Latest Developments, January 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Future worth choosing
The BBC reports on a new UN Global Sustainability Panel document that makes 56 recommendations for a world where the “true costs to people and the environment” drive policy decisions.
“Governments would build the true environmental costs of products into the prices that people pay to purchase them, leading to an economic system that protects natural resources.
Goods would be labelled with information on their environmental impact, enabling consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions.
With UN support, governments would adopt indicators of economic performance that go beyond simple GDP, and measure the sustainability of countries’ economies.
Governments would change the regulation of financial markets to promote longer-term, more stable and sustainable investment.”

Sea traffic
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has released a new report that finds 61 percent of “reported cases of sanctions-busting or illicit transfers of arms, drugs, other military equipment and sensitive dual-use goods that could be used in the development of missiles and weapons of mass destruction” over the last two decades have involved ships with ties to EU, NATO or OECD member states.
“It is not surprising that companies based in the world’s richest maritime states and those that have historically played the greatest role in the development of maritime trade own the greater share of ships in the world merchant fleet. However, it is notable that companies subject to the laws of those states with the most developed legal systems, law enforcement, intelligence and foreign policy establishments are nevertheless over-represented among the beneficial owners of ships reported as involved in destabilizing military equipment, dual-use goods and narcotics transfers: the same group of states account for only 54.5 per cent of ships over 1000 [gross tonnes] in the world merchant fleet.”

French FTT
The Telegraph reports France’s embattled president has unilaterally pledged to implement a 0.1 percent financial transaction tax as of August if he is re-elected.
“President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is trailing heavily in the polls ahead of April’s election, said France would go it alone in a bid to “create a shock” and inspire other European countries to follow his lead. That is despite vocal opposition from other EU leaders, not least David Cameron.”

Drone creep
The New York Times reports Iraqi officials are angry that the US is using “surveillance drones” to provide security for its embassy, consulates and personnel.
“It foreshadows a possible expansion of unmanned drone operations into the diplomatic arm of the American government; until now they have been mainly the province of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.
American contractors say they have been told that the State Department is considering to field unarmed surveillance drones in the future in a handful of other potentially “high-threat” countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan, and in Afghanistan after the bulk of American troops leave in the next two years. State Department officials say that no decisions have been made beyond the drone operations in Iraq.”

Coward’s war
The Guardian’s George Monbiot argues the growing sophistication of drones allows the governments that use them to “snuff out opposition of any kind, terrorist or democrat” with ease and impunity.
“In October last year, a 16-year-old called Tariq Aziz was travelling through North Waziristan in Pakistan with his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed Khan. Their car was hit by a missile from a US drone. As always, their deaths made them guilty: if we killed them, they must be terrorists. But they weren’t. Tariq was about to start work with the human rights group Reprieve, taking pictures of the aftermath of drone strikes. A mistake? Possibly. But it is also possible that he was murdered out of self-interest. If you have such powers, if you are not held to account by Congress, the media or the American people, why not use them?”

Broken food system
Drought and Famine are both normal and predictable, given a global food system “built on inequality, imbalances and – ultimately – fragility,” according to UN special rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter.
“The solution is therefore twofold: we must plan adequately for the food crises that emerge within our broken food system, and we must finally acknowledge how broken it is. Only when we are honest about hunger will the world’s most vulnerable populations receive the short-term aid and long-term support that they need.”

Corporate responsibility
Speaking at the Public Eye awards ceremony, where UK finance giant Barclays and Brazilian super-miner Vale were named the worst companies of the year, Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz stressed how far we are from a world where the majority of companies behave ethically and sustainably.
“When I look at the finalists for this year’s Public Eye awards, two things immediately strike me. For one, it is remarkable how ubiquitous some of the firms with the most deplorable practices are in contemporary life. This year’s nominees are companies in fields as diverse as finance, energy, mining, and electronics. Even the most socially aware consumer would be hard pressed to avoid buying their products and services, directly or indirectly.

What is needed is not just a recognition of what is wrong with, say, their environmental and labor practices, but systemic improvements—to incentive structures, legal frameworks, and our expectations and demands of corporations, as global citizens.”

Drugs in Africa
Former UN secretary General Kofi Annan argues the growing importance of West Africa as a transit point for the drug trade threatens to undo many of the positive developments of recent years in the region.
“We need to take action now before the grip of the criminal networks linked to the trafficking of illicit drugs tightens into a stranglehold on West African political and economic development. That can only achieved through a strong, well-co-ordinated and integrated effort led by West African states with the strong backing of the international community. In particular, the region needs more help from those countries that are producing and consuming these drugs.”

