Latest Developments, June 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Uranium politics
La Tribune reports that France’s new socialist president, François Hollande, has said he wants to see uranium production stepped up in Niger, where French state-owned company Areva is trying to get its new Imouraren mega-project up and running:

“In making this statement, François Hollande is following in the footsteps of his predecessors who supported the efforts of Areva to ensure the supply of uranium to France. A difficult task. Tensions are recurring with Niamey, which has been trying for years to get a bigger share of mining revenues. In 2007-2008, during the renegotiation of mining terms, Niger accused Areva of supporting the country’s Tuareg rebellion and expelled the local director. In trying to break Areva’s monopoly, Niamey has granted more than a hundred exploration licenses since 2006 to Chinese, Canadian, Indian, South African and Anglo-Australian companies.

In April, Nigerien staff at the Imouraren site undertook a seven-day warning strike to protest labour conditions, saying they were working 12 hours a day. Areva countered that this sort of disruption would make it difficult to begin production as anticipated in 2014.” (Translated from the French.)

Water grabbing
A new report by GRAIN warns that the “current scramble for land in Africa” has important implications for access to the continent’s water sources:

“Those who have been buying up vast stretches of farmland in recent years, whether they are based in Addis Ababa, Dubai or London, understand that the access to water they gain, often included for free and without restriction, may well be worth more over the long-term, than the land deals themselves.

‘The value is not in the land,’ says Neil Crowder of UK-based Chayton Capital which has been acquiring farmland in Zambia. ‘The real value is in water.’
And companies like Chayton Capital think that Africa is the best place to find that water. The message repeated at farmland investor conferences around the globe is that water is abundant in Africa. It is said that Africa’s water resources are vastly under utilised, and ready to be harnessed for export oriented agriculture projects.
The reality is that a third of Africans already live in water-scarce environments and climate change is likely to increase these numbers significantly. Massive land deals could rob millions of people of their access to water and risk the depletion of the continent’s most precious fresh water sources.”

US soldiers in Africa
The Army Times reports that at least 3,000 American soldiers will do tours of duty in Africa next year as part of the US military’s “new readiness model”:

“Africa, in particular, has emerged as a greater priority for the U.S. government because terrorist groups there have become an increasing threat to U.S. and regional security.
Though U.S. soldiers have operated in Africa for decades, including more than 1,200 soldiers currently stationed at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, the region in many ways remains the Army’s last frontier.”

Corruption cover-up
The Sydney Morning Herald reports on a scandal that has engulfed Australia’s central bank as a result of bribery allegations involving some of its subsidiaries:

“[Note Printing Australia], which is fully owned and supervised by the Reserve Bank, and Securency, half-owned by the RBA, were also charged with allegedly bribing officials in Vietnam, Malaysia, Nepal and Indonesia in order to secure banknote supply contracts.
The companies make and print Australia’s banknotes and export them to more than 30 countries.
The scandal has embroiled the leadership of the RBA, with senior central bank officials receiving explicit evidence of bribery back in 2007 but choosing to handle the matter internally rather than go to police.”

Digging a deeper hole
Reuters reports that Indian authorities are investigating whether a Swiss-based arms company tried to avoid being blacklisted for corruption by attempting to bribe government officials:

“An Indian businessman was charged on Saturday with attempting to bribe government officials in connection with allegations that Swiss-based Rheinmetall Air Defence AG paid him $530,000 to use his influence to stop the company from being blacklisted.

India’s Defence Ministry has put in place strict guidelines for arms deals in an effort to crack down on bribery and corruption at a time when Asia’s third-largest economy is on a weapons-buying spree to modernise its military. India is the world’s largest arms buyer.”

Valuing nature
The UN Environment Program’s Achim Steiner writes that a so-called green economy will require changes to “our current economic thinking at a systemic level”:

“Why, for example, does the world pursue a paradigm of economic growth that rests upon eroding the very basis of earth’s life-support systems? Can wealth be redefined and reframed to include access to basic goods and services, including those provided by nature free of cost, such as clean air, a stable climate, and fresh water? Is it not time to give human development, environmental sustainability, and social equity an equal footing with GDP growth?”

Myth of apolitical human rights
STAND’s Sean Langberg blogs about the global human rights movement’s “four dominant schools of thought” as identified by the University of Buffalo’s Makau Mutua who puts certain multilateral institutions in the same category as a former Congolese dictator:

Political Strategists or Instrumentalists are primarily individuals within government or institutions that exist to serve the interests of a state. Mutua takes exceptional issue with these advocates and believes they only employ a human rights narrative when it serves to better their cause. He cites Mobutu Sese Seko, NATO, and the World Bank as individuals or institutions that profess(ed) an allegiance to civil rights, but do/did so in rhetoric only. Mutua believes that instances of this disconnect are becoming more common as human rights movement continues to be ‘apolitical’ and ‘universal.’ ”

Victors’ justice
Trinity College’s Vijay Prashad criticizes NATO’s lack of transparency regarding its military campaign in Libya last year:

“The scandal here is that NATO, a military alliance, refuses any civilian oversight of its actions. It operated under a U.N. mandate and yet refuses to allow a U.N. evaluation of its actions. NATO, in other words, operates as a rogue military entity, outside the bounds of the prejudices of democratic society. The various human rights reports simply underlie the necessity of a formal and independent evaluation of NATO’s actions in Libya.”

