Latest Developments, October 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Financial dependency
Business Day reports that new African Union head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is unhappy with the extent to which her organization depends on funding from outside the continent:

“ ‘No liberated mind can think their development agenda can be funded by donors,’ Ms Dlamini-Zuma told a Business Unity South Africa banquet in her honour at the weekend in Johannesburg.
‘Over 97% of programmes in the AU are funded by donors.

She said donors were even footing the bill for African institutions to develop the continent’s strategic agenda, a fundamental task in what has been dubbed the African century.”

Conditional rights
The Guardian reports that a pair of high-profile UN figures are calling for a crackdown on out-of-control land grabbing in Africa:

“Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, acknowledges the importance of the [committee on world food security] voluntary guidelines, but points out the lack of an effective enforcement mechanism. He argues that governments in sub-Saharan Africa or south-east Asia with poor governance, or tainted by corruption, will continue to seek to attract investors at all costs.
‘The international community should accept it has a role in monitoring whether the rights of land users, as stipulated in the guidelines, are effectively respected,’ De Schutter told the Guardian. ‘Since there is no “sheriff” at global level to achieve this, at the very least, the home states of investors should exercise due diligence in ensuring that private investors over which they can exercise control fully respect the rights of land users. Export credit agencies, for example, should make their support conditional upon full compliance with the guidelines, and in the future, the rights of investors under investment treaties should be made conditional upon the investors acting in accordance with the guidelines.’ ”

Big changes
Reuters reports that the Kenyan government plans to show some flexibility in implementing its new mining law:

“ ‘For those who have been licensed, we have asked them to provide clear proposals on how they want to implement this, taking into consideration commitments they have and we will consider that,’ Mohammed said in a interview.
‘But for those who have not been licensed, it will be immediate. We will not be issuing any new mining licences without the ownership of 35 percent by local citizens.’

The new requirement of 35 percent local equity follows a new tax of 10-20 percent targeting sales of property or shares in oil, mining and mineral prospecting firms, introduced recently to help plug a growing funding gap.”

GM crops on trial
The Times of India reports that the country’s highest court will not consider a proposed 10-year ban on field trials of genetically modified crops before hearing from stakeholders, such as a group of biotech companies whose members include agribusiness giant Monsanto:

“The five-member [court-constituted Technical Expert Committee] was unanimous in recommending suspension of field trials for 10 years, a period which it said should be used to put in place additional safeguards. It recommended identification of specific sites for field trials, setting up of an independent scientific panel to evaluate bio-safety data, recognition of conflict of interest in regulatory body and requirement of preliminary bio-safety tests prior to such trials.”

Blind sanctions
The University of Southern California’s Muhammad Sahimi and
 Al-Monitor’s Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi argue that the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the West are not “smart” and “targeted” as initially promised:

“The world was promised that the sanctions will not hurt millions of ordinary Iranians who go about their daily lives and, in fact, oppose many of their government’s policies.
But, the sanctions are now in full force, and are hurting the same people who we were told were not meant to be their target, in what is yet another case of ‘collateral damage’ inflicted by Western policy towards Iran, and its disenfranchised people who have lost control over their destiny at both home and abroad. In fact, there are very strong indications that a human catastrophe could emerge whose scale poses as much a threat as an outright military attack.”

Not lovin’ it
Yale University graduate student Justin Scott takes issue with Black365, a new McDonald’s website aimed at African-Americans, in which the fast-food giant compares itself to the iconic baobab tree:

“Aside from issues of health, hegemony, and markets, what we have here is McDonald’s, a Western behemoth pushing a product that could not be even remotely considered African, using an African symbol to appeal to a population of African origin, in order to make itself look like something it isn’t. And it’s a shame that this tactic hasn’t been attacked more widely.”

Opposing views
Reuters reports that the Tanzanian government and foreign mining companies have very different ideas on how the country can enjoy more benefits from its mineral wealth:

“East Africa’s second biggest economy argues it is not seeing the fruits of soaring commodity prices, in particular gold. It plans to increase the mining sector’s contribution to the economy to 10 percent of GDP by 2025 from 3.3 percent last year.
But the miners say hiking taxes and increasing royalties is the wrong approach. They say Tanzania should focus on attracting more investors and issuing additional mining licenses.”

Ruinous rankings
The Guardian reports that the World Bank’s latest Ease of Doing Business Index is once again coming under fire for promoting “a neo-liberal agenda of privatisations, welfare cuts, limited employment rights and low wages to please and entice foreign multinationals”:

“Bin Han, one of China’s senior representatives at the World Bank, says the rankings are fundamentally flawed.
‘The Chinese conclusion is straightforward: the report has used a wrong methodology, failed to reflect facts in individual countries, and misled readers. The questionable quality of the report has ruined the Bank’s reputation,’ he said at the debate.
The new boss at the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, has pledged to review the rankings.”

