Latest Developments, April 3

In the latest news and analysis…

Aid and inequality
New data suggest aid actually increases the gap between rich and poor in recipient countries, according to Helmut Schmidt University’s Dierk Herzer and the Kiel Institute’s Peter Nunnenkamp.
“All in all, there is little reason for being optimistic and expecting foreign aid to be effective in alleviating poverty in recipient countries even if it had no discernible average growth effects. Calls on donors to strengthen the conditionality of aid, focus on countries with less corruption and better governance, and prevent leakage by stricter monitoring and closer involvement of the poor in aid delivery are insufficient even if such measures help restrict local rent-seeking. Better accountability is also required on the part of donors. Aid agencies tend to ignore their own incentive problems which prevent aid from reducing inequality. Public outrage in the North about corruption in the South abstracts from the selfish aid motives that lead donors to favour rich local elites. Overcoming the gap between the donors’ rhetoric on pro-poor growth and inequality-increasing aid allocation is no easier than overcoming rent-seeking and leakage in the recipient countries.”

Beyond aid
War on Want’s John Hilary argues it is time to “move beyond aid in any discussion of social and economic justice” and calls for a “radical reorientation” of the global economy towards a system that is not stacked in favour of rich countries.
“Sadly, the millennium development goals agreed in 2000 drew attention away from this pressing agenda. By focusing on the symptoms of human poverty rather than its underlying determinants, the goals have arguably diverted attention from the real business of development. Reclaiming that agenda will be a key part of moving the debate forward beyond 2015.
But perhaps the greatest problem with aid is that it perpetuates the colonial myth that the countries of the global south require ‘our’ intervention to save them from themselves.”

Provoking piracy
The Guardian quotes a Senegalese fisherman who suggests overfishing by foreign boats off Senegal’s coast will lead to violence if left unchecked.
“The catches are already down 75% on 10 years ago because of the foreign fishing boats. They destroy our gear. If this goes on there will be a catastrophe. Until now we haven’t taken any direct action against the foreign fishermen. Once we took the captain from one of the vessels and we beat him around the balls.
For sure, in 10 years time people will go fishing with guns. They are desperate. When people had enough to eat and drink, Senegal was a calm country. As the situation becomes more difficult it will become more and more like Somalia. We will fight for fish at sea. If we cannot eat, what do you expect us to do?”

New paradigm
The UN News Centre reports that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said a new economic model is necessary in order for sustainable development to become possible.
“ ‘Gross National Product (GDP) has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured. Yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress,’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his remarks at a high-level meeting at UN Headquarters in New York.

‘We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness,’ the Secretary-General told the meeting’s participants.”

 

Affirmative action ban
The Associated Press reports that a US federal court has upheld California’s ban on university admission policies that take race, ethnicity or gender into consideration.
“At least six states have adopted bans on using affirmative action in state college admissions. Besides California and Michigan, they include Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Washington.
Advocates of affirmative action say such bans lead to the exclusion of minority students and less campus diversity.
In California, the year after ban was adopted, the number of black, Latino and Native American students at the University of California’s most prestigious campuses — Berkeley and Los Angeles — plummeted by 50 percent, according to the plaintiffs cited in the court opinion.”

Happy science
Columbia University’s Earth Institute has released the first edition of the World Happiness Report, in which it explains the “new science of happiness.”
“Over time as living standards have risen, happiness has increased in some countries, but not in others (like for example, the United States). On average, the world has become a little happier in the last 30 years (by 0.14 times the standard deviation of happiness around the world).”

EU transparency
The Tanzania Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative’s Bishop Stephen Munga argues that the EITI is useful but limited.
“It provides information at a national level, but does not enable communities to know how much wealth was generated in their locality and should therefore be returned to them. It is also voluntary. Governments decide whether to sign up. Only 35 have done so, leaving dozens of resource-rich countries with no publically available information.
This is why we need robust EU legislation revealing information at project level and published in all countries where EU companies work. Information must be relevant to local communities and attributed to the projects in their area. If not, legislation will simply not achieve its intended aim.”

Food racism
Le Monde reports on the debate in Austria over attempts to change traditional food names that “perpetuate racial prejudice.”
“The rightwing press was quick to jump on the story. Would it be necessary to change ‘Moor in a shirt’ to ‘Othello,’ asked the Kronen Zeitung tabloid, always eager to ridicule political correctness, while a commentator with the daily Die Presse slammed the ‘paternalistic lobby’ and the ‘professional indignants.’

