Weekly News Review

24th April, 2004



Message from Conference of African Experts hosted by European Parliament United Left Group: 'Give us a serious chance to combat poverty'   

"Give us a serious chance to combat poverty": that was the heart of the message from African speakers at the Conference on Globalisation and Subsaharan Africa held at the European Parliament in Brussels last weekend. The conference was a joint initiative of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP), Dutch affiliate of the European Parliament's United Left Group (GUE-NGL),and a number of Netherlands-based NGOs: XminusY, Both Ends, the Transnational Institute and NIZA, the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa. Delegates from Africa and Europe held three days of discussions over approaches to the problems of the Subsaharan region.

"Many of the causes of poverty in Africa have their origins in Europe. Africa provides cheap raw materials and imports expensive services and manufactured goods from Europe," said SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer. "I am pleased that our European Parliamentary group, the GUE-NGL, was able to provide the resources to make this conference, an initiative which may lead to solutions to these problems, possible. The contribution of the African participants themselves to the conference has given us a picture of the situation in Africa which differs from that presented by the European Union authorities. According to them, the EU is doing everything it can to fight poverty. The reality turns out to be rather different."

The roots of poverty in Africa lie primarily in the west, yet the discussion focuses to far too great an extent on Africa itself and not on these causes. For western Multinationals free trade and freedom to invest are above all the instruments of a new colonialism. Zimbabwean Yash Tandon is unimpressed by the European Partnership Agreement (EPA), which, he said, is more of a threat than it is any kind of preferential trade status, created as it was on the basis of asymmetrical relations of power.  The west gets the gain, Africa the pain. Any possibility of improving the situation has been undermined by unfavourable contracts and conditionalities.

Mussumba Dembele from the Senegal-based Forum for African Alternatives said that an imperative was debt cancellation. "These debts were created unjustly and just keep piling up," he said. Yassine Fall from another Senegalese group, Aide Transparence, sees the consequences of globalisation a new form of colonialism, a colonialism achieved through the privatisation of essential services and the public sector. It is above all women, who depend most on services such as water provision and education, who will suffer. Moses Kambou from the University Teachers' Association of Burkina Faso agreed that the loss of state-provided services, which have been able to help people, in some cases those on the lowest income levels, to combat poverty, as one of the greatest causes of growing impoverishment, along with the loss of income from family structures. Africa must return to her roots and once more make use of its living communities.

There was an angry reaction when one journalist  asked at the event's press conference what the EU could do to combat corruption in African governments. "Europe must be very blinkered if it thinks that corruption is an exclusively African problem, " said one respondent. "Look at the enormous scandals currently plaguing the west.  No-one denies that there is a great deal of corruption but this is above all the fault of western corporations who can afford to bribe officials. This trickles down through society, implicating high and low. What's important is that we don't wish to be patronised."

The conference's final declaration can be read here

MEPs demand release of Israeli COs and no punishment for refuseniks

A group of Euro-MPs from different political tendencies have written to their fellow MEPs asking them to sign a petition in defence of the Israeli "refuseniks", those serving and reserve members of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) who have pledged to refuse to serve in the illegally occupied territories. In their latest statement, entitled "Courage to Refuse", the refuseniks assert that  "the commands issued to us in the Occupied Territories destroy all values on which we were raised ..., we shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people."  They joined the IDF believing that, as its name suggests, it exists to defend their country. However, "the missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose and we shall take no part in them".

In its resolution of 10 April 2002 on the "situation in the Middle East", the European Parliament expressed its full support for those working for peace, "including the Israeli reservists refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories". In its resolution of 23 October 2003 "on peace and dignity in the Middle East", the European Parliament expressed again "its solidarity with the group of Israeli Air Force pilots who declared they would refuse to fly missions that could endanger civilians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, on the basis that airstrikes are immoral and illegal on account of the fact that they kill innocent civilians".

The petition, initiated by members of the social democratic Party of European Socialists - the Parliament's second biggest group - the United Left, Greens and Liberals, reads as follows:  "We, as Members of the European Parliament from different political groups, reaffirm our solidarity and stand with all the the courageous Israeli "refuseniks": they are among the moral voices of Israel and the world, they show the way to peace. We urge Israeli authorities to refrain from punishing them and, especially, to release the five conscientious objectors recently sentenced to jail and to enable them, as well as other young men and women, to serve the Israeli society in an alternative civil service."

