Inter Press Service » Globalisation http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 16 Apr 2014 09:32:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Deforestation in the Andes Triggers Amazon “Tsunami” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:35:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133699 Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil. That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru. His […]

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The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil.

That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru.

His analysis stands in contrast with the views of environmentalists and authorities in Bolivia, who blame the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built over the border in Brazil for the unprecedented flooding that has plagued the northern Bolivian department or region of Beni.

“That isn’t logical,” Dourojeanni told IPS. Citing the law of gravity and the topography, he pointed out that in this case Brazil would suffer the effects of what happens in Bolivia rather than the other way around – although he did not deny that the dams may have caused many other problems.

The Madeira river (known as the Madera in Bolivia and Peru, which it also runs across) is the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, receiving in its turn water from four large rivers of over 1,000 km in length.

The Madeira river’s watershed covers more than 900,000 square km – similar to the surface area of Venezuela and nearly twice the size of Spain.

In Bolivia, which contains 80 percent of the watershed, two-thirds of the territory receives water that runs into the Madeira from more than 250 rivers, in the form of a funnel that drains into Brazil.

To that vastness is added the steep gradient. Three of the Madeira’s biggest tributaries – the Beni, the Mamoré and the Madre de Dios, which rises in Peru – emerge in the Andes mountains, at 2,800 to 5,500 metres above sea level, and fall to less than 500 metres below sea level in Bolivia’s forested lowlands.

These slopes “were covered by forest 1,000 years ago, but now they’re bare,” largely because of the fires set to clear land for subsistence agriculture, said Dourojeanni, an agronomist and forest engineer who was head of the Inter-American Development Bank’s environment division in the 1990s.

The result: torrential flows of water that flood Bolivia’s lowlands before heading on to Brazil. A large part of the flatlands are floodplains even during times of normal rainfall.

This year, 60 people died and 68,000 families were displaced by the flooding, in a repeat of similar tragedies caused by the El Niño and La Niña climate phenomena before the Brazilian dams were built.

Deforestation on the slopes of the Andes between 500 metres above sea level and 3,800 metres above sea level – the tree line – is a huge problem in Bolivia and Peru. But it is not reflected in the official statistics, complained Dourojeanni, who is also the founder of the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, Pronaturaleza.

When the water does not run into barriers as it flows downhill, what happens is “a tsunami on land,” which in the first quarter of the year flooded six Bolivian departments and the Brazilian border state of Rondônia.

The homes of more than 5,000 Brazilian families were flooded when the Madeira river overflowed its banks, especially in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, the state where the two dams are being completed.

BR-364 is a road across the rainforest that has been impassable since February, cutting off the neighbouring state of Acre by land and causing shortages in food and fuel supplies. Outbreaks of diseases like leptospirosis and cholera also claimed lives.

The dams have been blamed, in Brazil as well. The federal courts ordered the companies building the hydropower plants to provide flood victims with support, such as adequate housing, among other measures.

The companies will also have to carry out new studies on the impact of the dams, which are supposedly responsible for making the rivers overflow their banks more than normal.

Although the capacity of the two hydroelectric plants was increased beyond what was initially planned, no new environmental impact studies were carried out.

The companies and the authorities are trying to convince the angry local population that the flooding was not aggravated by the two dams, whose reservoirs were recently filled.

Such intense rainfall “only happens every 500 years,” and with such an extensive watershed it is only natural for the plains to flood, as also occurred in nearly the entire territory of Bolivia, argued Victor Paranhos, president of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR), the consortium that is building the Jirau dam, which is closest to the Bolivian border.

The highest water level recorded in Porto Velho since the flow of the Madeira river started being monitored in 1967 was 17.52 metres in 1997, said Francisco de Assis Barbosa, the head of Brazil’s Geological Service in the state of Rondônia.

But a new record was set in late March: 19.68 metres, in a “totally atypical” year, he told IPS.

The counterpoint to the extremely heavy rainfall in the Madeira river basin was the severe drought in other parts of Brazil, which caused an energy crisis and water shortages in São Paulo.

A mass of hot dry air stationed itself over south-central Brazil between December and March, blocking winds that carry moisture from the Amazon jungle, which meant the precipitation was concentrated in Bolivia and Peru.

These events will tend to occur more frequently as a result of global climate change, according to climatologists.

Deforestation affects the climate and exacerbates its effects. Converting a forest into grassland multiplies by a factor of 26.7 the quantity of water that runs into the rivers and increases soil erosion by a factor of 10.8, according to a 1989 study by Philip Fearnside with the National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA).

That means half of the rain that falls on the grasslands goes directly into the rivers, aggravating flooding and sedimentation.

The higher the vegetation and the deeper the roots, the less water runs off into the rivers, according to measurements by Fearnside on land with gradients of 20 percent in Ouro Preto D’Oeste, a municipality in Rondônia.

And clearing land for crops is worse than creating grassland because it bares the soil, eliminating even the grass used to feed livestock that retains at least some water, Dourojeanni said.

But grazing livestock compacts the soil and increases runoff, said Fearnside, a U.S.-born professor who has been researching the Amazon rainforest in Brazil since 1974.

In his view, deforestation “has not contributed much to the flooding in Bolivia, for now, because most of the forest is still standing.”

Bolivian hydrologist Jorge Molina at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, a university in La Paz, says the same thing.

But Bolivia is among the 12 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates, says a study by 15 research centres published by the journal Science in November 2013.

The country lost just under 30,000 sq km of forest cover between 2000 and 2012, according to an analysis of satellite maps.

Cattle ranching, one of the major drivers of deforestation, expanded mainly in Beni, which borders Rondônia. Some 290,000 head of cattle died in January and February, according to the local federation of cattle breeders.

The excess water even threatened the efficient operation of the hydropower plants. The Santo Antônio dam was forced to close down temporarily in February.

That explains Brazil’s interest in building additional dams upstream, “more to regulate the flow of the Madeira river than for the energy,” said Dourojeanni.

Besides a projected Brazilian-Bolivian dam on the border, and the Cachuela Esperanza dam in the Beni lowlands, plans include a hydropower plant in Peru, on the remote Inambari river, a tributary of the Madre de Dios river, he said.

But the plans for the Inambari dam and four other hydroelectric plants in Peru, to be built by Brazilian firms that won the concessions, were suspended in 2011 as a result of widespread protests.

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Beyond the Millennium Development Goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/beyond-millennium-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-millennium-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/beyond-millennium-development-goals/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 06:00:19 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133169 Yilmaz Akyuz, Chief Economist of the South Centre, reasons that development will need far more than the MDG plans.

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Yilmaz Akyuz, Chief Economist of the South Centre, reasons that development will need far more than the MDG plans.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Mar 24 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations’ Post-2015 Development Agenda should not simply extend the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), or reformulate the goals, but focus instead on global systemic reforms and secure an accommodating international environment for sustainable development.

The MDGs are based on a donor-centric view of development with a focus on poverty and aid. They do not embrace a large segment of the population in the developing world, notably in middle-income countries, which fall outside the thresholds set in MDGs but still have their development aspirations unfulfilled.

It would be agreed that development is much more than the sum total of MDGs or any such arbitrary collection of a limited number of specific targets. But it is not possible to reach an international agreement on all important dimensions of economic and social development and environmental protection.

Any international agreement on such specific development targets would naturally be selective, leaving out many dimensions to which several countries may attach particular importance.There is no automatic trickle down from economic growth to human and social development.

Thus, instead of focusing on selective specific targets in the areas of economic and social development and environmental protection, we should aim at creating an enabling international environment to allow each and every country to pursue developmental objectives according to their own priorities with policies of their own choice.

Sustained economic growth is absolutely necessary for progress on the social front. No country has ever achieved constant improvements in living standards and human development indicators without sustaining a rapid pace of economic growth.

Without this, progress in human and social development would naturally depend on external and domestic transfer mechanisms – that is, aid and redistribution of public spending, respectively. Since there are limits to such transfers, social progress cannot go very far without an adequate pace of income and job generation.

Industrialisation is essential for reducing income, productivity, technology and skills gaps with more advanced economies since there are limits to growth and development in commodity-dependent and service economies.

We also know that there is no automatic trickle down from economic growth to human and social development. Policies and institutions are needed to translate economic growth to social development.

Job creation holds the key to improvements in living standards and to human development. But economic growth is not necessarily associated with the creation of jobs at a pace needed to fully absorb the growing work force. Thus, active policies are needed to provide secure and productive job opportunities.

Equity is an important ingredient of social cohesion and development. Prevention of widened inequality in income distribution calls for intervention in market forces, targeted policies and correctives.

Industrialisation and development cannot be left to market forces alone and least of all to global markets. Successful development is associated neither with autarky nor with full integration into world markets dominated by advanced economies, but strategic integration in trade, investment and finance designed to use foreign markets, technology and finance in pursuit of national industrial development.

To succeed, developing countries need to have adequate policy space. However, their policy space is considerably narrower than that enjoyed by today’s advanced economies in the course of their industrialisation because of the tendency of those who reach the top to “kick away the ladder” and deny the followers the kind of policies they had pursued in the course of their development.

It is necessary to reform multilateral and bilateral arrangements to allow developing countries as much economic policy space as those enjoyed by today’s advanced economies in the course of their industrialisation and development.

Developing countries also enjoy much less environmental space than that enjoyed by today’s advanced economies in the course of their industrialisation, and hence face greater constraints in attaining growth and development without compromising future generations’ well-being.

Thus, action is also needed at the international level in order to ease the environmental constraints over economic growth and development in developing countries and to compensate the costs inflicted on them by environmental deterioration resulting from years of industrialisation in advanced economies.

Finally, there is a need for a development-friendly global economic environment. We need mechanisms to prevent adverse spillovers and shocks to developing countries from policies in advanced economies or destabilising impulses from international financial markets.

Adequate policy space and a development-friendly global economic environment call for action at the international level on several fronts:

  • Review multilateral rules and agreements with a view to improving the policy space in developing countries in pursuit of economic growth and social development.
  • Attention to the international intellectual property regime with a view to facilitating technological catch-up and improving health and education standards and food security in developing countries.
  • Industrial, macroeconomic and financial policies of developing countries are severely constrained by bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements signed with advanced economies. These agreements are designed on the basis of a corporate perspective rather than a development perspective and they give considerable leverage to foreign investors and firms in developing countries. They need to be revised or dismantled.
  • Remove terms unfavourable to commodity-dependent developing countries in contracts with transnational corporations to enable them to add more value to commodities and obtain more revenues from commodity-related activities.
  • Introduce multilateral mechanisms to bring discipline policies in advanced economies to prevent adverse consequences for and spillovers to developing countries, including agricultural subsidies, restrictions over labour movements and transfer of technology and beggar-my-neighbour monetary and exchange rates policies.
  • Establish mechanisms to bring greater stability to exchange rates of reserve currencies and prevent competitive devaluations and currency wars.
  • Reduce global trade imbalances through faster growth of domestic demand, income and imports in countries with slow growth and large current account surpluses in order to allow greater space for expansionary policies in deficit developing countries.
  • Reversal of the universal trend of growing income inequality should be a global goal. This calls for reversing the secular decline in the share of labour in income in most countries.
  • Regulate systemically important financial institutions and markets, including international banks and rating agencies and markets for commodity derivatives with a view to reducing international financial instability and instability of commodity prices.
  • Establish impartial and orderly workout procedures for international sovereign debt to prevent meltdown in developing countries facing balance-of-payments and debt crises.
  • Secure a fair and equitable allocation of usable carbon space between advanced economies and developing countries, taking into account cumulative contributions of advanced economies to atmospheric pollution.
  • Introduce international taxes in areas such as financial transactions or energy to generate funds for development assistance as well as for financing the costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.
  • Reform international economic governance in ways commensurate with the increased participation and role of developing countries in the global economy. Re-examine the role, accountability and governance of specialised institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, and the role that the U.N. can play in global economic governance.

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Trade – Growth Recovering but Restrictions on the Rise http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/trade-growth-recovering-restrictions-rise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trade-growth-recovering-restrictions-rise http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/trade-growth-recovering-restrictions-rise/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 07:35:17 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133098 Roberto Azevedo, director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), says this will be a pivotal year for global trade.

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Roberto Azevedo, director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), says this will be a pivotal year for global trade.

By Roberto Azevedo
GENEVA, Mar 20 2014 (IPS)

The Bali Package, approved on Dec. 7 by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) members, was a historic achievement, representing a significant boost for trade, growth and development around the world. But its true significance lies in what it allows us to do next to conclude the Doha Development Agenda.

As we prepare to seize this opportunity in 2014, it is timely to look back on the challenges which emerged in the international trading environment in 2013 and to consider how members might respond.

The WTO report on developments in the international trading environment which was circulated on Jan. 31 aims to provide an assessment of a range of trade and trade-related issues and trends during the period from mid-October 2012 to mid-November 2013.We must acknowledge that the stock of current trade restrictions and distortions continues to accumulate.

Put simply, it is a health-check on global trade and I think the diagnosis is cautiously positive although there are still reasons to be concerned about restrictive measures. We were not in great shape last year and we have picked up a few bad habits which we need to shake off. But overall trade growth is beginning to recover and we have a healthier outlook for 2014.

Let me mention some of the substantive findings of the report.

First, in terms of trade in goods, its volume expanded by less than 2.5 percent in 2013.

Growth projections for 2014 are much improved, hovering somewhere between 4 and 4.5 percent but this is still below the historical average since 1990 of 5.5 percent.

