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July 27, 2013

Workplace Bullies, Corporate Psychopaths

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines workplace bullying as “repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevents work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation, and humiliation.”  Results from surveys conducted by the WBI and Zogby International in 2007 and 2010 demonstrate the nature and extent of the problem.

  • 35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand
  • Most bullies are bosses (72%)
  • 62% of bullies are men; 58% of targets are women
  • Women bullies target women in 80% of cases
  • Bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal harassment
  • The majority (68%) of bullying is same-gender harassment
  • 62% of employers ignore the problem
  • 45% of bullying targets suffer stress-related health problems
  • 40% of bullied individuals never tell their employers
  • Only 3% of bullied people file lawsuits

In the world of bullying, there is an elephant in the room. Some bullies, successful in their younger years, have wrapped bullying into the “skill set” they bring with them into the workplace, and there is precious little anyone can do about it.   Human Resources (HR) departments are loath to use the term “bullying,” preferring instead to insist that the employee is describing “harassment.” Unfortunately for the bullied employee, the experience does not rise to the level of qualifying for action under the laws protecting us against illegal discrimination.  The reason HR managers give for failing to assist the targeted employee is most often that if the employee is being bullied by someone who is the same gender as themselves, or of the same race, the behavior cannot be called “illegal discrimination.” 

As the studies cited above show, in the workplace the act of bullying is four times more common than illegal discrimination.  There is an important clue here—if we as a society make the damaging behavior of bullying in the workplace illegal, with harsh penalties for the bully who breaks these laws, there is every reason to believe the problem could be significantly diminished.  The culpability of the employer is, of course, a necessary ingredient, just as it is in handling cases of illegal discrimination.

It is of note that at the June 2013 annual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management, there were some sessions on moving beyond this barrier and making workplace bullying illegal.  Attorneys specializing in labor law urged human resource managers to begin serious discussions within their organizations about recognizing the  crushing consequences of workplace bullying and ending the culture of denial.

Slow Progress on Legal Remedies

In February 2013, West Virginia legislators introduced House Bill 2054, The Healthy Workplace Act. With their proposed legislation, West Virginian Delegates Longstreth, Caputo, and Fleischauer offer other state legislatures a model to remedy this very costly, growing problem.  The introductory summary of the bill is directed at making workplace bullying a violation of the law for both perpetrator and employer, if the employer does not intervene:

“The bill creates The Healthy and Safe Workplace Act. The bill provides for healthy workplaces by provides remedies for hostile work environments. The bill makes legislative findings. The bill defines terms. The bill establishes unlawful employment practices. The bill provides liabilities and affirmative defenses for employers and employees. The bill bans retaliation in certain circumstances. The bill provides an employer duty to respond to third-party acts of malice. The bill restricts applicability to employment practices not covered by existing state laws on human rights or wrongful discharge. The bill provides remedies and procedure. The bill limits the amount recoverable for emotional distress. The bill and establishes time limitations for commencing actions.” 

In the body of the bill, the text describes the need for this amendment to workplace law as follows:  “(f) Legal protection from abusive work environments should not be limited to behavior grounded in protected class status as that provided for under employment discrimination statuses; …”

The process of adopting these laws has been slow.  For example, Washington State was the fourth state to address workplace bullying with the introduction of their Healthy Workplace Bill in 2005-06, but by 2008, it did not survive the legislative process and died in the Appropriations Committee.  HB 1928 and a companion bill SB 5789 were introduced in 2011, yet no further legislative action has moved them forward since April 2012–over a year ago.

The Consequences of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is an issue that needs urgent attention.  It is an international issue, and it is at the heart of creating environments where people can flourish as individuals.  Everyone benefits from that.  Workplace bullying is not violence in the workplace that you see on the evening news.  Those tragedies do happen, but from the studies done so far, the damage a workplace bully does goes far deeper and extends more widely.  It is a systematic, tortuous dismantling of the targeted employee’s mind, body, and spirit.

