Latest Developments, May 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Wealth absorption
Inter Press Service looks into the role that governments and banks in rich countries have played in turning Africa into a “net creditor” to the rest of the world:

“ ‘While the onus for change is on both national and international players alike, the Western countries can control the international component of this dynamic – the international financial structure,’ [Global Financial Integrity’s Clark Gascoigne said].
The [African Development Bank] and GFI analysts are encouraging strengthened alignment of financial policies between African countries and those countries that are ‘absorbing’ these illicit flows. The United States, for instance, continues to be the largest incorporator of shell companies in the world, while Gascoigne says there is also far more that Washington and other Western capitals can do on swapping tax information and refusing to tolerate bank and tax haven secrecy.”

German guns
Deutsche Welle reports that German small arms exports hit an “all-time high” in 2012:

“The Süddeutsche [Zeitung] reported that approved exports from 2012 hit 76.15 million euros ($98.5 million) in 2012, compared to 37.9 million euros in 2011. The second-highest figure on record, with small arms only itemized in German government export reports since the late 1990s, was from 2009 – at 70.4 million euros.

German military exports by private companies must be approved by a special security council made up of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and most top government ministers, including the defense, foreign, finance and development ministers.”

Banana ethics
3 News reports that US agribusiness giant Dole is suspending its use of the Ethical Choice label following allegations of worker abuse at its plantations in the Philippines:

“Workers have allegedly been harassed for joining a union while others have been aerial sprayed with pesticide while still at work. Environmental degradation is also a significant problem, the report says.

‘It’s time for Dole to stop making unsupported claims that they are selling ethically produced bananas,’ [Oxfam’s Barry Coates said].
He called for the self-created Ethical Choice label, which the Commerce Commission last year warned may breach the Fair Trading Act, to be removed.”

Textile violence
Reuters reports that clashes with police have injured at least 23 workers at a Cambodian garment factory that supplies US sportswear giant Nike:

“Police with riot gear were deployed to move about 3,000 mostly female workers who had blocked a road outside their factory owned by Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing in Kampong Speu province, west of the capital, Phnom Penh.

[Free Trade Union president] Sun Vanny said the workers making the Nike clothing had been staging strikes and protests since May 21. They want the company, which employs more than 5,000 people at the plant, to give them $14 a month to help pay for transport, rent and healthcare costs on top of their $74 minimum wage.”

Lethal autonomy
Human Rights Watch urges all nations, and the US in particular, to endorse a UN call to say no to “fully autonomous robotic weapons”:

“For the first time, countries will debate the challenges posed by fully autonomous weapons, sometimes called ‘killer robots,’ at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on May 29, 2013.

Over the past decade, the expanded use of unmanned armed vehicles or drones has dramatically changed warfare, bringing new humanitarian and legal challenges, Human Rights Watch said. The UN report acknowledges that ‘robots with full lethal autonomy have not yet been deployed’ despite the lack of transparency on their research and development. The report lists several robotic systems with various degrees of autonomy and lethality that are in use by the US, Israel, South Korea, and the UK. Other nations with high-tech militaries, such as China, and Russia, are also believed to be moving toward systems that would give full combat autonomy to machines.”

Selling drones
NBC News reports on corporate excitement over the emerging market for armed drones:

[Denel Dynamics] aims to be among the first suppliers of armed drones to market, if tests of the armed versions of the Seeker 400 — expected to begin in ‘a month or two’ and last up to six months, according to [Denel’s Sello Ntsihlele] — are successful. South Africa would have to purchase the armed drones first before the company would begin marketing them elsewhere, but if that happens Denel sees opportunities for growth elsewhere, particularly in ‘Africa and the Middle East,’ he said.

There are no international restrictions on sales of armed drones. Beyond sanctions and embargoes governed by the Security Council, the United Nations does not regulate arms and arms-technology sales, although the Arms Trade Treaty approved in April by the General Assembly may change that if it is eventually ratified by enough nations.

Global tax deal
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz argues that international corporate tax laws are “unmanageable, unfair, distortionary”:

“These international corporations are the big beneficiaries of globalisation – it is not, for instance, the average American worker and those in many other countries, who, partly under the pressure from globalisation, has seen his income fully adjusted for inflation, including the lowering of prices that globalisation has brought about, fall year after year, to the point where a fulltime male worker in the US has an income lower than four decades ago. Our multinationals have learned how to exploit globalisation in every sense of the term – including exploiting the tax loopholes that allow them to evade their global social responsibilities.

It would be good if there could be an international agreement on the taxation of corporate profits. In the absence of such an agreement, any country that threatened to impose fair corporate taxes would be punished – production (and jobs) would be taken elsewhere.”