‘Words are a key part of collective identity,’ counters SOS-Mitmensch’s Alexander Pollack. ‘And Austrians proved that by insisting, when they joined the EU, on keeping their own food names, notably for vegetables. If potatoes [erdäpfel in Austria, kartoffel in Germany] are taken so seriously here, the fight for human dignity and respect for others must be too.’” (Translated from the French.)

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.”

Latest Developments, February 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Accountability deficit
The School of Oriental and African Studies’ Michael Jennings argues there are few consequences for international NGOs that fail to deliver on their humanitarian promises or, in some cases, do actual harm to the people they have pledged to help.
“The question of accountability has often looked to how NGOs answer to donors or to the national governments of countries in which they are operating. From a financial or legal perspective, this makes perfect sense. NGOs should account for the money they spend as contracted agents of donors. And they should, of course, be working within the parameters of national regulatory frameworks and laws (although the fact that NGOs themselves often sit on the committees that draw up such regulatory systems is troubling).

The best NGOs do think about how they can be accountable to the communities and individuals with whom they work. But the issue is too important to be left to self-regulation. Development interventions involve change, and change can result in profoundly negative outcomes for some or many. Unintended as these negative consequences may be, those affected should be afforded a better means to hold to account development actors.”

Mining profits
Bench Marks Foundation’s John Capel writes that calls for increased investment in Africa rarely incorporate a discussion of “how this investment should be undertaken,” a shortcoming the Alternative Mining Indaba seeks to rectify.
“We believe there is a role for independent monitoring and evaluation and a role for community monitoring to hold mining corporations accountable.
But to do so we need independent funds to capacitate communities to engage with mining houses on a level playing field. To back this up we need an independent grievance mechanism, independent of the company, supported by an independent fund contributed to by mining corporations. It must be quick and easy to use, bring redress, be able to hold corporations accountable and must address any adverse impacts on communities.”

Arms control
The Inter Press Service reports on the continuing campaign for stricter controls on international weapons sales ahead of next week’s pre-negotiation meeting regarding the Arms Trade Treaty which is supposed to be finalized later this year.
“ ‘There is more control on the selling of bananas than there is on conventional arms,’ said Zobel Behalal, peace and conflicts advocacy officer for CCFD-Terre Solidare, a French-based Catholic NGO.
‘For us, this is a true scandal because states can do what they want without taking into account the impact on civilian populations,’ he told IPS.”

Immunity lost
Agence France-Presse reports Iraqi officials want to rein in private security contractors whose large number “negatively impacts the security situation in the country.”
“The firms ‘have to understand that … they don’t have free (movement) in the country. They have to follow the instruction, they have to hold the permit, a valid permit, and they are not allowed to violate the Iraqi laws.’
‘They are not exempted as before, and they are not getting any sort of immunity,’ [government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh] said.
‘We do need them, definitely, we do need them, (and) we are not going to stop them, but definitely, we will limit their work,’ Dabbagh said.”

Living wage
The Phnom Penh Post reports on a push to quadruple the wages of Cambodian garment workers.
“[Asia Floor Wage] coordinator Anannya Bhattacharjee said the $281 calculation was based on a worker’s monthly nutritional needs according to figures obtained from governments and international institutions.
She added that such an increase would rely to some extent on clothing brands and retailers paying more for the finished product.
‘There is enough money in the global supply chain for brands to pay Cambodian manufacturers enough so that garment workers can earn that,’ she said.”

Down the toilet
A new World Wildlife Fund report suggests American consumers are contributing to the destruction of Indonesia’s rain forests by buying certain brands of toilet paper.
“In recent years, APP has greatly expanded into the U.S. tissue market, including through Paseo and Livi tissue products. Oasis Brands, which markets Paseo, announced in 2011 that Paseo had become the fastest-growing brand of toilet paper in the U.S.  Paseo and Livi are also marketed as ‘away-from-home’ products used in public restrooms in restaurants, office buildings, schools and hotels.”

Universal joy
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny responds to Japanese calls to make happiness one of the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Goals with a more American plea to focus on the “right to pursue happiness.”
“Most differences in life satisfaction poll answers are due to inherited characteristics, while less than 3 percent can be explained by socioeconomic status, education, income, marital status, and religious commitment combined.  As I suggest in this CGD Essay, for a society to maximize average happiness poll answers, its most effective course would probably be to put everyone on an antidepressant-ecstasy cocktail and (given the strong genetic component of happiness poll answers) add in chemical sterilization for the naturally unhappy.  Is that really what we want out of a new round of Millennium Development Goals?”