We are, of course, keeping a close eye on recent developments in the global economy and their impact on these projections.

Regarding developments in trade measures, there are two specific categories: trade remedy actions; and other trade measures.

Counting both categories together the report shows that overall 407 new restrictive measures were reported during the review period. This is compared to 308 in the same period a year earlier.

These new restrictive measures affect about 1.3 percent of world merchandise imports valued at 240 billion dollars.

Moreover, they add to the existing stock of restrictions and other impediments to the flow of international trade.

Looking specifically at trade remedy actions which were mostly anti-dumping and safeguard measures we saw 217 initiations of new trade remedy investigations. This covers around 0.2 percent of world imports, and compares to 138 terminations of either investigations or existing duties.

As was the case in 2012, therefore, more trade remedy actions were initiated than were terminated in 2013.Trade remedy activity is therefore clearly on the rise.

The number of new other trade measures also increased from 164 in the previous year to 190 during the review period.

The majority of such new measures were applied to imports mostly in the form of import tariff increases and customs procedures, covering around 1.1 percent of world goods imports.

Compared to the trend in new restrictive measures, the number of new trade-facilitating measures fell to 107 in 2013, well down from 162 a year earlier. These measures cover the equivalent of 1.4 percent of world merchandise imports which is approximately 258 billion dollars.

These measures, plus the number of terminations of trade remedy actions, represent little more than one-third of the total measures covered in the report.

This paints a rather unflattering picture of the ratio of trade restrictive measures to facilitation measures. We must acknowledge that the stock of current trade restrictions and distortions continues to accumulate.

I strongly believe we have a collective responsibility to attend to the risk posed by the cumulative effect of new and existing trade restrictions.

During the period covered by this report, members notified 23 new Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) to the WTO, bringing the total number in force today to 250.

Negotiations on new RTAs are also continuing, in some cases between parties that collectively account for very substantial shares of world trade and GDP.

My view is that these initiatives are positive and are to be welcomed but they can only ever be one part of the wider picture. Agreements such as these cannot be sufficient on their own to ensure gains which can be realised on a global scale. In fact, the proliferation of regulations and standards could multiply costs rather than reduce them.

The multilateral trading system was never the only option for international trade negotiations. It has always co-existed with, and benefitted from, other initiatives. They are not mutually exclusive alternatives.

We must think about how the two processes – global and regional – can move forward together to reduce costs effectively and to curb protectionism.

As I have said before, 2014 is a pivotal year for the WTO. It is the year that we will implement our first negotiated outcomes and the year that the Doha Round is put back on track.

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Russians Stand Strong Against Sanctions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/russians-stand-strong-sanctions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russians-stand-strong-sanctions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/russians-stand-strong-sanctions/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 07:17:15 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133095 As the West imposes what have been called the most comprehensive sanctions on Russia since the end of the Cold War, many ordinary Russians say they have no fear of any economic measures the United States or the European Union may take against their country. Since the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula at the […]

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Muscovites at the entrance to Red Square. Experts say the impact of any strong Western sanctions would be felt by ordinary Russians. Credit: Pavol Stracansky/IPS.

Muscovites at the entrance to Red Square. Experts say the impact of any strong Western sanctions would be felt by ordinary Russians. Credit: Pavol Stracansky/IPS.

By Pavol Stracansky
MOSCOW, Mar 20 2014 (IPS)

As the West imposes what have been called the most comprehensive sanctions on Russia since the end of the Cold War, many ordinary Russians say they have no fear of any economic measures the United States or the European Union may take against their country.

Since the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula at the end of last month, Western leaders have been threatening Moscow with economic sanctions.

The threat of sanctions sent stocks on Russian exchanges tumbling and added to what has been a massive capital flight – when investors pull money out of a country’s economy – since the start of the year.There is resolute confidence among many ordinary Russians that Russia is more than strong enough to withstand any economic assault.

Economists say that the already ailing Russian economy could be severely affected if harsh, targeted sanctions were implemented.

The referendum in Crimea at the weekend – condemned by much of the international community as illegitimate and illegal and which has resulted in the region being set to become part of Russia within possibly months – has now brought the first round of those sanctions.

So far, the EU sanctions will see EU-wide assets of 21 Russian and Crimean individuals identified as linked to unrest in Crimea frozen while those same people face a travel ban. The U.S. sanctions are similar but apply to 11 people.

And although widely seen as limited in scope, further measures have been pledged by the U.S. and the EU if Russia does not move to de-escalate the crisis.

While the Russian government and other politicians have responded by preparing a series of counter measures, there is resolute confidence among many ordinary Russians that Russia is more than strong enough, economically and politically, to withstand any economic assault the West launches at it. The street mood seems defiant, even if economists warn of consequences in the face of strong sanctions.

This confidence is being bolstered by reports in the Russian media, much of which is controlled by the Kremlin.

Since the invasion of Crimea, local media has portrayed the West as colluding with an illegal and reprobate Ukrainian government bent on oppressing the majority ethnic Russian population in Crimea.

It has also played on the widespread belief among Russians that Crimea is naturally a part of Russia – it was made part of Ukraine in 1954 by then Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev. Russian media has now posited Russia as a liberator securing the safety of its citizens in a land unfairly taken from it.

It has also emphasised the country’s military might. On Sunday the head of the state broadcasting network Russia Today, Dmitri Kiselev, spoke on his news show of how Russia remained the only country in the world capable of reducing the U.S. to “radioactive ash”.

Such talk has created a renewed sense of Russian power among many. In a survey by the independent Levada polling agency released this week, two thirds of Russians see Russia as a global superpower – up 16 percent since 2011.

Crucially, newspapers have carried reports saying that the sanctions will only push Russia closer to China and other Asian states and strengthen economic ties with them, replacing any lost trade with the West.

Maria Yemelianenko, 29, a supermarket worker in Moscow, seemed to sum up the general mood among Russians towards Western sanctions. She told IPS: “Russia is a huge country and sanctions could not affect us like they have with other countries in the past. We have a lot of our own resources.

“I am sure President Putin knows what he is doing, and the people of Russia will not go hungry.”

But while many Russian politicians have dismissed the potential effects of sanctions, not everyone is convinced there will not be some repercussions for the Russian economy.

Alexei Kudrin, a member of the Presidium of the Russian president’s Economic Council, was quoted by the Yandex.ru news website as saying that economic growth could be affected negatively and that both foreign and domestic investment could be hurt.

Dmitry Seleznev, 52, an economist at a large agricultural production company in St Petersburg, told IPS that the Russian economy would feel the effects of sanctions.

He said: “Investment growth will fall, the economy may lose its chance to come out of its current stagnation and exports could fall.”

Some economic fallout from the Crimean crisis has already been seen. Russian stocks have been losing heavily since the start of the year, but the falls deepened in the run-up to the referendum at the weekend.

Global investment houses issued warnings last week that foreign investors were pulling their money out of the country at a record rate because of Russia’s involvement in Crimea and that as of the end of last week, financial outflows from Russia had reached 45 billion dollars since the start of 2014 – a 60 percent rise from the first quarter of 2013.

Gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecasts have also been slashed and some stock market analysts have spoken of long-term damage being done to Russia’s ability to attract investment because of negative perceptions of Russia among foreign investors.

Other experts believe though that while the current sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the EU are limited, further sanctions would indeed have the potential to make life ‘difficult’ for ordinary Russians.

Ian Bond, Director of Foreign Policy at the Centre for European Reform think-tank in London, told IPS: “The EU may be forced into a position where it has to apply broader sanctions, for example, to shut Russian banks out of European financial markets. And the U.S. can make life really difficult by denying Russia access to the U.S. system for dollar transactions.

“That sanction has had a major impact on the Iranian economy, for example, and would be noticed by ordinary Russians.”

He added that at that point support for President Putin, which is currently high among the general Russian population, could begin to wane.

He said: “Whether Putin’s popularity would be affected depends on how effective his propaganda operation is. So far it seems to be working well – his popularity in Russia seems to have risen since the takeover of Crimea, and a lot of people seem to be swallowing the fairytale that the new Ukrainian government is full of fascists and anti-Semites.”

One asset manager running a Russian equity fund who spoke to IPS, but asked not to be named, said that Russia’s economy would be in trouble if people’s worst fears were realised and the current situation escalated into armed conflict.

“The country would then be facing huge economic problems,” he said.

This is one thing which Russians do not want though. Despite their support for Crimea’s return to Russia and positive view of Moscow’s role in effecting that change, recent polls have shown a majority are against any Russian involvement in a military conflict in Ukraine.

“The referendum in Crimea went peacefully and people will probably eventually understand it was the will of the people there,” said Sergei Mishkhin, a 20-year-old student in Moscow.” I want Russia to have friendly relations with all countries. We are just hoping for peace.”

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The Rich Complain That we do not Love Them http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/rich-complain-love/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rich-complain-love http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/rich-complain-love/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 09:24:56 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132663 Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes on rich new ways.

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Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes on rich new ways.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 11 2014 (IPS)

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said “The rich are different from you or me”, yet in his days, in the early years of the 20th century, the rich were not subject to public scrutiny, and were generally an object of envy, not resentment.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which first took to the streets in September 2011  in New York’s Wall Street financial district, on behalf of the 99 percent of Americans (who possess 60 percent of the national wealth) against the one percent that possess 40 percent, to denounce growing social inequality. The success of the movement’s popular action resonated throughout the world and so now the rich are striking back.

Tom Perkins is their leader, an 82-year-old with a net worth of 8 billion dollars. He owns a 1,600 square metre penthouse in San Francisco and has just bought a yacht worth 110 million dollars. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal in January this year, Perkins compared the “progressive war on the American one percent” of wealthiest Americans to the Holocaust, comparing the Occupy Wall Street movement’s “demonisation of the rich” to Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitism.So, the rich really are different from you and me, and they are growing so much that it would be a pity not to join them.

A month later, Perkins publicly stated that in elections the number of votes a person can cast should be proportional to the amount of taxes that that person pays. And he is stirring his peers to “come out”.

Bud Konheim, CEO of luxury fashion company Nicole Miller, has done just that with his message to the 99 percent – stop complaining. “Our 99 percent  are the one percent in the rest of the world … The guy that’s making, oh my God, he’s making 35,000 dollars a year … Why don’t we try that out in India or some countries we can’t even name. China, any place the guy is wealthy.”

John Mark, the former CEO of Morgan Stanley, which was rescued with public funds, is defending the extravagant salaries of corporation executives. He has just made a statement in favour of James Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase who received 20 million dollars at a time when his bank had lost several million in wrong investments in sovereign funds and paid a penalty close to 12 billion dollars for fraudulent practices.

According to financial sources, Wall Street has spent 600 million dollars in lobbies, to try to deter the action of the regulator in implementing the rules approved by the U.S. Congress for a somewhat stricter control, hoping to avoid a repetition of the financial meltdown of 2008 which, combined with the European crisis of sovereign funds, has brought unemployment to young generations everywhere.

For those who think that in reality the vote of a billionaire is equal to the vote of an unemployed person, this counterattack by the one percent is legitimate. The only problem is that, apart from their different weight in politics, I wonder it the same naïve persons would also believe that rich and poor pay taxes in the same proportion. According to Tax Justice Network (TJN), an organisation that campaigns to curb tax avoidance, fiscal paradises now hold close to eight percent of the gross world product (the U.S. has a gross domestic product close to half of that), and TJN underlines how big capital spurs corruption.

What is corruption? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, corruption is “dishonesty or fraudulent conduct by those in power”. And financial institutions and the one percent are certainly in power. According to TJN, the amount embezzled over the last 15 years is a staggering 30 trillion dollars, or half of the world’s annual gross product. In China, four trillion is thought to have disappeared between 2000 and 2011, much of it funnelled to fiscal paradises. In Russia, the figure is around one trillion and in the European Union 1.2 trillion.

All over the world, banks have been fined at unprecedented levels for fraud and corruption. Reading the U.S. Senate report (2009) on the level of corruption in UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, is like entering the world of crime novels. The 176-page report details the extent UBS went to in helping U.S. clients hide billions in assets.

UBS paid a fine of 780 million dollars, and more has to come. In an appeal for a world corruption police force published in the New York Times last month, Alexander Lebedev reported the theft of five billion dollars from Bank of Moscow, four billion from BTA Bank and AMT Bank, four billion from Rosukrenergo, three billion from Globex and Sviaz Bank, two billion from Russian Agricultural Bank, one billion from Rosagroleasing, and one billion from VEFK Bank. According to Lebedev, a former senior KGB official and now businessman, and owner of the London Evening Standard and the Independent, “if someone steals one billion dollars, and heads for an offshore haven, it is practically impossible to take legal action.” Like all Russian oligarchs, he certainly has considerable inside knowledge!

Anyhow, there is no need for the one percent to be concerned. In spite of their complaints, they are doing better than ever. Just read this year’s Wealth Report, the annual compendium of all things rich from Knight Frank, the property management firm. Over the past decade, the

super-rich have swelled by 59 percent, and billionaires by 80 percent: they now stand at 1,682. Those with assets of more than 30 million dollars number around 167,000, equivalent to the population of a sizable town. In a recent poll, 75 percent of the famous 0.1 percent said that they increased their wealth in the last year.

