Latest Developments, February 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Fortress Europe
Agence France-Presse reports the European Commission has rejected a Greek request for funds to help build a fence along the Turkish border in order to stem illegal immigration. “ ‘The commission has decided not to follow up the Greek request because it considers it pointless,’ Michele Cercone, a European Commission spokesman, told a news briefing. ‘Fences and walls are short term measures that do not solve migration management issues in a structural way.’ It is up to EU states to decide how to secure their borders, but they have to take into account ‘international obligations including the respect of migrants, human rights,’ Cercone said.”

Give me your tired, your poor…
Yahoo! News reports that increasingly harsh American immigration laws, such as Alabama’s controversial HB 56 which prohibits “business transactions” between undocumented migrants and the state, are impacting people’s ability to obtain food.
“Last month, Kansas kicked more than 1,000 mixed-status families off its food stamp program when it joined three other states in adopting a stricter food stamp eligibility policy. A low-income family of five made up of two undocumented parents and three citizen children now has to show that its income is close to the poverty level for a family of three–not a family of five–in order to access food stamps. This is intended to prevent illegal immigrants from benefiting from food stamps, but immigration advocates say it will leave citizen kids hungry.”

Mining audit
Reuters reports that Zambia plans to audit all the country’s mining projects in search of back taxes it estimates at between $500 million and $1 billion.
“According to UK charity Christian Aid, more than half of the copper Zambia exported in 2008 was destined for Switzerland, but according to Swiss import data almost none of this arrived and [mines minister Wylbur] Simuusa said this trend continued.
This raises a number of transparency issues and activists say copper exported to Switzerland on paper often fetches a lower price than it would if it was exported elsewhere.
‘Once it leaves, where does it go? We don’t have a clue,’ he said.”

World Bank and tax havens
The Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development’s María José Romero writes about revelations that the majority of clients of the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), are using tax havens.
“According to a recent report by Danish NGOs DanWatch and IBIS, ‘57 per cent of the companies analysed in the IFC’s extrac­tives portfolio from 2010 have channelled their investment in developing countries through an intermediate hold­ing company in a tax haven.’ Additionally, ‘more than a third of the countries hosting [the] IFC’s extractive projects have no specific policies on thin capitalisation,’ which means that IFC’s extractive-industry clients can minimise tax payments in developing countries by injecting as much debt and as little equity as possible into their operating subsidiaries.

Civil society organisations have demanded changes in the IFC policy in order to ensure that investing in private sector companies has a positive impact on development.  According to Alvin Mosioma from Tax Justice Network, ‘the IFC should stop channelling public funds to companies using secrecy jurisdictions.’ To make effective and measurable progress towards financial transparency, the DanWatch report also recommends that ‘companies supported by IFC should present their annual accounts on a country-by-country and project-by-project basis, which would en­able host governments and civil society to iden­tify tax avoidance and evasion.’ ”

Resource scramble
A new Global Witness report suggests corruption and instability could worsen in Africa unless there is more transparency in the oil, gas and mining industries.
“Firstly, all companies involved in bidding rounds for oil licences, or that hold oil licences should fully disclose their ultimate beneficial owners. This level of transparency provides government and the public with the opportunity to begin to dispel suspicions that government officials may be benefitting illicitly from the allocation of oil licences. Additionally, the terms of all licences and contracts should be published to make it easier for the appropriate authorities and the public to determine that the terms of a contract are not unduly favourable to a company.”

Cynical aid
MiningWatch’s Catherine Coumans argues the Canadian International Development Agency’s decision to fund corporate social responsibility projects near mine sites is “intended to help Canadian mining companies compete for access to lucrative ore bodies in developing countries” where local opposition to mining is growing.
“Subsidizing the CSR projects of well-endowed multinationals is an irresponsible use of public funds by CIDA, particularly as these CSR projects mask rather than address the serious local- and national-level development deficits caused by mining.
If the Canadian government were interested in addressing the negative impacts of mining on development it would have implemented the recommendations of the parliamentary report of 2005 and the CSR Roundtables of 2007.”

