The Moral Responsibility for Arms Trade

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Opinion

What matters more: ethics or profit?

Global arms trade is booming and has become a lucrative business.

GENEVA, Aug 8 2019 (IPS) “I don’t want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster.” 1

These were the words of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 22 May 1940 when he learned of individuals profiting because of the booming arms trade industry during the Second World War. Seven decades down the line, President Roosevelt’s warning against the rise of the military-industrial complex and war profiteers is more relevant than ever and a telling testimony that for many in safe places war means profit. But, should the pursuit of economic profit be allowed to supplant ethical considerations, especially when weapons often end up in the hands of terrorists, human rights violators and criminal governments?


There is no doubt that the global arms market remains a lucrative business. Arms trade raises numerous ethical issues both for the exporting and for the importing country. War profiteers operate with scant concern for ethical and moral considerations, being guided by the search for power or profit for their corporations. Those who produce and sell arms have been called “merchants of death.” 2 HH Pope Francis said it was hypocritical to speak of peace while fuelling the arms trade, which only serves the commercial interests of the arms industry. 3 It is of course the inalienable right of States to exercise their right to self-defence as stipulated in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and to maintain independent military strength to deal with periodic armed conflict or threats that may emerge. Experience shows that arms exporters fuel conflict and create an atmosphere not at all conducive to peace and development in the world. A business model the feeds on armed conflict, violence and instability must be banned in the 21st century.

According to recent statistics from the Stockholm Peace Institute, arms sales of the world’s 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies totalled USD 398.2 billion in 2017. 4 That is more than the nominal cumulative GDPs of South Africa, Denmark, Singapore, Egypt, Algeria and Malaysia, a group of countries which is home to more than 200 million people. Since 2002, annual arms sales have surged 44% and are expected to continue growing in the years to come. 5 In other words, international arms trade is “big business” and a vector for economic growth in some countries, reminiscent of John Maynard Keynes’ vision of ‘Military Keynesianism’.

In the Middle East, the irregular and black-market arms trade – estimated at USD 10 billion a year – have weaponised extremism and fuelled instability. Disturbing images of civilian infrastructure being bombed and destroyed by extremist groups are telling testimonies that the flow of arms and weapons continues to exacerbate violent conflict in the Arab region. This is particularly the case in Syria, Libya and Iraq where the supply of weapons to the warring sides has prolonged the fighting and adversely affected the civilization population. The rebuilding of societies affected by armed conflict and violence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is estimated at USD 250 billion. A price tag that the next generations in the MENA region will have to repay for decades to come.

In this connection, world civil society must take action to curb future arms proliferation in regions prone to armed conflict and violence. Governments and arms traders must commit to respecting and to fulfilling the provisions set forth in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights of the United Nations. 6 The aim should be to identify, prevent and mitigate as the case may be, the human rights-related risks of business activities in conflict-affected areas. Civilians should not have to bear the brunt, as they do now, of the devastating consequences of military conflict. The greed involved in the arms trade must be kept in check.

As foreseen in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the promotion of just, peaceful and inclusive societies rests on the ability of world society to promote a climate conducive to peace and sustainable development. According to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, the countries that are furthest from achieving the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are in, or emerging from, armed conflict and violence. The best investment to peace and prosperity therefore rests on the ability of decision-makers and governments to curb arms trade, prohibit economic gains from war, armed conflict and human suffering and instead commit to rally for a world where peace and justice prevails. The simple motto for all should be “disarmament for development”. What is most needed is a conversion strategy that will gradually transform war economies into sustainable peace economies. 7

1https://www.thenation.com/article/war-profiteering/
2https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/1934-07-01/merchants-death
3https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2017/06/03/pope-franciss-prayer-stop-merchants-death/
4https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2018-12/fs_arms_industry_2017_0.pdf
5 Ibid
6https://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/GuidingprinciplesBusinesshr_eN.pdf
7 See 2014 report to the Human Rights Council by the UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/27/51

Blerim Mustafa, Project and communications officer, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue. Postgraduate researcher (Ph.D. candidate) at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester (UK).

