International Affairs

Ethiopia: PM Desalegn Slams Businesses Over Tax, Corruption - Tue, 22 Aug 2017
[Addis Fortune] Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, in the latest consultative meeting between the government and private businesses, scolded the private sector mainly on the issue of corruption and taxes, which were talking points in the country over the past month.

Tanzania: Govt, EU Deal To Boost Sunflower Oil Production - Tue, 22 Aug 2017
[Citizen] Dar es Salaam -Tanzania is on an ambitious mission of becoming an industrial economy by 2025 and edible oil production is among the key areas that need a fresh impetus.

Zimbabwe: White Farmers in Fresh International Legal Bid Against Mugabe - Tue, 22 Aug 2017
[New Zimbabwe] DISPOSSESSED white commercial farmers have launched a new international legal initiative against President Robert Mugabe and his government "to seek justice and compensation" for the loss of their farms and livelihoods.

Africa: Internet Speeds, Volumes Up but Bar Just Keeps Getting Higher - Tue, 22 Aug 2017
[Balancing Act] London -Recent data shows African Internet speeds that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. But with the arrival of video content, the bar for the speeds required just keeps slipping beyond reach. A slew of recent data highlights the challenges and the increasing volume of data that Africa's networks are carrying. Russell Southwood picks his way through the numbers.

Kenya: Former Foreign Minister's Widow Dies in Road Crash - Tue, 22 Aug 2017
[Nation] The widow of former Foreign Affairs Minister Robert Ouko has died in road crash in Kisumu County.


Adrift in Afghanistan - Wed, 03 May 2017

As the war in Afghanistan drifts back into the public spotlight, Senior Fellow Gayle Tzemach Lemmon argues that five “urgent questions must be answered about the near- and long-term future of the fight.” The United States must clarify its definition of stability and success in Afghanistan, determine whether the Taliban, ISIS, or both is the enemy, discuss how many troops are needed on the ground, and create plans for stemming the loss of life among Afghan forces and for bringing an end to the war.

Making Chile Great Again - Wed, 03 May 2017

Since its return to democracy in 1990, Chile has been heralded as Latin America’s exception, writes Shannon O’Neil. But in the present, “this tranquillity has come to an end, and the economic and social consensus of the postauthoritarian years has crumbled.”

A Vision of Trump at War - Wed, 22 Mar 2017

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Philip Gordon offers a vision of howPresident Trump could stumble—through bluster, wishful thinking, and miscalculation—into war with Iran, China, and North Korea.

World Order 2.0 - Wed, 15 Feb 2017

There is growing tension between President Trump’s America First doctrine and building order in an interconnected world, writes CFR President Richard N. Haass.

Egypt’s Nightmare - Mon, 13 Feb 2017

The single-minded pursuit of the Muslim Brotherhood has become the guiding principle of Egypt’s foreign and domestic policies, writes CFR’s Steven A. Cook. These policies, however, are proving counterproductive and destabilizing to the lives of Egyptians as well as Gazans, Libyans, and Syrians.


Issue Guide: Fidel Castro - Sat, 26 Nov 2016

Fidel Castro, who died on November 25, was one of the most prominent figures of the Cold War and an adversary of ten consecutive U.S. presidential administrations. This reading list considers the legacy of his nearly fifty years in power, including the Cuban Missle Crisis, the U.S. economic embargo, and the years following the Cold War.

Iran Nuclear Deal’s ‘Implementation Day’ - Sun, 17 Jan 2016

The confirmation by UN monitors that Iran has complied with the deal to dismantle large parts of its nuclear program lifts major sanctions and ushers in a new era for the Middle East. This issue guide offers analysis and background.

Issue Guide: 2016 State of the Union Address - Mon, 11 Jan 2016

Catch up on the issues President Obama will focus on in his final year with this State of the Union reading list.

Issue Guide: Iran Nuclear Talks - Fri, 26 Jun 2015

As the deadline looms for the completion of a deal to limit Iran's nuclear program, this issue guide provides background on the diplomatic progress and stumbling blocks, and possible consequences of an agreement.

Issue Guide: Greece's Debt Crisis - Mon, 15 Jun 2015

Five years after the onset of its sovereign debt crisis, Greece once again finds itself on the precipice of default and a departure from the nineteen-member eurozone. This reading list provides expert background and analysis of the crisis.


