Latest Developments, June 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Torture money
The BBC reports that in announcing a settlement package for victims of colonial-era torture in Kenya, the UK government said it “sincerely regrets” the abuses while rejecting any legal liability for them:

” ‘The British government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,’ [UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said].
‘The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence.’
Mr Hague said 5,228 victims would receive payments totalling £19.9m following an agreement with lawyers acting for the victims, who have been fighting for compensation for a number of years.
The compensation amounts to about £3,000 per victim and applies only to the living survivors of the abuses that took place.
Mr Hague said Britain still did not accept it was legally liable for the actions of what was a colonial administration in Kenya.”

Bilderberg thaw
Comedy writer Charlie Skelton says that the 2013 edition of the Bilderberg conference marks a departure from the elite gathering’s “cold war policy of disengagement and secrecy” as mainstream news media converge on the event for the first time:

“Four Bilderbergs ago (has it been that long?) there were barely a dozen people outside the conference in Greece. The relationship with the press back then was simple: arrest them. Follow them, harass them, chase them out of town.

Never mind the steady stream of limousined technocrats and hedge-fund billionaires humming up the hill. The weird ritual of ducking delegates, tinted windows and rings of steel. Up on the hill, an ugly looking steel and concrete fence, a paranoid scar on the landscape. But over here in the paddock, in front of news crews, this is where Bilderberg changed.”

Violence silence
The Justice and Corporate Accountability Project has lodged a complaint with the Ontario Securities Commission over a Canadian mining company’s “poor disclosure” concerning violence near its silver project in Guatemala:

“According to Securities Commission requirements, Tahoe Resources must file material changes ‘forthwith’. Company disclosure, however, has been both insufficient and inaccurate.

‘As the company’s only mine project, investors, and the public in general, need to know about the implication of its employees in such an egregious attack, as well as widespread and ongoing opposition to the mine,’ remarked Jen Moore for MiningWatch Canada.”

War on pot
Postmedia News reports on a new American Civil Liberties Union study revealing the racial component of US anti-marijuana measures:

“The study shows that literally in every state and community in the U.S. there is a huge racial disparity in marijuana arrests despite the fact that the rate of marijuana use is about identical between whites and blacks.
On average, 3.73 times more blacks are arrested than whites. In some states, this rate rises to five.

The study shows that blacks are targeted no matter where they live, where they go, wealthy or poor, within small or large black communities.”

Unhappy shareholders
The New York Times reports that Walmart’s board of directors will face “largely symbolic” opposition at its annual shareholders’ meeting over perceived ethical lapses:

“A group of investors, including pension plans from Connecticut and Sweden and the United Automobile Workers medical benefits trust, is sponsoring a shareholder proposal related to an inquiry over Wal-Mart Stores’ potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The proposal asks that Wal-Mart disclose whether the company is holding current and former executives financially responsible for breaching company policies.
Calpers, the nation’s largest public pension fund, which owns about $400 million in Wal-Mart shares, says it continues to be concerned about the Mexico inquiry, and it is troubled by recent Wal-Mart supply-chain issues. It says it will vote against several board members and support several shareholder proposals.
‘We’re extremely concerned about Wal-Mart’s monitoring on its supply chain — the fires and deaths in Bangladesh, and other concerns about supply-chain issues in the U.S.,’ said Anne Simpson, senior portfolio manager for investments at Calpers.”

Post-2015 miss
The Green Economy Coalition’s Emily Benson writes that a UN panel’s recommendations for the Millennium Development Goals’ successors were disappointing on the sustainability front:

“The Panel falls short of recognising all of our planetary boundaries, arguably one of the most important research developments in the last decade. It reiterates the commitment on CO2 levels and insists on the need for sustainable consumption and production. But most of the emphasis is on the role of efficiency gains from production and technological advances, rather than tackling issues of how we consume – particularly in rich countries. Taken together, their goals do not measure progress in staying within our ecological limits.”

Evicted and uncompensated
IRIN reports on the plight of 250 people forced from their homes by construction of a mine owned by South Africa’s Anglogold Ashanti, just one of several such incidents in Tanzania in recent years:

“The area, which resembles a refugee camp and is known by residents as Sophiatown – or colloquially, Darfur – is inhabited by farming families who were displaced in 2007 to make way for one of the country’s largest gold mines.

