35 countries that are committed to the common good.  
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It is not only about the well-being of all involved, but also about the well-being of society and the environment itself. Thus, in addition to social goals, environmental standards and sustainability goals such as those of the EU (Social Economy Action Plan) or the resolutions of the United Nations and the OECD are to be observed. Läs mer…

New EU Law oblige Google, TikTok & Co to be transparent about advertising on their Platforms

Google, Facebook, TikTok and Instagram: All major Internet platforms with more than 45 million monthly users are now subject to stricter rules in Europe. For example, they must label advertising more clearly and disclose who is paying for it. Advertising aimed at children is thus banned altogether. Sensitive data such as origin, political opinion or sexual orientation may also no longer be used for advertising purposes. This is intended to protect younger users in particular.
Last week, the EU Commission published a list. This list includes 19 of the world’s largest Internet providers. Among them are US Internet giants such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon. But also the Chinese video platform TikTok. They were all selected because they have more than 45 million users per month. According to the Commission, they thus bear a great responsibility to society. That’s why the EU is now tightening the rules. What does that mean exactly? 
New rules for social media: combating hate speech and fake news 
The problems are well known: Hate speech, fake news and disinformation. In addition, poor data protection and insufficient transparency regarding the functioning of platforms are repeatedly criticized by data activists such as the Austrian Max Schrems. In most cases, platforms are powerful, but users are not. That is about to change. The new rules oblige Facebook, Google and others to take stronger action. 
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To do this, they must check their own platforms for risks. Does an online service distribute illegal content or gender-specific violence? Are minors and their mental health sufficiently protected? Does the platform endanger freedom of expression and democracy? These are the questions that online platforms will have to answer in a report in the future.
The risk report is to be written and reviewed annually. The European Center for Algorithmic Transparency (ECAT) will be responsible for the review. 
The data must then be published by the online platforms so that users and researchers can access it. 
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Advertising must be more clearly labelled, and it must be clear who is paying for it
Until now, it has been almost impossible for users to understand why they are seeing a particular advertisement or content. In the future, social media must disclose how they work. That is, how the algorithm that selects the content works. What criteria does it use? For example, does the algorithm only select content that is highly polarizing and aimed at an emotional reaction from users? 
A “Basic Law” for Social Media and Online Platforms
The new regulations are part of the EU’s Digital Service Act (DSA). A kind of basic law for online services, social media platforms and the digital space. The law was passed back in 2020 and came into force on November 16, 2022. 
The DSA is intended to protect users, make digital services more transparent and make the Internet giants more accountable. In a nutshell: Everything that is prohibited “offline” should also be prohibited “online” by the DSA. This includes, for example, insults, incitement of the people or re-activation, i.e. the distribution of national socialist content or signs. 
Facebook, Google, Amazon & Co. now have until August 25 to implement the new rules. Läs mer…

