Latest Developments, June 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Absurd economy
David Woodward, a new economics foundation fellow, welcomes new talk of worldwide poverty eradication but says the current global system is incapable of delivering such results:

“There is an absurdity to the idea of raising the average income of more than 7 billion people to more than $100,000 a year merely to ensure that everyone has an income of at least $465. But in the present context of global carbon constraints, it goes far beyond the absurd. It is both dangerous and counterproductive.

Merely relying on global growth (and the continuation of recent improvements in development policy) to eradicate extreme poverty is simply not a viable course. We can only hope to eradicate poverty – even by the highly restrictive $1.25 definition – through a major increase in the share of the benefits of global growth that accrue to the world’s poorest by a factor of more than five.
And that would require a fundamental rethink of our whole approach, not only to development, but to the operation of the global economy.”

Militarized internet
The Guardian reports on a leaked document indicating that US President Barack Obama has ordered the creation of a list of targets for potential cyber attacks should “national interests and equities” be considered under threat:

“The 18-page Presidential Policy Directive 20, issued in October last year but never published, states that what it calls Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO) ‘can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance US national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging’.

Obama’s move to establish a potentially aggressive cyber warfare doctrine will heighten fears over the increasing militarization of the internet.”

Outsourced dirty work
Radio France Internationale reports that a new agreement between the European Union and Morocco could pave the way for Africa’s first migrant detention centres:

“On Friday June 7 in Brussels, Morocco signed a text that requires Rabat to negotiate and cooperate with Europe on immigration matters. In exchange for certain favours, Morocco is agreeing to take in all migrants who reached Europe illegally via Morocco,

Morocco is the first Mediterranean country to enter into such a partnership with the EU.

The concern is that Europe is trying to ship its migration problems outside its borders without any guarantees that human rights will be respected.” [Translated from the French.]

Fighting transparency
Postmedia News reports that the Canadian government is being accused of opposing proposed G8 measures aimed at fighting global tax avoidance:

“Tax watchdog groups say Canada is resisting efforts by [UK Prime Minister David] Cameron and G8 countries on a couple of measures that would further combat tax evasion, including identifying the true owners of offshore accounts and shell companies by disclosing what’s called beneficial ownership information.

Canadians for Tax Fairness, an advocacy group that’s part of a larger global network, says its sources also indicate Canada is fighting measures that would call for automatic tax information exchange agreements between countries that would help governments better track tax cheats.”

Timber barons
Global Witness has released a new report showing how logging companies are moving from loophole to loophole in order access Liberia’s rainforests:

“When the government halted logging under [Private Use Permits] in August, companies immediately began submitting large numbers of applications for Community Forest Management Agreements (CFMA). However, CFMAs are intended to allow communities to manage forests themselves, and it is illegal for anyone other than communities to submit CFMA applications. Once again, companies are targeting small scale permits and exploiting communities to get access to the forests.”

Strings attached
Friends of the Earth’s Kirtana Chandrasekaran and Nnimmo Bassey express concern over some of the “far-reaching changes to [African] land, seed and farming policies” demanded by the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition:

“Mozambique, for example, is committed to ‘systematically ceasing to distribute free and unimproved [non-commercial] seeds to farmers except in emergencies’. The new alliance will lock poor farmers into buying increasingly expensive seeds – including genetically modified seeds – allow corporate monopolies in seed selling, and escalate the loss of precious genetic diversity in seeds – absolutely key in the fight against hunger. It will also open the door to genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa by stopping farmers’ access to traditional local varieties and forcing them to buy private seeds.

Several countries have been asked to speed up the takeover of land by foreign investors. Ethiopia, for instance, will ‘Refine land law, if necessary, to encourage long-term land leasing’, while companies are already asking for up to 500,000 hectares (12.35m acres) of land in Ivory Coast under this scheme.”

Investor activism
Novethic has released a new report looking into the impacts of investors, primarily in northern Europe, who blacklist companies over alleged human rights abuses:

“The calling out of companies by investors, if echoed by public opinion and the media, can be a game changer. In order to maximize impact, investors must coordinate their efforts. If they adopt common definitions of the human rights they want to see respected and they take action together, progress will be significant.” [Translated from the French.]

