Revealed: UK companies at centre of global trade in seal skins

77337An investigation by Ecostorm has discovered that London is at the hub of an international trade in controversial Canadian seal skins – the subject of this week’s EU vote to outlaw their sale across Europe.

Campaigners have long suspected that UK-based dealers are playing a central role in the international trade of seal skins, but little has been known about the companies or the trade routes.

Posing as fur buyers, Ecostorm reporters met with London-based fur companies selling the seal skins and mapped out the complex trail of skins from Canada to the Far East. Skins were offered in London for between $8 and $22, depending on their quality.

Ecostorm discovered that the London-based fur dealers are buying the skins in from Canada and selling them on to Scandinavia and Europe, from where they are dispatched to China to be turned into fashion garments ranging from coats to handbags! The European Union is an important transhipment point for seal pelt exports headed to markets in Russia and China.

Although Russia and China are the biggest markets for sealskin garments and accessories, items containing sealskin have been found on sale in the European Union, including the UK. Leading fashion houses, including Prada, Versace and Gucci have in recent years been criticised by lobby groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Humane Society of the United States for using Canadian sealskins in the manufacture of their clothing.

Pat Thomas, Editor of the Ecologist magazine, which commissioned the investigation, today said: “Although there was no suggestion of illegality or wrongdoing by the British companies involved in the sealskin trade, it shows that this barbaric trade is going on right under our noses, even though the British Government opposes the seal huntl. It will add further fuel to a highly emotive issue and undoubtedly shock the British public who in the majority are against this annual seal massacre on the ice flows of the Gulf of St Lawrence, Newfoundland, Labrador and the gulf portion of Quebec,”

The European Parliament this week voted to ban imports of seal products, including fur coats and even omega-3 pills, trying to force Canada to end the annual seal hunt that animal rights groups call barbaric. The EU assembly overwhelmingly endorsed a bill that said commercial seal hunting, notably in Canada, is “inherently inhumane.” The bill still needs the backing of EU governments, but officials called that a formality since national envoys had already endorsed the bill.

Canada’s East Coast seal hunt is the largest of its kind in the world, killing an average of 300,000 harp seals annually. Canada exported around $5.5 million U.S. dollars worth of seal products such as pelts, meat, and oils to the EU in 2006.

To read the investigation see
For more information see

Tibet’s environment under threat as crackdown continues

Thirteen months ago the world watched in horror as the Chinese authorities launched a brutal crackdown on Tibetan dissidents protesting against the occupation of their country. At least 120 were killed when soldiers opened fire on protests in the capital Lhasa and elsewhere. Thousands were injured or arrested. The Olympic Games may have briefly focussed our attention on the plight of Tibet – despite the best efforts of the Chinese – but the media’s gaze, predictably, has long since shifted. Tibet is no longer on our screens.

But for those left behind, the legacy remains. As many as six thousand Tibetans were rounded up during the uprising, the fate of almost a thousand remains unknown. Among those detained were activists, film-makers and outspoken religious leaders. Tibet is one of the most dangerous places in the world for any sort of dissent.

Since Chinese tanks rolled into Tibet in 1950, freedom of speech, information, religion and assembly have all been controversially curtailed, and Tibetan customs, culture and language steadily marginalised – largely due to Beijing encouraging millions of ethnic Chinese to settle in the area.

Less well known, Tibet’s environment has also suffered. Decades of Chinese-sanctioned logging have led to deforestation on a massive scale, with less than half of the country’s forests remaining. In some areas more than 80% of the original forest has been decimated, resulting in soil erosion and flooding, in turn causing landslides and damaging farmland.

Ill-planned industrial development, including hydro-electric projects and dams, have further degraded land and water supplies – in one controversial case, construction of a power station at Ymdrok Tso lake south of Lhasa was blamed for drying up fresh water supplies, forcing local people to drink from the lake and resulting in a host of negative health impacts.