A Berliner builds tiny houses and gives them to homeless people

The association Little Homes e. V. builds tiny mobile houses and gives them to homeless people. To date, it has built nearly 248 of these shelters. In the meantime, 148 former residents have found a real home again. For them, the gift was a turning point. The small houses give them back security, peace and hope. Critics see it only as a temporary solution and worry about minimum standards.  
There is not much space. The 3.5 m² of living space is just enough for a bed, a shelf and a small kitchenette. And yet Uwe S. is happy, because for him, it means security, peace and new hope. For 15 years he was homeless and slept on the streets of Berlin. Then Sven Lüdecke gave him a “Little Home”. He lived in it for two years. In the meantime, Uwe has a flat with electricity and running water again and is standing on his own two feet. The “Little Home” was a turning point.
“Little Homes”: Small houses for homeless people
Sven Lüdecke is the founder of the association “Little Homes e. V.“. Since the end of 2016, he and a team of constantly changing volunteers have been building small houses and giving them to homeless people. Nuremberg, Cologne, Berlin: There are already 248 of these small shelters across Germany. For many, they are a stepping stone back into society: 148 former residents have now found a proper flat. 
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The houses are simply built: Four walls made of pressboard, a lockable door and a small window. They also have a mattress, a camping toilet, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. There is no electricity, no running water and no heating – only insulation made of Styrofoam. This protects against extreme cold. The residents usually provide their own water, for example, from public toilets or drinking water points. A “Little Home” costs around 1,000 euros. 
One important detail is that the houses are mobile. They are on wheels. If this were not the case, the association would need a building permit for each Little Home. 
Most of the houses are located on private parking lots, but the association cooperates with cities, districts and municipalities. For example, the Berlin district of Kreuzberg provides 40 parking spaces.
The houses are mobile – they are later on wheels and can be moved to different locations. (Photo: Little Home e.v.)
Criticism: The “Little Homes” do not meet the minimum standard of accommodation
Lüdecke’s project is also met with opposition. Critics suggest that minimum standards of housing are neglected. The tiny living space is inhumane and not a long-term solution. 
Werena Rosenke of the association “Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Wohnungslosenhilfe” also takes a critical view of the project. She told Deutschlandfunk that “Little Homes” are not safe. They are often located in remote places. This is dangerous, especially for women. Nevertheless, she thinks it is a good idea to give homeless people some security and get them off the streets for a short time. The goal should be a real flat with a social worker to look after them.
Tiny houses for homeless people: No solution – but a temporary fix
Lüdecke sees it that way, too. He also does not see his project as a solution to the problem of homelessness. That is the task of politicians. The “Little Homes” are only a temporary solution, he says: 
“We are not the solution to the problem of homelessness, but a solution before the solution,” says Sven Lüdecke, Little Homes founder (interview).
There are now regional offshoots of the association in many cities. The simple construction of the Little Homes makes it possible. In the beginning, it was just a matter of building a reasonably safe shelter for homeless people. In the meantime, the association also helps with visits to the authorities, with applications for social benefits or with the search for a job. For this purpose, the association hires social workers or works together with them.
Critics warn that the small houses do not meet minimum shelter standards and could also lead communities to allocate fewer resources to the homeless. (Photo: Little Home e.v.)
Risks: Municipalities neglect their legal duty to help homeless people
In Germany, municipalities are legally obligated to help homeless people. They must provide humane housing for those affected. Rosenke emphasizes that this is a unique selling point that must not be jeopardized under any circumstances. 
As good as the idea of “Little Homes” is, it could lead to municipalities neglecting their duty. After all, people are no longer homeless. 
This concern is not entirely unfounded. You can see this, for example, in the example of the food banks. Food banks give donated food to people with low incomes. The problem is that the state relies too much on the aid and remains inactive itself. The symptoms of poverty are alleviated, but the causes remain. Inflation, poverty in old age and precarious working conditions in the low-wage sector are not being addressed, according to the fears of critics.
Homelessness on the rise in the EU, in Germany and also in Austria
According to a report by the German government, there are about 263,000 homeless people in Germany. According to Amnesty International, there are just under 20,000 in Austria, and more than 700,000 people in the European Union.  
However, the number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher, because many of those affected are not even recorded by the system. They are invisible because they are not registered anywhere, have no social insurance or are staying with friends and acquaintances.
This work is licensed under the Creative Common License. It can be republished for free, either translated or in the original language. In both cases, please cite / Ingo Geiger as the original source/author and set a link to this article on Scoop.me. https://scoop.me/tiny-houses-homeless/
The rights to the content remain with the original publisher. Läs mer…

France: Montpellier makes public transport free of charge

After two successful test phases, the city’s decision has been made: bus and tram travel will become free for Montpellier’s residents. From December 2023, none will have to pay for public transport. In this way, the city aims to reduce air pollution, cut emissions and support disadvantaged groups. The measure is part of a 150 million euro package that also includes the construction of new bicycle lanes. 
Montpellier’s city government is making public transportation free for all. From December 21, 2023, the city’s 300,000 inhabitants will no longer have to pay anything for buses and trams. In doing so, the city not only wants to reduce air pollution, but also make it easier for socially disadvantaged people to get around.  
The measure is part of a 150 million euro package to make the city sustainable and emission-free. In addition to free public transport, Montpellier plans to introduce environmental zones and expand bicycle lanes.
Residents can register with the “M’Ticket” app to receive the free tickets. To do so, they need a valid ID card and a registration address. 
Montpellier’s Mayor Michaël Delafosse tweeted: “By introducing free transport, we are bold in taking a great measure of social justice, of progress, which works for the ecological transition,”

Par la gratuité des transports, nous faisons preuve d’audace en prenant une grande mesure de justice sociale, de progrès qui œuvre pour la transition écologiqueDès le 21 décembre, les transports publics seront gratuits toute la semaine pour touts les habitants de la Métropole pic.twitter.com/E0r6TWctCT
— Michaël Delafosse (@MDelafosse) February 2, 2023
Two successful trial phases: 160,000 people use free tickets
Montpellier has been testing free public transport since 2020. The measure now adopted is the result of two successful trial phases:

Phase: free tickets for residents on weekends (from September 2020).
Phase: Free tickets for young people under 18 and seniors from 65 (from September 2021). 

