Latest Developments, September 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Spreading strikes
The Guardian reports that South Africa’s mining industry is on the verge of paralysis as labour unrest spreads in the wake of last month’s massacre of striking workers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine:

“The flames have been fanned by Julius Malema, a former youth leader who was expelled from the governing African National Congress for ill discipline this year.

In an interview on South Africa’s Talk Radio 702 on Wednesday, Malema said: ‘We are calling for mine change in South Africa. We want the mines nationalised. We want the workers paid a living wage … and somebody has to listen.
‘Maybe this call has been ridiculed … by the authorities and mining bosses. Now we want to show them that we mean business. We are going to be engaging in very peaceful yet radical and militant action that will hit straight into the pockets of white monopoly capital.’ ”

Dying for PR
The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Patrick Bond argues that World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s recent visit to South Africa was an exercise in public relations concerning his institution’s past and present impacts on the country’s people:

“Bank-financed electricity mainly supplied South Africa’s mining houses and smelters, as is still the case (the main customer of the Medupi coal-fired power station currently being built will be BHP Billiton, which consumes more than 10% of the country’s power to smelt aluminium). Then and now, this facilitated South Africa’s notorious migrant labour system, with low pay to migrant workers who succumbed to TB in squalid, single-sex, 16-to-a-room hostels and shacks.
Kim failed to address these historic issues, which are mirrored in his institution’s current portfolio, especially the [International Finance Corporation’s] controversial commitment (approved by former president Paul Wolfowitz in 2007) of $150m in equity/credit lines to Lonmin at the Marikana mine, as well as the $3.75bn for the Medupi plant north of Pretoria, pushed through by his immediate predecessor, Robert Zoellick.
The 34 victims of the Marikana massacre were mainly migrants from Lesotho and the Eastern Cape. Their migrant labour status replicates apartheid, including health vulnerability in disease-ridden shack settlements.”

Boat tragedies
Human Rights Watch’s Judith Sunderland calls out European governments over their failure to prevent migrant deaths at sea, after an estimated 140 people died in the Mediterranean last week:

“The truth is that European Union governments on the Mediterranean rim and the EU as a whole have focused far more effort on border control, including in ways that violate rights, than on preventing deaths at sea.

The EU needs to live up to European values this time around and do its utmost to ensure that those fleeing Syria reach safety and a meaningful chance to apply for asylum. We cannot mourn only the deaths of asylum seekers, though. None of those who perished last week deserved to die, regardless of their nationality or reasons for trying to reach Europe.”

Exploration hiatus
Bloomberg reports that Tanzania’s opposition is calling for “a 10-year moratorium on licensing offshore oil and gas blocks” so that the country has time to implement laws that will ensure it benefits from the exploitation of its natural resources:

“Tanzania, the holder of East Africa’s second-biggest natural-gas resources, in June tripled its estimate of recoverable gas reserves to 28.7 trillion cubic feet. The government postponed its next deep offshore bidding round, originally scheduled to start tomorrow, pending the adoption of a natural gas policy by lawmakers. Parliament may approve the draft document as soon as October.
‘A moratorium will not only allow us to manage our new resources effectively, it will also ensure the welfare of future generations,’ [Shadow Finance Minister Zitto] Kabwe said in an e-mailed statement. It would give time to set up a sovereign development fund, train Tanzanians for jobs in the industry, and make sure oversight bodies are monitoring oil and gas revenues, Kabwe said.”

Trade secrecy
Inter Press service reports on the “unusually tight secrecy” at negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which are now in their 14th round:

“Thus, while inklings of the countries’ positions on the varying issues have come to light through brief public statements and leaked documents, the details of how the talks are progressing are known only to the negotiators and the corporations that have been given access to the draft documents.
According to activists, of the 600 advisors that the U.S. negotiators have used surrounding the talks, 84 percent have been corporate interests.
Indeed, not only has there been an ongoing lack of direct civil-society involvement in the TPP process, but progress in the negotiations has been kept secret from even the U.S. Congress. With the start of the 14th round of talks this weekend, a bipartisan letter was sent from Congress to Trade Representative Kirk, insisting “in the strongest terms possible” that Kirk’s office publicise details on what is being discussed, specifically with regards to intellectual property rights.”

