Wall Street Reform Bill Yields Big Win for Little Countries

You know that Wall Street
reform bill pending in the Senate? Some last minute insertions add up
to a surprisingly big win for the developing world.

Oil Companies Required to Detail the Dough Paid to Foreign Governments

First, kudos to Senators Dick Lugar (R-Indiana) and Ben Cardin
(D-Maryland) for inserting strong provisions that require extractive
companies (oil, natural gas, etc.) to detail in their annual Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings the payments they make to foreign governments.

One would think that oil-rich and mineral-rich countries would be,
well, rich. Big international firms move in to extract these resources
and pay royalties, fees, taxes, bonuses and other monies to national
governments. Unfortunately, too frequently this money is put to work
lining the pockets of dictators and warlords, rather than building
schools or health clinics.

Lugar's bill, which was supported by the ONE campaign,
forces U.S. companies to issue an annual report tallying the type and
total amount of these payments, and list the government's in receipt of
payments. A coordinated international effort
is afoot to get the governments to do the same, so that discrepancies
can be spotted. For instance, an initial reporting effort in Nigeria
indicates over $800 million of unresolved differences between what
companies said that they paid and what the government said it received.
Exxon Mobile and Shell are only two of the big U.S. firms operating in Nigeria, where catastrophic oil spills are endemic.

At a minimum, once U.S. firms will be required to detail their
payments to foreign governments, the citizens of these countries will
know how much their governments are receiving and from whom, giving
them a fighting chance to hold their government accountable for
investing those funds in critical needs such as food, health and

High-Tech Firms Required to Report on Conflict Minerals

Three cheers for Senators Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) for making progress regarding the war in the Congo and the problem of conflict minerals.

Eastern Congo is the site of an on-going and horrific war that has
claimed 5 million lives. Many U.S. consumers will be surprised to learn
that their pretty, shiny toys including iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac,
laptops and digital cameras are linked to this conflict by the tin,
tantalum, tungsten found inside these products. The Congolese militia
owns and controls many of the mines that source these materials, and
too many U.S. firms are not being rigorous in ensuring that their
supply chain does not include these mines. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote in a column entitled Death by Gadget "They want you to look at a gadget and think sleek, not blood."

For over a year the Enough Project has tried to raise awareness of the issue and has hounded the firms -- including Apple, Dell, HP,
Nintendo and Research In Motion (Makers of Blackberry) -- with some
effective netroots campaigning. Campaigners are "thrilled" the measure
was included in the financial reform bill and are anxious to see the
bill passed.

The Brownback-Feingold measure would force firms to report on where
they get their mineral inputs, and submit to an independent audit.
Campaigners expect that public pressure will force them to clean up
their supply chain and make sure they are getting their tantalum from
Australia rather than from the Congo. The measure also requires the U.S. State Department to develop a map of mines owned by the militia and develop a detailed plan to address the problem.

Wall Street Forced to Spin Off Food Commodity Speculation

Harpers Magazine has an incredible story in its July edition
exposing how Wall Street speculators bumped up food commodity prices
80% between 2005-2008. Once the housing market began to go south, they
needed to engage in other speculative investments to keep those big
bonuses rolling in. According to Harpers: "The global speculative
frenzy sparked riots in more that thirty countries and drove the number
of the world's food insecure to more than a billion. The ranks of the
hungry had increased by 250 million in a single year, the most abysmal
increase in all of human history."

Thanks to Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas), Senator Chuck Grassley
(R-Iowa), the Wall Street reform bill brings these speculative bubbles
out of the shadows and into the light of day. Large Wall Street firms
engaged in speculative food and energy derivatives trading will be
forced to spin off their derivatives desks into a separately
capitalized affiliate, making speculation in these markets much more
costly. In addition, all trades will be cleared by regulators and
exchange traded where pricing and positions will be transparent.
Capital requirements and margin requirements will apply, putting real
money behind the bets. Position limits will apply, making it more
difficult for a few players to dominate the market.

"If used seriously, these are extremely effective policy tools for inhibiting and bursting speculative bubbles," says economist Robert Pollin, who has written about the harms caused by commodity speculation for developed and developing nations.

These small provisions aid in global efforts to bring transparency
and accountability to international firms that travel around the world
and quietly engage in destructive business practices that they don't
want their customers or shareholder to know about. By cracking down on
these shameful business practices, the Wall Street reform bill take a
big step in the right direction. The bill is one vote short in the
Senate, let Congress know you support the reform effort.

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