The Facebook Factor: Using Social Media To Monitor Employees

By Elizabeth Rice, SPHR

The overwhelming phenomenon of social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn has alternately sparked excitement, concern, and controversy among businesses everywhere: excitement about the abundant marketing opportunities these networks provide; concern about the growing lack of image control companies have as a result; and controversy over whether or not today’s employees are spending too many of their work hours socializing online, and fewer hours actually working.

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. And some savvy employers are making the most of it with an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” philosophy toward social networking sites, blogs, online videos, and more. Rather than viewing these outlets simply as a threat to employee productivity and company image, these businesses have begun utilizing social media as a helpful (and free) tool for screening potential job candidates, checking up on new hires, and monitoring current employees.

But are these screening techniques legal? Below is a look at both the benefits and liabilities of using social media to monitor prospects and employees.

Social Media as the New Background Check

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It’s long been suspected that employers use social networks to take a “behind the scenes” peek at job applicants, but just how common is the practice? The answer, according to a recent report by CareerBuilder, is very common: nearly half of employers surveyed said they use sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn to research potential hires. Furthermore, 35% of survey respondents said they decided not to offer a job to a candidate based on the content uncovered in these searches. Among the most frequently-cited reasons for not hiring these prospects were the discovery of provocative photos, references to drinking and drug use, poor online communication skills, and online bad-mouthing of previous employers.

Checking prospective hires via social media has become so commonplace, in fact, that it recently inspired the launch of a new startup company called “Social Intelligence.” The company, which launched in September 2010, provides a screening and monitoring service that tracks an individual’s social media activity on various networks, and then screens it for employer-designated red flags like gang involvement, drug use, and demonstrations of potentially violent behavior. According to Forbes, Social Intelligence “is essentially taking the traditional background checks commonly used by corporate HR departments…and moving them online to track social media networks.” The company’s reports filter out legally sensitive information such as sexual orientation, race, or religion, and the data is manually reviewed before being distributed to prospective employers. Social Intelligence’s CEO Max Drucker says that the service helps companies perform due dilligence with regard to hiring and risk management, while protecting prospective employees from discrimination.

And social media monitoring isn’t just limited to job applicants; some companies are using it to check up on current employees as well. Accodring to a 2009 survey from the American Management Association, 52% of U.S. employers have fired employees for email and web violations. Stories are widely circulated about instances when an employee has been disciplined or even terminated for posting negative content about an employer on social media outlets like Facebook and personal blogs. Companies claim these actions provide legal grounds for termination, arguing that such content is damaging to their corporate image and negatively impacts business. Notable examples include the 2009 instances in which employees of fast-food purveyors Domino’s and KFC took video and photos of their unsanitary use of the restaurants’ food and equipment, posted the material on YouTube and MySpace, and caused an overnight uproar (for which all employees involved were immediately fired). Meanwhile, other employees have been caught red-handed when, after calling in “sick” to miss work, they subsequently (and foolishly) posted online updates and pictures of themselves spending the day at a party or on vacation. For example, acccording to New York’s Daily News, more than a dozen Department of Education employees were recently fired for “faking illnesses to take vacations.” Among the clues that tipped off coworkers and administrators were vacation photos the offenders had publicly posted on their Facebook profiles.

Staying Aware of the Legal Pitfalls

Though social media can undoubtedly be used to a company’s advantage, employers must also be aware of some inherent risks that come with exploring this new terrain. Because social media and the so-called “blogosphere” are relatively uncharted territory for the workplace, the law is currently racing to keep pace with what is and isn’t legal when it comes to screening, while large companies are hurrying to develop written employee policies pertaining to social media. The good news is that, for now, much of the judgment about social media falls in favor of employers. A recent report by the Ocala Business Journal attests that checking social media sites and making subsequent hiring or termination decisions about employees and prospective hires is well within a company’s legal rights, because an employee could potentially affect an employer’s reputation. According to the article, “employers doing background checks [often] ask if it’s legal to check social media sites to find out more about potential employees. It is.” Employees questioning the validity and legality of these searches are typically told that, although the actions posted online may have been performed off the clock, they still have the capacity to affect a company’s reputation. “One major impact of social media is the line between professional and personal lives has blurred,” the article says. “Social media is impacting hiring as well as termination.” Likewise, Social Intelligence CEO Drucker attests that his company’s methods are compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and that the onus falls on the employee or job seeker to use discretion in posting anything online. “People need to exercise good judgment and understand that what they post publicly is public, and an employer has a right to know about it,” he says.

