Latest Developments, September 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Dodd-Frank setback
The New York Times reports that a US judge has struck down a rule aimed at imposing restrictions on speculative commodities trading:

“The court decision dealt the latest blow to the Dodd-Frank Act, the regulatory crackdown passed in response to the financial crisis. The decision on Friday, aimed at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s so-called position limits rule, is the second time a Dodd-Frank rule has suffered legal defeat.

The ruling is sure to embolden Wall Street as it shifts the attack on Dodd-Frank from piecemeal lobbying to broader legal challenges. Industry groups are currently challenging another C.F.T.C. rule, while others are weighing lawsuits against the so-called Volcker Rule, a still-uncompleted plan to stop banks from trading with their own money.”

Enemy of the state
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the US military has added Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange to a list of national enemies that include al-Qaeda and the Taliban:

“Declassified US Air Force counter-intelligence documents, released under US freedom-of-information laws, reveal that military personnel who contact WikiLeaks or WikiLeaks supporters may be at risk of being charged with ‘communicating with the enemy’, a military crime that carries a maximum sentence of death.” 

Defunct land grab
The Oakland Institute examines the consequences in Tanzania of an 8,211-hectare biofuel project whose British developer went bankrupt:

“People have lost their land and their supply of fresh water as well as access to essential natural resources, while the promises of development and better life never materialized. In 2011, what was left of Sun Biofuels was acquired by 30 Degrees East, an investment company registered in the tax haven of Mauritius. At the time of our field research, the project had not resumed. The new company only employed 35 staff, mostly security guards, who ban villagers from accessing their land and natural resources.”

False revolution
Friends of the Earth warns that the Gates Foundation is promoting “damaging industrial farming” in Africa:

“Multi-million dollar investments from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – a major Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa donor – into shares in biotech corporations, and revolving doors between donors and these corporations skew the agenda of AGRA in favor of profit-based, corporate-led farming rather than farming that benefits local people and small farmers.
The bulk of projects funded by the Gates Foundation and its brainchild AGRA favor technological solutions for high-input industrial farming methods. These include patented seeds, fertilizers and lobbying for genetically modified crops. Evidence from the roll-out of genetically modified crops in other countries shows that these crops push farmers into debt, cause irreversible environmental damage and encourage land concentration.”

Transparent ownership
Save the Children’s Alex Cobham suggests the “post-2015 development framework” that will replace the Millenium Development Goals should include greater transparency regarding the beneficial ownership of companies:

“The Norwegian presidential commission on tax havens presented considerable evidence on the links between developing countries and havens, pulling out link after link that threatens development and revolving around the hiding of ownership – whether for purposes of facilitating corrupt payments, trade mispricing to dodge tax, or money laundering. In addition, the commission set out a model of how governance in a country could be broadly undermined by greater exposure to tax havens.
Because the key to havens is not in fact tax rates but secrecy, I prefer the term ‘secrecy jurisdiction’. Ultimately, it is the hiding of ownership that havens facilitate which undermines regulation and taxation around the world – not any tax competition they may engender.”

Drone development
Citing a new investigation into the civilian impacts of US drone strikes in Pakistan, New York University’s William Easterly questions his government’s claim that defense and development are “complementary”:

“It would be hard for Development to benefit from “drones hovering 24 hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning.”
The report alleges that drones strike areas multiple times, killing rescuers of victims of the first strike.
Next challenge in US: getting people to care about this.”

Workers’ rights
Human Rights Watch reports that one of the world’s biggest auditing firms has warned that companies involved in an Emirati mega-development must ensure workers’ rights are being respected:

“The government-owned developer of Abu Dhabi’s high-profile Saadiyat Island project, the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), faces ‘significant challenges’ to carry out agreed-upon minimum labor standards, says the September 23, 2012 report published by independent auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Saadiyat Island will be home to branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim Museums and a New York University (NYU) campus, and has been the focus of criticismover migrant workers’ rights.

