International Affairs

South Africa: Ramaphosa Slams Ombud's Central Bank Plan - Sat, 24 Jun 2017
[News24Wire] Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has slammed Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's suggestion that the Constitution be amended to change the mandate of the SA Reserve Bank.

South Africa: Brown Looks Set to Free Eskom From State Capture - Sat, 24 Jun 2017
[News24Wire] The signals are clear that Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown will on Friday inject fresh leadership with no links to state capture at power utility Eskom.

South Africa: Brown Unveils New Interim Eskom Board - Sat, 24 Jun 2017
[News24Wire] Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown has unveiled an interim Eskom board, which has the uphill challenge of steering the state-owned power utility out of its quagmire of controversies.

Burundi: Developing Countries Reject EU Sanctions On Burundi - Sat, 24 Jun 2017
[Iwacu] Europe failed to convince members of the African Caribbean Pacific bloc. The resolution condemned the situation and proposed sending observers in Burundi to protect civilians, disarm the ruling party youth and press the Burundian government to engage in inclusive dialogue.

South Africa: Live Hen Sales Banned After Avian Flu Detected - Sat, 24 Jun 2017
[News24Wire] The sale of live hens has been banned in South Africa after avian flu was confirmed at a farm in Mpumalanga, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced on Saturday.

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.

The rush for Argentina’s 100-year bond points to an investment bubble - Thu, 22 Jun 2017
Demand for debt intensifies as QE policies inject liquidity into the markets

How Mexico can set the right conditions for innovation - Tue, 20 Jun 2017
Technology leaders join an FT panel discussion

‘Closet entrepreneurs’ boost Mexican start-up funding - Tue, 20 Jun 2017
The country is Latin America’s leader for the number of VC deals

Investors issue a vote of confidence in Macri - Tue, 20 Jun 2017
Argentina’s 100-year bond is a bold statement of intent for reform

Brazilian markets reflect investor resilience - Mon, 19 Jun 2017
Optimism remains despite Temer crisis and reform plans facing dilution

Building society's account deadline axed - Fri, 23 Jun 2017
Current accounts at the Norwich and Peterborough had been earmarked to close by the end of August.

Tesco is raising store staff pay by 10.5% over two years - Fri, 23 Jun 2017
Hourly pay rates will rise to £8.42 an hour by November 2018 but Sunday pay will be reduced.

Watchdog clamps down on online gambling - Fri, 23 Jun 2017
The competition regulator is to take action against betting sites which it says are breaking consumer law.

Troubled Toshiba flags deeper losses - Fri, 23 Jun 2017
The troubled Japanese electronics giant delays its final earnings report again as its losses worsen.

Hinkley Point deal 'risky and expensive' - Fri, 23 Jun 2017
Costs and risks for energy users 'not sufficiently considered' warns the National Audit Office.

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.

201706business_uzbekistan_cotton_map - Thursday, June 2

Driving G20 Commitments Toward Bolder Action - Wednesday, June

A garment worker sews clothing in a building near the site of the Rana Plaza building collapse. 

© 2014 G.M.B. Akash/Panos

Our lives are full of products produced in faraway countries—think of the clothes you wear or the device you are reading this on. In many cases, consumers have little information about how they are produced, or under what conditions. Human Rights Watch has documented a wide range of human rights abuses in the context of global supply chains, such as labour rights abuses and anti-union tactics against factory workers in the garment industry, hazardous child labour in artisanal gold mines, and severe labour rights abuses against migrant workers in construction.

I have interviewed children working in small-scale gold mines in the Philippines, Ghana, Tanzania, and Mali, supplying the global market with gold for jewellery, smartphones, laptops, and other goods. These children risk their lives in deep, unstable pits, suffer pain and ill-health from the hard work, and process gold with toxic mercury, which can cause lifelong illness and disability.

At the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, governments should pledge to protect human rights in global supply chains—and they should act on this pledge. The 450 million people working in global supply chains need robust rules to protect them.

It is good news that Germany has put the issue of sustainable supply chains on the G20 agenda, continuing its global leadership on the issue. The German government also made sure that the issue of sustainable supply chains was high up on the agenda of the G7 meeting it hosted in 2015. Germany also pushed for strong protections for workers in global supply chains during discussions at the International Labour Conference in 2016.

Last month, Germany hosted the G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting. In their final declaration, ministers recognized that labour rights abuses “cannot be part of the competition” and made a commitment to “strengthen compliance with fundamental principles and rights at work in global supply chains.” They called for accelerated action to end child labour and modern slavery in global supply chains and underlined the responsibility of businesses to conduct due diligence to ensure that human rights are respected in their operations.

Last but not least, the ministers reiterated their support for a decision taken last year by the International Labour Conference–the global summit of governments, workers, and employers – to consider whether a new, legally binding international standard on decent work on global supply chains is needed.