Planning ahead
The Inter Press Service reports the Sierra Leone Conference on Development and Transformation has drafted a 50-year plan for the West African nation and intends to submit it to the country’s parliament.
“Many of the communiqué’s recommendations for improving the economy differ from the growing push towards increased foreign investment in mining, instead focusing on the long-term benefits of health, education and infrastructure. In fact, it suggests that no new mineral extraction agreements should be made by the government without first conducting a public comprehensive analysis of the quantity and amount of the resources to be exploited.
‘We’ve had a system that was not set up for a rapidly growing economy that would be prosperous, it was a system set up to ensure we have a quite country where resources could be extracted with us saying very little,’ said [the conference’s national coordinator Herbert] McLeod. ‘The exploitation of these resources could continue to have dangerous consequences if they are not managed well. You could have an already unequal society become more unequal as the benefits accrue to only a small section of the population.’ ”

Pot and kettle
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues that for all the Western criticism of China’s activities in Africa, Chinese behaviour is “more or less” the same as that of other major donors.
“All in all, Chinese aid to Africa is going to come with all sorts of strings attached, despite the ‘no-conditionality’ rhetoric, and it is a huge power play, despite the proclamations of ‘south-south co-operation’. There will be problems, but no more or less than with the more traditional donors; just different, on account of different attitudes and modalities.”

Latest Developments, November 1

In the latest news and analysis…

Commitment to development
The Center for Global Development’s David Roodman presents his organization’s latest Commitment to Development Index which assesses donor countries based on policies that go beyond aid levels, but he expresses concern over the US’s skyrocketing ranking as a result of its increased number of troops in Afghanistan.
“The approach in the security component to military activities is shaped by three ideas: some interventions, such as the NATO-led war to stop the serves from potentially committing genocide in Bosnia, seem like contributions to development; other interventions are much harder to defend; and the rule used to distinguish between the two kinds should be mechanical, to limit bias—”objective,” if you will. It was Michael O’Hanlon who years ago suggested the presence-of-an-international-mandate criterion. (As mentioned, the Afghanistan war has such a mandate.) But even O’Hanlon argued for exceptions, at the time having Iraq in mind. The Security Council did not sanction the invasion of Iraq, but it did sanction post-invasion activities, so a strict implementation of the criterion would have rewarded the latter. O’Hanlon argued against rewarding the occupation of Iraq since it was so thoroughly motivated by national security rationales, not ‘commitment to development.’”

Private police
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Indonesian police have admitted to receiving money from US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan to protect the world’s most profitable gold and copper mine in the face of labour unrest.
“Accusing the workers of ‘anarchy’ and threatening a national asset, local police chief Deny Edward Siregar warned the police would take ‘stern action’ if the site of the picket line wasn’t moved by today. Union officials responded by saying they were going nowhere, setting the scene for possibly more violence.
Police spokesman Wachyono defined the foreshadowed ‘stern action’ as ‘opening further negotiations with union management’. However, five striking workers have already been shot dead by police, raising accusations of a heavy-handed and hostile attitude of security personnel towards workers exercising their legal rights to industrial action.

‘How can they enforce the law [impartially] if they receive bribes?’ said Samsul Alam Agus, [human rights group] Kontras deputy co-ordinator.”

Private soldiers
The UN News Centre reports that an expert panel is calling for the regulation of the “ever expanding” activities of private military and security companies.
“‘And it is not just governments who take advantage of their services, but also NGOs [non-governmental organizations], private companies and the United Nations,” [Faiza Patel, the current head of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries] added.
For the Working Group, ‘the potential impact of the widespread activities of private military and security companies on human rights means that they cannot be allowed to continue to operate without adequate regulation and mechanisms to ensure accountability.’”

