Latest Developments, November 27

 

In the latest news and analysis…

Fatal negligence
The New York Times reports that critics are partly blaming international clothing brands for over 100 deaths in a Bangladeshi garment factory fire:

“Activists say that global clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap and those sold by Walmart need to take responsibility for the working conditions in Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes.
‘These brands have known for years that many of the factories they choose to work with are death traps,’ Ineke Zeldenrust, the international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, said in a statement. ‘Their failure to take action amounts to criminal negligence.’ ”

Double standard
Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs argues that international oil companies should face “the same standards for environmental cleanup” whether a spill occurs in a rich or poor country:

“In the colonial era, it was the official purpose of imperial power to extract wealth from the administered territories. In the post-colonial period, the methods are better disguised. When oil companies misbehave in Nigeria or elsewhere, they are protected by the power of their home countries. Don’t mess with the companies, they are told by the United States and Europe. Indeed, one of the largest bribes (a reputed $180 million) paid in recent times in Nigeria was by Halliburton, a company tightly intertwined with US political power. (Dick Cheney went from being Halliburton’s CEO to the US vice presidency.)

The world’s governments have recently agreed to move to a new framework for sustainable development, declaring their intention to adopt Sustainable Development Goals at the Rio+20 Summit in June. The SDGs offer a critical opportunity for the world to set clear, compelling standards for government and corporate behavior.”

After 2014
The New York Times also reports on the potential number of foreign troops that will remain in Afghanistan following NATO’s “handover” of the country to local authorities:

“Final decisions on the size of the American and NATO presence after 2014 and its precise configuration have not been made by the United States or its allies. But one option calls for about 10,000 American and several thousand non-American NATO troops.

A major challenge is that Afghanistan will not have an effective air force before 2017, if then. American officials said that NATO airpower would remain in Afghanistan after 2014 but will likely only be used on behalf of NATO and American troops and perhaps Afghan units that are accompanied by NATO advisers.”

Probe promised
The Tanzania Daily News reports that the country’s government has vowed to investigate allegations of serious human rights abuses being committed in areas surrounding mines:

“ ‘We have come across serious allegation that investors are harassing and even killing residents allegedly entering mining sites without permission. If the allegations are confirmed we will take action regardless of the status of an investor,’ [Energy and Minerals Deputy Minister Stephen Masele] said.

He was responding to complaints by residents who said the relationship between mining investors and local residents particularly in Geita was not good calling for the government to intervene before it was too late.”

Debt colonies
Cambridge University’s Ha-Joon Chang argues that indebted countries such as Greece and Argentina should have the right to declare bankruptcy the way corporations do:

“[Greek opposition leader Alexis] Tsipras was asking why most burdens of adjustment for bad loans have to fall on the debtor country and, within them, mostly on its weaker members. And he is right. As they say, it takes two to tango, so those who condemn Greece for imprudent borrowing should also condemn the imprudent lenders that made it possible.

Meanwhile, the absence of rules equivalent to the protection of wage claims in corporate bankruptcy law means that claims by weaker stakeholders – pensions, unemployment insurance, income supports – are the first to go. This creates social unrest, which then threatens recovery by discouraging investment.”

Destructive conferences
In a Q&A with Inter Press Service, the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Patrick Bond argues that international climate summits, such as the UN’s COP 18 which has just kicked off in Doha, simply legitimize the unsustainable behaviour of rich countries:

“It is beyond doubt now that any progress at the multilateral level will require two things: first, a further crash of the emissions trading experiment, so as to finally end the fiction that a market run by international bankers can solve a problem of planet-threatening pollution caused by unregulated markets; and second, a banning of delegations from Washington – the U.S. government and Bretton Woods Institutions – since that’s the city most influenced by climate denialists. Hence every move from the U.S. State Department amounts to sabotage.”

Brain drain numbers
The Financial Times looks at the findings in a new UN report, which explores the pros and cons of highly skilled people emigrating from the world’s poorest countries:

“[Least Developed Countries] not surprisingly suffer the highest rates of ‘brain drain’ in the world, at 18.4 per cent of the population – far above the 10 per cent rate for other developing countries, according to [the UN Conference on Trade and Development]. Six of the 48 LDCs have greater numbers of highly-skilled nationals living abroad than at home.
The total of university-educated ‘LDC emigrants’ stood at 1.3m in 2000 – up 58 per cent from 1990 – and by mid-2011 was estimated to have exceeded 2m, the report said. At these kind of levels, ‘the adverse effects on LDCs can outweigh the benefits from remittances – that is, the billions of dollars that these workers send home to their families every year,’ it says.”