Geography of trade
Drew University’s Fred Curtis and Rutgers’s David Ehrenfeld argue the end of globalization – or at least its considerable reduction – is nigh but they see as many opportunities as problems in the inevitable transition to more localized life.
“It is now critical for economic planners, laypersons and governments to recognise that long-term energy and climate realities will impose limits on the global movement of goods. Trade pacts, like the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and business models, like Walmart with its transoceanic supply chains, will make less sense as the foundations of global trade are undermined. This is not the result of either ideology or policy. Only when we accept these realities can we design and rebuild less vulnerable patterns of production and trade throughout the world. Nearly every country has existing examples of sound, regional development that can be used as models.”

Latest Developments, October 18

In the latest news and analysis…

FDI dangers
Reuters reports international negotiations have not succeeded in producing voluntary guidelines to curb land grabs in poor countries, a phenomenon driven by uncertain markets and a race to the bottom to attract foreign investment.
“Countries who want to attract investment are currently competing with each other to provide buyers with the best deal, such as a low price for land, low taxes, and few demands for employment creation and protection of the local food system, [the U.N.'s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier] De Schutter said.
Targeted African and Asian countries would benefit from a common set of guidelines, which would increase their bargaining position and make it easier for them to demand conditions to protect vulnerable land-users, he said.”

Conflict minerals
Reuters also reports on the battle in Washington over the Securities and Exchange Commission’s attempts to implement a legal provision requiring companies to disclose if their products contain “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Companies and business groups have largely opposed the measure as proposed, saying it captures far too many companies who do not directly manufacture their goods and have little say or knowledge about the origins of the minerals used in their products. They have urged the SEC to implement the plan over time, and also to give relief to companies that use trace amounts of the minerals in question.
But lawmakers, human rights groups and some socially conscious investors have decried the delay in the SEC’s rulemaking process.”

Resource caution
In the midst of all the excitement about Africa’s current rate of economic growth, Oxford economist Paul Collier warns of the dangers of relying on revenues from resource exports.
“The meltdown in commodity prices over the last two months perfectly illustrates the volatility inherent in these global markets. Resource-rich low-income countries are typically highly dependent upon the tax receipts from resource exports for government revenue. The rents on commodity extraction are highly geared on the price and so are even more volatile than prices. Since taxes are designed to capture the rents, government revenue is thus deeply unpredictable.”

Remittance curse
Economist and mathematician David Ellerman suggests remittances can represent a curse in the same way as resource wealth is often thought to do.
“Like the discovery of oil, the flow of remittances back to the sending country will increase income levels but that itself does not amount to economic development. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. Many of the resource-curse arguments apply to the ‘oil wells’ of remittances. The pressure on the governments to facilitate job creation in the sending countries is much reduced when they can export their unemployment problem and even receive a sizable inflow of hard currency in return.”

Intimidating investigation
Oxfam is reporting that people who complained to the NGO of being forcibly evicted to make way for the Ugandan operations of UK-based New Forests Company – as highlighted in an Oxfam report on land grabs released last month – now say they are being intimidated by employees of the company which had promised an independent investigation in the original allegations.
“We have heard from many people in these communities that they are feeling intimidated by the recent actions of NFC, which are totally at odds with the principles of an independent and transparent investigation,” according to Oxfam’s Vicky Rateau. “They have already lost their homes and land and many have been subjected to violent behavior. They need a credible investigation not further pressure.”

Malaria vaccine
The Guardian’s Sarah Boseley reports on a possible new malaria vaccine that has roughly halved the incidence of the disease in trials to this point.
“The arguments over value for money will be starting even now. Donors will want to figure out whether bednets or artimisinin drugs are a better investment than a vaccine that will reduce the number of malaria cases but not stop the disease in its tracks.
Price will be a critical factor in these considerations. [GlaxoSmithKline’s Andrew] Witty says they will do everything they can to get it down. He is looking at the costs involved in manufacturing and supply – even at the price of the vial. He is prepared to offer licences to get the vaccine produced cheaply in India or in Africa itself.”

Feminist development
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues for the reassertion of feminism as the “theoretical underpinning” for women’s rights around the world but cautions against the imposition of cultural values.
“The certainty that has typified feminist struggle in the west, and has been one of the reasons for its great successes, does not often work cross-culturally. Certainty can only arise indigenously – and there are plenty of national feminist organisations across the world that are leading the fight in their own countries, in their own way (see the debate about the Gisele Bündchen adverts in Brazil, for example). In the international sphere, certainty must be replaced with humility about what the answers are and, crucially, a profound openness to learning from other cultures.”

Rejecting happiness
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny thinks the recent craze among politicians to develop happiness measures as policy-making tools is misguided.
“This isn’t to say that politicians shouldn’t care whether their people are happy. But life is complicated and so is what makes up a good one. It is time to give up looking for a single indicator to capture how we’re doing at it.”