When it comes to searching an employee or prospect’s social media presence, the legitimate risk for employers lies in potentially violating anti-discrimination and privacy laws. According to the National Law Review, “an employer’s examination of an employee’s or potential hire’s social network sites may provide the basis for claims under employment discrimination statutes if the employer used [these] methods to seek out information that was legally protected in some way.” Such legally protected data includes religion, ethnicity, political affiliations, gender, or sexual orientation: all information that is readily available on many Facebook profiles. “If plaintiffs can show that they were discriminated against in the hiring process, or wrongfully terminated based on information gleaned from updates on Twitter, pictures on Facebook, or accounts on their personal blogs,” the National Law Review asserts, “the employers will surely be held liable under the pertinent anti-discrimination statutes.”

Another employer risk is gaining information online by engaging in what is known as “social engineering:” manipulating an individual into granting access to his or her otherwise private online networks. When it comes to social media, examples of these spy techniques might include trying to “friend” an individual on Facebook for the purpose of looking at his or her otherwise private, personal information, or requesting access to a password-protected blog not accessible to the general public. In these cases, an employee or prospective hire may allege that such actions constitute an invasion of privacy, since the employee or applicant has demonstrated a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to their social media accounts by protecting them with passwords and making them accessible on a case-by-case basis.

In summary, employers who aren’t already doing so may want to begin exploring social media as a potential vetting tool, while keeping in mind that the laws pertaining to these practices could change as social media continues to find its place in the workforce. Perhaps more importantly, employees and job seekers should pay careful attention to what they choose to share publicly online, taking to heart the old adage that “some things are better left unsaid” – or, in this case, unposted.

About the Author: Elizabeth Rice, SPHR, is the President of Innovative Employee Solutions , a San Diego-based company specializing in nationwide payroll and HR administrative services for the contingent workforce. Ms. Rice has more than 25 years of experience in HR and executive management.


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Mysterious power failure takes down Wikipedia, Wikinews

This article mentions the Wikimedia Foundation, one of its projects, or people related to it. Wikinews is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

On Monday, at 10.14 pm UTC, the Wikimedia server cluster experienced a total power failure, taking down Wikipedia, Wikinews, and all other Wikimedia websites.

The servers are housed in a colocation facility (colo) in Tampa, Florida, USA. They occupy two racks, with each rack receiving electricity from two independent supplies. However, both supplies have circuit-breakers in them, and both opened at the same time, leading to a total power failure. All computers immediately went down. It’s normal for fire safety regulations to prohibit uninterruptible power supplies in colos, with the colo providing its own UPS and generator instead. The circuit breakers were on the computer side of this emergency power system, so none of the computers continued to receive power to survive the breaker trip or shut down safely.

The actual reason why the circuit breakers tripped is currently unknown.

When power was restored, it was discovered that most of the MySQL databases that store the data which makes up Wikipedia et al had been corrupted. The main database and the four slaves had all damaged the data on their hard disk drives beyond the ability of the auto-correction to repair. Only one copy survived safely, on a machine that is used for report generation and maintenance tasks, which remained 31 hours backlogged while catching up after an unusually heavy update load during the previous week.

Volunteer Wikimedia engineers worked through the night rebuilding the databases from the sole good copy onto the other servers. The Wikipedia database is over 180Gb in size, making the copying process last 1.5 – 2 hours for every server it was performed upon.

Regular back-ups of the database of Wikipedia projects are maintained – the encyclopedia in its entirety was not at risk. The last database download was made on February 9; all edits since then could only have been laboriously rebuilt from logs and recovered from the damaged database requiring much more time and effort.

Limited read-only service was established late Tuesday afternoon, with editing becoming possible 24 hours after the power failure. Final repairs continue now, as well as upgrades to prevent similar issues in the future. Server-intensive features, such as categories and ‘watchlists’ that display recent changes to selected articles to registered users, remain disabled to ease the load on the recovering systems.

The process which led to the damage originated with the operating system, disk controllers, or hard drives failing to flush the data correctly.

If the power to a database server is cut mid-write, the database may be corrupted and unreadable, however the operating system, hardware, and software are designed to make this very unlikely. In a previous incident in 2004 power was also lost to a server but the database was undamaged.

To avoid such damage, each database server saves a copy of an edit to be applied to the database on a separate storage system before making the actual update to the database itself. This so-called ‘write-ahead logging’ should ensure that in the event of a system crash, the database can be rebuilt from a ‘last-good’ state by replaying the edits saved in the log.

