Latest Development, October 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Two raids
France 24 reports that US claims regarding the legality of the twin military operations in Libya and Somalia over the weekend have left some experts unpersuaded:

“But while the Libya operation may have been permitted under the US’s own statutes, this does not make it acceptable under international law, argues Marcelo Kohen, a professor of international law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
‘The US operation in Libya is a clear violation of the fundamental norms of international law, namely the respect of a country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,’ he told FRANCE 24.
‘A state cannot remove a foreign citizen, from inside a foreign territory, to be judged in its own country while disregarding international law,’ he said. ‘You need permission. There are existing legal structures among states to address this kind of situation.’
Nevertheless there is little risk of the US facing legal repercussions for the military operation in Libya, said Kohen.
‘No mechanism exists that would allow Libya to go beyond a simple protest, while knowing that this will have no effect.’ ”

Day of tears
Agence France-Presse reports that the deaths of “hundreds of Africans” in a ship that sank off the Italian coast is unlikely to lead to improvements in EU immigration policy:

“For years now, the EU’s executive, the European Commission, has struggled to rouse interest in a single approach to the divisive issue of migration, time after time coming up against a brick wall of national self interest.
‘We need a new policy at the European level,’ said Michele Cercone, spokesman for home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem.
‘Migration policies are fragmented, inward-looking, left in the hands of member states and subject to domestic political considerations,’ he added. ‘Immigration is viewed as a threat, a problem, never as a potential benefit.’
The Commission wants to open new avenues of legal migration while also sharing the burden among all 28 member states as the floods of impoverished refugees wash up on the shores of southern Europe — in Italy, Malta, Greece, Spain and Cyprus.”

Oversight gaps
The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights has released a report alleging that a Bangladeshi supplier for US retail clothing giants Gap and Old Navy is forcing workers to put in over 100 hours a week and “shortchanging” them by over $400,000 per year:

“The revelations come in the wake of a series of deadly factory fires and the Rana Plaza building collapse to which Gap has responded with promises to police its suppliers more conscientiously. ‘It is hard to believe that after decades of doing business in Bangladesh and claiming to monitor its suppliers closely, that Gap was unaware of its supplier’s practices and the horrifying conditions imposed upon the people sewing their clothing lines. The best one might say is that Gap is incompetent and failed to supervise its monitors adequately, but it is far more likely that Gap simply ignored and suppressed what its monitors reported. Either way, it calls into question the reliability of any of the company’s recent promises,’ said Charles Kernaghan, IGLHR’s director.”

Canadian spying
As a diplomatic row flares between Brazil and Canada, the Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian government’s habit of sharing intelligence with corporations “is not news”:

“In 2007, then-Natural Resources minister Gary Lunn told the International Pipeline Security Forum, an industry gathering, ‘We have sponsored over 200 industry representatives in obtaining Secret Level II security clearance. This enables us to share information with industry and their associations so that the appropriate security enhancement measures can be adopted.’
This initiative appears to have begun as a way to allow energy companies access to government intelligence on threats to infrastructure, but grew into a broader sharing of information on industry critics, according to Keith Stewart, the Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator for the environmental organization Greenpeace, who has studied the question of who is getting access to this intelligence.”

Enemy’s enemy
The Washington Post reports that the CIA is “ramping up” its efforts to train Syrian rebels it considers moderate:

“The CIA’s mission, officials said, has been defined by the White House’s desire to seek a political settlement, a scenario that relies on an eventual stalemate among the warring factions rather than a clear victor. As a result, officials said, limits on the agency’s authorities enable it to provide enough support to help ensure that politically moderate, U.S.-supported militias don’t lose but not enough for them to win.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the agency has sent additional paramilitary teams to secret bases in Jordan in recent weeks in a push to double the number of rebel fighters getting CIA instruction and weapons before being sent back to Syria.”

