Latest Developments, May 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Undue influence
Deutsche Welle reports that the World Health Organization, which is holding its annual general assembly this week, is coming under fire for the growing influence of the pharmaceutical industry and private donors over its policies.
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a prime example. With contributions of about US $220 million, the foundation is the second largest donor to WHO’s current budget – after the United States and before the United Kingdom in third place. The Gates foundation generates its income mainly from fixed assets.
‘The lion’s share of the $25 billion that Gates was able to invest in health programs around the world in the past 10 years stemmed from returns from well-known companies in the chemical, pharmaceutical and food industries whose business practices often run counter to global health efforts,’ [Medico International’s Thomas] Gebauer said.
Gates has also made a fortune from defending intellectual property rights, according to Gebauer. His foundation prefers to support patented medicines and vaccines instead of promoting freely accessible and less expensive generic products.”

R&D pact
Médecins Sans Frontières has called on the world’s health ministers to start drawing up a binding agreement that would encourage research and development for medical needs in poor countries.
“Today’s system for medical R&D is flawed, in that it is predominantly driven by commercial rewards rather than health priorities. This means that research is steered towards areas that are the most profitable, leaving fundamental medical needs – particularly those that disproportionately affect developing countries like tropical diseases or tuberculosis – unaddressed.

A convention would bring significant advantages. It would create an evidence-based process to define priorities. Signatory countries would then be bound to invest towards addressing those priorities. Importantly, any research funded thanks to the convention would deliver accessible and affordable products; for example, by ensuring price and supply commitments, adopting flexible licensing policies for developers, and supporting open innovation that would make knowledge available to others.”

Migrant cancer
Haaretz reports on violent protests and inflammatory rhetoric against illegal African immigrants in Tel Aviv.
“In a speech to the demonstrators, [Member of Knesset Miri] Regev said called the illegal migrants a ‘cancer in our body,’ and promised to do everything ‘in order to bring them back to where they belong.’
[MK] Danny Danon, who heads a lobby group which seeks to deal with the issue of illegal immigration said that the only solution to the problem is to ‘begin talking about expulsion.’
‘We must expel the infiltrators from Israel. We should not be afraid to say the words “expulsion now.”’ ”

Fast-food deforestation
Mongabay reports on a new Greenpeace investigation that has found fast-food giant KFC uses packaging made partly – sometimes more than 50 percent – from Indonesian rainforest fibres.
“It isn’t the first time KFC has been criticized for its fiber sourcing practices. Campaigners — including Cole Rasenberger, a pre-teen activist — have targeted the company for using packaging from endangered forests in the United States.
But the focus of the new Greenpeace report is KFC’s relationship with [Asia Pulp & Paper], which has suffered waves of customer defections in recent years due to its environmental record. APP has cleared hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforest and peatlands in Riau and Jambi, destroying critical habitat for endangered wildlife including Sumatran tigers, elephants, and orangutans.”

Free trade impacts
The Canadian Council for International Co-operation’s Brittany Lambert and Common Frontiers’ Raul Burbano argue the Canadian government “has shirked its responsibility” to assess the human rights impacts of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
“The trade deal came into force in August 2011 after being stalled in Parliament for nearly three years due to widespread concern that it could exacerbate existing human rights violations in Colombia.
The compromise that allowed the deal to pass was a treaty requiring both governments to report annually on the free trade agreement’s human rights impacts. The inclusion of such a provision in a trade deal is a global precedent, one touted by the Harper government as a meaningful way to ensure human rights accountability in trade with Colombia.”

OpenForum, Day 2
The Daily Maverick provides another roundup of discussions held at the Open Society’s “Money, Power & Sex” conference in Cape Town, with the second day’s focus being on culture.
“Where arguments about African identity flourish, the issue of language can’t be far behind – and so it proved. [Kenyan writer Binyavanga] Wainaina opened this can of worms, saying that he wrote in English, because ‘English just so happened, for all the reasons we all know. I am keen to domesticate it.’
But indigenous languages are not going away, he said, and ‘we will not be free to produce or create until we live full lives in our own languages.’ He pointed to the irony of the fact that it is the African elites – ‘we who have won scholarships’ – who have continued to impose English on the continent, and ‘it hasn’t worked.’

[South African singer Simphiwe] Dana said that to preserve all languages was impossible, which is why a continental language was necessary. If English is that language, she said, ‘We have to admit defeat. It’s over. Then they have won. Because culture and identity are maintained in our languages.’ ”

Expanding communities
In a rabble.ca interview, UC Berkeley’s Judith Butler discusses the increasing cross-fertilization of popular protest.
“Outside of our local groups or identity-based communities, we are figuring out what is our obligation to the stranger. Our commonality, whether it is anti-racism or radical democratic ideals, insists that we have obligations to one another that are not based on shared language or religion or even beliefs about humanity. Views do not have to be the same to sense that something is profoundly unjust and have strong ties of solidarity.”

The future we want
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon writes that knowing “we can not continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity” has still not led us to embrace sustainable development.
“Clearly, the old economic model is breaking down. In too many places, growth has stalled. Jobs are lagging. Gaps are growing between rich and poor, and we see alarming scarcities of food, fuel and the natural resources on which civilization depends.

Because so many of today’s challenges are global, they demand a global response — collective power exercised in powerful partnership. Now is not the moment for narrow squabbling. This is a moment for world leaders and their people to unite in common purpose around a shared vision of our common future — the future we want.”

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