The physical and mental consequences are dramatic.  The intense stress resulting from deliberate and constant abuse can lead to hypertension, strokes, heart attacks, neurological disorders, immunological impairment, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and diabetes.  The psychological consequences are equally debilitating, including anxiety, panic attacks, clinical depression, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Relationships with family, friends, and workplace colleagues often suffer as well, creating a greater sense of alienation and hopelessness in bullying victims.

Organizations are damaged as well by employee turnover, missed time at work, and impaired productivity of affected employees. When the overall extent of workplace bullying is considered (as many as 1 in 3 employees), the toll on the global economy is staggering, and unnecessary.

Making Our Workplaces Safer

There are some actions employees who are victims of bullying can pursue.  Depending on the situation and the extent of the bullying, these include coaching, working with a therapist, and seeking legal counsel.  Ultimately, though, workplace bullying needs to be addressed in the same manner that racial and other forms of workplace discrimination were tackled, resulting in legal protections.   The problem of workplace bullying has many causes and won’t be easily solved.  A good starting place, however, is greater awareness of the problem and making sure that its victims are heard.

July 17, 2013

Coup in Egypt or Not? The Implications Under International Law

Mohammed MorsiThe Egyptian election commission announced on 24 June 2012 that Mohammed Morsi won the presidential election with 51.7 percent of the vote, exceeding the 48.3 percent of his contender Ahmed Shafik and effectively becoming Egypt’s first democratically-elected president. Yet since he assumed office in 2012, many questions have arisen as to the legitimacy of Morsi’s acts. He has been accused of governing in a totalitarian manner reminiscent of the Mubarak era. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets after Morsi temporarily granted himself unlimited powers to “protect the nation” and legislate without judicial review. Various opposition groups questioned the legitimacy of the assembly tasked with drafting the new Islamist-backed constitution. Many protested the purging of hundreds of Mubarak-era officials from government institutions. Some accuse Morsi’s policies of crushing Egypt’s tourism industry and the wider Egyptian economy.

Morsi-ArrestOn 30 June 2013, marking Morsi’s one-year anniversary in office, mass protests erupted across Egypt calling for the Morsi’s resignation. On 1 July, the Egyptian Army warned that it would intervene if the protesters’ demands were not met within 48 hours. On 3 July, defence minister Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, with the support of opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb and Coptic Pope Tawadros II, declared that Morsi was dismissed from office. Morsi was arrested and taken to an undisclosed location.

On the same day, the Office of the Assistant to the President on Foreign Relations & International Cooperation issued a press release stating: “For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: Military coup.”

Is this press release correct in characterizing the 3 July events as a military coup? If so, what implications would a coup have on the legitimacy of the new Egyptian government? This essay examines these questions in light of international law and state practice.

Legal Overview

In recent years, democratic governance has taken growing importance in legal theories providing for the recognition of new governments. Because democratic governance is incompatible with military coups, determining whether the military’s 3 July 2013 acts constitute a “coup” will have implications as to whether the interim government is legitimate under international law.

Three legal doctrines are used to inform whether a new government will be recognized as legitimate: the traditional doctrine, which is the most widely-accepted approach, and the Tobar and Estrada doctrines.

Traditional Approach (Effective Control Doctrine)

Under the traditional approach, States consider four factors in deciding whether to recognize a government: (i) effectiveness of control; (ii) stability and permanence; (iii) ability and willingness to fulfill obligations; and (iv) popular support (i.e., the acquiescence of the people to the government). The rationale behind these elements is to ensure that a new government is internally stable before being recognized by and entering into relations with other States that imply responsibilities and obligations.

Under the traditional approach, whether the new government formed in Egypt will be deemed legitimate will be based on a variety of factors that revolve around the effective control of the government over the State and its land and people. If the interim government organizes elections that exclude the Muslim Brotherhood or other organizations that effectively represent the people, thus disenfranchising part of Egypt’s population, the new government will not be deemed legitimate under the traditional approach.

