Latest Developments, January 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Violent hemisphere
The Washington Post reports on a new study suggesting 45 of the world’s 50 most violent cities are located in the Western Hemisphere, many of them caught up in the tension between an insatiable American market and prohibition policies.
“[Honduras’s] San Pedro Sulla tallied 159 homicides per 100,000 residents last year, followed by [Mexico’s] Ciudad Juarez, with 148 killings per 100,000. Both cities are major operational and strategic distribution points along the billion-dollar drug pipeline that funnels narcotics to consumers in the United States.”

Apple opens up
Reuters reports Apple has made public its “closely guarded” list of global suppliers in the face of criticism over perceived indifference to worker abuses.
“The audit conducted by Apple of suppliers found a number of violations, among them breaches in pay, benefits and environmental practices in plants in China, which figured prominently throughout the 500-page report Apple issued.
Other violations unearthed included dumping wastewater onto a neighboring farm, using machines without safeguards, testing workers for pregnancy and falsifying pay records.”

German banks vs. financial transaction tax
Bloomberg reports that Germany’s banks have expressed their opposition to a tax on financial transactions in the euro zone.
“ ‘If a financial-transaction tax cannot be introduced internationally, you have to do without it,’ Hans Reckers, managing director of Germany’s VOeB association of public banks, said in an e-mailed statement today. ‘We firmly oppose the creation of tax haven in the EU.’

The European Commission in September suggested a tax of 0.1 percent on equity and bond transactions and 0.01 percent on derivatives, which it said could raise 55 billion euros ($70 billion) a year. European Union finance ministers are due to discuss the levy in March.”

Diminishing solidarity
Le Monde reports on the contentious debate over whether a financial transaction tax, if one is ever adopted, would have much in common with Robin Hood.
“The NGO Oxfam worries about the change in [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy’s position, noting that he had said at the G20 summit in early November ‘a significant portion, the majority or the totality of the revenue must go to development.’ But he has since changed his mind, according to Oxfam’s Luc Lamprière: ‘His reference to the European Commission directive is a bad sign since it calls for the tax to ‘progressively replace national contributions to the EU budget,’ leaving the idea of financing development and the fight against climate change as a mere footnote.’ ” (Translated from the French)

Rio+20 agenda
The International Institute for Environment and Development’s Emily Benson grades the just-released draft agenda for the Rio+20 summit, finding it stronger on sentiment than specifics.
“Mention is made to ‘innovative instruments of finance’ for building green economies and reference is made to public procurement, fiscal reform, the removal of subsidies that undermine sustainable development, all of which the [Green Economy] Coalition has been promoting. It calls for International Financial Institutions to ‘review their programmatic strategies to ensure the provision of better support to developing countries for the implementation of sustainable development’. This is all encouraging stuff. However, the text steps rather delicately around the question not only of how much the transition is going to cost, but how we are going to leverage additional funds. From our past experience of Rio 1992 we know that governments alone will not be able to pay for the transition so we need to think a lot more creatively about how to leverage additional finance. So, the question we would like to see tackled in the next draft is:  How are we going to kick-start the finance of a green and fair economy in order to create long-term investor confidence?”

Burma beware
The Institute of Development Studies’ Gabriele Köhler argues Myanmar must be wary, as it opens up to the world beyond Asia, of the West’s conquering friendship.
“We can hope that the west’s sudden enthusiasm stems from genuine support for peace and the rights of the population. But in reality, the change in stance probably has at least as much to do with pursuit of their own national interests. For several decades, US and European sanctions have kept western businesses out of Burma, while firms from Thailand, Singapore, India and especially China eagerly exploited the country’s natural gas, hydropower potential and gemstones.
History has shown time and again that popular movements for civil liberties, democracy and human rights are often hijacked by a drive to introduce neoliberal capitalism or prise open a country to foreign investors.”

Carbon fixation
The Land Institute’s Stan Cox argues that current schemes to reduce carbon emissions could actually make it harder for future generations to provide for themselves.
“To value everything in terms of carbon and treat the myriad benefits of ecologically sound agriculture as mere byproducts of climate protection is to invite all kinds of threats to soil and food. Perhaps the most menacing threats are those posed by connecting food and soil more tightly to global capital markets through carbon-trading schemes and tying them more closely to volatile energy markets by putting already fragile soils to work growing biofuels.

Occupying Occupy
Author and blogger Carne Ross warns that the appropriation of Occupy slogans, by mainstream politicians and crockery shops, has begun.
“As the ‘68-ers manifestly failed to do, Occupy must move from words to action, for relying on the platform of words will see the ground cut from under our feet. In contrast to the ease with which they can steal the words of Occupy, the [Newt] Gingrich’s of this world will not be able to appropriate actions consonant with the ideals of Occupy for this would be to enact Occupy’s sought revolution.  And that won’t happen in a century of Sundays.”

