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Silicon Valley & Technology
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Tech Firms Must Go Beyond Congo’s ‘Conflict Minerals’ to Clean Supply Chain: Study

Abuses linked to mining in countries such as Myanmar and Colombia are being overlooked by technology companies focused only on eliminating “conflict minerals” from war-torn parts of Africa in their supply chains, researchers said on Thursday.

In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), competition for mineral resources has fueled two decades of conflict in its eastern provinces, including a 1998-2003 war that killed millions, mostly from hunger and disease.

Congo’s supply of tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold – metals used in smartphones, batteries and laptops – has been under scrutiny since 2010, when U.S. laws required U.S.-listed firms to ensure supply chains were free from “conflict minerals”.

Yet the same minerals are being quarried in areas controlled by armed groups — sometimes using child labor — in countries such as Myanmar, Bolivia and Rwanda, according to research published by Verisk Maplecroft on Thursday.

The problem for tech companies was being able to trace the metals used in their products to the source mine or smelter, the risk consultancy group said in a report.

“The problem is because this is so far down the supply chain, it’s difficult for technology companies to know if those minerals they’re using are coming from irresponsibly managed operations,” said Stefan Sabo-Walsh of Verisk Maplecroft.

Sabo-Walsh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that in the most extreme cases the minerals are excavated using forced labor in order to buy weapons and fund violence.

A convoluted process

After minerals are mined, they are sold to a middleman and usually taken to the country’s capital, where the raw metal is extracted and blended with other metals, the report said.

The blend is exported to a country such as China and then transformed for use in tech products.

The complicated process “further muddies supply chain transparency efforts” for companies that strive to only use safe and ethical extraction, Verisk Maplecroft said.

Tin, which is used in tablet computers and smartphones, was ranked as having the highest risk for labor rights violations at illegal mines.

Bolivia, Myanmar and Indonesia, some of the largest tin-producing countries, pose an “extreme risk” for child labor at tin mines, the research showed.

Some smaller mines are not run by armed groups but still hurt the environment and local communities and are difficult to police, Sabo-Walsh said.

At illegal mines, waste water runoff often makes its way into local water sources, polluting the supply, he said.

“Organizations need to be aware of the bigger picture when sourcing minerals from different countries – otherwise they risk a consumer backlash or regulatory penalties from the raft of emerging supply chain legislation,” he said in a statement.

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Silicon Valley & Technology
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Poll: 40 Percent of Americans More Cautious With Email After Election Hacking

Forty percent of Americans say they are more cautious about what they write in emails since last year’s cyber attacks against the Democratic Party, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday.

The March 11-20 opinion survey showed that a sizable minority of Americans made personal changes to how they interact online following the hacking of emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, which were later published by WikiLeaks and other entities.

Among respondents, 45 percent said they had changed their online passwords since the hacks.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe Russia orchestrated the disclosure of the emails to embarrass the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Republican Donald Trump win. The emails also led to the ouster of Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Moscow denies the allegations.

Concerns about online security crossed party lines, with 43 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Republicans saying they had been more cautious about personal email since the election hacking.

“It makes you start to wonder how secure anything is as far as your own privacy,” said Delene Rutledge, 67, a retired teacher in Indiana who participated in the poll. “And yet I’m not the greatest at coming up with great passwords – I’m not sure it would make any difference.”

Despite concerns about digital privacy, only a small percentage of Americans said they had started protecting themselves online in other ways within the past month.

Five percent of adults said they had begun using secure messaging services like Signal, WhatsApp or Wickr.

Some 16 percent said they had placed tape over the camera in their computers to block any unwanted spying, a tactic advocated by Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and FBI Director James Comey.

Twenty-one percent said they had switched off the tracking capabilities of their internet browsers, while 17 percent changed their user ID on social media networks like Facebook or Twitter and 10 percent unplugged smart TVs or other internet-connected devices when not using them.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English in all 50 states. It included 3,307 American adults and had a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2 percentage points.

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Silicon Valley & Technology
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Twitter Unveils ‘Lite’ Service for Emerging Markets

Twitter has unveiled a new, light mobile site aimed at emerging markets where people are still using slower 2G mobile connections.

Twitter Lite, according to the company, will use less data and will be up to 30 percent faster than the full Twitter website.

The service will be rolled out globally, but is primarily aimed at India, Africa and parts of Latin America.

“Twitter Lite provides the key features of Twitter, your timeline, Tweets, Direct Messages, trends, profiles, media uploads, notifications, and more,” Twitter said in a blog post.

Twitter Lite also offers a “data saver mode” that allows a user to see smaller previews of videos and images before they fully load. That could save up to 70 percent on data usage, the company said.

