Latest Developments, October 4

In the latest news and analysis…

Land grab complicity
A new Oxfam report criticizes the World Bank for contributing to the growing problem of land grabs in poor countries:

“The World Bank is in a unique position as both an investor in land and an adviser to developing countries. The Bank’s investments in agriculture have increased by 200 per cent in the last 10 years, while its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, sets standards followed by many investors. The Bank’s own research reveals that countries with the most large scale land deals are those with the poorest protection of people’s land rights. And since 2008, 21 formal complaints have been brought by communities affected by Bank projects that they say have violated their land rights.”

Defence corruption
A new Transparency International report gives 37% of the world’s biggest defence companies an “F” and only 1% an “A” on its anti-corruption test:

“The study, which grades companies from A to F, measures defence companies worth more than USD 10 trillion, with a combined defence revenue of over USD 500 billion. Transparency International estimates the global cost of corruption in the defence sector to be a minimum of USD 20 billion per year, based on data from the World Bank and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). This equates to the total sum pledged by the G8 in L’Aquila in 2009 to fight world hunger.”

Optional accountability
iPolitics reports that an office established by the Canadian government to mediate disputes between the country’s extractive industry and communities overseas has once again had to drop a case due to a mining company’s refusal to play along:

“The Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, created in 2009 following widespread allegations of human rights abuses and environmental degradation by the industry around the world, received a complaint from two Argentine environmental groups in July over the impacts of McEwen Mining’s Los Azules copper exploration site on glaciers in the Andes.
But the office, which has dropped two previous cases brought on by civil society groups in Mexico and Mauritania and can only work with companies who agree to co-operate, has been informed by McEwen that the company won’t be participating in the mediation process, said Nils Engelstad, vice-president for corporate affairs.”

Herbicide boom
Mother Jones reports that contrary to biotech company claims, genetically modified crops actually seem to require larger amounts of herbicides than non-GMO strains:

“For several years, the Roundup Ready trait actually did meet Monsanto’s promise of decreasing overall herbicide use—herbicide use dropped by about 2 percent between 1996 and 1999, [Washington State University’s Chuck] Benbrook told me in an interview. But then weeds started to develop resistance to Roundup, pushing farmers to apply higher per-acre rates. In 2002, farmers using Roundup Ready soybeans jacked up their Roundup application rates by 21 percent, triggering a 19 million pound overall increase in Roundup use.
Since then, an herbicide gusher has been uncorked. By 2011, farms using Roundup Ready seeds were using 24 percent more herbicide than non-GMO farms planting the same crops, Benbrook told me. What happened? By that time, ‘in all three crops [corn, soy, and cotton], resistant weeds had fully kicked in,’ Benbrook said, and farmers were responding both by ramping up use of Roundup and resorting to older, more toxic herbicides like 2,4-D.”

Questionable investments
The Bretton Woods Project writes that the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private sector arm, is coming under fire for funding mines at the centre of controversies in South Africa, Peru and elsewhere:

“Indiana University-based researcher Alex Lichtenstein commented: ‘In retrospect, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that Lonmin secured a major infusion of capital from the IFC five years ago by pimping its vastly overstated claim to corporate social responsibility. Indeed, the poverty of North West Province, historically abetted by a system of apartheid designed to insure cheap mine labor, by 2007 represented another investment opportunity for the nimble forces of global capital that had impoverished the region in the first place.’

Alhassan Atta-Quayson of Ghana-based NGO Third World Network Africa, said: ‘The African mines supported by the IFC, from Guinea to South Africa, show the IFC’s complicity in the sub-optimal exploitation of Africa’s natural resources and the escalation of conflicts. The least we expect from the IFC is a return to the recommendations of the Extractive Industries Review and the divestment from these projects.’ ”

Investors for rights
A group of investors collectively worth over half a trillion dollars has issued a statement supporting “international legal frameworks, including the U.S. Alien Tort Statute (ATS), to protect human rights”:

The ATS is an important tool in encouraging standardized expectations for corporate behavior related to human rights. As Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz puts it, ‘ATS liability might be bad for bad businesses, but it is good for good businesses.’ For good companies, the ATS not only reduces the ability of competitors to gain advantage by ignoring human rights – it also gives them a mechanism to stand up to oppressive governments. They can point to the ATS as the reason why they are unable to participate in projects suspected to hold human rights liabilities.

Kiobel concerns
The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable’s Amol Mehra and Katie Shay write that a US Supreme Court case pitting Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Shell highlights the “alarming disconnect between corporate social responsibility practices and actual corporate behavior”:

“If Shell’s arguments win, the Supreme Court will effectively cut off what is often the best available remedy for victims of corporate-related human rights abuses. Outside of the allegations in the case, what the posturing by Shell highlights is the alarming disconnect between corporate social responsibility practices and actual corporate behavior, including the choice of litigation strategy and legal positions. How can a company that purportedly has a commitment to CSR seek to gut a law that brings human rights victims a remedy for harm?

For CSR to truly mean anything, it must include clear commitments to respect human rights. The choice of litigation strategy and legal positions feeds directly into this responsibility, especially when a company is seeking to do more than defend itself from allegations of wrongdoing.”

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