Estrada Doctrine

Under the Estrada doctrine, in contrast, a State automatically recognizes all governments in all circumstances and at all times. A State applying the Estrada doctrine thus refrains from making any determination as to the legitimacy of new governments (including those that came into power by force). Under the Estrada doctrine, when a new government comes to power (through constitutional or extra-constitutional means), the relations between the State and third party States remain unchanged.

For the minority of States following the Estrada doctrine, whether the interim government has popular approval is irrelevant to its recognition and legitimacy. Governments that follow the Estrada doctrine automatically recognize new governments in order to refrain from passing judgment on the internal affairs of other States or giving implicit approval through recognition of the acts of the new governments.

Tobar Doctrine (Doctrine of Legitimacy)

Characterizing the 3 July events in Egypt as a “coup” is most problematic under the Tobar doctrine, also known as the doctrine of legitimacy. Under the Tobar doctrine, States do not generally recognize governments that come into power as a consequence of military coups or revolutions. The Tobar doctrine does however recognize as an exception new governments that come to power through a coup if the people, without coercion, affirm and accept the new government. States that follow this approach thus accept a new government when a coup is accompanied by an immediate vote confirming the new government or a national referendum approving a new constitution.

Over the past decade, the US and other countries have spent a great deal of resources discussing the importance of democratic governance. International organizations such as the OAS have adopted significant resolutions in this spirit, recognizing the incompatibility between a legitimate, democratic government and one that comes to power through violence and keeps power through a constant threat of the use of force.

The Tobar doctrine signifies a new trend in the past decade whereby States withhold their recognition of new governments where such governments take power in a manner contrary to basic principles of democracy. Accordingly, the UN in some cases will not allow a government to take a seat at the UN when the government was not democratically installed.

The Importance of Popular Support in Egypt

military in CairoGiven the importance of democratic governance under international law, one can see why so many States have been reluctant to characterize the 3 July 2013 events in Egypt as a “coup.” Such a characterization will have important consequences on the recognition of and establishment of diplomatic relations with the new Egyptian government. For this reason, many States are urging the interim council in Egypt to quickly proceed to parliamentary elections and a national referendum on the constitution. Only if the events of 3 July 2013 are accepted with popular support at the polls will they hold any legitimacy under international law. Egypt will however only reach that point if the interim government fulfills its promises to proceed quickly to a national referendum on the constitution and to hold fair and transparent parliamentary elections shortly thereafter. Only then can observers determine whether the 3 July events hold popular support in keeping with the spirit of representative democracy.

July 15, 2013

Malala Day 2013 Celebrates Her Courageous Fight for Access to Education

Malala YousafzaiAs a Teen Advisor for Girl Up, I was honored to attend Malala Day 2013 at the United Nations to hear Malala Yousafzai give her first public speech since being shot by the Taliban in October 2012 for daring to attend school.  Joining Malala to help celebrate her 16th birthday were hundreds of youth from around the world.   Dozens of organizations sent representatives to the daylong conference and celebration, including Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation campaign for girls’ and women’s rights. While I was blown away by Malala’s speech, there were plenty of other aspects of the day that were inspiring in their own right. In the middle of the opening ceremony, the youth delegates took a break to sing “Happy Birthday” to Malala!

Malala speaking at the United Nations – NBC News

Ashwini-AngadiThe UN Special Envoy for Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, presented the Youth Courage Awards for Education to seven courageous young people who stood up for their right to an education. Only one of the seven, 21 year old Ashwini Angadi from India, was able to attend to accept the award, and it was really inspiring to hear her acceptance speech.  Ashwini overcame a visual impairment to take a job at an IT firm which she later left to become a full time advocate for young people.

Eleven of over 500 delegates gave two minute speeches sharing their stories and what inspired them to work for universal education. One delegate (Munira Khalif, another Girl Up Teen Advisor) read a spoken word piece; another shared an essay about the role dance played in her life journey. The diversity of the speeches matched the diversity of the delegates from dozens of countries.