California driving
The Guardian reports that California has adopted new legislation allowing people who are in the US illegally to drive legally:

“ ‘This is only the first step. When a million people without their documents drive legally with respect to the state of California, the rest of this country will have to stand up and take notice,’ said [California Governor Jerry Brown], who officially signed the bill earlier Thursday. ‘No longer are undocumented people in the shadows, they are alive and well and respected in the state of California.’ ”

Free at last
The Associated Press reports that a Louisiana man, known as one third of the Angola Three, has died three days after being released from 41 years of solitary confinement:

“[George Kendall, one of Herman Wallace’s attorneys,] said his client has asked that, after his death, they continue to press the lawsuit challenging Wallace’s ‘unconstitutional confinement in solitary confinement for four decades’.
‘It is [Herman] Wallace’s hope that this litigation will help ensure that others, including his lifelong friend and fellow ‘Angola Three’ member, Albert Woodfox, do not continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement even after Mr Wallace is gone,” his legal team said in a written statement.”

Good intentions
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips argues that “posh white blokes”, even the well-intentioned ones, are “holding back the struggle for a fairer world”:

“The evidence is pretty damn conclusive. Posh white blokes aren’t just over-represented in the world of power and money – we’re over- represented in the leadership of the movements challenging that world.

Social movements exist to re-imagine the world and to challenge power relations, but their ability to do so outside is intimately connected with their ability to do so inside. Shifting power, so that decisions are increasingly shaped by people with lived experience of marginalisation, is no mere technical, instrumentalist fix. It goes to the roots of our purpose, it is central to the journey from ‘for’ to ‘with’ and ‘by’.”

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Latest Developments, September 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Death by GDP
The Zoological Society of London’s Jonathon Baillie argues that America’s improving environment does not mean economic growth is good for biodiversity:

“GDP masquerading as growth has negative implications for biodiversity, as this ‘growth’ only calculates output; or as Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate, said: ‘GDP measures only revenues to see how well a firm is doing; far more relevant is the balance sheet, which shows assets and liabilities.’

Some of America’s environmental conditions can be explained by innovation leading to greater efficiency, such as fuel efficiency in cars or more efficient agricultural production. But the majority of the negative impact has simply been exported. The industries that produce the most pollutants have been outsourced to emerging nations that have fewer regulations, in terms of both the environment and labour conditions. Therefore the environmental impact of increased consumption is largely felt beyond the borders of wealthy nations — it is middle- and lower-income nations that experience the majority of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.

It is self-evident that growth, as currently defined, has a major negative impact upon biodiversity. What needs to change is the definition of growth from a GDP-centric mindset to a balance-sheet approach.”

Toxic legacy
The Associated Press reports that hundreds of Chilean plaintiffs are suing a Swedish mining company for allegedly exporting and dumping toxic waste during the Pinochet era:

“The lawsuit filed with a Swedish district court claims Boliden exported 20,000 tons of mining waste to the Chilean town of Arica in the mid-1980s, despite knowing it was highly toxic and could not be handled safely at the site.
Citizens in a residential area called Polygono claim the waste includes high levels of arsenic, lead and quicksilver, and that it has given them health problems such as cancer, aching bones, breathing difficulties, rashes and miscarriages.”

MINUSTAH misconduct
The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that an alleged rape by a UN peacekeeper in Haiti is just the latest incident in an alarming pattern of sexual violence:

“In fact, according to the U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit, there have been 78 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by members of MINUSTAH reported in just the last 7 years.
Responding to the latest allegation, the U.N. mission noted that ‘the UN has a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual exploitation and abuse that we, at MINUSTAH, strictly enforce.’ However the U.N. lacks the authority to hold accountable those who are found responsible. Troops stationed in Haiti under the U.N. mission are subject only to the justice system of their home country.

Through the first 8 months of 2013, there had already been 13 allegations. The latest makes 14. While MINUSTAH makes up less than 10 percent of U.N. peacekeeping forces worldwide, the mission has accounted for over 35 percent of all sexual abuse and exploitation allegations against all such U.N. forces in 2013.”

Corrupt companies
Canada.com reports that companies from wealthy, English-speaking countries dominate the World Bank’s newly updated corporate blacklist:

“The World Bank bans companies from participating in aid and development contracts if they ‘have been sanctioned under the Bank’s fraud and corruption policy.’

Companies with head offices listed in Canada, which does not include overseas subsidiaries, comprise 119 names on the World Bank list, the most of any country. The U.S. is second with 44 debarred firms, Indonesia third with 43 and Britain close behind with 40.”

Juggling act
The Financial Times reports on mining industry opposition to South African attempts at ensuring its people “benefit more equitably” from natural resource exploitation:

“ ‘What you can hear from all parts of Africa and elsewhere is that developing countries don’t want an extractive relationship either with the bigger emerging markets or with the developed countries. They want a relationship where there is value addition to the minerals, so that jobs are created, skills are created and technology imparted, and that this contributes to overall social and economic development,’ [South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan] told the FT.
The bill, as it stands, aims to do this by allowing the mines minister the discretion to determine the quantity and set the price at which mining companies sell to local industries.”

Visit cancelled
Bloomberg reports that Brazil’s president has called off a scheduled trip to Washington over allegations of US espionage:

“[Dilma Rousseff] said Sept. 6 she was outraged by allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency monitored her e-mail and telephone communications with top aides. The NSA also spied on state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA, according to accusations presented by U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald based on documents leaked by fugitive security analyst Edward Snowden.

Rousseff’s decision marks the second head of state meeting with Obama that has been canceled because of documents leaked by Snowden.”

Canadian xenophobia
The National Post reports on a new poll revealing the extent of ethnic and religious hatred across Canada:

“About half of Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois supporters think that Muslims and Jews have too much influence in their province, while nearly a third of British Columbians think the same of Sikhs and Asians, a new poll suggests.
While that sentiment is particularly pronounced by separatists and in Quebec in general, the rest of Canada fares little better in the Forum Poll on multiculturalism, with about one-third of Canadians saying Muslims have too much influence in their home province.”

Unmissable opportunity
Global Witness is among 59 NGOs urging the EU to stop European businesses from “fuelling conflict and human rights abuses” through the purchase of natural resources:

“ ‘As the world’s largest trading bloc, and home to many leading global companies trading and manufacturing natural resources, the EU’s leverage over global supply chains is hugely significant,’ said Chantal Daniels of Christian Aid. ‘This is an unmissable opportunity for the EU to bring in strong and effective legislation. If they fail to do so then business will continue as usual and most companies will not check whether their purchases have funded conflict,’ added Zobel Behalal of CCFD-Terre Solidaire.”

Latest Developments, January 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Françafrique lives
91 days after declaring France’s neocolonial relationship with Africa dead, French President François Hollande announced that his country was taking military action in former colony Mali:

“At stake today is the very existence of our ally Mali, the security of its population and that of French citizens. There are 6,000 of them in Mali.
I have, therefore, in the name of France, answered the plea for help from Mali’s president, which has the support of the nations of West Africa. As a result, the French armed forces gave their support this afternoon to Malian units for the fight against these terrorist elements.
This operation will last as long as necessary.” [Translated from the French.]

Deep roots
350.org co-founder Bill McKibben discusses the global significance of the indigenous protest movement that began in Canada last year under the banner #IdleNoMore:

“[First Nations] are, legally and morally, all that stand in the way of Canada’s total exploitation of its vast energy and mineral resources, including the tar sands, the world’s second largest pool of carbon. NASA’s James Hansen has explained that burning that bitumen on top of everything else we’re combusting will mean it’s ‘game over for the climate.’ Which means, in turn, that Canada’s First Nations are in some sense standing guard over the planet.

Corporations and governments have often discounted the power of native communities — because they were poor and scattered in distant places, they could be ignored or bought off. But in fact their lands contain much of the continent’s hydrocarbon wealth — and, happily, much of its wind, solar and geo-thermal resources, as well. The choices that Native people make over the next few years will be crucial to the planet’s future — and #IdleNoMore is an awfully good sign that the people who have spent the longest in this place are now rising artfully and forcefully to its defense.”

Importing cholera
Foreign Policy has published an account, drawn from former Associated Press correspondent Jonathan Katz’s new book, of his investigation into how the UN turned Haiti’s biggest river into an “artery of disease”:

“In two years, more than 7,800 Haitians have died of cholera. One in five people in a nation of roughly 10 million has fallen seriously ill with the disease, while the unusually virulent strain has spread across the Caribbean, into South America, and the United States.
The United Nations has made grandiose, if seemingly empty, promises to fight and eradicate the disease, but refuses to consider its own accountability in starting the epidemic. Aid workers and donor governments have lost a critical opportunity — to demonstrate that they took Haitian lives and welfare as seriously as their own.”