Colonial compensation
Al Jazeera reports on the New Zealand government’s compensation package for historical injustices committed against the country’s indigenous population:

“ ‘It’s not a great deal, we were expecting much more. But considering all things, we’ve accepted it. I’ll put it that way,’ [Ngati Haua member Mokoro] Gillett said of the $13mn settlement.
[Minister for Treaty Negotiations Christopher Finlayson] acknowledges that the settlements are more symbolic than anything else.
‘The Treaty settlement process cannot, and does not attempt to, compensate claimants for the losses suffered as a result of Treaty breaches by the Crown,’ his spokesperson said. ‘Although it’s difficult to calculate, various estimates have put commercial redress at between one per cent and six per cent of what was lost.’ ”

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Latest Developments, April 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Endless mission
Reuters reports that France’s foreign minister has expressed the desire to have a permanent French military presence in Mali:

“ ‘France has proposed, to the United Nations and to the Malian government, a French support force of 1,000 men which would be permanent, based in Mali, and equipped to fight terrorism,’ [French Foreign Minister Laurent] Fabius said before leaving Bamako after a one-day visit.
A diplomatic source in Paris said France hoped to have the [UN] peacekeeping force approved by the Security Council within three weeks, and to have it deployed by the end of June or early July in time for scheduled presidential elections.
A clause in the U.N. resolution will allow [UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon] to request the rapid intervention of France’s 1,000 troops, which would be deployed under a bilateral deal with Mali, the source said.”

Gitmo scolding
The UN News Centre reports that UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said she is “deeply disappointed” by the failure of the US government to fulfill its promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay:

“ ‘Some of [the prisoners] have been festering in this detention centre for more than a decade,’ Ms. Pillay said. ‘This raises serious concerns under international law. It severely undermines the United States’ stance that it is an upholder of human rights, and weakens its position when addressing human rights violations elsewhere.’

‘We must be clear about this: the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold. When other countries breach these standards, the US – quite rightly – strongly criticizes them for it.’ ”

Uranium discontent
Agence France-Presse reports on a protest held by about 2,000 students against French nuclear giant Areva in Niger’s capital:

“Marchers held aloft placards saying ‘No to exploitation and neo-colonialism’ and ‘No to Areva’.
‘The partnership in the mining of uranium is very unbalanced to the detriment of our country,’ said Mahamadou Djibo Samaila, secretary general of the Union of Niamey University Students that organised the protest.

The government of Niger, one of Africa’s poorest countries, complained late last year that its four-decade-old deal with Areva to mine its vast uranium deposits was unfair and should be changed.”

Robot wars
The University of Sheffield’s Noel Sharkey explores the potential limitations and dangers of “fully autonomous robot weapons”:

“Is anyone thinking about how an adaptive enemy will exploit the weaknesses of robot weapons with spoofing, hacking or misdirection?
Is anyone considering how unknown computer programs will interact when swarms of robots meet? Is anyone considering how autonomous weapons could destabilize world security and trigger unintentional wars?
In April this year in London, a group of prominent NGOs will launch a large civil society campaign to ‘Stop Killer Robots.’ They are seeking a new legally binding preemptive international treaty to prohibit the development and deployment of fully autonomous robot weapons.”

Toothless treaty
Former Reuters columnist Bernd Debusmann writes that the recently approved UN arms trade treaty is not at all certain to succeed in “throttling the flow of arms to the world’s killing fields”:

“Russia and China, the world’s second- and fourth-largest arms exporters respectively, abstained. So did 22 other countries that have misgivings about the agreement. Iran, North Korea and Syria – all subject to arms embargoes – voted against.
So did, in a manner of speaking, a domestic American pressure group, the National Rifle Association, whose extraordinary influence on the U.S. Congress is almost certain to result in the senate blocking ratification of the treaty.

The United States is by far the world’s largest arms exporter and if it stayed on the sidelines, along with Russia and China, the Arms Trade Treaty would lack teeth.”

Segregated cities
The Guardian’s Gary Younge argues that the uneven and unfair distribution of wealth in US cities means “chaos will spread randomly and episodically”:

“The problem starts with poverty. Infant mortality rates for black families in Pittsburgh are worse than in Vietnam; male life expectancy in Washington, DC is lower than it is the Gaza Strip.
Poverty rates in some black and Latino neighbourhoods in almost every city are higher than 50%. In some, violence is rampant. By one estimate, between 20% and 30% Chicago school children have witnessed a shooting. The US now has more people in its penal system than the Soviet Union did at the height of the gulag system.”

Poverty makers
Alnoor Ladha and Martin Kirk of /The Rules and Joe Brewer of Cognitive Policy Works argue that global poverty is created by an “industry that includes private companies, think tanks, media outlets, government policies, and more”:

“This isn’t to suggest that there’s a dark, smoky room somewhere in which a small cabal plots to cause immeasurable misery just because they can. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. In truth, it happens in big boardrooms and political conferences, where people create rules and execute strategies to ‘maximise self-interest’ as economists say, by extracting wealth from others. This is largely driven by a maniacal focus on short-term profit or advantage while ignoring one of its primary effects – the impoverishment of hundreds of millions of people. Wilful ignorance, though, as any legal scholar will tell you, is no defence in law. It’s about time we applied the same standard to our economic rules and realities.”

