Latest Developments, November 15

In the latest news and analysis…

Suspicious behaviour
Radio France Internationale asks if France, despite official denials, is preparing for military intervention in the Central African Republic:

“A French Navy vessel, the projection and command ship Dixmude, is slated to sail soon from Toulon with approximately 300 troops for a position in the Gulf of Guinea. This large amphibious ship will also be carrying vehicles and helicopters.

And from the port of Douala, Bangui is only 1,400 kilometres away. French military commanders know the route well, since their troops passed through Cameroon during the 2008 European Union Force mission in Chad and CAR.” (Translated from the French.)

Lowering the bar
The Guardian reports on trouble at the COP 19 climate talks as rich, polluting countries seem to be losing their appetite for reducing carbon emissions:

“The UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, were faced with a new crisis on Friday, after Japan, the world’s fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter, slashed its plans to reduce emissions from 25% to just 3.8% on 2005 figures.
The move was immediately criticised as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘unambitious’ by developing countries and climate groups at the talks.

The Japanese announcement follows open criticism by Australia and Canada of policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their countries, and reluctance from the US and Europe to aim for more ambitious emissions cuts.”

More migrant deaths
Reuters reports that 12 migrants have drowned off the Greek coast, “adding to the hundreds of deaths this year” as people try to reach Europe via the Mediterranean:

“The coastguard found fifteen survivors on the shore opposite the Ionian island of Lefkada and recovered 12 bodies, four of them children aged between three and six, another official said.

Crisis-hit Greece, Italy and Malta, the EU’s gate-keepers, have repeatedly pressed European Union partners to do more to solve the migrant crisis, which the Maltese prime minister said was turning the Mediterranean into a ‘cemetery’.”

History matters
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues that rich countries must start viewing development finance as “reparation for damage done” rather than aid:

“Furthermore, it is widely known that trade rules and conditions past and present, set by rich countries, continue to have devastating effects on poor countries and poor people within them. Even Bill Clinton, the former US president, has publicly apologised for policies that ruined rice production in Haiti, to the benefit of US producers.
Rather than making a song and dance about how much aid we are sending countries where production has been decimated by rules serving rich-country interests, such money should be offered in compensation for harm done (most importantly, of course, the rules on protection, subsidies and quotas should be urgently changed).

Now it is an accepted UN principle that the west should fund the investments required in other countries to respond to climate change, it is logical that the same principle should be extended to other areas, including not only other forms of environmental damage such as overfishing, but also slavery, colonisation and unfair trade and finance rules.”

Developed economies?
Mongabay reports on the release of new data that suggests G8 countries account for three of the world’s four top deforesters since 2000:

“Dan Zarin, program director of the Climate and Land Use Alliance, an association of philanthropic foundations, says trading natural forests for planted forests represents a net loss for the planet.
‘You can’t “net out” deforestation by planting trees,’ said Zarin, ‘because newly planted forests are far less valuable for carbon, biodiversity and forest-dependent people than standing native forests.’
Malaysia’s rate of forest loss during the period was nearly 50 percent higher than the next runner up, Paraguay (9.6 percent). Its area of forest loss ranked ninth after Russia, Brazil, the United States, Canada, Indonesia, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Australia.”

Drone decline
The Federation of American Scientists reports that the US military’s investments in drones are on “a distinctly downward slope”:

“The FY 2014 budget request included $2.3 billion for research, development, and procurement of unmanned aerial systems, a decrease of $1.1 billion from the request for the fiscal year 2013.
‘Annual procurement of UAS has gone from 1,211 in fiscal 2012 to 288 last year to just 54 in the proposed FY14 budget,’ according to a recently published congressional hearing volume.”

Not good enough
Human Rights Watch calls on Western clothing brands to do more to prevent worker deaths in Bangladeshi garment factories:

“Seven people died in the fire at Aswad Composite Mills on October 8. Aswad supplied fabric for other Bangladeshi factories to turn into garments for North American and European clients such as Walmart, Gap, H&M and Carrefour. The Bangladesh government and one of the retailers, Primark, said they had uncovered safety violations at the factory prior to the fire but no action was taken. Other companies said they had not inspected Aswad because they did not have a direct relationship with it.

