Latest Developments, October 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Prison torture
The Guardian reports on allegations of forced drug injection and electroshocking at a South African jail run by British security firm G4S:

“Prisoners, warders and health care workers said that involuntary medication was regularly practised at the Mangaung Correctional Centre near Bloemfontein. G4S denies any acts of assault or torture.

[A former G4S employee] admitted using an electric shield on inmates to make them talk. ‘Yeah, we stripped them naked and we throw with water so the electricity can work nicely … Again and again. Up until he tell you what you want to hear, even if he will lie, but if he can tells you what I want to hear. He can tell the truth but if that’s not the truth that I want, I will shock him until he tells the truth that I want even if it’s a lie.’ ”

Money to go
Haaretz reports that the Israeli government plans to “more than triple” the money if offers African migrants to leave the country and promise never to return:

“Over the past few months, hundreds of migrants, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, have accepted the previous offer [of $1,5000], which also included a free plane ticket.
Ever since mid-September, when the High Court of Justice overturned a law that allowed illegal migrants to be jailed for up to three years, the state has been scrambling to find a new solution to the migrant problem.

Aside from the grants, the interior and justice ministries are also discussing other measures to deal with the migrant problem. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has given approval in principle to establishing an open detention center for illegal migrants and enacting new legislation that would allow them to be jailed for 18 months instead of three years.”

Held without charge
Agence France-Presse reports that the International Criminal Court has ruled that ex-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo must remain in detention even though he still has not been formally charged with crimes against humanity:

“The ICC has yet to confirm the charges against Gbagbo for his role in the bloody election standoff nearly three years ago.
Judges said in June that they needed more evidence before charging the former Ivory Coast strongman, who has been held by the ICC for almost two years.”

Sustainable listings
The Guardian’s Jo Confino wants the world’s stock exchanges to demand companies divulge “basic data” about the social and environmental impacts of their business:

“A new study benchmarking sustainability disclosures on the world’s stock exchanges points to a worrying levelling off in the number of companies that are reporting on six basic ‘first generation’ metrics; employee turnover, energy, greenhouse gases (GHGs), lost-time injury rate, payroll, waste and water.

It also does not take a great deal of intelligence to see that regulators need to get their acts together if we are to significantly change the current situation in which only 3% of the 3,972 world’s largest listed companies and 0.04% of the world’s small listed companies (20 out of 56,710) offer their stakeholders complete first generation sustainability reporting.”

Domestic rights
Inter Press Service reports that domestic workers from around the world have gathered in Uruguay to “speak for ourselves”:

“ ‘For many years only non-governmental organisations spoke for us, through studies and research…but we domestic employees and our unions have done the day-to-day hard slogging,’ said [Ernestina] Ochoa, vice president of the International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN), which changed its name to Federation at the congress.
‘Now we have said “enough’s enough”, let’s found a large federation that unites us, let’s work together to organise ourselves, defend our rights, create unions, improve the laws and help countries where there are no laws, empower domestic workers, train leaders and have a voice vis-à-vis governments and employers,’ she said in an interview with IPS.

The basic rights established by the [International Labour Organisation Convention No.189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (C189)] include weekly days off, limits to hours of work, a minimum wage, overtime compensation, and social security.
So far, C189 has been ratified by Bolivia, Germany, Guyana, Italy, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa and Uruguay.”

Treating symptoms
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Matt Wade writes that current efforts to control migration tend to ignore “the global economic forces that drive the mass movement of people”:

“The global income gap has become common knowledge among the world’s 7 billion people and that has fuelled the motivation for migration. Surveys have found that more than 40 per cent of adults in the poorest quarter of the world’s countries would like to move permanently to another country if they had the opportunity. Hundreds of millions of people see migration as their only hope of improving their economic standing.
Economists call this a ‘disequilibrium phase’ – a huge mismatch between supply and demand. Because migration is one of the only mechanisms to fix this disequilibrium, migration pressures will exist until the income gap between countries becomes much smaller.”

Avoidance mechanisms
The World Bank’s Otaviano Canuto writes that Switzerland’s financial industry may bear substantial responsibility for depriving poor countries of the “means to finance development”:

“Switzerland, whose financial sector manages $2.2 trillion of offshore assets according to Boston Consulting Group, happens to be one of the main global transaction hubs for the oil, gas and mining sector, which in many developing countries dominates production and exports. Companies in this sector, it has been claimed, frequently dodge billions of dollars in taxes payable to developing countries by shifting profits to low-tax jurisdictions.

In many developing countries, these practices take place in a tax environment that is already heavily tilted towards the private sector, particularly in the form of large tax incentives for oil and mining multinationals.”

US inequality
CNN’s John Sutter writes on the correlation between income inequality and a range of social and health problems:

“When the researchers plotted income inequality against an index of social problems that included infant mortality, mental health and others, they got the chart below, which shows that more unequal places tend to have more of these issues. The United States, the most unequal of the developed countries, for example, also has the world’s highest incarceration rate and a higher infant mortality rate than comparable nations. Sweden, meanwhile, has a low level of income inequality and fares much better on these social measures.
When the researchers plotted the same data according to average income, the correlation dissolved — the poorer societies were not more likely to suffer the social ills.”