Latest Developments, November 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Hot Earth
The World Bank has released a new report warning that the planet could get 4°C warmer over the next century “even if countries fulfill current emissions-reduction pledges”:

“Moreover, adverse effects of a warming climate are “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions” and likely to undermine development efforts and global development goals, says the study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, on behalf of the World Bank. The report, urges ‘further mitigation action as the best insurance against an uncertain future.’

The report identifies severe risks related to adverse impacts on water availability, particularly in northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. River basins like the Ganges and the Nile are particularly vulnerable. In Amazonia, forest fires could as much double by 2050. The world could lose several habitats and species with a 4°C warming.”

Long goodbye
Agence France-Presse reports that the French army has ended its combat mission in Afghanistan, though a contingent of its soldiers will remain in the country indefinitely:

“Of the 2,200 French soldiers still left in Afghanistan, a military official said that about 700 would return to France by the end of the year.
Around 50 trainers will remain based in Wardak province, west of Kabul, and 1,500 would stay in the Afghan capital, where most will be tasked with organizing the final departure of French troops by the summer of 2013.
After that date, only several hundred French soldiers involved in cooperation or training missions will remain in the country, the military official said.”

Killer robots
Human Rights Watch has released a new report calling on the world’s governments to “pre-emptively ban” weapons that would be able to operate without human guidance:

“Fully autonomous weapons could not meet the requirements of international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic said. They would be unable to distinguish adequately between soldiers and civilians on the battlefield or apply the human judgment necessary to evaluate the proportionality of an attack – whether civilian harm outweighs military advantage.
These robots would also undermine non-legal checks on the killing of civilians. Fully autonomous weapons could not show human compassion for their victims, and autocrats could abuse them by directing them against their own people. While replacing human troops with machines could save military lives, it could also make going to war easier, which would shift the burden of armed conflict onto civilians.
Finally, the use of fully autonomous weapons would create an accountability gap. Trying to hold the commander, programmer, or manufacturer legally responsible for a robot’s actions presents significant challenges. The lack of accountability would undercut the ability to deter violations of international law and to provide victims meaningful retributive justice.”

Growing slick
Reuters reports that an oil spill has spread “at least 20 miles” from an ExxonMobil facility off Nigeria’s coast:

“ ‘This is the worst spill in this community since Exxon started its operations in the area,’ said Edet Asuquo, 40, a fisherman in the Mkpanak community, as women scooped oil into buckets. In some marshy areas, plants were poking out of the slick, not yet dead and blackened by the oil.
‘The fishermen cannot fish any longer and have no alternative means of survival,’ Asuquo said.”

Fairer taxes
Sol Picciotto and Nicholas Shaxson, authors of ‘Regulating Global Corporate Capitalism’ and ‘Treasure Islands’ respectively, make the case for a unitary tax to replace current global rules that “seek to disaggregate [multinationals] into collections of separate entities”:

“Instead of taxing multinationals according to the legal forms that their tax advisers conjure up, they are taxed according to the genuine economic substance of what they do and where they do it. Each company submits to the tax authorities of each country where it does business a ‘combined report’ providing consolidated accounts for the whole global group, ignoring all internal transfers. The report specifies the group’s physical assets, workforce and sales and the overall profits are then divided up among jurisdictions according to a formula weighing these three factors. This system would benefit everyone, particularly developing countries.”

Big waste
The Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder looks at the inefficiencies of US food aid – in one case, freight and logistics accounted for 97% of the cost of salmon for Cambodia – prompting him to ask three questions:

“a. How many people in the developing world go hungry each evening because of the way we waste our food aid budgets?
b. Is there really no limit on how much money is spent lining the pockets of our own companies before the OECD refuses to count the spending as aid?
c. How dare we lecture developing countries about wasteful procurement, corruption and inefficient public expenditure?”

Limited vision
Global Policy’s Katherine Wall takes issue with the “one-nation” theme being peddled by UK Labour Party leader Ed Miliband:

“Rather than focusing on social justice within the borders of the nation-state, we should broaden our understanding of the common good. By realising that the modern world in inter-connected, that the welfare of each is linked to the welfare of all, we can re-define the goals of the left. Instead of a common good within the confines of the nation, we should be pursuing the global common good and articulating how that aspiration can be achieved. ‘One-nation’ rhetoric limits the very ideas of social justice to within the borders on a map. What if we were to reimagine the world? What if we were to be truly one-nation – one world – in which the welfare and the good of all people were as important to us as those who happen to live within our state? Surely this would look a lot more like justice. Surely this would more accurately capture an understanding of the common good.”

A little sharing
Oxford University’s Frances Stewart argues that redistribution of wealth within and between countries is needed to eliminate poverty worldwide:

“The average incomes of high-income countries (in Europe, North America and Japan) are more than 70 times the average income of low-income countries. Redistribution of 10% of the incomes of the richest countries would increase the incomes of the poor group of countries by more than ninefold per head, clearly providing poor countries with enough resources to eliminate poverty.”