Tuesday, 31 July 2007

"New Global Deal" for energy policy: What role for multilateral banks and the EU?

The European Union is formally committed to keeping global climate change below a 2° Celsius increase over preindustrial temperatures. Around the world, a variety of governments and stakeholders are now arguing that this needs to become a global goal. A crucial step forward on this was taken in Gleneagles in 2005, when G8 and other participating countries asked the World Bank and other multilateral development banks to work on a Clean Energy and Development Investment Framework (referred to here as CEIF). A new paper, published by the German Forum on Environment & Development and VENRO, the association of German Development NGOs provides an analysis of the state of the debate on a global deal for 2 degrees within multilateral banks and European Union institutions, and the policy mechanisms that are needed to achieve this goal. In addition this paper makes recommendations on a new “global deal”, including the Bonn Statement that gives new crucial proposals to achieve the energy goal.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Climate change as a business opportunity

A new joint research report of KPMG and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) on climate change, with the goal of identifying how top companies report on business risks and opportunities of climate change, was released on 17 July 2007. The research, Reporting the Business Implications of Climate Change in Sustainability Reports, shows that companies report on new business opportunities from climate change, rather than on climate change as a cause of risk. The researchers surveyed a sample of annual sustainability reports published by international companies in the Financial Times' FT Global 500 list that followed the GRI's Sustainability Reporting Guidelines.

Of the companies surveyed, 90% reported on climate change, but only 20% reported any risks to their business from climate change. A surprising two-thirds of companies reported business opportunities from climate change, mostly in emissions trading and emissions credits created under the rules of the Kyoto Protocol.

Friday, 27 July 2007

EPZ promotion by WTO continues: Violations of workers’ rights ignored

This week a WTO General Council meeting endorsed a draft decision by the WTO Committee on Subsidies to extend the transition period for the phasing out of export subsidies in a number of developing countries. The decision makes it easier for a range of governments to maintain virtually free license to exploit their workers and repress trade union rights in Export Processing Zones (EPZs). Under WTO rules, these subsidies were supposed to be phased out by the end of this year, but a group of developing countries asked for a waiver to extend the transition and phase out period till the end of 2015. One of the main uses of such export subsidies is to attract foreign investors to set up production in EPZs, where many of the workers are subjected to harsh conditions with little respect for health and safety requirements, long working hours including forced overtime and an extremely high pace of production. EPZs are notorious for the suppression of trade union rights and forced overtime work. Typically, governments either exempt such zones from labor legislation or do not take action against the breaches in labor law, especially when it comes to working hours and trade union rights.

Among the countries that would benefit from the WTO decision are Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Guatemala - all well known for allowing violations of trade union rights in EPZs and for their governments’ weak response to such violations. The decision in the WTO’s Committee on Subsidies was based on the argument that these developing countries need the policy space to maintain these programmes as they are alleged to be important components of their development strategies. However, if attraction of investment is based on subsidising export production by multinational companies, forgoing tax receipts and the repression of human rights it is hard to see what advantages it brings for development in the countries concerned.

For more information on the WTO and Export Processing Zones (EPZs), please click >>> here.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Unions demand progress on decent work and workers’ rights in Asia-Europe co-operation

Trade unionists from member countries of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) gathered in Jakarta, Indonesia called on the ASEM governments to step up their co-operation and joint work on employment and labour issues. The unionists met in order to take stock of the ASEM process and provide input to a future meeting of European and Asian Labour and Employment Ministers, currently under preparation. “We believe that there has been much positive progress within ASEM. A social pillar within the co-operation is emerging and continuous dialogue on employment is developing. But ASEM has not yet gone far enough. It still has an unbalanced approach to its work and an unbalanced representation of interests within its structures. Economic interests appear to be the sole priority in most discussions, while business is the only non-government actor with privileged and formal access to the process. If ASEM is to be relevant to the people of Asia and Europe, both content and process must be broadened and balanced”, said Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The meeting has been also supported and attended by representatives of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the ASEAN Trade Union Council (ATUC), the ITUC’s regional organisations for Asia and the Pacific and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). Today the unionists will meet with the Indonesian Minister for Manpower and Transmigration, Mr. Erman Suparno. Here they will, among other things, propose the establishment of formal channels to consult trade unions, similar to the current ‘Asia Europe Business Forum’. They will also discuss how to promote decent work in the two regions, how to define common strategies on life-long learning, how to improve social security, and how to ensure that expanding interdependence between countries of the regions doesn’t undermine, but indeed improves, labour standards and workers’ rights, including migrant workers’ rights.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Ombudsman rejects EU Commission’s secrecy over lobbyists