In the wake of the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers in April 2013, most foreign retailers operating in Bangladesh have pledged to help improve the fire and building safety standards of hundreds of factories that directly make their clothes. But their commitments do not extend to subcontractors and suppliers like Aswad that play a major part in the supply chain.”

Dangerous delay
EurActiv reports on concerns that a proposed EU law on conflict minerals could end up getting shelved after delays for “undisclosed reasons”:

“The EU’s trade directorate had been expected to publish a regulation that would secure uniform compliance across the bloc – and beyond – by the end of this year.
Brussels is known to have been in contact with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) about creating a list of internationally recognised and audited smelters for use by European mineral extraction firms.

Some fear that the proposal could wither in the Berlaymont building’s corridors, if it does not bear fruit before the institutional changing of the guard that will follow European elections next May.”

Latest Developments, December 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Creative corrupter
The New York Times has published an extensive report on retail giant Wal-Mart’s corrupting influence in Mexico, based on evidence from “tens of thousands of documents” and interviews with government officials and company employees:

“The Times’s examination reveals that Wal-Mart de Mexico was not the reluctant victim of a corrupt culture that insisted on bribes as the cost of doing business. Nor did it pay bribes merely to speed up routine approvals. Rather, Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited. It used bribes to subvert democratic governance — public votes, open debates, transparent procedures. It used bribes to circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction. It used bribes to outflank rivals.

Over and over, for example, the dates of bribe payments coincided with dates when critical permits were issued. Again and again, the strictly forbidden became miraculously attainable.”

First acquittal
Reuters reports that the International Criminal Court has handed down its second-ever decision, acquitting Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui:

“The court’s first verdict found [Thomas] Lubanga guilty of recruiting child soldiers to another militia in the same conflict in Ituri. Some observers said the different outcomes of the trials for militia leaders from different tribes could cause new friction.
‘Lubanga was a Hema leader, and the acquittal of a Ngudjolo, a Lendu, just after the conviction of a Hema could exacerbate tension between the two ethnicities in Ituri,’ said Jennifer Easterday of the Open Society Justice Initiative.”

Calling it off
Association Sherpa has ended its partnership with French nuclear giant Areva, calling the company’s health measures in Niger and Gabon “public relations exercises”:

“The arrival of Luc Oursel at the head of Areva coincided with a change in the culture of the company in terms of sustainable development and as a result, led to a questioning of its capacity to respect the letter and spirit of the 2009 agreements:

  • While the 2009 accords led to the much-needed medical monitoring of over 700 African workers, it is incomprehensible and unacceptable that the compensation process, which benefited the families of two French expatriates (a patently insufficient number), offered nothing to any Nigerien or Gabonese workers even though the medical condition of more than 100 of them was examined;
  • The decontamination of [Gabon’s] Mounana site, where production stopped in 1999, promised by [former CEO] Anne Lauvergnon, has stalled. It was carried out only partially and unsatisfactorily, with the result that local populations are still exposed to radiation risks;” [Translated from the French]

Aid hypocrisy
The Guardian reports on the UK’s Department for International Development’s “breathtaking arrogance” for demanding transparency from recipient governments while refusing to make public a report on its own expenditures:

“The department said releasing the report could “undermine DfID’s commercial interests and lead to DfID incurring greater expense which would consequently undermine our ability to fulfil our role and to achieve value for money in the use of public funds”.
Disclosure could also reveal personal data about individuals, make other governments and international organisations less willing to share information with Britain, and ‘severely prejudice the policy development process’ within government by inhibiting open discussion, it said.”