The 34-page report detailed a range of ongoing violations of the [Employment Practices Policy] and domestic labor law. It says that 75 percent of workers interviewed had paid recruitment fees and 77 percent had paid visa and travel costs, which are supposed to be paid by employers. According to Human Rights Watch’s research, these recruitment fees are the most significant factor in creating conditions of forced labor in the UAE. Twenty percent of those interviewed reported illegal deductions from their salaries.”

Nuclear pressure
Inter Press Service reports that 50 years on from the Cuban Missile Crisis, the international community is pushing the world’s nuclear-armed countries to ratify a ban on testing nuclear weapons:

“Opened for signature in September 1996, the [Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Teaty] has been signed by 183 nations and ratified by 157. However, it cannot be enforced without ratification by 44 countries that had nuclear power or research reactors when the CTBT was negotiated.
Most of those nations have ratified the treaty, but the United States, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Iran, and Egypt remain unwilling to do so. In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama declared his intention to seek Senate reconsideration of the treaty. The administration has given no firm timeframe for action.”

Latest Developments, September 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Hippocratic development
Harvard University’s Dani Rodrik makes his case for a different approach to development after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015:

“First, a new global compact should focus more directly on rich countries’ responsibilities. Second, it should emphasize policies beyond aid and trade that have an equal, if not greater, impact on poor countries’ development prospects.
A short list of such policies would include: carbon taxes and other measures to ameliorate climate change; more work visas to allow larger temporary migration flows from poor countries; strict controls on arms sales to developing nations; reduced support for repressive regimes; and improved sharing of financial information to reduce money laundering and tax avoidance.
Notice that most of these measures are actually aimed at reducing damage – for example, climate change, military conflict, and financial crime – that otherwise results from rich countries’ conduct. ‘Do no harm’ is as good a principle here as it is in medicine.”

New beginning
Reuters reports that Somalia’s lawmakers have chosen “political newcomer” Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the country’s new president:

“Somalia has lacked an effective central government since the outbreak of civil war in 1991.
The capital, however, which until last year witnessed street battles between al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants and African soldiers, is now a vibrant city where reconstructed houses are slowly replacing bullet-riddled structures.
Monday’s vote was seen as a culmination of a regionally brokered, U.N.-backed roadmap to end that conflict, during which tens of thousands of people were killed and many more fled.
Despite being on the back foot, the militants still control swathes of southern and central Somalia, while pirates, regional administrations and local militia group also vie for control of chunks of the mostly lawless Horn of Africa country.”

Questionable exports
Lisa Nandy, chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group, explains why the body is looking into government financing of British exports

“Concerns have been raised by a number of academics and NGOs that, because cover is provided for projects that the private sector won’t fund, the majority of business on [UK Export Finance]’s books are in risky projects or places, overwhelmingly in the arms trade, oil and aerospace industries. Airbus, for example, received 89% of the [Export Credits Guarantee Department]’s support last year.
Campaigners have also claimed that the Department is under very little scrutiny – the majority of projects are not screened for human rights abuses, environmental impact or even child labour; there is no mechanism for complaints for the people who are affected by the projects it supports and there is no evaluation of the projects that the government invests in.”

Nature’s value
The Guardian reports that the International Union for Conservation of Nature has released a list of the world’s 100 most endangered species and suggested certain seemingly well-intentioned conservation tactics may actually be harmful:

“In order to justify spending money on conservation efforts, scientists have felt under increasing pressure to argue for the human benefits that would accrue – for instance, calling for forests to be preserved because they can prevent landslides and naturally purify water for human consumption rather than because forests should be maintained for their own sake.
In some cases, the potential for ‘useful’ purposes for some species is contributing to their destruction. The wild yam of South Africa is supposed to have cancer-alleviating properties, according to traditional medicine, but the resulting hunt for the plant is threatening its very existence.
In others, the commercialisation of nature is having a damaging effect – the Franklin’s bumble bee, found in California and Oregon, is under threat because of diseases spread by commercially bred bumblebees.”