Record deportations
The Inter Press Service reports on the increasingly hostile environment for immigrants in the US, where a million people have been deported since the start of Barack Obama’s presidency.
“The Alabama law [House Bill 56], passed by the state legislature in June 2011, is described as one of the country’s harshest anti-immigrant bills. It requires that police demand identity documents of anyone who they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the country unlawfully, and requires public schools to determine the immigration status of primary and secondary school students, while authorising school officials to report children or parents who may be in the country illegally.
It also establishes penalties, even jail time, for people who hire, rent to or even assist undocumented immigrants, by giving a ride to a neighbour, for instance.”

Toothless watchdog
The CBC reports on the record to date of Canada’s mining watchdog, a position which one critic has described as “a bogus PR job, as a cover for business as usual.”
“In October 2009, the federal government appointed a corporate social responsibility counsellor to probe complaints about Canadian companies committing abuses in developing countries.
The Toronto-based office, however, has only received two complaints in the past two years — one of which was recently dropped because the mining corporation chose not to undergo the voluntary investigation.”

Super companies
Oxfam’s Duncan Green blogs about a new scientific analysis of 43,000 transnational corporations that suggests a group of 147 interconnected companies was “able to control 40 per cent of the entire network.”
“The idea that a few bankers control a large chunk of the global economy might not seem like news to New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement and protesters elsewhere. But the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world’s transnational corporations (TNCs).”

Global tax rules
ActionAid’s Martin Hearson calls on the G20 to deal with tax havens which cost poor countries three times as much in lost tax revenues as they receive through international assistance.
“ActionAid’s report, Calling Time: Why SABMiller should stop dodging taxes in Africa, demonstrated how one multinational beer company shifts £100 million of profits per year – the taxes on which could educate 250,000 children – out of Africa and into the tax havens of Mauritius, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Capacity building in African tax authorities is important, but without more fundamental reforms to increase transparency and change global tax rules, it will never be enough to prevent this kind of tax dodging.”

Helpful aid
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has called on G20 leaders to help Africa improve its infrastructure while making it clear not all assistance is necessarily helpful.
“The pressure is on how to translate the plan into purposeful action for November and avoid the pitfalls of past efforts – including short-term thinking, destabilizing capital surges, and carbon-heavy construction. Success will be measured by the amount of capital generated, and the number of projects realized, as well as by the extent to which G20 activities complement and synergize existing efforts without supplanting or fragmenting them.”

Latest Developments, October 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Hunting W
Amnesty International is calling on Canada to arrest former US president George W. Bush when he visits the country next week.
“Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former President Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture,” according to AI’s Susan Lee.
“As the US authorities have, so far, failed to bring former President Bush to justice, the international community must step in.  A failure by Canada to take action during his visit would violate the UN Convention against Torture and demonstrate contempt for fundamental human rights.”

Enforcing neutrality
The Associated Press reports the Swiss government has proposed a new law that would impose a number of restrictions on private security companies based in the country, including preventing them from taking part in foreign conflicts.
“The bill was prompted by the decision of Aegis, one of the world’s biggest private security contractors, to set up a Swiss holding company in 2010. Such holding companies are explicitly included in the proposal, meaning Aegis would have to report its activities to Swiss authorities if the bill is passed.”

A prescription for helping Africa
The UN News Centre reports Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro believes that although aid is still important for Africa, the continent’s needs also include improved market access for its exports, affordable access to foreign technologies and “more policy space” for its countries to chart their own paths.
“‘However, what Africa needs most, is to be recognized as a new investment frontier – where the returns are among the highest in the world,’ she said, noting that the continent has some of the largest known reserves of mineral resources including diamonds and gold; growing oil potential as Ghana and Uganda join the list of exporters; and the largest amount of unexploited arable land, a strategic asset in a world where food crises are becoming recurrent.