The first phase already resulted in 12 percent more residents using public transportation on weekends. The second phase was similarly successful: 160,000 residents took advantage of the offer. Even after the end, 60 percent continued to use public transportation. 
Previously, the city supported motorists with free parking hours. The current government abolished this rule and financed the first trial phase with the 1.3 million euros released. 
France: Public transport is already free in 39 cities and towns
Montpellier is not the only French city where residents do not have to pay anything for public transport. Since France handed over traffic management to municipal authorities in 2015, the concept has spread to 39 cities and towns. Among them is the port city of Calais, the Marseille suburb of Aubange and the municipality of Niort. 
Lyon, Paris, and Marseille are still hesitant to implement free public transportation. This is because they are way more dependent on ticket sales to finance their public transport (Photo: Rob Potvin / Unsplash)
Depending on the municipality or city, the measure is financed differently: in Dunkirk, for example, via the mobility tax. In France, private and public companies with more than 10 employees must pay this tax. With 200,000 inhabitants, Dunkirk is the second-largest city in France with free local transport after Montpellier.
Paris, Lyon and Marseille: only partially free local public transport
France’s major metropolises (Lyon, Paris, Marseille) are still hesitant to implement free public transportation. This is because they rely on ticket sales to finance their public transport. The share of total costs there is 25-40 percent. In smaller cities, on the other hand, it is only 10 percent. 
Nevertheless, there are also offers in France’s big cities to relieve the burden on low-income earners, young people and pensioners. In Paris, Strasbourg and Lille, for example, young people under 18 are allowed to use public transportation free of charge. Passengers in Nantes and Rouen can ride the trams, bus lines and subway for free on weekends. Läs mer…

“Watershed” agreement: Farmers, water suppliers and communities work together to protect forests and water sources 

In Bolivia, 24,000 farmers in cooperation with communities and public water suppliers protect more than 600,000 hectares of forest from deforestation, exploitation, and the interests of mining companies—and thus protect the regional water supply in the long term. The Reciprocal Water Agreements (ARAs) are now considered a model for conservation in South America: more and more ARAs are being signed in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico. How do this agreement work? 
Fourteen years ago, María Gutiérrez bought a piece of land in Alto Espejo, Santa Cruz, Bolivia. She now lives right next to the forest. There are a few fruit trees in her garden and a small river runs through it. The river provides her and her animals with drinking water. She sells the lemons, oranges, and tangerines. María lives from this. 
For a few years now, she has been making her own honey. Since then, María’s life has become easier, earning an extra 5,000 to 6,000 Bolivianos (about $800) a year. She got the bees, the boxes, and the harvesting equipment from Natura Foundation. An NGO that promotes biodiversity and sustainable water management. In return, María signed the Reciprocal Water Agreement (ARA). 
María is one of 24,000 farmers who have signed such an agreement. Together they protect 600,00 hectares of forest from deforestation, pollution, and the interests of large mining companies.   
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What is a Recipocal Water Agreement (ARA)?
The “Recipocal Watter Agreement” (Acuerdo Recíproco por Agua) is a contract between the people in the countryside, the people in the city and the public water suppliers. In short, a contract between all the people who live in the same watershed or share the same water source. Basically, it’s a cooperative effort to protect the natural water cycle for the long term. Everyone works together and benefits.
The idea behind it is simple: 

Farmers and rural people protect their forest and receive incentives for doing so: e.g., access to running water or help in growing fruits.  
The incentives are paid for by the communities and the end users through a small fee, in exchange for sustainable and clean drinking water in the long term.
Water suppliers expand their network and provide flowing water to the farmers. 

