Latest Developments, January 25


In the latest news and analysis…

Business rules
Amnesty International is calling on governments to take on the global lack of corporate regulation it says is having a “devastating impact” on the world’s most vulnerable populations.
“Governments are legally bound to consider how the policies and programs they implement affect human rights. In reality, many governments do not conduct even rudimentary assessments of the potential impact of their economic policies on rights.

Governments are consistently failing to regulate the corporate sector, trusting in their false promises of self-regulation, creating a toxic environment that is showing signs of boiling over as people take to the streets demanding an end to corruption, corporate greed and injustice.”

Trade imbalances
World leaders gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum must focus less on “the imbalances in developed countries’ debt-to-GDP ratios” and more on “the wider imbalances generated by unfettered globalization,” according to UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter.
“Trade and investment agreements are the gateways through which globalization passes on its way to redefining a country’s economic landscape, and they are increasing at an impressive pace. There are 6,092 bilateral investment agreements currently in force, with 56 concluded in 2010 alone.
That growth reflects the flawed economic model of the pre-crisis years, which relied on indifference to where growth came from, how sustainable it was, and who was benefiting from it. If we are to learn anything from the ongoing crisis, it must be to start asking the right questions.”

Coal black box
A new report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) argues electricity companies operating in the Netherlands are not coming clean about the source of the coal they use.
“None of the energy companies analysed in the report – E.ON, Vattenfall/Nuon, GDF Suez/Electrabel, RWE/Essent, DONG Energy and EPZ (DELTA) – are transparent about the specific mines where their coal comes from. ‘If companies are open about the coal chain, human rights violations and pollution in the coal chain can be prevented. But the electricity companies refuse to publish this information and as a result are not following recommendations laid out in international standards for supply chain transparency such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies’, says Joseph Wilde-Ramsing, Senior Researcher at SOMO.”

Press freedom
Reporters Without Borders has released its latest Press Freedom Index, which ranks nine African countries ahead of the US following the “crackdown” on the Occupy movement.
“The worldwide wave of protests in 2011 also swept through the New World. It dragged the United States (47th) and Chile (80th) down the index, costing them 27 and 47 places respectively. The crackdown on protest movements and the accompanying excesses took their toll on journalists. In the space of two months in the United States, more than 25 were subjected to arrests and beatings at the hands of police who were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behaviour, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation ”

Circumcision silence
Paris Descartes University’s Patrick Pognant decries the lack of debate over the UN’s advocacy of mass circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa as a means of reducing the spread of HIV.
“At the very least, those who are to be circumcised ought to be informed objectively of the irremediable effects of this surgical act, which they have the right to expect from humanitarian organizations that are meant to protect them and improve their living conditions. If we celebrate progress in the field of medicine, we must also remember that it can make mistakes and it harbours extremists and ideologues, overcome, in this case, by a passion for surgery (just as their predecessors from earlier centuries, bistoury in hand, ravaged large populations, especially male ones). The time will come, one hopes, when international authorities will condemn all forms of physical mutilation committed without proper consent, whether the motivation be medical, moral or religious.” (Translated from the French.)

Strange bedfellows
War Child’s Samantha Nutt asks if new partnerships between international NGOs and Canadian mining companies will “nudge along good practice” or “buy silence in the case of bad practice.”
“Under the deal, World University Services Canada, Plan Canada and World Vision Canada will receive CIDA funding totalling $6.7-million for projects with Rio Tinto Alcan, Iamgold and Barrick Gold, respectively. The largest share was for the Plan Canada-Iamgold project, which will take all but $1-million of the CIDA funding over the next five years. For their part, the three mining companies will contribute additional support just shy of $2-million. The combined annual net profit for these firms is more than $4-billion.

Two of the participating mining firms have recently been involved in labour and human-rights disputes related to their operations abroad.”

Arming the Middle East
The Buck Institute for Research on Aging’s Raja Kamal takes issue with recent American and British arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
“These deals have been presented as useful arrangements to promote stability in a Middle East, allegedly threatened by Iran’s ambitions. However, seen through a different lens, it appears that arms-producing nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom are using Saudi Arabia as an automated teller machine, from which billions of dollars can be secured to bolster their troubled economies.
It is unfortunate that the U.S. Congress did not seize the opportunity to block the F-15 sale on the grounds that arming the Arab world is in the best interests neither of the region nor of the U.S. or the West in the long run.”

Negotiating change
Panteion University’s Alexios Arvanitis calls for negotiators at international talks to bring more than the pursuit of national interests to the table.
“In casting his veto at the European Union’s December summit in Brussels, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, ‘What is on offer isn’t in Britain’s interests, so I didn’t agree to it,’ as if agreement solely depended upon whether or not interests were satisfied.
Then again, reaching an agreement might never have been Cameron’s goal. While so-called “win-win” outcomes are increasingly considered to be the ultimate purpose of every negotiation, what if the negotiating parties contemplate a win-win outcome that actually harms non-participants to the talks, or is against the law? What if the outcome is beneficial but contrary to the principles of the negotiating parties?”

