Category Archives: Law

Moving to curtail rights abuses by companies


When it comes to power, think transnational corporations.

Back in March Foreign Policy published an excellent report on the power of the 21st Century corporation, including these observations:

Already, the cash that Apple has on hand exceeds the GDPs of two-thirds of the world’s countries. Firms are also setting the pace vis-à-vis government regulators in a perennial game of cat-and-mouse. After the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act to discourage banks from growing excessively big and catastrophe-prone. Yet while the law crushed some smaller financial institutions, the largest banks — with operations spread across many countries — actually became even larger, amassing more capital and lending less. Today, the 10 biggest banks still control almost 50 percent of assets under management worldwide. Meanwhile, some European Union officials, including Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, are pushing for a common tax-base policy among member states to prevent corporations from taking advantage of preferential rates. But if that happened (and it’s a very big if), firms would just look beyond the continent for metanational opportunities.

The world is entering an era in which the most powerful law is not that of sovereignty but that of supply and demand. As scholar Gary Gereffi of Duke University has argued, denationalization now involves companies assembling the capacities of various locations into their global value chains. This has birthed success for companies, such as commodities trader Glencore and logistics firm Archer Daniels Midland, that don’t focus primarily on manufacturing goods, but are experts at getting the physical ingredients of what metanationals make wherever they’re needed.

Could businesses go a step further, shifting from stateless to virtual? Some people think so. In 2013, Balaji Srinivasan, now a partner at the venture-capital company Andreessen Horowitz, gave a much debated talk in which he claimed Silicon Valley is becoming more powerful than Wall Street and the U.S. government. He described “Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit,” or the creation of “an opt-in society, ultimately outside the U.S., run by technology.” The idea is that because social communities increasingly exist online, businesses and their operations might move entirely into the cloud.

The U.N. ponders a move

Two years ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to begin the process of regulating the way transnational corporations impact human rights.

Here’s how the vote went:

  • In favor: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Venezuela, and Vietnam
  • Opposed: Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, South Korea, Romania, Macedonia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America
  • Abstained: Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Gabon, Kuwait, Maldives, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, and the United Arab Emirates

The idea has won the support of more than 80 countries, though Obama’s America remains firmly opposed.

The work continues.

From the latest report from the Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations of the United Nations Human Rights Council:

The most egregious business-related human rights abuses take place in conflict-affected areas and other situations of widespread violence. Human rights abuses may spark or intensify conflict, and conflict may in turn lead to further human rights abuses. The gravity of the human rights abuses demands a response, yet in conflict zones the international human rights regime cannot possibly be expected to function as intended. Such situations require that States take action as a matter of urgency, but there remains a lack of clarity among States with regard to what innovative, proactive and, above all, practical policies and tools have the greatest potential for preventing or mitigating business-related abuses in situations of conflict. In the present report, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises outlines a range of policy options that home, host and neighbouring States have, or could develop, to prevent and deter corporate-related human rights abuses in conflict contexts.

>snip<

States should warn business enterprises of the heightened risk of being involved with gross abuses of human rights in conflict-affected areas and clearly communicate their expectations with regard to business respect for human rights, even in such challenging environments. With few exceptions, States have yet to convey their expectations of business behaviour in situations of conflicts. Normally, States would convey such expectations through policies, laws and regulations. For example, in the area of anti-corruption, States in recent years have agreed upon and communicated their expectations regarding standards of business conduct with respect to bribery through international conventions and domestic policies and regulations. However, unlike anti-corruption, the existing legal and policy framework relevant to conflict-affected regions does not have a component that is specifically designed to deal with the problems of business involvement.

This lack of regulatory clarity limits the ability of States to engage or advise business enterprises regarding acceptable conduct in or connected to conflict-affected regions. Therefore, states should review whether their policies, legislation, regulations and enforcement measures effectively address the heightened risk of businesses operating in conflict situations being involved in gross human rights abuses, including through provisions for human rights due diligence by business. They should ensure that their regulatory frameworks are adequate, the applicability to business entities is clarified and, for the most extreme situation, make sure that the relevant agencies are properly resourced to address the problem of business involvement in international or transnational crimes, such as corruption, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Abby Martin interviews one of the measure’s architects

In this, the latest episode of Abby Martin’s series for teleSUR English, the San Francisco Bay Area native interviews a diplomat who played a seminal role in shaping the UN panel’s mandate.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Bringing Corporations to Justice with Ecuador’s UN Rep

Program notes:

For the first time ever, progress is being made at the United Nations for a binding legal instrument that would hold corporations accountable for human rights violations. Transnational corporations — many with larger economies than the countries they operate in — have enjoyed immunity from charges for destroying the environment and taking human lives. But Ecuador is leading a fight in the UN to create an international treaty and standards that can change this equation. At teleSUR’s studios in Quito, Abby Martin interviews Ecuador’s Permanent Representative to the UN and Chair of the negotiations for the binding instrument, María Fernanda Espinosa, about the need for this step.