Good intentions
The Financial Times reports that American legislation aimed at ending the role of minerals in fuelling DR Congo’s conflict is making matters worse so far:

“ ‘We’re getting the opposite of what they wanted. And we still have conflict,’ says Emmanuel Ndimubanzi, head of North Kivu provisional government’s mining division, who says tens of thousands of jobs across the sector have been lost. A proposal in the act to spend $25m to help out-of-work find jobs and fund mineral tracing schemes was dropped.

The landmark US [Dodd-Frank] act has created the first compulsory framework to disclose the provenance of potential conflict minerals across the industry. But beset by delays, loopholes and vague guidance, it has complicated and impeded initiatives by industry, regional governments and international donors, as well as the UN and OECD. These include tagging schemes, chains of documentation and a mineralogical ‘fingerprinting’ pilot scheme already under way.”

Nuclear stagnation
Inter Press Service reports that the Federation of American Scientists has warned that the US and Russia are reducing their nuclear arsenals at a slowing rate:

“ ‘Both the United States and Russia appear to be more cautious about reducing further, placing more emphasis on “hedging” and reconstitution of reduced nuclear forces, and both are investing enormous sums of money in modernising their nuclear forces over the next decade,’ [FAS Nuclear Information Project director Hans M. Kristensen said.]

Given the new data, the implication is that either a new set of arms-reduction treaties will need to be agreed in coming years, or each country will need to embark on new unilateral programmes of reduction. If neither of those takes place, ‘large nuclear forces could be retained far into the future.’ ”

Tarnished reputation
The Montreal Gazette reports on calls from both inside and outside Canada for Ottawa to hold the country’s mining companies to account for their behaviour abroad:

“But as mining investment has exploded over the last decade, so too have conflicts involving Canadian mines, from the Pueblo Viejo mine in the Dominican Republic, where 25 people were injured in clashes with police in September, to the Pierina mine in Peru, where one person was killed that same month. (Both are mines owned by Barrick Gold, but protests are not restricted to Barrick mines.)
All the while the Canadian government’s role in defending, even promoting, mining companies’ interests has solidified.”

Global ambulance chasers
CorpWatch reports on a growing and lucrative branch of law that involves suing governments on behalf of corporations:

“Legal experts have denounced this trend. ‘Investment treaty arbitration … imposes exceptionally powerful legal and economic constraints on governments and, by extension, on democratic choice, in order to protect from regulation the assets of multinational firms,’ writes Professor Gus van Harten of the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

There are five major arbitration tribunals that take on these cases – the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington DC, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague, the Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) in London, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris and the Chamber of Commerce in Stockholm (SCC).

The number of such lawsuits registered at the ICSID has skyrocketed. In 1996, just 38 cases were under arbitration but by 2011, this had risen almost 12 fold to 450.”

Latest Developments, October 26

In the latest news and analysis…

License to bribe
Main Justice reports that a co-author of a US Chamber of Commerce proposal to water down the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has just become the FBI’s general counsel.
“In its report ‘Restoring Balance: Proposed Amendments to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’ the Chamber said that the FCPA is a costly burden to business and ‘there is also reason to believe that the FCPA has made U.S. businesses less competitive than their foreign counterparts who do not have significant FCPA exposure.’ The paper called for five specific reforms including limiting a company’s ‘successor liability’ for the prior actions of a firm it has acquired and giving a clear definition of ‘foreign official’ under the statute.
The Open Society Foundation, a George Soros-funded organization issued a report, charging that [Andrew] Weissmann’s plan would ‘significantly reduce the scope and efficacy of the FCPA while substantially undermining more than 30 years of successful U.S. leadership in promoting global anti-corruption standards.’ ‘[T]he Chamber’s proposal looks more like a license to commit pervasive and intentional bribery than a modest attempt to eliminate the risk of prosecutorial over-reach,’ the report said.”