By 2030, China is expected to have 322 billionaires, more than Britain, Russia, France and Switzerland combined: finally proof that socialism, albeit in its Chinese version, is superior to capitalism. Sovereign countries take note. Malta is proposing to offer its passport to those who give 650,000 euros, with no residency requirement. Malta is part of the European Union, so with its passport you can go everywhere. Spain and Portugal are offering residency, even with limited time, in their country if you make substantial investments, and Latvia and Estonia are now following. The U.S. gave 7,641 investors an immigrant visa in 2012, and 80 percent of these went to Chinese investors.

So, the rich really are different from you and me, and they are growing so much that it would be a pity not to join them. The market is now the basis for democracy – anybody can make it, it’s just a lack of will if we’re still part of the 99 percent!

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Congress Pressured on Multinational Corporate Accountability http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/congress-pressured-multinational-corporate-accountability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=congress-pressured-multinational-corporate-accountability http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/congress-pressured-multinational-corporate-accountability/#comments Sat, 08 Mar 2014 00:24:38 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132565 Advocacy and accountability groups are urging the U.S. Congress to enact new mechanisms that would allow it to hold multinational corporations accountable for rights infringements abroad. At a congressional briefing on Thursday, legal experts and advocates from Amnesty International, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and Earthrights International proposed measures Congress could take to ameliorate corporate […]

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By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Mar 8 2014 (IPS)

Advocacy and accountability groups are urging the U.S. Congress to enact new mechanisms that would allow it to hold multinational corporations accountable for rights infringements abroad.

At a congressional briefing on Thursday, legal experts and advocates from Amnesty International, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and Earthrights International proposed measures Congress could take to ameliorate corporate abuses abroad.“We understand that corporate lobbying is necessary, but at the same time there should be more transparency in that process in order to ensure justice.” -- Seema Joshi

“International law itself requires a country to provide a remedy to individuals who are harmed by citizens,” ICAR’s Gwynne Skinner, an associate professor of law at Willamette University College of Law, told IPS.

“So we’re failing if we’re not providing any remedies to victims who are hurt by our citizens and of course corporations are citizens now, right?” (Skinner was referring to a 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations to make unlimited political donations on the grounds that they are eligible for the same constitutional rights as individuals.)

Earthrights International and other legal advocacy groups have partnered to create a report card indexing the track record of each U.S. lawmaker on corporate accountability. Marco Simons, Earthrights International’s legal director, noted Congress’s lacklustre record on the issue.

“Unfortunately, so far the results have not been very pretty,” Simons said. “The average score in the Senate was 26.6 percent and 44.2 percent in the House. Twelve representatives and 45 senators received a score of zero.”

Representatives from Amnesty International called for increased transparency in corporate lobbying efforts.

“We are looking at a proposal to deftly deal with the corporate-government relationship,” said Seema Joshi, Amnesty International’s head of business and human rights. “We understand that corporate lobbying is necessary, but at the same time there should be more transparency in that process in order to ensure justice.”

Post-Kiobel

In particular, advocates are calling for reforms to the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a unique law that allows foreign nationals to sue human rights abusers in U.S. courts. Last year, the Supreme Court significantly limited the scope of the statute against multinational corporations in a case known as Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum.

“Shell [a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Petroleum] and other multinational corporations are free to do business in the United States, and free to commit human rights abuses in other countries around the world, and not have any fear that the victims of those abuses would be able to gain access to a U.S. federal court to obtain justice for those abuses,” Simons said.

“This essentially contravenes the fundamental purpose of the Alien Tort Statute – to not provide protection in the United States for those who violate international law.”

In light of the Kiobel ruling, Earthrights and ICAR are calling on Congress to implement legislation that would explicitly allow victims to sue multinational corporations that operate in the United States for human rights abuses abroad, regardless of where in the world they’re based.

On Thursday, the panellists noted the difficulty in pursuing ATS cases against corporations irrespective of the Kiobel ruling, which often prompts plaintiffs to sue in state courts.

In Doe v. Unocal, another ATS case involving corporate complicity in the abuses of a military regime, Earthrights represented a client from Myanmar in the California court system after the case was thrown out of federal courts.

“Unocal and its partners contracted with the Burmese military regime to provide security and other services for their pipeline project,” Simons told IPS. “In the course of providing these services and, unfortunately very predictably, the Burmese soldiers conducted a series of human rights abuses, including widespread forced labour, torture, and killings.”

Another case, Al Shimari v. CACI, dealt with a private military contractor’s alleged use of torture in the interrogation of an Iraqi prisoner. While the federal courts dismissed that case, an appeal is pending and a court in Virginia will hear oral arguments on Mar. 18.

Limited liability

In addition to ATS reform, ICAR’s Skinner proposed altering limited liability rules so parent corporations could be held liable for human rights abuses of smaller companies that they own.

“A parent company can have a wholly owned subsidiary – as shareholders, they own shares of that corporation – and then, of course, have no liability whatsoever except for the investment that they’ve made in that corporation,” Skinner said.

“Today what we see is this becoming a tool for large, transnational businesses to outsource the risk yet get all of the profit. So many very complex corporate organisations exist so that corporations have minimal risk but get these benefits.”

While some have argued that victims of human rights abuses should simply litigate in their own country, the Kiobel and Unocal cases indicate that many of the countries in question directly perpetrate the documented abuses themselves and have a weaker, more corrupt judicial system.

Skinner points to the relative strength of the U.S. judicial system as a reason why corporations are better off litigating in the United States rather than in developing countries.

She cites the lawsuit brought by Ecuadorians against Chevron, the U.S. oil company, for polluting the Lago Agrio region. This week, the judge ruled in favour of Chevron because of allegedly fraudulent evidence used by the prosecution.

“This kind of proves the point that corporations should actually want to be in front of United States courts,” Skinner told IPS.

“If you’re in front of a court in a country that’s not a developed country, you don’t know what you’re going to get. At least in the United States you’re going to get … a pretty fair trial. So isn’t it in a business’s interest to be in front of a U.S. court?”

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New Economic Crisis Engulfing Developing Countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/new-economic-crisis-engulfing-developing-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-economic-crisis-engulfing-developing-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/new-economic-crisis-engulfing-developing-countries/#comments Thu, 06 Mar 2014 18:33:09 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132511 Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, spotlights the economic crisis that emerging economies find themselves in.

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Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, spotlights the economic crisis that emerging economies find themselves in.

By Martin Khor
GENEVA, Mar 6 2014 (IPS)

Several developing countries are now being engulfed in new economic crises as their currency and stock markets are experiencing sharp falls, and the end is not yet in sight.

The “sell-off” in emerging economies has also spilled over to the American and European stock markets, thus causing global turmoil.

Countries whose currencies were affected in the second half of January  include Argentina, Turkey, South Africa, Russia, Brazil and Chile.

A hike in interest rates by Turkey and South Africa has so far failed to stem the depreciation of their currencies.

An America market analyst termed it an “emerging market flu” and several global media reports tend to focus on weaknesses in individual developing countries.

However, the broad sell-off is a general response to the “tapering” of purchase of bonds by the U.S. Federal Reserve, which marks the slowdown of its easy-money policy that has been pumping many hundreds of billions of dollars into the banking system.

On Jan. 29, the Federal Reserve reduced its monthly asset purchase by another 10 billion dollars to 65 billion dollars, following the 10 billion reduction in December. It gave a new boost to the weakening of emerging market currencies.

A lot of the Federal Reserve money pumping had earlier been taken up by American investors and placed in emerging economies as they searched for higher yield.

With the tapering expected to raise yields in the U.S., money is flowing out from bonds and stocks in the emerging economies, putting pressure on their currencies. The capital flows have reversed direction.

The current “emerging markets sell-off” thus cannot be explained by ad hoc events. It is a predictable and even inevitable part of a boom-bust cycle in capital flows to and from the developing countries, which originates from the monetary policies of developed countries and the behaviour of their investment funds.

This cycle, which has been very destabilising to the developing economies, has been facilitated by the deregulation of financial markets and the liberalisation of capital flows which in the past had been carefully regulated.

This prompted massive and increasing bouts of speculative international flows by Western investment funds, motivated by the search for higher yields. Emerging economies, having higher economic growth and interest rates, attracted the investors.

Yilmaz Akyuz, chief economist at South Centre, analysed the most recent boom-bust cycles in his paper Waving or Drowning?

A boom of private capital flows to developing countries began in the early years of the 2000s  but came to an end with the flight to safety triggered by the Lehman collapse in September 2008. However, the flows recovered quickly. By 2010-12, net flows to Asia and Latin America exceeded the peaks reached before the crisis.

This recovery was largely caused by the easy-money policies and near zero interest rates in the U.S. and Europe.

In the U.S., the Federal Reserve pumped 85 billion dollars a month into the banking system by buying bonds. It was hoped the banks would lend this to businesses to generate recovery, but in fact investors placed much of the funds in the Western stock markets and in bonds and shares in developing countries.

The surge in capital inflows led to a strong recovery in currency, equity and bond markets of major developing countries. Some of these countries welcomed the new capital inflows and the boom in asset prices.

But others were upset that the inflows caused their currencies to appreciate (thus making their exports less competitive) and that the ultra-easy monetary policies of developed countries were part of a “currency war” to make the latter more competitive.

In 2013, the capital inflows into developing countries weakened due to the European crisis and the prospect of the Federal Reserve “tapering”.

This weakening took place at a bad time – just as many of the emerging economies saw their current account deficits widen. Thus, their need for foreign capital increased just as inflows became weaker and unstable.

In May-June 2013 there was a preview of the current sell-off when the Federal Reserve announced it could soon start “tapering”. This led to sudden sharp currency falls including in India and Indonesia.

However, the Federal Reserve  postponed the taper, but in December it finally announced  a reduction of its monthly bond purchase from 85 to 75 billion dollars, with more to come.

There was then no sudden sell off in emerging economies, as the markets had already anticipated it and the Federal Reserve also announced that interest rates would be kept at current low levels until the end of 2015.

By now, however, the investment mood had already turned against the emerging economies. Many of them were now termed “fragile”, especially those with current account deficits and dependent on capital inflows.

Many of the so-called fragile countries are in fact members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) that had been viewed just a few years before as the most powerful emerging economies driving global growth.

In this atmosphere of deepening concerns, it just required a “trigger” to cause a simultaneous sell-off in currencies and markets of developing countries.

Several factors were to emerge which together constituted a trigger. These were a “flash” report indicating contraction of manufacturing in China; the sudden fall in the Argentinian peso; and expectations of further tapering by the Federal Reserve.

For two days (Jan. 23 and 24) the currencies and stock markets of several developing countries were in turmoil, which spilled over to the U.S. and European stock markets.

The turmoil continued into the following week, seeming to confirm investor disenchantment with emerging economies, and a reversal of capital flows.

The depreciation in currency and the capital outflows could put strains on the affected countries’ foreign reserves and weaken their balance of payments.

The accompanying fall in currency would have positive effects on export competitiveness, but negative impacts in accelerating inflation (as import prices go up) and debt servicing (as more local currency is needed to repay the same amount of debt denominated in foreign currencies).

 

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Emerging Economies – From Easy Money to Hard Landing? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/emerging-economies-easy-money-hard-landing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-economies-easy-money-hard-landing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/emerging-economies-easy-money-hard-landing/#comments Sat, 01 Mar 2014 19:43:12 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132329 Yilmaz Akyuz, chief economist of the South Centre, Geneva, argues urgent steps to deal with an economic crisis in the emerging economies that the centre had warned of earlier.

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Yilmaz Akyuz, chief economist of the South Centre, Geneva, argues urgent steps to deal with an economic crisis in the emerging economies that the centre had warned of earlier.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Mar 1 2014 (IPS)

Before the world economy has been able to fully recover from the crisis that began more than five years ago, there is a widespread fear that we may be poised for yet another crisis, this time in emerging economies.

The signs of external financial fragility in several emerging economies have been visible since the beginning of the financial crisis in the U.S. and Europe. The South Centre has constantly warned that the boom in capital flows that had started in the first half of the 2000s and continued even after the Lehman bank collapse is generating serious imbalances in the developing world along with the danger of a sudden stop and reversal.

Policy choices in advanced economies, notably in the U.S. as the issuer of the main reserve currency, in response to the crisis are key to understanding what is going on. Reluctance to remove the debt overhang caused by the financial crisis through timely, orderly and comprehensive restructuring, and an abrupt turn to fiscal austerity after an initial expansion, has meant an excessive reliance on monetary means to fight the Great Recession, with central banks entering uncharted policy waters, including zero-bound policy interest rates and the acquisition of long-term public and private bonds (quantitative easing).

This ultra-easy monetary policy has not been very effective in reducing the debt overhang or stimulating spending. It has, however, generated financial fragility, at home and abroad, notably in emerging economies.

In several emerging economies, policies pursued in recent years have no doubt made a significant contribution to the build-up of external vulnerability. Many commodity-dependent economies have failed to manage the twin booms in commodity prices and capital flows that started in the early years of the millennium and continued until recently, after a brief interruption in 2008-09.

These countries, and several others, have stood passively by as their industries have been undermined by the foreign exchange bonanza, choosing, instead, to ride a consumption boom driven by short-term financial inflows and foreign borrowing by their private sectors and allowing their currencies to appreciate and external deficits to mount. Hastily erected walls against destabilizing inflows have been too little and too late.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the organization responsible for safeguarding international monetary and financial stability, has also failed to promote judicious policies not only in major advanced economies, but also in the South. It has been unable to correctly identify the forces driving expansion in emerging economics and joined, until its recent U-turns, the hype about the “Rise of the South”, arguing that major emerging economies are largely decoupled from the economic vagaries of the North and have become new engines of growth, thereby underestimating their vulnerability to shifts in policies and conditions in the North, notably the U.S.

