Latest Developments, November 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Status upgrade
Reuters reports that the UN General Assembly has voted 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, in favour of recognizing Palestine as a non-member state rather than an “entity”:

“Granting Palestinians the title of ‘non-member observer state’ falls short of full U.N. membership – something the Palestinians failed to achieve last year. But it would allow them access to the [International Criminal Court] and other international bodies, should they choose to join them.

At least 17 European nations voted in favor of the Palestinian resolution, including Austria, France, Italy, Norway and Spain. Abbas had focused his lobbying efforts on Europe, which supplies much of the aid the Palestinian Authority relies on. Britain, Germany and others chose to abstain.
The Czech Republic was unique in Europe, joining the United States, Israel, Canada, Panama and tiny Pacific Island states likes Nauru, Palau and Micronesia in voting against the move.”

Frozen assets
Bloomberg reports that oil giant Chevron is asking Argentine courts to lift an embargo imposed on its assets in the country because of a massive outstanding fine handed down by a judge in Ecuador:

“Judge Adrian Elcuj Miranda ordered 40 percent of Chevron’s Argentine bank accounts to be held in escrow, Enrique Bruchou, an Argentine attorney representing Ecuadorean plaintiffs, said on Nov. 7.
The plaintiffs are seeking to enforce a $19 billion award against Chevron, which they say is responsible for destroying the environment in the Lago Agrio region, damaging living conditions of 30,000 inhabitants.”

Problematic portfolio
OnEarth reports that Susan Rice, the presumptive frontrunner to become the next US secretary of state, is heavily invested in Canadian companies that stand to profit from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which she would have the power to approve:

“The current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Rice owns stock valued between $300,000 and $600,000 in TransCanada, the company seeking a federal permit to transport tar sands crude 1,700 miles to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, crossing fragile Midwest ecosystems and the largest freshwater aquifer in North America.
Beyond that, according to financial disclosure reports, about a third of Rice’s personal net worth is tied up in oil producers, pipeline operators, and related energy industries north of the 49th parallel — including companies with poor environmental and safety records on both U.S. and Canadian soil. Rice and her husband own at least $1.25 million worth of stock in four of Canada’s eight leading oil producers, as ranked by Forbes magazine.”

Mind the Gap
Paloma Muñoz Quick of the Danish Institute for Human Rights argues that the ongoing international negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty focus so much on states, that the “monumental” role of the private sector is largely overlooked:

“Companies in North America and Western Europe dominate the global arms industry. Likewise, shipping companies dominate international transport in weapons, including shipments to actors involved in conflict and illicit deliveries of small arms and light weapons to non-state actors in Colombia. Private security companies (PSCs) also fuel and directly rely on the arms trade for their operations.

A joint effort therefore is necessary to address the private sector’s role in the arms trade. Accordingly, UN Member States should seek to reference the [UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights] in the ATT’s preamble, which will provide a common reference point for States to address the private sector’s central role in the arms trade, and help ensure that companies in their jurisdiction do not contribute to human rights abuses undermining development”

Image issues
Concerned about the potential for reputational damage, Barclays has said it may get out of the agricultural commodities trading business:

“Several German banks, including Commerzbank, have this year restricted their investments in agricultural products, but banks elsewhere have been slower to curb activity despite heavy lobbying by groups such as World Development Movement (WDM), which has been critical of Barclays.

Barclays, Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan have all built up strongly in commodities in the past decade to challenge established veterans Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Those five banks control about 70 percent of the commodities trading pot.”

Circular economy
Science writer Gaia Vince sees signs that the tide may be turning against a consumer culture marked by planned obsolescence or worse, “replacing functioning phones simply for reasons of fashion or for technological additions that many of us rarely use”:

“And other companies are joining the move towards a circular economy, in which economic growth is uncoupled from finite-resource-use. Instead of the linear manufacturing route: mining materials, fabricating, selling, throwing them away; a circular economy is based around making products that are more easily disassembled, so that the resources can be recovered and used to make new products, keeping them in circulation. British yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur is a strong advocate of the concept and commissioned a report into the idea, which found that the benefits to Europe’s economy alone could be $630 billion, based on cycling just 15% of materials in 48% of manufacturing and just being recycled once.”

Market colonization
Inter Press Service reports on opposition in Africa to genetically modified crops, which are often touted as a solution to food shortages on the continent:

“[Friends of the Earth International’s Nnimmo] Bassey said that GM crops are neither more nutritious nor better yielding nor use fewer pesticides and herbicides. And he said they are unsafe for humans and for the environment.
‘It is all about market colonisation,’ Bassey told IPS. ‘GM crops would neither produce food security nor meet nutrition deficits. The way forward is food sovereignty – Africans must determine what crops are suitable culturally and environmentally. Up to 80 percent of our food needs are met by smallholder farmers. These people need support and inputs for integrated agro-ecological crop management. Africa should ideally be a GMO-free continent.’ ”

Changing the rules
Purpose’s Alnoor Ladha, Pambazuka founder Firoze Manji and Yale University’s Thomas Pogge argue the world’s current level of poverty and inequality is not inevitable:

“It is the outcome of active choices by people who make and enforce the rules we all live by: rules about global trade, banking, loans, investment, taxes, working conditions, land, food, health and education. These rules are made by people and people can change them.
Frederick Douglass, a leader of the 19th century abolitionist movement which brought an end to slavery, once said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand’. If we want to change rules that have been written by the few and for the few, we must look outside existing power structures to the power of the many.”

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