Latest Developments, July 26

In the latest news and analysis…

ATT plea
Author and former child soldier Ishmael Beah makes the case for a strong Arms Trade Treaty – including controls on ammunition sales – as UN negotiations enter the final stretch:

“The treaty is not a panacea to end all violence, genocide and human rights abuses, but it is a colossal step in the right direction. It is also an important missing piece to end the rampant use of children in war and to significantly reduce violence and the number of lives lost in such conflicts. For the first time, it will set an international standard that governments and civil society can use to hold accountable those who sell weapons irresponsibly. It will also prevent the flow of weapons into lawless areas plagued by conflict by closing the many loopholes immoral businessmen now use to navigate with impunity.

As negotiators race this week to finish the text of the treaty, they must include measures to control the flow of ammunition. Weaponry is abundant in Libya, Mali and other conflict zones around the world, but oftentimes ammunition is in short supply.
Some of these weapons, such as AK-47s, are extremely durable. You can bury them, dig them up years later and start using them again. If we didn’t have access to ammunition during the war in Sierra Leone, the AK-47s would have been no more deadly than sticks, and we would have been unable to inflict tremendous violence simply by squeezing a trigger.”

War on drugs redux
The New York Times reports that the US is expanding its drug war into Africa, with “elite” counternarcotics training already underway in Ghana and the same planned for Nigeria and Kenya:

“ ‘We see Africa as the new frontier in terms of counterterrorism and counternarcotics issues,’ said Jeffrey P. Breeden, the chief of the D.E.A.’s Europe, Asia and Africa section. ‘It’s a place that we need to get ahead of — we’re already behind the curve in some ways, and we need to catch up.’

In May, William R. Brownfield, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, a leading architect of the strategy now on display in Honduras, traveled to Ghana and Liberia to put the finishing touches on a West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative, which will try to replicate across 15 nations the steps taken in battling trafficking groups operating in Central America and Mexico.”

Jordan loan
Reuters reports the IMF has agreed to lend Jordan $2 billion, in part, to offset the costs of the Arab Spring:

“Meanwhile, tourism income and remittances from Jordanian workers abroad have been hit by the global economic slump and the unrest in the region. Government finances have been weakened by higher welfare spending to buy social peace during the Arab Spring, and by the cost of caring for refugees from Syria.
In an effort to cut its deficits, Jordan launched an austerity drive in May, raising fuel and electricity prices, imposing higher taxes on luxury goods and increasing corporate taxes on banks and mining companies.
But the government’s room for maneuver has been limited by the threat of unrest; Islamist and tribal opposition groups have held street protests against price rises, warning the authorities that austerity measures could trigger wider demonstrations and even civil disorder in impoverished areas.”

Bhopal Olympics
The Hindu reports that survivors of the Bhopal disaster are holding their own “Bhopal Special Olympics” in protest against Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the London Games, which kick off on Friday:

“The Bhopal Olympics, with the theme ‘From East India Company to the Dow Chemical Company’, will be held in a stadium right behind the abandoned Union Carbide factory that continues to leach carcinogenic chemicals in the local groundwater, causing birth defects in children even today.

The opening ceremony will draw attention to the many famines caused during the British rule in India, the mass hangings following the ‘first battle for Indian independence in 1857’, the massacre at Jalianwala Bagh in 1919 and last but not the least, to the support extended by the British Prime Minister to the Dow Chemical Company.”

Big bad pharma
The University of London’s Simon Reid-Henry and Deakin University’s Hans Lofgren condemn a “triple-pronged attack” from the West on India’s role as “global pharmacist”:

“It is not only the pharmaceutical industry that needs to be addressed but the continued and ruthless lobbying by western politicians to secure the profitability of their own industries.
We ought to be asking why governments in the rich world still seem happy to checkmate the lives of poor people to save their political skins. And why the pharmaceutical industry sees India as such a threat.”

Human rights rep
Xinhua reports that former Greek foreign minister Stavros Lambrinidis has become the EU’s first-ever special representative for human rights:

“Lambrinidis’ tasks will mainly focus on strengthening EU values in the bloc and around the world.
While some analysts question the tangible effectiveness of such a position, the appointment was welcomed by EU institutions.”

NGO transparency
The Irish Examiner reports that Ireland’s government is considering extending the scope of freedom of information laws to cover non-public bodies that receive state funding, “such as sporting groups and charities”:

“The [government] spokesman said no set criteria had been agreed upon as to which non-public bodies would fall under the extended reach of the FOI laws.
However, it could include the level of funding provided to a body, the percentage of that funding within the body’s overall budget, whether the grants are provided annually as opposed to once-off and the nature of the functions provided by the body and the extent to which it provides a service to the public.”

Constructive vandalism
Oxfam’s Kate Raworth makes the case for rewriting economics into something less focused on GDP growth and monetized resource flows:

“So here’s a guerrilla campaign to make it happen. Anyone can do it because all you need is a pencil. Here’s the plan (umm, I have to say at this point, this is not Oxfam Policy…). Sneak into the bookshops, the libraries and classrooms, and into the office of every economics professor you know. Get out the macroeconomic textbooks and find that diagram. Take your pencil. Now draw in the environment. Draw in the unpaid care economy. Draw in social inequality.
With these few strokes, we could stick a great big spanner in the wheel of mainstream economic thinking. We’d save the next generation of economics students from having the wrong model of the world stuck in the back of their heads. And that would help save us all from another era of economic policymakers who unknowingly have the wrong model of the economy shaping their decisions.”