Intensive agricultural practices have also taken their toll – overgrazing has contributed to desertification, and the use of pesticides and insecticides has been linked to land degradation and loss of important plant species.

Tibet is home to rare and enigmatic species such as the lynx, snow leopard, black bear, gazelle, wild yak, Tibetan antelope and giant panda, but trophy hunting previously encouraged by the Chinese has been blamed for seriously depleting wildlife populations.

The biggest threat currently facing Tibet’s environment are large scale mining operations – for chromium, salt, coal, oil, gold, uranium, copper and zinc, amongst others. Mining is linked to a host of serious environmental and social ills yet China is embarking on an unprecedented programme of mineral extraction.

In some cases entire communities face being uprooted to make way for mines and other industrial developments. Tibetan nomads – traditional custodians of Tibetan wilderness – are among those who’ve frequently found themselves in the way. Since 2000, some 900,000 have been forcibly relocated – unsurprisingly they are now some of the regime’s most vocal opponents.

Runggye Adak, a 55 year-old father of eleven from eastern Tibet, was condemned to eight years in prison in November 2007 after publicly calling for the return of the Dalai Lama at a horse racing festival. His nephew, Adak Lopoe – along with two other men – was also detained following the dissenting speech and jailed for ten years for “colluding with foreign separatist forces to split the country and distributing political pamphlets.” Lopoe, a senior monk at Lithang monastery, is a well known critic of logging, deforestation and wildlife hunting, and a champion for education.

Monks arrested following last year’s uprising have testified that scores of nomads were among those crammed into notorious Chinese detention centres, rounded up for protesting against the increasing encroachment of their lands and environment. Months afterwards, many are still believed to be detained.

Film-makers attempting to report the reality of life inside Tibet have faced a similar fate. Dhondup Wangchen – a Tibetan nomad – and colleague Jigme Gyatso were arrested in March 2008 for producing a documentary enabling ordinary Tibetans to express views on the Olympics and Chinese rule. Gyatso, recently released “on probation”, has testified he was beaten continuously whilst in detention, hung by his feet for hours at a time, and tied to an interrogation chair for lengthy periods.

Wangchen continues to be detained, his whereabouts remain unknown. Sources have indicated he too has been tortured – like so many others. The London-based Free Tibet pressure group recently published a shocking dossier alleging the widespread use of torture against dissident Tibetan prisoners. Many of those tortured have been seriously injured, others have died.

Despite similar conclusions being drawn by the UN, the world seems happy to ignore such abuses.
The British Government – who hosted the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in February – has been strangely muted over the plight of Tibet. A recent Government policy document on China skirted more difficult issues raised by the use of torture, and stopped far short of calling for an end to the arrest and detention without trial of political prisoners. Britain, it appears, is happy for a simple ‘reduction’ in such detentions.

Sanctions – such as those imposed on Burma – may not be an option given China’s growing influence and economic standing, but the international community has a duty to put the Tibetan issue at the very heart of its dealings with the Asian superpower. As Free Tibet point out, China is now the “workshop of the world” and desperately needs healthy relations and strong economies in order to thrive. That need provides the outside world with unique leverage that should – and must – be capitalised on.

We urgently need to lobby those in positions of influence – including ministers, the media and relevant businesses – to take up the Tibetan’s cause and support the charities and campaigns pressing for change. The ongoing silence and “turn the other way” attitude is allowing rampant human rights abuses to continue largely unchallenged, and risks the further decimation of Tibet’s natural resources and unique environment.

Visit to find out how you can support the people and environment of Tibet.

A version of this report first appeared in The Ecologist magazine

Documentary exposes link between intensive pig industry and new type of MRSA

An Ecostorm-produced documentary, commissioned by the Soil Association and Compassion in World Farming, exposes the rise of a new strain of MRSA in pigs, and its link to the overuse of antibiotics on intensive farms.