Even when it became clear that capital inflows posed a serious threat to macroeconomic and financial stability in these economies, its advice was to avoid capital controls to the extent possible and introduce them only as a last resort and on a temporary basis.

Policy response to a deepening of the financial turbulence in the South and tightened balance of payments should be similar in many respects to that recommended by the South Centre in the early days of the Great Recession. The principal objective should be to safeguard income and employment. Developing countries should not be denied the right to use legitimate trade measures to rationalize imports through selective restrictions in order to allocate scarce foreign exchange to areas most needed, particularly for the import of intermediate and investment goods and food.

Emerging economies should also avoid using their reserves to finance large and persistent capital outflows. Experience suggests that when global financial conditions are tightening, countries with large external debt and deficits find it extremely difficult to restore “confidence” and regain macroeconomic control simply by allowing their currencies to freely float and/or hiking interest rates. Nor should they rely on borrowing from official sources to maintain an open capital account and to remain current on their obligations to foreign creditors and investors.

They should, instead, seek to involve private lenders and investors in the resolution of balance-of-payments and debt crises and this may call for, inter alia, exchange restrictions and temporary debt standstills. These measures should be supported by the IMF, where necessary, through lending into arrears.

The IMF currently lacks the resources to effectively address any sharp contraction in international liquidity resulting from a shift to monetary tightening in the U.S. A very large special drawing rights (SDR) allocation, to be made available to countries according to needs rather than quotas, would help. (SDR is a weighted currency basket of major currencies defined by the IMF).

But a greater responsibility falls on central banks in advanced economies, notably the U.S. Federal Reserve, which can and should – as the originators of destabilizing impulses that now threaten the South – act as a quasi-international lender of last resort to emerging economies facing severe liquidity problems through swaps or outright purchase of their sovereign bonds.

The Federal Reserve could buy internationally issued bonds of these economies to shore up their prices and local bonds to provide liquidity; and there is no reason why other major central banks should not join this undertaking.

The extent to which these tools – exchange restrictions and temporary debt standstills, IMF lending into arrears, a sizeable SDR allocation and provision of market support and liquidity by major central banks – should be used would depend on the specific circumstances of individual emerging economies.

The world is facing bleak prospects largely because the systemic shortcomings in the global economic and financial architecture that gave rise to the most serious post-war crisis remain unabated.

The Outcome Document of the 2009 UN Conference on the “World Financial Crisis and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development” had clearly recognized that “longstanding systemic fragilities and imbalances” were among the principal causes of the crisis and proposed “to reform and strengthen international financial system and architecture” so as to reduce the likelihood of the occurrence of such crises.

It pointed to many areas where systemic reforms are needed including regulation of “major financial centres, international capital flows, and financial markets”, the international reserves system including the role of the SDR, the international approach to the debt problems of developing countries, and the mandates, policies and governance of international financial institutions. So far the international community has failed to address any of these issues in a significant way. They need to be put back on the agenda if recurrent financial crises with severe international repercussions are to be averted.

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Big Gap Surfaces in Davos http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/big-gap-surfaces-davos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-gap-surfaces-davos http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/big-gap-surfaces-davos/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 03:25:58 +0000 Ray Smith http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130701 As self-appointed global leaders gather at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and discuss ‘The Reshaping of the World’, a stone’s throw away non-governmental organisations named this year’s winners for their dreaded Public Eye Awards. The jury chose the American textile giant Gap, while 95,000 online voters honoured the Russian energy company Gazprom. “Sadly, […]

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Liana Foxvog (left) and Kalpona Akter (right) plan to take the anti-award to Gap's headquarters in San Francisco Credit: Ray Smith/IPS.

Liana Foxvog (left) and Kalpona Akter (right) plan to take the anti-award to Gap's headquarters in San Francisco Credit: Ray Smith/IPS.

By Ray Smith
DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)

As self-appointed global leaders gather at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and discuss ‘The Reshaping of the World’, a stone’s throw away non-governmental organisations named this year’s winners for their dreaded Public Eye Awards.

The jury chose the American textile giant Gap, while 95,000 online voters honoured the Russian energy company Gazprom.“Davos is the global showcase for symbolic policy where arsonists dress up as firemen for a few days.”

“Sadly, there’s still a need for campaigns like ours that demand corporate accountability,” Silvie Lang said on behalf of the organisers, the Berne Declaration (BD), a Swiss NGO working for equitable North-South relations, and Greenpeace Switzerland.

“We are here to remind the corporate world and those hiding behind closed doors in Davos that the social and environmental consequences of their business activities affect not only people and the environment, but also the reputation of their company.”

Participating in the WEF is no option for the BD. “This kind of inclusion is far less effective than fundamental critique from outside,” its spokesperson Oliver Classen told IPS. “Davos is the global showcase for symbolic policy where arsonists dress up as firemen for a few days.”

This year, international NGOs proposed 15 nominees for the two shame awards, ranging from Glencore Xstrata and BASF as representatives of the extractive industry to pesticide producers and the U.S. garment company Gap. The latter was eventually chosen for the jury award.

On behalf of the jury, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said: “We shame Gap for its monstrous and disingenuous business practices consisting of hindering legally-binding agreements to substantially ameliorate working conditions.”

Gap declined to show up and receive the award. Instead, Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity and Liana Foxvog of the International Labour Rights Forum (ILRF) collected the prize.

Akter, a relentless grassroots activist, is herself a former child garment worker. “I sewed clothing for multinational corporations and made less than 10 dollars a month for 450 hours of work,” she said. Today, the minimum wage in Bangladesh is 68 dollars a month. “Due to inflation, it’s not much more than I used to earn,” Akter said.

Her main concern isn’t the low wages, however. “When workers speak up with concern about safety risks, they aren’t listened to.”

Three years ago, 29 workers were killed in a fire at one of Gap’s Bangladeshi supplier factories. After that, labour groups and unions negotiated with Gap to put an end to the constantly climbing death toll in the garment industry.

In all 1,129 Bangladeshi workers died in a deadly fire in a garments factory last year.

In a press statement, Gap stressed that it is a founding member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety: “The Alliance is a serious and transparent, binding commitment on the part of its members to make urgent improvements to worker safety in Bangladesh.”

For Foxvog, the Alliance is “hardly more than a facelift.” She vowed to take the award directly to the Gap headquarters in San Francisco.

“We don’t want the companies to leave our country,” Akter said. “We want jobs, but they must be jobs with dignity. Global corporations must stop profiting off this low-road system.”

A third of the 280,000 people taking part in the online voting chose the energy giant Gazprom for the people’s award. That was not surprising, as the company had been in the spotlight for the past few months.

In September, Russian security forces arrested 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists during a protest against oil drilling at their offshore platform Prirazlomnaya. In December, Gazprom became the first company that started to drill oil in the Arctic.

According to Greenpeace, Prirazlomnaya is far from some ultra-modern drilling unit. The absence of a publicly available and convincing response plan for any oil spill in one of the world’s most extreme environments worries activists deeply.

Greenpeace argues that Gazprom’s reliance on traditional clean-up methods would simply not work under icy conditions.

IPS requested Gazprom to comment on receiving the anti-award for “irresponsible business conduct at the cost of people and the environment.” Gazprom spokesperson Sergey Kupriyanov did not elaborate on its response plan, but stressed that the company was fully committed to the highest ecological standards.

“Therefore we are quite puzzled by the decision of the Public Eye Awards jury which seems to be motivated by anything but ecological concerns,” Kupriyanov told IPS.

He said that the Prirazlomnaya platform had been specifically designed for operation in the most hostile climate. “The applied drilling techniques prevent subsurface water pollution and the mixing of drilling and production waste with sea water.

“Specially designed oil spill prevention and response plans ensure that the platform crew is well equipped for emergency situations,” Kupriyanov told IPS.

Greenpeace’s Naidoo said his organisation considered calling for a boycott of Gazprom and its partner Shell, who had last year received an anti-award in Davos. “Our peaceful protest in the Arctic raised a lot of awareness,” he told IPS. “About five million people have signed up for our Arctic campaign, while the best of it is yet to come.”

Using the shame award to raise further awareness may be easier for the organisations dealing with Gap, as its consumer base differs much from that of Gazprom. Nobody depends on Gap clothes, but many depend on Gazprom’s oil and gas.

Criticising the energy giant my fall on deaf ears. “Even Gazprom, Rosneft or Chevron aren’t completely immune from public pressure though,” argued Naidoo. He said that these companies had so far ignored one thing: “Relations and reputation are a capital which is just as important for success as conventional capital.”

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Elites Will ‘Consider Inequality’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/elites-will-consider-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=elites-will-consider-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/elites-will-consider-inequality/#comments Wed, 22 Jan 2014 04:43:18 +0000 Ray Smith http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130532 With no acute crisis on the radar, this year’s Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) will move away from the response mode of the past years and “look for solutions for the really fundamental issues,” its founder Klaus Schwab said at the pre-meeting press conference. “We cannot afford to allow the next era […]

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Development issues find little place in Davos. Credit: Ray Smith/IPS.

Development issues find little place in Davos. Credit: Ray Smith/IPS.

By Ray Smith
DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 22 2014 (IPS)

With no acute crisis on the radar, this year’s Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) will move away from the response mode of the past years and “look for solutions for the really fundamental issues,” its founder Klaus Schwab said at the pre-meeting press conference.

“We cannot afford to allow the next era of globalisation to create as many risks and inequities as it does opportunities,” Schwab wrote in a blog post a few days earlier. “Today we face a situation where the number of potential flashpoints are many and are likely to grow.”Hardly any of the workshops scheduled specifically address developing countries.

Even Schwab and his organisation have finally realised that globalisation has increased global inequality and that its consequences have not been managed and mitigated well on the global level.

According to Schwab, the WEF is the “biggest assembly of political, business and civil society leaders in the world.” For decades, he has been gathering the world’s richest and most powerful people and companies once a year in the mountain resort of Davos under the banner of “improving the state of the world”.

This year, the annual meeting beginning Wednesday takes place for the 44th time. Schwab welcomes around 2,500 participants, among them more than half of the CEOs of the 1,000 largest companies of the world, over 30 heads of state, and numerous leaders of international institutions.

A report published by the WEF has spoken of widening income disparities. The report states that increasing inequality impacts social stability within countries and threatens security on a global scale.

“It’s essential that we devise innovative solutions to the causes and consequences of a world becoming ever more unequal,” its authors wrote.

With a well-timed report, the renowned aid and development charity Oxfam International picked the issue up this week. According to Oxfam, the world’s richest 85 people own the wealth of half of the world’s population – a fact that the charity’s executive director Winnie Byanyima called staggering.

“We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality,” she said. Oxfam locates the roots of the widening gap in fiscal deregulation, tax havens and secrecy, anti-competitive business practice, lower tax rates on high incomes and investments and cuts or underinvestment in public services for the majority.

According to Oxfam, the richest individuals and companies hide trillions of dollars in tax havens around the world. “In Africa”, the report says, “global corporations – particularly those in extractive industries – exploit their influence to avoid taxes and royalties, reducing the resources available to governments to fight poverty.”

Over the last years, tax avoidance has become a major focus of non-governmental organisations especially in countries like Switzerland, where some of the world’s biggest companies involved in raw materials mining and trade have their headquarters.

“Tax avoidance and harmful tax incentives are strongly linked with inequality,” said Martin Hojsik, tax campaign manager of ActionAid International, an international coalition fighting poverty across the globe. “With a lack of revenue caused by tax dodging, developing countries in particular have very little resources to finance essential services like education and health care,” he told IPS.

ActionAid doesn’t participate at the WEF, which Hojsik calls a talking shop for elites in a fancy resort. “Real progress requires commitment from governments and processes that are inclusive of all stakeholders including people living in poverty,” he said.

Hojsik has no illusions about Davos: “This year, Deloitte, a company among other things advising companies how to avoid taxes when investing in Africa, is tweeting about income disparity on their #DeloitteDavosLife event, clearly showing some of the absurdity.”

Unlike ActionAid, Oxfam will take part at the global leaders’ meeting. The charity is asking participants to pledge to supporting progressive taxation, to making public all the investments in companies and trusts, to demanding a living wage in their companies and to challenging governments to use tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education and social protection for citizens.

Oxfam’s effort is doomed to fail. A look at the WEF’s more than 260 sessions shows that hot potatoes like tax avoidance won’t be addressed. Even though there is a workshop specifically on the extractive industry, it aims only to discuss how the industry may drive growth in the future in the light of rising concerns over scarcity and environmental deprivation.

Hardly any of the workshops scheduled specifically address developing countries. There’s a session on the post-2015 development goals, however. It asks how a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation and mutual accountability may carry those goals from vision to action.

Peter Niggli, director of Alliance Sud, an alliance of the six biggest Swiss charities, isn’t attracted by such debates. Alliance Sud doesn’t go to Davos.

“We lobby at the Swiss government which makes more sense,” he told IPS. As a discussion forum, the WEF in Niggli’s opinion doesn’t have any influence at all on defining the post-2015 development agenda.

Niggli said that it is in any case not the WEF’s official programme with all the debates and workshops that draws businessmen and politicians, but the opportunity they have to meet others informally or set up new projects behind closed doors.