The Amsterdam-based Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) has welcomed the European Ombudsman’s conclusion that data protection and privacy rules do not justify secrecy around the names of industrial lobbyists. Ombudsman Nikiforis Diamandouros describes the European Commission’s practice of blanking out of lobbyists’ names in documents released under EU access to document rules as “maladministration”. Diamandouros, however, postpones taking action to make the Commission end this malpractice until the European Court of Justice has delivered its judgement in a pending case on data protection versus access to documents (>>> Ombudsman’s decision).

In October 2005, CEO submitted a complaint against the European Commission after Directorate-General Trade – led by Peter Mandelson – had started blanking out the names of industry lobbyists in correspondence, minutes of meetings and other documents released under EU access to document rules. Corporate Europe Observatory has over the last years attempted to monitor DG Trade’s relations with corporate lobby groups such as the European Services Forum, which by many civil society groups are seen to enjoy privileged access and influence over EU trade policies. In its response to the Ombudsman, the Commission argued that the disclosure of the names of the lobbyists would “undermine the protection of the privacy and the integrity of the individual”. The Commission also referred to data protection rules as a justification for the secrecy. Corporate Europe Observatory considers this argumentation an abuse of rules that were never intended for keeping names of business lobbyists away from public scrutiny. In his final judgement the Ombudsman also rejects the Commission’s argumentation.

“Blanking out names of industry is the opposite of transparency. The Ombudsman’s judgement is good news, also for those within the European Commission that are dedicated to improving openness in EU decision-making”, says Olivier Hoedeman, research coordinator at Corporate Europe Observatory. But Corporate Europe Observatory regrets the Ombudman’s failure to take further action towards ending the European Commission’s distortion of privacy and data protection rules. “Nothing less than the right of citizens to information about the role of lobbyists in EU decision-making is at stake. It would be unacceptable if a verdict of the European Court of Justice in a very specific and only remotely related case could be misused to counter efforts to improve transparency on lobbying”, says Erik Wesselius, transparency campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory. The ruling of the European Court of Justice is expected in autumn.

A new CEO briefing paper, Lobbying the European Union by Committee, reveals strategies of corporate influence in the Commission’s expert groups, Council’s working groups and comitology committees.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Portuguese Development NGOs run project on Europe-Africa Dialogue during Presidency

The Portuguese NGDO Platform has launched a project focused on the Europe-Africa Dialogue for the second half of 2007. Taking into account the Portuguese Presidency of the EU and the EU-Africa Summit, the Portuguese NGDO Platform has prepared a project focused on civil society participation in the dialogue between the European and African continents. This project entitled “New dynamics of North-South Solidarity: Promoting an acting involvement of Civil Society in the Euro-African dialogue” will address three main interconnected themes: Governance, Migration, and Development Co-operation. Its main event will be a Civil Society Forum gathering in Lisbon representatives from European and African organisations. The Forum will take place ahead of the Europe-Africa official summit.

The Portuguese NGDO Platform was established in 1985. Currently, it comprises more than 50 member organisations, active within the development realm. Taking into account its members’ diversity, the Platform aims at creating synergies among civil society organisations, as well as fostering co-operation with official entities, both at the national and international levels, in order to enhance the impact of its activities. Find more information at: www.plataformaongd.pt.

Monday, 23 July 2007

AXA divests (partly) from landmines and cluster bombs

Last week AXA announced to pull out investments of companies that produce anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. This is surprising good news from the Paris headquarters of this bank-insurance company. For last years AXA has shown heavy reluctance to adopt stricter weapon investment policies. The decision by AXA to divest from anti-personnel mines dates back to 2006. AXA claims to have fully implemented this policy now. Divesting from cluster bombs producers is a new move in the AXA investment policy. The group refers to the emerging international consensus around a ban on cluster bombs and to the ‘Oslo process’. This initiative by Norway already managed to get more than seventy countries working on an international treaty against cluster munitions.

The campaign ‘My Money. Clear Conscience?’ by Netwerk Vlaanderen, Vrede, Vredesactie and Friends of the Earth Flanders & Brussels has now managed to convince the five most prominent banks in Belgium to divest from anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. But not merely Belgian organisations raised the pressure on AXA. In 2006 the Netwerk Vlaanderen report ‘Explosive Portfolio’s’ revealed that AXA invested more than US$5.5bn in 13 producers of cluster munitions. This inspired Amnesty International France and Handicap International France to start campaigning against these investments. In March 2007 both NGOs even decided to break up their insurance contracts with AXA.