Conventional Wisdom: Humor & Weimar America


As the GOP convention winds to a close, a video take on the event and the election.

We begin with a brutally frank assessment of the Republican convention from Lewis Black, during a guest sport on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

And he’s got the best idea yet on what to do with the two November contenders:

Lewis Black On The Election: “It’s A Social Experiment”

Program notes:

The comedian and star of “Back in Black” on Broadway suggests that by choosing between two deeply unpopular presidential candidates, voters are participating in a grand social experiment.

The election as emerging fascism fueled by both parties

Next up, a Paul Jay interview with journalist and former Berkeleyan Robert Scheer on the emerging fascism of Weimar America, and the way both parties have worked to bring it about.

From The Real News Network:

Robert Scheer: Neofascist Trump or Corporate Hawk Clinton Are No Choice at All

From the transcript:

JAY: So let’s start with question one. Is this just a kind of eccentric right populist, and another variance of the Republican Party? Or is this something that’s gone further into what you can call a new authoritarianism, developing neofascism, or such?

SCHEER: Well, it’s precisely a neofascism, and I think we should explain, particularly to younger people, what we mean by this. Because it’s not just throwing around some frightening word. But we’ve had this phenomenon. We have it right now in Europe. We have it where you’re–basically what you’re, what you had under the rise of Mussolini and Hitler, in Italy and Germany.

And what you’re really talking about is scapegoating real problems, there are real problems, you don’t get fascist movements taking over, rising to power, without people being in pain. Hurting. The economy in shambles, their aspirations are limited, they’re worried about their future. And we have a situation now in the United States that is increasingly resembling a kind of post-Weimar Germany. It’s neofascism, it’s not fascism. But basically, people are perplexed: why is life not getting better? Why is income disparity more glaring? Why did my $38 an hour job in [inaud.] or mining disappear, and now I have to work for $7, $8, $9 an hour. What about the benefits I thought I had? What about my ability to send my kid to college?

So we have lowered expectations in America. We have a great sense of pain. And it’s not, you know, just one region and one group of people. And it’s in that atmosphere that you can basically have one of two narratives to respond. You had the Bernie Sanders narrative that said yeah, we got real problems, here. Income inequality is getting worse. The good jobs are not there. The benefits are not there. And we’re going to propose a progressive alternative. And that’s why Bernie Sanders, you know, almost knocked Hillary Clinton out of the box, because Hillary Clinton represented the establishment that had enabled this kind of pain out there.

On the Republican side, Trump did something amazing. He wiped out the whole Republican establishment. He did it up from Maine to Alabama. And he was able to do it across the country because people are hurting. They’re not fools, they’re not desperate to back a fool. What they are desperate about is having a good life for their kids, for themselves, and they’re worried. And so this demagogue of the right comes along with a neofascist message, and by that I mean precisely blaming the undocumented worker, you know, blaming people who don’t have your religion, or gay people, or minorities, or something of that sort. Blaming them for the problems that people with power have caused.

And that’s the key ingredient of neofascism, is to distract people from the real origin of the problems, and make them think it’s the undocumented Mexican worker, which is absurd. They’re not the people who have destroyed housing in America. They’re not the people who did the collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps and all the junk that Goldman Sachs and others did that brought the economy down. And to blame some guy who’s crossed the border, or some woman who’s crossed the border and is trying to clean a house or help raise a kid there for your problems. . .is absurd.

And Michael Moore declares Trump will be the winner

And he gives a plausible rationale for his analysis in this special convention of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

Also featured in Tony Schwartz, the man who really wrote Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal and who has proclaimed that Trump’s victory in November would herald the end of civilization:

Bill Maher Live RNC Special Edition: July 20

Program notes:

Bill Maher and his guests – Michael Moore, Dan Savage, Joy Reid, and Tony Schwartz – discuss the 2016 Republican National Convention during this special edition of Real Time.

Paramilitaries assault striking Mexican teachers


A tweet from an activist on the scene captured the paramilitary in action.

A tweet from an activist on the scene captured the paramilitary in action.

The Mexican government’s battle against striking teachers from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE] heated up again Wednesday when armed thugs from state-backed paramilitaries joined in a police action against one of the roadblocks that have become the most powerful weapon of the action against neoliberal education “reforms.”

The assault came in the state of Chiapoas, and fatalities have been reported.

Meanwhile, strikers in another state, Michoacan, have taken the blockade action to the rails.

From teleSUR English:

Mexican State and municipal police accompanied by paramilitaries and hooded individuals with guns forcefully evacuated the only camp that civil society and teachers of the National Coordinator of Education Workers, CNTE, held in the state of Chiapas, Wednesday.

In a statement the CNTE said that 10 trucks loaded with a group of masked men came to the camp at highway San Cristóbal-Tuxtla Gutiérrez in Chiapas where about a hundred protesters were gathering before dispersing them with force. The CNTE was on high alert and reinstated its blockade soon after, according to student activist Omar Garcia.

There were reports that between one and two teachers were killed in the clashes and that two were detained. Videos circulating on social media website showed the masked men took part in cracking down on the protesting teachers, apparently with police permission. The news comes about a month after the Nochixtlan massacre claimed 12 lives in the state of Oaxaca.

Leaders of the CNTE have been protesting over the past few months against the neoliberal education reforms implemented in 2013 by President Enrique Peña Nieto

Railroads blockaded in Michoacan 

Elsewhere, striking teachers have extended their blockades to railroads, reports Fox News Latino:

Hundreds of striking teachers and their supporters effectively shut down the freight rail network in the western Mexican state of Michoacan on Wednesday.

Members of the militant CNTE union launched the protest around 8:30 a.m., blocking tracks with boulders, tree-trunks and even vehicles.

The blockades prevented the transport of thousands of freight containers from the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas, rail operator Kansas City Southern de Mexico said.

The state government urged the teachers to end the blockades and did not rule out the use of riot police to clear the rail lines by force.

Most of Michoacan’s 19,500 primary schools have been shut down since May 16 due to the CNTE strike, which is also having a major impact in several other states, including Oaxaca and Chiapas, where teachers and their allies have blocked highways.

Headline of the day II: And so it continues. . .


Form the Washington Post:

Fla. police shoot black man with his hands up as he tries to help autistic patient

Charles Kinsey was trying to retrieve a young autistic man who had wandered away from an assisted living facility and was blocking traffic when Kinsey was shot by a North Miami police officer.

Chart of the day II: U.S.A., we’re number one!


From the Prison Policy Initiative:

BLOG Prison

U.S.: Give land to indigenous people to save it


How incredibly sensible.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Indigenous people are better than governments at preventing forests from being cut and should be seen as a solution, not a barrier to protecting them, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People said on Tuesday.

Indigenous peoples and communities have claims to two thirds of the world’s land but are legally recognised as holding only 10 percent, according to think tank World Resources Institute (WRI).

Without title deeds, indigenous communities may find their land is taken over for major development projects such as palm oil plantations and logging.

“Society thinks that indigenous peoples are claiming land that they shouldn’t be having because it should be used for expanded food production,” U.N. Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But giving indigenous peoples rights to land was a guarantee that forests, which store carbon and contribute to food security would continue to exist, Tauli-Corpuz said.

Peña pushes on with ‘reforms,’ U.N urges talks


Plus the rising impact of ablockades and the latest violence. . .

The government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is pushing ahead with its neoliberal corporation-enriching educational “reforms,” and refusing to meaningfully engage with the striking teachers of Southern Mexico.

Teachers are striking in a region with a high population of indigenous peoples, where historically resistance to the central government has been strong.

And it’s important to remember that those 43 missing students kidnaped on the night of 26 September 2014 were attending the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College, and had planned to teacher in villages in the region now most deeply affected by the strike by members of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE], and not the government’s pet union, the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE.

The latest on the government’s plans from teleSUR English:

Another round of negotiations between dissident Mexican teachers and government officials has ended without an agreement after the Ministry of Education refused to call off plans to announce a new education model on Wednesday, a move the national union argued proves that authorities are not taking seriously their demands to cancel neoliberal education reforms, local media reported.