The dangers of foreign capital
On the other hand, the UN Development Programme’s Selim Jahan argues that both rich and poor countries must do more to reduce the latter’s over-reliance on foreign capital in order to reduce their vulnerability to global economic shocks.
“For instance, countries can reduce their dependency on exports by recalibrating growth strategies away from a narrow range of exports and by boosting demand from domestic sources. The international community can help reduce the susceptibility of developing countries to volatile commodity prices with the development of new international commodity agreements or funds to compensate countries for the loss in income due to falling prices.”

A call for decency, if not fairness
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead resists the temptation to project her cause – global tax reform – onto the Occupy Wall Street protestors, arguing instead that they stand for something far more fundamental: decency.
“The Occupy Wall Street movement doesn’t have pithy slogans, quick sayings, or easy solutions because it isn’t about any one problem. It isn’t about offshore finance, or bailouts, or CEO pay, or tax evasion. All of these events are the symptoms of an underlying problem—the status quo. It is a status quo that allows 25% of the FTSE 100′s subsidiaries to lie in tax havens. The status quo that allows the same person to hold both positions of CEO and president of the board. That allows Warren Buffet to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. And that allows the average American to earn 1/10,800th of the average Forbes 400 earner.”

A very low bar
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie suggests, given “the west has systematically ruined Haiti’s chances of emerging from destitution,” it might be time for traditional donors to “humbly walk away” and see if other nations can do more good for a devastated country that is still in need of assistance.
“Not that there is any space for naivety about south-south solidarity. Big brothers such as Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela may well engage in the right kind of rhetoric, but there are internal pressures in these countries to act in their own interests rather than Haiti’s – especially on agricultural issues – just as the west has always done. After all, Brazil instigated Minustah in its attempt to look important enough for a permanent security council seat, although it quickly became a Washington-directed intervention. It is not, then, geography that matters, but politics and attitude.
Nevertheless, these countries have also suffered exploitation at various points in their history. They are therefore more likely to understand what is going on and less likely to engage in it. Will they do any better? They can hardly do any worse.”

Afghan minerals
Global Witness’s Eleanor Nichol calls for cautious planning regarding Afghanistan’s huge mineral wealth which has the potential to lift the country’s people out of poverty and end its dependence on foreign aid or could become “a fresh axis of conflict and instability.”
“This means embedding clear processes for the award of extractive concessions; requiring extractive companies to disclose revenue paid to the state on a project-by-project basis; setting up sound legal, regulatory and contractual frameworks that safeguard social, environmental and human rights; publishing beneficial ownership details of companies engaged in the sector; and ensuring Afghans are consulted on, and can monitor, mining activities.”

Paying taxes for selfish reasons
The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage argues it is actually in the best interests of transnational companies to integrate tax policy into their approach to corporate social responsibility.
“Research has shown that direct investors in low income countries tend to value political stability, the rule of law and human capital more than effective tax rates when deciding whether to invest. Sufficient, predictable tax revenue is needed to foster all of these conditions. High public investment is something companies need but some are not prepared to pay for.”

Latest Developments, September 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Aid grump
Humanosphere’s Tom Paulson offers a summary of a recent interview with New York University’s Bill Easterly whom he describes as an “aid grump.”
“The historical record is pretty clear that success in development comes from people doing development themselves. Outsiders can help in modest ways, such as in a response to a disaster. But there’s no evidence aid can become the main engine of development to transform the Third World into the First World, poverty to prosperity.”

The evolution of philanthropreneurs
Oxfam’s Duncan Green draws attention to some of the highlights – mainly to do with taxation of the extractive industries, tobacco and transportation, as well as thoughts on how to tap into migrant worker remittances and sovereign wealth funds – of a leaked preview to the report Bill Gates will present to the G20 later this year.
“Does Bill Gates’ protagonism mark a further shift of the big philanthropreneurs (and their foundations) from an insistence on sticking to the relatively straightforward world of ‘stuf’ (vaccines, infrastructure, seeds, microfinance) to the more complex business of influencing systems and policies, which are every bit as crucial to development? Hope so.”