The resettlement issue sparked a legal battle between Mine Mpya’s residents and Anglogold Ashanti. According to the company, no compensation was paid upon eviction because a High Court ruling found that ‘those on the land had no legal rights of occupancy.’ ”

Unburnable fuels
EJOLT’s Nick Meynen writes that European climate and energy policies are “mutually exclusive”:

“While [the Directorate-General for Energy] wants to open Europe for a new source of fossil fuels, [the Directorate-General for Climate Action] is working to prevent 2°C or more of global warming. In 2009, the EU has committed itself to this goal in Copenhagen. Scientists now know that in order to stand a reasonable chance of keeping below 2°C, around 80% of all known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground as burning them would cause too much global warming. Even The Economist recognizes that we are faced with huge amounts of unburnable fuels. Policymakers in the EU, who read The Economist, know that this liberal magazine is not some environmental activist group crying wolf on the coming apocalypse without checking their sources. But instead of debating which reserves will be kept under the ground and how, the recent EU Energy Summit concluded with the message that Europe needs a shale-gas revolution. If that plan goes ahead, something is deeply rotten in the way policy is made in the EU. The simple truth is that the EU needs to choose which policy it wants: more or less fossil fuels? You can’t have both.”

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Latest Developments, November 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Mining aid
The Globe and Mail reports that Canada’s new international co-operation minister’s promotion of business opportunities abroad, particularly for mining companies, signals “a profound shift” in the Canadian approach to foreign aid:

“[Julian Fantino] said part of [the Canadian International Development Agency’s] work is to help small and medium enterprises in developing countries find their footing. But he also emphasized CIDA’s role in preparing those countries for foreign investment, suggesting the agency’s work can help make countries and people ‘trade and investment ready’ and even dissuade governments from nationalizing extractive industries.
‘CIDA can help develop the capacity to negotiate with other countries, implement international commercial agreements with Canada and other trading partners and help firms benefit from these agreements. We will be doing more of this in the future,’ he said.”

Setting limits
In a draft report on sustainability and the post-2015 development agenda, New York University’s Alex Evans calls for the successors to the Millennium Development Goals to include “explicit recognition of planetary boundaries”:

“Poverty reduction is the first casualty of unsustainability, with poor people disproportionately reliant on natural assets and vulnerable to climate and scarcity risks. At the same time, current models of development are also the main driver of unsustainability – most obviously in ‘developed’ countries, but increasingly also in emerging economies which, though far behind high income countries in per capita impacts, are nonetheless helping push the world towards ecological tipping points.

Environmental summitry has become the world’s principal breeding ground for multilateral zombies (staggering on, moaning piteously, never quite dying) with few if any really significant wins in the 15 years since Kyoto. This should surprise no-one, mirroring as it does the fact that in capitals all over the world, environment ministers lack the clout to make change happen. Sustainability advocates need to stop talking about mainstreaming and get on with it. That means bringing environment to the heart of debates about how we develop – not in some vague, aspirational way, but by starting from quantified estimates of how much environmental space is available for us to share between us.”

Vulture loss
The Guardian reports that politicians in Jersey have voted to prevent so-called vulture funds from using the British island’s courts as a venue to sue poor countries:

Vulture funds, which buy up poor nations’ debts on the cheap before suing them for up to 100 times the original amount, had attempted to take cases to Jersey after British law banned the practice.
In the latest case, multimillionaire speculator Peter Grossman used Jersey’s courts to sue the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for $100m (£64m) over a decades-old debt that started out at $3.3m. Grossman, who runs the FG Hemisphere fund, was able to take the case to Jersey’s courts because the island is a crown dependency not covered by all UK laws.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank estimate that vulture funds are seeking total claims of $1.47bn from countries including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, and the DRC.

Vulture win
The Financial Times reports that Argentina’s government has described as “a kind of legal colonialism” a US court ruling that the country should pay $1.3 billion to hedge funds:

“The victory for several hedge funds against Argentina has sparked fears that the country could be plunged into yet another debilitating sovereign default and threatens to make government restructurings more difficult in the future.
In what has been dubbed the ‘trial of the century’ for sovereign debt restructurings, a US District Court judge on Wednesday ordered Argentina to pay the hedge fund creditors – led by Elliott Associates and Aurelius Capital – in mid-December.

Buenos Aires could choose to default rather than repay the hedge funds it considers ‘vultures’, in a case that experts say has far-reaching ramifications for international finance.

The decision still has to be confirmed by the appeals court and could end up before the US Supreme Court. But if upheld, it would open a chink in the armour of sovereign immunity against creditors that countries have largely enjoyed for the past century.”

Unnecessary incentives
TrustMedia reports that the African Tax Administration Forum is calling for a review of tax incentives granted by African governments to multinational corporations:

“[ATAF’s Logan Wort] said most tax incentives agreements were entered into without wide consultations as to how they impact on African countries’ ability to mobilise domestic resources for development.
‘We believe African countries are losing millions of dollars through tax incentives, which are mostly negotiated by the political elite.’

Zambia, for instance, has given specific tax incentives to companies operating in copper mining, the country’s traditional export sector, with conditions varying from one company to another. ATAF thinks this kind of incentive is not necessary.
‘We believe investors will come with or without tax incentives, therefore they are not necessary,’ Thulani Shongwe, a tax expert at the ATAF secretariat, commented. He said the organisation was now on a ‘crusade’ to review the benefits.”

