Lastest Developments, August 23

In the latest news and analysis…

First impressions
The Wall Street Journal provides a sampling of initial responses to the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s adoption of long-delayed rules regarding conflict minerals and extractive industry transparency:

“The consensus seemed to be that the business community scored some victories on section 1502 [of the Dodd-Frank financial reform package], the so-called ‘conflict minerals provision,’ that requires companies to examine their supply chains to determine and disclose if their products contain minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo or surrounding countries.
Meanwhile, good governance groups seemed happy with the rules on section 1504,which requires companies to disclose to the SEC all payments made to either the U.S. or a foreign government for the extraction of oil and minerals.”

Presidential warning
Agence France-Presse reports that South African President Jacob Zuma has warned mining companies to treat their workers better, as tensions began to radiate beyond the Lonmin facility where 44 striking miners were killed last week:

“Pointing out that the mining industry has assets valued at $2.5 trillion excluding coal and uranium, Zuma said the sector should be able to pay its workers a better wage.
‘In fact it should not be such an industry that has the lowest paid worker, given the wealth they have,’ he said during a memorial lecture to honour a former leader of the ruling African National Congress. He also noted that the government issued a directive to improve housing conditions for mine workers two years ago, but an audit conducted at mines in the North West province’s Rusternburg platinum belt showed only half were in compliance with the mining charter.
In one case, a company is housing 166 workers in a hostel block with just four toilets and four showers to share between them, the president said. ‘Sanctions for non-compliance with the charter include the cancellation of mining rights or licences,’ Zuma said.”

Extraordinary court
Human Rights Watch is calling a new agreement between Senegal and the African Union “an important step in the long campaign” to bring former Chadian president Hissène Habré to trial:

“Negotiations in July between the African Union and Senegal resulted in a plan to try Habré before a special court in the Senegalese justice system with African judges appointed by the AU presiding over his trial and any appeal. The August 22 agreement commits the parties to the plan and to a timetable that would have the court operational by the end of the year.
The new agreement calls for ‘Extraordinary African Chambers’ to be created inside the existing Senegalese court structure in Dakar. The chambers will have sections to handle investigations, trials, and appeals. The trial court and the appeals court will each consist of two Senegalese judges and a president from another African country.”

Roma restrictions
Reuters reports that the French government plans to “expand the number of sectors” where Roma people living in France are allowed to look for jobs:

“A government-approved list of jobs that are considered open to Roma people, which now stands at 150 and includes trades such as roofers, will be extended, according to a statement by [Prime Minister Jean-Marc] Ayrault’s office.
Two weeks ago, police evicted around 300 people from illegal campsites near the cities of Lille and Lyon and sent 240 of them on a plane back to Romania. The swoops recalled a crackdown two years before for which Sarkozy drew international criticism.”

Conga opposition
The Associated Press reports that a new public opinion poll suggests there is little local support for a $5 billion gold-mining project in northern Peru, which has raised fears of contaminated water supplies:

“The Ipsos-Apoyo poll in Cajamarca province found just 15 percent approve of the Conga project, with 78 percent disapproving and 7 percent with no opinion. U.S.-based Newmont Mining Co. is the mine’s majority owner.

Hundreds of Conga opponents held a second day of peaceful protests in the region Wednesday against what would be Peru’s biggest mine. They defied a state of emergency suspending the right of assembly that was imposed in early July after five people died during violent protests.”

American food
Reuters reports on a new study which found that Americans “throw away nearly half their food,” thereby wasting about $165 billion annually:

“ ‘As a country, we’re essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path. That’s money and precious resources down the drain,’ said Dana Gunders, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture program.

Particularly worrisome, the organization said, was evidence that there has been a 50 percent jump in U.S. food waste since the 1970s.

‘No matter how sustainably our food is farmed, if it’s not being eaten, it is not a good use of resources,’ said Gunders.”

Glencore hearts droughts
The Guardian reports that the “food chief” at commodities-trading giant Glencore has said a crop-destroying drought in the US is good for business:

“Chris Mahoney, the trader’s director of agricultural products, who owns about £500m of Glencore shares, said the devastating US drought had created an opportunity for the company to make much more money.
‘In terms of the outlook for the balance of the year, the environment is a good one. High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities [the purchase and sale of an asset in order to profit from price differences in different markets],’ he said on a conference call .

‘They [Glencore] are millionaires making money from other people’s misery caused by the drought,’ [global food trade expert Raj Patel] said. ‘It’s the sad fact of how the international food system – that they pushed for and our governments gave to them – works.’ ”

NAM rising
As the Non-Aligned Movement prepares for next week’s Tehran summit, Trinity College’s Vijay Prashad suggests that the 120-nation group may be about to emerge from its decades in the wilderness:

“Until the last decade there have been few attempts to create an ideological and institutional alternative to neoliberalism or to unipolar imperialism.

