Why should the meek inherit pollution, conflict – and the costs of the World Cup?

Some news you may not have heard in the corporate-controlled media: The United Nations has voted to come up with an international, legally binding instrument that would seek to outlaw human rights abuses committed by transnational corporations (TNCs).

Jul 17, 2014

Anil Netto

By Anil Netto
Some news you may not have heard in the corporate-controlled media: The United Nations has voted to come up with an international, legally binding instrument that would seek to outlaw human rights abuses committed by transnational corporations (TNCs).

The resolution was passed at the UN Human Rights Council by 20-14 with 13 nations abstaining. Not surprisingly, those voting against the resolution were the United States and some of the European Union nations. These countries are home to many of the world’s top TNCs.

But over 80 nations and 600 organisations have supported the resolution. “This victory for those who defend the environment, human rights and sustainable livelihoods from the human rights violations by big business would not have been possible without the coordinated work by civil society networks and social movements united in advocacy and mobilisation efforts from the grassroots to the international level,” said Lucia Ortiz, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

Over the last few decades, TNCs have grown in size, wealth and reach. They employ large numbers of workers, increasingly via subcontractors, labour contractors and business outsourcing — all this done to side-step the kind of protection accorded to workers in the more developed nations.

They are also rapidly depleting the world’s natural resources with their voracious appetite for raw materials, leaving behind a trail of waste and toxic effluents. More dams, mining operations, mono-culture plantations and toxic refining and smelting firms are being established, in the process displacing native communities.

Many are relocating their environmentally problematic operations to less developed nations, where environmental laws, safeguards and guidelines are lax or, if they exist, are rarely enforced. So-called Free Trade Agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement are often negotiated in secret to protect the interests of the TNCs.

Because the wealth of a large TNC may exceed the entire GDP of a LESS developed nation, TNCs have been described as the “new rulers of the world”. The heavier clout of the TNCs has seen a corresponding erosion of the ability of sovereign governments to protect public interest, the rights of workers and the environment.

So it is timely that the UN is now coming up with a legally binding human rights treaty to hold TNCs accountable and to protect the rights of ordinary people, including human rights defenders who are sometimes targeted.

Negara ku initiative
Also timely is the Negaraku civil society initiative, a “people’s movement to reclaim the country” which aims to promote peace, unity and harmony. The initiative, whose patrons are former Bersih 2.0 co-chairs A Samad Said and Ambiga Sreenevasan, has been endorsed by over 60 civil society groups and NGOs.

The movement aims to counter the shrill voices of racism and religious extremism in this multiethnic and multi-religious country and to return to the ideals of the Constitution, the Malaysia Agreement and the Rukunegara.

As expected, the response to this initiative from the ethno-religious fringe has been sharp. But Malaysians who value inclusiveness and who celebrate our diversity should support this noble initiative.

As it is, there are worrying indications that extremism has taken root in this country, after years of exposure to religious intolerance. Police reportedly revealed recently that more than 100 Malaysian radicals are in the Middle East, fighting for an ‘Islamic State’ in the middle-east. What happens when these radicals return to Malaysia?

Bitter weeping
Meanwhile, the latest rounds of violence in the Holy Land has resulted in 154 Palestinians killed with no deaths on the Israeli side, though 500 projectiles have landed on Israeli soil. Meanwhile, the bombardment of Gaza has been expanded. The escalation in violence has prompted the Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land to issue an urgent statement (published elsewhere) calling for radical change.

“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).

“The violent language of the street in Israel that calls for vengeance is fed by the attitudes and expressions of a leadership that continues to foster a discriminatory discourse, promoting exclusive rights of one group and the occupation with all of its disastrous consequences,” the bishops said.

Settlements are built, lands are confiscated, families are separated, loved ones are arrested and even assassinated, they pointed out.“The occupation leadership seems to believe that the occupation can be victorious by crushing the will of the people for freedom and dignity.”

They also noted that the violent language of the Palestinian street that calls for vengeance is fed by widespread despair over the loss of hope of reaching a just solution through negotiations. “Those who seek to build a totalitarian, monolithic society, in which there is no room for any difference or diversity, gain popular support, exploiting this situation of hopelessness. To these we also say: Violence as a response to violence breeds only more violence.”

The meek shall inherit the World Cup bill?
The winners’ medals have been distributed, the German team have hoisted the World Cup while the rest of us have enjoyed a football extravaganza.

Now that the dust has settled, what happens to the ordinary Brazilians? Superstar Neymar out injured, no World Cup glory as they had hoped. Instead a terrible 7-1 semifinal drubbing at the hands of the clinical Germans.

The misery that result inflicted mirrors the state of the country today. Ordinary Brazilians are now left counting the costs of the tournament their country has hosted. The bill for stadiums and other related infrastructure adds up to RM35 billion. Money that could have been used for essential public services.

Protests broke out again as Brazilians pressed home their desire for better public transport, public hospitals, public schools and affordable housing. They want “hospitals and schools according to FIFA standards”.

But with the eyes of the world now leaving Brazil, who will stand by the Brazilian people in their hour of need?

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