Latest Developments, May 25

In the latest news and analysis…

Global leadership failure
Amnesty International has released its 50th annual global human rights report, in which it describes the UN Security Council as “tired, out of step and increasingly unfit for purpose.”
“ ‘Failed leadership has gone global in the last year, with politicians responding to protests with brutality or indifference. Governments must show legitimate leadership and reject injustice by protecting the powerless and restraining the powerful. It is time to put people before corporations and rights before profits,’ said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International Secretary General.

‘The language of human rights is adopted when it serves political or corporate agendas, and shelved
 when inconvenient or standing in the way of profit.’

The UN meeting to agree an Arms Trade Treaty in July will be an acid test for politicians to place rights over self-interest and profit. Without a strong treaty, the UN Security Council’s guardianship of global peace and security seems doomed to failure; its permanent members wielding an absolute veto on any resolution despite being the world’s largest arms suppliers. ”

Indifference in the time of cholera
The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that the rainy season is causing an intensification of Haiti’s cholera crisis, whose origins lie in UN peacekeepers’ sewage discharge into a source of drinking water.
“The cholera death toll is up to 7,155, with 543,042 infections over 586 days (and no UN apology so far), according to a new ‘cholera counter’ created by advocacy group Just Foreign Policy.

But so far, even this new danger [of an evolving second strain] doesn’t seem to be enough to make fighting cholera in Haiti a cause célèbre. Maybe a viral ‘Kolera 2012’ campaign would do the trick?”

FCPA questions
The Huffington Post reports that two American congressmen are looking into the motives behind the US Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to water down a 35-year-old piece of anti-corruption legislation.
“In a letter to the Chamber released Tuesday, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — the ranking Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, respectively — describe how committee staff looked through the institute’s tax filings and found that 14 of the group’s 55 board members between 2007 and 2010 ‘were affiliated with companies that were reportedly under investigation for violations or had settled allegations that they violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.’

In their letter, the congressmen request information from the Institute for Legal Reform, including any documentation of board discussions about FCPA and ‘documents relating to companies that have provided funds to the Chamber or the ILR for work related specifically to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.’ ”

Bribery rising
The Wall Street Journal reports on a new survey that suggests business executives worldwide are increasingly willing to engage in unethical practices.
“Of the more than 1,700 executives polled by Ernst & Young for its annual fraud survey, 15% said they were prepared to make cash payments to win business, up from 9% in the previous survey.

The study found that 47% of the 400 chief financial officers surveyed felt they could justify potentially unethical practices to help business survive during an economic downturn. Those practices included giving cash payments, using entertainment and giving personal gifts to win business. And, 16% of CFO respondents said they did not know that their company can be held liable for the actions of third-party agents.”

Ending slave labour
The Associated Press reports that Brazilian lawmakers have approved a constitutional amendment that will mean those “who force people into slave-like working conditions” will face harsher punishments.
“The amendment allows the government to confiscate without compensation all the property of anyone found to be using slave labor, which is most common on remote farms but also occurs in urban sweatshops in places like Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city.”

Land fever
Reuters AlertNet reports on the growing enthusiasm among foreign-owned companies for setting up industrial palm plantations on Cameroonian land.
“Six foreign-owned companies are currently trying to secure over 1 million hectares (about 2.5 million acres) of land for the production of palm oil in the country’s forested southern zone, according to a coalition of environmental organisations.

In a recent letter addressed to Cameroon’s Prime Minister Philemon Yang, the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations in Cameroon called on the government to reject the projects, which they argue will destroy a critical forested zone linking five national parks and protected areas.
‘In addition to the direct destruction of flora and fauna, these projects will bring hunger and frustration to the local population,’ the coalition argued.”

Stock exchange accountability
British MP Lisa Nandy has explained in parliament a proposed legal amendment that would require UK companies to report on the human rights and sustainable development impacts of their business.
“As some Members may be aware, the [London Stock Exchange] is currently host to a number of companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights, particularly in countries that are in conflict or deemed high risk, yet very few companies have been held properly to account for such actions.

Our amendment would clarify rather than rethink the purpose of the stock exchange, allowing the [Financial Conduct Authority] to take into account an applicant’s respect for human rights and sustainable development, in protecting the integrity and respectability of the exchange. That has been done elsewhere, such as in Hong Kong, and Istanbul, Brazil, Indonesia, Shanghai, Egypt, Korea and South Africa have all taken steps in that direction.”

Defining green
The World Development Movement asks a fundamental question in the lead-up to the Rio+20 Summit: what exactly does the oft-used term “green economy” actually mean?
“However, industrialised countries like the UK, alongside banks and multinational companies, are using the phrase ‘green economy’ as a smokescreen to hide their plan to further privatise the global commons and create new markets in the functions nature provides for free.
Out of this Trojan horse will spring new market-based mechanisms that will allow the financial sector to gain more control of the management of the global commons.
Instead of contributing to sustainable development and economic justice, this corporate green economy would lead to the privatisation of land and nature by multinational companies, taking control of these resources further away from the communities which depend on them.”

