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Corporation Crackdowns

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com Corporation Crackdowns: Business Backs
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2001
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      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Thanks,

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist
      http://www.konformist.com


      Corporation Crackdowns:
      Business Backs Brutality
      by Arvind Ganesan
      Dollars and Sense magazine, May / June 1999

      In the sleepy fishing village of Veldur in India, Sadhana Bhalekar, a
      young woman in her mid-twenties, was taking a bath on the morning of
      June 3, 1997 when police broke down her door, beat her retarded
      nephew,
      and mercilessly dragged her naked out of her house. They beat and then
      arrested her. She was three months pregnant at the time. The police
      officer in charge reportedly said, "This is Baba Bhalekar's wife, bash
      her head on the road." Why? Vithal "Baba" Bhalekar, is a leading
      opponent of the Houston-based Enron Corporation's Dabhol Power
      project-
      the largest power plant in the world-in the state of Maharashtra,
      India.
      The brutal police raid on Veldur village was clearly an act of terror
      to
      silence critics of the project.

      Police assaults against opponents of Enron's project are a regular
      occurrence in Ratnagiri district, where the power plant is located.
      Authorities threw in jail a high profile critic of the project,
      Sadanand
      Pawar, an economics professor from Bombay, because he had "spread
      false
      information to the public which is against Enron."

      The police-in what is often viewed as the world's largest
      democracy-criminalized demonstrations against Enron in December 199G,
      by
      banning all "public utterance of cries, singing of songs, playing of
      music" and the "delivery of harangues, the use of gestures or mimetic
      representations, and the preparation, exhibition, or dissemination of
      pictures, symbols, placards or any other object or thing which may in
      the opinion of such authority offend against decency or morality..."
      The
      orders squashing free speech expire every 15 days, but police
      routinely
      renew them to maintain the semblance of rule of law. By March 1998,
      more
      than 3,000 people had been jailed, and some beaten, simply for
      demonstrating against the project.

      The Indian state government did everything it could to ensure that
      Enron's project would move forward. What about the company? Enron paid
      the police who arrested and beat the protesters and continues to pay
      them to this day, a relationship legal under state law. Enron also
      loaned police a helicopter to survey the demonstrators.

      But the actions of the company go beyond material and financial
      support
      for abusive police. On at least four occasions, contractors for the
      company directly threatened, harassed, and attacked individuals who
      opposed the project. When the victims tried to press charges, they
      found
      the rule of law did not operate for them. The police looked the other
      way in some cases. In others, the police arrested the victims.

      The corporation denies any culpability. Instead, the multinational
      criticizes human rights organizations for documenting its abuses.

      Since the East India Company first embarked on colonial ventures
      centuries ago, corporations have been complicit in human rights
      abuses.

      Because energy companies like Enron invariably displace residents from
      their land, or make it unlivable by polluting it, they are involved in
      some of the worst human rights abuses today. They have received more
      attention since November 1995, when the Nigerian government executed
      human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others who opposed the
      environmental devastation wrought by Royal Dutch/Shell in the
      Ogoniland
      region. An international campaign against Shell continues to this day
      even as the corporation, the largest foreign investor in Nigeria, has
      endorsed United Nations human rights guidelines and says it will
      devise
      policies to follow them.

      Since Saro-Wiwa's death, human rights and environmental organizations
      have stepped up their scrutiny of corporate abuses and ugly corporate
      partnerships with repressive governments. Local and national
      governments
      increasingly vie for lucrative business deals with multinationals and
      are more than willing to sideline human rights in favor of commerce.

      Similarly, the United States and other home governments of
      corporations
      are only too happy to support these multibillion-dollar energy or
      infrastructure projects by taking human rights off their foreign
      policy
      agenda.

      Companies and governments often argue that these investments will
      improve human rights, but a cursory look at operations throughout the
      world in the 1990s paints a very different picture.

