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.”

Latest Developments, May 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Money, power, sex
The Daily Maverick provides a roundup of the first day of the OpenForum 2012 conference in Cape Town, the focus of which is the “paradox of unequal growth.”
“[London School of Economics’ Thandika] Mkandawire was particularly wary on the subject of foreign investment in Africa, sounding a note of caution: ‘Democracies which rely on external funding are choiceless democracies. No representation without taxation!’ He also pointed out that the ‘rebranding’ of Africa carried its own dangers, since it appealed to the ‘herd instincts’ of investors who might pull out of Africa as suddenly as they arrived, spooked by what he calls the ‘CNN factor’ – the impact of the image of Africa presented by international broadcasters.
Nkosana Moyo, vice president of the African Development Bank, was more obdurate on the topic. ‘We are letting ourselves by defined by others. Why do I care what the Economist thinks about me?’ he asked. Moyo also suggested that the West’s concerns about China’s activities in Africa were extremely hypocritical given the West’s history on the continent, but seemed to hint that China’s intentions were just as harmful: ‘Africans don’t seem to realise that there is no difference between China and the West,’ he said.”

UK government hearts Shell
Amnesty International has announced it is among a group of NGOs that has submitted freedom of information requests in the hopes of finding out why the UK government has intervened on behalf of Shell against Nigerian plaintiffs in a US Supreme Court case.
“ ‘While the UK Government claims to support the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as a matter of policy, it undermines that support by attempting to block judicial remedies for human rights abuses committed by a UK company in another country. The Government argues that the US may not legitimately exercise jurisdiction in this case but ignores the possibility that universal jurisdiction for gross human rights abuses committed by corporations is an important element of an international solution to holding companies accountable for their human rights impacts,’ [said Amnesty International’s Peter Frankental.”

Mine control
South Africa Resource Watch reports that the Lesotho Congress for Democracy has called for the government to become the majority shareholder in all mining companies operating in the country.
“[Former Lesotho trade minister Mpho] Malie also spoke about mining companies taking advantage of the ‘relaxed’ laws of Lesotho.
‘Foreign companies operating our mines are in a hurry; they want to maximise their profits when we are still asleep. We need to review the laws before it is too late because if we delay, we will be left with nothing as a country,’ Malie said, adding the current government led by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, had allowed matters to get out of hand.”

Opaque deal
Reuters reports that Swiss-based commodities giant Glencore’s decision to become the majority owner of a Congolese copper mine is likely to raise a few eyebrows.
“But Tuesday’s deal, with two related, privately controlled groups – High Grade Minerals (HGM) and Groupe Bazano – whose ownership is not disclosed by Glencore, is also likely to revive debate over the opacity of deals in one of Africa’s most promising but also most challenging mining destinations.
Glencore, a lightning rod for campaign groups since its listing last May, earlier this month faced calls for greater transparency around its deals in Congo.”

Twitter inequality
The Globe and Mail reports on the potential human rights implications of proposed changes by Twitter that would allow corporate clients to view content the authors themselves could not access.
“Inequal access to information creates an imbalance of power. This is especially important to those who posted publicly with the expectation that they’d be able to see, control and prune their postings later on. Remember that in many parts of the world, political research isn’t just policy-testing and mud-slinging; it’s a matter of life and limb for oppositions, activists and dissidents. A Twitter feed can paint a very detailed portrait of someone’s life, their activities and associations, even if no individual tweet is particularly revealing. Now, Twitter users have two options: Submit their histories for corporate or political analysis, or delete them and lose everything.”

Better Life Index
The Guardian reports on the relaunch of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Better Life Index, which aims to go beyond GDP by comparing countries according to what people “think is important.”
“It’s counted as a major success by the OECD, particularly as users consistently rank quality of life indicators such as education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance above more traditional ones.

One of the major criticisms of the index was that it didn’t include inequality – and that’s changing with the relaunch with new indicators on inequality and gender plus rankings for Brazil and Russia. A couple have been removed too: Governance has been renamed civic engagement, employment rate of women with children has been replaced by the full integration of gender information in the employment data and students’ cognitive skills (e.g. student skills in reading, math and sciences) has replaced students’ reading skills to have a broader view.”

Envisioning sustainability
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie maps out his vision of the future, in which sustainable development is development, not just a “subset” of it.
“The most important change would be the involvement of rich countries as well as poor. Sustainable development tackles affluence and excess, not just poverty, and it is the high-income countries that most need to alter their resource use (with a gradually increasing burden of responsibility on middle-income countries, especially the largest ones). Financial transfers will therefore reduce in importance relative to other areas of action (such as trade and regulation). Aid agencies might develop new roles as whole-of-government enforcers of development policy coherence.”

Secular fanaticism
Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi calls for “a radical reconfiguration of ethical principals” that transcends the religious and ethnic differences that divide people today.
“The principal facts on the ground – beaconing those visionaries – are the wretched of the earth, the masses of millions of human beings roaming the globe in search of the most basic necessities of life and liberty or else for fear of persecution. Muslims and Africans face the same ghastly discrimination in Europe as Latin American illegal immigrants do in the United States, Afghan refugees do in Iran, Palestinians (now joined by Africans) do in Israel or Philipino or Sri Lankan labourers do in the Arab world.
That fact is the ground zero of principled moral positions.”