The comic book series 'Watchmen' takes its title from the Latin phrase 'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' which is translated as 'Who watches the watchmen?' Commonly used today to warn against government, police and judicial corruption, the saying might also apply to those groups who watch big industry such as the Atlas of Environmental Justice.
This initiative is an online database compiled by the Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT) to map environmental conflicts around the world. It's a great tool, it is professionally presented and the project is backed by the European Commission. EJOLT's goals are to give those fighting for environmental justice a voice and to gather data to allow policy change.
As ever the problem with any form of user-content database is who vets the submissions and how much of 'reality' does the data actually represent compared to a more curated project. The mass use of Wikipedia shows that these issues can be overcome to some extent, while user-submitted online hotel and restaurant reviews often suggest otherwise.
All three conflicts registered in the EJ Atlas in southern England, where the Global Cement office is based, offer incomplete or misleading data. The entry for the third runway expansion at Heathrow airport doesn't present the economic benefits of expanding the airport or what the alternatives are. Rightly, the activists will argue that they have significantly smaller resources compared to the big industrial multinationals to fight their corner. Unfortunately this shows in the EJ Atlas and the user-submitted data approach it uses.
At the time of writing only 15 cases are tagged as cement-related out of a total of 1154. This is far fewer cases than you might expect with no mention, for example, of any of the regular environmental scuffles the cement industry faces in North America. The cases it does list are mainly based in Latin America with other clusters in southern Europe and India. Of these, three have been mislabelled and are not even related to the cement industry. The rest are mainly concerned with pollution due to waste incineration and mineral extraction worries. The waste incineration listings have a certain irony about them considering that these cement plants are almost certainly praising themselves for their reduced carbon emissions!
In the online world big companies can sometimes be at a disadvantage to nimble activist campaigns. Journalists from national media outlets can easily find campaigns with a web or social media presence to provide counterpoint for editorial. A good example is the Stop Titan Action Network that formed to fight Titan America's cement plant in Castle Hayne in North Carolina, US.
If the EJ Atlas accrues more attention and/or carries on past its project deadline of 2015 then the problems with the atlas may be fixed as activists log more cases, industry refutes them and the moderators weigh up the arguments in line with the project's aims of environmental justice. As previous online examples have shown, engagement may be better than ignoring these kind of initiatives.