      * Mobil Oil's natural gas subsidiary provided the bulldozers used by
      the
      Indonesian military to dig mass graves during its murderous campaign
      to
      crush an insurgency on the island of Aceh in the early 1990s,
      according
      to allegations that only recently surfaced. Indonesia is the world's
      largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

      * Since 1993, when they began construction on the Yadana natural gas
      field and pipeline in Burma, the French oil company TOTAL and the
      U.S.-based Unocal partnered with the brutal Burmese junta. The Burmese
      military providing security for the project killed, tortured, raped,
      and
      conscripted the labor of villagers along the pipeline's route,
      according
      to press accounts. These charges will soon be judged in a California
      federal court, where a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional
      Rights and Earth Rights International alleges that Unocal benefited
      from
      the use of forced labor and the Burmese military's human rights
      abuses.

      * In 1996, the human rights world learned of British Petroleum's
      multi-million dollar contracts with the Colombian military-among the
      world's most brutal- to provide security for BP's exploitation of the
      massive Cusiana-Cupiagua oil fields. These fields were the largest
      discovered in the Western Hemisphere since 1967.

      * Exxon is under fire after the slaughter of 20 citizens living near
      the
      oil company's proposed pipeline through Chad and Cameroon. The German
      parliament and African and European groups predict further human
      rights
      violations, forced relocations, and environmental damage once
      construction begins. Environmental organizations from the North and
      South are calling on the World Bank to suspend funding for the project
      until Exxon addresses these issues. The pipeline would make Chad one
      of
      Africa's top five oil exporters.

      Burma, Colombia, Indonesia, and Nigeria. All are countries with a
      history of rule by repressive governments even without the collusion
      of
      multinationals. In this context, corporations often argue that their
      presence and investment will improve human rights. Superficially,
      "constructive engagement," as this argument is called, has merit: If
      economic activity increases, so will the possibility of international
      dialogue with abusive governments and an improvement of living
      standards
      that gives citizens the power to raise their voices in protest.

      Human rights violations become framed as a "necessary evil" that
      ensures
      improvement in the long term. Essentially this view serves to justify
      million or even billion-dollar investments in abusive countries.

      Mobil-soon to merge with Exxon-is the most vocal on the issue. Its
      "editorial advertisements" lambaste government sanctions to punish
      abusive governments. In one 1997 ad Mobil wrote: "Rather than taking
      action that merely makes us feel virtuous, government . should clarify
      its objectives and weigh the full costs before imposing sanctions. It
      should seek ways to engage, not retreat..." Joining Mobil in attacking
      sanctions is the American Petroleum Institute, an industry-funded
      advocacy organization and think tank. Its August 1998 report-
      titled "Oil
      and Natural Gas Industry Promotes Human Rights Abroad"-proclaimed that
      the use of "sanctions to punish regimes that abridge their peoples'
      human rights" denies local people the "rights enhancements" that oil
      companies "confer." This report was written in conjunction with
      USA-ENGAGE, another industry-funded lobbying organization whose
      purpose
      is to severely limit or curtail the use of sanctions by the U.S.
      government.

      The reality is that "constructive engagement" with undemocratic
      governments is a myth. Instead, engagement has the opposite impact as
      a
      look at only the last five years reveals. Consider Burma, where Unocal
      claims its Yadana gas project-the largest single foreign investment in
      the country-"is bringing sustainable, long-term, economic and social
      benefits to the 35,000 villagers living in the immediate pipeline
      region
      and lasting benefits to the people of Myanmar [Burma]."The IMF reports
      that Burma's economy is collapsing, there is virtually no social
      spending by the military junta, and there is no short-term prospect
      for
      reforms, despite foreign investment. Throughout this process, the
      military junta tightened its grip over the country.

      Similarly, in Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a deal
      with Chevron in 1993 to develop the nine-billion barrel Tengiz field-
      the
      world's largest single oil discovery since 1967, worth at least $78
      billion. Five years after the deal was inked, Nazarbaev has shut down
      the independent media, announced snap elections, and arrested and
      harassed his leading political opponent to ensure that no credible
      opposition can challenge his increasingly autocratic rule. He also
      appointed his son-in-law to manage the state oil company.