Earlier this year popular blogging site LiveJournal suffered a similar power failure when another customer at their colocation facility pressed an Emergency Power Off button, intended for use only by firefighters. The company suffered database corruption similar to that seen at Wikimedia.

LiveJournal are now fitting UPS to their servers to ensure that they have time to shut down safely in the event of a power failure. Wikimedia was said to be investigating the possibility of fitting similar equipment at the time of this failure.

Several pundits have suggested that the use of another database, such as the proprietary database Oracle or the free PostgreSQL, would have avoided the database corruption seen at the server cluster. A post-mortem of the incident show the failure was in the operating system, or the hardware, or some combination of the two. LiveJournal, which also uses MySQL, reported similar database corruption after their power cut.

The Wikimedia foundation only allows the use of free software on its systems, and future versions of the Mediawiki software will support the PostgreSQL database.

Users are reminded that during times of system failure or excessive demand, they can still search Wikipedia using Google. The articles may be viewed using Google’s cache.

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British supermarket chain Tesco to sell its Polish branch to Salling Group A/S

Sunday, June 21, 2020

On Thursday, UK-based retailer Tesco and Denmark-based retailer Salling Group announced their agreement over selling a large portion of Tesco’s Polish operation to Salling Group. Tesco stated its intention to leave the Polish market altogether, Salling its intention to strengthen its Netto chain in Poland.

The deal covers 301 stores, two distribution centers and the head office. With the acquisition Salling said it seeks to improve its coverage in Southern Poland and, over 18 months at a cost of one billion z?otys, intends to merge these stores into its currently 386 strong Netto chain. Salling also takes over about 7000 employees from Tesco — Netto Poland currently has about 5000 employees. Tesco continues to run 19 stores, which were not included in this package.

The sale price, to be payed in cash, is 900 million z?otys (181 million pounds). In the 2019/20 fiscal year, Tesco said its Polish branch had a 24 million pounds operating loss with a 1368 million pounds turnover; to which the sold units contributed with a 947 million pounds turnover for a 107 million loss. At fiscal year-end, the sold units held a value of 681 million pounds in the books.

UOKiK, the Polish anti-monopoly agency, has to approve the deal. The parties said they expect a decision this year.

Tesco has suffered losses from its Polish operation for several years, as customer preference has shifted away from hypermarkets, Tesco’s preferred store size, to smaller discount stores like Biedronka and LIDL. The Sunday trade ban, introduced in 2018, also hurt sales. According to Notes from Poland (NFP), some discount stores resorted to offer postal services, a loophole which allows Sunday opening hours.

In 2015, Tesco centralized its management in the Central European region, comprising Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, but reverted the decision later on. At the time, the company invested in e-commerce and started home deliveries, but Gazeta Prawna reports only 0.5% of Polish grocery turnover comes from this segment, compared to 7% in the United Kingdom.

In the past few years, Tesco Polska has cut expenditures by streamlining its product range, halving its staff, shutting off home deliveries in parts of the country, and closing off stores, reportedly including last year its Poznan distribution center. Deutsche Welle (DW) reported in mid-2019, 62 Tesco outlets had closed within a year. Staff layoffs left meat, fish and delicatessen departments without designated shop assistants, and forced staff canteen closures and administration simplifications.

Tesco sold its roughly 2000 Thai and 74 Malaysian stores to Charoen Pokphand in March; announced leaving its joint venture with China Resources Holdings in February; and in 2015 sold its South Korean chain HomePlus. Speaking to, Matt Simister, Tesco’s CEO for Central Europe, explained that the company held a 4% share of the Polish retail market, compared to its 16% share in Hungary, and stated they want to stay in Hungary. In a DW report in March of last year, Dave Lewis, CEO of Tesco, stated they did not have intentions of leaving Thailand or Poland.

Tesco’s Polish operation, according to Gazeta Wyborcza in March, is too big for a single monolithic sale. The chain’s press release reported 22 sold units in the past year and a half, for around 200 million pounds. NFP named the Kaufland chain and property developer Echo Investment among the buyers.

Both Tesco and Salling entered the Polish market in 1995.

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Bird And Pest Control Products

Advantages Of Using A Staffing Service To Hire Cdl Drivers In Minneapolis

April, 2014 byadmin

As a small trucking company, it may be difficult to attract top talent. Your resources may be limited as you focus on moving trucks and products from one place to another. If you need drivers but don’t have an HR team to handle recruitment for your company, you can get the qualified employees you need through a staffing service.

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By using a staffing service, you can take advantage of their competitive benefits package that you may not be able to offer your full-time employees for an affordable rate. Health insurance, short-term disability and life insurance are some of the benefits available to your CDL drivers in Minneapolis when you outsource your human resources duties to a staffing service.

Good CDL drivers are hard to find. If you don’t have the time, staff or patience to sort through hundreds of job applications, hold interviews and verify credentials, contracting with a staffing service, such as Montu Staffing Solutions, can solve your problem. Your staffing service can take care of recruiting job candidates, verifying their qualifications and ensuring they are a good match for your company. The best staffing services work with a number of employers and have a vast database of potential employees so they can match the right employee with the right employer.

Because drivers that are placed with you through your staffing service are employees of the staffing service, you won’t have to write their paychecks. Just pay the invoice from the staffing service and they will take care of the payroll functions. Your drivers may have access to advanced pay options that you don’t provide, such as direct deposit and pay cards.

The best job candidates choose staffing services that offer support, steady work and good benefits. When you decide that outsourcing your human resources tasks is the solution to your staffing needs, select a service that is respected by drivers. Many CDL drivers in Minneapolis prefer the flexibility and security of staffing services over the stress of searching for a full-time job. Word travels quickly among drivers so if you use a reputable staffing service that offers their employees competitive benefits, you are likely to get the best drivers for your business.

At least seven mountaineers die while climbing K2

Sunday, August 3, 2008

At least seven mountaineers have died while climbing K2, the second highest mountain in the world. The accident was reportedly caused by a rock slide or an avalanche that severed all the ropes used for ascent and descent.

Initial reports state that seventeen climbers ascended the mountain in two groups, with both reaching the summit successfully. The reports also state that after the avalanche, some climbers attempted to return without ropes.

The summit was covered in clouds late yesterday afternoon and the conditions in the mountain continued to deteriorate. Some of the latest reports indicate that eight climbers were stuck at the summit, unable to descend. Four of these climbers are Norwegian nationals. The conditions at the summit during night are extreme and offer very limited chances for survival for people unable to descend.

In an unrelated incident, a Serbian climber and his sherpa fell down during the initial descent. This incident was, however, unrelated to the other deaths caused by the avalanche.

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Australian government hopes to establish triage by phone

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Australian federal government hopes to slash hospital emergency department waiting queues by setting up a 24-hour national medical hotline.

A government source said that the National Health Call Centre Network would be manned by registered triage nurses 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. Triage nurses would perform a diagnosis over the phone based upon the description given by the patient. The patient would then be referred to the nearest emergency department, their local GP or pharmacy – as determined by the nurse.

The issue is expected to be discussed at next month’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Canberra. It is believed that the states and territories are supportive of the system.

If agreed upon by COAG, the service will be jointly funded by state/territory and the commonwealth governments at a cost of $40 million a year. The service would take 18 months to set up.

The service will be ran from a centralised call centre and be managed by a private contractor.

Julia Gillard, the opposition’s spokeswoman for health said any national call service needed to be linked with local GPs and medical services.

Gillard claims that under a Labor government, an after-hours “Pizza Hut” style service would be implemented, with a single national number connecting to a local call centre.

“You would be talking to people in the locality you are in and who know the local services,” she said

The Australian Medical Association, an organisation representing more than 27,000 doctors in Australia has slammed the proposal saying it will only deter people from seeking appropriate medical treatment.

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Joint Treatment

Resistance Train Your Lower Body With The Dumbbell Lunges

Submitted by: Guy Long

Resistance training routine makes a wonderful gift for those people who want to lose fat and retain their muscle mass at the same time. With a correct combination of resistance training exercises, one can easily reduce his or her weight by burning accumulated fat within body and adding muscle mass to the body as well. Another benefit of those exercises include that they strengthen your bones and increase the bone density.

If you want to reduce your weight by retaining the muscle mass at the same time, make sure that you perform body building exercises in the supervision of a qualified gym trainer to reap the maximum benefits from the gym routine. Without the guidance of a professional trainer, it would be very hard for you to isolate and perform a combination of those resistance training exercises that help increase your muscle mass while reducing your body fat at the same time. Another benefit of hiring a fitness trainer is that he or she will also guide you on how to perform those workouts safely.