Dredging freeze at Brazil port forces ships to offload - Sun, 20 Aug 2017
Creaking infrastructure poses challenge for agricultural sector exports

Venezuela’s economic and political crisis in charts - Tue, 25 Jul 2017
Protests come against a backdrop of sliding living standards and rising corruption

Cuba courted in diplomatic push on Venezuela crisis - Sun, 16 Jul 2017
Colombian president flies to Havana to seek support for regional initiative

Canada raises rates for first time since 2010 - Wed, 12 Jul 2017

Brazil to slip back into recession, data suggest - Fri, 30 Jun 2017
South Africa also struggling to recover, while Nigeria’s prospects look brighter


Provident Financial shares dive on new profit warning - Tue, 22 Aug 2017
Shares plummet by an even worse 67% after it says it will lose £80m to £120m over a faltering shake-up.

Government runs July budget surplus for first time in 15 years - Tue, 22 Aug 2017
No government borrowing was needed in July, but borrowing so far this year is £1.9bn above 2016.

Dominic Chappell to be prosecuted over BHS collapse - Tue, 22 Aug 2017
Dominic Chappell, who faces charges, bought the department store chain the year before it collapsed.

Lidl tops Waitrose to become UK's seventh biggest grocer - Tue, 22 Aug 2017
German chain's market share is now 5.2%, a 0.7% year-on-year increase, due to demand from families.

HMRC to offer compensation for childcare site issues - Tue, 22 Aug 2017
Parents may be eligible for recompense if they were unable to apply for tax-free childcare online.


France Should Face up to Azerbaijan’s Rights Record - Tuesday, March 1

In Paris this week on an official visit, Azerbaijan’s autocratic President Ilham Aliyev has already scored one photo op. Anyone reading yesterday’s Azeri media could see dozens of photos of Aliyev posing with leaders of top French companies, including Airbus, Suez, and Credit Agricole.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (L) shakes hands with his French counterpart Francois Hollande as they visit a local French school under construction in Baku, May 11, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

Today, President Hollande will receive President Aliyev and host an official dinner at Palais de l’Elysee. Again, Parisian photo ops abound. But amid the flashing cameras, one has to wonder where Azerbaijan’s repression of critics and the jailing of opponents fits in the new relationship between Paris and Baku?

In the past few years, Azerbaijani authorities have aggressively gone after the country’s once vibrant civil society, jailing dozens of activists, journalists, and political opponents. It also adopted draconian legislation making it virtually impossible for independent non-governmental organizations to operate.

One year ago, as Azerbaijan’s economy started to suffer from falling oil prices, several of those detained on political grounds were released. That was an important first step, but hopes for progress were short-lived.

Many of those released face travel bans or obstacles to their activities. Dozens are still locked up on political grounds, including opposition activist Ilgar Mammadov, despite repeated calls by the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe for his immediate release. And more activists have been thrown in jail. Recently, one of the country’s most popular journalists and bloggers, Mehman Huseynov, was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly defaming the police, in response to his brave public denouncement of the police abuses he suffered.

When visiting Paris, Brussels, or other European capitals, President Aliyev hopes to get more business opportunities and investment in Azerbaijan. But he prefers to ignore that the people of Azerbaijan want human rights protections, transparency, and good governance. Those standing up for these values are routinely exposed to attacks and harassment.

Yet what more clear message that Azerbaijan’s crackdown cannot be ignored by potential investors than last week’s decision by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international coalition promoting better governance of resource-rich countries, to suspend Azerbaijan – precisely because of its actions against civil society.

President Hollande should reject a narrative that only finance and economy matter in Azerbaijan. Human rights should be as central to France’s foreign policy as other topics.

Hollande should publicly call for the release of Ilgar Mammadov and all those detained in retaliation for their activism and criticism. A failure to explicitly support human rights principles would be the worst message to those unjustly waiting behind bars.

Arvind Ganesan - Monday, May 25,

Arvind Ganesan is the director of Human Rights Watch’s Business and Human Rights Division. He leads the organization’s work to expose human rights abuses linked to business and other economic activity, hold institutions accountable, and develop standards to prevent future abuses. This work has included research and advocacy on awide range of issues includingthe extractive industries; public and private security providers; international financial institutions; freedom of expression and information through the internet; labor rights; supply chain monitoring and due diligence regimes; corruption; sanctions; and predatory practices against the poor. Ganesan’s work has covered countries such as Angola, Azerbaijan, Burma, China, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, India, Indonesia, the United States, and Nigeria. His recent research has focused on predatory lending practices and governance issues on Native American reservations in the United States. He has written numerous reports, op-eds, and other articles and is widely cited by the media.

Ganesan has also worked to develop industry standards to ensure companies and other institutions respect human rights. He is a founder of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights for the oil, gas, and mining industries and is a founding member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI) for the internet and telecommunications industries, where he also serves on the board. Ganesan has helped to develop standards for international financial institutions such as the World Bank, and regularly engages governments in an effort to develop mandatory rules or strengthen existing standards such as the Kimberley Process. He serves on the board of EGJustice, a nongovernmental organization that promotes good governance in Equatorial Guinea, and is a member of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)’s steering committee.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Ganesan worked as a medical researcher. He attended the University of Oklahoma.