Has Prime Minister Blair run out of choices?


" 'Blair does an EU-turn' screamed the headlines. But what is Blair doing? For months he insisted that a referendum was out of the question. It is not, we were told, democratic or part of the British political tradition (except when it appeared to be convenient to the New Labour project). The main problem with a referendum is that, faced with one, relatively simple question, the people may not vote as expected and, recently, referendums to do with the "European project" have not gone well from the federalists' point of view."

Read the rest of Helen Szamuely's commentary on Blair's referendum announcement here

Bad news for Czech MEPs-in-waiting  

The Czech government will pay twenty-four Czech Euro-MPs a basic monthly salary of 65,000 Czech crowns. Czech MEPs-in-waiting had high hopes of being paid 8,600 Euros a month (280,000 crowns) by the EU, but the member states wouldn’t wear this. The EU has kindly agreed to stump up the cost of Czech MEPs’ expenses and fringe benefits, like a daily special diet allowance of 262 Euros during EP meetings and three months’ severance pay.

A shift worker at VW’s Skoda car plant at Mlada Boleslav gets around 22,000 crowns a month, including overtime and bonuses, and the average worker around 15,000.      

Thanks to Ken Biggs of Postmark Prague for this report. Ken's articles on life in the Czech republic now appear monthly in the (UK) Morning Star.

Campaigners Mark 60th Anniversary of International Monetary Fund and World Bank

Hundreds of people from across the globe are gathering in Washington, DC this week for the 60th anniversary meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (Apr 22-25).

Human rights groups, environmental charities and indigenous peoples protest against the misuse of public money by both international financial institutions through their investment in projects that cause climate change, damage the environment and lead to human rights abuses, while failing to tackle poverty.

"The meetings are an opportunity for the World Bank to sign up to the recommendations of its own Extractive Industries Review', said Janneke Bruil of Friends of the Earth International.

"These include respecting human rights, ending support for all oil industries within five years, and giving affected people the right to consent. It is crucial that the world Bank adopt these recommendations."

Non-governmental organisations, Nobel Peace prize winners and politicians, including Members of the European Parliament, have already called on the World Bank to put its new recommendations in place.

Friends of the Earth International Finance Institutions Campaigner, Hannah Ellis said:

“The World Bank gives millions of dollars of taxpayers money to multinational companies like Shell for projects which lead to climate-change, damage the environment and lead to human rights abuses.  Today’s meeting is a chance for the World Bank to really make a positive difference to people’s lives and their environment by putting in place its own recommendations from its Extractive Industries Review.”

The World Bank and the IMF hold significant power over the economies of developing countries and are controlled by wealthy countries. They have been severely criticised for using public money to invest in environmentally damaging projects including the Baku-Ceyhan gas pipeline crossing Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey and financing multinational corporations like Shell and BP.

For more information on the IMF and World Bank go here

Deadline for Disarmament Campaign Under Way




UK peace group Trident Ploughshares' Deadline for Disarmament campaign gets under way this week with demands to MPs in the UK, and from concerned people in the international community to British embassies abroad, for Britain to comply with its obligations under the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).



The campaign is timed to coincide with the preliminary NPT meetings to be held in April/May in New York in preparation for next year’s NPT Review Conference. Recent reference to nuclear proliferation has focused on one part of the treaty the aim to prevent new countries taking up the nuclear weapons option, but has almost entirely ignored the other half the obligation of nuclear weapon states to eliminate their arsenals.



The campaign is an opportunity for Trident Ploughshares to underline its commitment to direct disarmament. In the past five years Trident Ploughshares activists have taken direct action against nuclear weapon installations and bases in Britain, leading to 2078 arrests, 478 trials, 2117 days spent in jails (not counting time in police cells), and a total of over £70000 incurred in fines and compensation orders. If the British government does not credibly commit to taking the significant steps towards nuclear disarmament demanded by the NPT, Trident Ploughshares activists will continue their “people’s disarmament.”



A letter demanding that the UK government eliminate its nuclear arsenal has already been handed in to the British Embassy in Helsinki, Finland. Twenty Finnish people took part in the peaceful demonstration outside the embassy. Similar events will take place this week and next in Gothenburg and Brussels (where the activists will be dressed in bomb costumes), while at local level in the UK people in Irvine, Stirling, Helensburgh and elsewhere, will hand the demand to their local MPs.



