Latest Developments, April 24

UN peacekeeping

In the latest news and analysis…

Killer fashion
Reuters reports that a building that collapsed in Bangladesh – killing nearly 100 and injuring over 1,000 – contained five garment factories with links to major Western brands:

“The website of a company called New Wave, which had two factories in the building, listed 27 main buyers, including firms from Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Canada and the United States.
‘It is dreadful that leading brands and governments continue to allow garment workers to die or suffer terrible disabling injuries in unsafe factories making clothes for Western nations’ shoppers,’ Laia Blanch of the U.K. anti-poverty charity War on Want said in a statement.”

Pension-fund ethics
Reuters also reports that Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is considering divesting from oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, that operate in Equatorial Guinea “where oil revenue does nothing to relieve abject poverty”:

“The fund, whose investments totalled $725 billion on Wednesday, invests Norway’s revenues from oil and gas production for future generations. Exxon Mobil was its tenth-largest equity holding at end-2012, according to its annual report.

The fund has frequently excluded companies for what it deems to be unethical behaviour based on the recommendations of its ethics council.

U.S. energy companies Marathon Oil and Hess Corp also operate fields in Equatorial Guinea. The oil fund owned 0.76 percent of Marathon Oil and 0.69 percent of Hess at the end of 2012, according to Reuters data.”

Political interference
The Independent reports that Britain’s finance minister, George Osborne, has “a secret veto over large and potentially politically sensitive fraud investigations”:

“Under a government agreement the Serious Fraud Office must get permission from the Treasury to launch any complex new inquiry which comes on top of its normal budget.
But controversially the Treasury can keep its decisions secret – potentially allowing it to veto politically sensitive fraud inquiries, either before or midway through an investigation, without public scrutiny.

[Transparency International’s Robert Barrington] said there was potentially a ‘clear conflict of interest’ in the Treasury’s role promoting economic growth and deciding whether to investigate a UK company for misdeeds in a foreign country which might damage its reputation and finances. ‘Either by design or accident you could easily get a situation where egregious corruption is simply not investigated,’ he said.”

Split jurisdictions
Mining.com reports that a Chilean court has upheld the suspension of Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama project but construction is continuing on the Argentine side of the border:

“The appeals court in the northern city of Copiapo charged the Toronto-based gold miner with ‘environmental irregularities’ during construction of the world’s highest-altitude precious metals mine.
Chile’s environmental and mining ministries are on record backing suspension of work on the Andes mine. Opponents claim construction has spread dust that has settled on the nearby Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers, accelerating their retreat, and is threatening the Estrecho river, which supplies water to the Diaguita tribe living downstream.”

Drone flip-flop
Foreign Policy reports that US Senator Rand Paul, who grabbed headlines earlier this year with a 13-hour anti-drone filibuster, has caused outrage with a “perceived reversal” on the subject:

“ ‘I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on,’ Paul said. ‘If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and fifty dollars in cash. I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him.’
While it’s true that Paul has always made an exception for ‘imminent threats’ — a 9/11-like moment — the liquor store scenario struck many libertarians as a very low threshold for domestic drone strikes, especially considering Paul’s Senate floor remarks, which if you recall, took a more anti-drone stance. Here’s Paul on the Senate floor:
‘I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.’ ”

Above the law
Radio-Canada reports that MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, is under fire for a lack of accountability over crimes allegedly committed by its members, including a Canadian policeman who fled the country earlier this year:

“Since 2007, there have been 70 allegations of sexual assaults committed by MINUSTAH members. But not one of them has faced trial in Haiti. [Olga Benoît of Haitian Women Solidarity (SOFA)] says these cases are ‘just the tip of the iceberg.’
In a report published last August, International Crisis Group, an NGO working on preventing armed conflicts around the world, recommends that the UN sign an accord with each country participiating in a mission, to establish ‘common binding investigative norms’ in order to ‘ensure that UN peacekeepers who commit crimes answer for their actions.’
[The Haitian National Human Rights Defence Network’s Marie Rosy Auguste Ducéna] believes Canada ‘also has an obligation to see the case reach judicial authorities.’
There is a possibility of punitive action against the police officer. An investigation is under way. But if there are sanctions, the police will not divulge any information, as they say all disciplinary measures are considered internal matters that remain between officers and their employers.”

Teflon miners
The Council of Canadians’ Meera Karunananthan urges the UN human rights council to challenge Canada’s aggressive promotion of the “logic of international corporate rights”:

“The abuses by Canadian mining companies are a systemic part of an economic development policy that disregards human rights and disdains the environment. It is no coincidence that Canada is now home to 75% of the world’s mining companies, the majority operating overseas. The Canadian government has accelerated its pursuit of investment treaties in the global south to serve the interests of the extractive industry. These treaties allow companies to challenge environmental, public health or other resource-related policies that affect mining profits.
At the same time, Canada allows its corporations to benefit from a climate of impunity, offering no legal recourse for adversely impacted communities and demanding no accountability in exchange for generous public subsidies, as the EU and other jurisdictions do. These conditions have made Canada a haven for the global mining industry.”