Latest Developments, September 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Moving beyond aid
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie writes about the significance of a new ActionAid report that suggests aid dependence is declining in poor countries.
“As bilateral aid gradually reduces in importance as a development issue, it feels a bit like stepping into the unknown. We all know that trade, climate change, tax evasion and a host of other issues are more important, but somehow aid is manageable, deliverable, known. We don’t really know what will happen on the bigger issues, with so many powerful interests at play. All the more reason for the NGOs to accelerate their shift away from being aid agencies and towards being true development agencies.”

Role reversal
The Globe and Mail’s Kevin Carmichael writes about the possibility that the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will come up with a “modern-day Marshall Plan” to help fix Europe’s staggering economies.
“This is a noteworthy development, coming only days after finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of Seven industrial nations failed to instill financial markets with confidence that the world’s established powers have things in hand. After spending much of the past year pointing fingers at the U.S. Federal Reserve and various G7 legislatures, the big emerging markets might finally have come to the conclusion that they have a more positive role to play in stabilizing the global economy.”

Food
A new World Development Movement report places much of the blame for record food prices on “broken” financial markets and calls on the UK government to support European efforts to rein in speculation.
“Financial players including banks like Goldman Sachs and Barclays have taken over food markets, says the World Development Movement’s report, with the total assets of financial speculators in these markets nearly doubling from $65 billion to $126 billion in the last five years. Not a single penny of this has been invested in agriculture.”

The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny argues eating local, organic food is bad for the world’s poor and says people in wealthy countries should strive to become “cosmovores” who consume food from around the world.
“So how should you eat as a responsible global citizen? Consume less meat and oppose Western farm-subsidy programs — especially if they focus on livestock. Campaign against U.S. biofuel programs, which divert corn into grossly inefficient energy production. Embrace further testing and analysis of GM crops. Encourage public funding of research and intellectual property laws that ensure that poor farmers are not priced out of the potential benefits of GM seeds. Spend only on organic food that is as energy- and land-efficient as conventional production. And be a smart consumer: Local produce grown out of season and meat raised on imported feed isn’t friendly to you, the environment, or the developing world.”

Mining
The Christian Science Monitor reports foreign mining companies are outraged by new Guinean legislation that aims to give the government greater access to resource-extraction profits.
“The new law would allow Guinea to purchase rights of up to 35 percent of all money made off their mines and to hike export taxes on mineral shipments. It was the keystone of President Alpha Condé’s campaign, last year, to become Guinea’s first democratically elected leader after five decades of misrule by dictators.”

Arms trade
Two US senators have introduced bipartisan legislation that would risk China’s ire by requiring the sale of at least 66 fighter jets to Taiwan.
“This sale is a win-win, in strengthening the national security of our friend Taiwan as well as our own, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

International justice
The International Criminal Court, which has only taken on cases involving Africa up to this point, is being asked to consider a complaint against the Vatican for its role in sexual abuse scandals.
“Human rights lawyers and victims of clergy sexual abuse filed a complaint on Tuesday urging the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate and prosecute Pope Benedict XVI and three top Vatican officials for crimes against humanity for what they described as abetting and covering up the rape and sexual assault of children by priests.”

Happiness
Princeton ethicist Peter Singer writes about his recent visit to Bhutan and what he learned about the country’s experiment with gross national happiness.
“We may agree that our goal ought to be promoting happiness, rather than income or gross domestic product, but, if we have no objective measure of happiness, does this make sense? John Maynard Keynes famously said: “I would rather be vaguely right than precisely wrong.” He pointed out that when ideas first come into the world, they are likely to be woolly, and in need of more work to define them sharply. That may be the case with the idea of happiness as the goal of national policy.”

Entertainment
An iPhone application playfully depicting the dark side of mobile technology briefly showed up on the Mac App Store before being removed.
“Developed by Molleindustria, the Phone Story game combines economics, politics and environmental awareness with play. The 8-bit inspired graphics trace the origins of our electronic devices from the coltan mines of the Congo to the labor conditions in Chinese factories. The tale ends in the West, where our desire for the latest gadgets drives a cycle of innovation, obsolescence and e-waste.”

Writing “This does not get old,” Africa is a Country’s Sean Jacobs posts the trailer for Machine Gun Preacher, a new film starring Gerard Butler as a violent criminal who finds God and decides to help the children of Sudan in his own inimitable way.
“ – I was thinking maybe I could go over there.
– Africa?
– I reckon they could do with all the help they can get.”