Latest Developments, May 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Business as usual
Inter Press Service reports that UN experts have found that American corporations show “little appreciation” of human rights in their operations both at home and abroad:

“ ‘The U.S. government has committed to the [UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights], and established a number of key initiatives in this regard,’ the Working Group’s Michael Addo stated Wednesday, when he and [Puvan] Selvanathan unveiled their early observations here in Washington.
‘[But] it is now facing the challenge of putting them into practice, across all departments, ensuring that this is done in a coherent and effective way, and in a way that makes a real difference to people on the ground.’ ”

Mining diplomacy
The Toronto Star reports that the Canadian government is being accused of providing “active and unquestioning support” to a mining company linked to the murder of an activist in Mexico:

“The study, made available by [MiningWatch Canada] to the Star and La Presse, is based on 900 pages of documents obtained through Access to Information from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade about its dealings with Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration.

‘It’s not that we’re saying that the embassy doesn’t have a mandate to support Canadian economic interests,’ said Jennifer Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch and a co-author of the report. ‘In part, that is what they are supposed to do.
‘But Canadian embassies around the world are supposed to ensure the protection of individual and collective human rights—and that is just as important to us as Canadians.’”

No change of heart
The Tax Justice Network argues reports that Swiss banks have agreed to increased openness are greatly exaggerated:

“And we know this from a short sentence in the [Reuters] story, citing Patrick Odier, head of the Swiss Bankers’ Association:
‘We should no longer categorically reject an automatic exchange of information,’ he said. ‘But it should be introduced globally.’
It’s that bit in bold that is the give-away. In other words, we won’t do anything until everyone else has. Which, snigger snigger, will never happen. This is the classic ‘level playing field argument’ that we at TJN have seen time and time again, as justification for inaction.”

Printed weapons
The BBC reports that a gun made with 3D printer technology has been fired in the US for the first time:

“The controversial group which created the firearm, Defense Distributed, plans to make the blueprints available online.
The group has spent a year trying to create the firearm, which was successfully tested on Saturday at a firing range south of Austin, Texas.
Anti-gun campaigners have criticised the project.
Europe’s law enforcement agency said it was monitoring developments.”

Imperial aid
The University of Amsterdam’s Antonio Carmona Báez argues that understanding Bolivia’s expulsion of the US Agency for International Development requires a “de-colonial reading of development”:

“USAID belongs to the host of organs that were initiated by US president Harry Truman’s post-war Point Four Programme. The agency responds directly to the US Secretary of State and is closely monitored by the Department of Defence. While much of the discourse around USAID action highlights the terms sustainable development, elimination of poverty and international cooperation, military intervention and imposed foreign policy has marked the history of US foreign aid since the Cold War in Bolivia and throughout the Global South generally. USAID Office of Military Affairs and its Civic-Military Programme have been responsible for the funding of counter-insurgency practices in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and continuing the ‘global war on terrorism’ introduced by George W. Bush and sustained by current president Barak Obama. Recently, the Associated Press has revealed the agency’s meddling in Bolivia’s internal political affairs by providing ‘building democracy grants’ to groups that oppose the Morales government.”

Rocky relations
The Washington Post reports that even those Mongolians who are seeing some benefits from a massive Rio Tinto copper and gold project have concerns about the Anglo-Australian mining giant’s activities in their country:

“Puntsag Tsagaan, the president’s chief of staff, says he doesn’t want to see his country turned into Minegolia. Mineral wealth should be exploited cautiously and benefit the people, he says: ‘It does not have to be unlocked in a generation.’

In addition to the complaint about a cost blowout, the government says the company should have paid taxes last year and needs greater financial transparency.
In his speech to parliament on Feb. 1, [President Tsakhia] Elbegdorj wasn’t just bluffing. A few days later, his government briefly froze Rio Tinto’s bank accounts.

[Aimtan] Ulam-Badrakh says that he is glad Oyu Tolgoi is being developed but that he also has reservations. ‘Foreigners cannot just dig up the land, take away our wealth and leave us with a big hole in the ground,’ he says. ‘It has to be beneficial for foreigners and the Mongolian people.’ ”

Misplaced priorities
Humanosphere reports that Médecins Sans Frontières believes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s promotion of vaccines prioritizes drug industry profits over saving lives:

[MSF’s Kate] Elder said the problem is we don’t know how much money [pharmaceutical companies] are making since industry refuses to open its books. MSF, which is a member of the GAVI alliance, had asked drug industry partners to show the actual costs of drug development and production so the consortium can see that the profits are modest. Industry, and the GAVI leadership, Elder said, refused to incorporate this into the Global Vaccine Action Plan – an over-arching strategy led by a group convened by the Gates Foundation called the Decades of Vaccine Collaboration.
‘We’d like to see more of this information made public,’ said Elder, referring to both the price calculations as well as the development of global vaccine policy.”

Latest Developments, May 2

In the latest news and analysis…

Subsidiary immunity
The Associated Press reports that a Canadian judge has dismissed an attempt by Ecuadorian plaintiffs to have a $19 billion judgment enforced against US oil giant Chevron:

“Justice David Brown ruled Wednesday that the Canadian courts have no jurisdiction to enforce the controversial award handed down by an Ecuadorian court against Chevron.
The award to the villagers was made in Ecuador for black sludge contamination of a rainforest between 1972 and 1990 by Texaco, which Chevron Corp. bought in 2001.

