Latest Developments, September 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Wage battle
Al Jazeera reports that protests continue in Bangladesh where garment workers are demanding an increase in the monthly minimum wage from $38 to $100:

“Western corporations that rely on Bangladeshi labor to make much of the clothing sold in their stores, including Wal-Mart, Gap and Macy’s, appeared reluctant to comment publicly on the protests — decisions that were criticized by labor-rights activists.
‘If the corporations were to send a clear message that they are willing to pay higher prices to manufacturers so they can pay higher wages to workers, that could have a real influence on negotiations,’ said Liana Foxvog, director of organizing at the International Labor Rights Forum, a U.S.-based group that advocates for workers in countries like Bangladesh.
But that’s unlikely to happen, Foxvog said.”

Serval omission
Le Mamouth blogger Jean-Marc Tanguy writes that the French military “surely forgot”, in its new detailed list of all the ammunition it has fired in Mali, to mention what actually got hit:

“…French soldiers fired 34,000 small-caliber rounds. 58 missiles were also launched, and Caesar howitzers contributed 753 shots. AMX-10RCR tanks chimed in with 80 shots and VBCI infantry fighting vehicles, nicknamed the ‘Saint Bernards of the desert’ spat out 1,250 25mm rounds.
Helicopters reportedly fired 3,500 shells and fighter jets dropped 250 bombs.” [Translated from the French.]

Laundered oil
Reuters reports that “much of the proceeds” from Nigeria’s stolen oil, estimated to cost the country $5 billion a year in lost revenue, are being laundered in the US and UK:

While oil majors like Royal Dutch Shell and Italy’s Eni are often the first to complain about theft, it is unclear how much they are losing from it. A measure of acceptable losses may be keeping them from taking determined preventive action, the [Chatham House] report said. Oil firms do not pay royalties on stolen oil.
‘Nigerian crude oil is being stolen on an industrial scale. Proceeds are laundered through world financial centres and used to buy assets in and outside Nigeria,’ said the 70-page report, entitled ‘Nigeria’s Criminal Crude’.

The report named the United States, Britain, Dubai, Indonesia, India, Singapore and Switzerland as likely money-laundering hotspots, and the United States, Brazil, China, Thailand, Indonesia and the Balkans as the most likely destination for stolen oil.

Looming coup
The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch and UN Dispatch’s Mark Goldberg debate via Twitter the proper course of action should Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, pay a visit to UN headquarters in New York:

Goldberg: “Genocide is a uniquely horrid crime. Arresting Bashir if he comes to NYC should trump other diplomatic considerations ‪http://bit.ly/15953P9”
Gourevitch: “If US were to carry out Sudan coup d’état as you advocate, should the US then be held responsible for consequences in Sudan?”
Goldberg: “The USA would be executing the [UN Security Council’s] will when it referred the case to the ICC.”
Gourevitch: “That avoids my serious question. You call for decapitating regime – do you. Say what happens as result is irrelevant?”
Goldberg: “but yes, I do believe the int’l community bears some responsibility for helping w/ a smooth transition”
Gourevitch: “Right, it’s no simple legal/moral matter. It’s a colossal political act w/colossal political consequences & not so obvious.”

Dropping H-bombs
The Guardian reports on new evidence suggesting that US President John F. Kennedy came much closer to nuking America than any Soviet leader ever did:

“The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.
Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT explosive. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout could have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city – putting millions of lives at risk.”

Cultural divide
Intellectual Property Watch reports on the resumption of UN debate over a possible international agreement on the relationship between intellectual property and “genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore”

“This has been a prickly issue, as a majority of developing countries would like to have a binding legal instrument and a number of developed countries have resisted the idea of a binding instrument.

The European Union said it recognises the importance of the work of the committee and ‘looks forward to establishing a work programme’ but with the understanding that any international instrument be non-binding, flexible and sufficiently clear. There is no agreement on the nature of the instrument, the delegate of Lithuania said on behalf of the group.”

