Latest Developments, June 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Uranium politics
La Tribune reports that France’s new socialist president, François Hollande, has said he wants to see uranium production stepped up in Niger, where French state-owned company Areva is trying to get its new Imouraren mega-project up and running:

“In making this statement, François Hollande is following in the footsteps of his predecessors who supported the efforts of Areva to ensure the supply of uranium to France. A difficult task. Tensions are recurring with Niamey, which has been trying for years to get a bigger share of mining revenues. In 2007-2008, during the renegotiation of mining terms, Niger accused Areva of supporting the country’s Tuareg rebellion and expelled the local director. In trying to break Areva’s monopoly, Niamey has granted more than a hundred exploration licenses since 2006 to Chinese, Canadian, Indian, South African and Anglo-Australian companies.

In April, Nigerien staff at the Imouraren site undertook a seven-day warning strike to protest labour conditions, saying they were working 12 hours a day. Areva countered that this sort of disruption would make it difficult to begin production as anticipated in 2014.” (Translated from the French.)

Water grabbing
A new report by GRAIN warns that the “current scramble for land in Africa” has important implications for access to the continent’s water sources:

“Those who have been buying up vast stretches of farmland in recent years, whether they are based in Addis Ababa, Dubai or London, understand that the access to water they gain, often included for free and without restriction, may well be worth more over the long-term, than the land deals themselves.

‘The value is not in the land,’ says Neil Crowder of UK-based Chayton Capital which has been acquiring farmland in Zambia. ‘The real value is in water.’
And companies like Chayton Capital think that Africa is the best place to find that water. The message repeated at farmland investor conferences around the globe is that water is abundant in Africa. It is said that Africa’s water resources are vastly under utilised, and ready to be harnessed for export oriented agriculture projects.
The reality is that a third of Africans already live in water-scarce environments and climate change is likely to increase these numbers significantly. Massive land deals could rob millions of people of their access to water and risk the depletion of the continent’s most precious fresh water sources.”

US soldiers in Africa
The Army Times reports that at least 3,000 American soldiers will do tours of duty in Africa next year as part of the US military’s “new readiness model”:

“Africa, in particular, has emerged as a greater priority for the U.S. government because terrorist groups there have become an increasing threat to U.S. and regional security.
Though U.S. soldiers have operated in Africa for decades, including more than 1,200 soldiers currently stationed at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, the region in many ways remains the Army’s last frontier.”

Corruption cover-up
The Sydney Morning Herald reports on a scandal that has engulfed Australia’s central bank as a result of bribery allegations involving some of its subsidiaries:

“[Note Printing Australia], which is fully owned and supervised by the Reserve Bank, and Securency, half-owned by the RBA, were also charged with allegedly bribing officials in Vietnam, Malaysia, Nepal and Indonesia in order to secure banknote supply contracts.
The companies make and print Australia’s banknotes and export them to more than 30 countries.
The scandal has embroiled the leadership of the RBA, with senior central bank officials receiving explicit evidence of bribery back in 2007 but choosing to handle the matter internally rather than go to police.”

Digging a deeper hole
Reuters reports that Indian authorities are investigating whether a Swiss-based arms company tried to avoid being blacklisted for corruption by attempting to bribe government officials:

“An Indian businessman was charged on Saturday with attempting to bribe government officials in connection with allegations that Swiss-based Rheinmetall Air Defence AG paid him $530,000 to use his influence to stop the company from being blacklisted.

India’s Defence Ministry has put in place strict guidelines for arms deals in an effort to crack down on bribery and corruption at a time when Asia’s third-largest economy is on a weapons-buying spree to modernise its military. India is the world’s largest arms buyer.”

Valuing nature
The UN Environment Program’s Achim Steiner writes that a so-called green economy will require changes to “our current economic thinking at a systemic level”:

“Why, for example, does the world pursue a paradigm of economic growth that rests upon eroding the very basis of earth’s life-support systems? Can wealth be redefined and reframed to include access to basic goods and services, including those provided by nature free of cost, such as clean air, a stable climate, and fresh water? Is it not time to give human development, environmental sustainability, and social equity an equal footing with GDP growth?”

Myth of apolitical human rights
STAND’s Sean Langberg blogs about the global human rights movement’s “four dominant schools of thought” as identified by the University of Buffalo’s Makau Mutua who puts certain multilateral institutions in the same category as a former Congolese dictator:

Political Strategists or Instrumentalists are primarily individuals within government or institutions that exist to serve the interests of a state. Mutua takes exceptional issue with these advocates and believes they only employ a human rights narrative when it serves to better their cause. He cites Mobutu Sese Seko, NATO, and the World Bank as individuals or institutions that profess(ed) an allegiance to civil rights, but do/did so in rhetoric only. Mutua believes that instances of this disconnect are becoming more common as human rights movement continues to be ‘apolitical’ and ‘universal.’ ”

Victors’ justice
Trinity College’s Vijay Prashad criticizes NATO’s lack of transparency regarding its military campaign in Libya last year:

“The scandal here is that NATO, a military alliance, refuses any civilian oversight of its actions. It operated under a U.N. mandate and yet refuses to allow a U.N. evaluation of its actions. NATO, in other words, operates as a rogue military entity, outside the bounds of the prejudices of democratic society. The various human rights reports simply underlie the necessity of a formal and independent evaluation of NATO’s actions in Libya.”