With the arrival of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in the past few years, the mood has lifted. The much more assertive presence of the BRICS inside the NAM and in the United Nations has raised hopes that US and European intransigence will no longer determine the destiny of the world.”

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Latest Developments, November 10

In today’s latest news and analysis…

Beyond aid
The Overseas Development Institute’s Alison Evans reviews UK Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell’s speech on taking a multi-faceted approach to promoting development and she suggests the country “has a lot more to do on its beyond-aid agenda.”
“Mitchell noted the positive ranking of UK funding and policy on climate change in the latest Commitment to Development Index 2011. The same could be said on development-friendly investment and, of course, aid.  What he didn’t mention, however, is that in the very same index, the UK continues to be ranked amongst the bottom four (out of 22 OECD countries) on security (largely reflecting the continued export of military hardware to poor and undemocratic regimes); on technology (mainly regarding spending on research and development and intellectual property rights issues); and, worst of all, on migration (which reflects how easy – or not – it is for people from poor countries to immigrate, access education or find work, send money home, and even return home with new skills and capital). This is the dark side of UK policy on development and it is not heading in the right direction.
As Mitchell celebrates the powerful alchemy of public, private and voluntary sector commitment to development in the UK, he needs also to focus his energy on making UK policy as a whole development-friendly.”

Mining politics
Bloomberg reports the decision by South Africa’s ruling Africa National Congress to suspend Julius Malema is being welcomed by mining executives who had been made nervous by the Youth League leader’s push for nationalizing the country’s mines.
“In April 2010, Citigroup Inc. valued the country’s mineral resources at $2.5 trillion, the most of any nation.
Malema has lobbied the ANC to adopt a policy of nationalization, saying South Africa’s black majority hasn’t benefited adequately from those riches in the 17 years since the end of white-minority rule. Last month, he led thousands of young supporters on a 62-kilometer (39-mile) march between Johannesburg and Pretoria, calling for nationalization and jobs. A quarter of South Africa’s workforce is unemployed.”

Roma deportations
Al Jazeera reports that a European rights watchdog has declared that France’s expulsion of over 1,000 Roma immigrants last year constituted an “aggravated violation of human rights.”
“A Council of Europe committee has now condemned the move as a violation of its social charter – a document that sets out ‘social rights’, such as the right to fair working conditions and to housing. France is a signatory.
France claimed the expulsions were ‘voluntary’ repatriations only.
The committee dismissed the argument, saying ‘the so-called voluntary returns were in fact disguised forced repatriations in the form of collective expulsions’.”

Cleaning bill
Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development  have called on Shell to pay $1 billion as a “first step” toward cleaning up Nigeria’s Niger Delta.
“In 2008, two consecutive spills, caused by faults in a pipeline, resulted in thousands of barrels of oil polluting the land and creek surrounding Bodo, a town of some 69,000 people. Both spills continued for weeks before they were stopped. No proper clean up has ever taken place.
‘The situation in Bodo is symptomatic of the wider situation in the Niger Delta oil industry. The authorities simply do not control the oil companies. Shell and other oil companies have the freedom to act – or fail to act – without fear of sanction. An independent, robust and well-resourced regulator is long overdue, otherwise even more people will continue to suffer at the hands of the oil companies,’ said Patrick Naagbanton, CEHRD’s Coordiantor.
Shell, which recently reported profits of US$ 7.2bn for July-September, initially offered the Bodo community just 50 bags of rice, beans, sugar and tomatoes as relief for the disaster.”

G20 food inaction
The Inter Press Service reports that the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, believes the lack of substantive progress on global food policies at last week’s G20 summit was the result of lobbying from commercial interests, especially in biofuel-producing countries.
“Back in 2008, a note released by the World Bank’s development prospects group spotlighted how biofuels were responsible for a full 75 percent of the then skyrocketing food prices.
But in spite of strong evidence that biofuels and agrofuels are ‘one of the major drivers of speculation on the commodities markets and one of the major reasons why we have such high pressure on land in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,’ according to De Schutter, the G20 completely bypassed the issue.”

Legal empowerment
Namati’s Vivek Maru calls on the international community to establish a global fund for “legal empowerment” in order to ensure laws and policies apply as much in practice as in theory.
“Legal empowerment is a public good: it renders governments more accountable, and makes development more equitable. But unlike public health, for example, states have a natural disincentive to support legal empowerment, because it constrains state power – which is all the more reason for a multilateral financing mechanism.
Social movements in India, the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere are demanding institutions that promote greater citizen participation and oversight. The challenge of responding to those movements does not belong exclusively to a handful of governments. It belongs to all of us.”