Drone terror
Al Jazeera reports on the experiences of “terrorised” civilians who have witnessed America’s drone war up close and personal in Yemen:

“The repercussions were devastating. The villagers marched the next day, chanting: ‘Obama, why do you spill our blood?’ But President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi met their pleas for answers with silence.
Salem’s mother died two weeks later apparently from shock. [Faisal Ahmed bin Ali Jaber]’s sister Hayat, the mother of Walid, refuses to leave her home, and said she is ‘waiting to join my so’. Faisal’s daughter Heba was so stricken with fear she didn’t leave her home for twenty days. She still needs psychiatric care.
‘The people in the village are so afraid now,’ Faisal sighed. ‘Everything has changed. They think they can be killed anywhere.’ ”

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Latest Developments, January 31

In the latest news and analysis…

Blue helmet talks
Reuters reports that, following the French military’s capture of northern Mali’s principal towns, the UN Security Council looks set to discuss the deployment of peacekeepers:

“Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had resisted U.N. peacekeepers becoming embroiled in an offensive combat mission but the recapture of the main Malian towns has made a deployment less risky. The Security Council is due to discuss the possibility soon, U.N. diplomats said on Wednesday.
“This development is extremely positive and I want this initiative to be carried through,” [French Defence Minister] Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio.”

Lockdown
In its newly released World Report 2013, Human Rights Watch criticizes America’s enthusiasm for depriving individuals of their freedom:

“The US incarcerates more people than any other country. Practices contrary to human rights principles, such as the death penalty, juvenile life-without-parole sentences, and solitary confinement are common and often marked by racial disparities. Increasing numbers of non-citizens are held in immigration detention facilities although many are not dangerous or at risk of absconding. Federal prosecutions for illegal entry and reentry have escalated.

As of 2010, the US maintained the world’s largest incarcerated population, at 1.6 million, and the world’s highest per capita incarceration rate, at 500 inmates per 100,000 residents.”

Development fail
The Toronto Star reports that one Canadian NGO is having second thoughts about its participation in a federal government program that pairs up civil society organizations and mining companies for overseas development projects:

“ ‘Would we try it again? Probably not,’ Rosemary McCarney, [Plan Canada’s] president, said in an interview with the Toronto Star. ‘It’s upsetting to donors. People are mad. The reality is that working with any mining company is going to be a problem. There are going to be (employee) strikes and spills. Is it worth the headache? Probably not.’

[The Canadian International Development Agency] is giving Plan $5.6 million over five years to run an educational program in Burkina Faso. Iamgold, which operates a gold mine in the West African country, pledged another $1 million per year to the project. Plan has also committed $1 million. ”

Outsourcing radiation
Yale Environment 360 reports on concerns over Australian-based Lynas Corporation’s shipping of rare earths from Australia, where they are mined, to Malaysia for processing:

“The plant lies in an industrial zone atop reclaimed swampland, just 12 miles from Kuantan, a city of 600,000. The chief worry is that the rare earth elements are bound up in mineral deposits with the low-level radioactive element thorium, exposure to which has been linked to an increased risk of developing lung, pancreatic, and other cancers.

The [Institute for Applied Ecology] study faults a Lynas plan to dispose of wastewater through an open channel rather than a closed pipeline; a refusal by the company to disclose what the plant’s exact chemical byproducts will be; and a temporary waste storage facility that the institute predicts will cause radioactive leakage ‘even under normal operating conditions.’ ”

Treeckle down
The Guardian reports that the World Bank’s own evaluators say the billions it has invested in forestry over the last decade have helped commercial loggers more than poor people:

“The World Bank funded 345 major forestry projects in 75 countries in the decade to July 2011. The [Independent Evaluation Group] panel, which visited many of the projects and interviewed hundreds of people, criticised the bank strongly for:
• Continuing to support industrial logging.
• Not involving communities in decision-making.
• Assuming that benefits would accrue to the poor rather than the rich and powerful.
• Paying little attention to rural poverty.”

