Latest Developments, May 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Dead miners
The New York Times reports that an “independent team” will investigate an accident that killed 28 workers at a US-owned mine in Indonesia:

“Rescue workers on Tuesday night recovered the last body from the debris of the collapsed tunnel, in the Big Gossan underground training facility. The tunnel’s roof caved in May 14 with 38 mining company employees inside, with only 10 surviving, [Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold] officials said.

Freeport Indonesia is the largest taxpayer to the Indonesian government, but it is a regular target of nationalist politicians who have called on it to pay higher royalties. The company has also had labor disputes in recent years.”

Rendition immunity
Al Jazeera reports that the UK wants the case of a former Libyan opposition figure sent back to face torture during the Gadhafi years “heard in a secret court, or not at all”:

“In the first preliminary hearing over the claim brought by Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a prominent rebel fighter-turned-politician, the government’s lawyers held on Tuesday that the case should either not go to trial in the UK, or that UK officials were ‘immune’ from prosecution.

Belhadj and Fatima Boudchar, his heavily pregnant wife, were captured in exile in China. The ‘rendering’ operation was co-ordinated between the UK, US and Libyan intelligence agencies.

Belhadj has offered to settle the matter out of court if the British government agrees to pay a token amount of one British pound each, apologise and admit liability. The defendants have refused these terms.”

Fashion disaster
The Wall Street Journal reports that clothes were being made for Swedish fashion giant H&M at a Cambodian factory where a building collapse has injured 23 people:

“The Stockholm-based retailer also said its orders had been placed at the factory without its knowledge, highlighting the lack of control some of the world’s biggest brands may have over their supply chains.
Garment factories in Cambodia and other countries sometimes subcontract orders from retail brands to other factories to help meet demand or save costs, even though major brands often officially forbid the practice. Workers’ rights activists condemn such subcontracting because they say it makes it harder to track the origin of garments, obscuring responsibility for working conditions at the factories. Subcontracted factories may also be subjected to less rigorous auditing than factories approved by the brands.

On Monday, 23 workers were injured when a rest area outside the subcontracted factory operated by Hong Kong’s Top World Garment (Cambodia) Ltd., and located near the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, collapsed and fell into a pond.
The incident came just a few days after portions of another Cambodian garment factory collapsed, killing three people and injuring several others.”

Criminalized migration
Human Rights Watch has released a new report criticizing the US government’s “skyrocketing” prosecutions of migrants who have entered the country illegally:

“The 82-page report, ‘Turning Migrants Into Criminals: The Harmful Impact of US Border Prosecutions,’ documents the negative impact of illegal entry and reentry prosecutions, which have increased 1,400 and 300 percent, respectively, over the past 10 years and now outnumber prosecutions for all other federal crimes. Over 80,000 people were convicted of these crimes in 2012, many in rapid-fire mass prosecutions that violate due process rights. Many are separated from their US families, and a large number end up in costly and overcrowded federal prisons, some for months or years.”

Dirty jewellery
An international coalition of labour and environmental groups has released a report that is highly critical of the Responsible Jewellery Council’s certification system:

“The RJC system is riddled with loopholes relating to membership, auditing, and accountability, allowing, for example, member companies as a whole to be certified as RJC compliant even when some of their gold, platinum and diamond-producing facilities — or projects they are invested in — are excluded from RJC audits. The system lacks transparency. Auditors’ reports are not made public, and equally troubling, the RJC itself doesn’t receive evidence or detailed auditors’ reports about operations that it certifies.
Several RJC standards are weak and violate widely accepted social and environmental principles. Under the RJC Code, mining companies can operate in conflict zones, fail to protect workers’ rights to join unions, and allow children as young as 14 to work. It also fails to place limits on water and air pollution and allows toxic waste disposal into lakes and ocean environments.”

Debt crimes
Jubilee Debt Campaign’s Nick Dearden says the debt repayments and austerity measures demanded by Pakistan’s external creditors are “tantamount to economic torture”:

“From 1998 Pakistan was lent $500m by the World Bank and others to build a drainage project to improve land irrigation. This might have been a good thing, if it had worked. But it was so badly constructed that the project increased, rather than decreased, the salinity of the land and seriously damaged ecosystems. In 2003 flooding, partially caused by the drainage project, killed more than 300 people. Pakistan has just start repaying the World Bank (with interest) for the project.

The IMF’s loans have made Pakistan a more unequal country. One condition the IMF imposed was to increase sales tax and cut trade taxes. Over the 1980s and 1990s, as a result, taxes on the poorest households increased by 7%, while falling by 15% for the richest.”

Extractive transparency
The Revenue Watch Institute’s Daniel Kaufmann calls on rich countries to require more transparent overseas operations from their oil, mining and gas companies:

“Building on the pioneering Lugar-Cardin provision in U.S. Dodd-Frank legislation and the newly minted agreement in the European Union (EU), the G-8 should endorse both home — and host-country mandatory disclosure standards in line with these new U.S. and EU regulations and support their implementation. In particular, Canada and Russia ought to adopt these standards and ensure that G20 and emerging economies including Australia, Brazil, China, South Africa and Switzerland follow suit. [Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative] should also fully align itself with these disclosure standards, helping countries and companies report detailed revenues paid to governments.”

AU turns 50
The University of North Carolina’s Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja assesses the African Union’s achievements and shortcomings as the organization celebrates its 50th birthday this week:

“This unswerving opposition to white minority rule and colonialism is undoubtedly the [Organisation of African Unity]’s greatest achievement. It succeeded in mobilising African and world opinion against colonialists in the Portuguese colonies and settler states of Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

A major problem confronting the AU is resources. With so much dependence on the EU and other external funding, questions arise about African ownership and initiative in some of the theatres of intervention.”

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