Thursday, 28 August 2008

Accra: Decent Work essential to effective development aid

Trade unions will press the case for Decent Work as a primary benchmark in development aid at the international conference on aid effectiveness, being held in Accra, Ghana from 2–4 September. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which is fielding a delegation of international and Ghanaian trade union representatives at the forum, is working with other civil society organizations to ensure that democracy, the creation of decent jobs, gender equality and a range of other key concerns are fully integrated into future aid strategies. The unions are also strongly backing moves to stop donor countries unilaterally imposing onerous conditions into aid packages, especially as these “conditionalities” often contradict democratic decisions taken by national governments and undermine democratic ownership and overall progress on development.

The Ghana Forum needs to focus on how international aid can support and promote decent work, which will not only directly benefit workers and their local communities, but help ensure that the assistance provided will have real impact in tackling poverty and generate lasting economic development. The union delegation in Accra will press for this and for real progress on ensuring the economic empowerment of women through development aid as well as action to create employment for young people.

“Development aid has an important contribution to make in tackling the massive challenges confronting the world community. Making sure that aid is truly effective is a key part of the overall transformation in global economic relations, which the world so badly needs. Trade unions have a unique and pivotal contribution to make in ensuring aid effectiveness and accountability alongside their broader role as major actors in civil society as guarantors of democracy, equality and sustainable development,” said Guy Ryder of ITUC. - Following a preparatory meeting in Accra on 30 August, the trade union delegation will take place in a two-day gathering of civil society organizations to finalise common positions to put to governments at the High Level Forum. The ITUC is a member of the International Steering Group of civil society organizations.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Call for private banks to withdraw from Bangladesh coal mine

Over 100 civil society organizations from 31 countries are calling on financial backers to withdraw their support of the Phulbari coal project in Bangladesh, citing egregious human rights abuses and environmental concerns associated with the project. Last week, a letter was sent on behalf of these organizations to major financial institutions including UBS, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley and FRM Corp./Fidelity Investments. Each of these financial institutions holds or manages shares in Global Coal Management Resources (GCM) which established a wholly owned subsidiary, Asia Energy Corporation, to develop the project. “The Phulbari coal project is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Joanna Levitt from the International Accountability Project (IAP), a signatory to the letter and advocate for people uprooted and threatened by development projects and policies. “If implemented, the project could risk the impoverishment of tens of thousands of people—turning current farming households into landless wage-labourers who will be forced to compete for limited jobs, either in the agricultural sector or entirely different economic sectors.”

"The project is a deadly threat to food security, energy security and human security in Bangladesh,” said Anu Muhammad, Member Secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Port and Power in Bangladesh and Economics Professor at Jahangirnagar University. “It will destroy fertile land, and desertification and dewatering will affect more than 256 sq km around the mine. About 75% of the coal from the mine will be exported from the country and it will uproot hundreds of thousands of people. The project will increase poverty and unemployment and will create a floating population of displaced people, including many children and women."

The civil society letter cites many human rights abuses associated with the project including: the indiscriminate shooting of local residents opposing the mine; the arrest and torture of local leaders; non-compliance with the right of Indigenous Peoples to give their free, prior and informed consent to project; the threatened displacement of over 200,000 people; and massive environmental risks, including to the Sundarbans, a UNESCO protected mangrove forest. Enclosed with the letter to the banks was the final draft of a forthcoming report from IAP and Bank Information Center (BIC) which critically examines the potential social impacts the coal mine would have on the local population. The report, An Assessment of the Draft Resettlement Plan Prepared by Global Coal Management/Asia Energy Corporation, concludes that that over 200,000 Bangladeshis will be impacted by the project, many of whom will be forcibly relocated, losing vitally important farm land and access to economic livelihood. As land scarcity is already a major issue in Bangladesh, this forced displacement will also likely lead to increased conflict in the project area.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Civil Society at OECD High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra

In the first week of September, more than 800 representatives of multilateral and bilateral donors, developed and developing country governments, and civil society organisations (CSOs) will gather in Accra, Ghana, for the OECD-DAC (Development Assistance Committee)’s Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (2-4 September). Just prior to the forum, a civil society parallel Aid Effectiveness Forum will bring together more than 400 CSOs from 30 August to 1 September, to discuss and finalise their recommendations to the High Level Forum (HLF) decision-makers. At the last High Level Forum, held in Paris in March 2005, donors and governments signed onto “The Paris Declaration”, a five-year plan for reform of aid practices. The Accra HLF will review progress on these commitments, but equally importantly, the Forum may also establish an agenda for deepening these reforms over the next two years, leading to a successor Declaration to be agreed in 2011 in Beijing, China.