‘Sick as a pig’ was filmed in the Netherlands, one of the countries most seriously affected by this farm-animal MRSA. It finds that 40% of Dutch pigs and up to 50% of Dutch pig farmers are now carrying the new strain, which is also spreading to the wider population. Although this type of MRSA was first detected in humans in the Netherlands as recently as 2003, it now causes almost one in three cases of MRSA treated in Dutch hospitals.

It is not yet known whether any British pigs are affected by the new strain of MRSA (called ST398) since the results of testing, which was required by the EU and carried out in 2008, have not been made public.

Several countries have already published the results of their own tests revealing significant levels of MRSA in national pig herds. The European Food Safety Authority has said that, ‘It seems likely that MRSA ST398 is widespread in the food animal population, most likely in all Member States with intensive animal production’.

Dutch scientists and Government officials blame the widespread use of antibiotics in intensive pig farming for the rise and rapid spread of farm-animal MRSA. The Soil Association has calculated that about 64% of all farm antibiotic use in the UK is in pig production.

Approximately 60% of the pig meat eaten in the UK comes from the Netherlands and other countries which have MRSA in their pig herds. A Dutch Government study has found that about 10% of Dutch pork is contaminated with MRSA, yet the UK has introduced no controls on imports, and the Food Standards Agency has refused to undertake any testing of meat for MRSA.

Richard Young, Soil Association policy adviser said, “The British Government has buried its head in the sand and is wasting a critical opportunity to prevent farm-animal MRSA getting a hold in the UK. Decisive action could reduce risks to human health, costs to the NHS and avoid another potentially devastating food-safety crisis.

This new type of MRSA is spreading like wildfire across Europe, and we know it is transferring from farm animals to humans – with serious health impacts. The Government has to wake up and start looking after the interests of ordinary people and not just the intensive livestock industry and international drug companies.

It is simply not acceptable to allow methods of food production which take away one of the biggest advances in medical science – our ability to treat and cure serious infections in the human population with antibiotics. We are sitting on a time-bomb here, and while most people have been kept in the dark about the issue, the Government’s inaction will cost them dear for many years to come.”

John Callaghan, director of programmes at Compassion in World Farming said, “MRSA is yet another potential example of how harmful factory farming is for animals and people. Pigs reared intensively often live in stressful conditions, subject to painful mutilations, unable to express their natural behaviour and prone to diseases. Factory farms where animals are unnaturally crowded and stressed, even with careful management, are always likely to need drugs to keep infections at bay.

Cheap pork has nasty implications for the welfare of animals and for human health. We should eat less, but better meat- coming from animals that have lived a happy and healthy life.”

For further information

‘Sick as a pig’ can be viewed online at
and at

Violence and intimidation faces those challenging the “timber barons”

Thumb-pix-for-forests-news-story-March-09Virtually everything we buy, whether it’s food or clothing or household appliances or even holidays, comes with an ecological price tag attached. But there are other, unreported, costs attached to many of these same purchases: across the globe a growing number of brave and pioneering activists and journalists face danger and persecution – including violence, intimidation, harassment, censorship and even murder – as they tackle the social and environmental impacts of modern consumerism.

Whether it’s trade union activists in Colombia, fair trade advocates in West Africa, or anti-mining campaigners in West Papua, the risks are acute, and the stakes are high. Those tackling illegal logging and the illicit trade in timber face particular dangers. This logging costs the global economy US$10-15 billion a year, and there are clear links between deforestation and global warming, as well as serious social justice and human rights abuses connected to the trade.

Shockingly however, the international community has been slow to recognise the problem, with resources allocated to fighting the trade hardly registering compared to those allocated to fighting the illicit trades in drugs or arms – despite the grave consequences.

So much of the struggle is being fought – in true David and Goliath style – between a small but brave band of activists and campaigning journalists and the criminal rackets profiting from the plunder of the world’s most biologically important rainforests. Those squaring up to these timber barons are paying a heavy price.

