Latest Developments, May 2

In the latest news and analysis…

Subsidiary immunity
The Associated Press reports that a Canadian judge has dismissed an attempt by Ecuadorian plaintiffs to have a $19 billion judgment enforced against US oil giant Chevron:

“Justice David Brown ruled Wednesday that the Canadian courts have no jurisdiction to enforce the controversial award handed down by an Ecuadorian court against Chevron.
The award to the villagers was made in Ecuador for black sludge contamination of a rainforest between 1972 and 1990 by Texaco, which Chevron Corp. bought in 2001.

Brown concluded the judgment was levied against Chevron Corp., and not Chevron Canada, therefore the subsidiary’s assets do not belong to the U.S. parent company

Alan Lenczner, the Toronto lawyer for the Ecuadorians, said they would appeal.
‘It cannot be right that a multinational company that operates entirely through subsidiaries is immune from the enforcement of a judgment in Canada, particularly where the subsidiary is 100% owned,’ Lenczner said in a statement.”

Unwanted aid
Al Jazeera reports that Bolivia has expelled the US Agency for International Development over “alleged political interference”:

“ ‘Never again, never again USAID, who manipulate and use our leaders, our colleagues with hand-outs,’ [Bolivian president Evo] Morales said in announcing the expulsion.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Philip Brenner, an international relations professor at the American University in Washington DC, said USAID became a target after its suspected role in encouraging secession in Santa Cruz, ‘a very wealthy part’ of Bolivia.”

Timber laundering
Global Witness reports that “shadow permits” are keeping the illicit logging trade flowing from Africa to the EU which imported up to to €12.4 billion worth of illegal timber in 2011:

Meanwhile, the EU has been developing Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with timber-exporting countries, which involve comprehensive forest governance reforms aimed at stamping out the illegal trade. Neither the EU Timber Regulation nor the VPAs take account of the widespread use of shadow permits, however. This means they could end up laundering the type of wood products they were designed to exclude.
‘Unless European and African policy-makers take urgent action, shadow permits could become the Trojan horse by which illegal timber is brought into the EU and passed off as legitimate. Timber importers must do proper checks right the way along their supply chains to make sure they know exactly where their timber came from and whether the permit used to get it was legal,’ said [Global Witness’s Alexandra] Pardal.

Illegal resource extraction
Reuters reports that nearly all of Liberia’s resource deals since 2009 have violated national laws:

“Liberian law sets rules for foreign investment projects including on competitive tendering, tax rates and equity stakes to be held by the government.
While some failures to comply with the law are relatively minor, the Moore Stephens draft shows the government granted vast swathes of land to firms including Golden Agri’s Golden Veroleum and Sime Darby without competitive bidding, and otherwise skipped contract steps meant to ensure a fair deal for Liberians.
Other companies with contracts found to be flawed include U.S. oil firm Chevron Petroleum and mining giant BHP, according to the report, which also accused Liberian authorities of having tried to stonewall the audit process since late last year by failing to hand over information promptly.”

No more executions
The Associated Press reports that Maryland has become the 18th US state and the first south of the Mason-Dixon line to abolish the death penalty:

“[National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] President and CEO Ben Jealous, who worked to get the repeal bill passed, noted the significance of a Democratic governor south of the Mason-Dixon line with presidential aspirations leading an effort to ban capital punishment. Jealous noted that in 1992, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton left the presidential campaign trail to oversee the execution of a man who had killed a police officer, a move widely viewed as an effort to shed the Democratic Party’s image as soft on crime.
‘Our governor has also just redefined what it means to have a political future in this country,’ Jealous said”

Fighting biopiracy
EurActiv reports that the EU is debating new measures that would require companies to compensate indigenous people for the commercial use of their knowledge:

“Under the law – based on the international convention on access to biodiversity, the Nagoya protocol – the pharmaceuticals industry would need the written consent of local or indigenous people before exploring their region’s genetic resources or making use of their traditional knowhow.
Relevant authorities would have the power to sanction companies that fail to comply, protecting local interests from the predatory attitude of big European companies.

But obstacles remain due to vested interests, particularly in the European pharmaceuticals industry. ‘90% of genetic resources are in the south and 90% of the patents are in the north,’ [Green MEP Sandrine] Bélier told EurActiv.”

Free trade racket
The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Dean Baker argues that international trade agreements, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, have more to do with “securing regulatory gains for major corporate interests” than free trade:

“All the arguments that trade economists make against tariffs and quotas apply to patent and copyright protection. The main difference is the order of magnitude. Tariffs and quotas might raise the price of various items by 20 or 30 percent. By contrast, patent and copyright protection is likely to raise the price of protected items 2,000 percent or even 20,000 percent above the free market price. Drugs that would sell for a few dollars per prescription in a free market would sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars when the government gives a drug company a patent monopoly.
In the case of drug patents, the costs go beyond just dollars and cents. Higher drug prices will have a direct impact on the public’s health, especially in some of the poorer countries that might end up being parties to these agreements.”