Funding abuses
The Guardian reports that the UK plans to give millions to Ethiopian “special police” accused of human rights violations, including summary executions, in the country’s restive Ogaden region:

“The Guardian has seen an internal Department for International Development document forming part of a tender to train security forces in the Somali region of Ogaden, which lies within Ethiopia, as part of a five-year £13m–15m ‘peace-building’ programme.
The document notes the ‘reputational risks of working alongside actors frequently cited in human rights violation allegations’. DfID insists that the training will be managed by NGOs and private companies with the goal of improving security, professionalism and accountability of the force, but Human Rights Watch has documented countless allegations of human rights abuses.”

Mining maze
Bloomberg reports on the difficult road to compensation faced by thousands of South African ex-miners suffering from silicosis:

“ ‘Whether we are able to bring Anglo American and other parent companies to the table or not will have a significant impact on the size of any final award or settlement,’ [the plaintiff’s lawyer Richard] Spoor said by phone yesterday. ‘The question of the parent company liability is a very difficult area of law because of the principle of limited liability.’

Mergers, acquisitions and delistings over the years have left former workers with nowhere to go to seek compensation, Spoor said. Gold Fields Ltd. was created in 1998 by combining the assets of Gencor and Gold Fields of South Africa Ltd. AngloGold was formed when Anglo American’s South African business bought out minority shareholders of its gold units in 1997.
Anglo American ceded control of AngloGold in April 2004 when the gold miner bought Ghana’s Ashanti Goldfields Ltd., creating AngloGold Ashanti.
Gold companies including AngloGold deny liability.”

Tax-shy telcos
The BBC reports that Indian tax officials have raided a facility belonging to Finnish phone giant Nokia:

“According to some media reports, officials said they were looking to recover tax payments totalling as much as 30bn Indian rupees ($545m; £340m).

The raid on Nokia comes just days after Indian tax officials asked the UK’s Vodafone to pay more than $2bn in back taxes.”

Banning fake vaccines
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny calls on the US government to declare it will never again use public health interventions to gather intelligence, as it famously did in Pakistan where there has been a recent spate of violence against vaccine providers:

“Such a declaration has been proposed in a letter sent to President Obama this Monday signed by the deans of America’s top public health schools.  I suggest this could be modeled on –and inserted into– Executive Order 12333 which mandates that ‘No element of the Intelligence Community shall sponsor, contract for, or conduct research on human subjects except in accordance with guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services,’ and bans engagement in or conspiracy towards assassination and actions intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media.”

Diluting responsibility
The Guardian reports that “opaque supply chains” are part of the reason that Bangladesh’s booming garment industry keeps experiencing deadly factory blazes, the latest of which claimed 111 lives:

“Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, says a convoluted and opaque supply chain is largely to blame for the lack of compliance with international labour standards. ‘Often the factory that gets the order is fully compliant,’ she says. ‘But multiple subcontracts make a mockery of so-called ethical sourcing. When an accident happens, the buyers can simply deny responsibility.’
After the Tazreen blaze, retailers said they had not authorised production at the factory. Walmart and Sears said in separate statements that suppliers had subcontracted production without informing them.”

Latest Developments, January 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Violent hemisphere
The Washington Post reports on a new study suggesting 45 of the world’s 50 most violent cities are located in the Western Hemisphere, many of them caught up in the tension between an insatiable American market and prohibition policies.
“[Honduras’s] San Pedro Sulla tallied 159 homicides per 100,000 residents last year, followed by [Mexico’s] Ciudad Juarez, with 148 killings per 100,000. Both cities are major operational and strategic distribution points along the billion-dollar drug pipeline that funnels narcotics to consumers in the United States.”