In the Philippines, last November, Aristeo Padrigao Monday, a 55 year old journalist, had his face blown off in front of his seven year old daughter in Gingoog City after investigating illegal logging for radio station dxRS Radyo Natin and the Mindanao Monitor Today. He’d been highly vocal about the involvement of local politicians. Just months before, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, journalist Khim Sambo (and his son) were both gunned down in the street; Sambo, a reporter with opposition newspaper Moneakseka Khmer, frequently wrote about illegal logging, including the involvement of powerful government figures.

The two are just the latest in a long line of journalists and campaigners to be killed, injured or persecuted whilst tackling logging. In Indonesia the problem has become so acute that campaigners created a dedicated security network and emergency ‘helpline’ for those running into trouble. The move followed shocking cases such as that of Arbi Kusno.

The tireless exposer of the illicit timber trade was attacked by a mob armed with spears, machetes and hydrochloric acid and believed to be working for timber smugglers. Repeatedly stabbed and slashed, one of Kusno’s hands was severed, as was one of his ears. His injuries were so severe he was assumed dead and carted off to the morgue – only to regain consciousness en-route.

In Mexico in 2007, 20-year old activist Aldo Zamora was gunned down outside his home by assassins angry at the campaigners’ opposition to logging in the Tlahuica indigenous community. In Honduras in 2006, two forest campaigners, Heraldo Zúñiga and Roger Ivan Murillo Cartagena, were butchered in Guarizama by attackers working under the influence of a logging cartel.

The killings followed worldwide outrage at the brutal murder of rainforest activist Dorothy Stang in Brazil’s Para state in 2005 – the incident shone a rare spotlight on the huge dangers facing campaigners and, for the first time, put the issue on the map.

In February, the European Parliament voted in legislation to help combat logging. Under the proposals, European timber companies will be required to prove they are buying and trading legally harvested timber products within the Europe. Additionally, the measures will see stronger penalties for those flouting the law. National authorities will be given the green light to investigate those abusing the law and have the power to prosecute.

But whilst such legislation goes some way to curtailing the trade in illegal timber, much of the responsibility needs to rest with timber-hungry consumers. The UK spends a staggering £712 million on illegal wood products annually – the equivalent of some £11.96 per person. This appetite for cheap wood means the UK is now the world’s third largest importer of dodgy timber, after China and Japan.

Despite the plethora of eco-labelling and certification schemes high profile press stories and constant campaigning by pressure groups, British consumers appear to be addicted to cheap timber and blind to the chain of abuses that lie behind many timber products. Each weekend thousands queue up to purchase tables, chairs, cabinets, blinds and other similar, seemingly innocent and unremarkable items. Many are made from illegally logged timber, much linked to conflict, corruption and human rights violations.

In a matter of minutes, The Ecologist located online a myriad of products made from wood of dubious origin – snooker cues constructed from Ramin, listed as vulnerable by CITES; wooden floor tiles made of merbau, linked to serious ecological injustices; luxury yacht decking constructed from Burmese teak, supposedly subject to an EU-wide embargo following the Burmese regime’s brutal suppression of democracy protests.. the list goes on.

This is unacceptable. Those responsible for manufacturing, shipping, importing and retailing items linked to controversial timber sources need to be properly investigated and brought to task. But those ultimately fuelling the trade by continuing to purchase, without question, timber products made from dubious or illegal wood need to take responsibility and exercise restraint.

In this age of ethical enlightenment – here in the UK at least – there should be little room for complacency or ignorance. If we consumers can say no to factory farmed chicken, or sweat shop produced clothes, we can say no to cheap blood timber. Both for the remaining forests and those battling to expose their destruction – such as the brave individuals highlighted here – the consequences of continuing to ignore the providence of our timber are simply too great.

A version of this report first appeared in The Ecologist magazine

The truth behind your cheap Christmas salmon

In its latest film the Ecologist Film Unit (EFU), a collaboration between Ecostorm and the Ecologist magazine, travels to Peru to investigate a host of unreported environmental and social costs – including pollution and health problems, overfishing, and impacts on ecosystems and wildlife – arising from the production of fishmeal and fish oil, principal ingredients in farmed salmon feed.