After the opening ceremony, the delegates attended breakout sessions about topics as varied as global citizenship and access to education. At a Fair where a variety of education and empowerment organizations talked about their work, one of the most interesting booths was hosted by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, the wildly popular, long-running PBS children’s TV show. They explained how the versions of the show that air abroad differ from the one shown in the U.S. by reflecting certain realities of life in different regions of the world.  Two great examples are that in malaria-prone areas of the world, Sesame Street puppets, like the kids watching the show, sleep under bed nets; in areas where HIV is prevalent, an HIV-positive character joins the puppet cast.

At the closing ceremony, Gordon Brown, former UK prime minister, gave an incredible speech about the significance of efforts by young people in gaining access to education for all. He reminded us of how vitally important our work is, and how we in the international community cannot fail children by denying them a chance to learn. It was a great reminder of our mission, and that we still have much work to do before achieving our goals.

The courageous Malala, in whose honor we gathered, is the epitome of grace and strength. We all will benefit from the lessons she teaches us in years to come on this symbolic day. I will forever cherish my memories of Malala Day 2013 and hope that others, especially young people, get the chance to hear her speak in the future.

July 11, 2013

Probing the Biological Roots of Violence

anatomy of violence book coverIn his new book, The Anatomy of Violence, Adrian Raine introduces us to neurocriminology, a new field within the neurosciences that focuses on the biological origins of violent behavior.  He explains that, “The dominant model for understanding criminal behavior has been, for most of the twentieth century, one built almost exclusively on social and sociological models.  My main argument is that sole reliance on these social perspectives is fundamentally flawed.  Biology is also critically important in understanding violence, and probing through its anatomical underpinnings will be vital for treating the epidemic of violence and crime afflicting our societies.”

adrian raine - authorRaine writes about his 35 years of research to uncover and validate the connection between a range of violent behaviors and areas of the brain known to control feelings of fear and guilt, as well as the process of making “good” decisions.  The theory that the brain could drive antisocial behavior was soundly rejected, along with the work of scientists like Raine, by the field of Criminology during most of those years, but now, in the 21st Century, great strides in molecular and behavioral genetics coupled with “…revolutionary advances in brain imaging…” provide the platform for accepting and understanding the biology of violence.

The link between violence and anatomy  – CNN

This book is written for a general audience, and perhaps for the first time, many readers will actually understand what is shown on a brain scan. The author uses examples of antisocial behavior from various criminal cases—some highly publicized—including serial murder to domestic violence, to demonstrate his work on identifying the commonality of both biological and social impairments among perpetrators.  On the biological side, brain injuries occurring in utero and at birth as well as low heart rates emerge as important in Raine’s studies.  On the social side, maternal rejection in the first year of life appears to be a key factor in understanding violence. This biosocial model, then, embraces both biological and social risk factors as causes for antisocial behaviors.

Raine takes us from a personal perspective as a victim of criminal violence himself to considering violence as a matter of Public Health worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls violence “a global public health problem.”  Some experts estimate that, in the U.S. alone, the total cost of dealing with violence is half a trillion dollars a year. This adds urgency to the work that Raine and his colleagues are doing. With a new understanding of violence grounded in science, and guided by neuroethics, biological and social interventions for prevention and treatment can turn the tide of unchecked violence worldwide.

July 7, 2013

Taking Down Digital Bullies

Social media technology has made it easier than ever for teens to stay connected with each other.  It has also made bullying easier.  Consider the story of Brandon Turley, as recently report by CNN.  In sixth grade, he didn’t have friends. He would often eat alone at lunch, having recently switched to his school without knowing anyone.  One day, while browsing MySpace, he saw that someone from his school had posted a message visible to multiple people stating that Turley was a “fag.” Students he had never even spoken with had commented on the post, saying they agreed.

brandon-turleyUnsure of what to do and upset, Turley wrote in the comments, asking why his classmates would say that. The response was even worse.  He was told on MySpace that a group of 12 kids wanted to beat him up, that he should stop going to school and die. On his walk from his locker to the school office to report what was happening, students yelled things like “fag” and “fatty.”

“It was just crazy, and such a shock to my self-esteem that people didn’t like me without even knowing me,” said Turley, now 18 and a senior in high school in Oregon. “I didn’t understand how that could be.”