Good and bad murder
Foreign Policy’s Micah Zenko writes that the current US administration fiercely opposes extrajudicial killings, except for the kind that it carries out routinely in places like Pakistan and Yemen:

“The Obama administration deserves credit for strongly endorsing an extension of the mandate of the U.N. special rapporteur of extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, and for repeatedly fighting to include language in General Assembly resolutions that specifically condemn extrajudicial killings of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Obama administration officials have also been willing to discuss targeted killings with the special rapporteurs, albeit in general terms. However, as the current mandate-holder, Christopher Heyns, observed after a two-day ‘interactive dialogue’ with U.S. officials in June: ‘I don’t think we have the full answer to the legal framework, we certainly don’t have the answer to the accountability issues. My concern is that we are dealing here with a situation that creates precedents around the world.’ This is exactly what his predecessors observed and warned about over the past ten years.”

Defining sustainability
Inter Press Service reports on concerns over the lack of guidelines in the “sustainable investment sector”:

“One significant point of concern among some environmentalists, for instance, is that investment funds will look to strengthen their ‘green’ credentials by choosing to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels – the biofuel products that to a great degree are fuelling the purchases of massive swaths of arable land across parts of Africa by Western corporations.

‘Investment is necessary, but only if investment criteria are first vetted by local communities, to incorporate labour, environmental and social concerns. Given that no such standards exist, and given that corporate accountability remains a major difficulty, this is extremely problematic,’ [according to the Oakland Institute’s Anuradha Mittal].”

Social contract sans frontières
UK shadow secretary for international development Ivan Lewis MP claims to lay out an “ambitious vision for a progressive post-2015 development framework”:

“Ultimately, the new framework must be developed through an authentic and equal partnership. Gone are the days when G8 governments could impose their views on the rest of the world.

Trade, jobs, migration, the cost of living, the impact of climate change, our security are all profoundly affected by factors beyond our borders. One Nation: One World is our best and only route to fairness and prosperity in the future. But our values mean globalisation must work for the many not the few and we have a particular duty to reassure people that we understand the insecurity this rapid change is creating. In the 21st century to be a British patriot is to be an internationalist.”

Latest Developments, November 2

In the latest news and analysis…

Development’s holy grail
The Guardian provides an explainer on the post-2015 development agenda, including a warning of the tension inherent in trying to establish Sustainable Development Goals:

“ ‘Getting rid of poverty is about making more stuff and giving it to more people,’ said Claire Melamed, head of growth and equity at the Overseas Development Institute thinktank. ‘It’s a popular thing to do, but climate change is about sharing out limited resources. Politically it’s of a totally different order of magnitude and so contentious.’ ”

Ultimate refusal
The Canadian Press reports that Canada’s highest court has refused to hear a lawsuit brought against a mining company over a massacre in DR Congo:

“[Human rights groups] allege that Anvil, which opened an office in Quebec in 2005, provided logistical support to the Congolese military as it crushed a rebel uprising in 2004, killing as many as 100 people in the port city of Kilwa.
Last January, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned a lower court ruling in favour of the coalition, saying the complaint should be heard in Congo or Australia, where Anvil also operated.

‘It is unacceptable that in 2012, victims are still unable to hold Canadian companies accountable in Canadian courts, for their alleged involvement in serious human rights violations committed abroad,’ said Matt Eisenbrandt, a member of the board of directors of the group.”

Betting against forests
Global Witness has released a new report accusing banking giant HSBC of making $130 million from financing logging companies “causing widespread environmental destruction and human rights abuses” in the Malaysian state of Sarawak:

“Sarawak’s logging giants, all past or present HSBC clients, have since expanded their destructive model of business to every major tropical forested region in the world. These companies are currently logging or converting forests to plantations in 18 million hectares of concessions – an area three times the size of Norway.
‘HSBC has bankrolled some of the world’s worst logging companies and in some cases got them off the ground with their first commercial loans. The destruction they have caused simply couldn’t have happened without the services and kudos the bank provided,’ said Tom Picken, Global Witness Forest Campaign leader.”

Chocolate lawsuit
Reuters reports that an American pension fund is suing US chocolate giant Hershey to obtain records indicating whether “the candymaker knew its suppliers in Ghana and Ivory Coast used child labor”:

“A 2011 study by Tulane University found that 1.8 million children in the Ivory Coast and Ghana work in the cocoa industry and that the vast majority of them are unpaid. The study also found evidence of child-trafficking, forced labor and other violations of internationally accepted labor practices.
If the court forces Hershey to turn over the documents, the pension fund could look for evidence to bring a lawsuit against the company and its directors. With evidence, the fund said it could claim Hershey violated anti-trafficking laws and knowingly benefited from a supplier using child labor.”