Less is more
The Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York asks if the absence of foreign aid has strengthened democracy in the breakaway republic of Somaliland:

“Somaliland’s government survives on taxation revenue, which, in turn, requires a degree of political accountability and transparency. In contrast, there are 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa where foreign aid is so massive that it equals more than half of government spending.
‘If these aid levels damage the quality of governance in recipient countries – as Somaliland’s experience suggests they may – then it might be the case that, in the long run, less money may actually do more good,’ [Stanford University’s Nicholas] Eubank wrote in a blog post.”

Resource curse
UN expert on the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya argues that “economic development”, as conceived by most governments and corporations, leads all too often to the loss of self-determination and culture for those who live off the land:

“In the case of indigenous peoples, their connections to the land invariably have a longer history than the government deciding what to do with the land. According to the Rights and Resources Initiative, ownership of roughly one-half of the global south is contested, directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of over two billion people. This is no surprise, since over sixty percent of the developing world’s forests are administered by governments – who all too often give it away for pennies per hectare, for the sake of ‘quick-fix’ development.”

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Latest Developments, March 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Kony 2012 reaction
In response to the controversy over a viral video calling for action against Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, This is Africa’s Angelo Opi-aiya Izama argues the sins of which the film has been accused are all too common.
“Critics of Invisible Children are also likely to be critics of foreign aid and by extension the place of Western charities in the mis-education of western publics about the realities of Africa. The real danger of the game-show type ‘pornography of violence’ that Invisible Children has made so appealing also has a dangerous hold on policy types in Washington DC whose access to information and profiles of issues is as limited.
Recent examples of the impact of evangelizing NGO’s can be seen from the distortions of the Save Darfur Coalition to a recent mining ban in the DRC under the guise of saving hapless Africans. The simplicity of the “good versus evil”, where good is inevitably white/western and bad is black or African, is also reminiscent of some of the worst excesses of the colonial era interventions. These campaigns don’t just lack scholarship or nuance. They are not bothered to seek it.”

The business of nuclear weapons
Inter Press Service reports on a new study that shines light on the financial world’s links to nuclear arms and calls for a “global campaign for nuclear weapons divestment.”
“In a foreword to the report, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu Writes, ‘No one should be profiting from this terrible industry of death, which threatens us all.’
The South African peace activist has urged financial institutions to do the right thing and assist, rather than impede, efforts to eliminate the threat of radioactive incineration, pointing out that divestment was a vital part of the successful campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.
The same tactic can – and must – be employed to challenge man’s most evil creation: the nuclear bomb, he added.”

A different world
Intellectual Property Watch reports that a “collegium of scientists, philosophers and former heads of state” has issued an appeal for global governance.
“During a press conference, collegium representatives presenting the appeal described weakened international organisations unable to reach agreements or ‘imposing essential global regulations.’ They presented the concept of shared sovereignty, and called for redefined territorial jurisdictions to introduce a ‘justice system with global reach,’ and to strengthen the principle of international security, including ‘a duty toward future generations and the biosphere.’ ”

Playing with food
Wired Science reports on new evidence supporting claims that commodity speculation is driving up global food prices and increasing the risk of a dangerous bubble.
“In their ideal form, commodity markets should contain ‘70 percent commercial hedgers and 30 percent speculators. The speculators are there to provide liquidity. In the summer of 2008, it was discovered that it’s now 70 percent speculation and 30 percent commercial,’ said Michael Greenberger, former director of the [US Commodity Futures Trading Commission]’s Division of Trading and Markets. ‘Now reports are coming out that it’s 85 percent speculation and 15 percent commercial. You have markets dominated by people with no real interest in the economics of supply and demand, but who are taking advantage of bets authored by Wall Street that prices will go up.’ ”

Sarkozy’s right turn
The Guardian reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has declared there are “too many foreigners” in the country.
“The French president is already under attack by religious leaders and from within his own party for veering to the right and stoking anti-Muslim sentiment by forcing the marginal topic of halal meat into the centre of his campaign. He has now vowed to cut immigration by half and limit state benefits for legal migrants.
‘Our system of integration is working increasingly badly, because we have too many foreigners on our territory and we can no longer manage to find them accommodation, a job, a school,’ he said in a three-hour appearance on a TV politics debate show.”