Blasé about torture
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports on a UN expert’s comments that suggest there has been “a paradigm shift” in the way Western society views torture:

“Speaking at Chatham House on the record last night [Juan] Méndez, UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, bemoaned a change in attitude. ‘We have lost an important asset that we had in the fight against torture: the moral indignation,’ he told the audience. ‘In the last ten years the culture has generated a sense that perhaps torture is inevitable or even necessary.’

The Obama administration reinstated the Code on Military Justice. However, Méndez candidly explained that the decision not to address what happened around the Torture Memos reveals a refusal to accept the US’s obligations under international law.
‘It’s a very disappointing decision,’ he said, ‘you can imagine how frustrating it is for a special rapporteur to go around the world saying we have to investigate, prosecute and punish crimes of torture, when the US doesn’t.’ ”

Multilateral views
UN Dispatch’s Mark Goldberg reports on a recent public opinion study that suggests American attitudes are rather well-disposed toward international cooperation on a range of global issues:

“The survey shows that Americans prefer a cooperative approach to American foreign policy and believe the UN should be a platform for cooperation even when it means the USA must compromise a bit.

Another related part of the polling asks respondents attitudes toward various international treaties to which the USA has not acceded, including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, and a post-Kyoto international climate change convention. Guess what? Americans are very supportive of the USA joining all three!”

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.’ ”

Latest Developments, August 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Pharma bribes
The Washington Post reports that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has agreed to pay $60 million in fines over US charges that its subsidiaries bribed doctors and health officials in “about a dozen countries“:

“ ‘Pfizer subsidiaries in several countries had bribery so entwined in their sales culture that they offered points and bonus programs to improperly reward foreign officials who proved to be their best customers,’ said Kara Brockmeyer, who heads the SEC unit that enforces the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it a crime to bribe foreign government officials.”

Private security misconduct
The Associated Press reports that the private military company formerly known as Blackwater – now called Academi LLC – has agreed to pay a fine to settle 17 criminal charges, including arms smuggling:

“The list of violations includes possessing automatic weapons in the United States without registration, lying to federal firearms regulators about weapons provided to the king of Jordan, passing secret plans for armored personnel carriers to Sweden and Denmark without U.S. government approval and illegally shipping body armor overseas.

‘For an extended period of time, Academi/Blackwater operated in a manner which demonstrated systemic disregard for U.S. Government laws and regulations,’ said Chris Briese, Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte Division of the FBI.”

Eurocentrism
The New York Times reports that a Singaporean diplomat has suggested Europe could benefit from showing greater humility in its relations with other regions:

“ ‘The problem is that Europe sees itself as a ‘normative power,’ as a region which sets the universal norm,’ said [Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large, Tommy] Koh in a speech marking the 15th anniversary of the Asia-Europe Foundation.

“This role often makes Europe a very poor interlocutor because its mission is not to appreciate alternative views but to impose its view on the world,” said Mr. Koh.

‘I wonder if the day will ever come when Europe will be humble enough to want to learn from Asia,’ he said, singling out the continent’s experience in dealing with multiculturalism, a challenge facing Europe.
He had heard three European leaders declare that multiculturalism was “a failure,” he said.
“I wish that their advisers had suggested that they should visit Southeast Asia to see how other countries have made a success of multiculturalism,” said Mr. Koh.”

Don’t call it a war
Obama administration counterterror chief John Brennan’s description of current American policy in Yemen sounds awfully familiar, according to Wired’s Danger Room blog:

“If you put the U.S. approaches to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan into a blender, the frothing mixture that emerged would be Yemen policy. Brennan didn’t come close to conceding that the U.S. is at war in Yemen during a Wednesday talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. Rather, Brennan took pains to describe President Obama’s approach to Yemen as a giant development effort — although it’s the type of economic improvement initiative that involves robots of death circling overhead.”

Do no harm
Médecins Sans Fronitères’ Judit Rius Sanjuan argues US enthusiasm for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens America’s own stated global goal of an AIDS-free generation:

“For example, the U.S. government wants TPP countries to lower the bar for patentability, thereby granting pharmaceutical companies new patents on variations of old drugs with little therapeutic benefit for patients. These provisions could stifle the production of less expensive generic forms. And, the U.S. would make it impossible to challenge a patent’s validity before it is granted – a commonly used tool that helps to prevent frivolous and unwarranted patenting and which is vital to fostering an IP system that rewards innovations benefiting patients. The U.S. demands also extend patent monopolies beyond the traditional 20-year period and make it harder for generics to get regulatory approval, which will serve to keep generics out and prop up drug prices for longer.”

