Category Archives: Resources

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.

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.

Quantifying climate change economic impacts


No one doubts [well, except for lots of Republicans] that climate change is upon us, and that it will cause a great many changes to the planet we inhabit.

While we’re all acquainted that things are set to get hotter and drier for most of us, and that seas are rising, those are just some of the broader impacts.

But we many be less aware that profound economic changes lie ahead, and they’ll be very costly indeed.

New research tries to set a price tag on some of them.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Rising temperatures caused by climate change may cost the world economy over $2 trillion in lost productivity by 2030 as hot weather makes it unbearable to work in some parts of the world, according to U.N. research published on Tuesday.

It showed that in Southeast Asia alone, up to 20 percent of annual work hours may already be lost in jobs with exposure to extreme heat with the figures set to double by 2050 as the effects of climate change deepen.

Across the globe, 43 countries will see a fall in their gross domestic product (GDP) due to reduced productivity, the majority of them in Asia including Indonesia, Malaysia, China, India and Bangladesh, researcher Tord Kjellstrom said.

Indonesia and Thailand could see their GDP reduced by 6 percent in 2030, while in China GDP could be reduced by 0.8 percent and in India by 3.2 percent.

Resisting the Greek capitulation to the banksters


Greek’s have seen austerity at its worst, inflicted by the joint powers of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

The austerians are acting in the interest of the banks of Germany and France, lending institutions that bankrolled arms deals that profited the military/industrial complexes of the lender nations.

While Greek official corruption was clearly involved in some of the deals, the bribe payments came from German companies eager for profits from the sale of weapon systems, warships, and other materiel necessary for the new Cold War.

A succession of Greek governments signed off on massive cuts in public salaries and pensions, restrictions on the national public health system, and the sell-off of ports, railroads, islands, and other public assets.

Finally, the Greek people said “Enough!,” and in and in January 2015, they voted in a new government headed by a previously marginal party, a coalition of the Left named Syriza [previously], swept to power on a platform calling for an end of the payments.

With party leader Alexis Tsipras becoming chancellor, Syriza seemed on track to mount the first real resistance to the ave of austerity programs imposed on nations of Ireland and Southern Europe in the wake of the crash caused by the institutional corruption of Wall Street and the City of London.

Seven months after taking power, Syriza called a referendum on the issue of whether or not Greece should accept the latest austerity mandates from the Troika. When the votes were tallied, 61 percent of the Greek electorate declared no to further austerity.

Two months later the leaders of the anti-austerity movement were gone, and Tsipras was ready to surrender once again.

In this interview with The Real News Network, one of those leaders talks about those critical events, and the launch of a new party to continue the resistance to the money lord of the North:

Odious Debt and the Betrayal of the Popular Will in Greece

From the transcript:

DIMITRI LASCARIS, TRNN: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting from Lesbos, Greece, for The Real News.

This week, The Real News is in Lesbos to cover the Crossing Borders Conference on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

This afternoon we’re joined by Zoe Konstantopoulou. Zoe Konstantopoulou is the former speaker of the Greek Parliament. She was elected to that position in February of last year with a record number of votes from her fellow MPs, including, surprisingly, the support of the right-wing New Democracy Party. But her tenure as speaker of the Greek Parliament was short-lived. Her position was vacated in October of last year after the SYRIZA government decided to implement an austerity program that was even more severe than [the one that] over 60 percent of the population of Greece had rejected in a referendum in July of last year.

>snip<

LASCARIS: Now, last year, after the referendum in which over 60 percent of the Greek population effectively voted to reject an austerity program that was even less severe than what was ultimately implemented, the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, called a snap election and there was a rebellion of the left wing of the SYRIZA party, and they formed another party called Popular Unity, which I understand you supported in the election that was held in September.

KONSTANTOPOULOU: I cooperated as an independent candidate with Popular Unity.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Rousseff’s allies seek dismissal of impeachment


Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was ousted in a legislative coup by ultra-conservative national legislators who imposed a regime which is busily selling off national assets and privatizing the landscape.

But the charges they lodged against Rousseff are falling apartment, and without an impeachment based on criminal charges, the whole coup is in danger of falling apart in Rousseff’s allies win a dismissal.

The latest development from teleSUR English:

Leftist senators from Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party are pushing to discontinue the impeachment process against the president after the Office of the Public Prosecutor found that she did not break the law in her handling of the public budget.

The Office of the Public Prosecutor said Thursday that Rousseff had not committed a crime by manipulating the government’s budget accounts and called for the criminal investigation to be shelved.

The report by Ivan Claudio Marx, who serves as prosecutor of the republic, said that the maneuvers practiced by Rousseff, wherein the presidency delayed payments to state banks, were a violation of the contract between the government and the banks but not a crime.