It is also important to remember that without incorporating a healthy and balanced diet plan into your daily routine, it would be very hard to get a lean and muscular body. You need to consume foods which provide you with a healthy ratio of fat, protein and carbohydrate on a daily basis. Make sure that you use foods such as whole grains, wheat grain, wheat germ, porridge, vegetables, fresh fruits, lean meats, fortified cereals, pulses and legumes. Drink plenty of water every day as water is a wonderful detoxifier and it helps remove harmful toxins from your body.

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There are numerous gym exercises that effectively target different parts of your body. If you want to work your hamstrings, quads and glutes, then Dumbbell Lunges makes a perfect exercise for you. It is one of the most effective strength training exercises to transform your lower body and strengthen large muscle groups in your knees, buttocks and thighs.

In order to perform this exercise, grab two dumbbells in your hands with your feet shoulder width apart. Make sure that you carry the dumbbells on each side of your body. Throw your right foot in front and come down in a way so your right leg makes a 90 degree angle with the floor and your left knee comes very close to the floor. Next step is to push back your right foot and switch to the left leg to perform the same procedure. When you push back your left foot, it would complete one rep. Make sure that you perform 4-5 sets, 8-10 reps each.

While performing Dumbbell Lunges, make sure that you keep your back straight with your chest up. It is also important that you flex your abs to maintain a good posture. Moreover, don t have your knee touch the floor when you come downwards during this exercise as this may increase the chance of an injury to your legs.

About the Author: If you are looking to start resistance training for your body transformation, fat loss, and overall muscular strength, then

click here

to explore a new


of opportunities.


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US stock markets have their best week since November

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wall Street had its best finish since November 2008 after a four day rally with the stock market’s indexes seeing their best weekly gain in nearly five months. The major indicators in the NYSE had a gain of around 10 percent. This was mainly due to bank shares bouncing and alleviating fears about the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) finished on 7223.98, an increase of 54 points from March 12 2009. The S&P 500 Index finished at 756.55 a 6 point gain and the NASDAQ composite had a 5.40 point gain as well to end the day at 1431.50.

The rally began earlier this week after the news from Citigroup Inc. about managing profits during first two months of the year. The news lessened fears about the country’s major financial institutions collapsing after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September. There was more good news from Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., who announced that they have had profits in the current year.

Today was a mixed day for the financial sector, Drug makers had some gains and so did General Motors and Berkshire Hathaway , which helped the indexes gain. The value of the US dollar fell against other world currencies, but gold prices increased.

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Death sentences in 2008 Chinese tainted milk scandal

Monday, January 26, 2009

On Thursday, the municipal intermediate people’s court in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China pronounced sentences for 21 defendants implicated in the 2008 Chinese milk scandal which killed at least six infants and sickened nearly 300,000 others.

In the local court’s decision, 17 accused were indicted for the crimes of “producing, adding melamine-laced ‘protein powder’ to infant milk or selling tainted, fake and substandard milk to Sanlu Group or 21 other dairy companies, including six who were charged with the crime of endangering public security by dangerous means.” Four other courts in Wuji County, in Hebei, China had also tried cases on the milk scandal.

Zhang Yujun, age 40, of Quzhou County (Hebei), who produced and sold melamine-laced “protein powder” in the milk scandal, was convicted of endangering public security and sentenced to death by the Shijiazhuang intermediate people’s court.

The court also imposed the penalty of death upon Geng Jinping, who added 434 kg of melamine-laced powder to about 900 tons of fresh milk to artificially increase the protein content. He sold the tainted milk to Sanlu and some other dairy companies. His brother Geng Jinzhu was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for assisting in adding the melamine.

A suspended capital punishment sentence, pending a review, with two years probation, was handed down to Gao Junjie. Under the law, a suspended death sentence is equivalent to life imprisonment with good behavior. The court ruled that Gao designed more than 70 tons of melamine-tainted “protein powder” in a Zhengding County underground factory near Shijiazhuang. His wife Xiao Yu who assisted him, was also sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Sanlu Group General Manager Tian Wenhua, 66, a native of Nangang Village in Zhengding County, who was charged under Articles 144 and 150 of the criminal code, was sentenced to life imprisonment for producing and selling fake or substandard products. She was also fined 20 million yuan (US$2.92 million) while Sanlu, which has been declared bankrupt, was fined 49.37 million yuan ($7.3 million).