Losing doctors
Time’s Matt McAllester writes that the funneling of doctors from poor countries to rich is not the only kind of  “brain drain” the former are facing.
“The medical brain drain from poor countries gets a fair amount of attention in international health circles, and initiatives both private and public are trying to resolve the shortage of doctors. The teaching hospital in Lusaka where Desai trained, for example, is one of 13 sub-Saharan medical schools receiving support from a United States-financed $130 million program to generate more and better graduates. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria provided money to Zambia’s ministry of health to recruit and retain doctors. Western aid agencies, many financed by donors like Bill and Melinda Gates, have also hired local doctors at higher salaries. But apparent solutions can create further problems; many of the doctors hired by aid agencies are doing research. They don’t see patients. Frustrated public health officials in Zambia and other developing countries call this the ‘internal brain drain.’ ”

Post-Cold War hubris
The seeds of “the social (and antisocial) grassroots demonstrations that are mushrooming in affluent Western societies” lay in the collapse of the USSR, according to Sergei Karaganov of Russia’s National Research University Higher School of Economics.
“First, social inequality has grown unabated in the West over the last quarter-century, owing in part to the disappearance of the Soviet Union and, with it, the threat of expansionist communism. The specter of revolution had forced Western elites to use the power of the state to redistribute wealth and nurture the growth of loyal middle classes. But, when communism collapsed in its Eurasian heartland, the West’s rich, believing that they had nothing more to fear, pressed to roll back the welfare state, causing inequality to rise rapidly. This was tolerable as long as the overall pie was expanding, but the global financial crisis in 2008 ended that.”

No going back
University of London PhD student Aaron Peters argues against a return to “statist capitalism” as a solution to the current economic crisis.
“[Andrew] Kliman’s concern is that the ‘left’ will over time adopt an underconsumptionist position. For those passionate about ecological sustainability and not simply reducing human beings to units capable of economic maximisation this is of grave concern.
Not only are high levels of growth an undesirable goal and an utterly insufficient rubric for assessing the ‘common wealth’, it is also simply not possible to return to the annualized GDP growth of the post-war ‘golden age’.”

Latest Developments, October 31

In the latest news and analysis…

New nuclear age
The Guardian reports on a new study suggesting countries that already possess nuclear arms are planning to spend large sums of money to upgrade their capabilities over the coming years.
“Despite government budget pressures and international rhetoric about disarmament, evidence points to a new and dangerous ‘era of nuclear weapons’, the report for the British American Security Information Council (Basic) warns. It says the US will spend $700bn (£434bn) on the nuclear weapons industry over the next decade, while Russia will spend at least $70bn on delivery systems alone. Other countries including China, India, Israel, France and Pakistan are expected to devote formidable sums on tactical and strategic missile systems.
For several countries, including Russia, Pakistan, Israel and France, nuclear weapons are being assigned roles that go well beyond deterrence, says the report. In Russia and Pakistan, it warns, nuclear weapons are assigned ‘war-fighting roles in military planning’.”

Dictator savings
Global Witness has welcomed a resolution adopted at last week’s UN anti-corruption conference that calls for national governments to enforce laws that forbid banks to accept money looted from the coffers of other states.
“Corruption on the scale that causes revolutions cannot happen without a bank to take the money. The very fact that some states are trying to get stolen money returned makes it clear that something has gone very wrong; these funds, which belong to the people of Egypt and Tunisia, should not be in foreign bank accounts in the first place,” said Global Witness’s George Boden.