Deep solutions
So-called geek hereric Kentaro Toyama tells Humanosphere that technology “cannot fix poverty”:

“It’s certainly tempting to think that next generation of futuristic technologies can change the world. But Toyama has seen innovative technology rendered powerless, harmful even, in settings of severe poverty. He says the problems require even deeper solutions.”

Latest Developments, March 15

In the latest news and analysis…

BAE pays up
The Guardian reports UK-based defence company BAE Systems has “finally” paid for textbooks to Tanzanian schools as a settlement over bribes it allegedly paid 10 years ago.
“BAE was fined £500,000 in 2010 for concealing payments of $12.4m to Sailesh Vithlani, a marketing adviser in Tanzania, in connection with the radar deal. The company agreed with the [Serious Fraud Office] to make an ex-gratia payment equivalent to the size of the contract to the Tanzanian people. MPs on the international development committee last year strongly criticized BAE for dragging its feet over the payment. BAE wanted the payment to be described as a ‘charitable contribution’ to Tanzania in negotiations over the drafting of the memorandum of understanding.”

The problem with sanctions
The Atlantic’s Max Fisher argues the long list of products recently bought online by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shows that Western sanctions against out-of-favour regimes punish the wrong people.
“International economic sanctions have been a popular tool of the West since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Clinton administrations came to see them as a low-cost, low-risk alternative to military action. But a growing body of academic research has found that they are ineffective at pressuring governments to change their ways. ‘The probable effectiveness of economic sanctions is, generally, negative,’ Johan Galtung wrote in 1967, and he seems to have been right.”

E-waste
Agence France-Presse reports on a new study that suggests Africa will produce more e-waste than Europe within five years.
“ ‘There is population growth … and there is the penetration rate — there are increasing numbers of people with access to these devices,’ [the Basel Convention on hazardous waste’s Katharina] Kummer Peiry said.
‘You have to bear in mind that there are efforts undertaken at all levels to increase access — it’s part of development,’ she said, describing the growth of both the population and the penetration rate as ‘exponential.’

In Africa ‘in the last decade, the penetration rate of personal computers has increased by a factor of 10, while the number of mobile phone subscribers has increased by a factor of 100,’ the report said.”

Emptied islands
The University of Oxford’s Sarmila Bose writes about a new book on the Chagos Islands whose inhabitants “were unceremoniously removed from their homeland by a joint operation of the United Kingdom and the United States” four decades ago to make way for a military base.
The Island of Shame is a discomforting read, especially for British and American readers who will probably find themselves cringing at the well-documented account of the deceit and inhumanity, not only of their forbears in the past, but also of policymakers today. For many years, now the Chagossians have been fighting an uphill battle to obtain justice through the courts. Verdicts in the English courts had gone in favour of the Chagossians in 2000, 2006 and 2007 until the House of Lords overturned them all and ruled in favour of the British government. The Chagossians have now petitioned the European Court of Human Rights. Possibly as a pre-emptive action in case they win at the European Court, the last Labour government declared the Chagos Archipelago a ‘marine protection area’, which would restrict fishing and therefore human re-settlement. The Chagossians have had to take legal action against this ‘green’ initiative as well.”

Silicon Valley’s exceptionalism
Reuters Breakingviews’ Rob Cox takes on the myth that America’s high-tech business leaders operate according to higher moral standards than their counterparts in other industries.
“The original robber barons had decent intentions when they built railroads to connect America’s emerging cities and drilled oil wells that fueled the nation’s growth, but their empires still needed to be regulated, reined in, and in some cases broken up by vigilant watchdogs. Lofty words and ideals are fine for motivating employees and even for spurring sales, but they can also serve as cover for motives that clash with the broader interests of consumers and society. We need more than fancy promises in IPO prospectuses to ensure that the rise of the Silicon Valley engineer is good for the world.”

History’s limits
Oxfam’s Sally Baden suggests Ha-Joon Chang’s new book on agricultural policy focuses so much on lessons from the past that it neglects some fast-evolving new realities.
“We have moved from a situation of a lack of both public and private investment in agriculture to private funds actively seeking opportunities in developing country agriculture. But quite often this investment is driven by biofuels mandates, lack of other investment opportunities, the promise of increasing land values or by food-importing countries’ and companies’ concern with security of supplies of food and commodities, rather than the concerns of long-term agricultural development. Governments need to responsibly promote and regulate this investment with an eye to its consequences for small–scale farmers and national food security. European governments need to stop providing indirect incentives for landgrabbing and developing country governments need to provide adequate safeguards – for both people and the environment – from predatory or speculative investment.”

Drug money
Global Financial Integrity’s EJ Fagan argues that transnational drug syndicates’ huge financial resources do not “just magically disappear into the criminal underworld,” which means they end up in the global banking system.
“We can’t expect to curtail 100% of all money laundering by organized crime syndicates. However, we can do a much better job than we are currently doing. A report by [the United Nations Office of Drugs] finds that less than 1% (probably around .02%) of laundered money is seized and frozen. This is a laughably low number. It is too cheap and too easy for drug lords to move their drug money into Western banks. If we were to increase that number to, say, 5%, drug lords would be looking over their shoulders a lot more often. They would have more trouble operating large, complex organizations. Central American law enforcement would be much more able to beat them back.”