Parts of the south American country’s coastline have been seriously contaminated by waste from fishmeal plants, say pressure groups, contributing to reduced catches for artisanal fisherman, who fish to feed their families and for income. Overfishing by the large industrial fleets – scouring the ocean for anchovies, core to producing fishmeal – is also blamed for negatively impacting on the wider food chain.

Impoverished communities living near to fishmeal plants in the port city of Chimbote, home to some 40 processing establishments, say the industry has made their lives a misery, and claim that airborne pollutants are responsible for asthma, bronchial and skin problems – allegations backed up by medical experts.

People aren’t the only victims. Sea lions, a protected species, are being killed by fishermen, who see them as competitors for the dwindling fish resources. In addition, seabird colonies, who feed on anchovies, are under threat – quite simply because there isn’t enough fish to go around.

And the EFU has established that this controversial fishmeal is flooding into the UK as demand for cheap farmed salmon increases – we’ve learnt that at least one major supplier of farmed salmon to British supermarkets and wholesalers has partnered with a feed company procuring significant volumes of its fish-meal from Peru.

Peru is the world’s biggest producer of fishmeal and oil. The fishmeal industry is worth almost $2.5 billion, with 400 plants producing approximately six million tonnes of fish flour and one million tonnes of fish oil annually. Both are largely derived from oily fish including anchovies, herrings and sardines. The high nutritional values of these fish – which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial to the health of both to humans and animals – has led to massive demand globally.

Pat Thomas, editor of the Ecologist said: “Salmon are the tigers of the sea. They are predators and carnivores and raising them in captivity raises a number of significant problems, including how to feed them the high protein diets they require to stay healthy. The aquaculture industry has long been singled out for its unsustainability and heavy ecological footprint, but I think British consumers will be shocked at the human and environmental price they are paying to put cheap salmon on the table this Christmas.”

Watch the film at and

The Ecologist magazine, featuring a major print investigation, will be available on news stands from 5th December 2008.

Revealed: the cruelty of UK pork supplies

Europe’s pigs are being farmed in horrendous and often illegal conditions, a new investigation by Ecostorm on behalf of Compassion In World Farming revealed this month. Conducting an undercover investigation in farms across Europe investigators found poor welfare prevalent in virtually all farms visited. Most of the sows – the mother pigs – that were seen were kept in stalls so narrow that they cannot even turn round. Most fattening pigs are packed into overcrowded barren, often dirty pens.

The study recorded a high rate of poor animal welfare:

  • Up to 100 per cent of visits found routine tail docking – prohibited by EU law
  • Widespread lack of environmental enrichment – prohibited by EU law
  • Continued use of confinement systems for pregnant and mothering sows – currently allowed by EU law

“In general the situation of the pigs was very alike in all countries we visited,” explained one undercover investigator. “The pigs looked uncared for, they showed aggressive behaviour and there was nothing for the pigs to do. The floors were bare, space was very little and the places very dirty. It’s horrifying to imagine that most of the meat sold in the supermarkets, restaurants and that we see in daily life is being kept in these conditions.”

Chief Policy Advisor for Compassion in World Farming, Peter Stevenson said; “Our investigation illustrates the effects of an industrial system on a highly sentient, intelligent animal. Most pigs in the EU suffer greatly in the harsh world of factory farming.” The six month long study was conducted on an unprecedented scale to expose conditions across Europe. Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Spain and United Kingdom all came under scrutiny and provide a snapshot of pig farming across the continent.

See coverage of the investigation in The Independent

Awards success for Ecostorm films

A film produced by Ecostorm on behalf of WSPA and the Handle with Care coalition has won “Best documentary on animal rights-special award” at the STEPS International Rights Film Festival held in Ukraine. The film, ‘Handle with Care – exposing the long distance trade in live farm animals’, was the result of more than 12 months investigative filming in over ten countries. One of a series released under the Handle With Care banner, the film has also been shortlisted for an award at the Albert International Wildlife film Festival, to be held in France in March 2009.

Eating our future – Public Service Announcement released in US

A specially-commissioned public service announcement (PSA) – produced by Ecostorm on behalf of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) – has been released to accompany the launch in New York of a major new report examining the environmental impact of industrial animal agriculture.

WSPA’s report, Eating our Future, details how current agricultural practices in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world contribute to the environmental, economic and social crises faced by developed and developing countries alike, and makes a call for shifting to humane and sustainable models of production.

Bangladesh leather investigation – film opens Ethical Fashion Show in Paris

Hell for Leather – the debut film of the Ecologist Film Unit, which investigated Bangladesh’s leather trade, has been screened at the International Ethical Fashion Show in Paris.

The film, which documented the environmental and human rights abuses connected with leather production in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, was screened prominently at the pioneering fashion show, one of the world’s only dedicated ethical fashion events. For more information see

A solution to the food crisis? How one chicken might just change the world…

Set against a backdrop of rising global food prices, and the spread of factory farming in countries such as India, The Ecologist Film Unit – a major collaboration between Ecostorm and The Ecologist magazine – this month releases a film which tells the story of a food revolution in Southern India.

View the film at The Guardian

Produced in conjunction with UK NGO Compassion in World Farming, The Giriraja Chicken – India’s answer to the global food crisis details the extra-ordinary way in which scientists and communities are working together to increase livelihoods, consumer safety and animal welfare in rural India using an ancient breed of chicken.

Intensively-farmed chickens in India and elsewhere are typically given large quantities of antibiotics which threaten the health of the consumer; they are also fed on soya grown from the deforested wastelands of Amazonia in Brazil.

Ordinary farmers cannot compete with corporate-owned factory farms. The vast economies of scale that they operate on – often cramming tens of thousands of birds into one shed alone – has effectively squeezed small scale farmers out of India’s poultry market.

There is a solution, however. Scientists at Bangalore University have developed the Giriraja or ‘Mountain king’ chicken. Bred using natural techniques from ancient strains of Tamil chickens, this hardy bird provides nutrition and income for local people without the need for continual and costly supplies of drugs and feed. Naturally resilient, the Giriraja is a living breathing micro-finance initiative that is giving back livelihood to those left behind in India’s economic boom.

Sniffing a success story, corporate-owned poultry companies have already tried to buy out the not-for-profit scheme set up by the university, but without success. For now the Giriraja is helping communities lift themselves from poverty and is a sustainable farming success story that leads the way for the rest of India and the world to follow.

Jim Wickens, Ecologist Film Unit producer says: “Touted as a cure to poverty, factory farming is actually the new cancer in rural India. Unsustainable, cruel and corporate owned, these farms threaten the health of consumers, the wellbeing of the chickens and most importantly they are killing the rural communities they compete against. We wanted to make this film because the Giriraja perfectly illustrates the way in which small-scale pro-poor initiatives are the only effective answer to the spiralling food crisis and chronic poverty that besets rural India today.”

According to Ecologist editor Pat Thomas: “It’s important to see this story in its larger context. The globalised food system that most of us rely on is inherently unsustainable. It requires huge inputs of energy, and creates enormous amounts of pollution including greenhouse gases, and sickening amounts of waste. The Giriraja Chicken story is both a cautionary and a celebratory story for us in the developed world. Cautionary because the kind of food poverty that people in rural India face could so easily and so quickly become our problem. But also celebratory because it shows the benefit of combining local knowledge and small scale agriculture to solve some of the problems of getting fresh, good quality food to those who need it most.

“We can implement similar solutions in this country with better access to allotments, more back garden agriculture, and greater support for Community Supported Agriculture projects. Wherever you live, producing food for self-consumption is a vital part of the food system – it gives people control over what they eat, provides a continuum of local knowledge down generations and across cultures and in doing so promotes community, biodiversity and sustainability.”