Definition: What are Reciprocal Watershed Agreements?
 “Reciprocal Watershed Agreements—known as ‘Watershared’ in South America—are simple grassroots versions of conditional transfers that help land managers located in upper watershed areas to sustainably manage their forest and water resources in ways that benefit both themselves and downstream water users.” (Nigel Asquith)
Natura Foundation takes care of the contracts and contributes to the financing of the individual projects at the beginning. The contribution is around 20 percent, so that the projects remain affordable for everyone even after a certain period of time has elapsed.  
Incentives: running water, a beehive, or a basin for fish farming
Access to running water is the biggest incentive, Teresa Vargas, executive director of Natura Foundation, told Mongabay. That’s because many of the farmers who live outside villages and towns are not yet connected to the piped water system. 
Depending on what helps local people the most, however, the incentives can be quite different: a beehive, for example, or help with growing citrus fruits or raising fish. 
The cost of the incentives is borne by the water suppliers, their customers, and the communities. The water suppliers, in turn, lay the pipes and bring the flowing water to the farmers. In the end, everyone benefits: nature is protected, the farmers get an additional income or flowing water and the people in the region have sustainable and clean water in the long term.  
Municipalities, water suppliers and end-users:pay jointly for incentives
Municipalities pay about one percent from tax revenues and 0.5 percent from the budget they receive from the central government. End users contribute either one Boliviano per month ($0.15) or an agreed percentage. Everything is done simply and without bureaucracy, directly through the water bill. The important thing is that no one is forced. The contracts and cooperations are voluntary. 
Depending on the contract, different amounts are collected and managed in a common fund. For 8,000 to 9,000 consumers, this would amount to about half a million Bolivianos (about $72,000). Natura Foundation also pays into the fund. With the standard contract term of 10 years, they only pay about 20 percent at the end. As a result, the project continues to function even after the contract expires and the NGO leaves. The fund can always be used to finance new incentives. And so, bit by bit, the area of protected forests grows. 
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Protection for nature: 23 nature reserves in 20 municipalities—an area of 3.4 million hectares
The ARAs as water protection areas are a successful model. Politicians in Bolivia are now also interested in them—for two reasons: 
The water suppliers in Bolivia are organized in cooperatives or in public companies. The government is therefore responsible for the water supply. What you get here is a concept that is already working in many communities and has more and more supporters. 
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and suffers greatly from the consequences of the climate crisis. But climate change is abstract—lack of or polluted drinking water, on the other hand, is a reality. The issue affects everyone and brings people together. 
Inspired by the success of these water protection areas, more and more local governments are protecting their forests. In the last 10 years, 23 protected areas have been created in 20 municipalities as a result. That’s 3.4 million hectares of forest by not disturbing the natural water cycle.
The model is now considered a model for conservation in South America, with more and more ARAs being completed in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico. Läs mer…

France: Mass protests against higher retirement age

France’s President Emmanuel Macron wants to raise the retirement age by two years. However, 72 percent of French people are against the pension reform—and the trend is rising. Since mid-January, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets and workers have gone on strike throughout the country. In addition, there is a new form of protest: the union from the energy sector supplied schools, hospitals and poor families with free electricity for one day. In this way, the striking workers want to demonstrate their power and prevent the raising of the retirement age.
They call it a “Robin Hood action”: On January 26, 2023, trade unionist Sébastien Menesplier announced that on that day free electricity and gas would flow to schools, hospitals, social buildings and poor families. In the mass strikes in France, quite a few employees from the energy sector have not only stopped working, according to the report—but have used the levers they are sitting on to create a piece of social justice. “We decided this collectively in a general assembly,” Sébastien Menesplier told the BFMTV television channel. He is president of the National Federation of Mines and Energy (FNME) of the CGT union.
“We have given a favorable tariff to small traders such as bakers or artisans,” he announced. People who have had their electricity or gas cut off because of unpaid bills—”by unscrupulous suppliers and despite the winter,” Menesplier said—were now receiving gas and electricity again.
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“This is just the beginning,” said Fabrice Coudour, general secretary of the CGT-Energie union. “We can carry out Robin Hood actions at any moment.” French energy company EDF left a press inquiry from Kontrast unanswered—so neither confirmed nor denied the accounts.
Fourteen nuclear reactors out of 56 are at a standstill, refineries and gas stations are paralyzed all over the country, trains are not running, schools are not teaching, and employees have also stopped work in factories such as those of the canning company Bonduelles. Some are only striking selectively, on days of the general strike, which kicked off Jan. 19. Others continue to strike without interruption. The pressure of the population on politics is enormous—and also shows that there is more at stake in social justice in general than just this one pension reform. That is the bone of contention.
Trigger of the protests: attack on a central social achievement
It was exactly three years ago—when the masses on France’s streets had already prevented it once with strikes: the increase of the retirement age to 64. The country was at a standstill, the higher retirement age was prevented. Now the issue is back on the table—and the French population is once again on the streets. President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne want to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
For some neighboring countries, retirement at 64 may sound downright idyllic—in Germany, for example, the current retirement age is 67, in Austria 65. In France, on the other hand, the increase to 64 is considered virtually sacrilegious. Why?
On the one hand, the low retirement age stands for a social achievement from the 1980s under then President François Mitterand: Anyone who attacks this achievement is, in the eyes of the French, attacking the entire social policy. This has been steadily dismantled by the governments of recent years.
Macron’s governments loosened protection against dismissal, cut housing benefits—and abolished the wealth tax. The low entry age therefore has a symbolic value as well as a practical one—less work.
Old-age poverty threatens to increase
It should also be taken into account that the planned pension reform threatens to make old-age poverty even more acute for many people than it already is. People who lose their jobs at the age of 60, for example, or become incapacitated due to physical ailments, are often unable to find new work. But they are then not entitled to a full pension rate. The state saves, those affected suffer.
In particular, people who take parental leave or have been unemployed in between are penalized by this reform—because these years are not counted. Then, in old age, these years are either added on in the form of even more years of working time—or the pension turns out to be particularly low. Since women still take more and longer parental leave than men, the reform would further exacerbate inequality.
Instead, the CGT union argues for higher contributions from working people—but especially from listed companies.
“As a reminder, in 2022, the top 40 listed companies in France made 80 billion euros in profits—an unprecedented peak!” a CGT paper says. That the missing money could be fetched from the super-rich and corporations is one of the main arguments of the opponents:of pension reform.
Despite arrests: Over a million people demonstrated
On January 19, 2023, over one million people took to the streets nationwide. The next large-scale mobilization is scheduled for January 31. In the time in between, however, the protest did not sleep—on the contrary. On many evenings in several cities—Paris, Strasbourg, Nantes—people with CGT flags and in torchlight processions wandered through the cities. A few hundred yellow vests also set off again on their traditional Saturday.