Fuel on the fire
The Guardian’s Seumas Milne contends that foreign intervention is now “driving the escalation of the conflict” in Syria:

“Many in the Syrian opposition would counter that they had no choice but to accept foreign support if they were to defend themselves against the regime’s brutality. But as the independent opposition leader Haytham Manna argues, the militarisation of the uprising weakened its popular and democratic base – while also dramatically increasing the death toll.

But intervention in Syria is prolonging the conflict, rather than delivering a knockout blow. Only pressure for a negotiated settlement, which the west and its friends have so strenuously blocked, can now give Syrians the chance to determine their own future – and halt the country’s descent into darkness.”

Delusions of altruism
Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Jayati Ghosh takes aim at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who implied in a speech last week that China is using Africa for its resources:

“Certainly, there is more than an element of truth in such warnings. Yet US and European companies continue to try to exploit these countries’ resources as much, if not more, not least through land and other resource grabs. If anything, their concern now is that competition from Chinese and Indian (and even Brazilian and Malaysian) firms is forcing them to offer better terms for their resource extraction. As some Africans put it, it is better to have competing imperialists in action, to allow the objects of interest to play them off against one another. For northern capital used to treating so much of the less developed world as its happy hunting ground, this comes as a nasty shock.

So, please, let’s get real about western ‘help’ to Africa and other poor countries. Most of the developing world has already seen through it, so perhaps it’s time for people in the north to stop deluding themselves?”

Fighting the resource curse
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz urges governments in resource-rich countries to stand up to foreign mining companies so that economic benefits can flow to their citizens:

“Well designed, competitive, transparent auctions can generate much more revenue than sweetheart deals. Contracts, too, should be transparent, and should ensure that if prices soar – as they have repeatedly – the windfall gain does not go only to the company.
Unfortunately, many countries have already signed bad contracts that give a disproportionate share of the resources’ value to private foreign companies. But there is a simple answer: renegotiate; if that is impossible, impose a windfall-profit tax.

Companies will tell Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Mozambique to act quickly, but there is good reason for them to move more deliberately. The resources will not disappear, and commodity prices have been rising. In the meantime, these countries can put in place the institutions, policies, and laws needed to ensure that the resources benefit all of their citizens.”

Latest Developments, June 22

 

In the latest news and analysis…

Epic fail
The Guardian reports that major NGOs are slamming world leaders for their unwillingness to make firm commitments at the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development:

“ ‘They say they can’t put money on the table because of the economic crisis, but they spend money on greedy banks and on saving those who caused the crisis. They spend $1 trillion a year on subsidies for fossil fuels and then tell us they don’t have any money to give to sustainable development,’ [said Greenpeace’s Daniel Mittler]”

ACTA rejected
Reuters reports that the European Parliament’s trade committee has voted down the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which enjoyed the support of the European Commission but faced widespread public opposition:

“The cross-party vote is a signal the legislature will reject ACTA in a final vote on July 4, the first time the European Parliament would write off an international trade agreement since an increase in its powers in 2008.
[British MEP David] Martin said the European Parliament has the authority to ratify commercial treaties, meaning that rejection would preclude any EU member state from signing up on its own.”

Refugee drownings
The Associated Press reports that “scores” of people thought to be asylum seekers may have drowned after a ship capsized between Indonesia and Australia:

“Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, is closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland. It is a popular target for a growing number of asylum seekers, many from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, who attempt to reach Australia on overcrowded fishing boats from Indonesia – sometimes with deadly consequences.”