 

Latest Developments, November 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Aid’s latest agenda
The Busan aid effectiveness summit has produced the final version of its outcome document which is chock-full of general promises on the future of “development co-operation.”
“We can and must improve and accelerate our efforts. We commit to modernise, deepen and broaden our co‐operation, involving state and non‐state actors that wish to shape an agenda that has until recently been dominated by a narrower group of development actors. In Busan, we forge a new global development partnership that embraces diversity and recognises the distinct roles that all stakeholders in co‐operation can play to support development.”

Perceived corruption
Transparency International has released the 2011 edition of its Corruption Perceptions Index, a ranking of 183 country/territory public sectors which places New Zealand at the top and Somalia and North Korea tied at the bottom.
“This year we have seen corruption on protestors’ banners be they rich or poor. Whether in a Europe hit by debt crisis or an Arab world starting a new political era, leaders must heed the demands for better government,” according to Transparency International’s Huguette Labelle.

Justice over reconciliation
Al Jazeera reports the International Criminal Court’s planned prosecution of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo is doing little to promote reconciliation in the troubled West African nation.
“As both camps [in Cote d’Ivoire’s recent conflict] traded blame, global human rights groups have warned that any prosecution focused solely on Gbagbo and not those of his rival, Ouattara, could threaten national stability.
Francis Dako, the African co-ordinator at the Coalition for the ICC, urged the court to prosecute both.
‘A decision to go after the defeated president alone at this point is likely to be explosive on the ground,’ he said.”

Development priorities
Bloomberg reports that US-based Newmont Mining has halted construction at a Peruvian gold deposit in response to violence between police and farmers worried the project will threaten their water supply.
“‘We can’t allow Peruvians to be taken hostage by groups that just preach violence,’ Pedro Martinez, president of the National Society of Mining, Petroleum & Energy, told reporters in Lima today. ‘Without peace there will be no development.’
Deputy Environment Minister Jose de Echave resigned yesterday to protest the government’s backing for the project, which seeks to produce 680,000 ounces of gold and 235 million pounds of copper annually.”

Bad faith
The Wall Street Journal reports on a UK parliamentary committee’s condemnation of defense contractor BAE Systems for its behaviour following a $400 million settlement reached over foreign bribery charges.
“BAE settled with the [UK’s Serious Fraud Office] in February 2010 over allegations that it concealed bribes paid in connection with a contract for an air-traffic control system in Tanzania. The defense contractor agreed to give GBP29.5 million back to the Tanzanian people as a part of the settlement, but failed to make payments to the country months after the deal was finalized. The delay prompted the hearing.

‘The way that BAE has handled this whole process has been quite shoddy,’ Committee Chairman Malcolm Bruce said in a news release. ‘Dragging it out this way has needlessly created the impression that BAE was acting in bad faith. The company should have paid up much sooner.’”

Inter-generational thinking
Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu and former Irish president Mary Robinson call on international leaders to begin negotiating a legal agreement on climate change that would go further than the soon-to-be-expired Kyoto Protocol.
“Climate change is a matter of justice. The richest countries caused the problem, but it is the world’s poorest who are already suffering from its effects. In Durban, the international community must commit to righting that wrong.
Political leaders must think inter-generationally. They need to imagine the world of 2050, with its nine billion people, and take the right decisions now to ensure that our children and grandchildren inherit a liveable world.”

Aid power
The International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development’s Don Marut writes about aid dependence and lists some of the pressures he believes underlie its perpetuation in Southeast Asia’s most populous country.
“Second, foreign aid is a way and tool for the developed countries and international financial institutions to control the recipient countries. The House of Representatives heard that there were 63 laws that had been drafted by foreign consultants.
These works are part of foreign aid in the form of technical cooperation or program support, whether they are in the form of loans or grants.
Indonesia is a country with an abundance of natural resources and has a strategic position in terms of global geopolitics.
Developed countries cannot just allow Indonesia to freely use up its resources. Aid is a soft way of controlling the policies of recipient countries, including Indonesia. The more the aid flows, the greater the control the foreign power has.”

Fighting fair
Embassy magazine’s Scott Taylor argues there is a point at which technological inequality in a military context becomes a question of morality.
“Responding to the question of whether NATO could be implicated for potential war crimes in Libya, [Lt.-Gen. Charles] Bouchard insisted his pilots had taken all possible precautions to avoid hitting civilians.
The example he provided was an incident whereby two NATO warplanes circled a Gaddafi loyalist anti-aircraft site for two hours, waiting for a nearby soccer game to end before they attacked.
If your technological advantage over the enemy allows you to hover for two hours with impunity over an air defence system before destroying it at your leisure, that is not really war, it’s murder. If a world champion boxer climbed into the ring against a blind paraplegic in a wheelchair and proceeded to pound the hapless victim to death, we would not consider it a sport.”