Latest Developments, October 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Prison torture
The Guardian reports on allegations of forced drug injection and electroshocking at a South African jail run by British security firm G4S:

“Prisoners, warders and health care workers said that involuntary medication was regularly practised at the Mangaung Correctional Centre near Bloemfontein. G4S denies any acts of assault or torture.

[A former G4S employee] admitted using an electric shield on inmates to make them talk. ‘Yeah, we stripped them naked and we throw with water so the electricity can work nicely … Again and again. Up until he tell you what you want to hear, even if he will lie, but if he can tells you what I want to hear. He can tell the truth but if that’s not the truth that I want, I will shock him until he tells the truth that I want even if it’s a lie.’ ”

Money to go
Haaretz reports that the Israeli government plans to “more than triple” the money if offers African migrants to leave the country and promise never to return:

“Over the past few months, hundreds of migrants, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, have accepted the previous offer [of $1,5000], which also included a free plane ticket.
Ever since mid-September, when the High Court of Justice overturned a law that allowed illegal migrants to be jailed for up to three years, the state has been scrambling to find a new solution to the migrant problem.

Aside from the grants, the interior and justice ministries are also discussing other measures to deal with the migrant problem. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has given approval in principle to establishing an open detention center for illegal migrants and enacting new legislation that would allow them to be jailed for 18 months instead of three years.”

Held without charge
Agence France-Presse reports that the International Criminal Court has ruled that ex-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo must remain in detention even though he still has not been formally charged with crimes against humanity:

“The ICC has yet to confirm the charges against Gbagbo for his role in the bloody election standoff nearly three years ago.
Judges said in June that they needed more evidence before charging the former Ivory Coast strongman, who has been held by the ICC for almost two years.”

Sustainable listings
The Guardian’s Jo Confino wants the world’s stock exchanges to demand companies divulge “basic data” about the social and environmental impacts of their business:

“A new study benchmarking sustainability disclosures on the world’s stock exchanges points to a worrying levelling off in the number of companies that are reporting on six basic ‘first generation’ metrics; employee turnover, energy, greenhouse gases (GHGs), lost-time injury rate, payroll, waste and water.

It also does not take a great deal of intelligence to see that regulators need to get their acts together if we are to significantly change the current situation in which only 3% of the 3,972 world’s largest listed companies and 0.04% of the world’s small listed companies (20 out of 56,710) offer their stakeholders complete first generation sustainability reporting.”

Domestic rights
Inter Press Service reports that domestic workers from around the world have gathered in Uruguay to “speak for ourselves”:

“ ‘For many years only non-governmental organisations spoke for us, through studies and research…but we domestic employees and our unions have done the day-to-day hard slogging,’ said [Ernestina] Ochoa, vice president of the International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN), which changed its name to Federation at the congress.
‘Now we have said “enough’s enough”, let’s found a large federation that unites us, let’s work together to organise ourselves, defend our rights, create unions, improve the laws and help countries where there are no laws, empower domestic workers, train leaders and have a voice vis-à-vis governments and employers,’ she said in an interview with IPS.

The basic rights established by the [International Labour Organisation Convention No.189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (C189)] include weekly days off, limits to hours of work, a minimum wage, overtime compensation, and social security.
So far, C189 has been ratified by Bolivia, Germany, Guyana, Italy, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa and Uruguay.”

Treating symptoms
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Matt Wade writes that current efforts to control migration tend to ignore “the global economic forces that drive the mass movement of people”:

“The global income gap has become common knowledge among the world’s 7 billion people and that has fuelled the motivation for migration. Surveys have found that more than 40 per cent of adults in the poorest quarter of the world’s countries would like to move permanently to another country if they had the opportunity. Hundreds of millions of people see migration as their only hope of improving their economic standing.
Economists call this a ‘disequilibrium phase’ – a huge mismatch between supply and demand. Because migration is one of the only mechanisms to fix this disequilibrium, migration pressures will exist until the income gap between countries becomes much smaller.”

Avoidance mechanisms
The World Bank’s Otaviano Canuto writes that Switzerland’s financial industry may bear substantial responsibility for depriving poor countries of the “means to finance development”:

“Switzerland, whose financial sector manages $2.2 trillion of offshore assets according to Boston Consulting Group, happens to be one of the main global transaction hubs for the oil, gas and mining sector, which in many developing countries dominates production and exports. Companies in this sector, it has been claimed, frequently dodge billions of dollars in taxes payable to developing countries by shifting profits to low-tax jurisdictions.

In many developing countries, these practices take place in a tax environment that is already heavily tilted towards the private sector, particularly in the form of large tax incentives for oil and mining multinationals.”

US inequality
CNN’s John Sutter writes on the correlation between income inequality and a range of social and health problems:

“When the researchers plotted income inequality against an index of social problems that included infant mortality, mental health and others, they got the chart below, which shows that more unequal places tend to have more of these issues. The United States, the most unequal of the developed countries, for example, also has the world’s highest incarceration rate and a higher infant mortality rate than comparable nations. Sweden, meanwhile, has a low level of income inequality and fares much better on these social measures.
When the researchers plotted the same data according to average income, the correlation dissolved — the poorer societies were not more likely to suffer the social ills.”

Advertisements

Latest Developments, May 25

In the latest news and analysis…

Global leadership failure
Amnesty International has released its 50th annual global human rights report, in which it describes the UN Security Council as “tired, out of step and increasingly unfit for purpose.”
“ ‘Failed leadership has gone global in the last year, with politicians responding to protests with brutality or indifference. Governments must show legitimate leadership and reject injustice by protecting the powerless and restraining the powerful. It is time to put people before corporations and rights before profits,’ said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International Secretary General.

‘The language of human rights is adopted when it serves political or corporate agendas, and shelved
 when inconvenient or standing in the way of profit.’

The UN meeting to agree an Arms Trade Treaty in July will be an acid test for politicians to place rights over self-interest and profit. Without a strong treaty, the UN Security Council’s guardianship of global peace and security seems doomed to failure; its permanent members wielding an absolute veto on any resolution despite being the world’s largest arms suppliers. ”

Indifference in the time of cholera
The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that the rainy season is causing an intensification of Haiti’s cholera crisis, whose origins lie in UN peacekeepers’ sewage discharge into a source of drinking water.
“The cholera death toll is up to 7,155, with 543,042 infections over 586 days (and no UN apology so far), according to a new ‘cholera counter’ created by advocacy group Just Foreign Policy.

But so far, even this new danger [of an evolving second strain] doesn’t seem to be enough to make fighting cholera in Haiti a cause célèbre. Maybe a viral ‘Kolera 2012’ campaign would do the trick?”

FCPA questions
The Huffington Post reports that two American congressmen are looking into the motives behind the US Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to water down a 35-year-old piece of anti-corruption legislation.
“In a letter to the Chamber released Tuesday, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — the ranking Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, respectively — describe how committee staff looked through the institute’s tax filings and found that 14 of the group’s 55 board members between 2007 and 2010 ‘were affiliated with companies that were reportedly under investigation for violations or had settled allegations that they violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.’

In their letter, the congressmen request information from the Institute for Legal Reform, including any documentation of board discussions about FCPA and ‘documents relating to companies that have provided funds to the Chamber or the ILR for work related specifically to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.’ ”

Bribery rising
The Wall Street Journal reports on a new survey that suggests business executives worldwide are increasingly willing to engage in unethical practices.
“Of the more than 1,700 executives polled by Ernst & Young for its annual fraud survey, 15% said they were prepared to make cash payments to win business, up from 9% in the previous survey.

The study found that 47% of the 400 chief financial officers surveyed felt they could justify potentially unethical practices to help business survive during an economic downturn. Those practices included giving cash payments, using entertainment and giving personal gifts to win business. And, 16% of CFO respondents said they did not know that their company can be held liable for the actions of third-party agents.”

Ending slave labour
The Associated Press reports that Brazilian lawmakers have approved a constitutional amendment that will mean those “who force people into slave-like working conditions” will face harsher punishments.
“The amendment allows the government to confiscate without compensation all the property of anyone found to be using slave labor, which is most common on remote farms but also occurs in urban sweatshops in places like Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city.”

Land fever
Reuters AlertNet reports on the growing enthusiasm among foreign-owned companies for setting up industrial palm plantations on Cameroonian land.
“Six foreign-owned companies are currently trying to secure over 1 million hectares (about 2.5 million acres) of land for the production of palm oil in the country’s forested southern zone, according to a coalition of environmental organisations.

In a recent letter addressed to Cameroon’s Prime Minister Philemon Yang, the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations in Cameroon called on the government to reject the projects, which they argue will destroy a critical forested zone linking five national parks and protected areas.
‘In addition to the direct destruction of flora and fauna, these projects will bring hunger and frustration to the local population,’ the coalition argued.”

Stock exchange accountability
British MP Lisa Nandy has explained in parliament a proposed legal amendment that would require UK companies to report on the human rights and sustainable development impacts of their business.
“As some Members may be aware, the [London Stock Exchange] is currently host to a number of companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights, particularly in countries that are in conflict or deemed high risk, yet very few companies have been held properly to account for such actions.

Our amendment would clarify rather than rethink the purpose of the stock exchange, allowing the [Financial Conduct Authority] to take into account an applicant’s respect for human rights and sustainable development, in protecting the integrity and respectability of the exchange. That has been done elsewhere, such as in Hong Kong, and Istanbul, Brazil, Indonesia, Shanghai, Egypt, Korea and South Africa have all taken steps in that direction.”

Defining green
The World Development Movement asks a fundamental question in the lead-up to the Rio+20 Summit: what exactly does the oft-used term “green economy” actually mean?
“However, industrialised countries like the UK, alongside banks and multinational companies, are using the phrase ‘green economy’ as a smokescreen to hide their plan to further privatise the global commons and create new markets in the functions nature provides for free.
Out of this Trojan horse will spring new market-based mechanisms that will allow the financial sector to gain more control of the management of the global commons.
Instead of contributing to sustainable development and economic justice, this corporate green economy would lead to the privatisation of land and nature by multinational companies, taking control of these resources further away from the communities which depend on them.”