Anti-depression
Another billionaire philanthropist, George Soros, prescribes some measures he believes Europe must undertake in order to avoid triggering “another Great Depression with incalculable political consequences.”
“Three bold steps are needed. First, the governments of the eurozone must agree in principle on a new treaty creating a common treasury for the eurozone. In the meantime, the major banks must be put under the direction of the European Central Bank in exchange for a temporary guarantee and permanent recapitalization. Third, the ECB would enable countries such as Italy and Spain temporarily to refinance their debt at a very low cost.”

Panic tax
The Institute of Development Studies’ Lawrence Haddad suggests the Financial Transactions (or Tobin or Robin Hood) Tax just proposed by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso might not be as effective a tool against market volatility as a “a Panic Tax, the Tobin Tax’s first cousin.”
“The Panic Tax…does not tax the level of financial transactions, but the speed at which they occur.
This gets at Tobin’s original concern directly and deals with the dangers introduced by High Frequency Traders.”

CSR Binarism
The Institute for Human Rights and Business’s John Morrison expresses concern, in a letter to the Financial Times, that British Labour leader Ed Miliband has too simplistic a view of companies as being either good or bad.
“Company structures are value-neutral creations; it is the actions that business takes that have positive or negative impacts. What is needed is an undertaking from current or future UK governments also to intervene when an otherwise acceptable company does a very bad thing – such as the decision by Vodafone to close its Egyptian network at the end of January this year when its customers were most at need.”

Roma evictions
Human Rights Watch has condemned what it describes as “mass evictions and expulsions of Eastern European Roma” by the French government and the apparent indifference of European authorities.
“The European Commission gave France the all-clear, but the situation for Roma in France has only grown worse,” according to Human Rights Watch researcher Judith Sunderland. “It’s vital for the commission to renew its scrutiny of these abusive practices, which breach EU and human rights law.”

Irregular arrivals
Embassy Magazine reports that with Canada’s Conservative government now holding a majority of seats in parliament, the fight against a proposed toughening of the country’s immigration laws looks set to move to the courts, spearheaded by the newly formed Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.
“The bill defines human smuggling as an offence and sets out tough penalties. But the bill also lets the immigration minister designate an ‘irregular arrival’ of a group of people to Canada, whose members may be arrested without a warrant and detained for at least a year, unless their claim has been resolved or they get special permission from the minister.
Some refugee lawyers have said this clearly violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which, in Section 7 guarantees the right not to be deprived of life, liberty and security of the person except ‘in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.’”

Dangerous schlock
Foreign Policy’s Brett Keller is not a fan of the new film Machine Gun Preacher which he describes as “Hollywood’s latest take on the ‘white man saves Africa’ theme,” possibly a pack of lies and quite probably dangerous.
“But by conflating humanitarian work with Wild West-style vigilantism, Childers makes the world more dangerous for the many aid workers risking their lives to do good in places like South Sudan. The anonymous aid worker who writes the widely read blog Tales from the Hood makes this point: ‘We [aid workers] very often go into insecure places where our presence and the associated suspicion that we may have ulterior motives puts not only us, but our local colleagues and those we’re trying to help at greater risk, too…. Every time [Childers] puts up another video of himself jumping into his white SUV with an AK47 across his lap, he increases the likelihood that I or someone I care about is going to get shot.’”

Latest Developments, September 23

In today’s latest news and analysis…

Normalizing drones
Reuters reports on the deterioration in US-Pakistan relations, with the most recent incident – chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s allegation that Pakistan’s intelligence agency is a “veritable arm” of the violent Haqqani network which operates inside Afghanistan – suggesting targeted assassinations have become less controversial than harsh words expressed publicly.
“Mahmud Durrani, a retired major general and former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, said both sides should ease tensions to avoid American military action beyond drone strikes or economic sanctions.”

