Valentine’s Day: five ways to ensure your flowers are ethical

Valentine’s Day: five ways to ensure your flowers are ethical

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Anett / shutterstock

Jill Timms, Coventry University and David Bek, Coventry University

If you take an interest in ethical consumerism and plan to treat someone special this February 14, what dilemmas lie ahead? You might already be conscious of getting child labour and slave-free chocolate, a recycled card, even fair trade gold, and perhaps vintage or conflict-free diamonds if it’s a very special year. But what about your flowers?

This year one of us (Jill Timms) will spend her Valentine’s Day looking at sustainable supply chains in Lake Naivasha, Kenya, where hundreds of flower workers will be recovering from their busiest time of year.

Across the world, 250m rose stems will be produced for the day. Of those exported to the EU, 38% are from Kenya, where flower export values have trebled this decade. Governments in Ethiopia, Tanzania and more recently Uganda and Rwanda, are also pursuing expansion, with flowers now accounting for 10% of East African exports.

That part of the world has a natural abundance of heat and space, and lots of available cheap labour. Flowers could help the regional economy to “bloom”. However, there are significant social and environmental challenges, such as the massive population growth around Lake Naivasha which contributes to pollution and has helped cut the lake’s volume in half.

Our own research project on sustainable flowers focuses on stakeholders from different parts of the supply chain. But you definitely have a role to play here too, and it begins with asking questions of the flowers you buy. Here are our top five:

1. Where are the flowers from?

Geography matters. Some flowers travel by sea, some cargo plane and others in the hold of passenger jets, all with very different carbon footprints. For instance more than 90% of UK flowers are imported, mostly from the Netherlands, although Kenya and Columbia are increasingly important suppliers. Chemical sprays freeze flowers to extend life, and they often travel via the Dutch flower hub. Historically the Netherlands has been the industry powerhouse, but now works hard to retain this in the face of direct supermarket buying, growth in Chinese, East African and South American production, and criticism of the extra “flower miles” involved in transporting via Holland.

So provenance is important, but you may struggle to know this. Flowers are not always labelled, labels don’t always specify origin or may list the Netherlands if bought at auction, and bouquets include flowers from multiple sources. Even when the origin is known, things can still be unclear as sustainability issues vary widely by country and flower.

Of course, very short supply chains are possible for some varieties (the shortest being from your garden, if you have one). But this sort of localised growing does not satisfy the demand for volume, variety and year-round supply, or indeed guarantee sustainability in terms of energy, pesticide use and so on.

2. Have the flowers met any standard of practice?

In response to ethical concerns, “certification” schemes are becoming more common. Yet we find consumers, florists and even wholesalers are often unaware or misunderstand these, with Fairtrade still being the only one with wider recognition.

We are working with bodies including the British Florist Association to educate florists about standards, and wholesalers like Fleurmetz to review how certification can be more visible. You can help by asking your florist if their flowers are certified. If they don’t know, ask to see delivery boxes.

3. Who does your purchase support?

In the UK, about 60% of flowers are bought from supermarkets, with the rest mostly from florists. Supermarkets have their pros and cons. Flowers tend to be better labelled, and they are more likely to cut out the auctions and buy direct from growers, which assures provenance and means they can influence standards. However the supermarkets might not share this information, and their demands on price, volume and the short time from field to market can put inordinate pressure on farms.

In contrast, the demise of the high street, Brexit uncertainty and increased online and supermarket competition, has led to “support your local florist” campaigns. Interestingly, some florists have responded by using sustainability as a selling point.

Certifications can help you support farms that claim good practice, but could your purchase also promote development – a familiar argument for global trade? Of course it depends how it is done. For example, the Ethiopian government attracted lots of foreign investment in flower farming. However, incentives included controversial land use agreements that led to civil unrest in 2016, with several foreign-owned flower farms badly damaged or burnt to the ground.

4. What are your own priorities?

There is always a trade-off. Flowers grown in greenhouses in Holland use enormous amounts of energy, but travel less. Lake Naivasha roses enjoy natural heat and light, but are flown many miles and can be chemically treated to survive. So your priorities need to guide your purchase: environmental issues include carbon footprint, chemical use, ecological degradation and water use; social issues include health and safety standards, gender discrimination, precarious employment and land rights.