IMF’s Initial Steps on Corruption Issue - Friday, August 4

The International Monetary Fund is best known for doling out financial advice to governments and supporting programs that it believes will improve the country’s financial health, even when the reforms it recommends are a bitter pill for a government to swallow. But it frequently avoids the politically sensitive issue of corruption, despite its 1997 commitment tackle corruption as essential to fulfilling its mandate.

In a new paper, published on August 2, the IMF acknowledges some of these gaps, recognizing its approach to corruption as “uneven” and often couched in “indirect language.” It promises to be the first step in rethinking how it addresses corruption, rightly recognizing that systemic corruption poses a direct threat to sustainable and inclusive growth, contributes to the neglect of health and education, and exacerbates inequality.

Last month, Human Rights Watch published a report showing how the IMF can blind itself to the corrosive effect of corruption on a country’s financial and social systems. The report examines the nefarious impact of corruption on health and education in Equatorial Guinea – a country that consistently ranks among the most corrupt in the world.

IMF reports on the oil-rich country have repeatedly called on the government to curb its wild spending on infrastructure projects of questionable social utility, and instead invest its dwindling resources in social projects such as health and education. While identifying the symptoms of corruption in detail, the reports stop short of examining the permissive laws, lack of oversight, and perverse financial conflicts of interest that are incentives for such lopsided government spending. Moreover, the IMF included government statistics showing a steep decline in poverty, while admitting to us that the data had “significant methodological weaknesses.”

The IMF should also ensure that more controversial elements of governments’ economic conduct are never left out of its analysis or programs, including when the military or military-owned businesses are involved. For example, the IMF did not address the lack of transparency and accountability with respect to Egypt’s military budget when agreeing to a $12 billion loan, despite the central role the military plays in Egypt’s economy.

Recognizing the central role that journalists and activists play in exposing corruption, the IMF should also draw on the work of experts to acknowledge barriers independent groups face in investigating and reporting on corruption without reprisal.

Without question, the IMF should do more to promote better government regulations and transparency to fight corruption. Improving its reporting is the right place to start.

A Peek Behind the World Bank’s Mask - Tuesday, August

The World Bank is funding half a billion dollars in agricultural projects linked to forced and child labor in Uzbekistan. Under the loan agreements, the Uzbek government is required to comply with laws prohibiting forced and child labor, and the World Bank can suspend the loans if there is credible evidence of violations.

 

On June 27 we released a joint report documenting forced and child labor linked to the World Bank’s agriculture projects in Uzbekistan. We hoped it would cause bank officials to rethink their approach. But then the bank’s country team inadvertently left an internal conversation on our voicemail. Oops! It revealed their ultimate goal: to protect the bank from external pressure and get new agriculture projects through their executive board “unscathed,” as one of the voices on the phone said. He went on: “We want to avoid any more stuff that goes out that says ‘oh and look [a board member is] really taking this seriously, now they’re going to call for a full board hearing.”

The country team’s strategy seems to have paid off. On June 30 the bank’s executive board approved yet another loan benefiting Uzbekistan’s cotton sector, which is at the center of the government’s forced labor system. The Australian constituency opposed the US$145 million irrigation project, and the United States, United Kingdom, and Nordic/Baltic constituency abstained. But the remainder of the board, including self-styled labor rights champions Canada, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, supported it.

13-year-old boy picking cotton in a World Bank project area, Ellikkala, Karakalpakstan, under orders from his school during the 2016 harvest. In Ellikkala, officials from at least two schools ordered 13 and 14-year-old children to pick cotton after school.  

© 2016 UGF

The “strategic story line” to which the country team agreed on the call was to highlight to the board the bank’s role in reducing child labor in cotton, which according to them wouldn’t have happened “without the World Bank being involved,” and dismiss our research as “old news.”

But our research found that the Uzbek government is still forcing kids as young as 10 to work in 4 regions, including in a World Bank project area and one of the regions of the new project. And the bank can hardly take credit for the reduction in child labor since the greatest progress was made in the fall of 2012 and 2013, when the bank was still ignoring the problem.

In addition to cynically plotting to dismiss our research rather than respond to it, staff planned to point the board to “a lot of progress” since we undertook the research in 2015 and 2016. But the report, which we wrote with our partner organization the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, details abuses until the close of last year’s harvest season. The Forum has continued to document forced and child labor this spring, and the next harvest does not begin until September. Any progress that the bank can point to since the end of last harvest can only be rhetorical in nature, when the real measure should be what is happening on the ground.