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, is trying to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
So the eight biggest unions across the country called a massive wave of strikes and protests today, with over 200 actions across the country.
— Read Jackson Rising by @CooperationJXN (@JoshuaPHilll) January 19, 2023

Meanwhile, police repression is evident. Videos from the mass demonstration on Jan. 19 show images of police violence—even apart from that, there are dubious operations. At numerous universities throughout France, students are currently coming together to organize against the pension reform. To this end, “general assemblies” are being held in lecture halls. In Strasbourg and Paris on the Condorcet campus, such general assemblies were stormed by French riot police (CRS). Twenty-nine students were arrested in Paris on January 22 and were forced to hold out for 22 hours in custody, without food or drink. In both cases, the respective university directors ordered the police storming of the student general assembly.
“They want to prevent the student protests from structuring, from students organizing,” said a young woman named Erelle on Twitter—she is part of the anti-capitalist student collective “Raised Fist” (“Poing levé”).
Government wants to push through law without parliamentary approval
Meanwhile, tension is rising at the parliamentary and party political level. Each camp is pulling out all available stops. The government either wants to push the law through as 49-3 – a paragraph that allows a law to be pushed through without a parliamentary vote. Or the law will be pushed through as a purely financial project. Both paragraphs allow for “government bypass” of Parliament, without a vote. Many criticize the procedure as deeply undemocratic.
Meanwhile, the opposition is preparing for resistance from both the right and the left. Both the left-wing Nupes alliance and the extreme right-wing Rassemblement National want to call for a referendum, i.e., to have the French vote on the reform. The crux of the matter is that only one motion may be submitted. The far-right and the left-wing alliance must therefore agree on a text for the motion, or at least endorse the text of their opponents in a vote. A closing of ranks that the left-wing Nupes faction considers unacceptable. Now, the question remains whether the right-wingers will support the motion of the left-wing opponents.
If that happens, however, it remains unlikely that a referendum will actually be held—because ultimately it would require the final approval of the president. For the president, this would be a complete loss of face. According to surveys, 72 percent of French citizens are against the pension reform—and the trend is increasing every week. It is highly unlikely that Macron allows such a referendum.
Nevertheless, the pressure on the government is increasing. After all, the strikes not only bring crowds onto the streets, but also cause very real economic damage. In particular, when gasoline and energy sectors are at a standstill, the economy goes into a tailspin. The next large-scale mobilization is set for January 31. But the French rail union CGT-Cheminots is already announcing that it will go on an indefinite strike starting in mid-February. The fight over pension reform will also be one of endurance.
This work is licensed under the Creative Common License. It can be republished for free, either translated or in the original language. In both cases, please cite / Lea Fauth as the original source/author and set a link to this article on Scoop.me. https://scoop.me/france-retirement-reform/
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England bans single-use plastic products and packaging

