Latest Developments, July 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Absolute immunity
The University of Birmingham’s Rosa Freedman argues that 5,000 Haitians are “being denied their fundamental rights” by the UN’s insistence that it is immune from having to compensate victims of a cholera epidemic triggered by its peacekeepers:

“By invoking absolute immunity, the UN has either ignored or missed the point that all individuals have rights to access a court and a remedy. Those rights are being denied by the UN’s absolute immunity coupled together with its refusal to hear those claims within its own tribunals. The Organisation that created the modern system of international human rights law, and that is tasked with protecting and promoting those rights, is denying fundamental rights to these 5,000 individuals from Haiti. By failing to provide compensation to the victims of cholera in Haiti, the door has been opened for a successful human rights-based challenge to the UN’s absolute immunity – one that may have far-reaching implications and one that is long overdue.”

Made in the USA
Inter Press Service looks into the flow of arms from the US to Egypt in recent years:

“As the second largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel, Egypt receives about 1.5 billion dollars in both military and economic aid annually, of which 1.3 billion dollars is earmarked for the armed forces.

According to figures released by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Egypt received about 11.8 billion dollars worth of weapons from the United States during 2004-2011, followed by 900 million dollars each in arms from China and Russia, and 700 million dollars in arms from Europe.”

Bitter sugar
The Guardian reports on the links between a UK-based company and alleged child labour, land grabbing and violence in Cambodia:

“Sugar is big business in Cambodia, thanks to a preferential EU trade scheme called Everything But Arms (EBA), which allows Cambodian sugar to be sold duty-free on the European market at a minimum price per tonne. Official figures show that 97% of Cambodia’s €10m (£8.5m) sugar exports went to the EU last year, and Tate & Lyle bought 99% of them.
Although the initiative is intended to bolster the world’s least-developed countries, the villagers say they have not profited from the deal at all.

Backed by British law firm Jones Day, the villagers have filed a lawsuit against Tate & Lyle, claiming that KSL were complicit in government moves to evict them to make way for the plantations. They also say they were insufficiently compensated for the land they lost, and faced ‘multiple instances of battery and criminal violence’ during which villagers were shot at and wounded, with one activist murdered.”

Another spill
Sahara Reporters reports Italy’s Agip has experienced two oil spills in three weeks in Nigeria:

“Alagoa Morris, the head of field operations for Environmental Rights Action in Bayelsa, said the community had witnessed numerous spills in the recent past, adding that the environment was badly affected and needed urgent remediation. Mr. Morris called on Agip to lessen the pressure on the pipelines in order to reduce the discharge into the atmosphere.
According to him, residents of the affected communities had expressed their readiness to cooperate with Agip to end the frequent spills and address the issue of oil theft, but he regretted that the oil firm had yet to agree to any sustainable and workable plan.”

Forest malpractice
The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that a pair of Cameroonian NGOs are calling on the US government to investigate an American-owned palm oil company for alleged land grabbing:

“ ‘Our petition to the U.S. government against the corrupt land grab and illegal forest exploitation activities by Herakles Farms is within the framework of the principle of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) relating to the functioning of international enterprises,’ [Centre for Environment and Development] coordinator Samuel Nguiffo told Thomson Reuters Foundation. ‘The principle requires that international investors carry out better policies to improve the livelihood of the population, and not destroy it.’

CED investigations and a mission sent to the region by the ministry also discovered that locals were paid as low as 350 francs ($0.50) in annual leasing fees for the land, Nguiffo said.”

Geography of sustainability
The Conference Board has released a report that suggests North American companies “lag their peers” in other parts of the world in terms of corporate responsibility:

“Across the environmental and social practices covered, European companies had the highest average disclosure rate (27 percent), followed by companies in Latin America (24 percent), Asia-Pacific (23 percent), and North America (19 percent). [Global Reporting Initiative] reporting, in particular, continues to be at an early stage in North America, with only 29 percent of North American companies releasing reports following GRI guidelines, compared to 61 percent of companies in Europe.

While 84 percent of S&P Global 1200 companies reported having a business ethics policy, only 44 percent of companies disclosed having a human rights policy. The geographic differences are even more pronounced, as only 23 percent of North American companies reported having a human rights policy, compared to 63 percent of European companies, 57 percent of companies in Latin America, and 51 percent of companies in Asia-Pacific.”

Sweatshop nation
Freelance journalist Isabeau Doucet questions the international push to promote Haiti’s textile industry “by branding ‘Made in Haiti’ garments as somehow humanitarian, socially responsible, and good for Haiti’s ‘development’ ”:

“A new minimum-wage law was passed in the fall of 2012 to ensure workers in the Haitian garment-outsourcing sector would earn 300 gourdes for an eight-hour day (around CAD$7). But according to an audit released in mid-April 2013 by Better Work, a labour and business development partnership between the International Labour Organization and the International Financial Corporation (ILO-IFC), 100 per cent of apparel manufacturers evaluated in Haiti failed to comply, continuing to pay the previous wage of 200 gourdes (around CAD$4.70).