Latest Developments, July 21

In the latest news and analysis…

The World Bank has released a report on the challenge posed by the theft of public assets from poor countries, which it describes as “an immense problem with a staggering development impact.” The report’s authors estimate that about $5 billion in assets have been recovered over the last 15 years, which amounts to 1/1,500th of the World Bank’s lowest estimate of the total stolen over that time. But the Tax Justice Network argues the real proportion of repatriated assets may be more like 1/3,800th of illicit financial flows out of the Global South.

Four Kenyans claiming to have been tortured by British soldiers during the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s have taken a major step towards obtaining reparations, as a British judge has ruled the plaintiffs have sufficient grounds to pursue a lawsuit. “This is not about money,” their lawyer said. “It is about restoring people’s dignity.” The UK’s Foreign Office argues it is not responsible for any wrongdoing during the colonial period and Kenya’s government should take care of compensating victims, an argument the judge termed “dishonourable.”

The UN has “strongly welcomed” new data providing further evidence that male circumcision is an effective way of preventing HIV in men. “Scaling up voluntary medical male circumcision services rapidly to young men in high HIV prevalence settings will help reach the 2015 goal of reducing sexual transmission of HIV by 50 per cent,” according to UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé. One of the leaders in this trend is Tanzania which “plans to circumcise at least 2.8 million men and boys between the ages of 10 and 34 over a five-year period.” Meanwhile, in San Francisco where HIV/AIDS was the fourth leading cause of death among men aged 25-54 in 2007, the battle is heating up over a proposed measure that would ban the circumcision of boys under the age of 18. The so-called Male Genital Mutilation Bill will be put to the California city’s voters in November.

Global Financial Integrity’s Tom Cardamone has announced the imminent launch of an international petition to fight perceived efforts by the US Chamber of Commerce and Wisconsin congressman Tom Sensenbrenner to weaken the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the 34 year-old piece of legislation aimed at punishing individuals and corporations who pay bribes overseas.

The Economist appears to have coined a new acronym, MIFF, to describe the “the emergence of a group of middle-income but failed or fragile states” that, despite moderate prosperity at the national level, account for 17 percent of the world’s people living on less than $1 a day. That figure has skyrocketed from one percent in 2005. “Anybody concerned with alleviating world poverty must reckon with the MIFFs,” the author argues.

Peru’s ambassador to the UN Gonzalo Gutiérrez makes a similar point in arguing “the cold figure of GDP per capita does not reflect the actual state of development in a particular country.” He is calling on the donor community to change the criteria it uses when devising aid policy and to recognize that most of the world’s poor live in so-called middle-income countries. “It is illogical to leave 70 percent of those who suffer most in the world, simply because a general index says that they are already in the medium-income countries,” he said.

And in a Project Syndicate piece entitle “Debt and Delusion,” Yale University economist Robert Shiller warns of the dangers of obsessing over economic indicators, such as debt-to-GDP ratios. Fear of “some magic threshold” beyond which a country will become insolvent is causing a stampede towards austerity measures which are likely to do more harm than good. “We should worry less about debt ratios and thresholds, and more about our inability to see these indicators for the artificial – and often irrelevant – constructs that they are.”

The Royal United Services Institute’s Knox Chitiyo says the relationship between Europe and Africa has moved beyond “handouts and hoopla” and the “scramble for Africa.” In fact, he believes we are now seeing the beginning of “Africa’s scramble for the world.” Now that Africa can boast some of the world’s fastest growing economies, Chitiyo says Europe needs its southern neighbour in order to dig out of its recession.

Washington-based economist Thomas Palley makes the case for a global minimum wage to counteract “globalization’s undermining of the income generation process.” Palley does not suggest introducing a rich-country level of wage floor to poor countries, but rather “establishing a global set of rules for setting country minimum wages.” Rather than calculating specific wage levels that would then rise with inflation, he proposes agreeing on a fixed percentage of median wages that would vary according to national and regional economic conditions. “Just as globalization demands global trade rules for goods and services and global financial rules for financial markets, so too labor markets need global rules,” Palley argues.

Recapping the events of last week’s Arms Trade Treaty negotiations, Transparency International’s representatives at the meetings say they are “delighted” by the apparent broad support – from investors, industry and governments – for including anti-corruption language in the agreement. And Oxfam’s Scott Stedjan refutes US gun lobby objections to the proposed treaty, saying an ATT would have “no impact on the Second Amendment freedoms.”