Surely it also isn’t the fake refugee camp the WEF has set up in Davos that draws the global elite. “We are simulating the experience of a Syrian refugee in a Jordanian refugee camp,” Schwab said. “It is so important that people can really imagine what it means to be a refugee.”

The United Nations Refugee Agency has appealed for 6.5 billion dollars for Syrian refugees. International donors have pledged 2.4 billion dollars so far. If the WEF is serious about “improving the state of the world”, its wealthy members could come up with the lacking sum.

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Educational Network Erases Borders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/educational-network-erases-borders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=educational-network-erases-borders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/educational-network-erases-borders/#comments Wed, 15 Jan 2014 16:42:24 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130269 Hundreds of students from Spain’s Canary Islands, Senegal and the Sahrawi refugee camps outside of Tindouf in western Algeria are meeting each other and breaking down cultural barriers thanks to the Red Educativa Sin Fronteras. In the “Educational Network Without Borders”, students, teachers and parents build bridges between classrooms on both sides of the miles […]

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Students on the Spanish island of Tenerife talk to youngsters from a school in the Sahrawi refugee camps outside of Tindouf in western Algeria. Credit: Courtesy Red Canaria de Escuelas Solidarias

Students on the Spanish island of Tenerife talk to youngsters from a school in the Sahrawi refugee camps outside of Tindouf in western Algeria. Credit: Courtesy Red Canaria de Escuelas Solidarias

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain , Jan 15 2014 (IPS)

Hundreds of students from Spain’s Canary Islands, Senegal and the Sahrawi refugee camps outside of Tindouf in western Algeria are meeting each other and breaking down cultural barriers thanks to the Red Educativa Sin Fronteras.

In the “Educational Network Without Borders”, students, teachers and parents build bridges between classrooms on both sides of the miles of Atlantic Ocean that separate them.

“Hi, my name is Ángel, I’m 13 years old and I go to school at the CEO (Centro de Educación Obligatoria) Mogán in the south of Gran Canaria Island. I would like to meet students from Senegal,” says one boy in a video taped by Ivanhoe Hernández, a teacher of literature from that school.

The CEO school arranges virtual and snail mail exchanges with the students of Mbake Gueye, who teaches Spanish in Louga in northwestern Senegal.

The RESF network is made up of volunteer teachers, parents and students from Senegal, Western Sahara and Gabon in West Africa, Haiti in the Caribbean, and the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa.

It emerged in 2004, at the initiative of the Puente Humano or Human Bridge association, based in Senegal and the Canary Islands, with the aim of tearing down day by day “the wall of ignorance that exists between our people,” Amadou Ba, who also teaches Spanish in Louga, told IPS in a videoconference.

“We are teachers from both sides [of the Atlantic] and we propose a cultural and educational change that makes it possible to form global citizens,” Rafael Blanco, a teacher of Latin and Greek who belongs to Puente Humano, told IPS. He is the coordinator of RESF in the Canary Islands, and is presently visiting Senegal.

Ba, a 33-year-old who has been a teacher since 2004, said the communication between students from Africa and Spain focuses on specific subjects prepared ahead of time, such as immigration, family life or the environment.

“Hearing about the need to care for the environment, for example, from Spanish students of the same age reaches them better and sensitises them more,” said Ba, who teaches in the Artillerie Nord school in Louga, which coordinates RESF in Senegal.

As part of RESF, students between the ages of 12 and 16 write short reports, tape video recordings, ask and answer questions, take photos and make drawings that travel back and forth across the Atlantic by email or through the postal service.

The direct communications are through video conferences or audio conferences, using cellphones connected to speakers.

Blanco mentioned the material and technical difficulties in Senegal, where some of the schools involved do not have Internet connection, and where power cuts are frequent. For that reason, much of the communication depends on postal delivery services.

Puente Humano covers the cost of establishing Internet connections in the schools in Louga.

Some 650 students in 13 schools in Senegal currently interact with students and teachers in the Canary Islands.

Blanco estimated that another 720 students are involved in the project in the Canary Islands and in three schools in the Tindouf refugee camps – where almost all of the roughly 250,000 Sahrawi people live today, 1,465 km southwest of Algiers.

A school in Ansé a Pitres, in southeast Haiti, also took part in the exchanges in 2012, but did not continue in 2013 due to technical difficulties.

“Our aim is to multiply real cooperation by means of communication,” says the Puente Humano website.

Blanco believes “you can’t cooperate with something you don’t know,” and paraphrased
Madou Ndeye, a Senegalese teacher and writer who died in March 2013, who said “we would be more advanced if the money that went to cooperation and aid was dedicated to getting to know each other and communicate with each other.”

Ba said participation in RESF would encourage his students to take photos and tape short videos of their day-to-day lives in Louga, to share with the students in the Canary Islands.

“We have values, customs, rich things to show,” said Ba, who believes development aid projects carried out by non-governmental organisations “should not only be based on giving, but also on receiving.”

He also lamented that the information that reaches Europe from Africa “is only trade-related, because the business community isn’t interested in us communicating with each other.”

The teachers involved in RESF incorporate the student exchanges in their daily coursework. For example, a math teacher on the Canary island of Tenerife suggested that her students analyse “the statistics of inequality,” comparing the cost of living and of the basic basket of essential items in Spain and Senegal.

“Awareness-raising is the most important thing we have managed to do, with our students,” said Cristóbal Mendoza, a teacher in the Mario Lhermet school on the Canary island of La Gomera, in an interview broadcast by the Irradia radio platform, taped in Senegal during a visit by several Canary Islands teachers to Louga.

During the 2010-2011 school year, the coordination of RESF was incorporated in the Red Canaria de Escuelas Solidarias (roughly, the Canary Network of Schools in Solidarity), which carries out projects for educational cooperation with Africa.

RESF’s blog presents the different subjects, activities and experiences of the teachers of different subjects. Blanco and his students at the Instituto Cabrera Pinto school in Tenerife investigated myths from Spain and West Africa in a course on classic culture.

“There are networks that bind and networks that bring people together. Never get tired of weaving those networks that bring people together,” wrote Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano in a message of support to the RESF, which he applauded for its work of South-North educational cooperation.

The famous writer stressed that the initiative develops values, applies new technologies to cooperation, enriches educational subjects and courses, and develops knowledge of different cultures and realities.

“They are in Senegal, but they have the same worries, fears, emotions and goals as you do,” Ivanhoe Hernández, originally from the southern Spanish city of Málaga, explains to his students in the Canary Islands.

He said “educating and learning together helps break down prejudice and racism.”

Blanco said in a videoconference from Senegal, where he is working on coordination of the network thanks to a one-year sabbatical leave: “We are creating a culture of knowledge directly, without depending on the television, making use of communication tools and technology, and in a language that allows people to communicate and share.”

The network has made possible exchange trips to Senegal for students and teachers from the Canary Islands and vice versa, where they visit schools, stay in the homes of local families, and become familiar with the culture.

As the Spanish government cuts development aid funds, RESF is growing in the number of students involved. And although the project is moving ahead “without haste” and represents “a few drops of water, that is a lot,” Blanco said.

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The Legacy of 2013 http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/legacy-2013/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=legacy-2013 http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/legacy-2013/#comments Fri, 27 Dec 2013 21:56:36 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129767 In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the IPS (Inter Press Service) news agency and Publisher of Other News, assesses the main events of 2013.

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In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the IPS (Inter Press Service) news agency and Publisher of Other News, assesses the main events of 2013.

By Roberto Savio
SAN SALVADOR, Bahamas , Dec 27 2013 (Columnist Service)

At this time of hope for what the new year may bring, it would be useful to look at the legacy we carry with us from the year we leave behind. It was a year full of events – wars, rising social inequality, unchecked finance, the decline of political institutions, and the erosion of global governance.

Perhaps this is nothing new, since these trends have been with us for a long time. But some events have a deeper, longer-lasting impact. And here we will present them briefly, as a list to remember and to watch. They are not offered in order of magnitude, which is always a subjective decision.

Roberto Savio. Credit: IPS

Roberto Savio. Credit: IPS

1. Collapse of the Arab Spring. The situations in Egypt and Syria have discouraged other Arab countries from following in their footsteps. The internal struggles in the large and variegated world of Islam will take a long time to settle. The real challenge is how modernism can be used as an element making Islam viable.

The coup in Egypt has given new strength to the radicals who do not believe in democracy, and we will never know if the Muslim Brotherhood could have run the country effectively, or if it would have failed (as is most likely). Outsiders cannot solve this conflict, as the case of Syria, which has become a proxy war financed by external players, clearly shows.

2. U.S. self-sufficiency in energy. In five years the exploitation of shale oil and gas will cut American oil imports in half, and if this trend continues the U.S. could actually become self-sufficient in energy supplies. The impact on the price of oil is clear, and this will affect the strategic importance of the Arab world and petrodollar countries like Russia. American industry will receive a strong boost, but incentives for the development of renewable energy will decline worldwide.

3. The inability to reach a meaningful agreement on climate change. The failure of the last climate change conference in Poland demonstrates that there is little political will to reach a global consensus on ways to tackle this issue. Yet according to most climate scientists we are fast approaching the point of no return, with the prospect of irreversible damage to the global ecosystem.

Meanwhile, French investors are buying land in the south of England to grow vineyards. And Iceland is besieged by investors (including the Chinese), who want to get their hands on a large land area where cultivation will continue to be possible. And all nations are gearing up for the exploitation of mineral reserves under the melting Arctic ice, which is also opening up new avenues for marine transportation.

This shows that the business world has a clearer appreciation of what is happening than governments. But it also shows a lack of vision of social responsibility.

4. U.S. decline. President Barack Obama had to cancel his participation in the recent Asian summit because of the U.S. budget crisis. But Russian President Vladimir Putin was able to attend, and he has managed to successfully manipulate events in Syria.

Obama’s signature healthcare reform is in jeopardy, and Edward Snowden has shown the world that the U.S. does not respect its own allies. Meanwhile, the Tea Party has been able to paralyse the U.S. government and bring the Republication Party to espouse a policy of public sector decline.

People all over the world now consider the U.S. an unreliable partner, in an irreversible crisis, with a president who makes a lot of high-sounding promises but is unable to bring them about.

Nobody has managed to bring the financial sector under control, and scandals and gigantic penalties are a continuing reality. There is no solution in sight on Palestine, and the U.S. is facing great difficulties extricating itself from Afghanistan, while Iraq is reverting to chaos, and the talks with Iran are giving a strong boost to the radical Shia section of the Islamic world. The U.S. is a country of great resilience, but the future does not look at all promising.

5. European decline. The past year was one of disunity in Europe, and the definitive ascendancy of Germany in European affairs. Only macroeconomics counts today. Ireland is held up as an example, after it brought its deficit under control. But at the microeconomic level, the damage to the social fabric can be dramatic.

The same is happening in Portugal, and Greece is the most extreme example. Greeks have lost 20 percent of their income, unemployment has climbed to 27 percent, and more cuts are being demanded.

This is not the place for an analysis of how Germany is helped by its policy, which undercuts others without any hint of solidarity. But in the May 2014 European elections, people are likely to vote in large numbers for the anti-Europe parties, which have sprouted almost everywhere, with the sole exception of Spain. The Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy, as the harsh laws on abortion and public order show, is far enough to the right to leave space to a more right-wing party.

The weakening of the European Parliament will be with us for a long time, until Europe recovers some of the appeal that it has been steadily losing among its citizens.

6. Chinese nationalism. The new president, Xi Jinping, has in a few months assumed an authority unprecedented since the time of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. He is pushing the idea of a Chinese dream, to galvanise people under his leadership. This is based on the assertion of China as a great power commanding respect around the world.

And bold steps have been taken to affirm Chinese territorial claims that have opened up conflicts with South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. With the Japanese government now run by nationalist politicians, many analysts are considering the possibility of a third world war beginning in Asia.

In the 16th century China had 50 percent of world GNP, and there is a strong desire among the Chinese to regain their “rightful” place in the world. The defence treaty between Japan and the United States makes this a potentially global point of conflict.

7. Changes in the Vatican. The election of Pope Francis has brought a much-needed change of direction in the Catholic Church. The Pope is binging back a focus on people rather than the market, using terms like “solidarity”, “social justice”, “exclusion” and “marginalisation”, which until recently had all but disappeared from political discourse.

President Obama has followed with a strong speech against the growing social inequalities in the U.S.

And according to the London School of Economics, in 20 years Britain will return to the level of social inequality it experienced during the times of Queen Victoria.

But Pope Francis is the only one denouncing the dismantling of the welfare system which emerged during the Cold War. Let us hope that his call will help prevent the writing of a new Das Kapital, where the victims will not be workers, but young people.

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Towards a Change of Culture Leading to a Gender-Balanced Approach http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/towards-change-culture-leading-gender-balanced-approach/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=towards-change-culture-leading-gender-balanced-approach http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/towards-change-culture-leading-gender-balanced-approach/#comments Mon, 23 Dec 2013 17:44:13 +0000 Emma Bonino http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129707 In this column, Emma Bonino, the Italian minister of foreign affairs, writes about progress made in strengthening women’s rights, and the challenges that still lie ahead.

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In this column, Emma Bonino, the Italian minister of foreign affairs, writes about progress made in strengthening women’s rights, and the challenges that still lie ahead.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Dec 23 2013 (Columnist Service)

The past three years have been very important to scale up the movement to protect the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls and, particularly, to eliminate female genital mutilation worldwide.

We saw the political momentum growing and culminating December 2012 with the consensual adoption by the General Assembly of Resolution 67/146 banning female genital mutilation worldwide.