Biofuel U-turn
Reuters reports the European Union plans to impose limits on the use of “crop-based biofuels” due to concerns they do little to reduce emissions while contributing to higher food prices:

“The draft rules, which will need the approval of EU governments and lawmakers, represent a major shift in Europe’s much-criticized biofuel policy and a tacit admission by policymakers that the EU’s 2020 biofuel target was flawed from the outset.
The plans also include a promise to end all public subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020, effectively ensuring the decline of a European sector now estimated to be worth 17 billion euros ($21.7 billion) a year.”

Carbon crash
The Guardian reports that the UN’s global carbon trading scheme has “essentially collapsed”:

“Billions of dollars have been raised in the past seven years through the United Nations’ system to set up greenhouse gas-cutting projects, such as windfarms and solar panels, in poor nations. But the failure of governments to provide firm guarantees to continue with the system beyond this year has raised serious concerns over whether it can survive.
A panel convened by the UN reported on Monday at a meeting in Bangkok that the system, known as the clean development mechanism (CDM), was in dire need of rescue. The panel warned that allowing the CDM to collapse would make it harder in future to raise finance to help developing countries cut carbon.”

Time to reassess
Tamtam Info reports that France’s state-owned nuclear group Areva has changed its plans for a new Nigerien uranium mining project since receiving the environmental green light:

“Given the real threat to both the environment and public health that Areva’s decision poses, the Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity (CRIIRAD) and the environmental NGO Aghir in Man has alerted the Nigerien government and demanded that Areva undergo another environment impact assessment for its uranium mining project at Imouraren and provide precise answers relating to the hydrological impact and storage of radioactive waste, as well as the means for compensating affected populations.” [Translated from the French.]

Green counterrevolution
The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology’s Vandana Shiva argues that industrial agriculture is the cause of hunger and malnutrition, rather than the cure:

“Industrial agriculture, sold as the Green Revolution and 2nd Green Revolution to Third World countries, is a chemical intensive, capital intensive, fossil fuel intensive system. It must, by its very structure, push farmers into debt, and indebted farmers everywhere are pushed off the land, as their farms are foreclosed and appropriated. In poor countries, farmers trapped in debt for purchasing costly chemicals and non-renewable seeds sell the food they grow to pay back debt. That is why hunger today is a rural phenomenon. The debt-creating negative economy of high cost industrial farming is a hunger producing system, not a hunger reduction system. Wherever chemicals and commercial seeds have spread, farmers are in debt, and lose entitlement to their own produce. They become trapped in poverty and hunger.”

Latest Developments, December 5

In the latest news and analysis…

Unravelling social contract
A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says its member countries are experiencing their highest levels of inequality in over 30 years and calls on governments to revise their tax systems so that wealthy individual pay “their fair share of the tax burden.”
“Launching the report in Paris, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said ‘The social contract is starting to unravel in many countries. This study dispels the assumptions that the benefits of economic growth will automatically trickle down to the disadvantaged and that greater inequality fosters greater social mobility. Without a comprehensive strategy for inclusive growth, inequality will continue to rise.’”

Ethiopia’s financial losses
Global Financial Integrity’s Sarah Freitas estimates that Ethiopian losses due to illicit financial outflows amounted to $3.26 in 2009, which was more than the combined value of the development assistance it received and the products it exported.
“What can be done? The first step the international community should take is to hamper the ability of corrupt and tax-evading Ethiopians to launder their money in the global financial system.  This could be accomplished by establishing a global system of automatic exchange of tax information. In this way, Ethiopian authorities could much more easily track the bank accounts their tax evaders have established around the world. Furthermore, the G20 governments could push for an end to shell companies by calling for beneficial owners of all companies, trusts and foundations to be known to government authorities.  This would make it far more difficult for the corrupt and the criminal to hide their ill-gotten gains behind a wall of corporate secrecy.”

SEC contrivances
Butler University’s Mike Koehler, a.k.a. the FCPA Professor, writes about a recent court ruling in New York that pertains to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s practice of resolving cases – whether involving allegations of foreign bribery or not – without requiring an admission or denial of guilt from the defendants.
“In prior cases, Judge Rakoff has said that this policy contributes to a ‘facade of enforcement’ (SEC v. Bank of America) and is a ‘stew of confusion and hypocrisy unworthy of such a proud agency as the SEC.’ (SEC v. Vitesse Semiconductor)
Last week, Judge Rakoff, in denying the SEC-Citigroup settlement, again had pointed words as to the SEC settlement device typically used in FCPA enforcement actions.

