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.”

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