Monday, February 20, 2012

German Jobs, Kazakh Rights

An article in today's New York Times ("Balancing Business and Human Rights") describes Chancellor Angela Merkel's effort to balance German economic interests with support for human rights.  Germany has recently entered into an agreement with Kazakhstan worth €3 billion for the purchase of rare earth metals needed for certain high-tech manufactured goods.

The most recent rankings by Freedom House (Freedom in the World 2012) list Kazakhstan as "Not Free" with ratings of 6 for political rights and 5 for civil liberties (with 7 being the lowest score on a 1 to 7 scale).  The report notes that "violent labor unrest in Kazakhstan should remind the world that repression does not in fact lead to stability."  Among the most repressed workers in Kazakhstan are the miners responsible for producing the rare earth metals being sold to Germany.

Unfortunately, the world's leading producer of rare earth metals--the People's Republic of China--presents its own set of human rights concerns.  Germany and other consumers of rare earth metals are between a rock and a hard place.