Pharma power
This is Africa’s Adam Robert Green discusses concerns that pharmaceutical companies may be “shaping the public health agenda” in poor countries:

“One example is the HPV vaccination programme for cervical cancer in Rwanda, enabled by a donation from Merck. After three years, the freebies expire, but Merck promised to provide Rwanda with a discounted access price to the vaccine. Assuming donors and governments pick up the bill, the donations could be interpreted as market-priming – creating the conditions for adoption – rather than corporate citizenship.”

Latest Developments, March 21

In the latest news and analysis…

White Savior Industrial Complex
Novelist Teju Cole argues that Americans should focus on reducing the negative impacts of their own government’s actions abroad before trying to “help” by intervening in Africa.
“Let us begin our activism right here: with the money-driven villainy at the heart of American foreign policy. To do this would be to give up the illusion that the sentimental need to ‘make a difference’ trumps all other considerations. What innocent heroes don’t always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives. The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage. We can participate in the economic destruction of Haiti over long years, but when the earthquake strikes it feels good to send $10 each to the rescue fund. I have no opposition, in principle, to such donations (I frequently make them myself), but we must do such things only with awareness of what else is involved. If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.”

Silicosis suit
Reuters reports that “the biggest class action suit Africa has ever seen” is looming for South Africa’s gold mining companies as thousands of former miners with damaged lungs join a fast-growing list of plaintiffs.
“A successful suit could collectively cost mining companies such as AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and global giant AngloAmerican billions of dollars, according to legal and industry experts. The largest settlement to date by the mining industry in South Africa was $100 million in 2003 in a case brought by [Richard] Spoor against an asbestos company.

It’s hard to estimate the potential size of a silicosis class action. South Africa is the source of 40 percent of all the gold ever mined. At its height in the 1980s the industry employed 500,000 men – two-thirds of them from Lesotho, Mozambique and the Eastern Cape – although production has fallen behind China and Australia and employment since halved. But silicosis can take years to show up and check-ups are at best haphazard. A 2005 study by the National Institute of Occupational Health in Johannesburg, based on autopsies of miners, suggested 52 in every 100 had the disease.”

World Bank options
Reuters also reports Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo are set to become candidates for the World Bank presidency but the US “is still likely to ensure that another American will succeed” outgoing president Robert Zoellick.
“All of the World Bank’s 187 members nations have committed to a merit-based process to select Zoellick’s successor.
Emerging and developing economies have long talked up their desire to break U.S. and European dominance of the Bretton Woods Institutions, but have until now have failed to build a coalition large enough to change the status quo.”

Limiting patents
Intellectual Property Watch reports that the US Supreme Court has ruled against the right to patent “an invention that merely applies known technology to natural phenomena.”
“The ruling is likely to a major impact on the medical and biotech industry. Many methods of medical diagnoses and medical treatment are now unpatentable. And the ruling may kill patents on human genes – including Myriad Genetics Inc.’s controversial patent on two breast cancer genes. The Federal Circuit (America’s so-called “patent court”) recently upheld Myriad’s patent, but that ruling is now in trouble, according to many experts.”

Suspect behaviour
The Guardian reports the story of a former FBI informant who says the agency’s efforts to prevent terrorist plots too often consisted of entrapment.
“In the case of the Newburgh Four – where four men were convicted for a fake terror attack on Jewish targets in the Bronx – a confidential informant offered $250,000, a free holiday and a car to one suspect for help with the attack.

Such actions have led Muslim civil rights groups to wonder if their communities are being unfairly targeted in a spying game that is rigged against them. Monteilh says that is exactly what happens. ‘The way the FBI conducts their operations, It is all about entrapment … I know the game, I know the dynamics of it. It’s such a joke, a real joke. There is no real hunt. It’s fixed,’ he said.”

Better but…
Human Rights Watch reports that labour conditions for migrant workers are improving at an Abu Dhabi mega-construction project that includes new branches of New York University, the Louvre and the Guggenheim, but problems remain.
“In addition, Human Rights Watch found that contractors are regularly confiscating worker passports and substituting worker contracts with less favorable ones when the workers arrive in the UAE. While the developers and institutions on Saadiyat have pledged to end these practices, and the scale of the problems Human Rights Watch documented is not as bad as in 2009, the continuation of poor practices in a number of cases reflects ongoing gaps in protection. The parties that benefit from these ventures need to make an unequivocal pledge to reimburse workers found to have paid recruitment fees in contravention of existing policies. The educational and cultural institutions and local developers also need to investigate and effectively enforce penalty provisions against contractors who disregard policies meant to protect workers from abuse.”

Lowering rents
The Centre for Economic and Policy Research’s Dean Baker takes issue with the argument that the prospect of enormous profits is necessary to drive innovation.
“The question is not whether we are better off with Steve Jobs getting very rich and all the products that Apple developed, or having Steve Jobs be poor and not having these products; the question is whether it was necessary for Jobs to get quite so rich in order to get these products.