Accordingly you might choose locally-grown seasonal or organic flowers, or seek growers who support community development or rights for women workers.

5. What will you do with your flowers?

Eco-florists such as Wild and Wondrous are raising awareness of alternative practices. Take in your own vase to avoid cellophane packaging or ask for reusable and recycled options like StemGem. When presenting your blooms, take inspiration from the #nofloralfoam campaign. Treat your flowers well by refreshing water and trimming, keep them out of heat and sunlight, then recycle as green waste to make their journey worthwhile.

St Valentine’s is a day to express our love, so demonstrate yours for people and planet. The supply chains are complex, but our simple advice is to ask questions.The Conversation

Jill Timms, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management, Coventry University and David Bek, Reader in Sustainable Economies, Coventry University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

More British children are learning Mandarin Chinese

More British children are learning Mandarin Chinese – but an increase in qualified teachers is urgently needed

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Mandarin Chinese: coming to a school near you soon?
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Katharine Carruthers, UCL

Mandarin Chinese is seen as being of increasing strategic importance, and in recent years there’s been a growing number of students taking up the language in schools across the UK.

There were more than 3,500 GCSE entries for Mandarin Chinese in 2018. But it’s not just China’s global dominance that makes Mandarin an appealing alternative to learning a European language. For students, it’s exciting and opens up a window into other cultures and ways of thinking.

Take the character for home and family 家 – which is a pig under a roof – many students are keen to find out why. New learners of the language are also always pleased to discover that verbs don’t change – so no having to remember different endings off by heart – and there are no tenses in Mandarin Chinese.

The learning of Chinese is taking off globally, so there are many new and innovative resources for students. China is also keen to welcome guests and school students have been able to benefit from in-country learning – supported financially by Chinese host institutions during their stay. Many come back home and realise the opportunities to work in China or with Chinese companies in their future will be huge.

Chinese in schools

As a new subject in a school, Chinese teachers (whether native or non-native speaker) tend to see themselves as pioneers. And they are often under pressure to establish their departments and achieve good results. This can mean learners have plenty of extra support and are motivated by highly focused teachers.

Students are often taught in precisely the same way as they would be taught for a European language, despite the structural differences of Chinese. Teachers start with a communicative approach –- so learners have to get to grips with more complex characters early. For instance 我喜欢 are the characters for “I like”.

Given a free rein, the teacher might choose to build up simpler characters to start with eg 人 and 口 – which mean people and mouth separately. These can then be put together as a compound, meaning population 人口.

Speaking and writing

The UCL Institute of Education has been supporting schools to teach Mandarin Chinese since 2007. Students can also now take part in the Department for Education’s Mandarin Excellence Programme, which is delivered in schools with support from a team of specialists at the UCL Institute of Education. The students learn Chinese for eight hours a week –- four taught hours and four hours of self-study – from year seven onward.

Learning a different language can be fun for kids.
Shutterstock

The programme is already having substantial results with 64 schools and more than 3000 pupils already on track to reach high levels of proficiency during their time at school. The first cohort of students are just joining year three of the programme and already able to speak and write Chinese to a high standard.

As well as delivering the programme and helping to train more Mandarin teachers, UCL Institute of Education is running a pilot for a significant project in schools to investigate the cognitive benefits of learning Chinese. We hope to discover how the brain functions differently when learning Chinese and the benefits this can have on schoolchildren.

A growing trend

But in all the noise about Chinese learning, perspective needs to be maintained about the numbers. In some schools Chinese is thoroughly embedded into the curriculum as a language offered alongside French, Spanish and German, but according to the British Council’s most recent Language Trends survey, Chinese is only offered as a GCSE option in 8% of state schools and 32% of independent schools.

At A-level, numbers are increasing, but this may mask the fact that a good number of those being examined will be native speakers of Chinese – or those with family background in the language.

What is clear though is that given this rise in interest, many more qualified teachers of Chinese are needed – as is much more research on best practice in teaching what is a relatively new language in schools.

This is important, because it is vital there is wider access to and better provision of Mandarin Chinese, if more students are to learn this language. But for this to happen, more schools need to start taking it seriously – by placing it alongside the traditional “foreign” languages (French, German and Spanish) that are typically learnt in the classroom.The Conversation

Katharine Carruthers, Pro-Vice-Provost East Asia, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Why the new Arctic ‘Cold War’ is a dangerous myth

Danita Catherine Burke, University of Southern Denmark

All too often the Arctic region is portrayed as an area on the cusp of military crisis. This is an easy narrative to sell; it harks back to the Cold War. Potent imagery persists of submarines trolling silently beneath the Arctic ice and nuclear ballistic missiles pointed across the North Pole.