These maneuvers were widely employed by previous presidents, none of whom were subject to an impeachment process as a result.

The Brazilian Constitution states that the president may only be impeached if they have committed a “crime de responsabilidade” or a serious crime. Marx specified that the maneuvers practiced by Rousseff did not constitute a serious crime.

Although the report is not legally binding on the impeachment process, Rousseff’s budget maneuvers were widely cited as the reason why the president was being impeached by her political nemeses.

Maps of the day: Blindness and those who treat it


Cartograms of blindness from Views of the World, the blog of Oxford University’s Benjamin Hennig, a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Geography and the Environment, with boundaries of nations redrawn in the upper map to reflect each country’s relative share of the world’s sightless population and the lower map reflecting the presence of opthamologists, physicians trained in disorders of the eye:

BLOG Blindness

Biodiversity plunges, and human action is to blame


Two new major studies examine the alarming loss of species on Planet Earth directly attributable to human action, action, and the results are, as you may expect, alarming.

And with the acceleration of global climate change, the outlook for the future looks increasingly grim.

Percentages of original species still surviving after the introduction off modern agriculture.

Percentages of original species still surviving after the advent of Homo sapiens.

The first study takes a broad look at the impacts of all human action on biodiversity.

From University College London:

Levels of global biodiversity loss may negatively impact on ecosystem function and the sustainability of human societies, according to UCL-led research.

“This is the first time we’ve quantified the effect of habitat loss on biodiversity globally in such detail and we’ve found that across most of the world biodiversity loss is no longer within the safe limit suggested by ecologists” explained lead researcher, Dr Tim Newbold from UCL and previously at UNEP-WCMC.

“We know biodiversity loss affects ecosystem function but how it does this is not entirely clear. What we do know is that in many parts of the world, we are approaching a situation where human intervention might be needed to sustain ecosystem function.”

The team found that grasslands, savannas and shrublands were most affected by biodiversity loss, followed closely by many of the world’s forests and woodlands. They say the ability of biodiversity in these areas to support key ecosystem functions such as growth of living organisms and nutrient cycling has become increasingly uncertain.

The study, published today in Science [$30 for one-day access to the article], led by researchers from UCL, the Natural History Museum and UNEP-WCMC, found that levels of biodiversity loss are so high that if left unchecked, they could undermine efforts towards long-term sustainable development.

For 58.1% of the world’s land surface, which is home to 71.4% of the global population, the level of biodiversity loss is substantial enough to question the ability of ecosystems to support human societies. The loss is due to changes in land use and puts levels of biodiversity beyond the ‘safe limit’ recently proposed by the planetary boundaries – an international framework that defines a safe operating space for humanity.

“It’s worrying that land use has already pushed biodiversity below the level proposed as a safe limit,” said Professor Andy Purvis of the Natural History Museum, London, who also worked on the study. “Decision-makers worry a lot about economic recessions, but an ecological recession could have even worse consequences – and the biodiversity damage we’ve had means we’re at risk of that happening. Until and unless we can bring biodiversity back up, we’re playing ecological roulette.”

The team used data from hundreds of scientists across the globe to analyse 2.38 million records for 39,123 species at 18,659 sites where are captured in the database of the PREDICTS project. The analyses were then applied to estimate how biodiversity in every square kilometre land has changed since before humans modified the habitat.

They found that biodiversity hotspots – those that have seen habitat loss in the past but have a lot of species only found in that area – are threatened, showing high levels of biodiversity decline. Other high biodiversity areas, such as Amazonia, which have seen no land use change have higher levels of biodiversity and more scope for proactive conservation.

“The greatest changes have happened in those places where most people live, which might affect physical and psychological wellbeing. To address this, we would have to preserve the remaining areas of natural vegetation and restore human-used lands,” added Dr Newbold.

The team hope the results will be used to inform conservation policy, nationally and internationally, and to facilitate this, have made the maps from this paper and all of the underlying data publicly available.

Animal species lost because of agricultural production

Species loss due to agricultural production.

Species loss due to agricultural production.

A second major study, this time conducted under the auspices of the European Commission: look at species loss specifically related to agricultural production.

The results are equally alarming.

From the European Commission:

In the past 500 years, over 300 vertebrate species have gone extinct, and many more are under threat of extinction — causing a lamentable decline in the variety of life on the planet. Biodiversity provides important benefits, from pollination to nutrient cycling, that are vital for human health and the economy. There is, therefore, an urgent need to address the causes of biodiversity loss.

Agriculture is a major driver of biodiversity decline. As the world’s economies are become more and more connected, international flows of crops and their products are increasing and it is important to understand the environmental effect of these changes.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading