Latest Developments, December 5

In the latest news and analysis…

Perception confirmation
The widely reported release of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index was met by an extended “grumble” on Twitter by Save the Children’s Alex Cobham:

“Dear twitter, remember that an index based on *perceptions* of corruption will score worst those places most often reported as corrupt…
…regardless of any *actual* corruption. So a priori you might expect Greece to be worst in EU; Somalia worst in world etc. But…
… remember that it is just perception confirmation – with no element of objective factual support. Corruption continues to be #uncounted.
In addition, if you share view that providing financial secrecy can be corrupt and corrupting, good scores of eg Switzerland should raise qs
The other side of corruption can be seen in the Financial Secrecy Index
[Grumble over.]”

Right to opacity
The Wall Street Journal reports that the US oil industry is proceeding with a lawsuit aimed at blocking the required disclosure of payments made to foreign governments:

“In court papers filed Monday, the American Petroleum Institute, joined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and two other trade groups, called the rule, promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Provision under Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act and narrowly approved, ‘one of the most expensive’ in the history of the Commission.
Mandating disclosure is a violation of the First Amendment, the filing added. ‘The rule – and the statutory provision that authorized it – violate the First Amendment by compelling speech on a controversial matter in order to influence political affairs,’ it said.”

Performance anxiety
Germanwatch has released the 2013 edition of its Climate Change Performance Index, ranking the efforts of the world’s 58 highest emitters to protect the climate:

“In 2010, the most recent data period for this year‘s CCPI, the world saw another record breaking increase in global CO2 emissions. Not only have global emissions risen to another all time high, but this increase has also been the steepest emissions surge in history.
Not only are emissions rising at the global level. As well at the national level is little good news to tell. Not one of the examined countries has managed to change to a development path that is compatible with limiting global warming substantially below 2°C. No country‘s effort is deemed sufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. Therefore, as in the years before, we still cannot award any country with 1st, 2nd or 3rd place.”

Only the brave
The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project has released a report on the dangers faced by those opposing or monitoring the extractive industries in Uganda and Tanzania:

“There is a long history of antagonism, including cases of violence, between the mining industry and Tanzanian citizens, especially in the North Mara region of the country. It was here that in May 2011 between 4 and 7 Tanzanians (reported figures vary) were shot and killed and many others wounded by private mine security officers in an incident at the North Mara mine owned and operated by African Barrick Gold (AGB), a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant, Barrick Gold Corp.”

Just business
In a speech delivered to a UN forum in Geneva, Harvard University’s John Ruggie explained what he sees as the greatest need for holding to account businesses that commit human rights abuses abroad:

“National courts appear not to share a consistent understanding regarding the applicability to companies of international standards prohibiting gross human rights abuses, potentially amounting to international crimes. These may arise in areas where the human rights regime cannot be expected to function as intended, such as conflict zones or similar sources of heightened risk, and typically the allegations involve corporate complicity in acts committed by related parties. In those situations, plaintiffs may turn to home country courts. But even as the number of such cases has increased, courts have issued conflicting interpretations of what precisely the international standards stipulate. Greater legal clarity is needed for victims and companies alike. Only an intergovernmental process can provide that clarity.
The international community has determined, and everyone present in this room would agree, that sovereignty can no longer serve as a shield behind which governments are allowed to commit or be complicit in the worst human rights violations. Surely the same must be true of the corporate form. So let that be affirmed authoritatively, and remove all doubt.”

Very mercenary
Oxfam’s Gawain Kripke writes that the founder of private military company Blackwater, “which has been renamed several times, trying to escape the stench of scandal and atrocity,” has turned himself into an investment advisor:

“From a comfortable perch in Abu Dhabi (no extradition treaty with the US), [Erik] Prince now raises funds and advises clients on the wonderful investment opportunities in Africa. He claims he’s raised $100 million and is shooting (err) for $400 million more. His new company, Frontier Resource Group (motto: fortuna audaces iuvat or fortune favors the bold) offers support for investors mixed with ‘security and logistical capacity’.
Ever the bottom dweller, Prince has focused his efforts on some of the more problematic investments (natural resources extraction), and problematic countries; DRC, Guinea, and South Sudan. Which should be appealing to problematic investors (based in Hong Kong).”

Cold War continues
Columbia University’s Howard French argues Susan Rice, a frontrunner to become the next US secretary of state, has been instrumental in perpetuating an outdated American approach to Africa:

“On a broader level, the old paradigm of Cold War policy, with its momentous ideological competition, has been repurposed to work for something far more inchoate and hollow: the War on Terror. Accordingly, the United States has persisted in its embrace of leaders who align with Washington on that basis in places like Sudan and Somalia, mirroring the style of cherry-picking allies during the struggle against communism.”

Big food
National Public Radio asks if the food and beverage industry is the new tobacco:

“[The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity’s Kelly Brownell] pointed to cases in which the industry set up front groups to fight a soda tax in California and fought national guidelines that would restrict the marketing of unhealthy food to children.
The food industry can do some good things, Brownell admitted, when it comes to fighting hunger or promoting sustainable agricultural practices. But ‘obesity is a different kettle of fish’ because solving it conflicts directly with the industry’s most basic imperative: To sell more food. All of the industry’s much-celebrated ‘healthy eating’ campaigns and partnerships with public health initiatives, Brownell says, amount to ‘baby steps’ that simply obscure this basic fact.”

Advertisements

Latest Developments, September 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Chemical danger
Reuters reports that the UN is warning of growing health and environmental damage caused by the “increasing misuse of chemicals”:

“Poisonings from industrial and agricultural chemicals are among the top five leading causes of death worldwide, contributing to more than a million deaths every year, [the UN Environment Programme] said in a statement of its Global Chemicals Outlook.

Scientists have only assessed the risks of using a fraction of an estimated 140,000 chemicals marketed worldwide, in everything from plastics to pesticides, UNEP said.

The study also said rich nations are failing to recycle electronic waste, such as from old computers or television sets.
‘Estimates suggest that up to 75 per cent of the e-waste generated in Europe and approximately 80 per cent of the e-waste generated in the United States goes unaccounted for,’ it said.”

Behind closed doors
Amnesty International is calling on negotiators of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement to ensure intellectual property provisions “adhere to core principles of transparency and uphold human rights”:

“Specifically, leaked TPP draft text neglects protections for fair use and standard judicial guarantees – such as the presumption of innocence – and includes copyright provisions that could compromise free speech on the internet and access to educational materials.
Moreover, draft TPP provisions related to patents for pharmaceuticals risk stifling the development and production of generic medicines, by strengthening and deepening monopoly protections.”

Charter cities
The Guardian reports that Honduras is about to embark on “one of the world’s most radical neo-liberal economic experiments” by establishing new settlements designed to attract foreign investment:

“The Central American nation hopes the plan for model development zones, which will have their own laws, tax system, judiciary and police, will emulate the economic success of city states such as Singapore and Hong Kong.
But even as the government signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with a group of international investors on Tuesday, opponents tried to lodge a suit at the supreme court for the arrangement to be declared illegal because the ‘state within a state’ risked undermining national laws, sidestepping labour rights, worsening inequality and creating a modern-day enclave that impinged upon the territory of indigenous groups.”

Universal means universal
Save the Children’s Alex Cobham writes about the proposed Framework Convention on Global Health that aims to “ensure health coverage for all”:

“[Researchers] have calculated, for example, that collectively, health inequalities between countries result in around 20 million lives lost each year (i.e. this is the size of the gap between outcomes in high-income and other countries), and that this has held over the last 20 years. This is roughly one third of all deaths over the period…
The fourth of ten points in the post-2015 document, in full, is this:
4. ‘Universal’ as universal: ‘Universal’ must be truly universal. No population should be
excluded because of legal or other status (e.g., undocumented immigrants, stateless people). Similarly, universal should entail 100% population coverage. Less than truly universal coverage as a goal may enable countries to forego the efforts required to ensure coverage for the most difficult-to-reach populations, who are often the most marginalized.

Business-lobby victory
Southern Illinois University’s Mike Koehler, a.k.a. the FCPA Professor, writes that US regulators have adopted a more business-friendly definition of “foreign officials” in new rules pertaining to overseas corporate behaviour:

“By so concluding, not only did the [Securities and Exchange Commission] quietly adopt a [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] reform proposal advanced by the Chamber [of Commerce], but it also contradicted an enforcement theory at issue in several of its prior FCPA actions.

With the SEC’s conclusion in its Section 1504 final rules that a company owned by a foreign government is a company that is at least majority-owned by a foreign government, the SEC will be hard pressed to allege in future FCPA enforcement actions that an entity with less than 50% foreign government ownership or control is an instrumentality of a foreign government and that its employees are ‘foreign officials’ under the FCPA.”

Unhealthy speech
Inspired by two contrasting court decisions on tobacco packaging in Australia and the US, Princeton University’s Peter Singer calls for laws that “level the playing field between individuals and giant corporations”:

“Whether to prohibit cigarettes altogether is another question, because doing so would no doubt create a new revenue source for organized crime. It seems odd, however, to hold that the state may, in principle, prohibit the sale of a product, but may not permit it to be sold only in packs that carry graphic images of the damage it causes to human health.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 100 million people died from smoking in the twentieth century, but smoking will kill up to one billion people in the twenty-first century.”

Inhumane laws
Human Rights Watch’s Ricardo Sandoval-Palos argues that US immigration laws lead to serious rights violations:

“Is it really in the United States’ interest to have policies generating such a level of fear among unauthorized immigrants that sexual violence or other abuses go unreported?
The United States government is entitled to regulate immigration. But it must do so in a fair manner that respects internationally recognized human rights standards—values the U.S. claims to promote and respect.”

Not easy being green
Reuters reports that US-based Herakles Capital has withdrawn its application for membership of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil following complaints over its project in Cameroon:

“Kuala Lumpur-based certification body RSPO said in a statement on Tuesday that Herakles had issued a written withdrawal of its application on Aug. 24, before the organisation could check the allegations made against the firm.

Greenpeace and other organisations had filed a complaint with RSPO alleging that Herakles’ project violated Cameroonian laws. The groups also said the area earmarked for the plantation was in a biodiversity hotspot and ‘would disrupt the ecological landscape and migration routes of protected species.’ ”