For Android users, Twitter Lite can still deliver push notifications as well as offline support “so you will not be interrupted while using Twitter if you temporarily lose your connection,” the company said.

According to the global mobile phone operators group, GSMA, there were 3.8 smartphone connections globally at the end of 2016.Of those, 45 percent use slower 2G networks.

Twitter is following a trend toward tech companies offering lite versions of their services. Facebook has a lite version for both the main Facebook app and its Messenger app. Microsoft offers a lite version of Skype for users in India.

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Science & Health
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Unusually Large Swarm of Icebergs Drifts into Shipping Lanes

More than 400 icebergs have drifted into the North Atlantic shipping lanes over the past week in an unusually large swarm for this early in the season, forcing vessels to slow to a crawl or take detours of hundreds of miles.

Experts are attributing it to uncommonly strong counter-clockwise winds that are drawing the icebergs south, and perhaps also global warming, which is accelerating the process by which chunks of the Greenland ice sheet break off and float away.

As of Monday, there were about 450 icebergs near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, up from 37 a week earlier, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s International Ice Patrol in New London, Connecticut. Those kinds of numbers are usually not seen until late May or early June. The average for this time of year is about 80.

In the waters close to where the Titanic went down in 1912, the icebergs are forcing ships to take precautions.

Icebergs force detours

Instead of cutting straight across the ocean, trans-Atlantic vessels are taking detours that can add around 400 miles to the trip. That’s a day and a half of added travel time for many large cargo ships.

Close to the Newfoundland coast, cargo ships owned by Oceanex are throttling way back to 3 or 4 knots as they make their way to their homeport in St. John’s, which can add up to a day to the trip, said executive chairman, Capt. Sid Hynes.

 

One ship was pulled out of service for repairs after hitting a chunk of ice, he said.

“It makes everything more expensive,” Hynes said Wednesday. “You’re burning more fuel, it’s taking a longer time, and it’s hard on the equipment.” He called it a “very unusual year.”

‘Extreme ice season’

Coast Guard Cmdr. Gabrielle McGrath, who leads the ice patrol, said she has never seen such a drastic increase in such a short time. Adding to the danger, three icebergs were discovered outside the boundaries of the area the Coast Guard had advised mariners to avoid, she said.

McGrath is predicting a fourth consecutive “extreme ice season” with more than 600 icebergs in the shipping lanes.

Most icebergs entering the North Atlantic have “calved” off the Greenland ice sheet. Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said it is possible climate change is leading to more icebergs in the shipping lanes, but wind patterns are also important.

Ice patrol a success

In 2014, there were 1,546 icebergs in the shipping lanes — the sixth most severe season on record since 1900, according to the patrol. There were 1,165 icebergs in 2015 and 687 in 2016.

The International Ice Patrol was formed after the sinking of the Titanic to monitor iceberg danger in the North Atlantic and warn ships. It conducts reconnaissance flights that are used to produce charts.

 

In 104 years, no ship that has heeded the warnings has struck an iceberg, according to the ice patrol.

 

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Economy & business
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For ‘B Corporations,’ Real Value in Social Values    

Many companies aim for “Best in Class” status, but some are seeking another “B” — B corporation certification.

Certified B corporations, or “B corps,” address the growing consumer interest in supporting socially and environmentally responsible companies.

B corps are essentially for-profit companies that behave more like nonprofits, tackling global issues such as pollution and income disparity through everyday business practices.

‘Business as a force for good’

“B corporations are companies that are using their business as a force for good,” said Andrew Kassoy, co-founder of B Lab, the nonprofit organization that issues B corp certification. “By having that B corp certification, it makes good easy for the consumer … to know that the company is having a positive impact on society,” he added.

For many companies, doing good may take a back seat to making money. But not for certified B corps.

Multimillion-dollar brands like fashion company Eileen Fisher and ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s are among businesses certified as B corps.

“In some cases, it’s about the company trying to create more value for its workers, to create opportunity for workers to grow in the economy and have a job with dignity,” Kassoy said.

“In other cases, it might be about creating a product that’s more environmentally sustainable or socially responsible,” he said.

Growing around the globe

B corps are a growing global movement. Brands large and small make up the more than 2,000 certified B corporations, representing 130 different industries in 55 countries.

“Our foreign certifications are outpacing our U.S.-based certifications for the last year,” said Jennifer Warden, B Lab’s global partner manager. “We’ve got partners in 13 different regions — a lot in Latin America, Europe, a lot of momentum now in the Asia Pacific regions and Africa.”

To qualify as a B corp, companies must score at least 80 out of 200 points on an assessment that covers four key areas: corporate governance, employee rights, community outreach and environmental impact. Everything from waste reduction efforts to leadership roles for women and minorities are considered.

