Latest Developments, December 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Canada’s third world
The UN News Centre reports that a UN human rights expert has waded into the controversy over living conditions in the northern Canadian community of Attawapiskat, expressing “deep concern” over the socio-economic situation of Canada’s aboriginal population.
“ ‘The social and economic situation of the Attawapiskat seems to represent the condition of many First Nation communities living on reserves throughout Canada, which is allegedly akin to Third World conditions,’ [James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples] stated.
‘Yet, this situation is not representative of non-aboriginal communities in Canada, a country with overall human rights indicators scoring among the top of all countries of the world.
‘Aboriginal communities face vastly higher poverty rights, and poorer health, education, employment rates as compared to non-aboriginal people,’ said the expert.”

Apple blasts
The Associated Press reports that, for the second time this year, an explosion has rocked a factory run by Chinese suppliers to computer giant Apple, this time resulting in 61 people injured.
“Critics have taken Cupertino, California-based Apple to task for alleged violations of labor and environmental standards by its China-based suppliers, and the company has said it is working to resolve such problems.

A similar explosion occurred in May at a factory of electronics maker Foxconn Technology Group. Three people died and 15 were hurt due to what Foxconn said was ‘an explosion of combustible dust in a duct’ at the plant in the southwestern city of Chengdu.”

Migrant rights
UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has called on member countries to extend what are supposed to be universal rights to migrants, whether they have arrived legally or not.
“More than 20 years ago, States recognized that migrants needed specific protection and brought the [International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families] into existence… it is high time that these same States now unblock the political will to ratify and effectively implement this important treaty,” Pillay said.
“Human rights are not a matter of charity,” she said. “Nor are they a reward for obeying immigration rules. Human rights are inalienable entitlements of every human being, wherever they are and whatever their status.”

Sweatshop nation
The Inter Press Service carries a report from Haiti Grassroots Watch on the development of a new industrial park in Haiti, which the government and the international community say will provide jobs and growth but which critics say will cause social and environmental problems.
“Putting an industrial park – which will attract between 20,000 and 200,000 new residents – in the midst of a fertile area [as recommended by US-based Koios Associates] is not necessarily going to contribute to Haiti’s ‘sustainable development’, despite government claims to the contrary, economist [Camille] Chalmers notes. Haiti has gone from virtual food self-sufficiency three decades ago to importing over 60 percent of its food. Taking more land out of production will only increase that figure.
‘Before 1992, 90 percent of our cereal needs were met here in Haiti. That’s all changed. The country has become more dependent,’ Chalmers told HGW. “That means food has become more expensive as salaries have gotten lower. You get paid in gourdes, and you consume in U.S. dollars. That is terrible for the country… it is sinking us deeper into dependency.’ ”

Food fight
Oxfam’s Duncan Green examines the strong words exchanged on the subject of food security by World Trade Organization head Pascal Lamy and UN food rights expert Oliver de Schutter, quoting the latter at length.
“We must ensure that the debate starts from the correct premise. This premise must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade. We must also assess the compatibility of WTO disciplines and the Doha agenda with the food security agenda. Without such a fundamental reassessment, we will remain wedded to food systems where the most efficient producers with the biggest economies of scale are relied upon to feed food-deficit regions, and where the divide only gets bigger.
This may look like food security on paper, but it is an approach that has failed spectacularly. The reality on the ground is that vulnerable populations are consigned to endemic hunger and poverty.”

Living in truth
Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs reflects on the life of Vaclav Havel and the lessons it can teach us for resisting injustice in its latest forms.
“Today’s reality is of a world in which wealth translates into power, and power is abused in order to augment personal wealth, at the expense of the poor and the natural environment. As those in power destroy the environment, launch wars on false pretexts, foment social unrest, and ignore the plight of the poor, they seem unaware that they and their children will also pay a heavy price.
Moral leaders nowadays should build on the foundations laid by Havel. Many people, of course, now despair about the possibilities for constructive change. Yet the battles that we face – against powerful corporate lobbies, relentless public-relations spin, and our governments’ incessant lies – are a shadow of what Havel, Michnik, Sakharov, and others faced when taking on brutal Soviet-backed regimes.”

True democracy
Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson warns of the dangers of concentrated economic wealth and criticizes government policies towards banks in both Europe and the US.
“The protesters of ‘Occupy Albany’ issued a powerful consensus statement recently, which reads in part:
‘The interests of those who purchase influence are rewarded at the expense of the People, from whom the government’s just power is derived. We believe that this failure in our system is at the core of many interconnected issues we face as a society, and its resolution is key to a just future. We therefore demand true democracy, decoupled from the corrosive influence of concentrated economic power, and we call all who share in this common goal to stand with us and take action toward this end.’ ”