Latest Developments, February 26

In the latest news and analysis…

Interpreting corporate personhood
In a New York Times op-ed carrying the headline “Should Corporations Have More Leeway to Kill Than People Do?,” the Center for Constitutional Rights’s Peter Weiss writes about what is at stake in a US Supreme Court case, due to begin this week, pitting Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Shell.
“A decision affirming that Shell should go unpunished in the Niger Delta case would leave us with a Supreme Court that seems of two minds: in the words of Justice John Paul Stevens’s dissent from Citizens United, it threatens “to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation” by treating corporations as people to let them make unlimited political contributions, even as it treats corporations as if they are not people to immunize them from prosecution for the most grievous human rights violations.”

Don’t be evil
The Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder argues “we should all be worried” by a new agreement between Google and the World Bank that aims to promote development through sharing geoinformation.
“The problem is the way the data is licensed: once any data goes in to Google Map Maker, it all becomes the property of Google. If governments and citizens choose to use the Google Map Maker platform to contribute their information, then the data will only be available through Google’s own mapping system, and the data will be available under conditions specified by Google. At least, that is what we believe: ironically, given that both the Bank and Google are trying to market themselves as leaders in transparency and openness, they have refused to publish their legal agreement.”

Apple’s excess money
The Associated Press reports that Apple’s CEO Tim Cook believes his company has “more [money] than we need” and may be considering paying dividends to shareholders, a move likely to be unpopular with those concerned over labour conditions in Apple’s supply chain.
“While shareholders waited in a 40-minute line to get inside the meeting at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, a few protesters carried signs urging the company to ensure that workers building its products in Taiwanese and Chinese factories are paid more and treated humanely. ‘Stop iSweatshop,’ one sign implored. Another stated: ‘iWant an ethical phone.’ No questions about the conditions in Apple’s overseas factories were posed during the meeting.”

Migrant rights
The Ecologist reports on the “exploitation and squalor” endured by African migrants working in Italy to supply oranges for companies such as Coca-Cola.
“Campaigners are now calling on multinational food and drink firms purchasing orange ingredients from the region to help address the problem. Italy’s largest farmers association says it has written to several companies – including Coca Cola, manufacturer of the Fanta orange drink – complaining that prices paid for orange concentrates are unfair, and fostering unpleasant conditions.

There’s thought to be around 50,000 migrants, mainly Africans, a few Eastern Europeans, currently existing like this across Italy.”

46 ideas
SHERPA, a French non-profit focused on economic justice, has released the English version of a report containing 46 proposals “to bring regulation of multinational companies to the top of the political agenda in 2012”.
46 Proposals explains in non-technical terms the mechanisms giving rise to both corporate impunity and citizens’ suspicion of the globalized economy and financial markets. The objective is to contribute to the debate over corporate accountability and suggest concrete solutions. Legal tools are not meant to weigh multinational corporations down, but to help turn CSR into a reality.”

Human rights vs. investment
The American Lawyer’s Michael Goldhaber writes that the long-running legal battle between Ecuadorian plaintiffs and oil-giant Chevron has taken another turn following an international arbitration panel’s call for Ecuador’s government to block a court decision awarding $18 billion in damages.
“However, on February 17 the intermediate Ecuadorian appellate court issued a four-page order… According to Chevron’s translation, the court rejected the arbitrators’ order as offensive to Ecuador’s Constitution as well as to the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. ‘A simple arbitration award, although it may bind Ecuador, cannot obligate Ecuador’s judges to violate the human rights of our citizens,’ wrote the court. ‘That would not only run counter to the rights guaranteed by our Constitution, but would also violate the most important international obligations assumed by Ecuador in matters of human rights.’

Ecuador may continue to ignore the arbitrators’ declarations if it wishes to risk the consequences for foreign investment.”

The scramble for Somalia
The Guardian reports on concerns that the sudden international interest in Somalia could be a double-edged sword for the country’s inhabitants.
“The promise of stability coupled with the apparent discovery of oil reserves could help to rebuild this poverty-stricken country. But experts warn the west must not pillage the newly found resources of Somalia, or risk massively escalating the conflicts already in the region. Kenyan, Ethiopian and Ugandan soldiers are in Somalia fighting al-Shabaab and each country has vested interests in Somalia’s future. Already a new militia, led by the unlikely-sounding Sheik Atom, has formed around Puntland’s oilfields.”

Arab caricatures
The Council on Foreign Relations’s Ed Husain writes about the worrying tone of  pronouncements made on the Middle East by the leading Republican candidates for the American presidency.
“To date, not a single Republican candidate has spoken warmly of Arabs and congratulated them for seeking freedom and democracy, nor dedicated US support for and solidarity with the Arab uprisings. Instead, they continue to view the Arab world through outmoded lenses. The stirrings in Arab streets are about dignity, freedom, jobs, healthcare, housing and transparent government. But the Republican contenders continue to view the Middle East through four prisms: Israel’s security, Iranian nuclear ambitions, oil supplies to America, and countering terrorism. This mismatch between understanding reality in the region and the misplaced priorities among Republican contenders leads to the gap in knowledge and flawed analysis only too apparent in this debate.”