A Trident Ploughshares spokesperson said: “The British government’s attitude towards its treaty obligations under the NPT is entirely cynical. As the Strategic Defence review states, this country is determined to continue to maintain and actively deploy a genocidal weapon of mass destruction.”



Notes: see here for more details on the Deadline for Disarmament campaign. For more details on NPT see:









here or here

The Least Responsible Company in the World?

British American Tobacco Slammed in Major New Report

Timed to coincide with its Annual General Meeting this week, a report has been produced which strongly criticises British American Tobacco (BAT) for its health, environmental and development record.

A new report – BAT’s Big Wheeze - has been published by health campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), leading development charity Christian Aid, and the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth. The report is also backed by NGOs from countries damaged by BAT’s bad business behaviour.

The report looks at BAT’s record in Britain, Brazil, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia and Uganda. It accuses BAT of:

• Making tobacco products which cause about 750,000 premature deaths around the world every year. Five million people die from smoking in the world each year. BAT has a 15% share of the total tobacco market and sells 792 billion cigarettes a year under more than 300 brand names. By the year 2020 the number of deaths from smoking is expected to double to ten million. Seven million of these will be in developing countries where health services are already under-resourced and over-stretched.

• Damaging the health of rural communities in Brazil and Kenya through encouraging the use of dangerous pesticides, in many cases without proper protection.

• Exploiting tobacco growers in Nigeria, through high prices for loaned materials and low prices for their products.

• Flooding Pakistan and Russia with advertising and sponsorship designed to addict a new generation of young people to cigarettes

• Encouraging forest destruction in Uganda, through heavy use of dry wood to cure processed tobacco.

The report also reveals how BAT recently faced legal action in the US for money laundering and racketeering, and how in Australia it was recently found guilty of document shredding. BAT also continues to lie about the health effects of cigarette smoke, for example claiming that “there is no convincing evidence that ETS (environmental tobacco smoke) exposure genuinely increases the risk of non-smokers developing lung cancer or heart disease”.

Meanwhile BAT has reported operating profits for 2003 of £2.8 billion. BAT directors are paid huge sums for their activities: Chief Executive Officer Martin Broughton receives £2.4 million a year, and top Tory politician Kenneth Clarke MP is paid £125,000 a year for chairing the company’s committee on Corporate Social Responsibility, and for other duties including helping to develop new markets in countries such as Vietnam. Mr Broughton claims that “corporate social responsibility is integral to our approach to the management of our business globally”, a claim the report describes as “greenwash, bluewash, and hogwash”. Mr Clarke claims that “BAT is not about window dressing”, but the report states that “in Nigeria, Uganda, Pakistan, Kenya, Brazil and Russia, BAT advertises itself as a good corporate citizen, while aggressively marketing its cigarettes to the youth and female market, failing to look after its farmers and failing in its environmental stewardship responsibility. BAT … persists in spending huge amounts on public relations while failing its basic responsibilities to society and the environment.”

The report quotes experts and campaigners from around the world, who condemn BAT for its business practices.

 

·         Dr Margaret Mungherera, President of the Uganda Medical Association:  “One thing I’d say to BAT shareholders is, it is a pity they can sit there and gain enormous economic benefits while BAT is selling cigarettes that are killing so many people”.

·         Akinbode Oluwafeme of Friends of the Earth Nigeria: “BAT shouldn’t come to Nigeria and do what it can’t do in the UK. We don’t want this tobacco company to come here and addict our children so that its shareholders will have more dividends.”

·         Dr Vladimir Levshin of the Russian Cancer Research Centre: “Despite the enormous human toll caused by tobacco, the efforts to control it are an uphill battle in Russia, with tiny groups of people challenging enormous corporate interests, with minimal or no interest from Government.”

·         Professor Peter Odhiambo of Kenya’s National Tobacco Free Initiative Committee: “Multinationals are lethal, unethical and corrupting … they think they can arm twist Third World governments with threats of labour unrest and loss of revenue”.

·         Allah Rakha, a 13 year old who lives in Islamabad, Pakistan, has now been smoking for nearly a year. He says that “I started to smoke because the ads show the hero to be so powerful and clever that he saves all his friends. I wish I could be one like him.”