Proposed EU legislation I: A victory for transparency
Tearfund’s Jonathan Spencer welcomes proposed EU legislation that would require extractive industry companies listed in Europe and operating abroad to disclose what they pay to host governments on a project-by-project basis.
“[This information] will play a key role in releasing resources for development, improving transparency and engaging citizens with their governments. Evidence from other countries has shown that where details of budgets and projected expenditure is published, the money is much more likely to reach its intended destination and support development.”

Proposed EU legislation II: Bad for business
But a number of the companies – including Anglo American, Rio Tinto, Shell and Total – that would be subject to the proposed legislation have argued in a letter to the European Commission that such regulations are misguided and would be bad for business.
“One example is oil or gas fields which cross borders, where governments are understandably careful to safeguard the confidentiality of the terms they offer to investors,” said the letter.
“Further damage to competitiveness will be caused by the additional cost and administrative burden of project-level reporting.”

Proposed EU legislation III: No legal teeth
On the other hand, France’s Citizen Forum for Social and Environmental Responsibility argues the European Commission’s proposal lacks legal teeth.
“In fact, notwithstanding progress in certain areas such as reporting obligation, the [European Commission’s] statement on social and environmental responsibility does not address other crucial questions. The proposal lacks concrete measures to improve the legal responsibility between the parent company and its subsidiaries: companies based in Europe cannot, therefore, be considered responsible for violations perpetrated by their subsidiaries and subcontractors in the South. Nor does the statement spell out the legal avenues that would guarantee real access to justice for all victims of violations.” (Translated from the French.)

South-South cooperation
The Guardian has reproduced part of an IRIN series on how countries like Brazil, India, China and South Africa are changing the world of aid as they become increasingly significant donors.
“Many are not new at all – India, Brazil and China have been giving aid for decades – but what is new is that a group of non-western donors is giving more humanitarian and development aid year on year, and reporting it more consistently to official trackers, such as the UN’s Financial Tracking System (127 donors reported aid in 2010).
As they “emerge”, the traditional hegemony held by western donors over how and where aid is dispersed is starting to be dismantled.”

South-South colonization
While many within the development industry speak of the growing importance of South-South cooperation, Al Jazeera uses the issue of African land grabs to raise the question of possible South-South colonization.
“What would Gandhi say today were he to know that Indians, who were only freed from the shackles of colonialism in recent history, were now at the forefront of this “land-grabbing” as part of the race for foreign control over African land and resources; currently being called the Neo-Colonialism of Africa?,” ask the Ethiopian authors of an open letter to the people of India.

One-step solutions
The University of Ottawa’s Rita Abrahamsen argues that attempts to rein in trading of “conflict minerals” are well-intentioned but may not be particularly helpful for ending African conflicts.
“The danger is that by making illegal mining the only story about the conflict in eastern Congo, other causes—requiring more complex solutions—will be ignored. Meanwhile, the international community will invest vast sums in cumbersome tracking procedures that may be easily avoided in an environment of weak institutional capacities and porous borders.
Ultimately, then, the campaign against conflict minerals might do more to restore Canada’s image abroad and make Canadians feel like ‘good global citizens’ than it does to bring peace to the DRC.”

Size doesn’t matter
The UN Population Fund has released its annual State of World Population just as the number of Earth’s inhabitants is set to hit 7 billion, but its authors are more concerned with how people live than with raw numbers.
“Environmental journalist Fred Pearce echoes the view that a small proportion of the world’s population takes the majority of resources and produces the majority of its pollution.
The world’s richest half billion people— about 7 per cent of the global population— are responsible for about 50 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, a surrogate measure of fossil fuel consumption. Meanwhile, the poorest 50 per cent are responsible for just 7 per cent of emissions, Pearce wrote in an article for Yale University’s “Environment 360” website. ‘It’s overconsumption, not population growth, that is the fundamental problem,’ Pearce argued”

Latest Developments, October 18

In the latest news and analysis…

FDI dangers
Reuters reports international negotiations have not succeeded in producing voluntary guidelines to curb land grabs in poor countries, a phenomenon driven by uncertain markets and a race to the bottom to attract foreign investment.
“Countries who want to attract investment are currently competing with each other to provide buyers with the best deal, such as a low price for land, low taxes, and few demands for employment creation and protection of the local food system, [the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier] De Schutter said.
Targeted African and Asian countries would benefit from a common set of guidelines, which would increase their bargaining position and make it easier for them to demand conditions to protect vulnerable land-users, he said.”