On that occasion all United Nations member states sent a strong political message about their commitment. The resolution calls upon member states to ensure effective implementation of international and regional instruments protecting women’s rights and to take all necessary measures to prohibit female genital mutilation.

The resolution was an important step forward; it is now our responsibility to ensure its effective implementation. The recent UNICEF report reminds us that despite the best efforts towards its abandonment, female genital mutilation still persists.

For this reason, during the General Assembly this year we organised a side event, together with Burkina Faso, UNFPA and UNICEF, to share specific contributions that governments and international institutions have made to the commitments undertaken with the adoption of the resolution.

Genital mutilation is only one of the manifold forms of violence women are still suffering all over the world. Just to mention the example of my own country, over 100 women have been killed in Italy this year, mostly in the context of domestic violence.

To reverse such a terrible trend, we have increased government action against crimes that victimise women. I am also very proud that Italy became the fifth member state of the Council of Europe to ratify the Istanbul Convention for preventing and combating sexual and domestic violence.

The same happened with the ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty, which introduces principles and criteria to oversee the movement of arms and to combat illegal trafficking. Such treaties contain an explicit provision on gender-based violence.

Women are the first victims of such trade. This also goes in the direction of a general change of culture leading to a gender-balanced approach in peace-building processes.

Gender-based violence was also the common denominator underlying the discussion at the high-level meeting during the General Assembly last September of the Equal Futures Partnership, the initiative launched by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton which Italy just joined.

This is a partnership uniting nations firmly committed to closing the gender gap and to sharing experiences so that local practices can be replicated all over the world.

A less blatant but nonetheless harmful form of violence against women is the practice of early and forced marriages. We must take every opportunity to recall the importance of eradicating this practice in one generation’s time span, accelerating change in culture and traditions through a vibrant, ongoing campaign.

For this reason we also call for the inclusion of this target in the post-2015 development agenda.

A very encouraging step was the approval last month by the U.N. General Assembly’s Third Committee of a resolution aimed at achieving a ban, within the next 12 months, on early and forced marriages. This resolution – promoted by Italy and nine other countries – was co-sponsored by 109 countries and was approved by consensus.

Violence against women also encompasses trafficking and slavery. This is a particularly
painful subject for me: it is very sad and frustrating to feel helpless when hundreds of migrants, women and men and children, tragically die off the coasts of Lampedusa (in Sicily). For this reason we are insisting on a common European effort within the framework of the Mediterranean task force led by the European Commission to combat human trafficking.

This leads me to talk about the situation of women in our neighbouring countries in the Southern Mediterranean. In some of these countries the promotion of women’s rights has a long tradition.

In other cases gender issues have been promoted by those autocratic regimes which the Arab Spring swept away, as they became instrumental for them to show their modern face to Western allies while continuing to violate other human rights.

Whatever the reasons for their past promotion, we must continue monitoring to avoid any setback, like attempts to delegitimise the Personal Status Code (adopted in 1956) in Tunisia or to misapply the law imposing sanctions for female mutilation in Egypt.

For this reason we should increase our efforts in initiatives like the one undertaken by the European Union and United Nations, “Spring Forward for Women”, which includes measures to ensure effective access by women to economic and political opportunities in the Southern Mediterranean region.

On the Italian side, I would also like to mention an initiative we successfully launched last February and that we will repeat next year: Women in Diplomacy School. The school aims at giving women specific tools for their empowerment as leaders. It is open to the participation of young women from our neighbouring Mediterranean countries.

The Women in Diplomacy School is part of a wider project that Italy has launched in view of the Expo Milan 2015, the Women and Expo initiative.

Our ambitious goal is to make Expo 2015 in Milan the first “gender Expo” ever, hoping that this will serve as an example for future editions.
(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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Assisting Rather than Deporting Trafficking Victims in Spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/assisting-rather-deporting-victims-trafficking-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=assisting-rather-deporting-victims-trafficking-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/assisting-rather-deporting-victims-trafficking-spain/#comments Mon, 23 Dec 2013 16:49:19 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129703 María came to Spain from Paraguay to work as a housekeeper in a hotel. But it was a false job promise, and she ended up in a nightclub, where she was forced to work as a prostitute. One night she told a client the truth. Moved by her story, he started hiring her services day […]

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Collage of news reports on trafficking in the Spanish press, from Mujer Emancipada de Málaga, an NGO that provides assistance to women in need. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Collage of news reports on trafficking in the Spanish press, from Mujer Emancipada de Málaga, an NGO that provides assistance to women in need. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain , Dec 23 2013 (IPS)

María came to Spain from Paraguay to work as a housekeeper in a hotel. But it was a false job promise, and she ended up in a nightclub, where she was forced to work as a prostitute.

One night she told a client the truth. Moved by her story, he started hiring her services day after day until he managed to find her a job somewhere else – and married her in the end.

It may sound like the plot of a movie with a happy ending, but it is a real case that happened recently, and was told to IPS by Felicia Carmen Marecos, a social worker with the general consulate of Paraguay in the southern Spanish city of Málaga.

It is just one of many stories of women who were trying to flee poverty and fell prey to human trafficking networks.

Most victims of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in Spain come from Brazil, China, Nigeria, Paraguay and Romania, according to the police, who estimate the number of victims in the country at 12,000 and the earnings of the sex trafficking rings in Spain at five million euros (six million dollars) a day.

María (not her real name) came to the country encouraged by her sister, who was already living in Madrid and was in on the scheme.

Women forced into prostitution tend to be drawn in with the help of family members, friends or acquaintances.

The young woman dared to speak out and file a complaint. But most victims do not do so “because they are coerced from their countries of origin,” Helena Maleno, an expert in migration and human trafficking with Colectivo Caminando Fronteras, an NGO that defends migrant rights, told IPS.

Many of the victims do not speak Spanish and are under threat, in debt, and unaware that help is available. They are also undocumented immigrants, and are afraid to go to the police.

Besides, “they don’t tend to recognise that they are victims,” said Paula Mandillo, a social worker with Mujer Emancipada, an association in Málaga that helped over one hundred women, mainly from Nigeria and Romania, in 2012.

The first European Commission report on human trafficking in Europe, published by Eurostat in April 2013, put the number of victims between 2008 and 2010 at 23,632, with the number growing by 18 percent over the three-year period. Of that total, 15 percent were children and adolescents.

In 62 percent of the cases, the victims – mainly women – were trafficked for sexual exploitation, while 25 percent were trafficked for forced labour, and 14 percent were victims of other kinds of trafficking, such as organ removal.

In 2010, Spain had the second-highest number of victims of human trafficking in the European Union, after Italy, according to the study.

The organisations making up the Spanish Network Against Human Trafficking are calling for a comprehensive law against the crime, which would penalise trafficking in all its forms and not only sexual exploitation.

They are also demanding a human rights focus, arguing that an approach based on crime prevention, law enforcement and control of migration currently predominates.

One example of this was the case of an undocumented immigrant who was arrested and deported when she reported to the police in a coastal town in the province of Málaga that she had been raped, IPS was told by sources with the Guardia Civil immigrant support team (EDATI) in this southern Spanish province.

And a 24-year-old Romanian woman, who was fined by the police several times for working as a prostitute on the streets of Barcelona, committed suicide on Sept. 23. Only then was it discovered that since 2000 she had been a victim of a trafficking ring that sexually exploited some 200 women, and that the pimp was her own husband.

“To raise society’s awareness about what is happening, it has to be made clear that trafficking is not prostitution or irregular immigration, but that there are undocumented immigrants and people who are sexually exploited who are victims of trafficking,” Maleno said.

If the authorities in Spain find signs that an undocumented immigrant is a victim of trafficking, they must inform her that she has a 30-day grace period, when deportation procedures are suspended.

During that period, she receives advice and support from specialist organisations, and decides whether to report the crime and work with the police and judicial authorities in the investigation.

If she cooperates, she is eligible for a residency permit, under a 2009 reform of the law on aliens.

“It’s a problem for the prosecution of the crime to be based on whether or not the victim files a formal complaint. Even if they don’t report the crime, their human rights must be protected,” and that means not deporting them to their countries of origin, where their lives may be in danger, Maleno said.

Many Nigerian women who fall prey to trafficking networks have made a hazardous journey, involving walking across part of the Sahara desert, often pregnant or with children, to Morocco, where they take ‘pateras’ – small, flimsy boats used to traffic immigrants from North Africa – to the Spanish coast.

“The 30-day grace period is very short compared to what they have gone through,” said Maleno. In countries like Norway the period is six months, and NGOs participate in identifying victims, the Colectivo Caminando Fronteras activist pointed out.

Human trafficking was not classified as a crime in Spain’s penal code until December 2010. It is now punishable by sentences of five to 10 years in prison.

In the four cases that since then have resulted in firm convictions, 10 perpetrators were found guilty, Marta González, who heads Proyecto Esperanza of the Congregación de Religiosas Adoratrices, an order of Catholic nuns, told IPS.

According to Maleno, there is “an extremely big problem” in Spain involving victims of trafficking for sexual purposes from Romania, because they are legal immigrants, since Romania is an EU member.

For that reason, “they don’t enter into the circuit of protection established by the protocol against trafficking,” she said, adding that another problem is how frequently they are moved around the country and Europe as a whole.

The sex trafficking rings often use babies, whether to help women from sub-Saharan Africa get into Spain or to coerce them into forced prostitution, she said.

Until this year, when pateras landed on the coast, the authorities did not identify the babies. But now they have started to take their fingerprints, and are increasingly carrying out DNA tests on women and children at border posts, to verify that they are related, Maleno said.

In September, the government granted asylum for the first time to a woman who was a victim of a sexual exploitation network – a Nigerian mother of a three-year-old girl, who arrived by patera in late 2010 and decided to report and fight against the trafficking ring.

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Mexico Needs a Bouncer at the Oil Industry Door http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/mexicos-oil-industry-open-foreign-investment-needs-regulation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-oil-industry-open-foreign-investment-needs-regulation http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/mexicos-oil-industry-open-foreign-investment-needs-regulation/#comments Thu, 19 Dec 2013 06:40:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129632 As Mexico is about to open its oil industry up to foreign investment, it will need penalties for negligence and regulations that force private firms to follow best practices in order to avoid problems like oil spills, analysts say. On Dec. 10-11, the Mexican Congress approved the constitutional reform opening up oil exploration, extraction, refining, […]

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Fishermen from the Mexican town of Coatzacoalcos working to contain an oil spill in their fishing grounds in 2012. Credit: Prometeo Lucero/Greenpeace

Fishermen from the Mexican town of Coatzacoalcos working to contain an oil spill in their fishing grounds in 2012. Credit: Prometeo Lucero/Greenpeace

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Dec 19 2013 (IPS)

As Mexico is about to open its oil industry up to foreign investment, it will need penalties for negligence and regulations that force private firms to follow best practices in order to avoid problems like oil spills, analysts say.

On Dec. 10-11, the Mexican Congress approved the constitutional reform opening up oil exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution and sale of oil and its by-products to local and foreign private investment.

It is a decision that dismantles the very foundations of the 1938 nationalisation of the oil industry.

“This is a good opportunity for the Mexican state to build a robust regulatory framework and above all to develop the capacity to penalise opportunistic or negligent behaviour,” José del Tronco, a professor at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, told IPS.

The expert said that if oil and gas production are stepped up, greater prevention of risks is needed, and companies should incorporate the environmental and human costs of their activities.

Congress passed the reform of articles 25, 27 and 28 of the constitution, making it possible for the government to sign service, production and profit-sharing contracts with private firms.

The reform also allows the government to grant permits or concessions for the exploration and exploitation of oil blocs – a mechanism used in countries like Argentina, Ecuador, Peru and the United States.

The corporations will also be able to store, transport and sell oil products – which effectively breaks down the monopoly of the state-run Pemex oil company.

But Pemex, also a multinational corporation, will be just one more contractor, and will not maintain control over the activity or over the contracts with new operators, which will fall under the authority of the energy ministry.

The regulatory framework, Tronco said, would have to be very different than when it was only necessary to exercise oversight over one company governed by local rules. Multiple operators will participate in a range of activities, and controls and oversight will be hindered without clear rules that take into account international legislation.

In case Pemex commits breach of contract, the companies will be able to turn to international dispute settlement bodies, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) panel procedures or the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The full extent of the reform will be defined by secondary laws that lawmakers will draft in the next few months, and by regulations to be put in place by the government.

The reform was approved in a record 80 hours by the legislatures of 17 of the country’s 31 states – which was needed to enshrine it in the constitution.

Now it has been sent back to Congress for final ratification, before President Enrique Peña Nieto signs it into law.

“International experiences are not encouraging,” Greenpeace Mexico spokesman Raúl Estrada told IPS. “It isn’t clear how the people will benefit from throwing the industry open.

“They say it will draw investment, and that the investment will be spent on the secondary effects of the reform,” such as oil spills and pollution, he said.

The reform has caused political tension. The two left-wing parties in Congress, the Party of the Democratic Revolution and the National Renewal Movement, are opposed to it on the argument that it privatises Pemex and hands over the country’s oil to foreign companies.

Both parties say they will bring legal challenges against the reform and organise a referendum in 2015, based on the federal law on popular consultations passed on Dec. 11.

The reform was voted 95 to 28 in the Senate and 354 to 134 in the lower house.

It was supported by the two traditional forces, the Institutional Revolutionary Party and the opposition National Action Party, along with two smaller parties, Ecological Green and New Alliance.