Reprieve for humpback whales after investigation thwarts Greenland’s hunt plans

An Ecostorm investigation with WSPA has acted to convince commissioners at the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) annual meeting to vote ‘no’ to including ten humpbacks in Greenland’s whaling quota.

The undercover investigation revealed that 25% of whales killed by Greenland – which they are permitted to hunt only for aboriginal subsistence purposes – are sold commercially, resulting in significant profit and exploding the myth that their whaling quotas are purely subsistence based.

Last month WSPA presented IWC commissioners with compelling evidence, providing them with the information necessary to ensure a ‘no’ vote from a majority 36 of the 65 voting nations.

WSPA’s Claire Bass commented on the vote from the IWC meeting: “This is fantastic news as fewer whales will be cruelly killed. WSPA’s investigation has given the IWC the information it needed to see through the myths of Greenlandic whaling and make the right decision.”

Speaking on the importance of the vote, she added: “This is a significant victory in a bigger campaign to end the slaughter of whales globally, and we will continue in our campaign to end the cruelty of whaling.”

To view the investigative film and read further news reports see:

Eco-activists targeted with spies and news manipulation

As part of our unique collaboration with The Ecologist, Ecostorm is pleased to announce publication of a new special report and accompanying film “Melting Point: the new frontline in eco-activism” in the July / August edition of the magazine.

Ahead of next month’s ‘Climate Camp’ at Kingsnorth, Kent – where a coalition of campaigners have pledged to shut Eon’s power station complex down – the Ecologist Film Unit investigates how government and big business are countering resurgent eco-activism with spies, strong arm tactics and news manipulation.

To view the film visit: or

The print report is carried in the current edition of the magazine, available by subscription or from any good newsagent.

Melting Point is the second in a major new series of films produced by the Ecologist Film Unit. The debut film, Hell For Leather, an investigation into the shocking human and environmental cost of cheap leather production in Bangladesh, was launched in June and broadcast to millions of viewers globally on the BBC World channel.

Former chief government scientist brands Heathrow third runway ‘White Elephant’ ahead of climate camp

In an exclusive interview with the Ecologist Film Unit (EFU) Professor Sir David King has said that government plans to expand British airport capacity are both short-sighted and economically unsound. Sir David, until recently the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said that the Government’s own policy of drastically reducing carbon emissions made nonsense of current proposals to expand airport capacity:

“I’m looking at this from a marketing point of view – if we’re moving towards decarbonising our economy this must mean that alternative means of transport, land transport, will be favoured over air transport,” he said.

“This must mean that by pricing carbon dioxide, by putting fuel tax on aviation fuel as well (which is the British government position) that we will drive people toward land-based travel rather than air, and investments in new runways will turn out to be white elephants,” he added.

Sir David, who famously described climate change as “a far greater threat even than global terrorism”, made his remarks to the Ecologist Film Unit while being interviewed in June 2008 for the film Melting Point – The New Frontline In Environmental Activism about the extreme reaction of Government and big business to the new generation of climate change activists. His comments come less than two weeks before this year’s Climate Camp at Kingsnorth power station where protesters will gather to express their deep concern over rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier this month John Hutton, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, told an audience at Farnborough air show that the government would press ahead with a third runway at Heathrow despite the objections of environmentalists.

But Sir David’s comments reinforce previous allegations – including those made by opposition politicians and former BA Chief Executive Bob Ayling – that the controversial plans are economically flawed as well as environmentally dangerous.

According to Ecologist editor Pat Thomas: “Sir David’s damning indictment of the UK government’s airport expansion plans is timely and most welcome. There are an increasingly large group of concerned people, all across the country and from all walks of life, who want their views to be heard on the subject of climate change. As our extraordinary film shows, the Climate Camp protesters who will be descending on Kingsnorth power station next month, far from being a threat to our present or future security, are shouting in one voice about the need for a stable climate and a sustainable, secure future for the UK. It’s good to hear Sir David adding his voice to the rising chorus of dissent.”