The new policy by AXA is an important step ahead. But AXA still doesn’t take its full responsibility. The recent move only covers AXA’s direct investments. The general account insurance assets, including the invested insurance premiums, will no longer be invested in producers of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. But an investor buying shares of an AXA investment fund has no reason to be at ease. Such investments ‘on behalf of third parties’ are not covered by the new policy. Through AXA investment funds investments in producers like Lockheed Martin, ATK and Raytheon will go on. And this is not a minor exception. In 2006 52% of AXA’s € 1,315 billion assets under management were ‘on behalf of third parties. So the new policy merely covers half of AXA’s investments.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

NGOs and trade unions unhappy with new WTO proposal

International civil society organisations and trade unions have been sharply critical of a new proposal at the WTO to unblock global trade negotiations this week. According to Oxfam, the proposal continues to offer too little and cost too much to developing countries to constitute the basis for a development deal. "We acknowledge progress in the agricultural text, which goes further than what the EU and US have proposed so far, though as always the devil will be in the detail of negotiations still to come," said Celine Charveriat of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign. Oxfam believes that the overall cost to developing countries of opening their agricultural and industrial markets remains far too high in return for the modest reforms in agriculture in rich countries.

These new numbers would leave rich countries' trade protections largely intact, while forcing many developing countries to face severe adjustments costs and failing to create for them new opportunities. The text proposes caps on trade-distorting agricultural support of $13-16.4bn for the US and €16.5-27.6 bn for the EU. "This is a step in the right direction, but this is very unlikely to bite into actual spending. On average, the US spent $15.4bn between 1995 and 2005. Unless severe caps are put on specific products, these new figures would mean that dumping of cheap produce, which is so damaging to developing countries, will not be eliminated," Charveriat said. Developing countries, with very large agricultural populations, will have to make deeper cuts to their farm tariffs than rich countries did during the previous round. The only silver lining is that some countries will be partly exempted.

The new modalities, put on the table by the chair of the NAMA (non-agricultural manufactured goods) negotiations, ignore the numerous concerns that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and many of its affiliates have expressed on NAMA over the past couple of years. "We cannot support a trade deal that systematically ignores the interests of workers world-wide and undermines the developmental needs of developing countries", says Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the ITUC. "We need to see a balanced outcome of the negotiations that advances development in developing countries, whereas this proposal will simply aggravate existing imbalances." The proposals for a "coefficient" for developing countries of between 19 and 23 will have serious impacts on employment and industrial development in a large number of developing countries at a moment when the creation of decent work poses a major challenge. A coefficient of around 20 will lead to average tariff cuts of around 60% for developing countries and will bring maximum tariff levels for all tariff lines down to levels of around 12%, a level so low as to undermine prospects for industrialisation and diversification in many developing country economies.

Friday, 13 July 2007

New EU ‘MDG contract’ lacks focus on health and education

A new EU plan to make development aid more predictable is not sufficiently focused on improving health and education in poor countries, the Dutch organisation Oxfam-Novib has complained. Officials at the European Commission are currently discussing the possibility of basing part of aid to African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries on a six-year scheme whereby money is paid directly into the national coffers of recipients. The scheme has been dubbed an 'MDG contract', in reference to the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals of reducing extreme poverty by 2015. Yet while the MDGs primarily relate to health and education, the Commission has proposed that its contract should also concern issues such as energy, infrastructure and investment climate. These have at most a tenuous link to the goals. Sylvia Borren, director of Oxfam-Novib, described the inclusion of these issues as "very worrying", especially as the Commission has been reluctant to prioritise health and education in its aid plans for the ACP.

Out of more than 60 country strategy papers that the Commission has drawn up for the ACP, the number that recommend making health or education the central focus are in single figures. This is despite how countries such as Zambia and Madagascar explicitly asked the Commission to concentrate on these sectors. Borren was speaking at a seminar in Brussels organised by Europe External Policy Advisers (EEPA). Despite her reservations about the Commission's proposal, she recognised that long-term predictable funding is essential to deal with the chronic shortage of health and education workers in poor countries. Oxfam has estimated that over 4 million doctors and nurses and 2 million teachers are required to address such problems as infant mortality and illiteracy. A key question for the Commission is whether its proposed contract will help to train and pay the health workers and teachers that are urgently required (>>> EEPA briefing paper).