Latest Developments, December 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Canada’s third world
The UN News Centre reports that a UN human rights expert has waded into the controversy over living conditions in the northern Canadian community of Attawapiskat, expressing “deep concern” over the socio-economic situation of Canada’s aboriginal population.
“ ‘The social and economic situation of the Attawapiskat seems to represent the condition of many First Nation communities living on reserves throughout Canada, which is allegedly akin to Third World conditions,’ [James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples] stated.
‘Yet, this situation is not representative of non-aboriginal communities in Canada, a country with overall human rights indicators scoring among the top of all countries of the world.
‘Aboriginal communities face vastly higher poverty rights, and poorer health, education, employment rates as compared to non-aboriginal people,’ said the expert.”

Apple blasts
The Associated Press reports that, for the second time this year, an explosion has rocked a factory run by Chinese suppliers to computer giant Apple, this time resulting in 61 people injured.
“Critics have taken Cupertino, California-based Apple to task for alleged violations of labor and environmental standards by its China-based suppliers, and the company has said it is working to resolve such problems.

A similar explosion occurred in May at a factory of electronics maker Foxconn Technology Group. Three people died and 15 were hurt due to what Foxconn said was ‘an explosion of combustible dust in a duct’ at the plant in the southwestern city of Chengdu.”

Migrant rights
UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has called on member countries to extend what are supposed to be universal rights to migrants, whether they have arrived legally or not.
“More than 20 years ago, States recognized that migrants needed specific protection and brought the [International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families] into existence… it is high time that these same States now unblock the political will to ratify and effectively implement this important treaty,” Pillay said.
“Human rights are not a matter of charity,” she said. “Nor are they a reward for obeying immigration rules. Human rights are inalienable entitlements of every human being, wherever they are and whatever their status.”

Sweatshop nation
The Inter Press Service carries a report from Haiti Grassroots Watch on the development of a new industrial park in Haiti, which the government and the international community say will provide jobs and growth but which critics say will cause social and environmental problems.
“Putting an industrial park – which will attract between 20,000 and 200,000 new residents – in the midst of a fertile area [as recommended by US-based Koios Associates] is not necessarily going to contribute to Haiti’s ‘sustainable development’, despite government claims to the contrary, economist [Camille] Chalmers notes. Haiti has gone from virtual food self-sufficiency three decades ago to importing over 60 percent of its food. Taking more land out of production will only increase that figure.
‘Before 1992, 90 percent of our cereal needs were met here in Haiti. That’s all changed. The country has become more dependent,’ Chalmers told HGW. “That means food has become more expensive as salaries have gotten lower. You get paid in gourdes, and you consume in U.S. dollars. That is terrible for the country… it is sinking us deeper into dependency.’ ”

Food fight
Oxfam’s Duncan Green examines the strong words exchanged on the subject of food security by World Trade Organization head Pascal Lamy and UN food rights expert Oliver de Schutter, quoting the latter at length.
“We must ensure that the debate starts from the correct premise. This premise must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade. We must also assess the compatibility of WTO disciplines and the Doha agenda with the food security agenda. Without such a fundamental reassessment, we will remain wedded to food systems where the most efficient producers with the biggest economies of scale are relied upon to feed food-deficit regions, and where the divide only gets bigger.
This may look like food security on paper, but it is an approach that has failed spectacularly. The reality on the ground is that vulnerable populations are consigned to endemic hunger and poverty.”

Living in truth
Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs reflects on the life of Vaclav Havel and the lessons it can teach us for resisting injustice in its latest forms.
“Today’s reality is of a world in which wealth translates into power, and power is abused in order to augment personal wealth, at the expense of the poor and the natural environment. As those in power destroy the environment, launch wars on false pretexts, foment social unrest, and ignore the plight of the poor, they seem unaware that they and their children will also pay a heavy price.
Moral leaders nowadays should build on the foundations laid by Havel. Many people, of course, now despair about the possibilities for constructive change. Yet the battles that we face – against powerful corporate lobbies, relentless public-relations spin, and our governments’ incessant lies – are a shadow of what Havel, Michnik, Sakharov, and others faced when taking on brutal Soviet-backed regimes.”

True democracy
Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson warns of the dangers of concentrated economic wealth and criticizes government policies towards banks in both Europe and the US.
“The protesters of ‘Occupy Albany’ issued a powerful consensus statement recently, which reads in part:
‘The interests of those who purchase influence are rewarded at the expense of the People, from whom the government’s just power is derived. We believe that this failure in our system is at the core of many interconnected issues we face as a society, and its resolution is key to a just future. We therefore demand true democracy, decoupled from the corrosive influence of concentrated economic power, and we call all who share in this common goal to stand with us and take action toward this end.’ ”

Latest Developments, September 22

In today’s latest news and analysis…

MDG blind spot
The Institute of Development Studies’ Richard Jolly offers some suggestions for reducing inequality, a problem he says is destructive for societies as a whole and is “largely overlooked” by the Millennium Development Goals.
“Inequalities fell when governments expanded social protection programmes like Brazil’s Bolsa Familia. Minimum wage legislation and policies allowing more people to access secondary and higher education also contributed to success. Successful countries used progressive taxation or channelled mining and oil revenues to fund inequality-reducing programmes.”

