Latest Developments, February 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Pharma corruption
Reuters reports on global efforts to rein in corruption in the pharmaceutical industry, as multinational drug companies seek to expand their business beyond traditional markets.
“The drugs business is particularly exposed to corruption, Transparency International says: pharmaceuticals create vast opportunities for graft across both rich and poor countries. Its 2011 Bribe Payers’ Index ranks pharmaceuticals and healthcare 13th out of 19 industries on probity – a lower ranking than defense firms, though above mining and construction.

Over the past year eight of the world’s top 10 drugmakers – Pfizer Inc, Novartis AG, Merck & Co Inc, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly & Co – have all warned that they may face liabilities related to charges of corruption in numerous overseas markets.
Investigations into potential wrongdoing by pharmaceutical firms cover activities in countries including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and Saudi Arabia, according to company filings. They also involve possible improper conduct of clinical trials, which are increasingly being run in lower-cost Asian or East European countries.”

Sustainable development?
The Gaia Foundation has released a new report that highlights the rate at which global extractive industries have grown over the last 10 years.
“For example, iron ore production is up by 180%; cobalt by 165%; lithium by 125%, and coal by 44%. The increase in prospecting has also grown exponentially, which means this massive acceleration in extraction will continue if concessions are granted as freely as they are now.

The rights of farming and indigenous communities are increasingly ignored in the race to grab land and water. Each wave of new extractive technologies requires ever more water to wrench the material from its source. The hunger for these materials is a growing threat to the necessities for life: water, fertile soil and food. The implications are obvious.”

Time limit
The Guardian reports the UK government plans to implement new rules that would require migrant workers earning less than £35,000 a year to leave after 5 years.
“Ministers hope changing settlement rights for skilled workers will put plans back on track to cut net migration from its current 250,000 a year to ‘tens of thousands’ by the next general election. They believe the £35,000-a-year earnings threshold will ensure only the ‘brightest and the best’ migrants settle in the UK. But critics say it will simply mean only the wealthy and the comfortable are able to come and live and work in Britain permanently.”

Power, Inc.
Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf examines what it means to live in a world where large numbers of corporations have grown more powerful than most countries.
“Today’s corporations often conduct something very much like their own foreign policy. They launch active political advocacy campaigns, such as ExxonMobil’s lobbying to kill U.S. acceptance of the Kyoto Protocol. They undertake significant security initiatives, as in the company formerly known as Blackwater’s defense contracting during the Iraq war. They also provide health care, training, shelter, and other functions that states ought to but can’t or won’t provide.
The result is societies that are profoundly out of whack, with far too much power in the hands of massive, often distant corporate entities that are only accountable, fundamentally, to their shareholders. Meanwhile, the public is seeing that the increasingly weak institutions designed to give them a voice are unable to meet some of the most basic terms of the social contract, as the issues that need to be addressed are effectively beyond their jurisdiction.”

Remedy gaps
Haley St. Dennis of the Institute for Human Rights and Business argues the current US Supreme Court case pitting Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Shell is a “stark reminder” that voluntary corporate policies are not always enough to prevent environmental and human rights abuses.
“But clearly governments must be at the forefront in ensuring effective remedies. Under the state duty to protect, governments have an obligation to ensure access to justice through provision of effective judicial and non-judicial remedies accessible to all.

It is safe to say that whether or not the Supreme Court finds in favour of the Kiobel plaintiffs, the need for more accessible forums for national or international redress to answer grievances unable to be remediated locally will remain a priority on the public agenda. Given the high threshold of evidence involving international crimes, tort laws such as [the Alien Tort Claims Act] and similar international processes, though often arduous, offer more accessible options.”

The cost of complicity
In a Q&A with Embassy Magazine, the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Léonce Ndikumana discusses African capital flight which, he says, “kills babies.”
“We then look at the linkages between external flight and external borrowing. Statistically we find that for every dollar that comes into Africa, between 40 and 60 cents comes out of the continent in the form of capital flight. Africa keeps 40 cents, but Africa is going to have to pay the whole dollar, because it’s the debt that they signed.

We emphasis the fact that capital flight is the result of mismanagement, corrupt management in Africa, but also complicity of foreign actors including banks that take this money being robbed from the continent and turn a blind eye and don’t ask any questions about a government official bringing a million to deposit.”

Creating new truths
J.D.M. Stewart, who teaches history at Toronto’s Bishop Strachan School, takes up the call issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada for the country’s students to be taught about the history of residential schools and their devastating impact on Aboriginal culture.
“As Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair, the TRC’s chair, wrote: ‘There is an opportunity now for Canadians to engage in this work, to make their own contributions to reconciliation, and to create new truths about our country.’ ”

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