“Cyber bullying” is defined as a young person tormenting, threatening, harassing, or embarrassing another young person using the Internet or other technologies, like cell phones.

Studies done on cyber bullying underscore the fact that it is widespread.  In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics calls cyber bullying the “most common online risk for all teens.”  Statistics compiled by DoSeomething.org show that:

  1. Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once.
  2. 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online.
  3. Over 80% of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most common medium for cyber bullying.
  4. 68% of teens agree that cyber bullying is a serious problem.
  5. 81% of young people think bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person.
  6. 90% of teens who have seen social-media bullying say they have ignored it. 84% have seen others tell cyber bullies to stop.
  7. Only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.
  8. Girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying.
  9. About 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out 10 say it has happened more than once.
  10. About 75% have visited a website bashing another student.
  11. Bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide.

Cyber bullying can be very damaging to adolescents and teens. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Also, once things are circulated on the Internet, they may never disappear, resurfacing at later times to renew the pain of cyber bullying.

cyber-bullyingMany cyber bullies think that bullying others online is funny. However, cyber bullies may not realize the consequences of these activities for themselves and their families. The things teens post online now may reflect badly on them later when they apply for college or a job. Cyber bullies can lose their cell phone or online accounts for cyber bullying. Also, cyber bullies and their parents may face legal charges for cyber bullying, and if the cyber bullying was sexual in nature, the results can include being registered as a sex offender. Teens may believe that if they use a fake name they won’t get caught.  But there are many ways to trace the true identity of someone who is bullying over the Internet.

Below are some steps that parents and teens can take to help stop cyber bullying.

  • Talks to teens about cyber bullying, explaining that it is wrong and can have serious consequences. Make a rule that teens may not send mean or damaging messages, even if someone else started it, or suggestive pictures or messages or they will lose their cell phone and computer privileges for a time.
  • Encourage teens to tell an adult if cyber bullying is occurring. Tell them if they are the victims they will not be punished, and reassure them that being bullied is not their fault.
  • Teens should keep cyber bullying messages as proof that the cyber bullying is occurring. The teens’ parents may want to talk to the parents of the cyber bully, to the bully’s Internet or cell phone provider, and/or to the police about the messages, especially if they are threatening or sexual in nature.
  • Try blocking the person sending the messages. It may be necessary to get a new phone number or email address and to be more cautious about giving out the new number or address.
  • Teens should never tell their password to anyone except a parent, and should not write it down in a place where it could be found by others.
  • Teens should not share anything through text or instant messaging on their cell phone or the Internet that they would not want to be made public – remind teens that the person they are talking to in messages or online may not be who they think they are, and that things posted electronically may not be secure.
  • Encourage teens never to share personal information online or to meet someone they only know online.
  • Keep the computer in a shared space like the family room, and do not allow teens to have Internet access in their own rooms.
  • Encourage teens to have times when they turn off the technology, such as at family meals or after a certain time at night.
  • Parents may want to wait until high school to allow their teens to have their own email and cell phone accounts, and even then parents should still have access to the accounts.

 Cyber bullying can have long lasting consequences.  A recent study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that bullying victims showed greater likelihood of agoraphobia, where people don’t feel safe in public places, along with generalized anxiety and panic disorder. People who were both victims and bullies were at higher risk for young adult depression, panic disorder, agoraphobia among females, and the likelihood of suicide among males. Those who were only bullies showed a risk of antisocial personality disorder.

Technology has made bullying easier and more pervasive.  Putting a stop to bullying – whatever its form – requires a community effort from parents, teachers and especially kids themselves.  Not doing so imperils the health of our children and our society.

July 7, 2013

Our Film to Create Awareness about Fracking in South Africa

My name is Francis Hweshe, Im a freelance journalist and indie filmmaker based in Cape Town. I understand that the Archbishop Desmond Tutu has spoken against fracking and I thought our initial trailer on fracking featuring South African Goldman Prize Winner and anti-fracking activist Jonathan Deal would be interesting. The links to the trailer are below.