Some of Australia’s most popular gadget and appliance brands have shown poor results in a report which reveals child labour, slavery and low wages remain a problem in the multi-trillion dollar global electronics industry.
Thermomix, Nutri-Bullet and GoPro are among big-name brands to receive a D-minus in the 2016 Electronics Industry Trends report, a survey of the supply chains of 56 companies conducted by Baptist World Aid.
“Forced labour, child labour and exploitation remain as significant problems in the supply chain of the electronics industry,” Baptist World Aid Australia advocacy manager Gershon Nimbalker said in a statement.
“This is the most valuable industry in the world, worth in the trillions. If anyone can afford to ensure they have an ethical supply chain, it’s our big tech companies.”
The report noted that Australian brands Kogan, Soniq and Palsonic “were among the worst performers receiving D-minus and F grades”.
It also found struggling electronics chain Dick Smith, which went into administration in January, had moved up from a D in the 2014 report to a B-minus due to its improved supply chain transparency and proof that factory workers were receiving above-minimum wages.
The two-year study assessed supply chains of some of the biggest companies in the world, including Apple and Microsoft, using publicly available and supplied information to rank the efforts companies make to guard against the use of child and forced labour and worker exploitation when sourcing products.
It examined from raw materials stage through smelting and refining and on to final manufacture and paints a largely grim picture, with a key finding that no company surveyed could demonstrate workers making its products were earning a living wage.
The Electronics Industry Trends report uses information published by the companies surveyed as well as answers supplied to a list of questions to build a picture of how much attention companies pay to the conditions endured by workers making their products.
Some companies did not respond to questions.
The report looks at four categories: policies; traceability and transparency; monitoring and training; and worker rights.
Traceability of raw materials remains a problem: while a majority of companies knew their final stage manufacturers, only 10 per cent had traced their inputs and none had fully traced their raw materials, the report said.
No company among the 56 surveyed achieved an A for its practices, although Mr Nimbalker said almost two-thirds of those surveyed had improved since the first report in 2014.
The median grade for 2016 was C, “suggesting workers remain overworked and underpaid, working long shifts with no overtime pay, little rest and wages so low families struggle to make ends meet,” Mr Nimbalker said.
Mr Nimbalker said company attitudes had changed in recent years and he was now seeing front-runners responding to shifting expectations about outsourced production.
“An increasing number of consumers say they want to be responsible and purchase ethically but they just don’t have any information on that,” he said.
Generations of Aboriginal families are being hurt by ice addiction and the federal Closing the Gap strategy will fail unless it deals with the impact the drug is having across Australia, a peak drug advisory group has warned.
Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council South Australia (ADAC) director Scott Wilson said ice is now affecting most indigenous communities in some way and remote towns in particular do not have the resources to deal with the problem.
Mr Wilson said ice is now an intergenerational issue and he has seen “numerous instances” of families where grandparents, parents and children are all using the highly addictive drug.
“We know that you can score here in Adelaide for as cheap as $5 – that will give you enough to get you off for the day,” Mr Wilson said.
As the federal government unveiled its 2016 Closing the Gap report on Wednesday, Mr Wilson said there is an urgent need to pay specific attention to the effects of drugs and alcohol.
“I doubt there would be too many Aboriginal communities where people are not being impacted, whether it’s immediate or extended family members,” he said.
Mr Wilson said he was constantly taking calls at the South Australian-based organisation from parents looking for help to deal with addicted teenaged children.
“It is my considered view that ice is already becoming entrenched in some indigenous communities,” he said.
“In many ways it becomes more apparent in indigenous communities because there are fewer services to assist people.”
Mr Wilson said the Closing the Gap report had focused on foetal alcohol syndrome but beyond that was more general, looking at issues like health services and workforce development.
“The big elephant in the room is there is not a lot in (the report) that says drugs and alcohol should be part of the focus,” Mr Wilson told AAP.
“Do nothing around the drug and alcohol issue and you are not going to close the gap by 2030 at all.”
ADAC is resurrecting the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Conference in October, where up to 600 delegates are expected to workshop ideas for dealing with the impact of ice, which is also known as crystal meth.
The conference was not held in 2015 after the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee was defunded by the federal government.
Mr Wilson said current approaches to the problem, such as TV ads showing ice users as violent, were not a solution because they were making people fearful of trying to help them.
But affected communities and family members don’t know what to do and are desperate for advice and strategies to deal with the impact of drug users.
