Frequently in the global economy, it seems that corporations are able to get away with activities which would see an individual locked up in
Take the case of Caterpillar. Without selling a single bomb, gun or F16 fighter, Caterpillar has been supplying the Israeli military with its â€œkey weaponâ€, in the words one Israeli commander, in its illegal and brutal occupation of
The toll of human lives destroyed with these machines is truly horrifying. During the last 4 years the Israeli army has flattened over 4,000 homes â€“ rendering tens of thousand homeless, traumatised and impoverished.
Palestinians are currently suffering from poverty levels comparable with some of the poorest parts of sub-Saharan
Caterpillarâ€™s D9 bulldozers have been the weapon of choice to carry out some of the worst human rights violations witnessed during the Intifada. In Jenin camp, home to 14,000 refugees, bulldozers were a key component of Operation Defensive Shield, the â€œmost extensive and severeâ€ human rights violation since 1967 (Bâ€™Tselem). Hawashin district of the camp was levelled down to the last house, with many residents given no notice of demolition. Many were buried alive, including 38-year-old paraplegic Jamal Suliman. In his motherâ€™s words â€œthe bulldozer wouldnâ€™t wait even one minute so that we could take Jamal out of the houseâ€.
During a similar raid on a refugee camp in Rafah in May 2004, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights John Dugard noted â€œHomes have been destroyed in a purely purposeless manner. Bulldozers have savagely dug up roads, including electricity, sewerage and water lines, in a brutal display of powerâ€. In total 298 homes were destroyed in Rafah in a single month.
But perhaps the bulldozers are best described by the experiences of two young people on either side of the Occupation. Israeli Army D9-operator Moshe Nissim describes his experience of Jenin: â€œI had no mercy for anybody. I would erase anyone with the D9 … when I was told to demolish a house, I took the opportunity to bring down some more housesâ€. His unit was cited for outstanding service.
On the other side was 23-year-old
Caterpillarâ€™s Chief Executive Jim Owenâ€™s is not driving the bulldozers carrying out these grave breaches of international law. But he is fully aware of the uses Caterpillar machines are being put to by the Israeli army. Indeed a group of Caterpillar shareholders raised the issue in a resolution to their AGM in April 2004 which questioned whether â€œCaterpillarâ€™s directors can reconcile acquiescenceâ€ with the end use of these bulldozers with the companyâ€™s Code of Worldwide Business Conduct.
The answer is apparently yes. It seems incredible that a company so tarnished by accusations can continue to maintain in public remarks that it is â€œdoing well by â€˜doing goodâ€™ around the worldâ€. Amongst the gems of irony lifted from Caterpillarâ€™s Code are that â€œWe believe that our success should also contribute to the quality of life and the prosperity of communitiesâ€.
Such is the fantasy world of â€˜corporate social responsibilityâ€™, a multi-million dollar industry in its own right, which attempts to replace social consciousness with public relations. So concerned is Caterpillar with â€œdoing goodâ€ that when UN Special Rapporteur Jean Ziegler wrote to Jim Owens in May 2004 expressing his concerns that Caterpillar may be complicit in violating the Palestinianâ€™s right to food enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Mr Owens did not even bother to reply.
Little wonder he was unperturbed when Caterpillar openly advertises its bulldozers in military conflict zones such as
For these reasons, War on Want is calling on its supporters and members of the public to boycott Caterpillar products for as long as the companyâ€™s involvement in the
But ultimately corporate complicity in the sort of grave human rights violations witnessed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories will only halt when corporate behaviour is regulated, not by voluntary Codes of Conduct written by over-paid PR consultants, but by an international system of laws, accountable to people.