About the film

Melting Point – The New Frontline In Environmental Activism (10 mins) details the espionage, news manipulation, legal threats and even violence that have become the knee-jerk response of Government and big business to the increasing and vocal concerns of environmental protesters in the UK.

Ahead of next month’s Climate Camp at Kingsnorth power station, this exclusive and powerful film exposes the extraordinary tactics being used to reframe concerned citizens engaging in their right to protest, as dangerous terrorists. It can be viewed, along with other EFU productions, online at and will distributed for broadcast externally.

**The full filmed version of Sir David King’s interview, in which he also describes carbon capture and storage – the Government ‘clean coal’ solution – as an “unproven technology” and criticises the rampant consumerism and dangerously limited thinking about renewable energy that is keeping the UK from becoming a “decarbonised economy”, is also available on request.

About the Ecologist Film Unit

The Ecologist Film Unit (EFU), is a collaboration between the Ecologist magazine and the investigative agency Ecostorm. It makes hard-hitting, topical documentaries which are streamed on the internet, and shown on TV and at film festivals and events.

Revealed: the shocking human and environmental cost of cheap leather

A major investigation by Ecostorm for the Ecologist Film Unit (EFU) has revealed the appalling and unreported human and environmental cost of the leather trade in Bangladesh, South Asia. The investigation, entitled “Hell For Leather”, is released this week as a short, hard-hitting, documentary film and as a special report in the June edition of The Ecologist magazine.

Filmed and researched in Bangladesh over a two week period, the film and report reveals how leather used in consumer goods, including shoes, handbags, trinkets and luxury car interiors – some of which find their way onto European high streets – is linked to serious health problems amongst tannery workers.

It also exposes how the toxic chemicals used in leather tanning lead to environmental degradation via the rampant discharge of untreated effluents from tanneries into water supplies and waterways. The investigation focuses on the impoverished communities living and working in Hazaribagh, Dhaka’s major leather producing area, and the detrimental effects these toxic chemicals are having on them.

Home to over 100 tanneries, the Hazaribagh area of Dhaka produces much of Bangladesh’s leather, most of which is destined for export abroad. $240 million worth of skins are exported annually from Bangladesh alone, most sent to the fashion houses of the EU, Japan and China, for working into shoes, handbags and other accessories sold on high streets the world over.

“Hazaribagh has been classed as one of the 30 most polluted places in the planet – a roll-call of toxicity shared by the likes of Chernobyl. The difference with Hazaribagh of course is that it is situated in the middle of the fastest growing city in the world. It is amazing that with so much concern for child labour, air miles and organic food, the chronic problems of leather production in places such as Bangladesh have gone without notice,”. Jim Wickens, producer of Hell For Leather and co-director of Ecostorm, said.

Challenge to Greenland’s whaling claims

An undercover investigation carried out by Ecostorm on behalf of WSPA has found evidence to challenge the myth that Greenland’s whaling is exclusively for aboriginal subsistence purposes.

Greenland is granted a quota of 233 whales annually by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) despite the international commercial ban, because they claim that the whales are needed by aboriginal communities for their own use.

Investigators discovered that some of the whaling is in fact commercial. The inquiry, carried out in April 2008, found supermarket freezers full of whale products, industrial plants for freezing and drying whale meat, and even stock piles of unsold whale meat. At least 114 supermarkets in Greenland carry whale products for retail sale.

Claire Bass, WSPA’s Marine Mammals Programme Manager, said: “Our evidence will blow everyone’s impressions of Greenland’s whaling out of the water; the results have proven that some ‘subsistence whaling’ is no longer providing food critical to indigenous peoples. We’ve traced unacceptable animal suffering back to commercial profit margins.”

Based on the investigation, WSPA estimates that US$1million profit is being made from one quarter or more of the whales that Greenland is allowed to slaughter for subsistence purposes. Consequently, WSPA believes that Greenland’s whaling has crossed the line into commercial whaling.

To watch the investigation film and read the report please see: