Latest Developments, November 2

In the latest news and analysis…

Equity and sustainability
The UN Development Programme has released its new Human Development Report, in which it links the dual goals of global equity and sustainability – not for the first time, as illustrated by its quoting of another UN report from 1987.
“Many problems of resource depletion and environmental stress arise from disparities in economic and political power. An industry may get away with unacceptable levels of water pollution because the people who bear the brunt of it are poor and unable to complain effectively. A forest may be destroyed by excessive felling because the people living there have no alternatives or because timber contractors generally have more influence than forest dwellers. Globally, wealthier nations are better placed financially and technologically to cope with the effects of climatic change. Hence, our inability to promote the common interest in sustainable development is often a product of the relative neglect of economic and social justice within and amongst nations.” (emphasis in original)

A step backward
A group of NGOs is warning that international negotiations set for later this month in Geneva threaten to undo much of the progress to date on banning cluster munitions.
“Over the last few months, under pressure from several military powers that are opposed to the [Convention on Cluster Munitions], such as the United States, France has thrown it support behind a proposed international agreement, known as “Protocol VI” that would once again authorize the use of cluster munitions produced after 1980. A step backward, contradicting the norm established by the Convention, that would be unprecedented in international humanitarian law.
From Novermber 14th to 25th, country representatives will meet in Geneva to discuss the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and will decide on the adoption of this new text. If it is passed, these barbaric weapons would once again be considered legitimate by certain states.” (Translated from the French.)

Corruption’s supply side
Transparency International has released a new Bribe Payers Index, which examines the “supply side of bribery” – the likelihood that companies from a given country or sector will offer bribes when operating abroad – and for the first time includes bribes paid between companies, rather than simply to the public sector.
“While this particular form of bribery remains largely overlooked by researchers and policy-makers, its impact is likely to be significant. Its effects can be felt through the entire supply chain, distorting markets and competition, increasing costs to firms, penalising the smaller companies that cannot afford to compete on these terms and those firms with high integrity that refuse to do so. This not only prevents a fair and efficient private sector but also reduces the quality of products and services to the consumer.”

Human trade
The Inter Press Service reports on the complex human trafficking networks that are flourishing in the Horn of Africa’s context of conflict, drought and hunger.
“According to one Kenyan human trafficking agent, the networks have links to politicians, senior police officers, non-governmental organisations, senior immigration officials, airline officers and resettlement officials in various countries.
‘These powerful people, including foreign diplomats and ministers in Kenya, have transformed access to foreign visas into a growth industry matched possibly only by piracy, selling visas for 10,000 to 15,000 dollars each to leaders of the networks,’ the agent says.”

EU reform fallout
The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) has released a report suggesting the EU is undertaking financial reforms without regard for sustainability or their impact on poor countries.
“The new SOMO report provides some concrete recommendations on how the EU’s financial reforms need to be improved. All financial services, products and derivative trading need to be assessed for their risks and usefulness to society and the environment, as well as for financial stability. The supervisors and regulators of developing countries should have a say in the supervision and decisions concerning European banks that are operating in their country. Overall, speculative banking and financial markets need to be separated from retail banking and basic financial services, and that also means preventing financial links (e.g. loans) between banks and hedge funds.”

Due diligence
Following last month’s collapse of a French-owned hydroelectric plant in Panama, Counter Balance is calling on the European Investment Bank to investigate the troubled project for which it provided $220 million in loans.
“This is not the first problem with this project. In August 2010 a nearby village was flooded after the company opened a sluice. Other damage to private property was caused by detonations in the early stages of the construction. Additionally the Counter Balance report [published in the spring] lists a number of problems related to the project such as the excessive cost of the project (3 times higher than average for these projects), the alleged speculation on land which the company could buy below marked prices and the failure by the project promoters to properly consult local communities.”

There will be blood
The Courthouse News Service reports California-based Occidental Petroleum has been accused in a federal complaint of giving millions of dollars to a Colombian army unit whose alleged misdeeds included the killings of three union activists.
“The Colombian army provided security to an ‘association’ made up of [Colombia’s state oil company] Ecopetrol, Occidental and Spanish oil company Repsol, the plaintiffs say. Occidental’s Colombian subsidiary, Oxy Colombia, committed roughly $3 million to the army under the agreement, an amount ‘so large that Occidental’s U.S.-based leadership must have approved the 2004 Security Agreement,’ the complaint states.”

Enforcing transparency
The Taskforce on Financial Integrity and Economic Development has issued a statement ahead of the G20 summit in Cannes, in which it suggests concrete ways that world leaders can “focus on the underlying, systemic causes of the current financial crisis.”
“A free-market cannot flourish when rules of fair play are perverted by the corruption and legally-condoned tax cheating that has resulted from 30 years of de-regulation, liberalization and increasing financial secrecy provided by tax havens.
As the living standards and job prospects of billions of people suffer, the fundamental injustice of the current financial system has led to the groundswell of anger represented by the ‘Occupy’ movements around the world. Many of the ill effects currently suffered by ‘rich country’ economies have been endured by the developing world for decades.”

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