Latest Developments, November 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Water grab
The International Institute for Environment and Development has released a new report warning that the African “land grab” phenomenon also involves water rights, with implications extending far beyond the land being sold.
“‘Companies that acquire land for irrigated farming will want secure water rights, but long-term contractual commitments can jeopardise water access for local farmers,’ says co-author Lorenzo Cotula. ‘This affects not only the people who have customarily used the land that is being leased, but also distant downstream users who can be hundreds of kilometres away and even across an international border.’
The Gibe III dam in Ethiopia will enable irrigation on 150,000 [hectares] of land the Ethiopian government has allocated to investors, but studies suggest this project would lower the level of Kenya’s Lake Turkana – on which half a million Kenyans depend — by eight metres by 2024.”

Intellectual property and health
Intellectual Property Watch reports on a high-level World Trade Organization meeting on how best to balance the demands of trade, intellectual property and public health.
“There were variations in views of the issues of the health, trade and IP officials that echo differences typical across national governments. [World Health Organization head Margaret] Chan was more outspoken about putting health matters ahead of commercial interests, using especially strong language against the tobacco industry, which is lobbying intensively in trade arenas like the WTO to stop national governments from taking actions against tobacco packaging aimed at discouraging smoking. Chan also said that an “elephant in the room” is policy incoherence within governments, where different agencies are working in different directions, and then they expect the international organisations to solve their internal issues.”

Intellectual property and poverty
United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Jomo Kwame Sundaram argues stronger intellectual property rules have “ominous implications” for the world’s poor.
“Affordable and equitable access to existing and new technologies is crucial for human progress and sustainable development in many areas, including food security and climate-change mitigation and adaptation.
The same is true of affordable access to essential medicines, on which progress has been modest. By 2009, such medicines were available in just 42% of poor countries’ public facilities and 64% of private-sector facilities. Meanwhile, median prices in the public sector were 2.7 times the international reference prices and 6.1 times higher in the private sector!”

The price of secrecy
Le Monde reports on Switzerland’s growing success at getting cash-strapped countries to sign agreements that preserve bank secrecy despite G20 pledges to tackle tax havens.
“A number of countries in financial difficulty are in fact negotiating similar deals [to those recently signed by Germany and the UK] with Bern or are preparing to do so, such as Italy and Greece, according to several sources. But the Rubik accords are highly problematic, says a chorus of officials and NGOs. For starters, according to a source that is well acquainted with the file, ‘the text is a way for Switzerland to snuff out European efforts to obtain automatic exchange of financial information, which it absolutely does not want.’ ‘Morally, these deals are tough to swallow because they maintain the anonymity of account holders,’ adds the French government’s point man on the fight against tax havens, François d’Aubert.” [Translated from the French.]

Phoned-in CSR reports
The Guardian reports on a study that suggests companies are not taking environmental reporting seriously.
“The examination of more than 4,000 corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports and company surveys by a team at Leeds University found ‘irrelevant data, unsubstantiated claims, gaps in data and inaccurate figures’ – a finding that will cast serious doubt over the burgeoning sector.
Among the most colourful mistakes and omissions made by some of the world’s biggest corporations were a company whose carbon footprint was four times that for the whole world, and a carmaker and power group which both, entirely legally, managed to excise a huge coal plant from their pollution record.”

Chevron’s rights suspended
Reuters reports Brazil has suspended Chevron’s drilling rights following an offshore spill earlier this month.
“Chevron initially attributed the ‘sheen’ on the sea surface to naturally occurring seepage from the seabed. The company is being investigated by the Federal Police, which noted discrepancies between Chevron’s account of the spill and the government’s.
The Frade leak, while small, is likely to provide more ammunition for the growing worldwide opposition to offshore drilling in the wake of the estimated 4-million-barrel BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.”

Nuclear weapons-free zones
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor emeritus Noam Chomsky argues that despite President Obama’s “rhetorical commitment” to nuclear non-proliferation, America’s actions “are in direct contradiction” to this posture.
“Parenthetically, we may add that US insistence on maintaining nuclear facilities in Diego Garcia undermines the [nuclear weapons-free zone] established by the African Union, just as Washington continues to block a Pacific NWFZ by excluding its Pacific dependencies.”

Linking transparency and procurement
Tax Justice Network guest blogger Matti Ylönen writes about a proposal in Helsinki to link corporate transparency and public procurement, an idea he hopes will spread beyond northern Europe.
“While discussions on binding Country-by-Country reporting standards are steadily gaining momentum in international fora, the city board of Helsinki has decided that it’s time to open another track. After returning the initiative earlier for further preparation, the board is now ready for Helsinki to start the background work on how the City of Helsinki could positively favour companies that report their key financial information openly and on country-by-country basis in public procurement.”