Renditions Inc.
Reprieve has released the first in a series of investigations outing companies alleged to have benefited from the CIA practice of sending suspected terrorists to “black sites,” in this case, a secret prison in Poland:

“The documents show how:
– Private military contractor DynCorp Systems and Solutions arranged the trip for the US Government at a cost of over $330,000
– A Gulfstream jet, identified as N63MU and operated by First Flight / Airborne Inc. carried out the mission
– The round trip from Washington DC passed through Anchorage and Osaka, picked up the prisoners in Bangkok, and transported them via Dubai to the remote Szymany airfield in Poland, before returning via London Luton
– Trip planners Universal Weather and Aviation arranged logistics for the trip”

New pharma plan
Intellectual Property Watch reports that a new pharmaceutical industry initiative, the HIV Medicines Alliance, ostensibly aimed at facilitating access to HIV treatments for poor people, is raising questions about whether it represents a “good-faith effort”:

“Looking at the draft charter from early June, the initiative aims to encourage companies to share in-kind support and patented products royalty-free to least-developed countries under arrangements with generics companies, and demonstrates flexibility on industry’s part.
But it could stop short of a firm commitment to lower prices and availability. For instance, the draft language states that it would ‘work to enable the availability of medicines developed through this Alliance at the lowest possible prices,’ which is perhaps different than stating that the medicines will be available and at prices poor populations can afford.
The new initiative, organised by the Wellcome Trust, reportedly involves Johnson & Johnson and Merck, two companies that have declined to enter negotiations with the [Medicines] Patent Pool.”

Robin Hood in America
Inter Press Service reports that 52 financial sector professionals have signed a letter calling on the US Congress to adopt a financial transaction tax:

“The tax would cover stock trading, derivatives and other financial instruments, but, proponents say, would have a significant impact only on so-called high-frequency trades, in which computer-driven speculators typically hold stocks for mere milliseconds.
‘These taxes will rebalance financial markets away from a short-term trading mentality that has contributed to instability in our financial markets,’ the letter stated. ‘The primary role of financial markets is to raise investment, allocate resources efficiently, and mitigate risk. However, much of today’s financial activity does not contribute to these goals.’ ”

Secret talks
The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason expresses surprise at the apparent lack of public concern over the “clandestine nature” of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations:

“According to Public Citizen, the trade deal would limit the extent to which signatory countries could regulate foreign firms operating within their boundaries, effectively giving them greater freedoms than domestic firms.
It also reveals that all of the countries except Australia have agreed to terms around the operation of foreign tribunals, which would arbitrate disputes. The tribunals would be staffed by private-sector lawyers who would rotate between acting as judges and acting as advocates for the investors who might be suing a particular government over a TPP-related matter. Talk about a potential conflict of interest.”

Green recession
The Land Institute’s Stan Cox argues that the fixation “at the top of the global economy” on perpetual growth and ever greater profits makes it impossible to achieve environmental sustainability:

“If we regard limitless growth of the human economy as being essential, then we are asking for the impossible. We’ll burst through all nine of those [planetary] boundaries (and others), ecosystems worldwide will crash, and that will succeed in doing what we failed to do: to put a permanent stop to economic growth.
Reversal of growth could instead be achieved preemptively, to ward off such a collapse. The burden of that intentional contraction, however, must be borne by the rich corporations, governments, and populations of the global North, because that’s where the sheer volume of growth has been greatest, with a corresponding impact on the ecosphere. Impoverished nations, on the other hand, have contributed far less to global breakdown and must be permitted some headroom for the growth required to meet people’s basic needs.”

Latest Developments, May 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Big deal
Inter Press Service reports that closed-door talks are set to resume around the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership – potentially the biggest trade deal ever signed by the US – with major implications for global health.
“While U.S. global health policy has seen significant strengthening over the past five years, passage of the TPP ‘would start rolling this back,’ warns Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group here.
Worldwide over the past 10 years, prices for HIV-related medicines, for instance, have fallen by 99 percent, largely driven by competition from generic drugs. While the fight against generics by large pharmaceutical interests has largely shifted away from the WTO, Maybarduk suggests, the TPP agreement signals the next iteration of that effort.
‘The TPP could well be the worst that we have seen,’ Maybarduk says. ‘Not only does it run contrary to the U.S.’s own pledges on global AIDS work, but the TPP will set the template for the entire Asia- Pacific region. That could have an impact on half of the world’s population.’ ”

Tackling overfishing
The Guardian reports that Senegal’s new government has revoked the fishing licenses of 29 foreign trawlers.
“Hunger is growing in Senegal and other Sahelian countries, but much of the catch by the foreign fleets ends up in Britain and the EU after being exported from ports like Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. Local fishing industry leaders in Senegal, Cape Verde, Mauritania and elsewhere say catches from inshore fishing have been decimated in the past 10 years because of overfishing. In addition, many other ‘pirate’ trawlers operate illegally in west African waters, further decimating stocks.
‘Senegal’s only resource is the sea,’ said Abdou Karim Sall, president of the Fishermen’s Association of Joal and the Committee of Marine Reserves in West Africa. ‘Unless something changes there will be a catastrophe for livelihoods, employment and food security.’ ”