 

The report demands that the UK Government should change the law to require companies and their directors to take account of social and environmental issues in all their activities. A new law on corporate accountability would require BAT to report on the negative impacts of their activities and products around the world, place legal duties on directors to take all reasonable steps to reduce these impacts, and enable affected communities abroad to seek compensation for health damage, human rights violations and environmental impacts in the UK courts.

 

Deborah Arnott, Director of ASH, Dr Daleep Mukarji, Director of Christian Aid, Tony Juniper, Director of Friends of the Earth, comment in the introduction to the report that:

 

“While genuine moves by UK companies to improve their social and environmental standards are welcome, the difference between the claims BAT makes in its social reports and its true impacts are stark… The bitter truth is that BAT is one of the least socially responsible companies in the world”.

 

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from here

Become a genetically engineered cop!

This week new, stricter laws governing the cultivation and marketing of genetically modified organisms and foods containing them come into force throughout the EU. The laws are far from perfect, but they do give u a chance to organise effective actions, including of course a boycott of any genetically engineered products. However, we can hardly rely on the authorities to conduct the stringent inspections necessary to make the laws work. Greenpeaceis therefore asking us all to become GE snoops...."Consumers have the power to make sure that supermarkets and restaurants remain GE-free. Now that the new and much stricter labelling legislation is in place, with your help we can find the products containing GMOs and name and shame them for everyone to see. Companies will try to smuggle GE labelled products into European supermarkets. The more people that help to reject the products, the easier it will be to maintain our right to say NO to GMOs. Find out how you can become a Gene Detective and help Greenpeace identify products with GE ingredients here

The new laws themselves came into force on April 18th and have won qualified support from environmentalists, with Friends of the Earth, for example, calling "on countries throughout the world to implement similar labelling laws to give all consumers the right to decide whether to eat GM foods.

The laws, first agreed in July 2003, state that:

 

·         GM foods must be fully traceable from farm to consumer, and even foods that no longer contain genetic material derived from GM crops have to be labelled as GM if they derive from GM crops. In practice this means that on top of the foods which already had to be labelled as GM (such as sweet corn) important new food products (such as vegetable oil and sugars) will have to be labelled.

 

·         GM animal feed will have to be labelled and be traceable.

 

·         Food products with a GM content over 0.9% need to be labelled as follows: “This product contains genetically modified organisms.”

 

·         -Food products with a GM content lower than 0.9% do not need to be labelled if the food company can prove that the GM contamination is accidental or “technically unavoidable”

 

·         Friends of the Earth welcomed the new laws but remained critical of some parts of it, in particular of the fact that up to 0.5% of unapproved GM ingredients can be present in foods for the next 3 years, and that they do not include include labelling of animal products such as milk and eggs derived from animals fed with GM ingredients.

 

Geert Ritsema, Coordinator of the GM campaign for Friends of the Earth Europe said:  “Genetically modifying foods is one of the biggest experiments of our time. For too long these poorly-tested and unwanted ingredients have been on supermarket shelves without adequate public information. Although not perfect, these laws will now allow people to reject this experiment once and for all."

 

“This new European law sets a new global benchmark for GM foods labelling. Every citizen on the planet should have the rights European citizens now have: to decide whether to eat genetically modified foods or not. These European laws should be a global wake-up call: every country should give its consumers the right to know.”

Iraqis unite against occupation - Troops out now!

"The illegal and brutal US-led occupation of Iraq has been rocked by an offensive by the Iraqi resistance movement. Militias led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr staged an armed rebellion against the occupation forces in southern, Shiite-inhabited cities and in the Shiite slums of Baghdad and fighters in the predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah have resisted murderous US attempts to retake the city." Read the rest of Green Left Weekly's  coverage of Iraq here

...and they have support from the Moms and Dads of the men and boys and women and girls who are sent their to kill them

"Family members of troops deployed in Iraq walked to the gates of the White House, April 14, holding bouquets of carnations in memory of the 660 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis who have died in the Iraq war."

Read the entire article from the US People's Weekly World here

Danish award given to jailed Colombian unionist

Denmark’s 2004 Bjorneklo Peace Prize was awarded to Luz Perly Córdoba. The Colombian union leader was unable to receive the award in person as she remains detained in Bogotá since 18 February 2004.