These commitments are important, as they move the international agenda on global supply chains forward and bring on board allies from within the G20—a group that includes various western countries but also Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey. G20 governments should make sure that their final G20 declaration—the Leaders’ Declaration—reflects these important commitments made by the labour ministers.

But the work does not end here; bolder action is needed. The Leaders’ Declaration should support mandatory rules on human rights safeguards for companies, building on models developed by the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands. Such “due diligence” rules should legally require companies to assess, prevent, mitigate, and remediate harmful human rights impacts of their actions. Companies should also be required to publicly disclose their suppliers and report on their human rights due diligence efforts.

In addition, governments should commit to promoting and protecting space for civil society, trade unions, whistle-blowers, and communities to expose and demand an end to human rights violations in the context of global supply chains.

Germany can and should play a crucial role in shaping a strong agenda to protect human rights in global supply chains. The work is only just beginning. 

This article was written as part of a Business & Human Rights Resource Centre blog series 'Engaging the G20 on business and human rights.'

“Ill-Gotten Goods”: Equatorial Guinea is a Case Study in Self-Dealing - Tuesday, June 20

This Monday, June 19, after a decade of litigation, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president will be tried in the Tribunal Correctionnel de Paris for allegedly laundering tens of millions of euros. According to public authorities, this money was largely stolen from his oil rich country. The trial offers a rare glimpse into the dealings of the Equatoguinean government: under the world’s longest-serving president (since 1979), government officials and, allegedly, the president’s son, who is also the vice president, double as businesspeople cashing in on massive public contracts.

The government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo claims that such arrangements don’t violate the country’s laws and his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, known as “Teodorin,” at the center of the French case, once told a South African court that “a cabinet minister ends up with a sizable part of the [public] contract price in his bank account.”

Influence Buying

It would be a tremendous victory against corruption if, through this case, France is able to make clear that corrupt officials cannot launder their dirty money in its territory. It would send a strong message: impunity in one’s country may not be enough to stave off accountability abroad. But France should also do its part to ensure officials don’t get their hands on dirty money in the first place. French President Emmanuel Macron can begin by vigorously enforcing France’s new anti-corruption law, known as Loi Sapin II. It gives French prosecutors enhanced powers over French companies engaged in bribing or influence buying abroad, even if they don’t violate the laws of the countries they invest in. It also requires companies to establish due diligence programs and sets up an Anti-Corruption Agency to investigate their compliance.

Cash Cows

Equatorial Guinea is a case study on the human rights impact of corruption.  As documented in the report Human Rights Watch just published, there is a direct connection between official self-dealing and the country’s dismal health and education indicators. The lack of a transparent and competitive system for choosing projects and awarding contracts makes it easy for officials to turn infrastructure projects into personal cash cows – and so that’s where the government’s money goes, while its public health and education systems flounder.

Even though Equatorial Guinea has enormous wealth, the government invests only 2 to 3 percent of its budget – far less than any other country in its income bracket – in health and education. Much of what it does spend goes to hospitals most people cannot afford and a university reserved for a privileged few. Only half the population has access to safe drinking water, vaccination rates have plummeted to the worst in the world, and the proportion of primary school-aged children who are not in school, having increased since the start of the oil boom, is the seventh highest globally.

A Third Capital

Meanwhile, the government spends an extraordinary amount on infrastructure projects.  Between 2009 and 2013, about 80 percent of public spending went to these projects, despite International Monetary Fund concerns.  The government defends such high spending by saying the infrastructure is needed to develop the country and to diversify the economy for when oil runs out. The costliest and most inexplicable of these projects is a new capital called Oyala that the government is building in middle of the jungle. It is effectively the third capital in this small country of around one million people.  After spending billions on ministry buildings in the current island capital, Malabo, and on the alternate capital on the mainland, Bata, the government budgeted another $8 billion (more than €7 billion) for Oyala, according to the IMF, which also estimated that this was half the country’s 2016 budget.

There are troubling indications that this massive construction spending will probably lead to self-dealing. For example, the president, first lady, and Teodorin appear to jointly own the company with a monopoly over cement imports. The new capital has also drawn foreign companies, including French ones, like Egis Group, which is helping design it.

Conflict of Interest

It is hard for foreign companies to avoid conflicts of interest in Equatorial Guinea given that the country’s laws require foreign businesses to have a local partner with at least a 35 percent stake in any local venture. Two former executives of construction companies active in Equatorial Guinea as well as others have said that partnering with influential officials can be crucial to getting anything done in the country – and especially to landing lucrative public contracts.

The steps France has taken to prevent officials from laundering their ill-gotten goods are a good start. Now the government should go further and also make sure that French companies don’t help officials fleece their countries of public funds. People’s health and education depend on it. 

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