Latest Developments, April 4

In the latest news and analysis…

Aid down
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development announced that 2011 marked the first time in 14 years that aid from its member countries had decreased.
“In 2011, members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD provided USD 133.5 billion of net official development assistance (ODA), representing 0.31 per cent of their combined gross national income (GNI). This was a -2.7 % drop in real terms compared to 2010, the year it reached its peak. This decrease reflects fiscal constraints in several DAC countries which have affected their ODA budgets.”

Transfer pricing
Reuters reports Brazilian tax authorities have announced new regulations regarding billions of dollars worth of intra-company trade by transnational corporations.
“Under new rules, the Brazilian units of companies such as Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, Glencore and Noble must value transactions with overseas units of the same company using international price benchmarks, said Sandro Serpa, a top enforcement official at Brazil’s Federal tax authority.
The measures are aimed at ending “price manipulation” of inter-company imports and exports that allow multi-national companies to evade local taxes, he said.”

Landmine talk
Human Rights Watch points out that while the US has condemned Syria’s use of landmines, America has yet to join the ban on the weapons.
“The United States is not a party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel landmines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims. Yet the US already follows most of the treaty’s key provisions and has condemned new use of landmines by others. On March 14, US Ambassador Susan Rice and the State Department both described reports of Syria’s use of antipersonnel mines on its borders with Lebanon and Turkey as ‘horrific.’

Until the current policy review is completed, the 2004 Bush policy remains in place, permitting the US to use self-destructing, self-deactivating antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world. In accordance with this policy, the US no longer uses antipersonnel mines that do not self-destruct – sometimes called ‘persistent’ or ‘dumb’ mines – anywhere in the world, including in Korea.”

Indigenous IP rights
The Washington Post reports that a DC-based law firm has launched a “first-of-its-kind practice” that combines intellectual property and human rights.
“Spearheaded by founding director and veteran attorney Jorge Goldstein, who specializes in health sciences, the pro bono practice aims to use patent and copyright laws to help indigenous groups in developing countries protect and leverage their right to native or regional intellectual property — such as medicinal plants, artwork and designs — that often get co-opted, patented and sold by multinational corporations, including pharmaceutical companies.”

Intervention doctrine
Manuela Picq, most recently a visiting professor and research fellow at Amherst College, draws a direct line between today’s political ethics and the 15th Century Vatican doctrine of discovery that called for enslavement of non-Christians and occupation of their lands.
“The discourse that rationalised the colonisation of the Americas in the sake of Christianity is the same that justifies protecting human rights in Iraq or privatising water supplies for the sake of development.

Dominant cultures continue to intervene in the autonomy of indigenous peoples. This continuum is proof that the doctrine of intervention did not die with formal processes of decolonisation, adapting to new zeitgeists like a chameleon.
The practice of conquest, more diverse than often assumed, needs to be reconceived as a global political challenge that concerns us all rather than as a mere cultural concern discussed in indigenous forums. It is the international system that is at stake. Universalism cannot be exported, much less imposed. It is a collective practice.”

White guilt
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny writes that people in wealthy countries hold views that “would make [Rudyard] Kipling proud” and are “positively harmful” to both rich and poor countries.
“A recent study in Britain suggested that the dominant image of developing countries remains ‘malnutrition and pot-bellied young children desperate for help with flies on their faces.’ Perhaps that’s not surprising when a survey by journalist Marlon Miller looking at ten years of Africa coverage by major U.S. print media found the most common topic of articles was conflict, corruption, and crime. Or when well-intentioned efforts to mobilize support for famine relief or bringing war criminals to justice in Africa tend to emphasize the worst of the continent and play up the role of outsiders.”

Resultism
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie criticizes the “limited nature of development inquiry” that tends to focus on results and cost effectiveness to the virtual exclusion of other considerations.
“So while the Bank’s own evaluators (generally reckoned to be well-equipped and relatively independent) say that 59% of country assistance strategies are completed satisfactorily, the really interesting question is how many of those helped the country rather than hindered it. While Bank advice has helped some countries achieve development, there is no doubt it has done the opposite in others – the evidence is overwhelming. That makes the 59% number meaningless in terms of what it tells us about actual poverty reduction. But it fulfils the requirement of being a number, and will therefore be used in countless powerpoint presentations.”

IFI criticism
Inter Press Service reports on calls by NGOs for international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to practice what they preach when it comes to transparency and accountability, and to alter their traditional policy prescriptions which critics deem harmful to the world’s poor.
“Other groups, such as the Europe Corporate Observatory, raise similar complaints against the Bank and the IMF, for supporting free trade agreements (FTAs) with developing countries, which obviously damage local public health initiatives and food provision.
The most salient case is the European FTA with India, slated to come into force this year, which would force the Indian pharmaceutical industry to cease producing inexpensive generic medications to treat contagious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, which most of the developing world is dependent on as a cheap alternative to patented drugs.”