The award was given to her representative at a ceremony in the office of Copenhagen’s Mayor Per Bregengaard in the Municipal Palace in the Danish capital. Luz Perly Córdoba was chosen by the Bjorneklo Committee for her outstanding role as a defender of the rights of the peasant population in Colombia.

Cordoba is president of the Peasants Association of Arauca (ACA) and leader of the human rights department of FENSUAGRO-CUT, an agrarian federation regrouping different trade unions, social associations and committees working for justice and social change. She was arrested arbitrarily on 18 February 2004 and remains in custody in Bogotá.

According to the Bjorneklo committee, the detention of the recognised human rights defender and many other trade unionists accused of rebellion or terrorism is part of a “wave of repression” which includes murders and torture.

Host of the 31st March ceremony, Mayor Per Bregengaard, stated that the fight against terrorism by the Colombian government serves as a pretext to pursue those who fight for a more just society.

During a meeting with Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos in Dublin on 23 March, Director of the rights group Front Line, Mary Lawlor, expressed concern that there is a pattern in Colombia of human rights defenders being detained without concrete evidence against them and then being released before being brought to trial.

Front Line is a Dublin-based group, founded in 2001 with the aim of protecting Human Rights Defenders, people who work for the rights enshrined in UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The group argues that as Colombia is party to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the government has an obligation to address this pattern. Furthermore, Front Line says that if evidence is not produced, Luz Perly Cordoba should be released.

Read more about the case here

Swedish investors chuck up Coca-Cola

A Swedish investment company has put Coca-Cola on its list of bad corporate citizens. The US soft drink giant landed on Stockholm-based GES Investment Services' list of global companies behaving badly for violating rules on the environment, human rights and labour laws.

GES cites reports of acts of violence, anti-union dismissals and murders of trade-union officials at the Coca-Cola bottler plants in Colombia. GES Investment Services is one of Europe's leading analysis companies for socially responsible investments and corporate governance.

However, Coca-Cola spokeperson Lori Billingsley told the New York Post that Coke has "provided detailed facts to GES regarding the false allegations that have been made against the Coca-Cola business in Colombia."

Paramilitaries acting with at least tacit approval of Colombian Coca-Cola officials are suspected in the murder of seven Coca-Cola unionists in recent years and the kidnapping and torture of others. According to the Colombian Trade Union Confederation, CUT, about 3,600 union members have been killed in the last two decades, most at the hands of army-backed right-wing paramilitaries.

GES said that its list is based on the prerequisite that companies have a responsibility to comply with international norms even though they are not legally bound to. Blacklisted companies, however, are assumed to have violated basic international norms such as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights or ILO Core Conventions.

In a case where the company does not admit responsibility, GES blacklists only if an examination by a UN body confirms the connection between the company and the reported breach, or if sanctions against the company is issued by a court.

Thanks to Maria Engqvist of ANNCOL for this report

World Social Forum debates available

An excellent compilation of the debates taking place about the future of the World Social Forum has been co-produced by TNI and Transform! - a European Network for Alternative Thinking and Political Dialogue. This is the first issue of a new newsletter to be published on a regular basis by Transform!.Read it herel

Venezuela's Biggest Opposition Party Splits from Anti-Chavez Coalition


"Accion Democratica (AD), Venezuela's biggest opposition party, has decided to split form the Coordinadora Democratica, a coalition that groups political parties that oppose the government of Hugo Chavez." Read the rest of Martin Sanchez's story here


Corner House Briefing no. 30   Underwriting Bribery: Export Credit Agencies and Corruption by Dr Susan Hawley now available

"The international community is adamant that corruption must be stopped. It is demanding that poorer countries eradicate corruption if they want to be considered eligible for Western aid. But there is a deep hypocrisy in the international community's approach. At the heart of this are the export credit agencies of industrialised countries. Export credit agenices use taxpayers' money to insure their domestic companies doing business abroad against risks such as the company not being paid. These agencies support many of the large, mainly Western, companies that continue to bribe their way into getting government contracts from poorer countries. The price of Western companies' bribery is ultimately paid for by the people of the Southern countries in which the companies operate in the form of increased debts for overpriced and poorly planned projects that often provide little benefit to people or country. This briefing outlines measures governments export credit agencies should be taking to tighten their anti-corruption procedures." The briefing can be downloaded for free from  here (html format) or  here (pdf)