Latest Developments, May 3

In the latest news and analysis…

Toothless embargoes
Oxfam has released a new report that shows countries under arms embargoes have imported over $2.2 billion in weapons and ammunition since 2000.
“This figure shows the extent to which states have been flagrantly flouting the 26 UN, regional or multilateral arms embargoes in force during this period. Oxfam is calling on the international community to put an end to decades of irresponsible arms deals which devastate people’s lives by agreeing a set of legally binding laws when diplomats meet to draw up a new Arms Trade Treaty in July 2012. Oxfam wants to see the new treaty place strict, unambiguous and legal obligations on states to control the global trade in arms.”

Protecting domestic workers
Human Rights Watch commends Uruguay for becoming the first country to ratify the international Domestic Workers Convention.
“The treaty, which extends core labor rights to an estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workers, will come into legal force when it is ratified by two countries.

The convention requires governments to provide domestic workers with labor protections equivalent to those of other workers, including for working hours, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation, daily and weekly rest periods, social security, and maternity protection. It also includes specific protections for children, requiring governments to establish a minimum age for domestic work and ensuring that domestic work by children above that age does not interfere with their education.”

$300M allegation
CBC reports that a former executive with Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin has been accused of using shell companies to pay the Gadhafi family more than $300 million.
“CBC has no proof of the substance of the allegations contained in the “poison pen” email, nor any evidence it relates in any way to the allegations [Riadh] Ben Aissa now faces in Switzerland.
Ben Aissa is also the executive who hired Cyndy Vanier, the Canadian consultant who is sitting in a Mexican jail. She is accused of plotting to smuggle Saadi Gadhafi — who had a long history of directing billions of dollars in construction projects to Ben Aissa – out of Libya last fall.

What is clear is that that the December email — amid media reports of Vanier’s arrest — sparked a cascade of internal company audits, revelations of missing millions and three high-profile resignations within the company, including that of Ben Aissa prior to his arrest.”

Military pact
Inter Press Service reports on opposition to a new agreement between the US and the Philippines on increased military cooperation.
“ ‘It is terribly discouraging that the Philippine government cannot figure out a truly healthy relationship with the U.S. – that is, a relationship that allows the Philippines to forge meaningful relationships with America as well as with its neighbours, including China,’ Gina Apostol, the author of a novel on the Philippine elite’s relationship with the U.S. military, told IPS.
‘We are too stuck on our historical relationship with America, even though it has been patently disgraceful and traumatic.’ ”

NGO accountability
The Center for Global Development’s Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz discuss the recently published independent assessment of the US government’s response to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.
“The report makes passing references to the lack of beneficiary and local involvement, the large number of NGOs operating in the country, and the fact that many organizations came to Haiti with no previous experience in disaster management.  Yet it states that “due to time and resource constraints, we were unable to explore these topics in great detail.”  Also, the report says that “no clear baseline or reporting mechanism was established” for NGOs receiving USAID funding.  These are big issues for the USG – especially if NGOs and private contractors continue to be the main channels through which the money is being disbursed.  The USG must look at various options to increase accountability—from easily-accessible quarterly reports to the standard accounting framework offered by the International Aid Transparency Initiative.”

Cluster bomb bill
Earl Turcotte, who led the Canadian delegation during the negotiation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, says his country’s proposed legislation concerning the banned weapons is “the worst of any country” that has ratified the treaty.
“The Harper government is seeking exceptions that, among other things, will allow a Canadian commander of a multinational force to authorize or order forces outside the convention to use, acquire, possess, import or export cluster munitions.
As well, Canadian pilots or artillery personnel can use, acquire, possess or move cluster munitions while on secondment or attachment to outside states. Canadian Forces can also transport non-party state cluster munitions on Canadian carriers.
The legislation further proposes blanket exceptions that permit Canadian Forces to, in their words, ‘aid, abet, conspire, counsel and assist non-party State forces’ to carry out or escape from acts prohibited to convention states.”

Gods & consumers
Author Homero Aridjis writes that he was not surprised to hear that Wal-Mart was accused of paying $24 million worth of bribes in Mexico, given the histories of the company and his country.
“Walmart already had a history of controversial behavior in Mexico. Most notably, in November 2004, despite widespread opposition, the company opened a 72,000-square-foot store within the boundaries of the 2,000-year-old city of Teotihuacán, which features the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon (“the place where men became gods” — or consumers?). Walmart has also built a supermarket on forested land in the resort town of Playa del Carmen, in Quintana Roo — though the permit for the building later turned out to have been granted for another site, on the island of Cozumel. The question now is who allows this, and in exchange for what?”

Legal hype
The University of Virginia’s Brandon Garrett argues that the growing number of companies being prosecuted under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act does not necessarily mean that corporate accountability is thriving in America.
“Most of these FCPA cases are self-reported by the corporation itself — not uncovered by intrepid police-work. They should not make us think prosecutors now have enough resources to take on major corporations. After all, corporations routinely spend hundreds of millions of dollars on FCPA investigations and defense costs; prosecutors can hardly command such resources. Foreign corporations now pay the largest FCPA fines, and my data from the past decade shows that foreign corporations pay larger fines across a whole range of crimes.”