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Innovative Sustainable Business: A Three Trillion-Dollar Opportunity that UN Environment Wants People to Develop

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Environment

Achenyo Idachaba-Obaro, the founder of Mitimeth, a social enterprise that has trained hundreds of women on how to make popular handicrafts from water hyacinth. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

NAIROBI, Mar 12 2019 (IPS) – In the East African region, communities around the continent’s largest water body, Lake Victoria, regard the water hyacinth as a great menace that clogs the lake and hampers their fishing activities. But in Lagos, Nigeria, some groups of women have learned how to convert the invasive weed into a resource, providing them with the raw material needed to make handicrafts.


“Our biggest challenge right now is the market where these women can sell their finished products from the water hyacinth,” said Achenyo Idachaba-Obaro, the founder of Mitimeth, a social enterprise that has trained hundreds of women on how to make popular handicrafts from water hyacinth.

Dressed in a blouse partly made of fabric from water hyacinth and buttons made from a coconut shell at the ongoing United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya, Idachaba-Obaro showcased several products made from the aquatic weed ranging from boutique dresses, unique multipurpose baskets, vases, stationery, wall decor, and dining ware, among others.

“All these items are a product of handcrafts by women whom we have trained, and they are now able to generate extra income from a weed that is seen as a menace to many other people worldwide,” she told IPS.

So far, over 350 women, comprising mostly of widows but who also include students and teachers, from riparian rural communities have been trained on how to make finished products from water hyacinth, and they all sell them locally.

“Whenever we have a ready market, we always call on them to make water hyacinth ropes for us, which is the first stage of developing any water hyacinth fabric,” said Idachaba-Obaro.

In the past few months for example, a team of 70 women were able to make ropes which earned them 1.4 million Naira (3,880 dollars). “It has become a big business in Nigeria where everybody wants to be involved,” she said.

Her exhibition was one of the 42 technologies and innovative solutions from around the world that formed the 2019 Sustainable Innovation Expo at the UNEA conference in Nairobi, which is being held Mar. 8-15.
To move such innovations forward through research and to later upscale them, Joyce Msuya, the U.N. Environment Acting Executive Director and Assistant Secretary-General of the U.N. urged countries to provide enabling environments for both innovators and researchers.

“Innovation will be the heartbeat of the transformation we want and this cannot happen by itself. Policies and incentives to spur innovation and sustainable consumption and production must be backed by efforts to build implementation capacity,” she told the more than 4,000 delegates from 170 countries during the official opening of the assembly in Nairobi.

According to Siim Kisler, the Minister of Environment in Estonia and the UNEA President, there is need to find innovative solutions for environmental challenges through different approaches to sustainable consumption and production, inspiring nations, private sector players and individuals.

The Expo is the U.N. Environment Assembly’s solution-based platform for engaging innovators using exhibitions that reveal the latest technologies, panel discussions, and networking opportunities.

Other innovative techniques showcased at the expo include ‘Timbeter’ a digital (mobile app) timber measurement solution that uses a smart phone for accurate log detection.

“With this app on your smart phone, you only need to point the phone camera to say a lorry full of timber, and it will accurately give you the total number of logs on the truck, and circumference measurement of each of the logs,” Anna-Greta Tsahkna the Co-founder of the Estonian-based Timbeter told IPS.

So far, the technology has been embraced in Thailand, Brazil, South Africa, Russia and Chile where companies are using it to share measurements with contractors and clients. They use it to count logs, the log diameter and density in less than 3 minutes. It is an important tool in eradicating illegal logging.

Apart from another exhibition by a Canadian company that uses shipping containers to create affordable and sustainable housing, Brazilian experts from a company called Votorantim were showcasing a technique where they extract DNA from different forest species to analyse their chemical makeup.

“This makes it easy for users to know which type of trees, plants, grass or anything within the biodiversity they should target based on what they want to extract for medicines, cosmetics, perfumes among others,” said Frineia Rezente, the Executive Manager of Votorantim, said.

According to a statement by U.N. Environment, innovative sustainable business represents a trillion-dollar opportunity that can bring value to people and the environment.