July 31, 2008

Climate change : what's happening to planetary temperatures in the rest of the solar system?

The claim that other planets in the solar system are showing temperature increases came up on the Simpol Forum discussion board. This was one of the issues discussed at the recent meeting in Second Life on climate change. See:

When I queried the claim on the discussion board, I was directed to this link:

Search the internet and you find plenty of blogs saying planets from Mars to Pluto (sadly no longer a planet) are showing temperature increases. But dig a little further for evidence and the idea that climate change is a natural phenomena caused by changes with the sun is quickly shown to be incorrect.

The evidence is still overwhelmingly that we are experiencing human-caused climate change and that we could enter a runaway situation if action is not taken. Action such as achieving implementation of proposals like Contraction and Convergence through the Simultaneous Policy campaign. If you have not done so already, then sign up as a Simultaneous Policy Adopter today. If you believe that no action is necessary, also sign up so you can vote against the proposals.

My post to the forum below also refers to David Icke, who suggests that the call for action on climate change is an Illuminati plot.

---Post to forum
The National Geographic article is based on three years of observation of Mars. It strikes me as odd that this should be used to try to suggest all planets are warming at the same time as dismissing (as David Icke does) the vast amount of written and natural data showing the climatic history of the Earth and the impact that human activity has had since the industrial revolution. Nothing like this type of data exists for other planets and it would be difficult to obtain it, when on Earth we are talking of temperature changes of a few degrees and on the outer planets the fluctuations would surely be far less, if due to solar activity. While there are not SUV's on Mars and Pluto, neither are there meteorology stations, nor has there been ice-core analysis, tree ring analysis etc. etc.

There are plenty of blogs saying that Pluto is increasing in temperature. However, it is worth looking a bit deeper into where this data comes from as this website does:

An extract: "Pluto's warming consists of two observations 14 years apart noting a difference in atmospheric thickness which implies warming - scientists are unable to explain why yet. But considering Pluto's orbit is equivalent to 248 Earth years, this says nothing about climate change. It's like saying Earth is warming when comparing winter to summer. Plus Pluto is more than 30 times farther away from the Sun than the Earth is. If the Sun were warming up enough to affect Pluto at that vast distance, it would blowtorch the Earth."

It would also have an impact on Uranus, which is closer to the sun than Pluto, but there is evidence suggesting that the temperature on Uranus is falling (citation on the above site).

The speaker at the recent climate change discussion in Second Life says that NASA has said there is no evidence, though there are records of the activity of the sun itself, which is surely a more reliable guide and one that is far easier to observe, and that evidence disproves the theory it is solar activity that is to blame (he was Al Gore-trained, though, and David Icke says Al Gore is part of the inner circle). See:

Also from the above website (which links to the supporting source material): "The whole theory that a brightening sun is causing global warming falls apart when you consider solar output hasn't risen over the past 30 years (when warming has been highest) according to direct satellite measurements that find no rising trend since 1978, sunspot numbers which have leveled out since 1950, the Max Planck Institute reconstruction that shows irradience has been steady since 1950 and solar radio flux or flare activity which shows no rising trend over the past 30 years."

Theories are there to explain the world and need to change when they are found to be wanting, rather than ignore or dismiss the evidence. If a theory cannot accommodate it - and the evidence is something that can be replicated - then the theory has to change.

It seems to me that David Icke goes beyond what evidence demonstrates in his theory of reptilian shape changers driving human history through secret societies and there is much wrong with his analysis (as the above shows regarding his climate change conspiracy theory).

July 30, 2008

UK House of Lords says rule of law must come second in bribery case

Nearly two years ago the UK's Serious Fraud Office dropped a criminal investigation into the British arms company, BAE systems, which was accused of running a £ 60 million slush fund to Saudi officials who had authorised a £42 billion arms deal. The Attorney General was Lord Goldsmith. The BBC at the time reported that a further arms deal was under threat, with the possibility Saudi Arabia would buy planes from France rather than the UK if it continued to be embarrassed by the investigation. In addition, the BBC reported:

---extract from BBC report of 15 December 2006
Lord Goldsmith said that both Mr Blair and Defence Secretary Des Browne had argued that carrying on the investigation would harm intelligence and diplomatic co-operation with Saudi Arabia, in turn damaging the UK's national security.
---extract ends

You could look on £60 million in 'commissions' as a small price to pay to secure British jobs, or you could look on it as the corrupting influence of the arms trade. What is certain, is that the rich club of nations, the OECD, which is for a rules-based system of trade, has a treaty against bribary which the UK has signed. It said after the investigation was dropped that it would take "appropriate action" against the UK. See:

At that time, the then leader of the Liberal Democrats commented: "The next time British ministers go into Africa and take to task the governments of developing countries on the ground that they are not dealing sufficiently harshly with corruption they will get this decision thrown back in their faces."

However, there were British citizens who thought the government should be held to account and they won a case at the High Court, which ruled the Serious Fraud Office was wrong to halt the investigation. That ruling has now been overturned by the House of Lords. Here is the press release from the campaigners:

---Cornerhouse/CAAT press release 30 July 2008
Serious Fraud Office WIN appeal in BAE-Saudi case as public outrage continues.

The House of Lords, the UK's highest court, has this morning OVERTURNED the High Court's ruling of April 2008 that the Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) acted unlawfully when, acting on government advice, he terminated in December 2006 a corruption investigation into BAE Systems' arms deals with Saudi Arabia after lobbying by BAE and a threat from Saudi Arabia to withdraw diplomatic and intelligence co-operation.

The High Court ruling was in response to a judicial review brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and The Corner House.

Today, the law lords described the threat made by Saudi Arabia as 'ugly and obviously unwelcome'.

Baroness Hale said that she would have liked to have been able to say that it was wrong to stop the investigation as it was 'extremely distasteful that an independent public official should feel himself obliged to give way to threats of any sort.'

But she felt she had to agree that the SFO Director's decision was lawful because of the breadth of the Director's discretion.

In response to the Lords' judgments, Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House said:

''Now we know where we are. Under UK law, a supposedly independent prosecutor can do nothing to resist a threat made by someone abroad if the UK government claims that the threat endangers national security.

''The unscrupulous who have friends in high places overseas willing to make such threats now have a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card -- and there is nothing the public can do to hold the government to account if it abuses its national security powers. Parliament needs urgently to plug this gaping hole in the law and in the constitutional checks and balances dealing with national security.

''With the law as it is, a government can simply invoke 'national security' to drive a coach and horses through international anti-bribery legislation, as the UK government has done, to stop corruption investigations.''

Symon Hill of CAAT said:

''BAE and the government will be quickly disappointed if they think that this ruling will bring an end to public criticism. Throughout this case we have been overwhelmed with support from people in all walks of life.

''There has been a sharp rise in opposition to BAE's influence in the corridors of power. Fewer people are now taken in by exaggerated claims about British jobs dependent on Saudi arms deals. The government has been judged in the court of public opinion. The public know that Britain will be a better place when BAE is no longer calling the shots.''

The law lords judgment confirms that the UK is in flagrant breach of its duty to implement and give force to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

In practice, the UK Government now has a green light to use an undefined and broad concept of 'national security' to cover themselves when taking potentially unlawful decisions.

The SFO, BAE and the Government might think that, with today's judgments from the law lords, it's now all over. Far from it! The real challenges have only just begun.

Both CAAT and The Corner House are calling on all those who are alarmed at the gaping holes in the law revealed by the House of Lords' judgments today to join us in:

--Pressing for changes to the law to ensure that our prosecutors can remain independent and are empowered to resist threats from abroad.

--Ensuring that national security advice can be scrutinised by the courts and by parliament so that the Government cannot arbitrarily invoke national security - without effective checks and balances - to trump the rule of law.

--Opposing the clauses in the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill that would prevent a judicial review like ours from ever being taken in the future and that would give the Government 'carte blanche' to invoke national security to stop a fraud investigation or criminal prosecution without effective checks and balances.

--Insisting that the Government fulfil its international obligations to cooperate with requests for assistance from the US and Swiss authorities in their investigations into BAE's dealings with Saudi Arabia.

--Pressing the OECD to clarify the circumstances under which national security concerns can legitimately be invoked to exempt signatories from fulfilling their obligations under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

--Pressing the Serious Fraud Office to re-open its investigation into BAE's dealings with Saudi Arabia given that circumstances have changed since the investigation was dropped in December 2006. Much of the information that Saudi Arabia was apparently concerned to keep out of the public domain is now public knowledge.

--Exposing the preferential access of arms companies, such as BAE, to the Government, and campaigning to end public subsidies to the arms industry.

CAAT and The Corner House are obviously disappointed -- but we're not despondent! The judicial review process has increased public awareness of corruption, arms trade, national security and the rule of law; it has now clarified the law; and key documents have been released into the public domain that would not otherwise have seen the light of day.

As we reflect further on the implications of today's judgments, we'll keep you posted . . .

Many thanks for all your support and best wishes from all at The Corner House

CornerHouse/CAAT statement in response to House of Lords judgments:

Opinions of the Lords of Appeal:

July 29, 2008

WTO and the danger of compartalised thinking

The World Trade Organisation negotiations have collapsed after China and India took the view that no deal was better than a bad deal and the US wouldn't budge. It was billed as the 'development round', where issues such as rich countries dumping cut price goods on developing countries while shutting those countries out of their own markets were to be addressed. But, in the view of the developing countries - most of whom were shut out of the Green Room where negotiations took place - the rich world was more intent on gaining further access to their markets.

The Guardian reports:

---extract begins
The US trade representative, Susan Schwab, said it was "unconscionable" that developing countries were insisting on shielding their farmers. "In the face of the food price crisis, it's ironic that the debate came down to how much and how fast could nations raise their barriers to imports of food."

Kamal Nath, India's trade minister, said he was representing the position of all the G33 members, who were "concerned about the livelihood of poor and subsistence farmers", and said he hoped the talks could eventually be revived.
---extract ends

Demonstrators in India were against a deal on opening their country to food imports. Developing countries have good reason to be wary. Case studies have shown what sometimes happens when developing countries are forced to open their markets. In Haiti tariffs on rice were cut from 50% to 3% and Christian Aid reports that Haiti has gone from being self-sufficient in food to using 80 per cent of its export earnings to pay for food imports. Rice production has fallen by almost half, and three-quarters of the rice consumed comes from the US. See The Guardian via:

That countries put their own best interests first - even if these means avoiding their human rights obligations - is not surprising. But governments are accused of following the demands of lobbyists rather than the greater good of their citizens as a whole, let alone the wider world.

The Simultaneous Policy approach has two great advantages over the 7 years of negotiations that failed this week.

Firstly, it encourages joined up thinking. Why is international trade - the movement of goods around the world - being discussed separately to climate change? A system that included the cost of pollution would encourage local production, processing and consumption, while items that need to be transported (such as agricultural goods from tropical countries) would still be economic - and sustainable - to transport.

Secondly, it encourages people around the world to participate in the policy development process. Certainly US farmers - and agrobusiness - who are subsidised to export their soya, cotton, corn and rice below cost price are likely to oppose measures that could have a negative impact on them. Those affected are welcome to sign up as Simultaneous Policy Adopters to make their case, but it has to be made transparently and it is for other Adopters to decide whether to accept their alternative suggestions or not. It provides a way for US citizens as a whole to reclaim their sovereignty. Farmers in India and Haiti have equal right to put forward their proposals.

For discussions that are already underway see the Simultaneous Policy Forum.

July 25, 2008

Conspiracy theories

A work-in-progress policy proposal on Simpol's discussion forum resulted in me listening to David Icke's Illuminati conspiracy theory in his tour-de-force address to a public meeting at a recent by-election in the UK.

Personally I think the pursuit and entrenchment of power is transparent enough without having to see secret societies behind everything. It struck me listening to the talk that if the Illuminati was behind the first and second world wars and dictated the outcomes then why did they not make Hitler the victor if their long-term plan is the creation of a global fascist state in which we are all enslaved? No doubt there is an answer, perhaps one involving the shape-shifting reptiles who are behind all human history according to Mr. Icke, though he didn't mention that theory in his address.

That is not to say that conspiracies do not exist. Just in the past two days we have seen the junk food industry's strategy for avoiding controls on its practices unfolding a little more. Rather than tackling obesity by taking action to improve food quality and stop marketing to children, the government has decided to pursue an advertising campaign encouraging us to exercise more, funded to the tune of more than £ 200 million by Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, Mars, Nestle and Tesco.

Monitoring the activities of Nestlé, particularly with regard to its baby milk pushing, is something that occupies much of my time. Rather than abiding by World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby food, Nestlé uses strategies of denials and deception to try to continue with business as usual, despite the impact this has in terms of contributing to needless death and suffering of infants denied the protection provided by breastfeeding. Nestlé often opens its cheque book to gain access and influence. It has also apparently admitted to sending someone to spy on a Swiss campaign group. The spy infiltrated the group for a year when it was researching the company for a book launched at an event where I was a guest speaker. Finding my emails to the group may well have been sent directly to Nestlé does not really come as a shock. A multi-billion pound businesses that puts its own profits before the health and well being of babies is unlikely to have qualms about using underhand tactics.

In the past Nestlé has hosted international meetings bringing together the Chief Executives of corporations with members of United Nations organisations. Mr. Brabeck once told leaders of developing countries he was addressing on behalf of the International Chamber of Commerce that : "Business...should not be lumped with the many single-issue NGOs, but be accepted as an interlocutor of a different stature, as the engineers of wealth."

The self-serving hegemony of business leaders are doing what the system demands of them and they try to manipulate the system to benefit themselves. Perhaps that is simply the nature of power and the solution is to have checks and balances. Certainly these are limited in their effectiveness at present. That is why we need to pursue strategies such as creating the World Transnational Corporation Regulatory Authority, which I have put forward for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy and explored in greater depth in the book 'Global Obligations for the Right to Food'.

What drives Nestlé is, I think, a little more obvious than Mr. Icke's view. It is greed. Mr. Brabeck promised shareholders 5 - 6% annual growth and at the last shareholder meeting I attended it was clear that the majority of shareholders did not much care what had to be done to achieve it, as they booed anyone who dared question the board of directors business practices.

If the company was held accountable and fined a proportion of its turnover, rather than the trifling sums that have been levied against it, then behavour would change because shareholders - and insurers - would demand it in their own best interest.

July 23, 2008

Proposals for solar power stations are a good sign, but we need a framework for action

There is an exciting sign of things to come if the world really is to move to address climate change. The European Union's Institute for Energy is backing proposals for a massive solar power project (ie the size of Wales) in North African deserts. Massive sums will have to be found for the distribution system, but there is the potential for Europe to meet all its energy needs from this project, according to this report in The Guardian:

There are some provisos as to whether the political will for action will be forthcoming. The key one is, of course, economic. According to the Guardian article, an investment of Euros 450 billion is required for a distribution system to provide 100 GW by 2050. There is the potential for solar systems to provide energy more cheaply than other methods. Renewable energy is becoming even more feasible as oil prices rise, and they will inevitability rise further as increased demand for energy chases finite oil resources, which are widely believed to be past their peak already.

But it is not quite as rosy as it may appear - and reminds me of some sandwiches I bought once when catching the train to London from Cambridge (more on those in a moment). The rising oil price is having another effect. In Brazil it is now becoming economically viable to tap oil reserves that lie below many kilometres of rock off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Yesterday the Secretary for Economic Development for Rio de Janeiro State said the country must capitalise on the high price of oil. In the US the cost of oil is prompting ever louder calls for reserves off the coast of California and Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico to be tapped.

Supply and demand increasing the price of oil is clearly not going to address the problem of carbon emissions or peak oil if it leads to an increase in oil production. As another example, Gordon Brown recently appealed to Middle Eastern countries to increase oil production to help meet demand and damp down prices. See:

Ideas under discussion within the Simultaneous Policy democratic process offer better solutions. Contraction & Convergence envisions a reduction of emissions to sustainable levels, with equitable distribution of the right to emit. The Oil Depletion Protocol proposes a managed weaning off of oil. It seems that whatever approach is taken, there is merit in taxing carbon emissions rather than trading them as trading does not necessarily provide an incentive to develop new, cleaner technologies.

Which brings me to my sandwiches, bought at Cambridge train station. They were organic, packaged with cardboard from recycled sources and the transparent film was made from cellulose and so 100% bio-degradeable. They were perhaps the most sustainable sandwiches I have ever bought. There are some that argue that we should rely on consumers favouring such products to change business practices. They argue that instead of imposing regulations, companies should be encouraged - and rewarded - for showing Corporate Social Responsibility, in other words, doing the right thing voluntarily. They would point to my sandwiches as an example of this working.

I see the lesson of the sandwiches differently. This product was the only one that had gone the sustainable route. If, however, there was a requirement that manufacturers of goods had to use recyclable or bio-degradable components wherever possible and take responsibility for processing any that are not (a so-called circular economy rather than a linear economy - see this clip on Youtube), then sustainable products would be the norm, rather than the exception. We need to be moving in this direction as, by definition, the world cannot survive unsustainably for ever.

Another example more directly linked to climate change, comes from my previous life as an electronic engineer. I worked on a computer-controlled diesel engine. The motivation for this research and development project was new European Union regulations on emissions which could not be met with conventional mechanical pumps. Greater control of the engine was required to improve efficiency and so reduce emissions. The main pump manufacturers were competing to produce the best solution and win orders from car manufacturers.

The Simultaneous Policy aims to provide the framework to prompt the innovation and other changes required to address global problems. Present mechanisms of commodity trading ramping up prices and emissions trading offsetting emissions may not quite do it when it comes to climate change and peak oil. We need the coherent set of policies being developed through the Simultaneous Policy campaigns democratic and transparent process (you can join in with proposals and cast your vote by signing up as a Simultaneous Policy Adopter on the official websites). The implementation strategy means that powerful vested interests that currently divert and undermine political effort are side-stepped.

The news on solar power stations is a sign that there is a way through the transition to a sustainable economy. We just need to provide the framework to make things like this happen. Play your part by signing up as an Simultaneous Policy Adopter.

July 22, 2008

Shut out of the WTO Green Room

The open letter below from Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) proves the point that current methods of global policy making are not based on winning the argument, but on abusing power. At the current discussions on the so-called development round of the WTO, the rich nations are arm-twisting poorer countries to open their markets to transnational corporations, while offering lesser access to their own markets.

In previous meetings the developing country block was organised and united enough to say that no deal is better than a poor deal, and the same may happen again. Yet the world is in need of a better regulated system of trade as the credit crunch, out of control oil prices and rising food prices are all blamed in part on predatory speculation. As I wrote yesterday, policies persued by WTO, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are also implicated in the food crisis. See:

But can we expect anything different? Nations compete with each other and protect their own best interests, particularly their economies. Those with power use it. While President Morales is calling for a different agenda to be followed, there are those who argue that Bolivia should instead concentrate on becoming more effective at competing. Brazil - which has many natural advantages over Bolivia - is achieving both increases in standards of living and reduction in inequality by embracing globalization. President Lula, one-time trade union activist, dropped his radical policies to get elected. See:

The Simultaneous Policy campaign is bringing people together around the world to discuss the policies they wish to see implemented to address global problems. You can join in by signing up as an SP Adopter on the Simpol websites. You can see policy suggestions already under discussion in the Simpol Forum. The campaign offers the chance of a coherent set of policies, for example, where climate change, sustainability and trade justice are addressed together, instead of being at odds with each other. This is one big plus, and is founded on the belief that simultaneous implementation of these policies will break through the destructive competition between nations.

Our leaders at present are forced into many decisions (or lack of them) because they are told by business leaders that investment and jobs will otherwise leave the country. Countries are played off against each other to offer the most attractive location for companies to operate and to host their headquarters. Hence, the type of behaviour at WTO described by President Morales.

John Bunzl has described the policy development process as a parallel market in ideas. There is the market where countries compete for investment and global justice campaigners are limited to winning what concessions they can. And there is the Simultaneous Policy market where we can discuss the policies that are really necessary. He has described this in an analogy of kids fighting over sandwiches, which you can read here:

President Morales has suggestions for alternative policies. If Adopters want to support them within the Simultaneous Policy campaign then they are welcome to put them forward. But they will need to be defended. To survive voting rounds to be included in the final policy package, the argument must be won on its merits.

---Letter from Evo Morales, reproduced on many sites, including:

Letter from Evo Morales to the WTO

On the WTO's round of negotiations

International trade can play a major role in the promotion of economic development and the alleviation of poverty. We recognize the need for all our peoples to benefit from the increased opportunities and welfare gains that the multilateral trading system generates. The majority of WTO members are developing countries. We seek to place their needs and interests at the heart of the Work Programme adopted in this Declaration. Doha World Trade Organization Ministerial Declaration, November 14, 2001

With these words began the WTO round of negotiations seven years ago. In reality, are economic development, the alleviation of poverty, the needs of all our peoples, the increased opportunities for developing countries at the center of the current negotiations at the WTO?

First I must say that if it were so, all 153 member countries and in particular, the wide majority of developing countries should be the main actors in the WTO negotiations. But what we are seeing is that a handful of 35 countries are invited by the Director-General to informal meetings so that they advance significantly in the negotiations and prepare the agreements of this WTO "Development Round".

The WTO negotiations have turned into a fight by developed countries to open markets in developing countries to favor their big companies.

The agricultural subsidies in the North, which mainly go to agricultural and food companies in the US and Europe, will not only continue but will actually increase, as demonstrated by the 2008 Farm Bill [1] in the United States. The developing countries will lower tariffs on their agricultural products while the real subsidies [2] applied by the US or the EU to their agricultural products will not decline.

As for industrial products in the WTO negotiations, developing countries are being asked to cut their tariffs by 40% to 60% while developed countries will, on average, cut their tariffs by 25% to 33%.

For countries like Bolivia the erosion of trade preferences due to the overall lowering of tariffs will have negative effects on the competitiveness of our exports.

The recognition of asymmetries, and the real and effective special and differential treatment in favor of developing countries is limited and obstructed when implemented by developed countries.

In the negotiations, there is a push towards the liberalization of new services sectors by countries when we should be definitely excluding basic services in education, health, water, energy and telecommunications from the text of the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services. These services are human rights that cannot be objects of private commercial relations and of liberalization rules that lead to privatization.

The deregulation and privatization of financial services, among others, are the cause of the current global financial crisis. Further liberalization of services will not bring about more development, but greater probabilities for a crisis and speculation on vital matters such as food.

The intellectual property regime established by the WTO has most of all benefited transnational corporations that monopolize patents, thus making medicines and other vital products more expensive, promoting the privatization and commercialization of life itself, as evidenced by the various patents on plants, animals and even human genes.

The poorest countries will be the main losers. The economic projections of a potential WTO agreement, carried out even by the World Bank, [3] indicate that the cumulative costs of the loss in employment, the restrictions to national policymaking and the loss in tariff revenues will be greater than the "gains" from the "Development Round".

After seven years, the WTO round is anchored in the past and out of date with the most important phenomena we are currently living: the food crisis, the energy crisis, climate change and the elimination of cultural diversity. The world is being led to believe that an agreement is needed to resolve the global agenda and this agreement does not correspond to that reality. Its bases are not appropriate to resist this new global agenda.

Studies by the FAO point out that with the current forces of agricultural production it is possible to feed 12 billion human beings, in other words, almost more than double the current world population. However, there is a food crisis because production is not geared towards the well-being of humans but towards the market, speculation and profitability of the big producers and marketers of food. To deal with the food crisis, it is necessary to strengthen family, peasant and community agriculture. Developing countries have to recover the right to regulate [4] our imports and exports to guarantee our populations' food supply. We have to end consumerism, waste and luxuries. In the poorest part of the planet, millions of human beings die of hunger every year. In the richest part of the planet, millions of dollars are spent to combat obesity. We consume in excess, waste natural resources and we produce the waste that pollutes Mother Earth.

Countries should prioritize the consumption of what we produce locally. A product that travels half around the world to reach its destiny can be cheaper than other that is produced domestically, but, if we take into account the environmental costs of transporting that merchandise, the energy consumption and the quantity of carbon emissions that it generates, then we can reach the conclusion that it is healthier for the planet and for humanity to prioritize the consumption of what is produced locally.

Foreign trade must be a complement to local production. In no way can we favor foreign markets at the expense of national production.

Capitalism wants to make us all uniform so that we turn into mere consumers. For the North there is only one development model, theirs. The uniform models of economic development are accompanied by processes of generalized acculturation to impose on us one single culture, one single fashion, one single way of thinking and of seeing things. To destroy a culture, to threaten the identity of a people, is the greatest damage that can be done to humanity.

The respect and the peaceful and harmonic complementarity of the various cultures and economies is essential to save the planet, humanity and life.

For this to be in fact, a round of negotiations about development and anchored in the present and future of humanity and the planet it should:

  • Guarantee the participation of developing countries in all WTO meetings, thus ending exclusive meetings in the "green room". [5]
  • Implement true asymmetric negotiations in favor of developing countries in which the developed countries make effective concessions.
  • Respect the interests of developing countries without limiting their capacity to define and implement national policies in agriculture, industry and services.
  • Effectively reduce the protectionist measures and subsidies of developed countries. [6]
  • Insure that the right of developing countries to protect their infant industries, for as long as necessary, in the same manner that industrialized countries did in the past.

Guarantee the right of developing countries to regulate and define their policies in the services sector, explicitly excluding basic services from the General Agreement on Trade in Services of the WTO.

  • Limit the monopolies of large corporations on intellectual property, foster the transfer of technology and prohibit the patenting of all forms of life.
  • Guarantee the countries' food sovereignty, eliminating any limitation to the ability of the States to regulate food exports and imports.
  • Adopt measures that contribute to limit consumerism, the wasting of natural resources, the elimination of greenhouse gases and the creation of waste that harms Mother Earth.

In the 21st century, a "Development round" can no longer be about "free trade", but it rather has to promote a kind of trade that contributes to the equilibrium between countries, regions and mother nature, establishing indicators that allow for an evaluation and correction of trade rules in terms of sustainable development.

We, the governments, have an enormous responsibility with our peoples. Agreements such as the ones in the WTO have to be widely known and debated by all citizens and not only by ministers, businessmen and "experts". We, the peoples of the world, have to stop being passive victims of these negotiations and turn into main actors of our present and future.

Evo Morales Ayma

Presidente of Bolivia

[1] The 2008 Farm Bill was approved on May 22 by the US Congress. It authorizes spending that includes subsidies to agriculture of up to 307 billion dollars in 5 years. Of these, there will be approximately 208 billion dollars that can be spent on food programs.

[2] The current text in Agriculture proposes the reduction of US subsidies by a range between 13 and 16.4 billion dollars per year. However, the real subsidies that will actually apply to the US are of approximately 7 billion dollars per year. On the other hand, the European Union is offering in the WTO negotiations the reform it carried out in 2003 to its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), without proposing further opening.

[3] Developing countries have little to gain in the WTO Round: the projected gains are of 0.2% for these countries, the reduction in world poverty is of 2.5 million (less than 1% of the world's poor) and the losses due to forgone tariff revenues will be of at least 63 billion dollars. (Anderson, Martin, and van der Mensbrugghe, "Market and Welfare Implications of Doha Reform Scenarios," in Agricultural Trade Reform and the Doha Development Agenda, Anderson and Martin, World Bank in Back to the Drawing Board: No Basis for Concluding the Doha Round of Negotiations" by Kevin P. Gallagher and Timothy A. Wise, RIS Policy Brief #36).

[4] This regulation must include the right to implement taxes on exports, to lower tariffs to favor imports, ban exports, subsidize domestic production, establish price bands, and in short, any measure that, given each developing country's reality, better suits the purpose of guaranteeing the population's food supply.

[5] The green room meetings is the name of the informal negotiation meetings at the WTO in which a group of 35 countries selected by the Director-General participates.

[6] A real cut in agricultural subsidies in the US would have to reduce them to less than 7 billion dollars per year.

July 21, 2008

Existing global policy making has undermined food security in Cambodia and Haiti

Free market structural adjustment strategies forced on Cambodia and Haiti are in the news as the World Trade Organisation meets and discussion of agricultural subsidies and protectionism are taking place. Indian farmers staged a protest last week for agriculture to be excluded from the WTO agreement. See:

Before anything else, the fact that many in Cambodia, Haiti and India have slipped into food insecurity as a result of globalization of food markets and, to greater or lesser degrees, the policies pursued by WTO should dispel one criticism of the Simultaneous Policy campaign. There is nothing outlandish about suggesting there should be global policies to address global problems. Global policies are already in existence and are being developed at meetings such as that of WTO.

What the Simultaneous Policy strategy provides is transparency and the involvement of those who are affected, some to the point of starving to death, by such policies.

In an article on current WTO discussions in The Observer, Heather Stewart, recalls the structural adjustment policies forced on Haiti by the World Bank and IMF. Import tarifs on rice were cut from 50% to 3%. See:

Indigneous farmers could not compete with imported rice and so stopped farming, resulting in lost production and lost income. The result : "In a recent report, Christian Aid found that Haiti has gone from being self-sufficient in food to using 80 per cent of its export earnings to pay for food imports. Rice production has fallen by almost half, and three-quarters of the rice consumed comes from the US."

With food prices soaring on world markets, people have been taking to the streets to protest that they cannot feed their families.

Cambodia also had policies forced upon it by the World Bank and IMF. Again it was capable of feeding its population. Cambodia still produces more rice than it needs, but it has opened its borders and exports much of the rice to Vietnam and Thailand, where it is processed and sold back. Now slotted into the world market, rice prices have increased three-fold in two years, as Alex Renton explains, also in The Observer.

It is surely a cruel shock of the reality of free trade. Children are being taken out of school by parents who need their help to bring in enough money to buy enough rice and other food to survive.

If Cambodian rice processing had been modernised then the value-added part of the process would have remained in country. But, Alex Renton, writes:

---extract from Observer article
"Mr Yang [of the influential farmers' assistance and education organisation Cedac] moans that, despite all the investment put into the country by the World Bank and other international institutions, no one thought to build up the rice-processing industry, or even increase storage capacity. 'I don't understand why we can't invest in these facilities: it makes profit for the farmers, for the country and provides jobs.'

The truth of course is that, as their ideology dictates, the expert western economists prevented the Cambodian government from making such public investments. These things should be left to the private sector and free trade, they said. The problem is, though, that these mechanisms seem to have left Cambodia in the lurch where it matters most - providing the security of adequate, affordable food for its people.

---extract ends

These cases show a lack of joined-up thinking on food security. I wrote recently of how existing human rights norms can be used to argue that international organisations such as the World Bank and IMF should ensure they do not undermine the right to food, as covered extensively in the book 'Global Obligations for the Right to Food', available via this blog. See:


In their chapter in this book on 'International Legal Dimensions of the Right to Food', Federica Donati and Margret Vidar, address International Financial Insitutions specifically in one section. They state, in part:

---extract from 'Global Obligations for the Right to Food'

Some studies claim that impoverished countries still face an unacceptably high and rising number of conditions in order to gain access to World Bank and IMF development finance. On average, poor countries face as many as sixty-seven conditions per World Bank loan. Many of the conditions relate to privatization reforms. It could be argued that this is not in line with the essential role of international cooperation in the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to food as provided for by the ICESCR (International Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) and interpreted by the CESCR (Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

General Comment 2 [of the Committee] holds that even when structural adjustment programes are unavoidable and when they entail austerity measures that affect economic opportunities and social entitlements, endeavors to protect the most basic economic, social and cultural rights become more, rather than less, urgent. In this regard the CESCR made it clear that the relevant United Nations agencies should make a particular effort to ensure that such protection is, to the maximum extent possible, built into programs and policies designed to promote structural adjustment. The General Assembly resolution discussed above [see full text] also singles out the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in its call on International Governmental Organisations to respect and support the realization of the right to food.

---extract ends

This book and the arguments it presents, are part of the effort to encourage broader respect for existing human rights norms, including by International Governmental Organisations.

Within discussion of the policy content of the Simultaneous Policy, there are already proposals for reforming international financial institutions. It may well be relevant to include within the terms of reference of the reformed institutions a requirement to act in accordance with human rights norms.

July 18, 2008

Protecting water resources - lessons from a Brazilian success

A few years ago I worked with Brazilian water campaigners trying to stop Nestlé from exploiting water in São Lourenço, an historic spa town. Nestlé's operation broke federal laws regarding demineralisation of a precious resource, which formed the basis of tourism in the town. Nestlé had sunk two boreholes and was pumping volumes of water that was affecting the springs used for treating various ailments. Subsidence was also reported in the water park, where chapel-like buildings were built over the springs, some a century old.

It took ten years of campaigning to force Nestlé to stop pumping and to gain some level of compensation for the town, in the form of renovation of the park.

A key element of the campaign, was the civil public action brought by citizens. They collected petition signatures and presented these to the public prosecutor who, under Brazilian law, had to investigate to see if there was a case to answer. He concluded that there was and took Nestlé to court for a variety of irregularities. Nestlé's was ordered to stop pumping immediately. This was over-turned just days later by a higher court that ruled that Nestlé could continue pumping while the case was heard. Campaigners received the backing of members of Congress, where a hearing was held that took evidence from officials veryifying that laws had been broken. A legal opinion was commissioned from a federal prosecutor, who not only supported these views, but called for an investigation of possible corruption as Nestlé had not been required to stop pumping by the authorities responsible for mineral water resources.

The campaign came to Europe and I played a part, in my position with Baby Milk Action, in bringing it to the attention of UK development organisations (who backed a public meeting on the topic, with Franklin Fredrick from the Brazilian campaign). I also worked with the BBC radio, which made a programme on the case. See:

Campaigners did well in publicising the case in Nestlé's home country of Switzerland and, when questioned, the then Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé (who continues as Chairman), would give encouraging signs that they were in the process of complying with the law, only for further challenges to be made by the company in Brazil.

Finally the company gave in to pressure and, no doubt mindful that it was likely to lose the court case, settled out of court, agreeing to stop pumping or face punitive fines. It has now stopped.

Nestlé claims that it did nothing wrong and says it commissioned an independent audit that confirmed it was in compliance with the law. When I contacted the auditors, Bureau Veritas, and brought to their attention some of the illegalities, they commented: "our work did not constitute a legal audit as such, nor did it include a review of the on-going civil action."

Here is an image from the environmental impact assessment, commissioned retrospectively by Nestlé, which shows its bottling plant was built in the red of area of high risk to the aquifer.

This case was one of those informing my chapter on holding corporations accountable in the book 'Global Obligations for the Right to Food' - available to order on this blog - and the proposal for a World Transnational Corporation Regulatory Authority, put forward for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy. See:

I particularly like the idea of a citizens' petition, which was instrumental in resolving the case of Nestlé in Brazil, though this took far too long. If national measures are ineffective, I propose that citizens be permitted to bring such as petition to the World TNC Authority to prompt an investigation. If it is found that there is a case to answer, this would go forward to the prosecutor of a reformed International Criminal Court or other specially-created court.

Around the world, communities are battling to protect their water resources. A couple of significant campaigns are being run by the Polaris Institute and Action for Corporate Accountability. Feel free to add comments with other resources.

Simpol-UK has held policy fora on protecting the right to water, for example at the European Social Forum in London in 2004. A past newsletter includes an article from Franklin Fredrick of the Brazilian campaign.

This can be downloaded from the 'campaigns' section of:

Or directly from:

July 17, 2008

Indian farmers protest about proposed WTO agreement

I wrote recently about the need for UN bodies, international organisations and governments in their foreign policy to consider their human rights obligations. In the article I addressed the right to food in particular. See:

The following news item from campaigners in India has arrived in my email in box showing how people there are concerned about the impact of World Trade Organisation on their food security.

--Message from Devinder Sharma who organised the meeting described

Points from the Press Note:

Farmers and rural women of Karnataka, in solidarity with various farmers organizations of India, resolve that the latest drafts on Agriculture and Non Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) that were released on the 10th of July, 2008 in Geneva, are an orchestrated attempt to open up the Indian markets for highly subsidized cheaper imports. Importing food is importing unemployment and poverty that will destroy livelihoods and the country's food self-sufficiency.

What is being offered to us at WTO by way of special products (SP) and Special Safeguard Measures (SSM) is only a smokescreen and offers no real protection to Indian agriculture and fisheries.

The Agreement on Agriculture is designed to ensure that subsidized products from the developed countries are dumped into India. In the absence of quantitative restrictions since 2001, farmers across the country have been exposed to price volatility, decreased incomes and, in many cases, driven to commit suicide. This is a calculated move to push farmers out of farming and replaced by corporations as has been the approach in the USA and European Union.

In this context and given the above concerns, we demand that the Government should reject the two drafts, as they fail to take India's minimum concerns on-board.

Agriculture and Food should be left out of WTO.

We urge political parties, civil society organizations, academics, etc. to stand up and join hands with us to resist this anti-farmer agreement. We also request our state governments to take up this matter with the Centre on an urgent basis so that the interest of farmers and nation is protected.

---quote ends

July 16, 2008

World Transnational Corporation Regulatory Authority

I have submitted a proposal for a World Transnational Corporation Regulatory Authority for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy.

Anyone who has signed up as a Simultaneous Policy Adopter (which is free and easy to do on the Simpol websites) can submit a policy for consideration by other Adopters. Proposals can be sent to the email discussion groups or added to a work in progress section of the Simpol Forum. Seconders are needed for the proposal to forward further. When the necessary number have been gained, and the text finalised, the summary will be published in the It's Simpol ! newsletter and included in annual voting rounds. Proposals gaining significant levels of support remain in the process. Those that don't drop out, but can be re-submitted following the same process, ideally taking on board any objections that have been raised.

Here is the proposal that I have submitted, having gained seconders. It will go forward into the next voting round. You can leave comments on the discussion board dedicated to this proposal if you are an Adopter (or want to sign up). Otherwise leave comments and questions here. My chapter in the book 'Global Obligations for the Right to Food' (available to order here), contains case studies and background to this and other proposals for holding corporations to account.

Title: World Transnational Corporation Regulatory Authority

Proposer: Mike Brady

Seconders: John Bunzl, Peter Challen, Bill Clarke, Graham Edwards, Doug Everingham, Gerard O’Donovan, Morgan Gallagher, Linda Gamlin, Brian Jenkins, Dawn Johnson, Chaitanya Kalevar, Brendan Maher, Caroline Mitchinson Lawther, Ruth Moss, Jill Phillips, Jilna Shah, Shilpa Shah, Jonathan Ward, Brian Wills, Valerie Yule

Can your suggested policy be implemented by a country acting alone?: No. The fear of competitive disadvantage is fundamental to the reluctance of governments regulating transnational corporations.

Summary: This new body will be responsible for ensuring that transnational corporations abide by existing human rights, environmental, labour and other relevant agreements. It will accept reports of breaches from appropriate authorities or public petition and, if it finds there is a case to answer, will bring a prosecution before the International Criminal Court. The Court will be empowered to levy fines based on annual turnover on the corporation and to award governments the right to levy punitive tariffs on the home government of the corporation for seeking an unfair competitive advantage by failing to enforce the agreements. Corporations with a turnover and geographic coverage above set minimums will be required to register as 'globally incorporated companies' and submit annual independently-audited reports of their performance against standards already agreed to in the UN Global Compact for assessment.

Further information:

As summarised above there are several elements to the proposals.

Formation of the World Transnational Corporation Regulatory Authority.

This is analogous to national regulatory authorities, such as the Office of Fair Trading or Trading Standards officers that exist in the UK to ensure businesses abide by legislation.

It is to be an autonomous body with a protected budget from the UN and a mandate to carry out investigations at the request of third parties and on its own initiative. It is also to be proactive in seeking evidence that transnational corporations are abiding by internationally-agreed standards.

A central philosophy to the formation of the Authority is that it is to take as its starting point existing agreed international instruments in the areas of protection of human rights, the environment, labour conditions and other relevant areas.

Authority's role in investigating complaints against corporations

The Authority will accept allegations of malpractice by any corporation or business whatever its type or size from:

- governments
- registered non-governmental organisations
- public petition

The public petition system will be analogous to the 'civil public action' used in countries such as Brazil. If a community has a grievance against a business then it can petition the Authority by collecting signatures of people in the affected area or areas. The threshold for triggering an investigation by the Authority will need to be set.

The Authority will then appoint an investigator tasked with determining:

- if there is a case to answer
- if national measures in the affected country and the home country of the corporation provide a satisfactory means of complaint and redress
- if national measures, where available, have been used
- whether governments have failed in their responsibility to hold the corporation to account

If there is a case to answer and there is a failure at national level the investigator can pass a file to a prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which will have its mandate extended to accept these reports and to hear cases involving transnational corporations as well as governments. If the case is being dealt with satisfactorily at national level in a reasonable time scale then the case will be monitored, but action not necessarily taken by the authority.

Authority's role in auditing company activities

The Authority will require corporations above a set turnover and global coverage to register as 'globally incorporated companies' and submit annual independently-audited reports on their performance, both financial and against the internationally-agreed standards (this is inspired by a similar proposal from the European Parliament for a European Incorporated Company - which has been blocked by the European Commission).

The initial requirements will be in line with the 10 points of the existing UN Global Compact, a voluntary system which invites companies to submit reports. The Global Compact is fundamentally flawed, however, as it does not require audited reports to be submitted, does not audit the reports itself and does not have a complaints or monitoring mechanism.

The Authority will have the power to investigate reports submitted and a designated member of the board of the corporation will be legally responsible for ensuring they are accurate, in the same way that is is common practice for the Financial Director to be legally responsible for financial reports.

The Authority will be empowered to levy fines itself if reports are not submitted on time and to provide a file of evidence to prosecutors of the International Criminal Court if:

- reports are not truthful or complete
- there is evidence of breaches of the agreed standards

Role of the International Criminal Court

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court will act like a barrister briefed by the investigators of the Authority.

Corporations will be prosecuted for breaches for redress for the affected community and for punitive fines, which are to be based on company turnover (there are examples of existing sanctions at EU and national level following this approach).

Governments will to be prosecuted for seeking unfair competitive advantage by failing to enforce the agreed standards on corporations. The onus will be on the home government of the corporation to enforce the regulations. The government of the country where the offence took place may also be prosecuted, but it should be recognised that the power of such governments is sometimes limited because of the power of corporations and their home nations.

The International Criminal Court may require governments to pay redress for the affected community and punitive fines. It may also or alternatively award other governments the right to levy punitive tariffs on exports from the guilty country to recoup lost income due to the unfair trading practice. This is similar to the enforcement mechanism used by the World Trade Organisation and found to be effective in forcing governments to change trading policies judged to be illegal under WTO agreements.

Note on the background to this proposal:

This policy suggestion arises from public meetings held by the Cambridge SP Adopters' Group (CAMSPAG) since 2002, on a variety of topics such as 'Making all trade Fair Trade' and 'Holding corporations accountable'. These meetings had input from experts in these areas. One meeting looked at the specific case of Coca Cola's alleged trade union busting activities in Colombia as a case study. Policy discussion papers were produced as a result of these meetings, which have been made available in the policy zone of the Simpol-UK site, a way open to all SPAG's for sharing the results of their discussions. Simpol-UK held a policy forum at the House of Commons on the same topic with the Coordinator of CAMSPAG and an expert from the campaign to hold Nestlé to account over its environmentally damaging water bottling activities in São Lourenço, Brazil. This was written up in the It's Simpol ! newsletter.

The discussion has also been informed by proposals made by George Monbiot in his book 'The Age of Consent' for an International Fair Trade Organisation to replace the World Trade Organisation.

The proposals for a world regulatory authority and the creation of 'globally incorporated companies' appear in a chapter in the book entitled: "Global obligations for the right to food" published in January 2008 which can be ordered from this site.

This book arises from a project led by Professor George Kent of the University of Hawaii to be presented to the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition. The book argues that the global community of nation states has a responsibility under existing human rights instruments to act collectively to ensure the right to food. The chapter on transnational corporations by the proposer of this policy suggestion, argues that current forms of regulations by individual governments and voluntary agreements (specifically the UN Global Compact and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises) are failing to provide the protection necessary. The UN once had an office for Transational Corporations, which proposed binding regulations and was wound up for daring to do so. The Special Representative on Transnational Corporations, John Ruggie, who reported to the UN Human Rights Council in 2007 made some constructive suggestions regarding regulations, but recognised there are substantial obstacles to such an approach. He concluded:

"The permissive conditions for business-related human rights abuses today are created by a misalignment between economic forces and governance capacity. Only a realignment can fix the problem. In principle, public authorities set the rules within which business operates. But at the national level some governments simply may be unable to take effective action, whether or not the will to do so is present. And in the international arena states themselves compete for access to markets and investments, thus collective action problems may restrict or impede their serving as the international community’s “public authority.” The most vulnerable people and communities pay the heaviest price for these governance gaps."

There is, therefore, pressing need for the suggested policy to be supported within SP and eventually implemented.

July 10, 2008

Food prices, biofuels and joined-up thinking

The Simultaneous Policy campaign aims to achieve joined-up thinking about global problems. But it is not alone in trying to achieve this. The book, Global Obligations for the Right to Food, to which I contributed a chapter, argues that governments have an obligation under existing human rights agreements to act cooperatively and that these obligations should be reflected in decisions taken at the international level.

There is a lot of depth to the argument in the book. Various chapters explore how these obligations manifest themselves in particular areas, such as regulating transnational corporations, protecting breastfeeding, enacting programmes against parasitic infections and more. Here I want to briefly discuss some of the background argument for action and explore its implications for current increases in food prices that have forced an additional 100 million people into hunger. It has been suggested that a large proportion of the price increases - and consequent hunger - can be traced to increased demands for biofuels and incentives from governments for farmers to grow these rather than food. See:

As explained by Fedrica Donati and Margret Vidar in their chapter 'International Legal Dimensions of the Right to Food', the human right to food is contained in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. The UN special rapporteur on the right to food has explained this right in the following terms :

--- quote begins
The right to food is the right to have regular, permanent and unobstructed access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free from anxiety.
--- quote ends

I imagine anyone reading this would want to live under such conditions themselves, but may balk at the thought that there is some kind of obligation to ensure all people enjoy the same right, particularly when there are so many hungry in the world.

So what does it mean in practical terms? Donati and Vidar quote from Article 2 of the ICESCR:

--- quote begins
Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.
--- quote ends

This is an obligation to the people within the state to realize the rights and to do so as a matter of urgency. Some actions - or more likely stopping of certain actions - can be taken immediately. The reference to 'available resources' is not intended as a justification for inaction, but as a requirement to apply those resources that are available.

The book as a whole argues that these obligations are not only for people within the state, however, they apply to the government's impact, or possible impact, on people in the rest of the world. For example, through the decisions that governments make as members of international organizations. This principle has been largely ignored to date as the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank etc. have not seen it necessary to consider whether their deliberations are in compliance with human rights norms. But if they are not, the states that control them are in breach of their commitments.

These commitments should be considered as governments address climate change, peak oil and the current increase in food prices. If a course of action impinges on the right to food, then it puts governments in breach of their human rights obligations.

As the editor, Professor George Kent, remarks in his introduction, world hunger could be ended tomorrow by providing everyone with sandwiches (of sufficient nutritional quality of course). But that is not the intention of governments having obligations to realize the right to food. In most societies the majority of people will be able to take responsibility for their own food and that is how it should be. Communities, states, international organisations and the community of nations only need to become involved when there are failures at a lower level.

The chapter explores in greater depth the nature of the obligations with reference to the Food and Agriculture Organisation's Right to Food Guidelines. Basically states have obligations to respect, protect and facilitate.

Quoting from Donati and Vidar: "The obligation to respect the right to adequate food requires state parties not to take any measures that result in reducing existing access to food.... The obligation to respect the right to food is effectively a negative obligation, as it entails limits on the exercise of state power that might threaten people's existing access to food."

Arguably pursuit of biofuels in the way that has occurred shows a failure to respect the right to food. Here is where joined-up thinking must be exercised. If policy makers were mindful of this obligation then planning would ensure no negative impact on the right to food.

Interestingly, Brazil claims that its programme of producing ethanol from sugar cane does not impinge on the right to food because it is not using land that would otherwise be used for agriculture. Indeed, it suggests that opening land to sugar cane production actually makes it possible to plant food crops in a rotation.

I have seen a defence of biofuels derived from corn, that argues that protein that is effectively a waste product of the biofuel process can be used as animal feed. If this is indeed the case, then consideration of the right to food would explore this possibility and programmes would be developed that are effective in providing food as well as fuel.

It may be the case, however, that biofuels will impinge on the right to food even then, in which case alternatives should be developed.

The chapter goes on: "The obligation to protect the right to food requires measures by the state to ensure that enterprises or individuals do not deprive individuals of their access to adequate food. This obligation means that the government must pass and enforce laws to prevent powerful people or organizations from violating the right to food."

My chapter, which I'll discuss another time, examines in depth practical ways in which this can be done.

Thirdly: "The obligation to fulfill is a positive obligation, requiring direct action, through appropriate policies and programs to fulfill the right to food of those who are not able to realize it for themselves."

The obligation to 'fulfill' is subdivided into 'facilitate' and to 'provide'. On 'facilitate' : "the ICESCR gives some guidance, as it specifies production, harvesting, conservation, processing, retailing, and consumption of food. Further examples could include land reform and other measures to improve access to natural resources... measures to improve employment prospects, through training, equipment and credit in rural and urban areas are also facilitating measures."

Some countries have responded to food price increases by placing price controls on food (eg Mexico, Bolivia and Venezuela). Brazil has taken the route of making lines of credit available to agrobusiness and smallholder farmers with the aim of increasing harvests and taking some heat out of speculation.

The obligation to 'provide' is the end stop. If people simply do not have the food they need, then there is an obligation to provide it. The international aspect of this obligation is well recognised when it comes to natural disasters, where the global community is quick to pledge assistance. Though as Rolf Künnemann and Sandra Ratjen explore in a chapter on Extraterritorial Obligations, the most effective action to realize the right to food may be to provide financial support to relief efforts for procurement of food in the surrounding area. Too often assistance is used as a way to off load surpluses and break into markets.

Having an obligation to provide food if all else fails, should act as a stimulus for realizing the right to food through other routes. Joined-up thinking is a far better approach than having to try to put failures right through direct intervention at the time when people are starving.

These obligations already exist under human rights norms having force into international law. This system is not yet functioning effectively, which is something that the Simultaneous Policy could perhaps address.

July 9, 2008

Quotas are everywhere in the free market - so why not for coffee?

I wrote yesterday about the crisis facing the global coffee market and the day before about child slavery in the cocoa industry. How to deal with these issues is something that may be relevant for the Simultaneous Policy.

There are efforts to address the coffee crisis, with a new International Coffee Agreement currently being ratified by governments that have signed up to it in principle. One thing the agreement does not talk about is using a quota system to better match supply and demand. Over supply, something exacerbated by companies such as Nestlé encouraging farmers in Vietnam and China to enter the market, keeps prices so low they are sometimes below the cost of production.

Quotas are not liked by business. Nestlé alternative suggestion is that consumers should drink more coffee. But when you think about it, we are surrounded by markets that run with quotas to make them more effective.

Quotas have a whiff of central planning about them, which is perhaps why they may promote a negative reaction. The example of the former Soviet Union, with shortages and appalling environmental impacts, is not a good advertisement for that. There were problems with quotas for coffee in the past and the Common Agriculture Policy pursued by the European Union has proved difficult to update to correct its failings.

But we see quotas in many other places. In 2000 the UK government conducted an auction for part of the electromagnetic spectrum in the form of licences for G3 mobile telephone services. The available spectrum was split into 5 packets to be licensed separately. In part there was a technical limit on how the frequency ranges could be split, but there was also a desire to open the market, which was currently dominated by four companies. The 5th licence was reserved for new operators, who could also bid on the others. There were 13 bidders trying for licenses at the outset. In such a market, there cannot be a free for all. There needs to be a quota set. See:

There is a similar situation with slots at airports. There are physical limits on how many aircraft can be processed taking off and landing. There may also be political factors, such as the amount of noise that surrounding residents can be expected to put up with, which may further reduce slots. Slots become highly sought after. Indeed, it was suggested recently that airlines in Brazil were keen to take over Varig, which went into administration, because of the value of its slots as much as for its other assets. These could perhaps be seen as the buying side of the equation. Companies wanting access to a scarce resource to be able to do business, be it electromagnetic spectrum or space at the airport.

In many countries taxi services are regulated, which is more the sellers side of the equation. Taxi drivers want a license to be able to offer their service. The number of taxis that are licensed is often limited. Too many taxis would result in none being occupied as optimally as it could be, meaning empty vehicles on the roads and low incomes for drivers, possibly with consequent social effects. Too few taxis and those who want one might be disappointed or the charges may become extortionate (though it often seems to be the case that the rates taxis can charge are also fixed). There are other considerations, such as the need for the number of taxis and charges to be attractive to encourage people to leave their cars behind, while still making bus journeys more attractive still (as they cause less congestion and pollution). So a quota system is set with the aim of satisfying the sellers (the drivers) and the buyers (would-be passengers). Licensing can also be used to provide quality control (by requiring drivers to show knowledge of the city) and security (as passengers know the stranger whose car they enter is on a register). There can be failings to the system. It is in drivers interest to keep the number of licenses small. But with local control over numbers, there should be democratic recourse for passengers to change the situation.

Another situation where quotas are commonplace and accepted, though also often controversial, is with planning permission. In the UK, town and city councils put limits on the number of supermarkets that can open. Possibly this may be due to a physical limit on available land, but is more likely due to political factors, such as wanting to limit car journies to out-of-town sites and to maintain commerce in town centres, which are more communal, and protect local shops, which may be the only choice for the elderly, infirm and those with limited transport options. Consideration of a planning application from a supermarket chain can raise strong feelings, both for and against. A responsive local democracy will aim to resolve the conflicting demands in a transparent way.

There are no doubt many other examples of where quotas are an accepted part of the market in which businesses operate. There are also, of course, many cases where quotas are unnecessary and a free market operates successfully (though free markets are often still regulated in other ways to protect consumers and ensure fair competition).

So considering a quota system for certain resources, such as coffee, where oversupply puts many farmers into an insecure position, is not so extreme after all.

July 8, 2008

The International Coffee Agreement is currently being ratified. Will it solve the coffee crisis?

I wrote yesterday about the on-going crisis in cocoa farming. Transnational corporations have not delivered on their undertakings to end child slavery in their supply chains. Low prices, which fuel exploitation, are exacerbated by corporations encouraging new producers to enter the market at any sign of price increases. It has been proposed that there should be an international secretariat to oversee cocoa supply management. This may be an appropriate issue to be addressed in the Simultaneous Policy. On the other hand, those who believe that a free market should set prices without any controls are welcome to put forward alternative views and vote accordingly. See:

Cocoa is not the only food commodity in crisis. Coffee is another that has been the subject of much study and campaigning. A few years ago, Oxfam launched a report called Mugged: Poverty in Your Coffee Cup and a campaign aimed at improving the position of coffee farmers. Amongst its recommendations was that the oligarchy of coffee processors source an increasing percentage of their coffee from Fair Trade certified producers. One of them, Nestlé, made a public relations splash of its launch of a Fairtrade-marked coffee, though drew much criticism for using it to cover up its negative impact on coffee farmers, particularly as the number of farmers involved represented just 0.1% of those dependent on the company. See:

Oxfam also called for a Commodity Management Initiative, with proposed outcomes including: "Producer and consumer country governments establishing mechanisms to correct the imbalance in supply and demand to ensure reasonable prices to producers. Farmers should be adequately represented in such schemes."

In its latest update, Oxfam is claiming some progress through a new International Coffee Agreement, signed in September 2007. The agreement can be downloaded from the site of the International Coffee Organisation. See:

These developments should make it clear that in calling for policies to address global problems, the Simultaneous Policy campaign is not being outlandish. Such policies are being developed as we speak, with varying degrees of democratic accountability and transparency. The SP campaign does not necessarily have to include new proposals. Adopters can be forward existing measures for discussion and approval through the democratic process. Significantly, however, it is the people who are in charge of this process, not vested interests who play countries off against each other.

The International Coffee Agreement has, like many international agreements and conventions, a similarity with the Simultaneous Policy in that it is due to come into force when a trigger level of governments party to it have ratified it. Given that this may not happen, the Agreement is to come into force provisionally on 25 September 2008. If the trigger level isn't reached by 25 September 2009, its provisional nature may be extended, those governments that have ratified it can decide it comes into force amongst themselves, or it will fall. The International Coffee Organisation is tracking the state of ratification.

One thing the Agreement does not talk about it setting quotas. Rather Articles 36 states:

Sustainable coffee sector

Members shall give due consideration to the sustainable management of coffee resources and processing, bearing in mind the principles and objectives on sustainable development contained in Agenda 21 adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and those adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002.

'Giving due consideration' to sustainable development is a formulation which could be satified by a note in the minutes of a meeting, rather than having a tangible impact.

Quotas, or some other form of market control trying to meet supply and demand more closely, are disliked by business interests as market distortions. Yet it is also a market distortion for Nestlé to encourage farmers in Vietnam and China to enter into coffee production, so further exacerbating supply. It is also a market distortion when the oligarchy of coffee processors has the power to compel farmers to accept below the cost of production when competition for buyers is particularly great.