EU subsidies
The Guardian’s George Monbiot attacks the EU’s €50bn-per-year farm subsidies on economic, social and environmental grounds:

“A European rule insists that to receive their main payment farmers must prevent ‘the encroachment of unwanted vegetation on agricultural land’. In other words, they must stop trees and bushes from growing. They don’t have to grow crops or keep animals on the land to get their money, but they do have to keep it mown. All over Europe essential wildlife habitats are destroyed – often on agriculturally worthless land – simply to expand the area eligible for subsidies.”

Latest Developments, October 18

In the latest news and analysis…

FDI dangers
Reuters reports international negotiations have not succeeded in producing voluntary guidelines to curb land grabs in poor countries, a phenomenon driven by uncertain markets and a race to the bottom to attract foreign investment.
“Countries who want to attract investment are currently competing with each other to provide buyers with the best deal, such as a low price for land, low taxes, and few demands for employment creation and protection of the local food system, [the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier] De Schutter said.
Targeted African and Asian countries would benefit from a common set of guidelines, which would increase their bargaining position and make it easier for them to demand conditions to protect vulnerable land-users, he said.”

Conflict minerals
Reuters also reports on the battle in Washington over the Securities and Exchange Commission’s attempts to implement a legal provision requiring companies to disclose if their products contain “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Companies and business groups have largely opposed the measure as proposed, saying it captures far too many companies who do not directly manufacture their goods and have little say or knowledge about the origins of the minerals used in their products. They have urged the SEC to implement the plan over time, and also to give relief to companies that use trace amounts of the minerals in question.
But lawmakers, human rights groups and some socially conscious investors have decried the delay in the SEC’s rulemaking process.”

Resource caution
In the midst of all the excitement about Africa’s current rate of economic growth, Oxford economist Paul Collier warns of the dangers of relying on revenues from resource exports.
“The meltdown in commodity prices over the last two months perfectly illustrates the volatility inherent in these global markets. Resource-rich low-income countries are typically highly dependent upon the tax receipts from resource exports for government revenue. The rents on commodity extraction are highly geared on the price and so are even more volatile than prices. Since taxes are designed to capture the rents, government revenue is thus deeply unpredictable.”

Remittance curse
Economist and mathematician David Ellerman suggests remittances can represent a curse in the same way as resource wealth is often thought to do.
“Like the discovery of oil, the flow of remittances back to the sending country will increase income levels but that itself does not amount to economic development. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. Many of the resource-curse arguments apply to the ‘oil wells’ of remittances. The pressure on the governments to facilitate job creation in the sending countries is much reduced when they can export their unemployment problem and even receive a sizable inflow of hard currency in return.”

Intimidating investigation
Oxfam is reporting that people who complained to the NGO of being forcibly evicted to make way for the Ugandan operations of UK-based New Forests Company – as highlighted in an Oxfam report on land grabs released last month – now say they are being intimidated by employees of the company which had promised an independent investigation in the original allegations.
“We have heard from many people in these communities that they are feeling intimidated by the recent actions of NFC, which are totally at odds with the principles of an independent and transparent investigation,” according to Oxfam’s Vicky Rateau. “They have already lost their homes and land and many have been subjected to violent behavior. They need a credible investigation not further pressure.”

Malaria vaccine
The Guardian’s Sarah Boseley reports on a possible new malaria vaccine that has roughly halved the incidence of the disease in trials to this point.
“The arguments over value for money will be starting even now. Donors will want to figure out whether bednets or artimisinin drugs are a better investment than a vaccine that will reduce the number of malaria cases but not stop the disease in its tracks.
Price will be a critical factor in these considerations. [GlaxoSmithKline’s Andrew] Witty says they will do everything they can to get it down. He is looking at the costs involved in manufacturing and supply – even at the price of the vial. He is prepared to offer licences to get the vaccine produced cheaply in India or in Africa itself.”

Feminist development
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues for the reassertion of feminism as the “theoretical underpinning” for women’s rights around the world but cautions against the imposition of cultural values.
“The certainty that has typified feminist struggle in the west, and has been one of the reasons for its great successes, does not often work cross-culturally. Certainty can only arise indigenously – and there are plenty of national feminist organisations across the world that are leading the fight in their own countries, in their own way (see the debate about the Gisele Bündchen adverts in Brazil, for example). In the international sphere, certainty must be replaced with humility about what the answers are and, crucially, a profound openness to learning from other cultures.”

Rejecting happiness
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny thinks the recent craze among politicians to develop happiness measures as policy-making tools is misguided.
“This isn’t to say that politicians shouldn’t care whether their people are happy. But life is complicated and so is what makes up a good one. It is time to give up looking for a single indicator to capture how we’re doing at it.”