“A lot of meth users are not necessarily violent,” he said.
“We do workshops now on what you can do to approach a meth user rather than ‘oh my god, just call the police’.”
People who wheeze in childhood could be most at risk of developing lung disease in adult life, according to a long-term study.
Researchers at Britain’s Southampton General Hospital and the David Hide Centre on the Isle of Wight found that almost 60 per cent of children who started wheezing during infancy and continued until the age of 10 – known as persistent wheezing – were still affected at 18 and had significantly impaired lung function.
The condition, which is recognised by a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs with a narrowing of the airways, is common among children from around the age of three, but most outgrow it before adolescence.
Dr Claire Hodgekiss, a clinical fellow in asthma and allergy based at the David Hide Centre, said: “Until recently, wheezing during infancy was not thought to be associated with any significant respiratory health risks in adulthood.
“However, using our large group of long-term research patients, we’ve discovered wheeze can transcend adolescence into young adulthood and cause airway disease at 18 years, which is a new finding.”
Led by allergy specialists Professor Hasan Arshad and Dr Ramesh Kurukulaaratchy at the NIHR Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit, the team studied the effects of the breathing complaint in 1,456 patients who were recruited at birth in 1989.
They reviewed the patients at the ages of one, two, four, 10 and 18 and took a wheeze recording at each visit.
Persistent wheezers had significantly worse lung function – taking in the force of their breath, capacity and airflow through the lungs, inflammation and narrowing in the airways – at 18 compared to those who had not wheezed in the first decade of life.
They also found that 62 per cent of persistent wheezers suffered from more than one common allergic disease, such as eczema, hay fever or asthma, and that the prevalence of current smoking among the group (44.4 per cent) was almost double that of non-wheezers (24 per cent) at 18.
If you thought Mitch Marsh was angry on Monday night, you should have seen him in England last year.
Marsh was a picture of rage in Hamilton, where he was out in controversial fashion as New Zealand claimed an ODI series win.
The fact the allrounder’s dismissal was such a turning point in the topsy-turvy clash highlighted his recent development.
Marsh has been working tirelessly on his batting since the 2015 Ashes, when he claimed Shane Watson’s place in Australia’s Test XI but tallied 48 runs from five digs.
“Obviously I didn’t perform with the bat when I had an opportunity to do so,” Marsh told AAP.
“To play an Ashes series and lose, it creates a fair bit of fire in your belly.
“It makes you want to perform much better and be around for the next Ashes, because hopefully we’ll be able to get some sort of revenge back on the Poms.”
That will have to wait until the summer of 2017-18.
More pressing is a two-Test series against New Zealand that starts in Wellington on Friday.
It’s no Ashes but the No.1 Test ranking is up for grabs, raising the standard trans-Tasman tension.
“It’s a nice little carrot dangling there, isn’t it?” Marsh acknowledged.
The 24-year-old will be crucial to Australia’s hopes of snatching it.
Undone in bowling-friendly conditions in England, Marsh knows he must bat smarter and heed the lessons of the team’s failed Ashes campaign.
For Marsh, the most important of those is learning to cope with pressure in Tests.
“I’ll admit I’ve gone into my shell in the past, which isn’t the best way for me to bat,” he said.
“A lot of times pressure is perceived pressure or scoreboard pressure – regardless you’ve got to play your game.
“I’ve got to stay positive and look to hit the ball.”
The run gluttons at the top of Australia’s order largely prevented Marsh from doing much with the bat in the whites this summer.
However, his recent form in the canary yellow is impressive.
Marsh was arguably Australia’s form player in their recent 2-1 ODI series loss in NZ, with pressure-laden knocks of 69 not out and 41 particularly impressive.
They followed his maiden ODI century, which came against India a tick over a fortnight ago.
“I’m just finding out what works and doesn’t work for me – both on and off the field,” Marsh explained.
“Gaining experience at this level is crucial.”
Marsh’s state captain Adam Voges believes he knows how to get the best out of the young star.
“He’s at his best when he’s looking to score and take the bowling on. He’s big and strong and he can hit the ball very hard,” Voges said earlier this summer.
“I’ve seen him play some terrific innings in first-class cricket for Western Australia.
“I’m sure he’ll transfer that to the Test arena, he’s just got to keep backing himself.”
The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of civilians could be cut off from food if Syrian government forces encircle rebel-held parts of Aleppo.
Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, have launched a major offensive in the countryside around Aleppo, which has been divided between government and rebel control for years.
The assault to surround Aleppo, once Syria’s biggest city with two million people, amounts to one of the most important shifts of momentum in the five-year civil war that has killed 250,000 people and already driven 11 million from their homes.
Since last week, fighting has already wrecked the first attempt at peace talks for two years and led rebel fighters to speak about losing their northern power base altogether.
The UN is worried the government advance could cut off the last link for civilians in rebel-held parts of Aleppo with the main Turkish border crossing, which has long served as the lifeline for insurgent-controlled territory.
“It would leave up to 300,000 people, still residing in the city, cut off from humanitarian aid unless cross-line access could be negotiated,” the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
It also said that if government advances around the city continue, “local councils in the city estimate that some 100,000 – 150,000 civilians may flee”.
Turkey, already home to 2.5 million Syrians, the world’s biggest refugee population, has so far kept its frontier mostly closed to the latest wave of displaced, making it more difficult to reach them with urgently needed aid.
The United Nations urged Ankara on Tuesday to open the border and has called on other countries to assist Turkey with aid.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said as many as a million refugees could arrive if the Russian-Syrian campaign continues.
US President Barack Obama proposed a $US4.
1 trillion spending plan for 2017 in a final White House budget that laid out his priorities for fighting Islamic State, raising taxes on wealthy Americans and helping the poor.
The budget for the fiscal year beginning on October 1 is largely a political document and unlikely to be passed by the Republican-controlled Congress.
But it gives the Democratic president, who leaves office in January, a chance to make a last pitch for funding on issues such as education, criminal justice reform and job creation while taking credit for US economic strides during his tenure.
The spending proposal stayed within the confines of an agreement reached between the White House and Congress last year that lifted mandatory “sequestration” cuts on both defence and domestic spending.
It proposes lifting the limits entirely from 2018.
“My budget makes critical investments while adhering to the bipartisan budget agreement I signed into law last fall,” Obama wrote in the budget document.
“It also drives down deficits and maintains our fiscal progress through smart savings from health care, immigration, and tax reforms.”
The proposed budget envisions a deficit of $503 billion in fiscal 2017 after a $616 billion budget gap in the current fiscal year ending on September 30.
It seeks to cut deficits by $2.9 trillion over 10 years largely through shrunken tax breaks for wealthy earners, new savings in Medicare healthcare, and assumptions that adoption of its policies would boost economic growth.
Obama is due to meet with his national security team to discuss cyber security on Tuesday morning in Washington and is likely to address reporters at the close of the meeting.
The budget seeks $19 billion for cyber security across the US government.
Ten times as many migrants and refugees arrived in Europe by sea in the first six weeks of the year as in the same period of 2015, and the number of deaths also soared, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The organisation said the number of arrivals topped 76,000, and the number of deaths shot up to 409 on Mediterranean routes from 69 in the first six weeks of 2015.
The IOM also predicted no fall in the number of arrivals in Europe and said next month Greece would receive its one millionth arrival since the migrant crisis began.
More than 1.1 million people fleeing poverty, war and repression in the Middle East, Asia and Africa reached Europe’s shores last year, most of them heading for Germany.
Around half the arrivals are refugees from the Syrian war, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says.
The IOM reported 70,365 migrants and refugees had arrived by sea in Greece so far this year, and 5,898 in Italy.
Some 319 have died while crossing the eastern Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece and 90 on the central route between North Africa and Italy.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the organisation did not expect the number of migrant and refugee arrivals in Europe to fall in the foreseeable future.
“There are more concurrent crises around than we’ve ever seen at one time,” he said.
“Conditions on the ground in the countries that are feeding the migrant crisis are largely unchanged, so we think the numbers will probably stay the same.”
The short eastern Mediterranean crossing is safer than the central Mediterranean route, where there were a number of major sinkings in 2015.
But Millman said the number of Aegean deaths had suddenly shot up at the end of last year, when small boats sank almost daily – possibly showing that migrants were using less seaworthy boats.
Swedish prosecutors are working on a new request to interview WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
The move was announced followed last week’s finding by a United Nations working group that Assange was being “arbitrarily detained” by the UK and Swedish authorities.
The Swedish Prosecution Authority said in a brief statement: “The prosecutor responsible for the case, director of public prosecution Marianne Ny, is currently working on a renewed request to interview Julian Assange at Ecuador’s embassy in London.