Seal of approval
A new report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations detailing labour rights violations on tea plantations owned by British-Dutch company Unilever raises “doubts regarding the reliability of Rainforest Alliance certification.”
“Civil society organisations have been urging tea companies for many years to address the precarious working conditions of millions of tea workers worldwide. In response, there is a clear trend of multinational tea packers indeed stepping up their efforts to address sustainability issues in this sector. To this end tea companies are increasingly making use of independent and more rigorous multi-stakeholder sustainability standard systems, such as Rainforest Alliance (RA), Utz Certified and Fairtrade, which are generally seen as best industry practice. As a consequence the share of world tea exports certified by global standard systems grew by 2000% in the period from 2004 to 2009 alone. It is estimated that roughly 15% of tea exported worldwide will have been certified in 2011. Now several years later this study is assessing whether there is evidence of improvement of the working conditions on tea estates that have achieved RA certification, the most important sustainability certification in the tea sector in terms of volume.”

Biopiracy
Al Jazeera reports on allegations that a subsidiary of US biotech giant Monsanto genetically modified Indian eggplant seeds without obtaining prior authorization.
“In response, the national biodiversity authority has announced its plans to prosecute Monsanto for carrying out this research without seeking its permission and the consent of hundreds of thousands of farmers who have cultivated these varieties for generations. Officials at the authority say that, by failing to consult with farmers and the national biodiversity authority, the multinational firm has run foul of India’s Biological Diversity Act 2002. The law states that, if companies want to genetically modify indigenous varieties of seeds and plants – for research or commercialisation purposes – they must obtain prior consent of the authority. That never happened, the national biodiversity authority says, so now Monsanto and Mahyco look set to face charges of biopiracy – a fancy word for theft. It will be the first criminal prosecution under the act if it goes ahead. Though brinjal is a vegetable that is now widely eaten and grown around the world, it is native to south Asia with more than 2,500 varieties.”

Colonization through investment
The Observer reports on the fallout of a biofuel bust in Tanzania, where a village leader speaks of “colonialism in the form of investment.”
“A quarter of the village’s land in Kisarawe district was acquired by a British biofuels company in 2008, with the promise of financial compensation, 700 jobs, water wells, improved schools, health clinics and roads. But the company has gone bust, leaving villagers not just jobless but landless as well. The same story is playing out across Africa, as foreign investors buy up land but leave some of the poorest people on Earth worse off when their plans fail.”

The right to food
A UN food expert is urging world leaders to put the right to food ahead of commercial interests at this week’s G-20 summit.
“The G-20 made an important statement of intent by placing food security at the top of its agenda. But agreeing on a food security action plan without addressing biofuels and speculation would be like running a bath without putting in the plug. All of the good ideas simply drain away,” according to UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter.

Development 3.0
The World Bank’s Justin Yifu Lin argues for a third way in development thinking – in the wake of “structuralist, state-led” policies on the one hand, and “largely neo-liberal” ones on the other – and addresses critiques from three eminent economists.
“The credibility argument [that policies were not reversible] was used to support the shock therapy in the East European and Formal Soviet Union’s transition in the early 1990s. However, to ward off large unemployment and subsequent social/political instability, governments in transition economies were very often forced to provide other disguised and less efficient forms of subsidies and protection to firms in the old priority sectors even though those firms were privatized. As a result most transition economies encountered the awkward situation of ‘shock without therapy’.”

Business and human rights
In an interview with Business Ethics Magazine, John Ruggie talks about the voluntary guiding principles he formulated over his six years as UN special representative for business and human rights and the inevitable evolution towards legal accountability.
“Finally, judicial remedy will continue to evolve. Judicial reform in countries where the rule of law is weak and governments are corrupt is a slow process, but it is happening. And the web of legal liability for corporate involvement in egregious violations is expanding in the home countries of multinational corporations—a trajectory that will continue no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the applicability of the Alien Tort Statute to legal persons, such as corporations.”