Suppose we paid for the research and development of prescription drugs upfront rather than by giving drug companies patent monopolies. As a result of these monopolies, drugs that would sell for $5 per prescription in a free market sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The savings from this switch could potentially save us more than $200bn a year and provide us with better health care.”

Latest Developments, February 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Pharma corruption
Reuters reports on global efforts to rein in corruption in the pharmaceutical industry, as multinational drug companies seek to expand their business beyond traditional markets.
“The drugs business is particularly exposed to corruption, Transparency International says: pharmaceuticals create vast opportunities for graft across both rich and poor countries. Its 2011 Bribe Payers’ Index ranks pharmaceuticals and healthcare 13th out of 19 industries on probity – a lower ranking than defense firms, though above mining and construction.

Over the past year eight of the world’s top 10 drugmakers – Pfizer Inc, Novartis AG, Merck & Co Inc, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly & Co – have all warned that they may face liabilities related to charges of corruption in numerous overseas markets.
Investigations into potential wrongdoing by pharmaceutical firms cover activities in countries including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and Saudi Arabia, according to company filings. They also involve possible improper conduct of clinical trials, which are increasingly being run in lower-cost Asian or East European countries.”

Sustainable development?
The Gaia Foundation has released a new report that highlights the rate at which global extractive industries have grown over the last 10 years.
“For example, iron ore production is up by 180%; cobalt by 165%; lithium by 125%, and coal by 44%. The increase in prospecting has also grown exponentially, which means this massive acceleration in extraction will continue if concessions are granted as freely as they are now.

The rights of farming and indigenous communities are increasingly ignored in the race to grab land and water. Each wave of new extractive technologies requires ever more water to wrench the material from its source. The hunger for these materials is a growing threat to the necessities for life: water, fertile soil and food. The implications are obvious.”

Time limit
The Guardian reports the UK government plans to implement new rules that would require migrant workers earning less than £35,000 a year to leave after 5 years.
“Ministers hope changing settlement rights for skilled workers will put plans back on track to cut net migration from its current 250,000 a year to ‘tens of thousands’ by the next general election. They believe the £35,000-a-year earnings threshold will ensure only the ‘brightest and the best’ migrants settle in the UK. But critics say it will simply mean only the wealthy and the comfortable are able to come and live and work in Britain permanently.”

Power, Inc.
Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf examines what it means to live in a world where large numbers of corporations have grown more powerful than most countries.
“Today’s corporations often conduct something very much like their own foreign policy. They launch active political advocacy campaigns, such as ExxonMobil’s lobbying to kill U.S. acceptance of the Kyoto Protocol. They undertake significant security initiatives, as in the company formerly known as Blackwater’s defense contracting during the Iraq war. They also provide health care, training, shelter, and other functions that states ought to but can’t or won’t provide.
The result is societies that are profoundly out of whack, with far too much power in the hands of massive, often distant corporate entities that are only accountable, fundamentally, to their shareholders. Meanwhile, the public is seeing that the increasingly weak institutions designed to give them a voice are unable to meet some of the most basic terms of the social contract, as the issues that need to be addressed are effectively beyond their jurisdiction.”

Remedy gaps
Haley St. Dennis of the Institute for Human Rights and Business argues the current US Supreme Court case pitting Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Shell is a “stark reminder” that voluntary corporate policies are not always enough to prevent environmental and human rights abuses.
“But clearly governments must be at the forefront in ensuring effective remedies. Under the state duty to protect, governments have an obligation to ensure access to justice through provision of effective judicial and non-judicial remedies accessible to all.

It is safe to say that whether or not the Supreme Court finds in favour of the Kiobel plaintiffs, the need for more accessible forums for national or international redress to answer grievances unable to be remediated locally will remain a priority on the public agenda. Given the high threshold of evidence involving international crimes, tort laws such as [the Alien Tort Claims Act] and similar international processes, though often arduous, offer more accessible options.”

The cost of complicity
In a Q&A with Embassy Magazine, the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Léonce Ndikumana discusses African capital flight which, he says, “kills babies.”
“We then look at the linkages between external flight and external borrowing. Statistically we find that for every dollar that comes into Africa, between 40 and 60 cents comes out of the continent in the form of capital flight. Africa keeps 40 cents, but Africa is going to have to pay the whole dollar, because it’s the debt that they signed.

We emphasis the fact that capital flight is the result of mismanagement, corrupt management in Africa, but also complicity of foreign actors including banks that take this money being robbed from the continent and turn a blind eye and don’t ask any questions about a government official bringing a million to deposit.”

Creating new truths
J.D.M. Stewart, who teaches history at Toronto’s Bishop Strachan School, takes up the call issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada for the country’s students to be taught about the history of residential schools and their devastating impact on Aboriginal culture.
“As Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair, the TRC’s chair, wrote: ‘There is an opportunity now for Canadians to engage in this work, to make their own contributions to reconciliation, and to create new truths about our country.’ ”