Leaders of the National Coordinator of Education Workers, better known as the CNTE, characterized the nearly six-hour meeting dedicated to discussing education issues on Tuesday as tense and without agreements, while Undersecretary of Basic Education Javier Treviño Cantu described it as “successful.”

The CNTE accused the government of waging a “two-lane manoeuvre” in which authorities continue holding talks with the national dissident union to manage the conflict — which reached fever pitch when police violently cracked down on protesters in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca, one month ago   — while also plowing ahead with education policy plans that only take into account the opinions of the more government-friendly teachers union, the SNTE, La Jornada reported.

Both Education Minister Aurelio Nuño and Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong failed to attend the meeting, according to EFE. Nuño has been recalcitrant throughout the negotiations, refusing to engage in dialogue with the CNTE unless the union accepts President Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2013 education reform. Osorio Chong, on the other hand, has attended previous sessions, though teachers have criticized his lack of political will and interest in the process.

According to members of the CNTE, the new education model Nuño is set to announce at 11:00 a.m. local time on Wednesday excludes the dissident union due to lack of consultation.

The UN urges Peña to negotiate with the CNTE

While the government has been holding inconclusive meetings with the CNTE, the real talks have been with the CNTE, and a new voice has been added to the chorus calling on the central government to talk with strikers from the CNTE.

Government World reports:

The head of the United Nations forum on indigenous issues today urged Mexican officials to meet with a wing of the national union of teachers to resolve the conflict in the southern state of Oaxaca, where violent protests over education took at least six lives.

“I would like to express my absolute rejection and condemnation of the events that took place on 19 and 20 June this year in Asuncion Nochixtlán and neighbouring municipalities in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico,” said Alvaro Pop, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

In addition to the people killed, more than 100 were injured in protests that followed President Enrique Peña Nieto’s changes to the education system.

The group that is protesting the changes is known as the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), an offshoot of the national teacher’s union.

In today’s statement, Mr. Pop urges the Government to dialogue in an “effective, participatory and mutually respectful manner” with the CNTE “to find a solution that respects national and international obligations undertaken by Mexico to promote and protect the rights of its indigenous peoples.”

Strikers impact the economy

One of the most effective tactics adopted by the strikers is to erect blockades in an effort to force the government to come to the bargaining table.

And now the Yucatan Times reports that the roadblocks are beginning to bite:

A delegation from the coastal city of Puerto Escondido called on the offices of the Interior Secretariat (Segob) in Mexico City to issue a plea for help.

“We cannot put up with the teachers’ blockades any more,” said spokesman Abraham Clavel, who operates a transportation service in the city. “They are strangling the state of Oaxaca. Puerto Escondido is under siege; there are no tourists.”

Government officials were told that 3,000 people have lost their jobs in the city and that hotel occupancy is less than 20% despite this being the high season for domestic tourism.

Clavel also said there have been fuel and food shortages caused by the blockades. “We’re fed up with always being put under siege,” he declared, claiming that the situation was “a disaster.”

He said combined losses in the region were running at 7.5 million pesos, or US $400,000, per day, and if the protests continue over the next few weeks another 3,000 people will be laid off by businesses in Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, Mazunte, Zipolite and Chacahua.

Violent confrontations continue

The Ayotzinapa students were kidnaped after the commandeered buses ot take them to a political rally, upsetting the wife of the mayor of Iguala, the real power in the local community rather than her spouse.

The students were then ambushed by a coalition of local and federal law enforcement, abetted by cartel gunslingers, who are widely suspected of subsequently killing all the students.

The latest round of violence erupted after another bus commandeering, reports Fox News Latino:

Students and teachers burnt three buses and a truck in the western Mexican state of Michoacan as part of a drive to pressure the government to hire 1,200 graduates from teacher training colleges.

In addition, the protesters have stolen 143 heavy vehicles including passenger buses, cargo trucks, fuel transportation trucks and tractor-trailers in the past few days.

The Secretariat of Public Security (Spanish: SSP) of Michoacan reported that the incident took place at 2 p.m. local time (7 p.m. GMT) when students and teachers burnt three buses crossing the Uruapan-Patzcuaro highway, near Morelia, capital of the state, up to the town of San Juan Tumbio, where they detained 15 passenger trucks.

Riot police prevented teachers and students from torching the remaining 12 buses, although the protesters managed to set fire to a Coca-Cola delivery truck on the Zacapu-Zamora highway.