Latest Developments, October 4

In the latest news and analysis…

Land grab complicity
A new Oxfam report criticizes the World Bank for contributing to the growing problem of land grabs in poor countries:

“The World Bank is in a unique position as both an investor in land and an adviser to developing countries. The Bank’s investments in agriculture have increased by 200 per cent in the last 10 years, while its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, sets standards followed by many investors. The Bank’s own research reveals that countries with the most large scale land deals are those with the poorest protection of people’s land rights. And since 2008, 21 formal complaints have been brought by communities affected by Bank projects that they say have violated their land rights.”

Defence corruption
A new Transparency International report gives 37% of the world’s biggest defence companies an “F” and only 1% an “A” on its anti-corruption test:

“The study, which grades companies from A to F, measures defence companies worth more than USD 10 trillion, with a combined defence revenue of over USD 500 billion. Transparency International estimates the global cost of corruption in the defence sector to be a minimum of USD 20 billion per year, based on data from the World Bank and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). This equates to the total sum pledged by the G8 in L’Aquila in 2009 to fight world hunger.”

Optional accountability
iPolitics reports that an office established by the Canadian government to mediate disputes between the country’s extractive industry and communities overseas has once again had to drop a case due to a mining company’s refusal to play along:

“The Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, created in 2009 following widespread allegations of human rights abuses and environmental degradation by the industry around the world, received a complaint from two Argentine environmental groups in July over the impacts of McEwen Mining’s Los Azules copper exploration site on glaciers in the Andes.
But the office, which has dropped two previous cases brought on by civil society groups in Mexico and Mauritania and can only work with companies who agree to co-operate, has been informed by McEwen that the company won’t be participating in the mediation process, said Nils Engelstad, vice-president for corporate affairs.”

Herbicide boom
Mother Jones reports that contrary to biotech company claims, genetically modified crops actually seem to require larger amounts of herbicides than non-GMO strains:

“For several years, the Roundup Ready trait actually did meet Monsanto’s promise of decreasing overall herbicide use—herbicide use dropped by about 2 percent between 1996 and 1999, [Washington State University’s Chuck] Benbrook told me in an interview. But then weeds started to develop resistance to Roundup, pushing farmers to apply higher per-acre rates. In 2002, farmers using Roundup Ready soybeans jacked up their Roundup application rates by 21 percent, triggering a 19 million pound overall increase in Roundup use.
Since then, an herbicide gusher has been uncorked. By 2011, farms using Roundup Ready seeds were using 24 percent more herbicide than non-GMO farms planting the same crops, Benbrook told me. What happened? By that time, ‘in all three crops [corn, soy, and cotton], resistant weeds had fully kicked in,’ Benbrook said, and farmers were responding both by ramping up use of Roundup and resorting to older, more toxic herbicides like 2,4-D.”

Questionable investments
The Bretton Woods Project writes that the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private sector arm, is coming under fire for funding mines at the centre of controversies in South Africa, Peru and elsewhere:

“Indiana University-based researcher Alex Lichtenstein commented: ‘In retrospect, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that Lonmin secured a major infusion of capital from the IFC five years ago by pimping its vastly overstated claim to corporate social responsibility. Indeed, the poverty of North West Province, historically abetted by a system of apartheid designed to insure cheap mine labor, by 2007 represented another investment opportunity for the nimble forces of global capital that had impoverished the region in the first place.’

Alhassan Atta-Quayson of Ghana-based NGO Third World Network Africa, said: ‘The African mines supported by the IFC, from Guinea to South Africa, show the IFC’s complicity in the sub-optimal exploitation of Africa’s natural resources and the escalation of conflicts. The least we expect from the IFC is a return to the recommendations of the Extractive Industries Review and the divestment from these projects.’ ”

Investors for rights
A group of investors collectively worth over half a trillion dollars has issued a statement supporting “international legal frameworks, including the U.S. Alien Tort Statute (ATS), to protect human rights”:

The ATS is an important tool in encouraging standardized expectations for corporate behavior related to human rights. As Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz puts it, ‘ATS liability might be bad for bad businesses, but it is good for good businesses.’ For good companies, the ATS not only reduces the ability of competitors to gain advantage by ignoring human rights – it also gives them a mechanism to stand up to oppressive governments. They can point to the ATS as the reason why they are unable to participate in projects suspected to hold human rights liabilities.

Kiobel concerns
The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable’s Amol Mehra and Katie Shay write that a US Supreme Court case pitting Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Shell highlights the “alarming disconnect between corporate social responsibility practices and actual corporate behavior”:

“If Shell’s arguments win, the Supreme Court will effectively cut off what is often the best available remedy for victims of corporate-related human rights abuses. Outside of the allegations in the case, what the posturing by Shell highlights is the alarming disconnect between corporate social responsibility practices and actual corporate behavior, including the choice of litigation strategy and legal positions. How can a company that purportedly has a commitment to CSR seek to gut a law that brings human rights victims a remedy for harm?

For CSR to truly mean anything, it must include clear commitments to respect human rights. The choice of litigation strategy and legal positions feeds directly into this responsibility, especially when a company is seeking to do more than defend itself from allegations of wrongdoing.”