“You’re able to measure how you rank in terms of taking care of the community, how you rank in taking care of the environment, how you take care of your customer,” said Sean Cullen, project coordinator at Uncommon Goods, a Brooklyn-based online retailer that is a certified B corp.

Assessments are made every two years. In addition to maintaining a minimum score, certified B corps are also required to revise company bylaws to reflect accountability to workers and customers.

Depending on a company’s size, B corp certification costs $500 to $25,000 annually. For many, the payoff is in being among the best in the business.

Look for the logo

“When you see that certified B Corp logo on different products, you know that you’re getting a good product,” Cullen said.

B Lab maintains a website with a B corporation directory so consumers can look up a company and verify its certification.

“The goal is that one day, all companies will be able to manage and measure their impact with the same rigor as their profits,” Kassoy told VOA.

“And by doing that … all companies will compete to be best for the world, not just best in the world,” he said.

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Science & Health
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Maryland Teachers Learn to Fight Stress With a Healthier Lifestyle

Teaching is a stressful profession. A 2014 survey found that nearly half of U.S. teachers say they experience a lot of daily stress. That affects their health, well-being, and job satisfaction.

Jayne Donohoe is out to change that, with exercise. The physical education teacher at Gunpowder Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, notes that physical activity produces endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improves the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.

She organized a Teachers Fitness group at her school, which meets after the day’s classes and offers a variety of exercise classes. 

“Today we’re doing Bodyflow’ which is like a yoga-Pilates-type class. Before that we had a step aerobics class, or we had a Bootcamp,” she said. “We all come from a variety of shapes and sizes and fitness levels. If I can get them to show up, I can usually keep them in here. That’s probably the hardest part because they are tired. I tell them ‘You’re tired. Once you come here and exercise, it’s going to give you energy.’ I started my workday at 7 a.m., so it’s a long day for me, but I know it’s important. So I’m here.”

Watch: Teaching Teachers a Healthier Lifestyle

Keep Teachers Healthy

Many workplaces in the area offer similar programs. But Jenny Ward, spokeswoman for Baltimore County Public schools’ Employee Wellness, says they are especially important for teachers.

“They do have a very specific job during the day and they’re really tied to their classrooms with their students. They don’t have as much free time or flexibility in their day,” she said. “So it’s more difficult for them to schedule physical activity in their day, which is why we offer classes after work. So, as soon as the students left, they can change to their fitness attire and go to the gym with all of their coworkers who participate.”

The program is a big hit. It draws teachers from nearby schools, and they’re not all women.

“We have three men teachers,” Donohoe said. “One was staying today, but when the class got changed to Bodyflow instead of Bootcamp, he decided to go to his gym. The two other teachers are not interested yet. But I’ll get them, don’t you worry!”

Exercise and be happy

Gunpowder Principal Wendy Cunningham has watched attendance rise since Donohoe started the program a year and half ago.

“The teachers are excited to be together, to exercise, to support one another, to be healthy and maintain healthy habits,” she said. “Learning about how to manage stress has been extremely important. That is helping them to be more productive, be more positive in the classroom and have a lot more patience with all students every day,” Cunningham added.

“It’s very important for stress reduction, for just making you feel better about yourself,” Donohoe said.

Participating teachers agree. Third-grade teacher Ashley Schuchardt says being part of this group makes exercising more fun.

“Really, it’s the people,” she said. “They are a great support team. They really help you after a really long day. They help you keep going. I’m not a person who loves exercise, but they really make it fun. So I keep coming back week after week.”

Eating right

Exercise is only one component of Donohoe’s Wellness program. Good nutrition is another. 

“We have a weight loss healthy teachers program that I also organize,” she said. “We meet once a week. I bring in guest speakers on motivation and nutrition. We’ve been doing that since last year. We’ve lost over 300 pounds (136 kg), 18 of us, and you feel better and healthier, and you’re drinking more water and you’re eating better.”

Employee Wellness spokeswoman Jenny Ward is excited about the prospects for the program.

“We’re happy to say we have more teachers and staff participating than we have before,” she said. “But it’s still not high enough. We still have quite a few more staff that we try to get involved in healthy eating, healthy activity, stress management, and all components of wellness.”

Ward hopes to see every school offering on-site fitness classes at the end of the workday — in Baltimore and beyond.

 

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Science & Health
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Teaching Teachers a Healthier Lifestyle

Teaching is a stressful job. To help teachers take care of their mind and body, a wellness program was introduced in Baltimore County public schools. Faiza Elmasry visited a school that offers the new program. Faith Lapidus narrates.

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