The price of secrecy
Reuters reports on the tax deal signed by Germany and Switzerland that would allow the former to collect more tax revenue and the latter to maintain its banking secrecy.
“This goes against European Union efforts to clamp down on banking secrecy and has prompted strong objections.
‘This quasi-tax amnesty is not only morally abject but also crazy from a fiscal policy viewpoint,’ Germany’s main union federation, DGB, said in a statement on Wednesday.
‘Tax evaders may remain anonymous and are even rewarded retrospectively and legalised,’ it said.”

Tax dodging
Christian Aid is worried that G20 officials preparing the agenda for November’s summit intend to “water down” efforts to tackle tax avoidance in poor countries.
“This would be a scandal. Tax dodging by some unscrupulous companies costs poor countries more than they receive in aid. In fact, it’s one of the biggest single factors keeping people poor.
The G20 acknowledges this, and has previously committed to help governments collect tax revenue to fund development.”

Teaching peace
Medical doctor and Independent blogger Sima Barmania chose World Peace Day to ask if peace is actually possible.
“There are indeed a ‘lot of nutters’ out there – but a significant part of their attitudes have been shaped by culture, education, and other socializing processes,” according to the US-based National Peace Academy’s Tony Jenkins. “Peace education – and how we facilitate it – plays a big role.”

Cameron the action hero
In his first speech to the UN General Assembly, British Prime Minister David Cameron celebrated the NATO intervention in Libya and suggested the UN must engage in less talk and more action.
“You can sign every human rights declaration in the world but if you stand by and watch people being slaughtered in their own country, when you could act, then what are those signatures really worth?
The UN has to show that we can be not just united in condemnation, but united in action, acting in a way that lives up to the UN’s founding principles and meets the needs of people everywhere…
The United Nations played a vital role authorising international action. 
But let’s be clear the United Nations is no more effective than the nation states that come together to enforce its will.”

Western intervention
British author Dan Hind interviews fellow-writer Greg Muttitt on Western intervention and the problem with trying to shape a post-conflict Libya without much understanding of the country’s culture and history.
“We should watch out for Western interpretations about what Libyan society is like. It is in the West’s interests for the Libyan political class to be weak and isolated, so it can be easily influenced from outside. That doesn’t mean that officials and generals have to sit down and work out a ‘divide and rule’ strategy. But everyone is tempted to see things in terms that suit their interests. Western policy-makers are no exception. There’s ample evidence of that in recent history,” according to Muttitt.

Land rush
The Guardian’s John Vidal writes about a new Oxfam report entitled Land and Power that relates specific cases, such as the forced evictions of over 20,000 Ugandans to make way for the UK’s New Forests Company, to draw attention to the issue of foreign interests buying up African land.
“It’s not acceptable for companies to blame governments for shortfalls in their operations. Investors, no matter how noble they purport to be, cannot sweep aside the needs and rights of poor communities who depend on the land they profit from,” according to Oxfam director Barbara Stocking.

Hunger as disaster
Hunger, which affects nearly 1 billion people worldwide and whose causes and possible solutions “go to the core of virtually all the major components of the functioning of the international system,” is the focus of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ new World Disasters Report 2011.
“The traditional, mainly Western-dominated approach to defining the world’s problems and solutions will weaken as new, more fluid configurations of state and non-state actors complicate the process by which collective action will be taken to deal with global issues. The power dynamics of the humanitarian sector – to date, a largely Western construct – will also change as greater capacity and stronger political clout emerge from other regions. At the same time, the growing primacy of state sovereignty around the world will determine the limits of humanitarian intervention and the approaches that will be tolerated by governments.” (p.183)

Open letter on Somalia
Oxfam presents a summary of the bullet points contained in an open letter it signed, along with 19 other NGOs, calling for Somalia’s belligerents and the international community to set aside their differences for the sake of those suffering from the country’s famine.
“The letter urged international governments to change their approach to Somalia and enhance diplomatic engagement with the parties to the conflict, to ensure the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid. It said donors should also remove any legal impediments on providing impartial assistance to people living in areas dominated by armed groups.”

Al Jazeera reports on the efforts of activist Debby Chan to investigate reports of safety and labour rights violations after a series of suicides by workers at the Chinese factories of Apple supplier Foxconn.
“As consumers we should ask ourselves how certain products are made …. Corporate social responsibility is always window-dressing measures without enforcement mechanisms and remedies for workers. So the only way to stop labour rights violations is through campaigning. We hope that more consumers can pressure Apple and Foxconn,” according to Chan.