Colonial fantasies
Africa is a Country’s Sean Jacobs writes about a recent spate of media reports suggesting an upswing in nostalgia for colonial Africa.
“Two days ago, The Guardian (of all publications) put up a travel piece with this introduction: ‘I was alone in the middle of deepest, darkest Congo. Worse still, I was being chased by eight angry tribesmen in two dugout canoes – and they were gaining on me.’ We figured it must be a joke.”

Latest Developments, November 16

In the latest news and analysis…

A little relief
The Paris Club of creditor nations has announced a debt relief agreement with Cote d’Ivoire that will reschedule and forgive a portion of the conflict-ravaged country’s debt, while leaving about 95 percent of it on the books.
“Participating creditors welcomed that these measures are expected to reduce the debt service (including the arrears) due by the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire to Paris Club creditors between 1st July 2011 and 30 June 2014 by more than 78% which corresponds to 1 822 million USD, of which 397 million USD cancelled.

The stock of debt owed to Paris Club creditors by the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire as of 1st July 2011 was estimated to be more than USD 7,185 million in nominal terms.”

Vulture proofing
The Guardian reports on efforts to prevent vulture funds from buying sovereign debt from some of the world’s poorest countries and litigating to collect payment with interest.
“The [UK’s Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010] law, a world first, requires commercial creditors to comply with the terms of international debt cancellation schemes, which specify a single discount rate for creditors to ensure equal treatment. The law applies to the UK courts and ensures that public money given towards debt cancellation is not diverted to private investors.
However, debt campaigners point out that UK legislation applies only to the 40 [heavily indebted poor] countries and applies to cases before 2004.”

World turned upside down
The UN News Centre reports that the organization’s top food expert is calling on the World Trade Organization to prioritize the right to food in its Doha Development Round of negotiations.
“Some measures that have been cited as helpful in rehabilitating local food production capacity in developing countries are higher tariffs, temporary import restrictions, state purchase from small-holders, and targeted farm subsidies.
But WTO rules leave little space for developing countries to put these measures in place, said [Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier] De Schutter.
‘Even if certain policies are not disallowed, they are certainly discouraged by the complexity of the rules and the threat of legal action,’ he stated. ‘Current efforts to build humanitarian food reserves in Africa must tip-toe around the WTO rulebook. This is the world turned upside down’.”

Oil justice
The American Lawyer’s Michael Goldhaber predicts that American oil giant Chevron will come out on top in the decades-long battle over up to $18 billion in compensation for environmental damage in Ecuador.
“The moment that the arbitrators order Ecuador to make Chevron whole for $18 billion, all of the case dynamics are turned upside down. Suddenly Ecuador’s interests are no longer aligned with the plaintiffs. Suddenly, it is Ecuador and Chevron who share a common interest. And that interest is in dismissing the case, or vastly reducing the verdict.”

Ghanaian oil concerns
Pipe(line) Dreams’ Christiane Badgley writes about a mysterious oil slick that first appeared in the vicinity of a foreign-owned oil operation off the coast of Ghana before making its way to shore, as concerns over the country’s new oil industry grow.
“I’ve been trying to get more information on this spill, which according to someone at EPA, came from a tanker. There’s no way to know with any certainty that this is the case. All the information I have been able to get so far is unofficial. To date there has not been any official statement on the spill — either its source or the amount of oil spilled.”

The real Occupy debate
University of Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang argues the Occupy movement is not so much opposed to capitalism, which has taken many different forms across time and space, as to current forms that lack regulation and distribute benefits so unevenly.
“By labelling the Occupy movement “anti-capitalist”, those who do not want reforms have been able to avoid the real debate. This has to stop. It is time we use the Occupy movement as the catalyst for a serious debate on alternative institutional arrangements that will make British (or for that matter, any other) capitalism better for the majority of people.”

Right to know
The Associated Press reports the results of tests it conducted on right-to-know legislation by submitting questions about terrorism arrests and convictions in the more than100 countries where such laws exist.
“Newer democracies were in general more responsive than some developed ones. Guatemala sent all documents in 10 days, and Turkey in seven. By comparison, Canada asked for a 200-day extension, and the FBI in the United States responded six months late with a single sheet with four dates, two words and a large blanked section.”

Democratizing Europe
The Associated Press also reports the EU could be moving towards addressing one aspect of its democratic deficit after German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested the European Commission presidency should become a popularly elected position, though scepticism remains .
“Nigel Farage, a staunchly anti-EU British member of the European Parliament, was dismissive of the very notion that the EU could be democratic. ‘If the EU ever had any intention to democratize itself it would have done so in the Constitutional Treaty,’ Farage said.
‘As is perfectly evident, they rejected the idea of making it accountable to voters and so I believe this is just words to try to calm an angry populace who are speaking more and more of rejecting their political project.’”

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.”

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.”