“A former request was rejected in January by the Prosecutor General of Ecuador.”
The spokesman said last week’s report by the UN panel had not had any effect on Ny’s previous conclusions on the case.
“Concerning the report that was issued last week, I would like to state that it does not change my earlier assessments in the investigation,” she said.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond branded the working group’s findings as “frankly ridiculous” and said the Australian was “hiding from justice”.
Assange said the minister’s comments were “beneath” his stature and insulting to the UN.
He is wanted for questioning in Sweden over a sex allegation, which he has always denied, and believes he will be taken to the United States for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he is extradited.
He said the UN Working Group’s decision was legally binding, insisting there was no higher authority on whether detentions were lawful.
Assange said Sweden and the UK had opportunities in the past few weeks to appeal against the decision but had not taken any action, so the matter was now a “settled law”.
Friends of Assange questioned whether the Swedish prosecutor was objective and was now the “appropriate person” to handle the case given the UN group’s decision.
Ten people have been killed and at least 81 injured after two passenger trains collided head-on at high speed in remote countryside in southern Germany.
Police said one passenger was still missing and 18 of those injured were in a serious condition.
The crash happened during the morning rush-hour about halfway along a 6km stretch between the spa town of Bad Aibling and Kolbermoor in Bavaria, near to the border with Austria.
Ambulances could not reach the site, which was heavily wooded with a steep hill on one side and a river on the other, so helicopters had to airlift people to nearby hospitals.
Police said recovery operations with heavy machinery would be suspended overnight and restart at daybreak on Wednesday.
The trains had been carrying about 100 passengers, mainly commuters. Police said more people would have been travelling if it had not been a holiday week.
Hundreds of emergency service workers, including mountain rescue teams, worked to save passengers at the crash site, where several derailed blue, yellow and grey train carriages lay on their side next to the track.
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said the trains and track had been fitted with an automatic brake system that was introduced across Germany after 10 people died in 2011 near Magdeburg when a train driver drove through two red signals.
“It’s one of the biggest accidents we have had in the last few years,” he said.
Germany’s most serious post-war train accident occurred in 1998 when 101 people were killed near the northern town of Eschede after a high speed ICE train crashed.
Dobrindt said both trains on Tuesday must have been travelling at high speed entering a curve and the drivers had probably not seen each other.
Police declined to comment on the cause of the crash. They appealed for people to donate blood.
Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed shock and sent her condolences to families of the victims.
“I trust that the authorities responsible will do everything they can to clear up how this accident could happen,” she said in a statement.
Dobrindt said an investigation had begun and that the priority was to find out whether the cause was a technical problem or human error.
The trains’ operator, Meridian, is part of French passenger transport firm Transdev, which is jointly owned by state-owned bank CDC and water and waste firm Veolia.
Transdev said in a statement that management and staff were terribly shocked by the “exceptionally serious accident” and that Chief Executive Jean-Marc Janaillac was at the scene.
State-owned Deutsche Bahn is responsible for the track, which has a speed limit of 100 km per hour. The company said the safety system had been checked last week.
The federal government is confident a strong focus on combating malaria across Pacific island nations will hold the region in good stead against the Zika virus.
Tonga declared an epidemic this week with five confirmed cases and 259 suspected cases. Samoa had three confirmed cases in September and October last year and its government has set up seven surveillance sites and has stepped up fogging.
French Polynesia and Vanuatu have also had outbreaks in recent years. Minister for International Development Steve Ciobo said mosquito-borne diseases were an omnipresent challenge in the Pacific and malaria was the most pervasive.
“There is already a lot of effort directed towards dealing with blood-borne, mosquito-carrying diseases,” he told AAP.
He praised the strong regional architecture of the region and the knowledge sharing that took place among health experts.
Mr Ciobo emphasised it was still early days for the Zika outbreak. Zika is transmitted to humans through the bites of infectious Aedes mosquitoes, most commonly Aedes aegypti, the species that transmits dengue in north Queensland.
Most infected people have no symptoms or experience only a mild illness but the virus has been linked to microcephaly, a neurological disorder in which infants are born with undersized heads.
Brazil has reported nearly 4000 suspected cases of microcephaly.
Meanwhile, the University of South Australia wants to import a batch of the virus and plans to work on a vaccine using genetic engineering techniques.
“It’s really a race against the clock to find a vaccine for Zika virus and our lab is starting pre-clinical laboratory based experiments immediately,” Associate Professor John Hayball said.