Corn fears
Via Campesina expresses concern that multinational giants Monsanto, Dow and DuPont look likely to get the green light to plant genetically modified maize on 2.4 million hectares of Mexican land, “a surface area equivalent to that of El Salvador”:

The situation is extremely alarming since Mexico is the world’s centre of maize diversity, with thousands of varieties in the fields of peasant and indigenous communities. Maize is currently one of the world’s three main food staples, so the contamination of Mexican maize by dangerous GMOs is a threat to the entire planet.”

Human development
The University of London’s Simon Reid-Henry writes that Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen’s conception of development “requires thinking about poverty not simply as an aberration, as something that we might somehow solve.”

“It involves acknowledging, rather, that ‘our privileges are located on the same map as their suffering’, as Susan Sontag puts it. The problem of development lies as much in what we classify as wealth and how we go about promoting that as it does in poverty.

Accordingly, development becomes not so much about making up for what people lack (modernisation, say) so much as removing the ‘unfreedoms’ that stop them living in a way they might otherwise choose: market inequalities, perhaps, or state violence.”

Latest Developments, October 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Happiness is a doughnut
Oxfam’s Kate Raworth makes the case for adding social boundaries to the nine so-called “planetary boundaries” in order to come up with comfort zones or “doughnuts” within which people can live both sustainably and decently.
“[N]on-monetary metrics must clearly be given more weight in policy making. Economic progress cannot be assessed only – or even primarily – in monetary terms (such as incomes per capita and GDP growth rates). Where the edges are, and whether or not we are hitting them, matters for stability and justice. Policymakers must take more notice of, and be more accountable for, the impact of economic activity on planetary and social boundaries, defined in ‘natural’ and ‘social’ metrics, such as species extinction rates, and unemployment rates.”

Inequality matters
The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire Melamed says the Occupy movements have, if nothing else, dragged the issue of inequality into the spotlight and she presents five points to show why it matters.
“Policy change might be becoming more likely.  In sharp contrast to previous protests, the Occupy movement has got a very sympathetic hearing in the press, with even the Financial Times conceding that they have a point.  Could this be the moment that inequality becomes mainstream? ”

Corruption talks
A new World Bank and UN report calls on the world’s governments to do more about corruption and money laundering.
“The report, the Puppet Masters, examines how bribes, embezzled state assets and other criminal proceeds are being hidden via legal structures – shell companies, foundations, trusts and others. The study’s release coincided with a UN conference on corruption in Marrakesh, Morocco, bringing together anti-corruption advocates and representatives from 154 states.”

Mailbox companies
SOMO has released a new report on Dutch bilateral investment treaties alleging so-called “mailbox companies” are using these agreements to sue home countries for billions “for alleged damages to the profitability of their investments.”
“In addition, the majority of the companies availing themselves of the generous investment protections offered by Dutch BITs are so-called ‘mailbox companies,’ companies with no employees on their payroll and no real economic activity in the Netherlands.”

Walking the gender walk
Gender Action’s Elizabeth Arend argues there is an “alarming gap” between the World Bank’s rhetoric on gender equality and its actual investment policies.
“The World Bank’s gender-blind agriculture investments are even more appalling when they are offered in the form of loans, which increase poor countries’ debt burden and often compel governments to slash public spending on health and other social services to service debt. These cuts are devastating for poor women, who not only suffer directly from lack of access to healthcare, but are responsible for the health and welfare of their households.
Poor countries can appeal to the World Bank for debt relief, but only if they demonstrate a track record of adopting bank-imposed “free-market” policy reforms, including privatisation of state-owned enterprises and unilateral reduction of agricultural trade barriers while rich countries maintain theirs. Women inevitably bear the greatest burden when such policy reforms undermine poor countries’ investments in agriculture, health and education.”

Selling repression
In light of a recent Amnesty International report detailing the extent of arms sales to repressive Arab regimes over the last five years, Al-Jazeera asks if the proposed Arms Trade Treaty will really be able to rein in the global weapons trade.
“The human rights group reports that in the five years preceding the Arab spring $2.4bn worth of small arms, tear gas, armoured vehicles and other security equipment was sold to five specified countries that have faced or are facing popular uprisings – Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
And these sales were committed by at least 20 governments including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US.”

Blackwater and the US Supreme Court
The Leal Times reports former Blackwater security contractors charged with manslaughter over a shooting incident in Iraq that “left more than a dozen civilians either dead or injured” are trying to get the US Supreme Court to hear their case.
“At issue is whether the indictment is tainted from the prosecution’s use of statements the guards were compelled to make in the hours after the shooting in Baghdad in 2007.”

Happy Birthday to UN
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon marked his organization’s 66th anniversary by calling for the 193 member states to display “unity of purpose.”
“Global problems demand global solutions,” he said. “They compel all nations to unite in action on an agenda for the world’s people.