England bans single-use plastic products. From October, plastic tableware, Styrofoam cups and certain food packaging may no longer be sold or used. This excludes packaging for ready meals. The ban applies to retail and food retailers, as well as snack bars and restaurants. Environmental organizations criticize this as insufficient. 
It is estimated that 2.7 billion disposable knives, forks, cups, and plates are used in England every year. Most of them are made of plastic. If they were strung together, they would go around the world more than 8 times. The big problem: Just 10 percent of them are recycled. Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Environment, has now announced a ban on single-use plastic products. It will apply from October. 
Ban on plastic plates, cups, cutlery and certain packaging
From October 2023, single-use plastic plates, cups, cutlery, bowls and trays will be banned. The same applies to polystyrene cups (e.g., from vending machines) and certain food packaging. Packaging for ready meals is exempt. In the future, these products may then neither be sold nor used in retail outlets, snack bars or restaurants.
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Greenpeace criticizes the exemptions and calls the ban insufficient. The organization A Plastik Planet is also calling for further measures. Above all, they want a ban on the small plastic bags for mini-portions such as ketchup, soy sauce or cosmetic products. 

Check out A Plastic Planet’s co-founder, @siansutherland, speaking on Sky News this morning on the announcement of England’s new plastic bans.
Sian says, “Finally, the government is enacting this ban but imagine if we went further and changed the system not just the material.” pic.twitter.com/9JTrr18mKP
— A Plastic Planet (@aplastic_planet) January 14, 2023

Single-use plastic products: EU bans production—manufacturers must pay for cleaning
The European Union already enacted a similar ban in 2019. It bans the production of single-use plastic products such as plastic straws, cotton swabs and balloon sticks. Fast-food packaging made of Styrofoam is also banned. 
According to the directive on avoiding single-use plastic products, all plastic bottles must also be made of at least 30 percent recycled material from 2023. In addition, disposable products that are particularly harmful to the environment (cigarette filters, balloons, and hygiene products with plastic content) must be labeled.
The ban puts the onus on producers, as manufacturers of plastic products such as cigarette filters, fishing nets and plastic bags must now contribute to the costs of environmental cleaning. 
The directive aims to combat pollution of the environment and, above all, pollution of the ocean. 
Every minute, a truckload of plastic enters the sea
Products made of plastic are extremely long-lasting, degrade very slowly and mostly incompletely. They often end up as microplastics in the oceans. If there is no change in the way we handle single-use plastic products, there will be more than 12 billion tons of plastic in the environment by 2050, according to the UN. 
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Environmental organizations like Green Peace estimate that a truckload of plastic ends up in the ocean every minute. Much of this is single-use plastic products. If this continues, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2030.  Läs mer…