The bank’s new irrigation project is akin to an ongoing project in the west of the country, where we found that the government forced adults and children to harvest cotton in 2015 and 2016, as well as to weed the fields and plant cotton in the spring of 2016. These abuses took place on the bank’s project area, contrary to the government’s loan agreement with the bank. The country team noted on the call that this existing irrigation project hasn’t even gotten off the ground due to “very serious procurement issues.” But even the combination of human rights abuses and operational failures were not enough to convince the bank to hold off on a new, similar project.

Just prior to the message ending, I hear a voice I recognized say, “Why does this keep ringing, or trying to dial? Oh Jessica Evans on speed dial, that’s a frightening prospect.” I hate to be the staff’s nightmare, and I suppose one can understand the project staff feeling an urge to downplay rights abuses when the institution’s incentives reward getting money out the door above all else. But the World Bank president, Jim Kim, should turn this around. Instead of sending good money after bad, the bank should immediately suspend its agriculture investments in Uzbekistan, while supporting reforms to halt the Uzbek government’s use of forced labor to harvest its cotton.

The World Bank’s Investment in Forced Labor - Monday, July 17,

The World Bank president, Jim Kim, said last year that he was going to re-orient the institution, declaring, “We have to make growth more equitable.” But the World Bank’s investments in Uzbekistan tell a different story. The Bank has loaned more than half a billion dollars to Uzbekistan’s agriculture sector in recent years, while fully aware that the cotton harvest relies on a massive government program of forced labor and that cotton profits are largely swallowed up by opaque government accounts. It is difficult to imagine how any growth stemming from the World Bank’s current agriculture investments will benefit Uzbekistan’s poor.

For several weeks in the fall of 2015, government officials forced a 47-year-old grandmother to pick cotton in an area where the World Bank is lending the Uzbek government US$260.79 million to rejuvenate the irrigation system. Cotton is grown on more than 50 percent of the arable land within this project area. The local neighborhood council threatened to withhold child welfare benefits for the woman’s grandson if she did not work in the fields. The government’s abusive practices are not confined to adults. During the 2016 harvest government officials forced children as young as 10 to work in the cotton fields.

As the fifth-largest cotton producer in the world, Uzbekistan generates an estimated $1 billion in revenue, or about a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, from one million tons of cotton fiber annually. These funds go into an extra-budgetary account in the Ministry of Finance that is not open to public scrutiny and is controlled by high-level officials.

Our new research, along with the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, shows that the Uzbek government forced enormous numbers of students, teachers, medical workers, other government employees, private-sector employees, and sometimes children to harvest cotton in 2015 and 2016, as well as to weed the fields and plant cotton in the spring of 2016. The Uzbek-German Forum estimates that the government forces more than a million people to work in the cotton fields every year. Withholding welfare benefits is just one of the penalties the Uzbek government has used for anyone who tries to avoid forced labor in the cotton fields. Through employers, tax authorities, local government officials, schools, and others, the government has threatened to fire people, close down small businesses, and expel students.

People living in poverty are particularly susceptible to forced labor, since they can’t risk losing their jobs or benefits by refusing to work and can’t afford to pay people to work in their place. At the same time, the forced labor system grossly undermines the education system, which the World Bank has also heavily invested in, with teachers forced to take time off from the classroom each year to work in the cotton fields and classes sometimes suspended for weeks. “Our students are becoming less and less educated,” one teacher told us. “The situation is the same in colleges. Students who want to continue their education must hire private tutors.”

One condition of the Bank’s irrigation project was that the government comply with laws prohibiting forced and child labor within the project area. If it did not, the Bank could suspend the loan. But the Uzbek government flouted this condition, and the World Bank continued business as usual. Instead of suspending its loan following the 2015 harvest, which was defined by forced labor and attacks on human rights defenders who tried to document these abuses, the World Bank increased its investments in Uzbekistan’s agriculture industry through its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

In December 2015 the IFC agreed to loan Indorama Kokand Textile, a leading cotton yarn producer in Uzbekistan, $40 million to expand its textile plant. Given the scale of forced labor in Uzbekistan and its systemic nature, it is highly unlikely that a company, which uses only cotton from Uzbekistan, could find any significant quantity that has not been harvested, at least in part, by forced laborers, not to mention the significant risk that child labor is involved.

Earlier this year, Kim emphasized that the bank needs to ask itself, “What’s in the best interest of poor countries and poor people? … And do these investments align with our core values: access, inclusion, and equality?” But despite his thoughtful words, the World Bank’s investments in Uzbekistan help prop up a system that violates people’s rights — and particularly the rights of people living in poverty. The bank should immediately suspend these investments, and only resume them once the forced-labor system is dismantled.

Jessica Evans leads Human Rights Watch’s work on international financial institutions

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