Conflict minerals
Reuters also reports on the battle in Washington over the Securities and Exchange Commission’s attempts to implement a legal provision requiring companies to disclose if their products contain “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Companies and business groups have largely opposed the measure as proposed, saying it captures far too many companies who do not directly manufacture their goods and have little say or knowledge about the origins of the minerals used in their products. They have urged the SEC to implement the plan over time, and also to give relief to companies that use trace amounts of the minerals in question.
But lawmakers, human rights groups and some socially conscious investors have decried the delay in the SEC’s rulemaking process.”

Resource caution
In the midst of all the excitement about Africa’s current rate of economic growth, Oxford economist Paul Collier warns of the dangers of relying on revenues from resource exports.
“The meltdown in commodity prices over the last two months perfectly illustrates the volatility inherent in these global markets. Resource-rich low-income countries are typically highly dependent upon the tax receipts from resource exports for government revenue. The rents on commodity extraction are highly geared on the price and so are even more volatile than prices. Since taxes are designed to capture the rents, government revenue is thus deeply unpredictable.”

Remittance curse
Economist and mathematician David Ellerman suggests remittances can represent a curse in the same way as resource wealth is often thought to do.
“Like the discovery of oil, the flow of remittances back to the sending country will increase income levels but that itself does not amount to economic development. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. Many of the resource-curse arguments apply to the ‘oil wells’ of remittances. The pressure on the governments to facilitate job creation in the sending countries is much reduced when they can export their unemployment problem and even receive a sizable inflow of hard currency in return.”

Intimidating investigation
Oxfam is reporting that people who complained to the NGO of being forcibly evicted to make way for the Ugandan operations of UK-based New Forests Company – as highlighted in an Oxfam report on land grabs released last month – now say they are being intimidated by employees of the company which had promised an independent investigation in the original allegations.
“We have heard from many people in these communities that they are feeling intimidated by the recent actions of NFC, which are totally at odds with the principles of an independent and transparent investigation,” according to Oxfam’s Vicky Rateau. “They have already lost their homes and land and many have been subjected to violent behavior. They need a credible investigation not further pressure.”

Malaria vaccine
The Guardian’s Sarah Boseley reports on a possible new malaria vaccine that has roughly halved the incidence of the disease in trials to this point.
“The arguments over value for money will be starting even now. Donors will want to figure out whether bednets or artimisinin drugs are a better investment than a vaccine that will reduce the number of malaria cases but not stop the disease in its tracks.
Price will be a critical factor in these considerations. [GlaxoSmithKline’s Andrew] Witty says they will do everything they can to get it down. He is looking at the costs involved in manufacturing and supply – even at the price of the vial. He is prepared to offer licences to get the vaccine produced cheaply in India or in Africa itself.”

Feminist development
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues for the reassertion of feminism as the “theoretical underpinning” for women’s rights around the world but cautions against the imposition of cultural values.
“The certainty that has typified feminist struggle in the west, and has been one of the reasons for its great successes, does not often work cross-culturally. Certainty can only arise indigenously – and there are plenty of national feminist organisations across the world that are leading the fight in their own countries, in their own way (see the debate about the Gisele Bündchen adverts in Brazil, for example). In the international sphere, certainty must be replaced with humility about what the answers are and, crucially, a profound openness to learning from other cultures.”

Rejecting happiness
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny thinks the recent craze among politicians to develop happiness measures as policy-making tools is misguided.
“This isn’t to say that politicians shouldn’t care whether their people are happy. But life is complicated and so is what makes up a good one. It is time to give up looking for a single indicator to capture how we’re doing at it.”

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.”