Historic appointment: Brazil gets first indigenous minister with Sônia Guajajara

Brazil is getting a new Ministry for Indigenous Peoples, has more indigenous deputies than ever before, and is getting its first female indigenous minister with the appointment of Sônia Guajajara. Who is this woman, and what will change for the indigenous population now? 
More than 256 different indigenous peoples live in Brazil. Yet their interests and concerns have received little attention. The history of the indigenous population in Brazil is partly a history of displacement, exploitation, and exclusion. Especially under the extreme right-wing ex-president Jair Bolsonaro, illegal land and raw material theft increased again. With his disastrous environmental policy, he destroyed not only the habitat, but also the livelihood of many indigenous peoples.
With the inauguration of the new left-wing president Lula da Silva, something seems to be changing: With five deputies, more indigenous politicians are joining Brazil’s National Congress than ever before.
In addition, a newly created ministry looks after the concerns and interests of the indigenous population. The Ministry for Indigenous Peoples is headed by activist Sônja Guajajara. This is another milestone in the country’s history: For she is Brazil’s first indigenous minister.
Sônia Guajajara: Brazil’s first female indigenous minister
The U.S. magazine TIME has named Sônia Guajajara one of the 100 most influential people of 2022. The 48-year-old is one of Brazil’s best-known activists. She fights for the rights of the indigenous population, for the preservation of their cultures and against environmental destruction and the theft of land and raw materials.
She appeared with Greta Thunberg and Javier Bardem at the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference, and was asked by Alicia Keys to take the stage at Rock in Rio (2017) to reiterate her demands to protect the Amazon.
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Sônia Bone de Souza Silva Santos, who bears the name of her people Guajajara, was born in 1979 in Arariboia, a reservation in the state of Maranhão. At the age of ten, she left her village to go to school. After attending secondary school, she graduated in literature and completed postgraduate studies in special education.
In March 2022, she was among 151 international feminists who signed the Feminist Resistance Against War: A Manifesto in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Demands of the indigenous peoples: An end to mining in their own territories, more participation, and easier territorial claims
Before she was sworn in as minister, she coordinated the campaigns of the Association of Brazilian Indigenous People (APIB). This association published a 10-point plan with demands to the new government when Da Silva took office.
Right at the beginning, the new Ministry of Indigenous Peoples has the chance to prove itself by responding to the demands of the Association of Indigenous Brazilians (APIB). The association is demanding the immediate repeal of seven normative legal acts of the previous government. Among them, for example, the decree that allows mining on the territories of indigenous peoples.
Sônia Guajajara campaigns for land rights and recognition for Brazil’s indigenous peoples. First as an activist, now as a minister (photo: Midia Ninja/CC by SA-2.0)
One of the most important demands is the repeal of the “Marco Temporal” decree. According to this decree, indigenous peoples may only claim an area if they can prove that they lived there before the Brazilian constitution came into force in 1988. But such proof is de facto impossible. This is because if the indigenous peoples had already been evicted, they would have to prove that they had already submitted a claim to reoccupy the land at that time.
Until 1988, however, the indigenous population was under the guardianship of FUNAI. Thus, they had no legal means of appealing to the judiciary through their own representation. FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio) ensures that the rights of indigenous populations. Since 2019, it has been under the authority of the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights.
In the past 2022 elections, Guajajara was elected to the National Congress in the state of São Paulo. She is now one of five indigenous deputies in Congress.
In early January, President Lula da Silva made her minister for the new Ministry of Indigenous Peoples. She is one of 37 ministers in the new government—only 11 of whom are women.
Bolsonaro prevented land restitution—Lula wants turnaround
The far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro blocked and delayed with the Marco Temporal any attempts by the indigenous population to protect or reclaim their rightful habitat. The government of Lula da Silva declares the inhumane policies of its predecessor to be over and wants to stand up for the rights of all Brazilians again in the future. This includes the indigenous peoples.
More than 1,000 territories are currently being reclaimed by indigenous peoples. 731 applications are currently being processed.
Never before have so many indigenous deputies entered the National Congress
Mario Juruna was the first indigenous deputy at the national level in 1983. It took another 35 years for Joênia Wapichana to become the first indigenous woman elected to Congress.
With the latest election, five deputies now enter the National Congress as representatives of the indigenous peoples. Among them are Sônia Guajajara and the human rights activist Célia Xakriabá. These are only a few, and yet they are more numerous than ever before. Läs mer…

EU: Companies with more than 100 employees must disclose wages to make pay gaps visible

The European Council, the Commission and the Parliament have agreed on the main points of the new EU Pay Transparency Directive. The directive aims to end the pay gap between women and men. In the future, companies with more than 100 employees will have to publish average salaries for the same work or work of equal value. Gender pay gaps must be eliminated in cooperation with social partners. Otherwise, there is a threat of fines. 
“Today is a good day, not just for women, but for all workers,” says Evelyn Regner, vice president of the EU Parliament. She has fought for years for the EU directive for pay transparency. In December, the European Council, the EU Commission and the Parliament have now agreed on the most important points of the directive. An essential step, because in Europe, women still earn on average 14 percent less than men in comparable positions. 
Employees gain insight into wage levels
Above all, a lack of transparency makes it difficult to reduce the gender pay gap. It is considered one of the main obstacles. The new directive aims to change that. In the future, all employees of a company will be able to see the wage structures of their colleagues—at least for people who do the same or comparable work. It does not matter how large a company is. 
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Information about individual wages or the average wage for the same or comparable work forms the basis for fair pay regardless of gender. After all, this is the only way to make discriminatory wage differences visible and correct them through complaints or legal action. 
“With the new law, we have made good progress towards reducing the gender pay gap and ensuring that all employees in Europe receive the same pay for the same work or work of equal value” Evelyn Regner, Vice President of the EU Parliament. 
Companies must disclose any wage differentials between male and female employees
Companies with more than 100 employees must make wage structures publicly available and report them to a monitoring body. It must be made clear whether there are differences or pay gaps between the sexes. 
If the wage gap exceeds 5 percent, the company must develop and implement measures in cooperation with the social partners (e.g., employee representatives, trade unions). However, only if the difference cannot be attributed to objective factors. 
The disclosed data will make cross-industry comparisons possible. This will make the full extent of wage inequality (even) more visible. This will also increase awareness of the problem for employers and employees. 
Penalties and sanctions for violating the EU Pay Transparency Directive
The directive places greater responsibility on individual companies and EU member states. They must publish wage data, make it available to the public and the workforce, and report it to a monitoring body. In the event of violations, the companies concerned face fines. These are to be set and enforced by the member states. 
The newly gained transparency gives employees the opportunity to stand up for their rights from the outset. Companies that pay women and men unequally will have a harder time in the future. 
HR managers are no longer allowed to ask about applicants’ current salaries.
Wage inequality often begins in the job interview. Applicants are asked about their current salary, which then serves as the starting point for negotiations. This deepens gender pay gaps. With the new directive, HR managers will no longer be allowed to do this.
The EU-Parliament also agreed on a new directive to give platform workers more rights. Including minimum wage, social security and paid vacation. Läs mer…