Financial services hype
Juraj Dobrila University’s Milford Bateman argues that the “financial inclusion agenda” promoted by the World Bank is “nonsense.”
“First, as ever, there is the overarching effort to try to get the poor to uncritically accept the tools the rich have used to acquire their great wealth and become powerful. Finance is one of these tools. By claiming that helping the poor to ‘manage their money better’ will rapidly lead to economic and social benefits, the promoters of the financial inclusion agenda hope the poor will abandon any possible interest in supporting the collective capabilities and initiatives that history shows have massively empowered them. I would include here trade unions, social movements, strongly regulated labour markets, universal healthcare, public sector employment, a ‘developmental state’ and, most of all, the programmed redistribution of wealth and power.”

Islamophobia
The East London Communities Organisation’s Muhammad Abdul Bari writes that Europe’s “counter-jihad movement” poses a serious threat to the continent’s communal harmony.
“It is disheartening that a continent that had learnt many lessons in such a hard way, after the devastation of the two World Wars, and which prides itself in equality and human rights, is allowing itself to be influenced by the forces of intolerance and hate. It is now open season to malign Muslims because of their religious and cultural practices. Yet Muslim immigrants arriving after the war joined in the effort to rebuild the economies of war-torn Europe in the 1950s. In almost every field of life, Muslims have been an integral part of the European tapestry. Muslims are today at home in Europe, have been contributors to its past and are stakeholders in its future.
Yet the language and rhetoric used by the Far Right and the level of political expediency in mainstream European politics is mind boggling. The hate mongers are apparently succeeding in swapping a racist agenda for an Islamophobic one. The lacklustre response from European leaders has paved the way for anti-Muslim bigotry to move closer to the mainstream.”

Bribery’s cost
In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Global Financial Integrity’s Clark Gascoigne argues that the sort of bribery Wal-Mart is alleged to have committed in Mexico is neither victimless nor unavoidable.
“Environmental regulations exist for many reasons—to protect the health, safety and well-being of the community. If environmental laws were circumvented to build a new Wal-Mart supercenter too close to an important watershed, for example, drinking water could be contaminated and people could become sick or die.

While bribery is pervasive in Mexican society, it is very difficult for small businesses and local residents to escape paying up. They don’t carry the weight needed to change an entire society. However, a major company like Wal-Mart—with the promise of bringing thousands of jobs to local Mexican communities—has the leverage needed to say no to corruption and still conduct business. The company, apparently, chose not to do that.”

Immigration targeting
The Globe and Mail reports on concerns that Canada’s immigration policy is moving away from 50 years of trying to remove race and national origin from the equation.
“Overall it would be a mistake, says [Dalhousie University’s Howard Ramos], to conceive of the uneven outcomes for different immigrant groups as evidence that immigration was failing.
‘Immigrants in Canada have a high degree of integration. This [language] policy doesn’t reflect that success at all. It’s creating a problem where I don’t necessarily think a problem exists,’ he says. ‘The points system was introduced to correct the injustices of focusing on culture and language too heavily. It was a society and a time that was much more ethnocentric – and I don’t think it’s a time we should try and return to.’ ”

Democracy undone
Inter Press Service reports on some of the problems bilateral investment treaties pose for governments wishing to implement sound public policy.
“ ‘Foreign investors may challenge, in an international arbitration process, any change in law and policy to protect the environment and public health, to promote social or cultural goals, or to grapple with financial or economic crises. However, it is impossible to predict the outcome with any precision because each will depend in large part on the composition of the arbitral tribunal deciding the case, which consists of three highly-paid individuals, typically specialized in commercial rather than public law,’ [according to the International Institute for Sustainable Developments Nathalie Bernasconi].

‘A lack of transparency, unpredictability and conflicts of interest have simply become unacceptable. This discontent has led countries like Australia to disfavor investor-state dispute settlement entirely and others to terminate their investment treaties.
‘Watching these developments, countries like Brazil, which never ratified any of its investment treaties, must count themselves lucky,’ she added.”