EPAs should be consistent with citizens needs and Africa's long term development priorities, says ActionAid

African governments should resist imposed deadlines to provide alternatives. ActionAid is urging African governments to seek alternatives that will enable them to continue to sell some of their products to the European market and not rush into signing Economic Partnership Agreement that pit small scale farmers and infant African industries against the well established and subsidised products and services from Europe. An advanced generalised system of preferences that includes both least developing and non least developing countries should be pursued. "This provides space for African countries to determine on their own when to open their markets and which products to protect from unfair competition based on competitiveness and long term development needs of the region," Moussa Faye, Country Director of ActionAid in Senegal says.

The livelihood of small scale farmers and producers will be ruined by the massive influx of subsidised EU agricultural goods if EPAs were signed in the current form. "This will further undermine family and community based food security and reduce the wealthy and naturally endowed continent to dependency on food imports," Brian Kagoro, Africa Policy Manager for ActionAid says. "It will also aid the extractive operations of trans-national corporations in mining and agriculture, alienating African people from their own resources," Brian laments. But while pursuing protectionist measures against EPAs the countries should focus on the bigger challenge of building local economies to strengthen inter-Africa trade and economic growth. "Being in the drivers seat of their own development agenda will make Africa to dictate the terms of partnership with the north and not merely respond to an agenda whose primary beneficiary is Europe," Brian says.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Global debate on migration, development and human rights should return to UN

Trade unions and other civil society organisations supporting migrants' rights have criticised the direction of this week's meeting of the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Brussels as ignoring the rights and interests of migrants, focusing instead on a narrow agenda dealing only with temporary forms of migration and the contribution of migrant workers' remittances to economic development. Representatives at a preparatory meeting on 9 July objected to the fact that, apart from the chance to present a statement to the Global Forum, civil society is being excluded from the Forum's main discussions. The agenda for the Forum also ignores many of the most urgent and serious migration issues.

In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on the occasion of the Global Forum, the ITUC, together with Migrants Rights International and the "December 18" group expressed their criticism of the intergovernmental Forum and called for the discussion to be brought back within the UN framework, to ensure that the human rights issues are properly dealt with. The UN's consultative processes would also ensure that the debate takes account of the views of migrants themselves. "The World community has to act effectively and together to help the millions of migrants who are suffering under inhumane living and working conditions," declared Guy Ryder, ITUC General Secretary. "This global debate started in the United Nations, and must now return there". The UN framework offers benchmarks against which national and regional migration policies and legislation could be measured, and the civil society representatives urge the UN Secretary General to reclaim this process, which is "so critical to sustainable economic growth and well-being and to the lives of millions of migrant workers and their families."

More than 200 civil society representatives attended the Civil Society Day, 9 July to discuss relevant issues and to offer organised input to the following governmental discussions on 10 and 11 July. The results of the deliberations are summarised in a 33-pages report.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Global forum on migration and development in Brussels: The migration-development nexus

Social dialogue and a rights based framework must be at the heart of migration policy - this is the message representatives will take to the "Civil Society Day" of the Global Forum on Migration and Development that takes place in Brussels from 9 to 11 July. Civil society actors such as diaspora organisations, advocacy groups, trade unions, the private sector, and researchers from around the world will participate in the event, to exchange ideas and experiences and make recommendations to governments.

Millions of migrant workers are subject to severe exploitation in countries, while the "brain drain" from developing to industrialised countries is cause for serious concern, hampering efforts to reduce poverty. Financial remittances from migrant workers to their home countries must also be taken in serious consideration, given the importance of this revenue for many people in developing countries. In a statement released by ITUC and its Global Unions partners, as representatives of workers world-wide including migrants and as defenders of their rights and interests, made a series of recommendations to the Global Forum. These include a call on governments to shoulder their social and human rights responsibilities and set up regulatory frameworks that respect the fundamental rights of migrants regardless of their status, in keeping with the UN and ILO instruments that regulate the human and labour rights of migrant workers.