Republic of Lakotah
Al Jazeera asks if Native Americans could have their own country within US borders.
“In 2007, the Lakotah Freedom Delegation – a group of Native Americans led by activist Russell Means – declared sovereignty from the United States and proposed the founding of a new country known as the Republic of Lakotah.
The proposed nation would be based on territory demarcated by an 1851 land agreement made between the U.S. government and Lakotah tribal leaders. The Republic of Lakotah would cover a 200,000-square-kilometre space that is currently claimed by the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming.
The U.S. government does not recognise Lakotah or its representatives, stating that its leaders were not democratically-elected and that members are still subject to U.S. law. Lakotah would be a federation of semi-autonomous tribal groups, and governance would be based on an interpretation of a pre-European indigenous political format.”

Latest Developments, October 25

In the latest news and analysis…

Water grab
Corporate Accountability International argues a newly launched water-governance partnership between the World Bank and major corporations, such as Nestlé and Coca-Cola, amounts to an attempt at water grabbing.
“The Water Resources Group aims to “develop new normative approaches to water management,” paving the way for an expanded private sector role into best and common practices, worldwide. In order to be eligible for support from this new fund, all projects must “provide for at least one partner from the private sector,” not simply as a charitable funder, but “as part of its operations.” The group’s strategy is to insert the private sector into water management one country at a time, through a combination of industry-funded research and direct partnerships with government agencies.”

Puzzling growth
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny looks at the 19 countries – nine of which are located in Sub-Saharan Africa – whose economies more than doubled in size over the last decade and concludes business-friendly regulations may not be as important as many believe.
“Whatever the secret, it doesn’t appear that it was simply a case of creating nirvana for private sector growth. The average 2010 ranking among the world’s 19 fastest-growing countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index, which measures the conduciveness of a country’s regulatory environment to starting a new firm, was 114 out of 183. Even among those nine countries that don’t owe their growth to extractive industries, five — including India and Ethiopia — had a ranking below 100. That result echoes the conclusions of economists Dani Rodrik, Ricardo Hausmann, and Lant Pritchett. They looked at 80 periods of “growth acceleration” where an economy increased its growth rate by 2 percent or more for at least seven years. Nearly all were unrelated to economic reforms including liberalization of trade and prices.”

Swiss secrecy
A Bloomberg editorial calls Switzerland’s history of banking secrecy “shameful” and dismisses recent tax agreements with the UK and Germany, which allow holders of Swiss bank accounts to remain anonymous.
“Unfortunately, Switzerland has cooperated only grudgingly in meeting international banking standards, agreeing to do so in 2009 under threat of sanctions and being named as a tax haven by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Even so, the country this month was ranked at the top of a financial secrecy index developed by the London-based Tax Justice Network.
Switzerland should do itself a favor and abandon the financial opacity that has made it the world’s No. 1 destination for offshore wealth. It has no place in a globalized world where money can be electronically whisked from one place to another, except as a cloak for financial wrongdoing.”

Where dirty money goes
The UN News Centre reports on a new study that suggests 70 percent of the proceeds of international organized crime – about $1.6 trillion – were laundered through the world’s financial system, whereas less than one percent was seized or frozen.
“The findings suggest that most cocaine-related profits are laundered in North America and in Europe. The main destination to process cocaine money from other subregions is probably the Caribbean.”

EU extractive industry rules
Tax Research UK’s Richard Murphy is “delighted” that the European Commission has proposed requirements that EU-based extractive and forestry industries disclose their payments to foreign governments on a country and project basis.
“Now we have to get it through the Parliament.
And then make it global.
And apply it to all sectors.”

Hold the applause
But Christian Aid argues the proposal would address corruption but not the tax avoidance that costs poor countries billions each year.
“This information will help people hold their governments to account about what they are doing with the money they are receiving from multinational companies – and that is important,” according to Christian Aid’s Joseph Stead.
“However, corporate accountability is equally important. Unless these proposals are expanded to cover firms in all industries and to require greater financial detail than the Commission is currently suggesting, then companies will be able to keep siphoning profits out of developing countries on a massive scale.”

Letter from Ban
The UN has released a letter sent by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to G-20 leaders ahead of next month’s summit, in which he reminds them of their responsibilities to the planet and its most vulnerable people.
“New sustainable development goals should build on the [Millennium Development Goals] and bring the needs of the planet and those of the poor into a single and mutually reinforcing framework.”

Nobel laureate
Politico reports that the Obama administration is facing opposition from both Democrats and Republicans over the decision to send US troops to central Africa – ostensibly to provide “information, advice and assistance to partner nation forces” in the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army – just as missions in Iraq and Libya are winding down.
“What is the strategic interest of the United States in doing this? I mean, there are lots of unpleasant people in the world. There are lots of insurgencies and terrorist movements in the world. The United States obviously cannot try to dethrone every one of them,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the deployment.