Latest Developments, February 12

In the latest news and analysis…

End of cheap drugs?
Unitaid’s Philippe Douste-Blazy and Denis Broun argue the free trade agreement currently being negotiated by India and the EU threatens to end access to cheap medicines for patients in poor countries.
“The medicines-related issues discussed in the FTA are not only a question of public health, but of ethics, justice and reason. The result will either be a win-win situation that will also benefit the poor or a lose-lose proposition that may kill the poor. It would be unthinkable that private interest pressure from European pharmaceutical companies to preserve an obsolete business model could prevail over common sense, common interest and the health of millions of people.”

Open letter to Tim Cook
China Labour Watch’s Li Qiang has written an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, in which he argues the reasons for the poor working conditions in its supplier factories are “deeply rooted in your company’s business model.”
“We believe the most basic cause of the problems at your supplier factories is the low price Apple insists on paying them, leaving next to no room for them to make a profit. The demand for astronomically high production rates at an extremely low price pushes factories to exploit workers, since it is the only way to meet Apple’s production requirements and make its factory owners a profit at the same time.

There is a simple solution for the problems we have observed in Apple’s supply chain, and it doesn’t even involve raising the prices for consumers. Apple needs simply to share a larger proportion of its sizeable profits with the supplier factories it contracts with and, by extension, the people who make its products.”

Anti-drug vaccines
Inter Press Service reports on experimental trials of drug addiction vaccinations going on in Mexico and the US, which although touted as an alternative to the war on drugs, have attracted little interest from pharmaceutical companies.
“After taking office in December 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderón deployed thousands of soldiers and police to fight drug trafficking in a repressive campaign that has left more than 47,000 dead, according to the latest government figures, although journalists put the death toll at over 50,000.
A preventive clinical approach is therefore an urgent priority, although vaccine development requires financial backing for production on an industrial scale.
‘It’s not a profitable product for the pharmaceutical industry, and the same is true for many other diseases. The state would have to subsidise it. We have already heard more than once that a vaccine is on the way, but then nothing happens,’ said [Dr. Rogelio] Rodríguez, who tried unsuccessfully to introduce his [cocaine and alcohol dependency] treatment in Mexico City prisons – ‘but there were too many conditions and requirements.’ ”

Beer suit
The Associated Press reports that an “American Indian tribe” is suing a handful of major beer makers for knowingly contributing to addiction on a reservation where alcohol is banned.
“The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota said it is demanding $500 million in damages for the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation caused by chronic alcoholism on the reservation, which encompasses some of the nation’s most impoverished counties.

‘You cannot sell 4.9 million 12-ounce cans of beer and wash your hands like Pontius Pilate, and say we’ve got nothing to do with it being smuggled,’ said Tom White, the tribe’s Omaha-based attorney.”

Happy planet
Reuters reports on the results of a new global survey that suggests the world is happier than it was before the financial crisis hit, with people in Indonesia, Mexico and India being the happiest of all.
Perhaps proving that money can’t buy happiness, residents of some of the world biggest economic powers, including the United States, Canada and Britain, fell in the middle of the happiness scale.
‘There is a pattern that suggests that there are many other factors beyond the economy that make people happy, so it does provide one element but it is not the whole story,’ said [Ipsos Global’s John] Wright.

Uneconomics
The University of Oxford’s William Davies argues that although the financial crisis was triggered in part by a system he describes as “a mineshaft crammed with canaries, scarcely any of whom had any inclination or ability to sing,” the resulting fallout has actually increased the power of economics in public life.
“It is time to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth about the public status of economics as an expert discipline: it has grown to be far more powerful as a tool of political rhetoric, blame avoidance and elite strategy than for the empirical representation of economic life. This is damaging to politics, for it enables value judgements and political agendas to be endlessly presented in ‘factual’ terms. But it is equally damaging to economics, which is losing the authority to describe reality in a credible, disinterested, Enlightenment fashion.”

Ecosystem services
The International Institute for Environment and Development’s Kate Munro highlights one of the potential downsides to “making carbon into a commodity.”
“It gives national governments title to the carbon sequestered in a country’s soils and forests for the purposes of trading on international carbon markets, which could pose an additional barrier to the efforts of individuals and poor rural communities to demarcate, and gain title to the land on which their livelihoods depend.”

Word and deed
Oxfam’s Ian Gary rails against the “yawning gap” between what oil companies say and do regarding corporate transparency.
“Many of the same companies praising transparency have been actively lobbying since the law passed to gut implementation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The hypocrisy is out there in the open if you know where to look. Senate lobbying disclosure forms show that Chevron, Exxon, Shell, Conoco Phillips, Marathon, Occidental, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and others have been very active in Washington on this provision, targeting not only the SEC, but the House of Representatives, Senate, Department of State, Department of the Intertior, and the National Security Council.
As I wrote last week, API (revenues of more than $198 million in 2009) has now threatened to sue the SEC unless the agency withdraws its proposed rule and starts from scratch to meet big oil’s secrecy wishes rather than the law and Congressional mandate.”