Apple opens up
Reuters reports Apple has made public its “closely guarded” list of global suppliers in the face of criticism over perceived indifference to worker abuses.
“The audit conducted by Apple of suppliers found a number of violations, among them breaches in pay, benefits and environmental practices in plants in China, which figured prominently throughout the 500-page report Apple issued.
Other violations unearthed included dumping wastewater onto a neighboring farm, using machines without safeguards, testing workers for pregnancy and falsifying pay records.”

German banks vs. financial transaction tax
Bloomberg reports that Germany’s banks have expressed their opposition to a tax on financial transactions in the euro zone.
“ ‘If a financial-transaction tax cannot be introduced internationally, you have to do without it,’ Hans Reckers, managing director of Germany’s VOeB association of public banks, said in an e-mailed statement today. ‘We firmly oppose the creation of tax haven in the EU.’

The European Commission in September suggested a tax of 0.1 percent on equity and bond transactions and 0.01 percent on derivatives, which it said could raise 55 billion euros ($70 billion) a year. European Union finance ministers are due to discuss the levy in March.”

Diminishing solidarity
Le Monde reports on the contentious debate over whether a financial transaction tax, if one is ever adopted, would have much in common with Robin Hood.
“The NGO Oxfam worries about the change in [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy’s position, noting that he had said at the G20 summit in early November ‘a significant portion, the majority or the totality of the revenue must go to development.’ But he has since changed his mind, according to Oxfam’s Luc Lamprière: ‘His reference to the European Commission directive is a bad sign since it calls for the tax to ‘progressively replace national contributions to the EU budget,’ leaving the idea of financing development and the fight against climate change as a mere footnote.’ ” (Translated from the French)

Rio+20 agenda
The International Institute for Environment and Development’s Emily Benson grades the just-released draft agenda for the Rio+20 summit, finding it stronger on sentiment than specifics.
“Mention is made to ‘innovative instruments of finance’ for building green economies and reference is made to public procurement, fiscal reform, the removal of subsidies that undermine sustainable development, all of which the [Green Economy] Coalition has been promoting. It calls for International Financial Institutions to ‘review their programmatic strategies to ensure the provision of better support to developing countries for the implementation of sustainable development’. This is all encouraging stuff. However, the text steps rather delicately around the question not only of how much the transition is going to cost, but how we are going to leverage additional funds. From our past experience of Rio 1992 we know that governments alone will not be able to pay for the transition so we need to think a lot more creatively about how to leverage additional finance. So, the question we would like to see tackled in the next draft is:  How are we going to kick-start the finance of a green and fair economy in order to create long-term investor confidence?”

Burma beware
The Institute of Development Studies’ Gabriele Köhler argues Myanmar must be wary, as it opens up to the world beyond Asia, of the West’s conquering friendship.
“We can hope that the west’s sudden enthusiasm stems from genuine support for peace and the rights of the population. But in reality, the change in stance probably has at least as much to do with pursuit of their own national interests. For several decades, US and European sanctions have kept western businesses out of Burma, while firms from Thailand, Singapore, India and especially China eagerly exploited the country’s natural gas, hydropower potential and gemstones.
History has shown time and again that popular movements for civil liberties, democracy and human rights are often hijacked by a drive to introduce neoliberal capitalism or prise open a country to foreign investors.”

Carbon fixation
The Land Institute’s Stan Cox argues that current schemes to reduce carbon emissions could actually make it harder for future generations to provide for themselves.
“To value everything in terms of carbon and treat the myriad benefits of ecologically sound agriculture as mere byproducts of climate protection is to invite all kinds of threats to soil and food. Perhaps the most menacing threats are those posed by connecting food and soil more tightly to global capital markets through carbon-trading schemes and tying them more closely to volatile energy markets by putting already fragile soils to work growing biofuels.

Occupying Occupy
Author and blogger Carne Ross warns that the appropriation of Occupy slogans, by mainstream politicians and crockery shops, has begun.
“As the ‘68-ers manifestly failed to do, Occupy must move from words to action, for relying on the platform of words will see the ground cut from under our feet. In contrast to the ease with which they can steal the words of Occupy, the [Newt] Gingrich’s of this world will not be able to appropriate actions consonant with the ideals of Occupy for this would be to enact Occupy’s sought revolution.  And that won’t happen in a century of Sundays.”