Tian Wenhua plans to appeal the guilty verdict on grounds of lack of evidence, said her lawyer Liang Zikai on Saturday. Tian testified last month during her trial that she decided not to stop production of the tainted milk products because a Fonterra designated board member handed her a document which states that a maximum of 20 mg of melamine was allowed in every kg of milk in the European Union. Liang opined that Tian should instead be charged with “liability in a major accident,” which is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment, instead of manufacturing and selling fake or substandard products.

According to Zhang Deli, chief procurator of the Hebei Provincial People’s Procuratorate, Chinese police have arrested another 39 people in connection with the scandal. Authorities last year also arrested 12 milk dealers and suppliers who allegedly sold contaminated milk to Sanlu, and six people were charged with selling melamine.

In late December, 17 people involved in producing, selling, buying and adding melamine to raw milk went on trial. Tian Wenhua and three other Sanlu executives appeared in court in Shijiazhuang, charged with producing and selling fake or substandard milk contaminated with melamine. Tian pleaded guilty, and told the court during her 14-hour December 31 trial that she learned about the tainted milk complaints and problems with her company’s BeiBei milk powder from consumer complaints in mid-May.

She then apparently led a working team to handle the case, but her company did not stop producing and selling formula until about September 11. She also did not report to the Shijiazhuang city government until August 2.

The court also sentenced Zhang Yanzhang, 20, to the lesser penalty of life imprisonment. Yanzhang worked with Zhang Yujun, buying and reselling the protein powder. The convicts were deprived of their political rights for life.

Xue Jianzhong, owner of an industrial chemical shop, and Zhang Yanjun were punished with life imprisonment and 15 years jail sentence respectively. The court found them responsible for employment of workers to produce about 200 tons of the tainted infant milk formula, and selling supplies to Sanlu, earning more than one million yuan.

“From October 2007 to August 2008, Zhang Yujun produced 775.6 tons of ‘protein powder’ that contained the toxic chemical of melamine, and sold more than 600 tons of it with a total value of 6.83 million yuan [$998,000]. He sold 230 tons of the “protein powder” to Zhang Yanzhang, who will stay behind bars for the rest of his life under the same charge. Both Zhangs were ‘fully aware of the harm of melamine’ while they produced and sold the chemical, and should be charged for endangering the public security,” the Court ruled.

Geng Jinping, a suspect charged with producing and selling poisonous food in the tainted milk scandal, knelt before the court, begging for victims’ forgiveness

The local court also imposed jail sentences of between five years and 15 years upon three top Sanlu executives. Wang Yuliang and Hang Zhiqi, both former deputy general managers, and Wu Jusheng, a former raw milk department manager, were respectively sentenced to 15 years, eight years and five years imprisonment. In addition, the court directed Wang to pay multi-million dollar fines. In December, Wang Yuliang had appeared at the Shijiazhuang local court in a wheelchair, after what the Chinese state-controlled media said was a failed suicide attempt.

The judgment also states “the infant milk powder was then resold to private milk collectors in Shijiazhuang, Tangsan, Xingtai and Zhangjiakou in Hebei.” Some collectors added it to raw milk to elevate apparent protein levels, and the milk was then resold to Sanlu Group.

“The Chinese government authorities have been paying great attention to food safety and product quality,” Yu Jiang Yu, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said. “After the case broke out, the Chinese government strengthened rules and regulations and took a lot of other measures to strengthen regulations and monitor food safety,” she added.

In the People’s Republic of China, the intermediate people’s court is the second lowest local people’s court. Under the Organic Law of the People’s Courts of the People’s Republic of China, it has jurisdiction over important local cases in the first instance and hear appeal cases from the basic people’s court.

The 2008 Chinese milk scandal was a food safety incident in China involving milk and infant formula, and other food materials and components, which had been adulterated with melamine. In November 2008, the Chinese government reported an estimated 300,000 victims have suffered; six infants have died from kidney stones and other acute renal infections, while 860 babies were hospitalized.

Melamine is normally used to make plastics, fertilizer, coatings and laminates, wood adhesives, fabric coatings, ceiling tiles and flame retardants. It was added by the accused to infant milk powder, making it appear to have a higher protein content. In 2004, a watered-down milk resulted in 13 Chinese infant deaths from malnutrition.

The tainted milk scandal hit the headlines on 16 July, after sixteen babies in Gansu Province who had been fed on milk powder produced by Shijiazhuang-based Sanlu Group were diagnosed with kidney stones. Sanlu is 43% owned by New Zealand’s Fonterra. After the initial probe on Sanlu, government authorities confirmed the health problem existed to a lesser degree in products from 21 other companies, including Mengniu, Yili, and Yashili.