‘An application of judicial power that does not rest on facts is worse than mindless, it is inherently dangerous.  The injunctive power of the judiciary is not a free-roving remedy to be invoked at the whim of a regulatory agency, even with the consent of the regulated.  If its deployment does not rest on facts – cold, hard, solid facts, established either by admissions or by trials – it serves no lawful or moral purpose and is simply an engine of oppression.’
Judge Rakoff stated that the ‘SEC, of all agencies, has a duty, inherent in its statutory mission, to see that the truth emerges; and if it fails to do so, this Court must not, in the name of deference or convenience, grant judicial enforcement to the agency’s contrivances.’”

IP enforcement
Intellectual Property Watch reports that a group of civil society organizations has sent a letter to the World Intellectual Property Organization to express concerns over the UN agency’s “approach to enforcement” regarding piracy and counterfeiting.
“The signers highlighted a lack of transparency about WIPO technical assistance activities, the extensive link being made to public health and safety (which they called “questionable and tenuous at best”) as led by industry, and the possibility that WIPO enforcement activities might be undermining existing flexibilities in IP law. Signers included AIDS groups, digital civil liberties groups, and organizations working on development on the ground in countries around the world.”

Asbestos pushing
Canada’s biggest opposition party is criticizing the government for throwing its weight behind the country’s controversial asbestos industry during negotiations for a trade agreement with India.
“In response to questions from [International Trade critic Brian] Masse, the Chief Negotiator for the Canada-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement admitted Canada is currently working to eliminate tariffs on asbestos exports to India. Currently there is a 10 per cent duty on asbestos exports to India, the world’s second largest consumer of asbestos.
‘We already dump hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos each year into developing nations – and now we want to make it easier for asbestos magnates to do so?’ said MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre). ‘This is deplorable and Canadians need to let their government know they will not put up with this any longer.’”

Blood diamond casualty
Global Witness has announced it has left the Kimberley Process, a certification program it helped establish in the hopes of cleaning up the international diamond trade.
“The Kimberley Process’s refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny has rendered it increasingly outdated, said the group. Despite intensive efforts over many years by a coalition of NGOs, the scheme’s main flaws and loopholes have not been fixed and most of the governments that run the scheme continue to show no interest in reform.”

A greener Green Revolution
In a Q&A with the Inter Press Service, International Fund for Agricultural Development President Kanayo Nwanze calls for a new kind of agricultural revolution.
“The Green Revolution was successful because it focused on very clear messages: increased fertiliser use, increased improved seeds and irrigation. But we found out in the long term that it is not sustainable. So now we need to look for sustainable approaches to production that do not destroy the environment and are available to a wide spectrum of farmers in Africa and in the world as a whole.”

Transnational coordination
University of California at Santa Barbara’s William Robinson argues the current “global political economy can no longer be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control” and predicts a protracted period of conflict.
“It is noteworthy that those struggling around the world have been shown a strong sense of solidarity and are in communications across whole continents. Just as the Egyptian uprising inspired the US Occupy movement, the latter has been an inspiration for a new round of mass struggle in Egypt. What remains is to extend transnational coordination and move towards transnationally-coordinated programmes.

In my view, the only viable solution to the crisis of global capitalism is a massive redistribution of wealth and power downward towards the poor majority of humanity along the lines of a 21st-century democratic socialism in which humanity is no longer at war with itself and with nature.”

Latest Developments, October 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Land rights as human rights
An international human rights hearing could mark a fundamental change in the relationship between Canada’s aboriginal peoples and its federal and provincial governments.
“[University of Victoria anthropologist Prof. Brian Thom] said he believes it signalled the moment where B.C. First Nations may turn away from the treaty negotiation process and move towards settling their issues as human rights abuses.
‘They’re reframing the whole discourse today,’ said Thom. ‘The decisions of this commission could be crucial in reframing the next generation of aboriginal leadership. We’ve just had 20 years of that process and the current generation, I think, is tired of that discussion.’
‘The next generation may be thinking about human rights for a good long time.’”

