In the latest news and analysis…
The New York Times has published an extensive report on retail giant Wal-Mart’s corrupting influence in Mexico, based on evidence from “tens of thousands of documents” and interviews with government officials and company employees:
“The Times’s examination reveals that Wal-Mart de Mexico was not the reluctant victim of a corrupt culture that insisted on bribes as the cost of doing business. Nor did it pay bribes merely to speed up routine approvals. Rather, Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited. It used bribes to subvert democratic governance — public votes, open debates, transparent procedures. It used bribes to circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction. It used bribes to outflank rivals.
Over and over, for example, the dates of bribe payments coincided with dates when critical permits were issued. Again and again, the strictly forbidden became miraculously attainable.”
Reuters reports that the International Criminal Court has handed down its second-ever decision, acquitting Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui:
“The court’s first verdict found [Thomas] Lubanga guilty of recruiting child soldiers to another militia in the same conflict in Ituri. Some observers said the different outcomes of the trials for militia leaders from different tribes could cause new friction.
‘Lubanga was a Hema leader, and the acquittal of a Ngudjolo, a Lendu, just after the conviction of a Hema could exacerbate tension between the two ethnicities in Ituri,’ said Jennifer Easterday of the Open Society Justice Initiative.”
Calling it off
Association Sherpa has ended its partnership with French nuclear giant Areva, calling the company’s health measures in Niger and Gabon “public relations exercises”:
“The arrival of Luc Oursel at the head of Areva coincided with a change in the culture of the company in terms of sustainable development and as a result, led to a questioning of its capacity to respect the letter and spirit of the 2009 agreements:
- While the 2009 accords led to the much-needed medical monitoring of over 700 African workers, it is incomprehensible and unacceptable that the compensation process, which benefited the families of two French expatriates (a patently insufficient number), offered nothing to any Nigerien or Gabonese workers even though the medical condition of more than 100 of them was examined;
- The decontamination of [Gabon’s] Mounana site, where production stopped in 1999, promised by [former CEO] Anne Lauvergnon, has stalled. It was carried out only partially and unsatisfactorily, with the result that local populations are still exposed to radiation risks;” [Translated from the French]
The Guardian reports on the UK’s Department for International Development’s “breathtaking arrogance” for demanding transparency from recipient governments while refusing to make public a report on its own expenditures:
“The department said releasing the report could “undermine DfID’s commercial interests and lead to DfID incurring greater expense which would consequently undermine our ability to fulfil our role and to achieve value for money in the use of public funds”.
Disclosure could also reveal personal data about individuals, make other governments and international organisations less willing to share information with Britain, and ‘severely prejudice the policy development process’ within government by inhibiting open discussion, it said.”
The Financial Times reports that American legislation aimed at ending the role of minerals in fuelling DR Congo’s conflict is making matters worse so far:
“ ‘We’re getting the opposite of what they wanted. And we still have conflict,’ says Emmanuel Ndimubanzi, head of North Kivu provisional government’s mining division, who says tens of thousands of jobs across the sector have been lost. A proposal in the act to spend $25m to help out-of-work find jobs and fund mineral tracing schemes was dropped.
The landmark US [Dodd-Frank] act has created the first compulsory framework to disclose the provenance of potential conflict minerals across the industry. But beset by delays, loopholes and vague guidance, it has complicated and impeded initiatives by industry, regional governments and international donors, as well as the UN and OECD. These include tagging schemes, chains of documentation and a mineralogical ‘fingerprinting’ pilot scheme already under way.”
Inter Press Service reports that the Federation of American Scientists has warned that the US and Russia are reducing their nuclear arsenals at a slowing rate:
“ ‘Both the United States and Russia appear to be more cautious about reducing further, placing more emphasis on “hedging” and reconstitution of reduced nuclear forces, and both are investing enormous sums of money in modernising their nuclear forces over the next decade,’ [FAS Nuclear Information Project director Hans M. Kristensen said.]
Given the new data, the implication is that either a new set of arms-reduction treaties will need to be agreed in coming years, or each country will need to embark on new unilateral programmes of reduction. If neither of those takes place, ‘large nuclear forces could be retained far into the future.’ ”
The Montreal Gazette reports on calls from both inside and outside Canada for Ottawa to hold the country’s mining companies to account for their behaviour abroad:
“But as mining investment has exploded over the last decade, so too have conflicts involving Canadian mines, from the Pueblo Viejo mine in the Dominican Republic, where 25 people were injured in clashes with police in September, to the Pierina mine in Peru, where one person was killed that same month. (Both are mines owned by Barrick Gold, but protests are not restricted to Barrick mines.)
All the while the Canadian government’s role in defending, even promoting, mining companies’ interests has solidified.”
Global ambulance chasers
CorpWatch reports on a growing and lucrative branch of law that involves suing governments on behalf of corporations:
“Legal experts have denounced this trend. ‘Investment treaty arbitration … imposes exceptionally powerful legal and economic constraints on governments and, by extension, on democratic choice, in order to protect from regulation the assets of multinational firms,’ writes Professor Gus van Harten of the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.
There are five major arbitration tribunals that take on these cases – the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington DC, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague, the Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) in London, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris and the Chamber of Commerce in Stockholm (SCC).
The number of such lawsuits registered at the ICSID has skyrocketed. In 1996, just 38 cases were under arbitration but by 2011, this had risen almost 12 fold to 450.”