The Reality of Aid Secretariat noted in its 2008 report, "The reality of aid in 2008 is that it continues to fail to promote human development for the eradication of poverty, based on the core values of human rights, democracy, gender equality and environmental sustainability. This is despite the appearance of progress in the form of high-profile debt cancellations, new aid pledges, and the signing of the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness." Civil society welcomed the Paris Declaration and its principles, but questions its narrow and limited focus on technical reform of aid delivery – the efficiency of moving money from donor accounts to those of governments in developing countries. Experiences of aid on the ground raise questions as to whether much has actually changed in aid practice, pointing to weak commitments to untie aid, persistent high numbers of conflicting policy conditions attached to aid, and limited use of developing country systems. They have called for deeper and more far-reaching aid reform and its measurement.

The signs are not good. When donors and governments come together in Accra to measure their progress, for example, there is not one single indicator that explicitly relates aid reform measures to improvements in human development, in gender equality and women’s rights, or in the ability of people to claim their rights. However, the HLF in September is a unique opportunity to set in motion ambitious actions for meaningful aid reform. Civil society organisations in support of Better Aid have high expectations of the donors and government officials who will gather in Accra in early September. They stress the need to see concrete commitments to positive reform.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Pastoralists and climate change in the East Africa: Oxfam hints at investment needs

In a new report, Survival of the fittest, Oxfam calls for governments and development partners in the East African region to invest in more sustainable development polices in arid and semi-arid (ASAL) areas, which will ensure pastoralists to cope with the impact of climate change. The ASALs of East Africa occupy over 70% of the Horn of Africa. This ranges from 95% of the total land area in Somalia and Djibouti, to more than 80% in Kenya, 60% in Uganda, and between 30–60% in Tanzania. Despite the suitability of mobile livestock herding to the vast arid lands that cover East Africa, and the evidence of its productivity and value, many pastoralist people are among the poorest and most vulnerable in Africa.

All too often the direct economic value generated by pastoralists is not retained in their communities, and the indirect value is un-rewarded and even unacknowledged by decision-makers. In Kenya, pastoralists provide the majority of the meat consumed in country, and livestock production from pastoralists contributed up to 10% of the GDP in 2002 and 25% in 2001. The livestock sector accounts for 90% of employment in ASAL, and as custodians of the dryland environments inhabited by Kenya’s world-famous wildlife areas, contribute to a tourist trade worth more than 50 billion Kenya Shillings ($700m) every year. In Uganda, up to 80% of the population derive their livelihoods from subsistence agriculture and livestock production, producing 85% of the milk and 95% of the beef consumed in the country, while the livestock sector contributes 7.5% of Uganda’s GDP annually, and in 2002, exports of hides and skins to Europe and Asia earned the country $10m. In Tanzania, pastoralists dominate the livestock sector, owning 99% of the livestock, and the sector contributes 6.1% to the national GDP. Through their land use system, pastoralists in Ngorongoro make a significant contribution to the $900m from tourism annually.

The report decries years of political and economic marginalization, inappropriate development policies, an increase in resource competition and abnormal climatic events that have reduced the ability of some pastoralists to maintain a sustainable livelihood. “Whether increasing climate change will see a worsening of their current situation or whether pastoralists will be able to adapt and even take advantage of the opportunities it may bring will depend on how these environmental and developmental challenges are tackled by both national governments and international donors, and the extent to which pastoralists themselves are involved in the process,” Paul Smith-Lomas of Oxfam added.

Governments in the region have historically had little economic and political interest in promoting development in ASALs, as they tend to see pastoralists as a ‘minority vote’ that isn’t worth winning. Kenya’s Minister of Development of Northern Kenya and Arid Lands, Hon. Mohammed Elmi, agrees with the findings of the report, adding “pastoralists make a significant contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) in many East African countries, provides majority of the meat consumed and provides a livelihood for tens of millions of people who live in ASALs. They have been adapting to climate variability for millennia and their adaptability ought to enable them to cope with this growing challenge. However, their adaptability cannot be realized without government support and investment.”