The price of justice
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Nick Mathiason writes that the British coalition government’s proposed legal aid amendments could have serious consequences well beyond the UK’s borders.
“One major lesson from cases such as this [against UK-based miner Monterrico over alleged abuses in Peru] is that transnational companies can no longer operate in poorer countries thinking they can’t be pursued. But will similar claims be pursued in the future if the coalition government’s bill becomes law?
[Human rights law firm] Leigh Day, which also successfully fought Trafigura on behalf of more than 30,000 Ivorian victims allegedly poisoned from toxic waste, thinks not. It believes that it will now be much harder for indigenous communities and others living in poorer countries to get legal redress for human rights violations associated with the activities of multinational companies based in the UK.
This is because under sections 41–43 of the proposed reforms are three clauses that will make it all but impossible to pursue claims in British courts.”

Empty words
Jack Ucciferri of Harrington Investments calls the UN’s framework for business and human rights a “patently worthless document” and asks if “we really think that the best way to regulate corporate behavior is engage them in “Multi-Stakeholder Processes.”
“I searched the Document-Whose-Name-is-Too-Uppity-to-be-Uttered [Protect, Respect and Remedy] for a few terms. Ready?:
Variations of the word ‘responsible’ appear 14 times in 7 pages
Variations of the word ‘liable’ – 0 times.
Variations of the word ‘accountable’ – 0 times.
Variations of the word ‘culpable’ – 0 times.”

Sacred and valuable land
Al Jazeera reports on a dispute over land in Central Mexico that is sacred to the local Wixarika people but potentially lucrative for a pair of Canadian mining companies.
“‘It’s as if they wanted to put a gas station in the middle of the Basilica,’ said Santos de la Cruz, referring to the most sacred shrine of Mexican Catholics, the Basilica of Guadalupe. De la Cruz is a traditional authority in his community of Bancos San Hipólito and also an attorney engaged in the legal battle to defend his people’s lands and traditions.
In a press conference flanked by a cadre of grim-faced Wixarika men and women who had travelled for days from their communities in the western Sierra Madre, De la Cruz grew visibly emotional. ‘What they want to do is to rip out the vein of the heart of Wirikuta – and that’s why we’re here… We’re not interested in gold and silver; what interests us is life.’”

Mining for Development
Pro Bono News reports the Australian government’s new Mining for Development Initiative, which includes $22 million in funding for NGOs, is getting mixed reviews from civil society groups, with Oxfam enthusiastically endorsing it and ActionAid expressing serious reservations.
“[ActionAid’s Florence Apuri] said, ‘Our experience shows mining often brings more hardship than benefits to poor communities. Land grabs and the destruction of local ecosystems as a result of mining often makes it more difficult for poor communities to earn a living from the land and to feed their families.’
ActionAid said it applauds the idea of supporting developing countries to maximise the social return on mining, however the Government must recognise that the benefits of mining are not always equally spread.”

New Green Revolution
Macalester College geographer William G. Moseley argues the lessons of China’s Green Revolution are being misapplied by those pushing for greater use of genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers in Africa.
“While China and the West benefit from this New Green Revolution strategy, it is not clear if the same is true for small farmers and poor households in sub-Saharan Africa. For most food-insecure households on the continent, there are at least two problems with this strategy. First, such an approach to farming is energy-intensive, as most fertilisers and pesticides are petroleum based. Inducing poor farmers to adopt energy-intensive farming methods is short-sighted, if not unethical, if experts know that global energy prices are likely to rise. Second, irrespective of energy prices, the “New Green Revolution” approach requires farmers to purchase seeds and inputs, which means that it will be inaccessible to the poorest of the poor, who are the most likely to suffer from periods of hunger.”

