Latest Developments, September 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Gender inequality
The World Bank’s newly released World Development Report 2012 focuses on gender equality and makes the argument that women’s rights have improved at an “astonishing” rate in recent years but substantial inequalities still persist.
“The main message of this year’s World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development is that these patterns of progress and persistence in gender equality matter, both for development outcomes and policy making. They matter because gender equality is a core development objective in its own right. But greater gender equality is also smart economics, enhancing productivity and improving other development outcomes, including prospects for the next generation and for the quality of societal policies and institutions. Economic development is not enough to shrink all gender disparities—corrective policies that focus on persisting gender gaps are essential.”

World Bank blind spots
ActionAid’s Rachel Moussié argues the latest World Development Report once again reveals the World Bank’s tendency to overemphasize the importance of economic growth while glossing over “key” elements of its own research.
“The World Bank’s faith in the market to pick up the pieces after a crisis is evident in its treatment of social protection, or lack thereof. The report reduces this multi-faceted issue to conditional cash transfers, completely neglecting the important role programmes such as South Africa’s child support grant have played in lifting households and women out of poverty. The bank seemingly fails to recognise that poverty is chronic in the current economic system and the shocks frequent.  Stop-gap measures are just not enough if governments are to prevent these shocks from reversing the gains made on gender equality.”

Al Jazeera reports environmental rights groups are concerned that Africa risks becoming a lab for lucrative carbon-trading schemes they think will likely only enrich speculators in financial capitals.
“The offsets that come from soil carbon capture schemes have been marketed by world bodies as a means to rechannel money back into climate-friendly agriculture.
However, environmental rights groups say the work of offsetting these emissions – and trading credits associated with the process on carbon markets – is where the big business lies.”

Engineering rights abuses
The Sudan Tribune has picked up on a report by Die Tageszeitung (or Taz) that German investigators are looking into the role that engineering and consulting firm Lahmeyer International may have played in alleged rights abuses surrounding the construction of a Sudan’s Merowe dam project.
“According to Taz, preliminary proceedings like this are rare in Germany, because German public prosecutors and prosecution services do not want to assume responsibility for the behavior of domestic corporations abroad. The judiciary in other states too often allows corporations from the rich north to do whatever they want to.”

Arms and their consequences
An Illinois judge has given the go-ahead to a multibillion-dollar lawsuit alleging that US defense contractor L-3 and a subsidiary assisted in the commission of acts of genocide in the Balkans during the 1990s.
“A lawsuit filed in a Northern Illinois federal court says L-3 and its subsidiary, MPRI (Military Professional Resources Inc.), helped arm and train the Croatians, who killed or displaced 200,000 Serbs in the Krajina region of Croatia. The complaint states that, ‘Whether MPRI personnel took part in the genocide is not known and is not alleged here. But what is known definitively is that MPRI provided the means that enabled the genocide to occur.’”

Swiss commodity trading
The Tax Justice Network reports on the release of a new book dealing with Swiss-based trading companies and their role in the global commodities trade.
“Commodities traders often accept far higher risks than oil companies like BP or pure mining companies like BHP Billiton. They also increasingly build their own facilities, often in crisis or even conflict areas. The industry leaders’ increasing openness to risk was recently demonstrated in Libya, where Geneva-based Vitol, with an eye on forming new business relationships, delivered $500 million of fuel to the opposition on credit. And in newly-founded South Sudan, where transparency in the oil business is central for nation building and the peace process, Glencore sealed an obscure deal with the state oil company two days before the official declaration of independence.”

Project-by-project transparency
EarthRights International’s Jonathan Kaufman urges the European Parliament to go beyond existing US extractive industry transparency legislation by requiring companies to publish what they pay to foreign governments on a project-by-project basis.
“Project-level reporting is particularly important to ERI and the groups we work with because it will enable communities to hold governments to account for the resources that are extracted from their own land. It also matters to investors because company payments on various projects within a single country may be associated with different levels of political risk. (Think, for example, about how different it would be to make a large bonus payment to a government for a mining concession in a war-torn part of eastern Congo, as opposed to the peaceful, government-held western part of the country.)”

Voluntary principles
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues the upcoming Busan conference on aid effectiveness should aim for broad new principles that incorporate emerging players who are rapidly changing the world of development finance.
“Voluntary principles are not exactly the most exciting weapons in the international development armoury. Observed as much in their circumvention as in their fulfilment, they are painfully ineffective at creating the kind of rapid improvements most of us want to see. But they are often the best we can do, given the reluctance of powerful entities to submit to binding approaches. And they often set the tone of an era. We recognise the limits of what voluntary principles can achieve, but believe they will help nudge development financers towards better practices.”