Arming against democracy
Human Rights Watch has called on the US to hold off on selling $53 million in armoured vehicles and missiles to Bahrain in light of alleged abuses committed against “peaceful critics” of the regime.
“It will be hard for people to take US statements about democracy and human rights in the Middle East seriously when, rather than hold its ally Bahrain to account, it appears to reward repression with new weapons,” according to the group’s deputy Washington director, Maria McFarland.

Who you gonna believe?
In the aftermath of Oxfam allegations that a British company’s carbon offset project in Uganda had led to the forcible eviction of more than 20,000 people, the Wall Street Journal reports the New Forests Company said all relocations were “voluntary, legal and fully respected and in accord with all stringent protocols” and the World Bank said the project “had met its standards so far.”
“Matt Grainger, an Oxfam spokesman and co-author of the Uganda report, faults New Forests and its investors for not digging deeper into the project. In interviews with hundreds of former residents, he said, ‘we can’t find any evictee that doesn’t describe violence….We can’t find anybody who was compensated.’”

Diplomatic oil leak
The Courthouse News Service reports on Wikileaks cables describing efforts by Chevron to convince the Ecuadorean government to make a massive lawsuit over pollution in the Amazon rainforest go away despite the oil company’s public criticism of the country’s “politicized” courts.
“Chevron had begun to quietly explore with senior GOE officials whether it could implement a series of social projects in the concession area in exchange for GOE support for ending the case, but now that the expert has released a huge estimate for alleged damage, it might be hard for the GOE to go that route, even if it has the ability to bring the case to a close,” according to a note written by former US ambassador Linda Jewell April 7, 2008.

Putting the green in greenwash
A new Bottom Up Thinking post suggests that even if companies that donate funds to tropical conservation “are consciously attempting to atone for their ‘bad’ acts elsewhere that have harmed the cause of conservation,” pragmatic engagement may be the best approach.
“Wrapped up in all this is one of the big questions of CSR: compensatory philanthropy versus integration into core business practices. I think just about everyone agrees that it is better not to sin in the first place, than to make some later atonement, and thus conservation BINGOs need to be wary of cosying up to big polluting businesses who are fundamentally uninterested in changing their ways… But on the other side of the coin, we must be realistic: the modern world consumes an awful lot of resources (hydrocarbons, minerals, timber, food) whose production or extraction is inevitably messy. So, yes, we should constantly push polluters to improve their acts, but we should accept that some environmental damage is unavoidable, and welcome their attempts to atone for this elsewhere.”

With or without you
Embassy Magazine reports that British Prime Minister David Cameron, on a visit to Canada, suggested that an outcome of increased global trade liberalization was more important than a process of inclusive negotiation.
“And if we can’t get a deal involving everyone, then we need to look at other ways in which to drive forward with the trade liberalization the world needs, ensuring the continued work of the WTO preventing any collapse back to protectionism,” he told Parliament. “But going forwards, perhaps with a coalition of the willing where countries like Britain and Canada who want to, can forge ahead with more ambitious deals and others can join later if they choose.”

An end in itself
The Trade Justice Movement’s Ruth Bergan criticizes the G20’s development working group for prioritizing the interests of big business and seeing development as a means to increasing trade.
“While governments are allowed to continue doing business in the G20, we should expect little more than lip service to development and a shopping list of measures to benefit the vested interests of the private sector. The WTO may be in freefall, but we must be vigilant that the G20, which does not even pretend to be democratic or accountable, does not become a substitute.”

The trouble with accountability
The Institute of Development Studies’ Noshua Watson argues that because pressure from domestic voters can reduce the quality of foreign aid provided by governments in wealthy countries, official development assistance needs to be supplemented by other sources of non-state giving.
“The provision of global public goods is dependent on the willingness of the most fortunate to give to the less fortunate. Whether this aid actually contributes to development and wellbeing depends on how aligned donors’ intentions are with recipients’ needs. It also depends on recipients’ capacities to use that aid. Because they are not responsible to the voting public, philanthropies can more closely meet recipients’ needs and help them build capacity.”