From August 2 to September 12 last year Sanlu produced 904 tonnes of melamine-tainted infant milk powder. It sold 813 tonnes of the fake or substandard products, making 47.5 million yuan ($13.25 million). In December, Xinhua reported that the Ministry of Health confirmed 290,000 victims, including 51,900 hospitalized. It further acknowledged reports of “11 suspected deaths from melamine contaminated milk powder from provinces, but officially confirmed 3 deaths.”

Sanlu Group which filed a bankruptcy petition, that was accepted by the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People’s Court last month, and the other 21 dairy companies, have proposed a 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) compensation plan for court settlement. The court appointed receiver was granted six months to conclude the sale of Sanlu’s assets for distribution to creditors. The 22 dairy companies offered “families whose children died would receive 200,000 yuan ($29,000), while others would receive 30,000 yuan ($4,380) for serious cases of kidney stones and 2,000 yuan ($290) for less severe cases.”

Sanlu stopped production on September 12 amid huge debts estimated at 1.1 billion yuan. On December 19, the company borrowed 902 million yuan for medical and compensation payment to victims of the scandal. On January 16, Sanlu paid compensation of 200,000 yuan (29,247 U.S. dollars) to Yi Yongsheng and Jiao Hongfang, Gangu County villagers, the parents of the first baby who died.

“Children under three years old, who had drunk tainted milk and had disease symptoms could still come to local hospitals for check-ups, and would receive free treatment if diagnosed with stones in the urinary system,” said Mao Qun’an, spokesman of the Ministry of Health on Thursday, adding that “the nationwide screening for sickened children has basically come to an end.”

“As of Thursday, about 90% of families of 262,662 children who were sickened after drinking the melamine-contaminated milk products had signed compensation agreements with involved enterprises and accepted compensation,” the China Dairy Industry Association said Friday, without revealing, however, the amount of damages paid. The Association (CDIA) also created a fund for payment of the medical bills for the sickened babies until they reach the age of 18.

Chinese data shows that those parents who signed the state-backed compensation deal include the families of six children officially confirmed dead, and all but two of 891 made seriously ill, the report said. Families of 23,651 children made ill by melamine tainted milk, however, have not received the compensation offer, because of “wrong or untrue” registration details, said Xinhua.

Several Chinese parents, however, demanded higher levels of damages from the government. Zhao Lianhai announced Friday that he and three other parents were filing a petition to the Ministry of Health. The letter calls for “free medical care and follow-up services for all victims, reimbursement for treatment already paid for, and further research into the long-term health effects of melamine among other demands,” the petition duly signed by some 550 aggrieved parents and Zhao states.

“Children are the future of every family, and moreover, they are the future of this country. As consumers, we have been greatly damaged,” the petition alleged. Chinese investigators also confirmed the presence of melamine in nearly 70 milk products from more than 20 companies, quality control official Li Changjiang admitted.

In addition, a group of Chinese lawyers, led by administrator Lin Zheng, filed Tuesday a $5.2 million lawsuit with the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China (under Chief Grand Justice Wang Shengjunin), in Beijing, on behalf of the families of 213 children’s families. The class-action product liability case against 22 dairy companies, include the largest case seeking $73,000 compensation for a dead child.

According to a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange Market Friday, China’s Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Company, which has a domestic market share of milk powder at 8 percent, reported a net loss in 2008 because of the milk scandal. A Morgan Stanley report states the expected company’s 2008 loss at 2.3 billion yuan. The scandal also affected Yili’s domestic rivals China Mengniu Dairy Company Limited and the Bright Group. Mengniu suffered an expected net loss of 900 million yuan despite earnings in the first half of 2008, while the Bright Group posted a third quarter loss at 271 million yuan last year.

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, said Saturday it accepted the Chinese court’s guilty verdicts but alleged it had no knowledge of the criminal actions taken by those involved. “We accept the court’s findings but Fonterra supports the New Zealand Government’s position on the death penalty. We have been shocked and disturbed by the information that has come to hand as a result of the judicial process,” said Fonterra Chief Executive Andrew Ferrier.

“Fonterra deeply regrets the harm and pain this tragedy has caused so many Chinese families,” he added. “We certainly would never have approved of these actions. I am appalled that the four individuals deliberately released product containing melamine. These actions were never reported to the Sanlu Board and fundamentally go against the ethics and values of Fonterra,” Ferrier noted.