The government said output of crude would rise from the current 2.5 million barrels per day to three million by 2018 and 3.5 million by 2025, while natural gas production would go up from 5.7 billion cubic feet a day to 8.0 billion by 2018 and 10.4 billion by 2025.

It also projected a one percent rise in GDP by 2018 and a two percent increase by 2025, while promising that 500,000 new jobs would be created in the next four years and 2.5 million over the next 11 years.

The areas where new regulations would be needed are exploration and exploitation of wells deeper than 1,500 metres and shale gas fields, which Pemex has been working on since 2010 with scant results.

After the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), implemented new industrial safety provisions for deepwater drilling, to prevent such accidents.

The regulations include the assessment of contingency plans and a requirement of accident insurance. But the reform involves a revision of the provisions, so that they also apply to private companies.

“It’s not clear that the state will be more rigorous with Pemex than it could be with private companies. Is it more likely that they will come down hard on Pemex or on Exxon?” Tronco asked rhetorically.

“Do we have the capacity to administer justice in either one of the spheres, public enterprises or private companies? If we don’t, we have to start to build it,” he said.

The U.S. government does not fully implement the new industrial safety and environmental protection standards created after the 2010 disaster, Estrada said.

“We have many many examples of how the law is broken,” he argued. “How does the reform translate into public policies, budget, transparency, monitoring and oversight over the use of resources and the objectives achieved? That is the important part, to see whether these reforms will work or not.”

Greenpeace has protested the way Pemex operates in communities where the oil industry is active.

And such conflicts will be aggravated when the industry is opened up to private companies, Estrada said.

The reform creates the National Industrial Safety and Environmental Protection Agency, which will set industry standards. There are concerns over whether there will be overlap and duplication of efforts with the CNH, the environment ministry, and the federal environmental protection agency, PROFEPA.

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When NATO Leaves Afghanistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/nato-leaves-afghanistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nato-leaves-afghanistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/nato-leaves-afghanistan/#comments Wed, 18 Dec 2013 10:03:52 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129609 Afghanistan’s 30 million people are deeply divided over whether President Hamid Karzai should sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Washington that will allow U.S. military operations to continue in the conflict-ravaged country after NATO forces leave in 2014. Some believe the BSA is important for stability in Afghanistan, others say it could invite further […]

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A street in Jalalabad. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

A street in Jalalabad. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Dec 18 2013 (IPS)

Afghanistan’s 30 million people are deeply divided over whether President Hamid Karzai should sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Washington that will allow U.S. military operations to continue in the conflict-ravaged country after NATO forces leave in 2014.

Some believe the BSA is important for stability in Afghanistan, others say it could invite further trouble from insurgents. Yet others believe signing the pact would antagonise countries like Pakistan and Iran.

“We are a weak country, militarily, economically and politically. That’s why we need the agreement. We have to make a very pragmatic choice: accept the Americans here or face a very uncertain future with no country willing to help us,” Hedayatullah Amam, a businessman in his 50s, told IPS.“Karzai is just playing a political game to present himself as a man protecting national sovereignty, but that will be over soon."

The U.S. wants to sign the pact soon as possible, but President Karzai wants to wait it out till the next presidential elections in April 2014. However, many in Afghanistan see it as mere posturing on his part.

“Karzai will sign the agreement for sure,” said Amam who was travelling in a shared taxi from capital Kabul to Jalalabad, 120 km away.

“He is just playing a political game to present himself as a man protecting national sovereignty, but that will be over soon. I predict he will approve the agreement within one month, maximum two.”

After the Taliban was dislodged from Kabul in 2001, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was mandated by the U.N, Security Council to assist the Afghan government, fight insurgency and support the growth of Afghan security forces.

The BSA – endorsed by the Loya Jirga, a consultative assembly of elders and representatives from 34 provinces – provided for the possibility of U.S. troops staying on after the ISAF mission was completed by end 2014 and using at least nine military bases, including the strategic Bagram air base outside Kabul.

“The U.S. is the strongest country in the world,” said Asadullah Larawi, regional officer at the Civil Society Development Centre. “A partnership with America would prevent our neighbours from interfering. Our government has to make them understand that the bases are not a danger to them,” he told IPS.

According to NATO, there are 84,000 international soldiers present in Afghanistan today, 60,000 of them from the U.S. If the BSA comes into place, 8,000 to 15,000 foreign soldiers could stay on after 2014.

Afghanistan’s own security forces are relatively new. Created in 2002, its army now has 200,000 personnel and its air force has around 6,800 personnel. The Afghan National Police has 50,500 personnel and the districts are manned by 24,200 local policemen.

President Karzai is facing increasing pressure after he unexpectedly decided to postpone the approval of the BSA.

On Dec. 3, at the start of a two-day NATO foreign ministerial meeting in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made it clear that NATO commitment would disappear without the approval of the BSA.

After National Security Advisor Susan Rice visited Kabul Nov. 25, the White House too released a statement saying, “The lack of a signed BSA would jeopardise NATO and other nations’ pledges of assistance made at the Chicago and Tokyo conferences in 2012.”

Kate Clark, researcher at the Afghanistan Analysts Network of Kabul, believes the U.S. message was unequivocal.

Clark wrote: “Sign soon or risk the ‘zero option’, which, according to the statement, would include no U.S. troops, no NATO troops, no ‘enabling’ of Afghan security forces and the disappearance of billions of dollars of aid – not just the salaries of the police and army but also the civilian assistance that had been pledged at Tokyo.” In July 2012, international donors pledged in Tokyo to give Afghanistan 16 billion dollars in civilian aid over four years.

But many Afghans think the BSA will corrode Afghanistan’s already fragile sovereignty.

Naqibullah ‘Saqib’, head of the political science faculty at Nangarhar University, said, “Once the agreement is approved, countries like Iran and Pakistan can easily create bigger problems than the current ones. Russia could also do so.”

The fears are not unfounded. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently said his country opposes the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Baz Mohammad Abid, a well-known journalist here who works for Radio Mashaal, the local branch of Radio Free Europe, says that continuing to have U.S. bases in the country will have an adverse impact.

“Whether we like it or not, the Americans will keep some bases. Despite the reluctance of President Karzai to sign, the Afghan government has already basically agreed to it.

“But the agreement will be detrimental for us because our neighbours will be extremely vexed and will try to expel the Americans from the region by arming insurgents. I believe they should not stay,” Abid told IPS.

Some point out that the presence of international troops has not stopped neighbours from interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

Wahidullah Danish of the Civil Society Development Centre said, “Who is to say that the American military bases will deter the neighbours? There are many foreign armies in Afghanistan today, but there is still a lot of interference,” he said.

“American military bases are unacceptable to our neighbours and to insurgents who could even launch another jihad against foreigners,” he said. “Instead of hosting American bases, we should strengthen our own army with more weapons and training.”

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Automation, Drones and Robots Lead to Guaranteeing Incomes for Humans http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/automation-drones-robots-lead-guaranteeing-incomes-humans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=automation-drones-robots-lead-guaranteeing-incomes-humans http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/automation-drones-robots-lead-guaranteeing-incomes-humans/#comments Tue, 17 Dec 2013 12:34:56 +0000 Hazel Henderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129573 In this column, Hazel Henderson, president of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil), author of Building A Win-Win World and other books, and advisor to the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering from 1974–1980, writes that new answers are needed in the debate over jobless economic growth and guaranteed incomes.

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In this column, Hazel Henderson, president of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil), author of Building A Win-Win World and other books, and advisor to the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering from 1974–1980, writes that new answers are needed in the debate over jobless economic growth and guaranteed incomes.

By Hazel Henderson
ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, Dec 17 2013 (Columnist Service)

The debate over structural unemployment, automation and jobless economic growth began in the 1960s as car factories replaced workers with robots.

Futurists like myself saw these technologies taking over sectors of industrial economies as opportunities for a transition to “post-industrial” information and services-based “leisure societies,” and to develop human potential, lifelong learning, research, preventive healthcare, the arts, entertainment, sports and tourism.

Some parts of our vision have materialised: tourism and entertainment are major global industries. Research has produced medical breakthroughs, new sectors based on IT, the internet, 3-D printing and drones as well as democratising education electronically in massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Alas, missing today are our futurist visions which included a key corollary to this IT takeover of work: unconditional guaranteed incomes to provide the needed purchasing power to keep up aggregate demand for this new cornucopia of goods and services. We also held that if workers were replaced by machines, they would need to own a piece of those machines.

Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson

This debate is back, as inequality reaches crisis levels in Europe and the U.S. with the share of incomes from increased productivity falling for workers while capital owners’ and executives’ returns soar to new heights. This inequality now leads to further stagnation in many economies.

Guaranteed cash transfers directly to poorer citizens are raising living standards in Mexico’s “Oportunidades” and Brazil’s “Bolsa Familia” payments which have pulled millions up into the middle class.

These payments, called conditional cash transactions (CCTs), only require that children attend school and get medical check-ups. In Europe, the movement for unconditional basic incomes responding to widespread rising structural unemployment has led to widespread demonstrations and to a ballot initiative in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley IT giants Amazon, Google and others in Japan are targeting more sectors for takeover, as they have disrupted retailing, entertainment, news media, finance and other industries.

Google’s driverless cars will threaten millions of entry-level jobs for people driving taxis and trucks. Computer scientist advisor to Microsoft Jaron Lanier paints the future digital takeover vividly in Who Owns the Future (2013). He calls for a new economy based on digital value-sharing where all personal information given by individuals to Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google, LinkedIn or other such firms, be paid for, since this data provides these firms with their key asset.

Selling personal information, using Big Data for marketing, not to mention handing it over to governments, is a basic IT business model.

Google’s next big projects beyond rolling out Google glasses, with all their privacy implications, is producing robots they say will relieve humans from drudgery. This claim has been used by automation enthusiasts for decades.

Economists have also avoided the implications of jobless productivity: recommending more education and re-training, while sidestepping the more controversial examination of laissez faire economic theories. Yet, unemployment faces many graduates, many thousands of whom work as janitors and part-timers. Government policies often redistribute growth unfairly in tax breaks, subsidies to powerful interests in exchange for political contributions.

All these trends revive the big questions asked for decades: what is the purpose of technology? Why does the hare of private sector technology always outrun the tortoise of social innovation? In 1974, the U.S. set up its Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) on which I served, to answer these questions: how would the benefits and impacts of new technologies affect different groups in society, as well as the environment and overall quality of life?

Take Amazon’s plan to deliver packages quickly using drones. How many are benefited by this and how many may be inconvenienced, annoyed or even injured by all these drones in our public air space? For those millions living near Amazon’s massive distribution warehouses, will such a constant plague of these locust drones overhead spoil their quality of life?

Or take the new proposals that drones may be able to take over crop-pollination from bees, whose populations are threatened by hive collapse or nicotinoid pesticides (New Scientist, Nov. 16, 2013, p. 43). Can drones really replace bees to sustain our human food supply? Who benefits and who loses?

OTA asked all these inconvenient questions until it was shut down by Republicans in Congress in 1996. Their view was to leave all such questions to the magic of the marketplace.

Today, as the digital revolution accelerates with drones and robots populating our societies, all these questions re-emerge, as well as who pays. Will Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, et al., begin paying their users for their personal data, or help pay for the guaranteed incomes for those displaced people whose labour is no longer needed? We are now re-connecting all these dots and our future will depend on new answers.
(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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Glaring Asymmetries in Bali Accord http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/glaring-asymmetries-bali-accord/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=glaring-asymmetries-bali-accord http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/glaring-asymmetries-bali-accord/#comments Mon, 16 Dec 2013 17:12:25 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129578 As industrialised countries celebrate the World Trade Organisation’s Bali accord, the developing and the least-developed countries are forced to carry their battle to another day after securing only half-baked results and grandiose promises, said several trade ministers. “While the agreements reached at Bali are important, it is important to ensure balance in the agreements,” said […]

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By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Dec 16 2013 (IPS)

As industrialised countries celebrate the World Trade Organisation’s Bali accord, the developing and the least-developed countries are forced to carry their battle to another day after securing only half-baked results and grandiose promises, said several trade ministers.

“While the agreements reached at Bali are important, it is important to ensure balance in the agreements,” said Rob Davies, South Africa’s trade minister. “We are of the view that there is structural imbalance in which the least-developed countries secured only best endeavor solutions while there is a binding agreement on trade facilitation,” Davies told IPS.

“The developing and least-developing countries secured only promises and best endeavor outcomes while agreeing to a comprehensive trade facilitation agreement,” said Kenya’s foreign minister Amina Mohamed.
In sharp contrast, the United States, the European Union, and other industrialised countries praised the Dec. 3-7 Bali Ministerial Conference for delivering the trade facilitation agreement.

“For the first time in its almost 20-year history, the WTO reached a fully multilateral agreement,” said U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman. “WTO Members have demonstrated that we can come together as one to set new rules that create economic opportunity and prosperity for our nations and our peoples.”

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said the breakthrough at Bali in wrapping up the agreement on trade facilitation, and some deliverables in agriculture, were truly significant for the trade body.

“They take the WTO from the darkness of the multilateral era to [shine] light on multilateral action,” commissioner Gucht told reporters. The EU commissioner, however, admitted that there was a lack of balance in the overall Bali agreement.

For over 15 years, the industrialised countries and some advanced developing countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Chile and Mexico have pushed hard for rapid liberalisation of customs procedures as part of the trade facilitation agreement so as to enable their exports to rapidly penetrate the developing and least developed countries without many hassles.