Non-communicable diseases
The UN News Centre reports the international body has “launched an all-out attack on non-communicable diseases” with a declaration calling for a multi-faceted strategy to tackle risk factors underlying illnesses that account for nearly two-thirds of all deaths.
“Steps range from price and tax measures to reduce tobacco consumption to curbing the extensive marketing to children, particularly on television, of foods and beverages that are high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sugars, or salt. Other measures seek to cut the harmful consumption of alcohol, promote overall healthy diets and increase physical activity.”

The big picture
New York University’s Alex Evans, frustrated by the perceived lack of human solidarity displayed in UN discussions, quotes former US astronaut Edgar Mitchell on the life-altering experience of seeing the entire planet from afar.
“We have all said over the years, if we could get our political leaders to have a summit meeting in space, life on Earth would be markedly different, because you can’t continue living that way once you have seen the bigger picture.”

Latest Developments, August 16

In the latest news and analysis…

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy met to discuss a way out of the financial crisis currently spreading across Europe. While they spoke of greater integration, they dismissed as premature the idea of euro bonds that would make all members jointly responsible for the debt of each member. The two leaders did, however, propose a tax on financial transactions both to generate revenue and to discourage speculation, but it is far from certain they will have the support necessary to implement it: “Both Merkel and Sarkozy have mentioned the prospect in the past, but resistance from the US and UK — and promises that firms will pull up stakes and do business elsewhere — has held back efforts by any one jurisdiction from pressing ahead,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

While Europe and America struggle with taming massive public debt, Cote d’Ivoire is opting to skip debt payments even though it has sufficient funds to meet its obligations. Perhaps surprisingly, the International Monetary Fund appears to approve of the decision: “I think that [investors] would be happier with a government that missed a few [payments] and made it up later and had a strong recovery, than a government which met its debt service in a timely manner but failed to relaunch the economy,” the organization’s local director told Reuters.

The UN’s World Food Programme acknowledges that some of its aid to Somalia has disappeared but calls the scale of theft recently reported by the Associated Press “implausible.” Calling the food crisis in the Horn of Africa “man-made,” a World Bank economist says controls on local markets are to blame for high food prices that are exacerbating widespread hunger. “Maize is cheaper in the United States and in Germany than it is in eastern Africa,” according to Wolfgang Fengler. Cambridge University’s David Nally agrees the current humanitarian disaster is not a purely natural one but unlike Fengler, believes the world’s powerful countries must share in the blame for what he considers violence: “The portrayal of the passive victim enables NGOs and Western governments to assume the role of rescuer without having to ask uncomfortable questions about their own complicity in the suffering that is unfolding.” Although he stresses that there is no “clearly identifiable agent” responsible for the famine, he believes the global economy and its priorities play a substantial role. Nally concludes by arguing “the more it’s shown that “the sort of thing which happens in that place” is partly an outcome of policies designed in this place, the more responsibility we have to do something about it. When viewing images of starving children or reading about deaths from malnutrition in the daily newspapers, we ought to consider critically the architecture of violence behind the picture or story, not merely the sad abjection of the victim. There is a need, as Susan Sontag once said, to put privilege and suffering on the same map.”

The Associated Press’s Jonathan Fahey writes that the “golden decade” of America’s defense industry has ended and its companies’ shares are likely to continue their downward trend. But one area that may prosper, given the financial and human resources advantages it offers, is the development and manufacture of drones: “The era of manned airplanes should be seen as over,” according to the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon. The latest in drone technology is on display in Washington, DC this week at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International annual convention. And far away from the showroom floor, a US drone strike has reportedly killed four people in Pakistan.

The US pursued 3.5 foreign bribery cases for every one undertaken by the rest of the world during the last decade, according to the new Global Enforcement Report released by Trace International. In other corporate accountability news, the back-and-forth continues following last week’s New York Times op-ed that claimed a piece of American legislation aimed at preventing minerals from fuelling conflicts is actually having a devastating effect on the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a letter to that same paper’s editor, Margot Wallstrom, UN special representative of the secretary general for sexual violence in conflict, argues “the United States government should be commended for its leadership in trying to regulate “conflict minerals” and to starve rebels of the resources and weapons they need to kill and rape.”

The Center for Global Development’s Kimberly Ann Elliott makes a case for imposing so-called Deterrence of Illegitimate Resource Transfers (DIRT) sanctions on Syria. To impose such sanctions would mean to “declare that any new loans to the Syrian government, and new contracts with the state-owned oil industry, are illegitimate and need not be honored by a democratic successor government.” As with normal sanctions, the DIRT variety would aim to diminish the resources of a leader deemed undesirable by the international community (in whole or in part) and to motivate said leader to change his or her ways. But these specialized sanctions would also “spare a future, legitimate government and its people from having to repay an “odious debt” or abide by contracts tainted by corruption” while allowing it to “still retain access to international credit markets.”