According to the Global Unions, migration policies must not compromise the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Furthermore, they must be consistent with national-level policies to implement the decent work agenda. The international trade union movement also declared that Policy frameworks must recognise that the decent work deficit in developing countries, and the failure of the global economy to create jobs where people live, are critical push factors in the "migration by necessity" syndrome. Provision of quality public services, particularly in education, health and social protection, are a clear priority for the international trade union movement. The adoption of a tripartite model of consultations between governments, employers and trade unions in partnership with migrant workers is also recommended by the Global Unions. Within this framework, agreements should be reached to extend union membership and protections to migrant workers, and to use collective bargaining as an instrument to ensure equal rights and treatment of migrants with nationals.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

EU and Brazil urged to prioritize poverty above corporate interests

On the occasion of a summit between Brazilian President Lula da Silva and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates (see Photo) on 4 July, ActionAid, the international development agency, urged the EU and Brazil to priortize poverty above corporate interests. Portugal currently holds the EU presidency. As part of their meeting, the leaders discussed bilateral initiatives as well as a free trade agreement between the EU and the Mercosur trade bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay).

“Right now, negotiations concerning a free trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur are strongly influenced by business representatives. If the EU and Brazil are serious about doing something concerning poverty, they must open a genuine dialogue with civil society and listen to populations affected by hunger,” said Francisco Sarmento, ActionAid food rights co-ordinator. “The agreement currently on the table does nothing to address poverty in Mercosur nations, and may serve to only worsen already grim situations. Right now, Portugal and Brazil have a unique opportunity to put the fight against hunger at the top of the international political agenda. Let’s hope they do what’s right.” At the meeting the leaders were expected to also discussed joint political initiatives concerning Africa. “If Brazil and Portugal are to be serious players in the fight against hunger in Africa, then African civil society must play a significant consultative rule. Only in such a way can the inequalities that cause poverty be properly addressed,” said Felipe Pequenino, coordinator for Africa of the International Food Security Network (IFSN).

However, the EU-Brazil Summit issued a Joint Statement putting the main emphases on a “strategic partnership” between the two countries in addressing global challenges and expending trade and economic relations. The statement did not mention Africa explicitly and recognised only in general terms “that one of the greatest challenges of our century is the eradication of poverty”. The EU and Brazil re-affirmed their commitment to continue working together closely in promoting and implementing the Millennium Development Goals and welcomed the initiatives taken by Brazil and some Member States to implement innovative sources of financing and they underline their interest in intensifying co-operation in the field of development assistance.

OECD Review of European Community’s Development Co-operation

The European Commission, on behalf of the European Community, disbursed some USD 10 billion in official development assistance (ODA) in 2006, making it the sixth largest donor amongst the members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC). The European Commission also plays a “federating” role for the institutions of the 27 Member States of the European Union – together they account for more than one-half of all ODA.

The Development Assistance Committee commended both the role of the Commission in reshaping its development co-operation and the progress made since the 2002 Peer Review in delivering Community assistance. The DAC welcomed the 2007 policy that seeks a better division of labour among the Commission and the Member States and the 2005 European Consensus on Development which outlines a common policy framework for them. The DAC noted a number of challenges facing the European Community, including: ensuring that European Union policies take forward the development focus of the Consensus; implementing these policies effectively at the country level; and continuing to reform the institutions and to simplify the procedures.

The Development Assistance Committee, which groups major aid donors that are members of the OECD, issued its Main Findings and Recommendations on the European Community as part of a series of examinations of member aid policies and programmes. This Peer Review, led by the United States and Australia, took place on 26 June 2007.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Whose partnership for whose development? NGO hearing before Global Compact Leaders Summit

On 5 and 6 July UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will chair the second "Global Compact Leaders Summit" at the United Nations in Geneva. According to the UN, it will be "the largest ever gathering convened by the United Nations on the issue of corporate citizenship". The Global Compact claims to bring corporations together with the UN to promote "responsible corporate citizenship" based on ten principles. But without any effective monitoring and enforcement provisions, the Global Compact fails to hold corporations accountable. On the day before the Global Compact Leaders Summit, an international group of NGOs and researchers invites to a hearing on corporate accountability in the UN system beyond the Global Compact. The hearing will assess the partnership approach of the Global Compact and propose alternatives for real corporate accountability. Speakers will include Daniel Mittler of Greenpeace International, Malik Ozden of CETIM, Elisabeth Strohscheidt of Misereor, Vicente Paolo Yu of the South Centre and Ann Zammit, an independent researcher and author of the book Development at Risk: Rethinking UN-Business Partnerships. Further information: Global Policy Forum Europe, Bertha-von-Suttner-Platz 13, D-53111 Bonn, phone +49-228-9650510, fax +49-228-9638206, europe@globalpolicy.org, www.globalpolicy.org