Latest Developments, June 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Asymmetric agreement
Inter Press Service reports that not everyone thinks Central America has done well for itself in the recently negotiated free trade agreement with the European Union:

“ ‘Central America obtained meagre access quotas for agricultural products such as sugar, textiles, beef and rice,’ whereas the EU ‘gained full opening of Central American markets for a wide range of key agricultural and industrial goods, such as dairy products, vehicles, medicines and machinery,’ [the Mesoamerican Initiative on Trade, Integration and Sustainable Development (CID)] says in a communiqué.
Moreover, on intellectual property, CID questions the major concessions granted to the EU in terms of protected geographical designations, patents and copyright: in the area of services, the bloc was granted complete access in the fields of finance, transport and energy, among others.
Meanwhile, ‘Central America has yielded ground in terms of workers’ rights and environmental protection compared with other treaties,’ since ‘the agreement with the EU does not provide for penalties for those who infringe these rights for the sake of commercial interests,’ says CID.”

Genetically modified lawsuit
Agence France-Presse reports on the suit brought by 5 million Brazilian farmers against US agribusiness giant Monsanto over crop royalties:

“ ‘Monsanto gets paid when it sell the seeds. The law gives producers the right to multiply the seeds they buy and nowhere in the world is there a requirement to pay (again). Producers are in effect paying a private tax on production,’ said lawyer Jane Berwanger.
In April, a judge in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, Giovanni Conti, ruled in favor of the producers and ordered Monsanto to return royalties paid since 2004 or a minimum of $2 billion.
Monsanto appealed and a federal court is to rule on the case by 2014.
In the meantime, the US company said it was still being paid crop royalties.”

Democracy, Walmart-style
The Associated Press reports that despite allegations of bribery in Mexico and “unprecedented dissent against key executives,” all of Walmart’s board members were re-elected:

“With descendants of Walmart’s founder owning about 50 percent of Walmart’s shares, activist shareholders had little chance of voting out the board members. But the numbers, particularly when excluding the Walton family and other insiders, show a more staggering loss of confidence.

The vote came after a story by The New York Times published in April said the world’s largest retailer allegedly failed to notify law enforcement after finding evidence that officials authorized millions of dollars in bribes in Mexico to get speedier building permits and other favors. [CEO Mike] Duke was head of Walmart’s international business at the time of the probe in 2005, and [Lee] Scott was CEO. It’s not clear what board members like Walton knew.”

Drone warning
The Guardian reports that a former top CIA official has warned that America’s  indiscriminate drone policy is dangerous to the US as well as innocent bystanders:

“ ‘We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield. We are already there with regards to Pakistan and Afghanistan,’ [Robert Grenier, who headed the CIA’s counter-terrorism center from 2004 to 2006] said.

‘I am very concerned about the creation of a larger terrorist safe haven in Yemen,’ Grenier said.”

War on Mexicans
SF Weekly’s Michael Lacey writes about the potential consequences of the US Supreme Court’s expected ruling in favour of Arizona’s controversial Senate Bill 1070, which “forces all police officers to ascertain immigration status whenever a cop interacts with a brown person”:

“Like the pre-Civil War era of free and slave states, America is about to divide along color lines.
Six states already have a version of Arizona’s bill and are awaiting the ruling for implementation. In all, 16 states filed amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to support S.B. 1070.
Where once we depended upon the federal government to protect minorities from firehoses and segregated schoolhouses named Booker T. Washington or George Washington Carver, this month the Supreme Court is poised to tell us how far local cops can go to detain brown people.”

Transparent motives
Swiss National Councillor Isabelle Chevalley asks why Australian mining companies go to Africa when their continent still has large uranium reserves:

“The director of Australian mining company Paladin Energy answered, saying: ‘Australians and Canadians have become too aware of uranium mining’s problems. Now we have to go to Africa.’ At least the answer is clear.
Let’s open our eyes and demand transparency on the origin of the uranium we use in our power plants!” (Translated from the French.)

A little respect
Kwani? founding editor Binyavanga Wainaina takes issue with the West’s continued condescension towards Africa:

“If your spouse has arrived in Kenya and does not have a job, soon he or she will be fully networked and earning lots of pounds/euros/dollars, making sure the babies of Africa are safe, making sure the animals of Africa are kept safely away from Africans, making sure the African woman is kept well-shielded from the African man, making sure the genitals of Africa are swabbed, rubbered and raised into a place called awareness. Because you are a good person, who believes in multiculturalism, and that politicians are evil.”

CSR substance and spin
Oxfam’s Erinch Sahan writes on the difficulty of separating fact from fiction when virtually every large company claims to treat corporate social responsibility as a “core” concern:

“Frustrated that I can’t get beyond the online PR spin, I’ve taken to asking them questions like ‘when push-comes-to-shove, and it’s costly to be responsible, who wins the fight, your buying manager or your corporate responsibility team?’ The answer, unfortunately, is almost always ‘buying’.

The side of the business that is concerned with product quality is usually the first side to buy into the business case to act responsibly. This is because long-term supplier relationships are good for quality and usually good for development. But the performance of the buyers, who hold real sway in these companies, is measured on profit margin, so they need to get the lowest price and usually drive who the company does business with.”