Latest Developments, November 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Water grab
The International Institute for Environment and Development has released a new report warning that the African “land grab” phenomenon also involves water rights, with implications extending far beyond the land being sold.
“‘Companies that acquire land for irrigated farming will want secure water rights, but long-term contractual commitments can jeopardise water access for local farmers,’ says co-author Lorenzo Cotula. ‘This affects not only the people who have customarily used the land that is being leased, but also distant downstream users who can be hundreds of kilometres away and even across an international border.’
The Gibe III dam in Ethiopia will enable irrigation on 150,000 [hectares] of land the Ethiopian government has allocated to investors, but studies suggest this project would lower the level of Kenya’s Lake Turkana – on which half a million Kenyans depend — by eight metres by 2024.”

Intellectual property and health
Intellectual Property Watch reports on a high-level World Trade Organization meeting on how best to balance the demands of trade, intellectual property and public health.
“There were variations in views of the issues of the health, trade and IP officials that echo differences typical across national governments. [World Health Organization head Margaret] Chan was more outspoken about putting health matters ahead of commercial interests, using especially strong language against the tobacco industry, which is lobbying intensively in trade arenas like the WTO to stop national governments from taking actions against tobacco packaging aimed at discouraging smoking. Chan also said that an “elephant in the room” is policy incoherence within governments, where different agencies are working in different directions, and then they expect the international organisations to solve their internal issues.”

Intellectual property and poverty
United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Jomo Kwame Sundaram argues stronger intellectual property rules have “ominous implications” for the world’s poor.
“Affordable and equitable access to existing and new technologies is crucial for human progress and sustainable development in many areas, including food security and climate-change mitigation and adaptation.
The same is true of affordable access to essential medicines, on which progress has been modest. By 2009, such medicines were available in just 42% of poor countries’ public facilities and 64% of private-sector facilities. Meanwhile, median prices in the public sector were 2.7 times the international reference prices and 6.1 times higher in the private sector!”

The price of secrecy
Le Monde reports on Switzerland’s growing success at getting cash-strapped countries to sign agreements that preserve bank secrecy despite G20 pledges to tackle tax havens.
“A number of countries in financial difficulty are in fact negotiating similar deals [to those recently signed by Germany and the UK] with Bern or are preparing to do so, such as Italy and Greece, according to several sources. But the Rubik accords are highly problematic, says a chorus of officials and NGOs. For starters, according to a source that is well acquainted with the file, ‘the text is a way for Switzerland to snuff out European efforts to obtain automatic exchange of financial information, which it absolutely does not want.’ ‘Morally, these deals are tough to swallow because they maintain the anonymity of account holders,’ adds the French government’s point man on the fight against tax havens, François d’Aubert.” [Translated from the French.]

Phoned-in CSR reports
The Guardian reports on a study that suggests companies are not taking environmental reporting seriously.
“The examination of more than 4,000 corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports and company surveys by a team at Leeds University found ‘irrelevant data, unsubstantiated claims, gaps in data and inaccurate figures’ – a finding that will cast serious doubt over the burgeoning sector.
Among the most colourful mistakes and omissions made by some of the world’s biggest corporations were a company whose carbon footprint was four times that for the whole world, and a carmaker and power group which both, entirely legally, managed to excise a huge coal plant from their pollution record.”

Chevron’s rights suspended
Reuters reports Brazil has suspended Chevron’s drilling rights following an offshore spill earlier this month.
“Chevron initially attributed the ‘sheen’ on the sea surface to naturally occurring seepage from the seabed. The company is being investigated by the Federal Police, which noted discrepancies between Chevron’s account of the spill and the government’s.
The Frade leak, while small, is likely to provide more ammunition for the growing worldwide opposition to offshore drilling in the wake of the estimated 4-million-barrel BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.”

Nuclear weapons-free zones
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor emeritus Noam Chomsky argues that despite President Obama’s “rhetorical commitment” to nuclear non-proliferation, America’s actions “are in direct contradiction” to this posture.
“Parenthetically, we may add that US insistence on maintaining nuclear facilities in Diego Garcia undermines the [nuclear weapons-free zone] established by the African Union, just as Washington continues to block a Pacific NWFZ by excluding its Pacific dependencies.”

Linking transparency and procurement
Tax Justice Network guest blogger Matti Ylönen writes about a proposal in Helsinki to link corporate transparency and public procurement, an idea he hopes will spread beyond northern Europe.
“While discussions on binding Country-by-Country reporting standards are steadily gaining momentum in international fora, the city board of Helsinki has decided that it’s time to open another track. After returning the initiative earlier for further preparation, the board is now ready for Helsinki to start the background work on how the City of Helsinki could positively favour companies that report their key financial information openly and on country-by-country basis in public procurement.”

Republic of Lakotah
Al Jazeera asks if Native Americans could have their own country within US borders.
“In 2007, the Lakotah Freedom Delegation – a group of Native Americans led by activist Russell Means – declared sovereignty from the United States and proposed the founding of a new country known as the Republic of Lakotah.
The proposed nation would be based on territory demarcated by an 1851 land agreement made between the U.S. government and Lakotah tribal leaders. The Republic of Lakotah would cover a 200,000-square-kilometre space that is currently claimed by the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming.
The U.S. government does not recognise Lakotah or its representatives, stating that its leaders were not democratically-elected and that members are still subject to U.S. law. Lakotah would be a federation of semi-autonomous tribal groups, and governance would be based on an interpretation of a pre-European indigenous political format.”

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