During the height of the standoff between NATO and the USSR, the world feared a barrage of nuclear warheads streaming in from the frozen north – and this experience has imprinted on the collective imagination and created distinct ideas about the region. This fear, for example, motivated from the 1950s the construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Lines, a system of radar stations across the northern US (Alaska), Canada, and Greenland. The DEW Lines were meant to give the US and its NATO allies an early warning of an incoming Soviet nuclear strike.

The Cold War was a significant period in history. But catchy headlines playing off the parallels between the region and a new “cold” war are misleading. There have, of course, been increased tensions between the West and Russia since 2014 due to the conflict over Ukraine and Crimea. The 2018 Trident Juncture exercises in the Arctic, featuring “50,000 personnel from NATO Allies and partner countries”, are evidence of this. But the tension is not Arctic-specific and militaries are diverse actors in the region. This nuance, however, is often overlooked.

Current military exercises and equipment acquisitions fuel old Cold War perceptions. And a certain militarisation is indeed occurring in the Arctic. Russia, for example, has recently invested heavily in updating its northern military infrastructure. So too have other Arctic states, such as Canada and Denmark. But military activity has, to varying degrees, occurred for decades in the north – it was just largely ignored by those not living there until recently.

What’s changed?

The Arctic states guard their land and waterways through aerial, submarine and surface ship patrols, much as they have done for years. This hardly constitutes an escalation of military tensions, even if the infrastructure is being updated and, in some cases, increased. Despite this, talk of a new Cold War is heating up.

A nation’s armed forces often play a range of roles – beyond their traditional responsibilities in armed conflict. They are useful for rapid response during disasters, for example, and provide a range of security roles that don’t necessarily mean an escalation to war. They offer search and rescue (SAR) services and policing support.

In Norway, for example, the coastguard is one of the branches of the navy, along with the armed fleet, the naval schools and the naval bases. In Denmark, meanwhile, the coastguard’s Arctic activities are managed by the Royal Danish Navy.

In Canada, the coastguard is a civilian organisation. It “is the principal civilian maritime operational arm of the government of Canada”. But it also works closely with the Department of National Defence to provide Canada’s search and rescue services, including aerial support.

The US coastguard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which “secures the nation’s air, land, and sea borders to prevent illegal activity while facilitating lawful travel and trade”. By law, however, the US coastguard is outside the Department of Defence “in peacetime and is poised for transfer to the Department of the Navy during war”.

Because of affiliations such as these, the line between military and civilian activity can become blurred. But that doesn’t mean all military activity is hostile or equates to an escalation towards war.

Changing environment

Climate change and technological advances have begun to open up the Arctic. And this means that more policing is required in a region that is remote and often out of reach for traditional police forces.

Other issues are also arising from climate change, such as increased forest fires. In July 2018, Sweden suffered major forest fires. As part of its effort to combat the fires it deployed “laser-guided bombs to douse forest fires”. This initiative was led by the Swedish air force. By using laser bombs, the “shockwaves simply blew out the flames in the same way our breath does to candles”.

As the region’s economic activity expands, armed forces are also being asked to assist more with civilian issues. In 2017, for example, the Norwegian coastguard was called in by local police in Tromsø to help police Greenpeace protesters who had entered a 500-metre safety zone around the Songa Enabler rig in an effort to stop drilling in the Korpfjell field of the Barents Sea. The Norwegian coastguard vessel, KV Nordkapp, responded, resulting in the seizure of Grenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship and the arrest of all 35 people on board.

Given the Arctic’s growing economic potential, military infrastructure is getting more attention. Russia, in particular, has made it clear that with economic potential on the line in the Arctic, a military build up is essential. For Russia, Arctic resources are central to the country’s economic security so the government line is: “National security in the Arctic requires an advanced naval, air force and army presence.” But issues of national security are wide ranging and are not solely a matter of building capacity to defend oneself from or in war.