Latest Developments, January 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Violent hemisphere
The Washington Post reports on a new study suggesting 45 of the world’s 50 most violent cities are located in the Western Hemisphere, many of them caught up in the tension between an insatiable American market and prohibition policies.
“[Honduras’s] San Pedro Sulla tallied 159 homicides per 100,000 residents last year, followed by [Mexico’s] Ciudad Juarez, with 148 killings per 100,000. Both cities are major operational and strategic distribution points along the billion-dollar drug pipeline that funnels narcotics to consumers in the United States.”

Apple opens up
Reuters reports Apple has made public its “closely guarded” list of global suppliers in the face of criticism over perceived indifference to worker abuses.
“The audit conducted by Apple of suppliers found a number of violations, among them breaches in pay, benefits and environmental practices in plants in China, which figured prominently throughout the 500-page report Apple issued.
Other violations unearthed included dumping wastewater onto a neighboring farm, using machines without safeguards, testing workers for pregnancy and falsifying pay records.”

German banks vs. financial transaction tax
Bloomberg reports that Germany’s banks have expressed their opposition to a tax on financial transactions in the euro zone.
“ ‘If a financial-transaction tax cannot be introduced internationally, you have to do without it,’ Hans Reckers, managing director of Germany’s VOeB association of public banks, said in an e-mailed statement today. ‘We firmly oppose the creation of tax haven in the EU.’

The European Commission in September suggested a tax of 0.1 percent on equity and bond transactions and 0.01 percent on derivatives, which it said could raise 55 billion euros ($70 billion) a year. European Union finance ministers are due to discuss the levy in March.”

Diminishing solidarity
Le Monde reports on the contentious debate over whether a financial transaction tax, if one is ever adopted, would have much in common with Robin Hood.
“The NGO Oxfam worries about the change in [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy’s position, noting that he had said at the G20 summit in early November ‘a significant portion, the majority or the totality of the revenue must go to development.’ But he has since changed his mind, according to Oxfam’s Luc Lamprière: ‘His reference to the European Commission directive is a bad sign since it calls for the tax to ‘progressively replace national contributions to the EU budget,’ leaving the idea of financing development and the fight against climate change as a mere footnote.’ ” (Translated from the French)

Rio+20 agenda
The International Institute for Environment and Development’s Emily Benson grades the just-released draft agenda for the Rio+20 summit, finding it stronger on sentiment than specifics.
“Mention is made to ‘innovative instruments of finance’ for building green economies and reference is made to public procurement, fiscal reform, the removal of subsidies that undermine sustainable development, all of which the [Green Economy] Coalition has been promoting. It calls for International Financial Institutions to ‘review their programmatic strategies to ensure the provision of better support to developing countries for the implementation of sustainable development’. This is all encouraging stuff. However, the text steps rather delicately around the question not only of how much the transition is going to cost, but how we are going to leverage additional funds. From our past experience of Rio 1992 we know that governments alone will not be able to pay for the transition so we need to think a lot more creatively about how to leverage additional finance. So, the question we would like to see tackled in the next draft is:  How are we going to kick-start the finance of a green and fair economy in order to create long-term investor confidence?”

Burma beware
The Institute of Development Studies’ Gabriele Köhler argues Myanmar must be wary, as it opens up to the world beyond Asia, of the West’s conquering friendship.
“We can hope that the west’s sudden enthusiasm stems from genuine support for peace and the rights of the population. But in reality, the change in stance probably has at least as much to do with pursuit of their own national interests. For several decades, US and European sanctions have kept western businesses out of Burma, while firms from Thailand, Singapore, India and especially China eagerly exploited the country’s natural gas, hydropower potential and gemstones.
History has shown time and again that popular movements for civil liberties, democracy and human rights are often hijacked by a drive to introduce neoliberal capitalism or prise open a country to foreign investors.”

Carbon fixation
The Land Institute’s Stan Cox argues that current schemes to reduce carbon emissions could actually make it harder for future generations to provide for themselves.
“To value everything in terms of carbon and treat the myriad benefits of ecologically sound agriculture as mere byproducts of climate protection is to invite all kinds of threats to soil and food. Perhaps the most menacing threats are those posed by connecting food and soil more tightly to global capital markets through carbon-trading schemes and tying them more closely to volatile energy markets by putting already fragile soils to work growing biofuels.

Occupying Occupy
Author and blogger Carne Ross warns that the appropriation of Occupy slogans, by mainstream politicians and crockery shops, has begun.
“As the ‘68-ers manifestly failed to do, Occupy must move from words to action, for relying on the platform of words will see the ground cut from under our feet. In contrast to the ease with which they can steal the words of Occupy, the [Newt] Gingrich’s of this world will not be able to appropriate actions consonant with the ideals of Occupy for this would be to enact Occupy’s sought revolution.  And that won’t happen in a century of Sundays.”