Tarif barriers on processed coffee is another market distortion and one recognised in the International Coffee Agreement, which states in Article 37:

Standard of living and working conditions

Members recognize the need of developing countries to broaden the base of their economies through, inter alia, industrialization and the export of manufactured products, including the processing of coffee and the export of processed coffee, as referred to in sub-paragraphs (d), (e), (f) and (g) of paragraph (1) of Article 2 [definitions of different types of processed coffee]. In this connection, Members should avoid the adoption of governmental measures which could cause disruption to the coffee sector of other Members.

What this means in practical terms is a little unclear. On the one hand it recognizes that export countries can keep more of the value-added phase in their countries by industrializing and exporting processed coffee, but on the other hand this should not cause disruption to other Members. If processing becomes more local to production, would this not be to the detriment of processing in industrialized countries?

That the issue of trade barriers is being addressed, show how global problems such as the poverty of coffee farmers cut across other issues. In the context of the Simultaneous Policy, there could be further linkage, with the true cost of transport being factored in through, for example, a tax on carbon emissions.

The International Coffee Agreement is limited to coffee. It involves importing and exporting governments and international organisations as Members and is to have a Private Sector Consultative Board consisting of growers, exporters, importers and roasters.

The Simultaneous Policy enables a bigger picture view in other regards. The coffee crisis impacts on other issues such as food security, poverty, the environment and involvement in the drugs trade (an attractive cash crop when coffee prices collapse). These are issues that the world has to deal with or suffer the consequencies. A cross-cutting and joined up response where vested interests are not in the driving seat should produce better solutions.

The book Global Obligations for the Right to Food (order on the right) suggests governments should be giving consideration to food security in any case when developing global governance procedures, which is what the International Coffee Agreement is. The analysis of existing human rights instruments by Professor George Kent in the opening chapter of the book contains the following :

"Generally if you have the capacity to protect someone from great harm or you can deliver great benefits and you can do that at small cost or risk to yourself, then you are obligated to do so."

Governments have yet to be convinced of this argument, but we, as individuals, may do so and SP provides the mechanism.

To increase the incomes of coffee farmers, the impact on consumers will be minimal as the percentage of a the price of a cup of coffee that goes to farmers is very small. In the Oxfam report the breakdown suggests that a farmer receives just US$ 0.14 for supplying the coffee for a bag of soluble coffee costing US$ 26.40. If SP Adopters were asked to accept a regime which would more fairly distribute the rewards through the supply chain, affecting the final price slightly or not at all, and were being asked to do so by Adopters along that chain, then an seemingly unresolvable problem could be resolved.

Under the present system, it is the unremitting driving down of costs by those who hold power in the supply chain that results in such inequality in the sharing of rewards.

There were problems last time a quota system was tried, with free-riders producing poor quality coffee and the way some governments divided up licences. These should be learned from in designing whatever system more effectively matches supply and demand. Experts in this field are very welcome to submit proposals for consideration by other SP Adopters. See the Simpol websites for information on how to do so.

July 7, 2008

Chocolate, child slavery and the Simultaneous Policy

There is a problem of child slavery in the cocoa supply chain. Most of the world's cocoa comes from Ivory Coast and Ghana. According to the International Labour Rights Forum (ILRF), which has just launched a new report:

The US Department of State has estimated that more than 109,000 children in Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa industry work under “the worst forms of child labor,” and that some 10,000 or more are victims of human trafficking or enslavement. These child workers labor for long, punishing hours, using dangerous tools and facing frequent exposure to dangerous pesticides as they travel great distances in the grueling heat. Those who labor as slaves must also suffer frequent beatings and other cruel treatment.

Two US Senators introduced a plan to end child slavery in the supply chain within 5 years and called on chocolate companies to sign up to it, which they did. But little happened and the deadline of the so-called Harkin-Engel Protocol was extended. Now the ILRF has analysed what companies are doing in its new briefing, available at:

Instead of abiding by the protocol, the companies, including some of the world's largest transnational food corporations such as Kraft, Cargill, Nestle and Mars, have embarked on their own 'certification' schemes which they have used in public relations campaigns to claim progress is being made. While there may be some merit in the pursuing voluntary action, ILRF points out the shortcomings of operating outside a regulatory framework or independent certification system:

---Extract from ILRF report
In the US consumer market, the public deals with a vast array of certifications ranging from product quality specifications (Grade A eggs or syrup, octane 87 gasoline) to specifications of ethical or environmental standards (organic-certified produce, FSC-certified wood, dolphin-safe tuna). All certification systems have a number of characteristics in common:

• there is a set of standards that must be met in order to achieve the certification (whether it is octane rating or criteria for ‘dolphin-safe’ fishing)

• there is a process for verifying that a product, service, or person has met those standards (often by an independent monitoring organization)

• there is a certification mark logo or seal that identifies the standards and the verification that have been fulfilled

• there is a system for auditing to ensure that the certification mark is being used properly and that the product or service or individual continues to meet the standards over time (often by a completely independent oversight body, such as USDA’s oversight of the National Organics Program).

The industry “certification concept” is missing all these pieces. There is no set of clear standards with related compliance criteria to ensure that these standards are being met, and in the absence of clear standards, naturally no process to verify that producers are meeting those standards.
---extract ends

The report points out that child slavery arises through systematic failings of the cocoa market. Farmers exist on the edge of poverty, prompting exploitation. While processors claim they are helping to increase productivity and profits, ILRF suggests that where this has happened the greater workload of farmers to achieve the yields has not received a proportionate increase in income. In other words, it is the companies that benefit, not the farmer.

The industry has also been seeking to promote production in new countries as prices rise in Ivory Coast. Increased production means lower prices and increased pressure for cutting corners, such as child labour and forced labour.

The ILRF report states:

---extract begins
While ILRF are not experts on the issues of sensible and farmer-friendly commodity policy, we support the recommendations put forth in a paper issued by the Reseau des Organisations Paysannes et de Producteurs de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (ROPPA) and cited in part here:

• Cocoa Supply Management: The low price of cocoa on the global market is a major factor in the use of child labor. The global supply should be subject to a management agreement.

• Establish an International Secretariat: An international arrangement, based in West Africa, to control the global supply is needed and ECOWAS (along with Indonesia, Brazil and Cameroon) would be well-placed to lead supply management efforts as 63% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa.

• Introduce Production Controls: In order to avoid issues like smuggling and overflowing of buffer stocks, a new cocoa agreement should include production controls to ensure a effective management system. Quotas will be determined by the international secretariat and each country will have a five year period to adjust their production levels.

• Raise Farm-Gate Prices: A small raise in farm-gate prices for cocoa would ensure more stability in the market and increase the ability of farmers to invest in sustainable farming methods as well as worker wages. This is an important stop in curbing child labor. The costs would be negligible for buyers.

• Combine with Conservation Programs: With a higher and more stable price, farmers can invest more labor and money in shaded growing systems, forest conservation and replanting and tree crop diversification which are more ecologically sustainable.

• Establish Diversification Zones: Supply premiums and credit to farmers to diversify their crops. This will be an important part of ensuring cocoa-producing countries’ food sovereignty and their ability to respond to domestic food needs.
---extract ends

Commodity agreements are disliked by industry, as much as independent monitoring systems. It is argued they distort markets and create cartels. Yet in highly consolidated industries, such as cocoa (and coffee), the processors wield great power. Trade barriers make it difficult for developing countries to sell processed goods into developed countries as these are subject to higher tariffs. In other words, there is not a free market, there is a market where the rules are fixed to benefit the powerful.

Whether commodity agreements are something to be resurected within the Simultaneous Policy, and if so, how they would work, is something Adopters may well wish to discuss. The fact is that current trading systems are failing those at the start of the supply chain, creating problems which the rest of the world has then to try to resolve. Current efforts, whether by governments, voluntary organisations or business interests, are not having a verifiable effect, despite the claims made to placate critics.

ILRF has recommendations for companies, governments and international agencies. We can also take individual action as consumers, in seeking chocolate that is certified as Fair Trade and on calling for companies to abide by the protocol to which they pledged support in 2001.

As a parallel strategy we can consider whether SP has a role to play. Signing up as an SP Adopter through the Simpol website is the way to have a voice and a vote in the policy development process and to make implementation a reality.