Pastoralists are the custodians of dry land environments, providing services through good rangeland management including biodiversity conservation and wildlife tourism. Beyond the provision of basic services like health care and education, there must also be an injection of investment into the pastoral economy across East Africa. Improving market access for pastoral products and developing marketing opportunities are essential to the ability of pastoralists to get the best value for their products. In the next 10–15 years climate change will mean a continuation of current trends including successive poor rains, an increase in drought-related shocks, and more unpredictable and sometimes heavy rainfall events,” Hon Elmi said.

Oxfam is calling for more appropriate development policies, and for those who are struggling and those no longer able to make a living from pastoralism, there must be a social welfare system in place. “Cash payments in place of food aid will enable the members of pastoralist communities to meet their basic needs in terms of food, health care, and education. Cash transfers, when combined with other suitable interventions, have the potential to empower pastoralists and ex-pastoralists to make their own investment choices. For example, a household might choose between restocking themselves with livestock, investing in alternative livelihoods such as fishing, or experimenting with more cultivation. Communities must be at the heart of efforts to build their resilience to climate change because adaptation is inherently local. It will only work if local people are leading the process,” Paul Smith-Lomas said. The threat of climate change should be a catalyst for providing these investments.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

International AIDS conference leaves 2010 goal of universal access at risk, Oxfam says

The International AIDS Conference concluded yesterday without a clear plan or any new impetus to reach the 2010 target of universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care, said international agency Oxfam. “To say we are disappointed is an understatement. Has the AIDS Conference become just another expensive gab-fest?” asked Robert Fox of Oxfam International. “Rather than rally the troops, officials from government and UN agencies talked about 2015 as being good enough and seemed happy to let the 2010 goal slide. How many will suffer and die if that happens?”

In 2005, the G8 set the goal of achieving universal access to HIV/AIDS services by 2010, which was endorsed and expanded by African leaders to cover malaria and tuberculosis the following year. Yet AIDS 2008 ended without a plan to achieve it. Annie Lennox, singer and Oxfam global ambassador, said: “AIDS is an emergency. There is no time to waste. Millions of the world’s most vulnerable people are counting on governments to make good on the promise for 2010. In Vienna two years from now, the world will ask: ‘What have you done to end this calamity?’” Lennox implored. “How many people will you have placed on treatment? How many female condoms will you have distributed? How many health workers will you have trained?”

“That we have achieved progress in expanding treatment and prevention is welcome news,” Fox said. “But the air of complacency from officials is profoundly disturbing. The message from people on the front lines of this pandemic stands in sharp contrast. They know that funding is inadequate, health systems are weak, and medicines are far too expensive. And the reason is lack of political will among donors, developing country governments and the big pharmaceutical companies.” Oxfam health adviser Dr. Mohga Kamal-Yanni said: “Officials tried to gloss over the real problems of getting AIDS-specific funding to strengthen health systems, which was the major policy outcome in Toronto two years ago. Universal access must mean access to comprehensive health services for all.”

Thursday, 7 August 2008

World Bank governance reform risks falling behind

Later this month a coalition of Oxfam International, Eurodad, Bank Information Center, Bretton Woods Project and the New Rules for Global Finance Coalition will appeal to World Bank President Robert Zoellick to use the actual opportunity for an ambitious reform of the institution. In an open letter the NGOs express concern that the governance reform process moving ahead at the World Bank risks falling very short of the imperatives of a new systemic reality. The letter says:

“We urge that any reform be substantial, resulting in fundamental changes that would allow the Bank to fight poverty in a far more effective, equitable and transparent manner. For this to happen there must be a true partnership between developing and developed countries.

Key to this is a commitment to parity of voice between developed, and developing and transition countries within an agreed timeframe. This would also need to be accompanied by other measures such as a transparent, merit-based election process for the president, and a consolidation of European power at the Bank’s board.

The quota reforms voted in at the IMF earlier this year were far from adequate. We believe it is important that any notion of parallelism between the IMF quota and World Bank votes be dropped in favour of the clear recognition that the World Bank has a very different purpose from the IMF. As the World Bank/IMF 2008 Spring Meeting Development Committee Communiqué stated, the Bank’s development mandate means it is distinct in nature.

Failure to achieve this deeper, systemic reform would leave the Bank vulnerable to irrelevance in the evolving structures of global financing and policy. For this reason, we urge you to use the Bank governance reform as an opportunity to promote a vision for the Bank which conforms more closely to the dramatically changed global context than the one currently being envisaged.”

Endorsements of the letter should be sent to Jeff Powell at Bretton Woods Project (

Olympics: Shameful IOC inaction on labour rights

Campaigners in Hong Kong, backed by the Play Fair 2008 global coalition, have confronted the International Olympic Committee for its failure to act on widespread exploitation of workers in the manufacture of Olympics-branded products. Convening in front of the cultural center on the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade (see photo) protesters showed the IOC that their lack of commitment to basic worker rights is unacceptable. “Five years have passed since we first called on the IOC to stand up for the workers who make Olympics products, but it is still business as usual for them. Once again, money is pouring in to the coffers of the Olympics movement, but the workers who create the wealth are still being ripped off,” said Guy Ryder, general secretary of the 168-million member International Trade Union Confederation, a Play Fair partner organization.

A clear “road map” of concrete steps that the IOC needs to take to live up to its responsibility to prevent labour rights violations in Olympic supply chains has widespread support, yet the IOC has refused to take action. According to Play Fair 2008 activists, the IOC has refused to commit staff or resources to constructively follow up on the many outstanding issues – including poverty wages, child labour and excessive overtime – shown to exist in Olympic supply chains. “Instead of acting properly on the reports by Play Fair, which gave clear evidence of the labour violations, the IOC simply passed the buck to the Beijing organizers, leaving the root problems unsolved,” said Esther de Haan, from the Clean Clothes Campaign.

Play Fair’s research into factories in China producing Olympics merchandise revealed numerous violations of international labor standards and Chinese law. Excessive overtime, poverty wages and poor working conditions remain common in the Olympic products and sportswear factories. The IOC never followed up properly on the 2007 report and has not taken any action to make sure that Olympic-branded products would not be made with sweatshop labour.

While the IOC has failed to act, companies in the sector are showing signs of recognizing the extent of the problem and the failure of traditional corporate social responsibility. At a meeting in Hong Kong, at the beginning of July, Play Fair organizations and sportswear companies agreed to form a working group to address some of the root causes of bad labour conditions in the sector. Also, some national Olympic Committees are willing to work on the issue. The IOC is very clearly lagging behind and has taken no steps to address the labour conditions in their supply chain.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Collapse of Doha: Time for a paradigm shift

The Doha Round of trade negotiations has collapsed once again, perhaps definitively this time. Whatever should come next, it is clear that the new dynamics in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) mean that developed countries can no longer force through a bad deal. The breaking point in the end was the conditions under which the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) could be used. The SSM provides countries with the right to increase tariffs to curb an import surge in order to protect a domestic industry from short-term swings in global markets, which is a crucial instrument for developing countries to promote their food and livelihood security and rural development. Whilst China and India vigorously defended the right of developing countries to use the SSM, the US condemned their position as placing the talks in the ‘gravest jeopardy’.

Civil society organisations and social movements have asserted over the last months and weeks that the Doha deal as it was proposed would not solve the food and energy price crisis and would in fact exacerbate it by making food prices more volatile and increase developing countries’ dependence on imports; it would furthermore severely restrict the policy space open to developing countries for pursuing agricultural and rural development. As highlighted by Bernd Nilles, Secretary-General of the Catholic solidarity network CIDSE in Brussels, “the right to protect small agricultural producers in developing countries was the litmus test of the Doha Round negotiations ability to deliver development outcomes.”

Whilst the collapse of the Doha Round has demonstrated once again the weaknesses of the WTO, it also showed the increased representation and weight of developing countries such as India and Brazil and that their interests can no longer be overruled. According to a CIDSE statement, the importance of a multilateral trading system should not be undermined as bilateral and regional trade agreements result in the implementation of advanced liberalisation arrangements, previously rejected at the WTO, that often have even more serious negative implications for developing countries. Rather than a return to rhetoric, CIDSE calls on governments and on EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson to now break away from a ‘business as usual’ approach in order to negotiate trade agreements that are equitable and socially just.