Mali drones
Algeria’s Le Matin picks up on a report by French newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné that the US is considering sending armed drones into northern Mali: 

“The CIA urgently wants to acquire about 10 drones equipped with bombs, missiles and rockets, according to the satirical French paper that obtained the information from French intelligence sources. The US deems the 20 or so small surveillance planes currently stationed in Burkina Faso to be insufficient. They want lethal machines like the ones that operate in Pakistan and Yemen, in spite of the known consequences: from 2004 to 2012, these drones killed 3,325 people, including 176 children, according to a study conducted by two American universities.” [Translated from the French.]

Doing less
Bill Morton, an analyst who has worked for Oxfam and the North-South Institute, calls on Western-based NGOs to consider “adopting a ‘do nothing for now’ approach” to the debate over the successors to the Millennium Development Goals:

“The large majority of proposals on the next MDGs are put forward by people and institutions based in developed countries. So far, thinking and proposals that emanate from developing countries, and that reflect the interests and priorities of people in these countries, are getting relatively limited traction in policy debates and discussions.

That’s why now is the right time for practitioners and analysts in developed countries to take a step back, and to make room for people in developing countries to advance their own thinking on a post-2015 framework. That doesn’t mean the existing thinking isn’t worthwhile. It’s just that there is enough of it for now. It’s fair enough that we loosen our grip on the post-2015 agenda a little, and give those who it will affect most the opportunity to shape it more strongly.”

Two steps back
Inter Press Service reports on concerns that so-called agricultural development “will actually compromise the country’s food security” by pushing smallholder farmers off their land in favour of large-scale agribusiness:

“[Pretorious] Nkhata and the other farmers displaced from the 46,876 hectares of now commercial farmland told IPS that they had obtained their land from a traditional leader but did not get deeds of ownership from the government.
‘They said we were squatters, we were intruders on that land. I had 21 hectares … I lost it all…
‘They (the South African agribusiness) came with guns and threatened to shoot anyone who resisted moving out. They burnt all our household properties without any notice. We were almost 200 households. They burnt my food barns, clothes, blankets, bedding, television set – they even burnt my fields,’ he said.
The agribusiness has since sold the land and closed its operations in Zambia.”

Green costs
Reuters reports that Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal has opted to reduce its annual South African steel output by 1 million tons rather than greenify its furnaces:

“The steelmaker, Africa’s biggest, was given until October 16 to deal with emissions from the furnaces and decided it was cheaper to shut the units rather than complete a project on a dust-extraction system that would capture the emissions.”

Latest Developments, July 29

In the latest news and analysis…

As the Horn of Africa food shortage continues to intensify, most analysts agree that drought is an insufficient explanation for the extent of the crisis. Abdikarim Abdi Buh, writing for the Mogadishu-based news site Raxanreeb Online, blames both rebel group Al Shabab’s leadership and American foreign policy for how bad things have gotten. One the one hand, he believes Al Shabab’s refusal to allow food deliveries to starving people amounts to genocide, but on the other, he says the US government “has no long-term or comprehensive policy towards Somalia other than tactical policies which are geared towards hunting down few Al Qaida individuals.” He calls on “the international community to funnel food aid through the Al Shabab approved agencies to alleviate and mitigate the depth of the famine” while simultaneously trying to strengthen the disastrously week Transitional Federal Government (TFG). But the Rift Valley Institute’s Mark Bradbury argues it was “international support for the TFG that included the provision of weapons and training of its security forces, the assassination of al-Shabaab leadership and overt attempts to deploy aid in support of the TFG” that led to restrictions and violence against foreign aid workers in the first place.

Al Shabab leaders are said to fear foreign NGOs will provide intelligence necessary for further CIA drone strikes, which the US first admitted to carrying out in Somalia last month. But speaking at a security forum in Colorado, former US intelligence chief Dennis Blair “said the administration should curtail U.S.-led drone strikes on suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia because the missiles fired from unmanned aircraft are fueling anti-American sentiment and undercutting reform efforts in those countries,” according to Politico. In Blair’s words: “I think we need to change — in those three countries — in a dramatic way.”