Sector equality
The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage argues the European Commission’s recently proposed corporate transparency rules need to target more than just mining, oil and gas, and logging companies.
“Evidence presented in [an upcoming] report finds that extractive commodities are only a small part of the problem and accounted for just 5% of the trade mispricing activity taking place between the EU and third countries in 2007. This clearly suggests country-by-country reporting is needed in all sectors.”

Latest Developments, September 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Aid grump
Humanosphere’s Tom Paulson offers a summary of a recent interview with New York University’s Bill Easterly whom he describes as an “aid grump.”
“The historical record is pretty clear that success in development comes from people doing development themselves. Outsiders can help in modest ways, such as in a response to a disaster. But there’s no evidence aid can become the main engine of development to transform the Third World into the First World, poverty to prosperity.”

The evolution of philanthropreneurs
Oxfam’s Duncan Green draws attention to some of the highlights – mainly to do with taxation of the extractive industries, tobacco and transportation, as well as thoughts on how to tap into migrant worker remittances and sovereign wealth funds – of a leaked preview to the report Bill Gates will present to the G20 later this year.
“Does Bill Gates’ protagonism mark a further shift of the big philanthropreneurs (and their foundations) from an insistence on sticking to the relatively straightforward world of ‘stuf’ (vaccines, infrastructure, seeds, microfinance) to the more complex business of influencing systems and policies, which are every bit as crucial to development? Hope so.”

Anti-depression
Another billionaire philanthropist, George Soros, prescribes some measures he believes Europe must undertake in order to avoid triggering “another Great Depression with incalculable political consequences.”
“Three bold steps are needed. First, the governments of the eurozone must agree in principle on a new treaty creating a common treasury for the eurozone. In the meantime, the major banks must be put under the direction of the European Central Bank in exchange for a temporary guarantee and permanent recapitalization. Third, the ECB would enable countries such as Italy and Spain temporarily to refinance their debt at a very low cost.”

Panic tax
The Institute of Development Studies’ Lawrence Haddad suggests the Financial Transactions (or Tobin or Robin Hood) Tax just proposed by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso might not be as effective a tool against market volatility as a “a Panic Tax, the Tobin Tax’s first cousin.”
“The Panic Tax…does not tax the level of financial transactions, but the speed at which they occur.
This gets at Tobin’s original concern directly and deals with the dangers introduced by High Frequency Traders.”

CSR Binarism
The Institute for Human Rights and Business’s John Morrison expresses concern, in a letter to the Financial Times, that British Labour leader Ed Miliband has too simplistic a view of companies as being either good or bad.
“Company structures are value-neutral creations; it is the actions that business takes that have positive or negative impacts. What is needed is an undertaking from current or future UK governments also to intervene when an otherwise acceptable company does a very bad thing – such as the decision by Vodafone to close its Egyptian network at the end of January this year when its customers were most at need.”

Roma evictions
Human Rights Watch has condemned what it describes as “mass evictions and expulsions of Eastern European Roma” by the French government and the apparent indifference of European authorities.
“The European Commission gave France the all-clear, but the situation for Roma in France has only grown worse,” according to Human Rights Watch researcher Judith Sunderland. “It’s vital for the commission to renew its scrutiny of these abusive practices, which breach EU and human rights law.”

Irregular arrivals
Embassy Magazine reports that with Canada’s Conservative government now holding a majority of seats in parliament, the fight against a proposed toughening of the country’s immigration laws looks set to move to the courts, spearheaded by the newly formed Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.
“The bill defines human smuggling as an offence and sets out tough penalties. But the bill also lets the immigration minister designate an ‘irregular arrival’ of a group of people to Canada, whose members may be arrested without a warrant and detained for at least a year, unless their claim has been resolved or they get special permission from the minister.
Some refugee lawyers have said this clearly violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which, in Section 7 guarantees the right not to be deprived of life, liberty and security of the person except ‘in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.’”

Dangerous schlock
Foreign Policy’s Brett Keller is not a fan of the new film Machine Gun Preacher which he describes as “Hollywood’s latest take on the ‘white man saves Africa’ theme,” possibly a pack of lies and quite probably dangerous.
“But by conflating humanitarian work with Wild West-style vigilantism, Childers makes the world more dangerous for the many aid workers risking their lives to do good in places like South Sudan. The anonymous aid worker who writes the widely read blog Tales from the Hood makes this point: ‘We [aid workers] very often go into insecure places where our presence and the associated suspicion that we may have ulterior motives puts not only us, but our local colleagues and those we’re trying to help at greater risk, too…. Every time [Childers] puts up another video of himself jumping into his white SUV with an AK47 across his lap, he increases the likelihood that I or someone I care about is going to get shot.’”