Brown concluded the judgment was levied against Chevron Corp., and not Chevron Canada, therefore the subsidiary’s assets do not belong to the U.S. parent company

Alan Lenczner, the Toronto lawyer for the Ecuadorians, said they would appeal.
‘It cannot be right that a multinational company that operates entirely through subsidiaries is immune from the enforcement of a judgment in Canada, particularly where the subsidiary is 100% owned,’ Lenczner said in a statement.”

Unwanted aid
Al Jazeera reports that Bolivia has expelled the US Agency for International Development over “alleged political interference”:

“ ‘Never again, never again USAID, who manipulate and use our leaders, our colleagues with hand-outs,’ [Bolivian president Evo] Morales said in announcing the expulsion.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Philip Brenner, an international relations professor at the American University in Washington DC, said USAID became a target after its suspected role in encouraging secession in Santa Cruz, ‘a very wealthy part’ of Bolivia.”

Timber laundering
Global Witness reports that “shadow permits” are keeping the illicit logging trade flowing from Africa to the EU which imported up to to €12.4 billion worth of illegal timber in 2011:

Meanwhile, the EU has been developing Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with timber-exporting countries, which involve comprehensive forest governance reforms aimed at stamping out the illegal trade. Neither the EU Timber Regulation nor the VPAs take account of the widespread use of shadow permits, however. This means they could end up laundering the type of wood products they were designed to exclude.
‘Unless European and African policy-makers take urgent action, shadow permits could become the Trojan horse by which illegal timber is brought into the EU and passed off as legitimate. Timber importers must do proper checks right the way along their supply chains to make sure they know exactly where their timber came from and whether the permit used to get it was legal,’ said [Global Witness’s Alexandra] Pardal.

Illegal resource extraction
Reuters reports that nearly all of Liberia’s resource deals since 2009 have violated national laws:

“Liberian law sets rules for foreign investment projects including on competitive tendering, tax rates and equity stakes to be held by the government.
While some failures to comply with the law are relatively minor, the Moore Stephens draft shows the government granted vast swathes of land to firms including Golden Agri’s Golden Veroleum and Sime Darby without competitive bidding, and otherwise skipped contract steps meant to ensure a fair deal for Liberians.
Other companies with contracts found to be flawed include U.S. oil firm Chevron Petroleum and mining giant BHP, according to the report, which also accused Liberian authorities of having tried to stonewall the audit process since late last year by failing to hand over information promptly.”

No more executions
The Associated Press reports that Maryland has become the 18th US state and the first south of the Mason-Dixon line to abolish the death penalty:

“[National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] President and CEO Ben Jealous, who worked to get the repeal bill passed, noted the significance of a Democratic governor south of the Mason-Dixon line with presidential aspirations leading an effort to ban capital punishment. Jealous noted that in 1992, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton left the presidential campaign trail to oversee the execution of a man who had killed a police officer, a move widely viewed as an effort to shed the Democratic Party’s image as soft on crime.
‘Our governor has also just redefined what it means to have a political future in this country,’ Jealous said”

Fighting biopiracy
EurActiv reports that the EU is debating new measures that would require companies to compensate indigenous people for the commercial use of their knowledge:

“Under the law – based on the international convention on access to biodiversity, the Nagoya protocol – the pharmaceuticals industry would need the written consent of local or indigenous people before exploring their region’s genetic resources or making use of their traditional knowhow.
Relevant authorities would have the power to sanction companies that fail to comply, protecting local interests from the predatory attitude of big European companies.

But obstacles remain due to vested interests, particularly in the European pharmaceuticals industry. ‘90% of genetic resources are in the south and 90% of the patents are in the north,’ [Green MEP Sandrine] Bélier told EurActiv.”

Free trade racket
The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Dean Baker argues that international trade agreements, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, have more to do with “securing regulatory gains for major corporate interests” than free trade:

“All the arguments that trade economists make against tariffs and quotas apply to patent and copyright protection. The main difference is the order of magnitude. Tariffs and quotas might raise the price of various items by 20 or 30 percent. By contrast, patent and copyright protection is likely to raise the price of protected items 2,000 percent or even 20,000 percent above the free market price. Drugs that would sell for a few dollars per prescription in a free market would sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars when the government gives a drug company a patent monopoly.
In the case of drug patents, the costs go beyond just dollars and cents. Higher drug prices will have a direct impact on the public’s health, especially in some of the poorer countries that might end up being parties to these agreements.”

Pharma power
This is Africa’s Adam Robert Green discusses concerns that pharmaceutical companies may be “shaping the public health agenda” in poor countries:

“One example is the HPV vaccination programme for cervical cancer in Rwanda, enabled by a donation from Merck. After three years, the freebies expire, but Merck promised to provide Rwanda with a discounted access price to the vaccine. Assuming donors and governments pick up the bill, the donations could be interpreted as market-priming – creating the conditions for adoption – rather than corporate citizenship.”