At the same time, UK director of Islamic Relief Jehangir Malik writes in the Guardian his organization has mostly been operating within 50 km of Mogadishu, but “on a recent assessment visit to central and southern Somalia we found it safe and practicable for us to scale up our existing operation and help many more families further afield.” And Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs is encouraged by the significant role nearby wealthy Gulf countries and the Islamic Development Bank have taken on to help in the current crisis.

Meanwhile, less than two weeks after the US and its allies recognized the rebel Transitional National Council as the “legitimate governing authority” in Libya, witnesses say those same rebels have killed their top military commander and two of his aides. At today’s funeral, the dead man’s son reportedly cried out “We want Moammar to come back! We want the green flag back!” – an outburst described by Associated Press reporters as “a startling and risky display in a city that was the first to shed Gadhafi’s rule nearly six months ago.”

Citing fears of a “race to the bottom,” civil society groups are calling on East African governments to stop offering tax breaks as a way to attract foreign investment, arguing such “incentives hinder the entry of revenue and have no empirical results to prove their efficacy and impact to investment,” according to Uganda’s Daily Monitor. As the Guardian’s Felicity Lawrence writes, poor countries are actually ahead of their wealthier counterparts in terms of understanding the balance of power in international business: “Developing countries, dealing with corporations whose revenue often exceeds their own GDPs, have long been aware of their own lack of power. They are familiar with the way world trade rules have been written to benefit corporations and limit what any one country can impose on them…For an affluent country like the UK, it has come as more of a shock.”

A new study by the Greenlining Institute reveals that 77 of America’s Fortune 100 companies have subsidiaries based in tax havens and the number of said subsidiaries has increased by 44 since 2008. On the flipside, “low-tax jurisdiction” Barbados is suffering from the ailing global economy and is stepping up efforts to attract investment from Canada, a country whose companies account for 31 percent of foreign subsidiaries in Barbados and 78 percent of the international banks. “As an island nation, we don’t have natural resources unless you count sea, sand and sun. We import most of what we consume here, so it’s very important we bring in foreign exchange,” Invest Barbados CEO Wayne Kirton told the Globe and Mail.

In a piece entitled “Offshoring the boat people,” the Economist reports on a new deal between Australia and Malaysia, under which “Australia will send the next 800 boat people who sail into its northern waters to Malaysia. There they will join about 90,000 other asylum-seekers who have been waiting, some of them for years, to have their claims assessed. In return, Malaysia will send 4,000 certified refugees to Australia and receive compensation for the programme’s costs.” In other immigration news, the US State Department has denied entry visas to Uganda’s youth baseball team, the first African squad ever to qualify for the Little League World Series. And Al Jazeera reports Vietnamese children as young as 13 are being trafficked to the UK to work as cannabis-growing labourers and are then treated as criminals when British police raid such operations.

Earlier this week, Global Witness released a report entitled “Pandering to the Loggers: Why the WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network Isn’t Working” in which the authors claim “the scheme has never, in Global Witness’s opinion, been adequately evaluated in terms of its rules, 
operation, membership and, crucially, its impact on forests.” In the accompanying press release, Global Witness accuses the World Wildlife Federation of “allowing companies to reap the benefits of association with WWF and its iconic panda brand, while they continue to destroy forests and trade in illegally sourced timber.” WWF has responded with a statement from the criticized certification program’s head, George White, who believes the private sector “can be a significant positive force” in protecting endangered forests: “By mainstreaming responsible forestry practices among the forest-related sector, GFTN creates market conditions that help conserve the world’s forests, while providing social and economic benefits for the businesses and people that depend on them.”

The Trade Justice Movement’s Ruth Bergan slams rich countries for their unwillingness to make even minor concessions to poor countries in the decade-old Doha round of world trade talks, which ostensibly aimed to “improve the trading prospects of developing countries.” Lamenting the fact that, to date, the rich countries have not even honoured “their commitment to tackling their own damaging practices,” Bergan argues “that serious and democratic debate on the purpose and powers of the WTO is long overdue.”