In a market driven by the profit-making of multinationals, the garment sector isn’t about creating jobs for Haitians so much as displacing jobs from one poor country to another, poorer one, making Haiti’s poverty its ‘comparative advantage.’ The Korean clothing giant Sae-A, which produces for Walmart, Target, and Gap, has been accused of anti-union repression, including ‘acts of violence and intimidation’ in Guatemala and, more recently, in Nicaragua. It closed its operations in Guatemala due to union disputes, before setting up shop in Caracol, Haiti.”

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Latest Developments, June 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Rebel arms
Reuters reports that Western and Arab opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have decided to give “urgent military support” to rebels trying to overthrow him:

“The U.S. administration has responded by saying, for the first time, it would arm rebels, while Gulf sources say Saudi Arabia has accelerated the delivery of advanced weapons to the rebels over the last week.
Ministers from the 11 core members of the Friends of Syria group, agreed ‘to provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground,’ according to a statement released at the end of their meeting in Qatar.

French military advisers are already training the rebels to use some of the new equipment in Turkey and Jordan, sources familiar with the training programs said. U.S. forces have been carrying out similar training, rebels say.”

UK spying
The Guardian reports that leaked documents reveal the British government “collects and stores vast quantities” of telephone and internet communications from around the world:

“The sheer scale of the agency’s ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgement or debate.

The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by [UK Government Communications Headquarters] lawyers: ‘We have a light oversight regime compared with the US’.
When it came to judging the necessity and proportionality of what they were allowed to look for, would-be American users were told it was ‘your call’.”

Banking impasse
Reuters reports that EU finance ministers are struggling to resolve their differences over “who pays for failing banks”:

“The law on rescuing and closing banks in the EU is central to the 27-nation bloc’s banking union, which aims to prevent future financial crises and get the economy out of recession.
It is also a highly controversial element as it will dictate who decides what happens to a failing bank and who is to pay for it, bringing national sensitivities to the fore.

The broader the possibilities of imposing losses on a bank’s shareholders, creditors or even big depositors in the directive that will be discussed by EU finance ministers, the less money the resolution fund would have to contribute to close a bank.”

Global wealth trends
The Globe and Mail reports that a pair of new studies show that the world’s rich are getting richer while workers are left with a smaller piece of the pie:

“The [Global Wealth Report] found that the number of people in the world with more than $1-million to invest soared to a record of 12 million in 2012, a 9.2 per cent increase from 2011. The aggregate wealth of this group hit a new high, too – $46.2-trillion (U.S.) – a 10-per-cent increase from the previous year.
What is particularly striking is that even within this rich group, the very, very rich are doing best of all.

The 2012-13 Global Wage Report by the International Labour Organization, a UN agency, found a world trend of a decreasing workers’ share in the national income.”

Nuclear weakness
The New York Times editorial board argues that the nuclear disarmament proposal made by US President Barack Obama last week “falls short of what is needed in a post-cold-war world”:

“Mr. Obama said nothing about reducing the 11,000 total nuclear weapons that [the US and Russia] keep as backups. He missed an opportunity to remove quickly from ‘hair trigger’ alert at least some of the 1,000 weapons that are ready to fire at a moment’s notice. He reaffirmed support for Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the start of international negotiations on a treaty that would ban the production of fissile material that fuels warheads, but there is no indication either will happen soon, or ever.”

Shell explosion
The Independent Online reports that, although the investigation has yet to begin, Shell is using its standard explanation for an explosion that led the oil giant to shut a major Nigerian pipeline:

“Environmental campaigners and rights groups accuse Shell of using sabotage by oil thieves as an excuse for oil accidents.
‘Sabotage is a problem in Nigeria, but Shell exaggerates this issue to avoid criticism for its failure to prevent oil spills,’ Amnesty International’s Audrey Gaughran said in a statement on Wednesday.”

Growing force
Voice of America reports that US Africa Command head David Rodriguez wants the US to have a “small footprint” in Africa even as its military presence is being stepped up on the continent:

“The U.S. also has stepped up its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities, setting up unarmed drone bases in places like Niger.

‘The history of the African nations, the colonialism, all those things are what point to the reasons why we should not go in there in force and everything else, and just use a small footprint with creative and innovative solutions to get high payoff from a small number of people, as well as come in for short periods of time to do exercises, to do operations, to help build that capacity,’ said [U.S. Army General David Rodriguez].”

Corporate consciences
Deutsche Welle reports on concerns that some rules are more equal than others when it comes to regulating international trade:

“For example: the International Labor Organization (ILO), part of the United Nations, has been developing standards for the protection of workers since 1919. But to this day, they are not internationally binding, according to Jakob von Uexküll, founder of the World Future Council and the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.
‘If somebody tells you: “We are a socially responsible company,” then there is a very simple question: “Would you agree that the rules of the ILO get the same legal status as the rules of the World Trade Organization?”’ said von Uexküll. ‘The answer to that question will tell you everything you need to know about the social responsibility of the company.’ ”