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It is assumed that the rise of CSR and the private regulation of labor rights in global supply chains help to improve working conditions in supplying factories. Incidences such as factory burning in Bangladeshis garment industry (one of which killed more than 1100 people) or suicides in China’s electronic industry seem to contradict such assumptions. But also scientific research portrays mixed results on how monitoring and certification impacts working conditions inside factories. This article takes a slightly different approach by asking on how the rise of CSR influences the development of domestic labor rights organizations in the People’s Republic of China. Read the rest of this entry »

Lamia Karim, 2011: Microfinance and Its Discontents: Women in Debt in Bangladesh. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Microfinance has built a significant part of its reputation on the assertion that small loans empower women. The assumption that every human being has entrepreneurship potential, but only lacks access to credit, underlies this “social business” intervention. The joint appeal of entrepreneurship and empowerment has cajoled many funders and donors to invest in microfinance. But critical research has been shedding doubt on the assumptions of empowerment through microfinance entrepreneurship for quite some time. Can or cannot a direct transfer of credit rouse the dormant and innate entrepreneur which lies within every woman?

Lamia Karim’s brave new book, “Microfinance and its Discontents- Women in Debt is Bangladesh”, delves deep into the social realities within which microfinance operates, in order to answer that question. As an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oregon, she performed research among the clientele of the four major microfinance NGOs in Bangladesh (Grameen Bank, Proshika, BRAC and ASA) first between 1998 and 1999, and following up in 2007.

Norms and obligations in a rural society are tilted against women, as is demonstrated by a proliferation of ethnographic accounts in Karim’s book. Take, for example, the incident of an elderly widow in Bangladesh, who was caught by her nephew on her way back home after taking a fresh loan from Grameen Bank. He pressured her into handing over the money to him because, he said, as his aunt it was her duty to help him start his business. Read the rest of this entry »

“Water, like oil, is finite. There is only so much ocean saltwater, glacier freshwater and water in the air, while global consumption is growing twice as fast as the world’s population.”

It would be hard to believe that anyone could view these facts as a positive thing. But add the story of Warren Buffet, former world’s richest man, buying the water treatment company Nalco for US$ 3.7 billion through his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, and suddenly you get that “investing in water is an untapped opportunity”. So argues journalist Tatiana Serafin on mint.com in an article entitled “Invest Like a Billionaire: Water Is The New Gold“.

Serafin considers publicly traded water utilities firms a bargain, quoting another author as saying “utilities are cheaper than they have ever been”. Her conclusion is, “invest like Buffet”, even if you’re on a budget.

One could also think that viewing the so-called global water crisis – which I recently wrote about here on World Water Day – as a hot investment opportunity would require the shrewd and narrow-minded perspective of the investment banking profession. Yet even the Netherlands-based IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, an important resource centre in the water and development sphere, and at least not officially posing as a private sector think-tank, apparently agrees that water is “the new gold”. On its water and sanitation financing blog WASH news finance, the article quoted above was merely copied and uncritically reproduced.

This, among other cases from the NGO sector, shows how strategies of privatisation and commodification still heavily dominate development politics where they pertain to water. Though less aggressively and more subtly pursued now than the IFI-driven Structural Adjustment Programs and their successors, PRSPs, the new-millennium logic of privatisation is promoted instead by smaller, ostensibly unconnected agencies and through new, seemingly innovative means such as decentralisation, downscaling or microfinance – essentially a return to the days before the developmentalist state. Through blogs and social networks, the politics of liberalisation have adopted a postmodern aesthetic – as always arguing in the name of the poor – complete with Internet videos in HD.

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The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
August 2019
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