Overall, it is vital to remember that while militaries are tools of war, they are not just tools of war. They also contribute to and provide a wide range of security services. This does not mean that increased military spending and activities should not be viewed with a critical eye. Indeed, they should. But discussing “a new Cold War” is sensationalist. It detracts from the broader roles that militaries play throughout the Arctic and stokes the very tensions it warns of.The Conversation

Danita Catherine Burke, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow, Centre for War Studies, University of Southern Denmark

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We took a gamble on Premier League betting odds – and showed that football bets should come with a health warning

Arman Hassanniakalager, University of Bath and Philip Newall, University of Warwick

“Please drink responsibly” is a familiar plea to those who might be inclined to consume alcohol, and we are also reminded to “gamble responsibly”, a timely reminder during a busy period for Premier League football, full of fixtures and plenty of casual fans with time on their hands.

You can make a reasonable judgement about responsible drinking by using the percentage alcohol by volume (ABV) information on the label of whichever bottle has been opened. But how can we determine the strength of a football bet?

In fact, “gambling harm” can also be approximated by a percentage. The “gamblers’ losses” percentage is a measure of the money bet that a gambler will lose in the long term. Short term randomness around this percentage is what makes gambling interesting – but over longer time periods, gamblers will lose this percentage of all the money they bet.

We think most people probably have no idea of what percentage of all money bet is lost across different football bets. So we looked at eight seasons of Premier League betting odds and results using machine learning.

Machine learning allowed us to simulate three potential human betting strategies over long periods of time. One “random” strategy effectively simulated the risks of throwing darts at a set of betting odds. By comparison, a “most-skilled” strategy carefully studied the betting odds and results for three whole seasons before judiciously selecting the best bet it could find for each match.

We also looked at the returns of a strategy that deliberately tried to be as unskilled as possible. The “least-skilled” strategy chose what might be thought of as the worst case scenario for each match. This mirrors the returns of someone who is not merely unlucky, but is unskilled (and who may benefit from more help and advice). Any differences between these three strategies reflect the role of skill in Premier League football betting.

The risks varied based on both the type of bet chosen and the specific betting strategy used. When simulating the returns of a given bet of, say £1, we found that the gamblers’ losses percentage varied by a factor of 54. Using the drinking comparison, this is like the difference between a 1% reduced strength lager and a strong bottle of whisky.

Some of the highest risks came from betting on the correct score, a bet with pretty high odds, which you might have seen the actor Ray Winstone offering on British television over Christmas. For example, Manchester City to win 3-1, might have odds of 9/1, meaning every £1 bet wins £9 if Manchester City win by that score line.

We found that that just randomly selecting correct score bets would hit you with a strong average loss of 34.3%. But the worse case scenario was a whopping average loss of 58.9%, which came when the least skilled strategy picked very high correct scores (such as the away team winning by four goals to nil). Of course, sometimes bets at high odds pay off. But overall, these figures mean that for every £100 bet, on average the gambler lost £34.30 and £58.90 for their betting strategies.

Luckily there are two tips that gamblers can do to keep their losses within reasonable limits.

The first tip is to select types of bets with relatively low odds. The bookmakers love advertising correct score bets, for example, because these bets offer high odds if gamblers guess the correct score.

Good odds it’s a bad bet

But one bet with lower odds is what we call a “home-draw-away” bet, either betting on Manchester City to win, a draw, or the away team to win. Here the random strategy returned average percentage losses of 8.7%, so nearly four times less than randomly choosing correct score bets.

The second tip is to select bets with relatively low odds within a given bet type. Manchester City are usually expected to win by the bookmakers, and at the time of writing, betting £1 on them to win their recent match against Southampton gave a potential win of £1.27 if successful. By comparison, a £1 bet on Southampton to triumph would return £11 if successful.

Many gamblers might get excited by those higher odds on Southampton winning. But across each bet type, bets at low odds had the lowest average losses for gamblers. If a bet has odds that seem too high to be true, it probably is a bad bet on average.

Warning label.
Author provided

The gambling industry recently announced that it will stop showing gambling advertising pre-watershed, starting from summer 2019. So promoting betting odds on TV during the football will soon become a thing of the past.

But the industry is currently spending five times as much on online marketing (£1.2 billion) as on its total TV advertising spend. This online marketing is largely hidden to anyone who is not targeted to receive these messages.

