Latest Developments, February 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Corporate immunity
The Huffington Post reports that the US Supreme Court looks set to decide that corporations should not be held liable for human rights violations committed overseas. “The Court was hearing oral argument in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which was brought under a founding-era law, commonly called the Alien Tort Statute, that allows foreign nationals to bring civil lawsuits in U.S. federal courts ‘for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.’ The 12 Nigerian plaintiffs contend that Shell Oil’s parent company aided and abetted the Nigerian government in its torture and extrajudicial killing of environmental and human rights protesters resisting Shell’s operations in Nigeria in the 1990s.
The Alien Tort Statute says nothing about what types of defendants — corporate, individual, state — may be sued. In the past year, the four appeals courts to take on the issue of corporate liability have divided 3-to-1 in favor of those bringing the lawsuits. But Tuesday’s oral argument reinforced the relevancy of another aspect of all these decisions: their partisan nature. Save one defection from each side, every Democrat-appointed judge held for corporate liability, and every Republican appointee found for corporate immunity.”

Nuclear dysfunction
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans argues the international community has lost its momentum on nuclear disarmament and calls for the G20 to take up the file.
“With its foreign ministers meeting in Mexico this month to discuss broader global governance issues, the G-20 is beginning to move beyond a narrow economic focus. That is to be welcomed. Economic destruction causes immense and intolerable human misery. But there are only two global threats that, if mishandled, can destroy life on this planet as we know it. And nuclear weapons can kill us a lot faster than CO2 can.”

Latin American legalization
Ralph Espach of the Center for Naval Analyses writes that Mexican, Colombian and Guatemalan leaders are discussing, over US objections, the possibility of legalizing the drug trade within their region.
“It is easy to see why. The drug war has been a disaster for the Latin American countries fighting it, especially Mexico, and Central Americans’ suspicion that legalization could be less painful and costly is reasonable. Whether or not legalization would in fact be a good thing for Central America, the situation is desperate enough that they must at least consider their options.”

Reverse colonization
Africa is a Country’s Buefixe takes exception to the tone of recent media reports on the changing relationship between debt-ridden Portugal and its booming former colony Angola.
“Then there is the quote from the foreign investment lawyer, Tiago Caidado Guerreiro, who says that ‘we’re being colonized after 500 years by them,’ referring to investments by Angolans in the Portuguese economy. True, wealthy, politically powerful Angolans have been buying up parcels of Portuguese companies, but that does not equal colonization, not by a long shot. Angolans are not, for example, creating settler colonies in Portugal, or changing the nature and character of local institutions of education, government and culture.”

Olympic sweatshops
just-style reports on new measures announced by organizers of the London Olympics following the discovery of labour abuses at factories making Olympic products.
“[London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games] will publish the names and locations of factories in China and the UK covering over 70% of the licensed products produced for London 2012, with a focus on licensees that still have production remaining.
It will make information about employment rights, based on national laws and LOCOG’s ethical code, available in Chinese and English, and establish a Chinese language hotline so that workers who feel they are being treated unfairly can either call or text to complain about their treatment.
It will also provide training for some of the workers in the various Olympic supply chains to make them more aware of their rights.”

Patent bullying
Bloomberg reports a US judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of American organic farmers against agribusiness giant Monsanto regarding patents for genetically modified seeds.
“ ‘[U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald’s] decision to deny farmers the right to seek legal protection from one of the world’s foremost patent bullies is gravely disappointing,’ Daniel Ravicher, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an e-mail. ‘Her belief that farmers are acting unreasonable when they stop growing certain crops to avoid being sued by Monsanto for patent infringement should their crops become contaminated maligns the intelligence and integrity of those farmers.’ ”

General Electric’s tax bill
Citizens for Tax Justice alleges that General Electric paid “at most 2.3 percent” in US federal income taxes on $81.2 billion in profits over the last decade.
“[Citizens for Tax Justice’s Bob] McIntyre noted that GE has yet to pay even that paltry 2.3 percent. In fact, at the end of 2011, GE reports that it has claimed $3.9 billion in cumulative income tax reductions on its tax returns over the years that it has not reported in its shareholder reports — because it expects the IRS will not approve these ‘uncertain’ tax breaks, and GE will have to give the money back.
GE is one of 280 profitable Fortune 500 companies profiled in ‘Corporate Taxpayers and Corporate Tax Dodgers, 2008-2010.’ The report shows GE is one of 30 major U.S. corporations that paid zero – or less – in federal income taxes in the last three years.”

Post-aid landscape
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie makes the case for a diminished role for the OECD’s development assistance committee (DAC) that would better reflect the world’s shifting power relations.
“Rather than seeking to be a global broker of development co-operation, which was never going to work in a newly balanced world, the OECD should just be a club of particularly rich countries, and should meet with clubs comprising other countries to bash out agreements. Such debtors’ or recipients’ clubs have long been needed to balance the power of the DAC or the Paris Club (which manages sovereign debts), and may now emerge.”

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