Proponents say the TF accord is a “good governance agreement” for customs procedures that industrialised countries want the developing and the poorest countries to implement in the coming days and years on a binding basis – failing which the latter can be hauled up at the WTO’s dispute settlement body.

In return, the developing countries managed to secure only best endeavor agreements on some issues of their concern in agriculture, such as an interim mechanism for public stockholding for food security, transparency-related improvements in what are called tariff rate quota administration provisions, and most trade-distorting farm export subsidies and export credits.

The poorest countries as part of the “development” dossier secured another set of best endeavor improvement concerning preferential rules of origin for exporting to industrialised countries, preferential treatment to services and services suppliers of least developed countries, duty-free and quota-free market access for least-developed countries, and final monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment flexibilities.

Ironically, the Bali accord has weakened the language on issues raised by the developing and the poorest countries as compared to what was agreed in the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration in 2005.

The Kenyan foreign minister – who was the chair of the WTO General Council at the Hong Kong meeting – spoke about this puzzling change.

“What is the guarantee that the industrialised countries will implement the promises now made in the Bali agreement, particularly the provision of financial and technical assistance to implement the trade facilitation commitments, when they did not implement the commitments that were made eight years ago?” she remarked to IPS.

The Bali package included ten agreements. They comprise a binding agreement on trade facilitation and four descriptive items in agriculture such as general services, public stockholding for food security purposes, understanding the tariff rate quota administration provisions of agriculture products, and export competition.

In the development dossier, the Bali package offered non-binding best endeavor outcomes on preferential rules of origin for least developed countries, organisation for the waiver concerning preferential treatment to services, duty-free and quota-free market access, and a monitoring mechanism on special and differential treatment.

“We have only partly accommodated the concerns of the poorest countries,” said Davies. “The priority out to be on development and implementation issues in the coming days,” the South African minister emphasised.

India steadfastly pushed hard for strong language to ensure that the public stockholding programmes for food security continued without interruption until a permanent solution was arrived at.

Despite opposition from some major industrialised countries, including the United States, and also opposition from some developing countries, India managed to secure an interim mechanism that would last for four years during which there is a commitment to find a permanent solution. If there is no outcome within four years, the interim solution will be extended till members agree to a permanent outcome.

However, there are many notification and safeguard conditions that India and other developing countries will have to implement in order to avail themselves of the interim mechanism for food security. The U.S. said these conditions are essential to ensure that public stockholding programmes for food security in one country do not cause food insecurity in other countries.

The post-Bali work programme has admitted that there are glaring asymmetrical outcomes in the “Bali Package.” “Issues in the Bali Package where legally binding outcomes could not be achieved will be prioritised… Work on issues in the package that have not been fully addressed at this Conference will resume in the relevant Committees or Negotiating Groups of the WTO,” according to the Bali Ministerial Declaration.

In short, the developing and least-developed countries will have to carry their fight as there are no “legally binding outcomes” on any of their issues. That is the message from the Bali Ministerial meeting.

Also, the Bali meeting shall be remembered for the manner in which the developing and the poorest countries remained divided thanks to a grand strategy adopted by the Northern countries.

“Unless the developing world remains united it is highly unlikely that they will make progress on their issues in the next year, and this is even more true in a period when the North is going to push hard its new trade agenda,” said a trade minister who preferred not to be identified.

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Politicians’ Delay Means Climate Catastrophe for Malawi’s Poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/need-climate-change-policy-malawis-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=need-climate-change-policy-malawis-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/need-climate-change-policy-malawis-poor/#comments Thu, 12 Dec 2013 06:34:31 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129493 Delays in finalising Malawi’s climate change policy, which has been in the making for the last three years, are affecting millions of families living in disaster-prone areas across this southern African nation, says the country’s minister of environment and climate change management Halima Daudi. Daudi, who led the Malawian delegation to COP19 in Warsaw last […]

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Agnes Katete lights a fire in a make-shift camp. Behind her are the tents that she and those affected by the March flood in Malawi’s Kilipula Village now live in. Credit: Mabvuto Banda/IPS

Agnes Katete lights a fire in a make-shift camp. Behind her are the tents that she and those affected by the March flood in Malawi’s Kilipula Village now live in. Credit: Mabvuto Banda/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE, Dec 12 2013 (IPS)

Delays in finalising Malawi’s climate change policy, which has been in the making for the last three years, are affecting millions of families living in disaster-prone areas across this southern African nation, says the country’s minister of environment and climate change management Halima Daudi.

Daudi, who led the Malawian delegation to COP19 in Warsaw last month, tells IPS that the delay in drafting and making the policy operational comes at a cost to many of Malawi’s vulnerable.

“For example there is the GCF [Green Climate Finance] which needs us to come up with a governing instrument by establishing an authority designated to be the focal point to handle the funds and we cannot access that without a national policy on climate change,” she says.

For the last three years, the Malawian government, with the help of United Nations agencies, has been working on the National Climate Change Policy, a National Climate Change Investment Plan and a National Adaptation Plan to address medium- to long-term adaptation needs for Malawi.

William Chadza, executive director for the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy, a local civil society grouping, explains that “as a country we cannot access financing for adaptation without a well-articulated national climate policy and a national adaptation plan which needs to establish a body to specifically handle climate funds.”

Daudi agrees. “It’s very difficult for us to access such funds for adaptation and mitigation, which in the end increases the vulnerability of so many families to [the impact of] climate change,” she says.

But she explained the delays were ”due to [a lack of] funding for holding consultative meetings, and mainly because we don’t want to rush this. It’s a very important policy that will define our resolve against climate change. We are taking time on it.”

But Dora Marema, coordinator for GenderCC, a network of women and gender activists working for gender and climate justice, says that the delays in implementing the national climate policies in several African countries, including Malawi, is affecting hundreds of thousands of people reeling from the effects of climate change.

“It’s true that most countries are failing to access funds for adaptation because their policies are not in place and the impact is on the most vulnerable, especially women trying to recover from disasters associated with climate change,” Marema tells IPS.

And the longer it takes to implement Malawi’s climate change policy, the longer it will be before Agnes Katete and her family get back on their feet.

In March, a mountain of water came gushing through the only door in Katete’s dingy shack in the wee hours of the morning. The water swept away her house and 10 others in Kilipula Village in the lakeshore district of Karonga, which lies 600 km from the capital Lilongwe.

Katete, a mother of four, was lucky. She managed to escape unhurt with her children.

But like many others in her village, she lost her rice fields. And now, nine months after they lost everything; they are still unable to pull through.

Katete and many others from her village are still living in make shift homes set up by government and U.N. agencies, surviving on food handouts.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me and my children because another rainy season has started and I still don’t have a house. I lost all my income and I have no food,” she tells IPS.

Over the last five years, persistent droughts, flash floods and erratic rainfall show how vulnerable the country has become. This year alone, according to the department for disaster affairs, floods have affected close to 12,877 households and wiped out entire crop fields mainly in the northern and southern parts of the country.

In March 2012, flooding caused by two weeks of torrential rains destroyed thousands of homes in eight districts, leaving an estimated 300,000 people destitute, eight people dead and several missing.

The largest impact of climate change could be on Malawi’s agriculture sector, which is heavily dependent on rain-fed cultivation. The country has three million hectares of arable land.

Evans Njewa, an environmental policy and planning officer, tells IPS that one of the adaptation methods that Malawi plans to promote and create awareness on is traditional soil conservation. He explains that conservation agriculture, which involves reduced tillage, permanent soil cover and crop rotation, can help adapt to climate change effects because it potentially increases productivity through better soils and helps farmers adapt to climate change through better water retention.

“Like many other African countries, we are looking at adaptation as a priority in the National Climate Policy,” Njewa says, because as “a less industrialised country” it is easier “to [be able to] concentrate on mitigation.”

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The Nobel for Peace – an Expanding Scandal http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/nobel-peace-expanding-scandal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nobel-peace-expanding-scandal http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/nobel-peace-expanding-scandal/#comments Mon, 09 Dec 2013 11:24:48 +0000 Fredrik S. Heffermehl http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129402 In this column, Norwegian lawyer and author Fredrik S. Heffermehl, whose latest title is The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted http://www.nobelwill.org, writes that the Nobel Committee has failed to respect Alfred Nobel’s will.

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In this column, Norwegian lawyer and author Fredrik S. Heffermehl, whose latest title is The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted http://www.nobelwill.org, writes that the Nobel Committee has failed to respect Alfred Nobel’s will.

By Fredrik S. Heffermehl
OSLO, Dec 9 2013 (Columnist Service)

A March 2012 decision by the Swedish authority supervising foundations is a ticking box of dynamite under the Nobel Peace Prize. Even presented in an official, open document, the decision has not reached the general public and become the news story it actually is.

The order implies that the decision to award the 2013 Nobel to the bureaucrats enforcing the ban on chemical weapons, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), is illegal.

It is true, as the citation of OPCW mentions, that disarmament was important to Alfred Nobel. But why is it the secretive committee’s best-kept secret that Nobel´s will included a recipe for a weapons-free world?

Nobel did not believe in civilising war, reducing a weapon here and an army there; he was quite specific when, in his 1895 will, he described a prize for “the champions of peace” seeking to abolish all weapons in all nations, as an alternative to militarism and military forces. With terms like the “brotherhood of [disarmed] nations,” he used language that anyone familiar with the history of the peace movement will recognise.

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

Even though its secretary is a historian, the Norwegian Nobel Committee chooses to ignore that the kind of recipients Nobel had in mind were the Austrian baroness Bertha von Suttner, author of the bestseller “Lay Down Your Arms”, and her political friends.

In the last years of his life Nobel joined Suttner´s Society of Friends of Peace and gave substantial financial support to this Austrian society and the (still existing) International Peace Bureau, and – very important to understanding his purpose in setting up a peace prize – promised Suttner to “do something great” for her movement.

My book, “The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted”, (available in English, Chinese, Finnish, Swedish and Spanish) contains solid documentation of Nobel´s actual intentions, and shows that the Norwegian Parliament has misused the task Nobel entrusted to it: to appoint a five-member committee of persons devoted to Nobel´s peace plan.

For years, Norwegian politicians have used the prize to pursue their own ideas and purposes. Last year´s prize that went to the European Union, the 2009 prize for U.S. President Barack Obama, the 2010 prize for Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, the 2011 prize for Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – almost all of the prizes awarded in the last two decades have failed to respect Nobel´s will.

Instead of appointing a committee dedicated to the peace ideas described in the will Parliament is, with few exceptions, using the coveted seats as a bonus to reward retired parliamentarians. In Norway attitudes have shifted away from Nobel’s aims. Politicians strongly loyal to the U.S. and NATO are obviously unsuited to manage a prize for peace by disarmament, and the members ought to resign.

After six years I have to state that my conclusions are indisputable – and they have not in fact been disputed. But it is of little consequence. Norwegian politicians behave as if they were above the law and feel confident that the courts, as well as public authorities and the media, will let them get away with their mischief.

This is clearly illustrated by the fate of a complaint I lodged with the Swedish authority that supervises foundations. The Norwegian politicians did not like the idea of being scrutinised and told the Swedish authorities to back off, since “the Nobel Committee is independent and shall take orders from no one.”

The Swedish authority responded that this view was clearly incorrect, and in its order placed the Norwegian peace prize committee under Swedish control. It further expected the Swedish Nobel Foundation to supervise in order to ensure that its Norwegian subsidiary complied with the will. A sensational decision, in my view, that so far has not received any public attention.

My research makes it clear that the Norwegian awarders have never spent much time brooding over what Nobel must have intended. The description of the mandate in the will has been entirely forgotten. The secrets of the private diaries of Gunnar Jahn, a former committee chair (serving from 1942 to 1966), a unique and most revealing crack in the tight secrecy surrounding the committee´s work, confirm this.

Entries in the diaries, published for the first time in my book, show that all of Jahn´s attempts to remind the committee of Nobel and of the purpose of the prize fell flat, and that, despite a couple of threats to resign, Jahn put up with this for 24 years.

A 2001 article by the powerful committee secretary, Geir Lundestad, confirms that the committee feels full freedom to develop its own prize and even make its own definition of “peace” – obviously unaware of the legal obligation to check Nobel´s own description of who should be recipients of his prize!

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has many opportunities that permit unopposed dissemination of a falsified version of Nobel´s visionary prize. When challenged to debate the purpose in public, in the media, they do not respond or they refuse to offer honest arguments; it is either silence or nonsense.

One can only conclude that the Norwegian awarders (Parliament and the Nobel Committee) are adamantly unwilling to respect the law and Nobel´s intentions.

This experience affects my impression of Scandinavian democracy, of its media, public debate, and the integrity of our public authorities and the rule of law. It is a paradox of sorts that these are the very values that the Nobel Committee chair, Thorbjørn Jagland, has the primary responsibility for promoting in Europe as the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

The Norwegian government, always happy with the misuse of Nobel´s prize, is now seeking a new term for Jagland in the Council of Europe. When approached in the campaign for reelection, member countries should ask Jagland two vital questions.

First, does he acknowledge that by law a will is a binding legal instrument?

Second, what does he think about Nobel and does he understand that he intended his prize to support a new system of international relations, one without national armies?

They are not likely to hear expressions of regret. Whether Jagland continues to refuse to respond, or gives untrue answers, the member countries should draw their own conclusions.

(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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