We believe that the very high differences in product risk across football bets should at least be communicated in some way to consumers. While further research should investigate how best to educate football fans about these different risks, reminders to just “gamble responsibly” won’t cut it.

Consumers need to be told about the risks of football bets with high odds.The Conversation

Arman Hassanniakalager, Lecturer in Finance, University of Bath and Philip Newall, Postdoctoral fellow, University of Warwick

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A customs union would free the UK to strike trade deals – but it doesn’t solve every Brexit problem

Karen Jackson, University of Westminster and Oleksandr Shepotylo, University of Bradford

The debate around the UK’s level of involvement in the EU single market after Brexit may lead to a significant u-turn in government policy. Having initially said it would not seek a customs union with the EU after Brexit (after leaving the full, existing customs union), it looks as though the UK government’s position is softening. Given the alternatives to the single market that are available to the UK, a potential u-turn is welcome.

Leaving the single market but agreeing to a customs union doesn’t rule out the UK making its own trade deals. However, it should be careful what it wishes for. Freedom comes at a price. A customs union only covers trade in goods, so the UK would need an umbrella agreement to cover its other arrangements with the EU.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) sets out the basics in Article XXIV of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In essence, a customs union is where tariffs are removed between members of the union, and the tariffs charged on imports coming from outside the union are harmonised across members of the union. This definition seems straightforward but when you dig deeper into Article XXIV, you find that while these rules apply to trade in goods, they say nothing about services – which are of course very important for the UK.

The text is also quite vague about the products that should be covered by the customs union, stating only that “substantially all trade” should be included. Of course, as soon as you start excluding products from your customs union, then borders with frictions, such as border checks, start to emerge. Therefore, the issue of whether any agreed customs union would be complete needs careful consideration. However, it’s clear that the WTO rules are too vague for anyone to claim that the UK cannot create an incomplete customs union if the EU agrees.

What we know is that an incomplete customs union, where product coverage is less than 100% or trade policies are not fully harmonised, could give the UK more freedom to sign its own trade deals. Turkey, an example of a country in an incomplete customs union with the EU, has a number of Free Trade Agreements with non-EU countries. However, if the UK steps outside the EU Customs Union and creates an incomplete UK-EU Customs Union, then embarks on signing new trade deals, there would need to be rules agreed regarding the coexistence of trade agreements. In simple terms, when the clauses in different trade deals start to conflict with each other, there will need to be a way to resolve these disputes.

Freedom at a price

Is all this freedom a good thing? It would take the UK further away from the complete customs union, which is the desire of Brexit supporters. However, signing even very simple trade deals will require considerable capacity and time, with the potential for significant delays even between signing and implementation. The EU also already has a long list of arrangements in place. Those with Japan and Mexico are the most recent examples. The UK is likely to find it harder to make deals when outside a large trade block. Furthermore, signing free trade agreements with non-EU countries would not compensate for losses due to new trade barriers against the EU countries.

Staying close to the EU may also protect the UK from the US government’s trade wars in crucial markets such as metals, fuels and chemicals. As the EU demonstrated in the case of the steel dispute, it can successfully negotiate exemptions from the new protectionist US tariffs. The UK, acting alone, may not have enough economic and political weight to do the same.

An incomplete customs union with the EU will be a step towards minimising the losses of Brexit, while giving opportunities to negotiate new free trade agreements related to particular goods. UK manufacturers selling final goods (transport, electrical equipment, computers, for example) to the EU, depend on the supply of intermediate goods (components for that electrical equipment and computers) from the EU in the first place. If even moderate tariffs are imposed, the flow of intermediate goods from the EU may come to a halt. If agricultural goods are excluded from the new UK-EU customs union, it opens up further possibilities for negotiating new free trade agreements with non-EU countries.

And since the customs union option doesn’t cover services, one option would be to have a broader umbrella agreement, perhaps an economic integration agreement, to also cover services.

A customs union in itself, and certainly one that gives the UK the flexibility to sign its own trade deals with non-EU countries, would not automatically solve the Irish border issue – a complete customs union (going further than even the WTO definition) would be a prerequisite for that. The political compromises, which are being discussed within the Conservative party, suggest a complete customs union is most unlikely. Therefore, even if a u-turn is forthcoming, many other challenges remain.

Karen Jackson, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Westminster and Oleksandr Shepotylo, Lecturer in Econoimcs, University of Bradford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

 

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