Fonterra, which controls more than 95 percent of New Zealand’s milk supply, is the nation’ biggest multinational business, its second-biggest foreign currency earner and accounts for more than 24 percent of the nation’s exports. Fonterra was legally responsible for informing Chinese health authorities of the tainted milk scandal in August, and by December it had written off its $200 million investment in Sanlu Group.

Amnesty International also strongly voiced its opposition to the imposition of capital punishment by the Chinese local court and raised concerns about New Zealand’s implication in the milk scandal. “The death penalty will not put right the immense suffering caused by these men. The death penalty is the ultimate, cruel and inhumane punishment and New Zealand must take a stand to prevent further abuses of human rights.” AI New Zealand chief executive Patrick Holmes said on Saturday.

“The New Zealand government does not condone the death sentence but we respect their right to take a very serious attitude to what was extremely serious offending,” said John Phillip Key, the 38th and current Prime Minister of New Zealand and leader of the National Party. He criticized Fonterra’s response Monday, saying, “Fonterra did not have control of the vertical production chain, in other words they were making the milk powder not the supply of the milk, so it was a difficult position and they did not know until quite late in the piece. Nevertheless they probably could front more for this sort of thing.”

Keith Locke, current New Zealand MP, and the opposition Green Party foreign affairs spokesman, who was first elected to parliament in 1999 called on the government and Fonterra to respond strongly against the Chinese verdict. “They show the harshness of the regime towards anyone who embarrasses it, whether they are real criminals, whistleblowers or dissenters,” he said. “Many Chinese knew the milk was being contaminated but said nothing for fear of repercussions from those in authority. Fonterra could not get any action from local officials when it first discovered the contamination. There was only movement, some time later, when the matter became public,” he noted.

Green Party explained “it is time Fonterra drops its overly cautious act.” The party, however, stressed the death penalty is not a answer to the problems which created the Chinese milk scandal. “The Green Party is totally opposed to the death penalty. We would like to see the government and, indeed, Fonterra, speaking out and urging the Chinese government to stop the death penalty,” said Green Party MP Sue Kedgley.

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Venezuela opens granite processing facility in Bolívar

Monday, February 18, 2013

Venezuela’s government has opened a granite processing plant in the state of Bolívar, with the intention of providing about 25% of the granite required nationwide.

Ricardo Menéndez, vice president of the Productive Economic Area, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has yearned for the creation of this project to empower Venezuelan construction. Granito Bolívar is reportedly the most modern Venezuelan granite plant, not consuming community water or electricity, and is also the largest, with a daily capacity to supply enough material for use in construction of about 820 houses.

Menéndez said, “These granite blocks are the natural resources of our country, are the wealth we have as a country and often [some] simply decided to remove this richness from our country and take them to other countries” ((es))Spanish language: ?Esos bloques de granito son la riquezas naturales de nuestro país, son las riquezas que tenemos como patria y que muchas veces sencillamente esas riquezas decidieron sacarlas de nuestro territorio nacional y llevarlas a otros países.

According to Menéndez, with the help of a state plan, Venezuela intends to exploit its 40,000 million cubic meters or more of granite reserves, generating a set of factories. “[T]he central theme is that these plants, all these factories, are for the construction of socialism; that means using our potential, develop the value chain within the country and of course that yields benefits from the point of view of the production system’s organization…. [Granito] Bolívar is not only the vision that historically we had of exposing richness, but the industries, basic industries we have, that level of our workers in the basic industries and in addition the development of the potential we have in the state” ((es))Spanish language: ?el tema central es que estas plantas todas estas fábricas son para la construcción del socialismo, eso significa utilizar nuestras potencialidades, dessarrollar la cadena de valor dentro del país y por supuesto que eso genere beneficios desde el punto de vista de la organización del sistema productivo … Bolívar no solamente es la visión que históricamente se tuvo de exponer las riquezas, sino que son las empresas, las empresas básicas que tenemos, ese nivel de nuestros trabajadores de la empresas básicas y adicionalmente el desarrollo del potencial que tenemos en el estado.

For the construction of the plant, supplied by 23 quarries, the government of Bolívar provided about 30 million bolívares (US$4.7 million) and the national government €2.3 million (US$3 million). Bolívar reportedly has reserves of about 40,000 million tons of red, black, pink and white granite, sufficient for domestic demand for 200 years.

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