Creating wealth
Columbia University’s Jagdish Bhagwati argues that economic growth, rather than redistribution of existing wealth, is still the best tool for tackling poverty in poor countries.
“In impoverished countries where the poor exceed the rich by a huge margin, redistribution would increase the consumption of the poor only minimally – by, say, a chapati a day – and the increase would not be sustainable in a context of low income and high population growth. In short, for most developing countries, growth is the principal strategy for inclusive development – that is, development that consciously includes the marginal and poorest members of a society.”

The age of responsibility
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans argues the international community’s handling of the Libyan conflict was the moment the Responsibility to Protect “really came of age.”
“Other developments, both before and since, have reinforced and embedded the RtoP norm. Even as the NATO-led intervention in Libya was being widely criticized for overreaching its narrow mandate, a major General Assembly debate in July 2011 reaffirmed overwhelming support among UN member states for the RtoP concept, in all of its dimensions. The arguments now are not about the principle, but about how to apply it.”

Latest Developments, July 15

In today’s news and analysis…

The pre-negotiations for the proposed international Arms Trade Treaty have come to an end. In theory, the real negotiations will take place next year, culminating in a legally binding global compact. The Control Arms Coaltion says it is pleased with how the week went, particularly a joint statement of support for the process by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, who together account for 88% of the global arms trade. But while there appears to be broad support for some kind of treaty, there is much disagreement on details, reportedly prompting Russia to say consensus is “very, very unlikely.”

After the latest Mumbai bombings, Ramesh Thakur, one of the formulators of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, says India, a country where over half the population lives on less than $2 a day, “must invest all means necessary” to acquire the capabilities to take “the fight to neighbouring territory from where terror attacks originate through strikes and targeted killings of terrorists.” He concedes that such a policy would risk destabilizing India’s already fragile, nuclear-armed rival but concludes that “is no longer an unacceptable risk.” A quick reminder: The three bombs detonated in Mumbai this week killed 18 people, while the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in August, 1945 killed an estimated 150,000-250,000 people.

A Reuters piece looks at the rise of the drone as America tries to extricate itself from its wars and avoid getting embroiled in new ones, while targeting perceived threats in an ever growing list countries. The EU, meanwhile, is looking to come up with a drone strategy within the next 12 months.

Canadian immigration authorities have denied internationally acclaimed Tinariwen visas to play this weekend’s Vancouver Folk Festival. A festival organizer, pointing out that the Malian band were in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics and are touring in the US right now, said the decision made no sense. Could it be the Canadian government, which is trying to toughen up its immigration laws, mistook a group originally formed in Libyan refugee camps three decades ago as current refugee claimants? An internal government report indicates a third of all such cases are refused because an officer does not believe the refugee’s story.

Writing about oil and corruption, Global Witness’s Brendan O’Donnell puts much of the blame on the likes of Muammar Gadhafi and other autocratic rulers, but not all of it. “Essentially, because oil companies do not currently have to disclose what they pay to foreign governments for resource deals, and banks do not have to report on their financial dealings with sovereign funds, it’s very hard for citizens to know how their leaders are using their countries’ natural resource wealth.”

According to Transparency International, the phone hacking scandal “shows that even in a well-functioning democracy where corruption levels are perceived to be low, weaknesses in institutions considered pillars of integrity can lead to breaches of trust if there is insufficient vigilance.”

In a Guardian piece about the post-2015 development agenda, the author reports Allister McGregor as telling the British Parliament the MDGs are outdated and a more nuanced view of the world is necessary: “It’s basically about inequality, how we live well together and how we share wealth.” The trick, according to Jack McConnell who was quoted in the same piece, will be to keep the new goals tangible and verifiable: “If you want to pin governments down, you need precise targets.”

A piece in the Globe and Mail points out “the microfinance revolution that rippled around the world focused squarely on the lending side of the ledger – largely overlooking microsaving.” As a result, poor people had nowhere secure to store their small savings. But that is now changing.

A new Institute of Development Studies bulletin on seed politics and the push for an African Green Revolution asks “who wins, who loses, and whose interests are being served?”