EU Directive: Minimum wage, social security and paid vacation for platform workers

Despite massive pressure from platform operators, the EU Parliament agrees on a directive for more rights for platform workers. In principle, they will be considered employees—with all employment and social security rights. That means: minimum wage, paid vacation, social security and benefits in case of illness and unemployment. The directive is set to end the precarious working conditions of platform work, make the algorithms used more transparent and bring 5.5 million people out of bogus self-employment. 
More than 28 million people in the EU currently work for a digital platform. They deliver food for Deliveroo, clean for Helping, or drive for Uber. The European Council expects that number to rise to 43 million by 2025. The vast majority work independently. It is estimated that 5.5 million of them are false self-employed. As a result, they do not receive the social and legal protection to which they are entitled by law. The new directive aims to change that. 
EU-Directive for platform work: More protection and rights for employees
Platform operators like to present themselves as the pioneers of flexible, modern and self-determined work. What sounds good on paper, however, creates precarious working conditions in reality. Almost 5.5 million people in the EU suffer from this. This is because they work as bogus self-employed workers, although according to the definition they should be employees. 
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They have no social security, no sick pay, no paid vacation and no collective bargaining. They struggle with irregular working hours, high workloads and constant availability. Platform operators are the main beneficiaries. 
“Protecting all workers in the digital age should be as easy as ordering food or a cab by smartphone. All employees are entitled to employee and social rights, i.e., fair pay, social security, sick pay and inclusion in collective bargaining. Agnes Jongerius, employment policy spokeswoman of the S&D Group.
With the new Directive on Platform Work, platform workers in principle will be employees—with all employment and social security rights. The burden of proof with regard to employment status will lie with the platforms in the future. This means that platform operators will have to prove that it is not an employment relationship but a self-employed activity.  
Are Platform workers employees?
The EU-Directive formulates control criteria that determine whether a digital work platform is an employer. If two of the following criteria apply, then this is the case:
Criteria that defines digital work platforms as employer

Determination of the amount of remuneration or setting of upper limits for remuneration.
Monitoring of work performance, including by electronic means (e.g., algorithms)
Restriction of the freedom to choose working hours or absences, to accept or decline tasks, or to use the services of subcontractors or substitute employees
Prescribing certain binding rules regarding appearance and behavior toward the recipient of the service or regarding work performance
Restricting the ability to build a customer base or perform work for third parties
If a digital platform is an employer, then the employees are entitled to full employment and social security rights. This includes the minimum wage (if there is one), regulated working hours and health protection, paid vacation, unemployment and sickness benefits, as well as a retirement pension and involvement in collective bargaining.

If a digital platform is an employer, then the employees are entitled to full employment and social security rights. This includes the minimum wage (if there is one), regulated working hours and health protection, paid vacation, unemployment and sickness benefits, as well as a retirement pension and involvement in collective bargaining. 
More algorithmic transparency
Many platform operators use algorithms to organize and control their employees. Yet most algorithms resemble a black box. Decisions they make are not comprehensible to those affected. Who is hired, who is terminated, how is performance evaluated, and who gets new assignments?
The new directive will make these processes more transparent. Employees should also be able to legally challenge automated decisions. In addition, humans will have to monitor the working conditions and not, as in some cases, algorithms. Above all, algorithms should not have access to the sensitive and personal data of employees (gender, origin, political views, trade union membership). 
The directive now comes to vote in trilogue with Council and Commission
A large majority in the relevant committee of the Parliament adopted the text of the directive. It will form the basis for negotiations in the upcoming trilogue with the Council and the EU Commission.  Läs mer…