      The most compelling evidence, not just of constructive engagement's
      failure, but of its role in undermining progress on human rights,
      comes
      from a seemingly unlikely source-the final report of South Africa's
      Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission found that
      corporations were "willing collaborators" with the apartheid regime
      since the early 1960s with "a direct interest m maintaining the status
      quo. They bypassed attempts to impose sanctions by "forming
      partnerships
      with South African parastatal organizations." The apartheid regime
      "depended on five major oil companies to break the oil ban: Shell,
      British Petroleum (BP), Mobil, Caltex and Total."

      "Foreign investment prevented governments from taking any real action
      against apartheid" because of the pressure exerted by these companies
      to
      maintain the system, said the commission-a pattern we see today. Some
      examples of government-corporate complicity in abuses:
      Just this year, the Dutch government reversed its long criticism of
      China's human rights record and refused to sponsor a United Nations
      Human Rights Commission resolution condemning China. In February, the
      Chinese government awarded Royal Dutch Shell the largest single
      foreign
      investment in Chinese history-a $4.5 billion contract to build an
      ethylene plant with a government oil company.

      In March 1998, the U.S. State Department ignored its own report on
      human
      rights abuses in Turkmenistan to okay a $96 million award from the
      Export-Import Bank to four U.S. companies selling natural gas and
      other
      equipment to the country. Any Ex-Im Bank loan over $ 10 million
      requires
      the State Department to conduct a human rights impact assessment "to
      determine if it may give rise to significant human rights concerns."
      Its
      1997 human rights report began with the statement, "Turkmenistan, a
      one-party state dominated by its President and his closest advisers,
      made little progress in moving from a Soviet-era authoritarian style
      of
      government to a democratic system." Its state security forces "operate
      with relative impunity and have been responsible for abusing the
      rights
      of individuals as well as enforcing the Government's policy of
      repressing political opposition."

      Turkmenistan possesses some of the largest oil and gas reserves in
      Central Asia and companies such as Mobil, Exxon, and Royal Dutch Shell
      operate there. So the State Department okayed the deal that gives
      Bateman Engineering, Dresser Rand, Corning, and General Electric $96
      million in public funds.

      While Turkmenistan's president Saparmurad Niyazov was visiting
      President
      Clinton a month later, the U.S. government's Trade and Development
      Administration awarded Enron a $750,000 grant to conduct a pipeline
      feasibility study for a proposed $2.8 billion pipeline in
      Turkmenistan.
      (General Electric and Bechtel, both U.S. companies, eventually won the
      pipeline project in February 1999.) After the Enron deal was signed,
      the
      White House issued a press release stating, "Turkmenistan is committed
      to strengthening the rule of law and political pluralism, including
      free
      and fair elections for Parliament and the presidency in accordance
      with
      international standards...." But when reporters asked Niyazov about
      the
      government's attitude toward opposition parties, he said, "We do not
      have any opposition parties-you are ill-informed. We have none." U.S.
      officials said they raised human rights issues privately with Niyazov
      during his April 1998 visit. The U.S. and Turkmen governments played
      the
      game of "hostage politik"-where repressive governments release
      political
      prisoners to gain political and commercial favor with Washington-
      during
      the visit. The State Department lobbied for and secured the release of
      10 political prisoners which the U.S. government then cited as an
      example of improvement in human rights, in justification of its
      commercial interests.

      Behind the political smoke-screens, undemocratic governments further
      consolidate their stranglehold over resources and revenues once
      partnered with international corporations. A dictatorship or one-party
      state has no incentive to distribute its gains to a population it does
      not pretend to represent. Agreements between a company and a
      repressive
      government are essentially deals between two private parties-they are
      a
      profit-making enterprise for the company and for those in power. When
      a
      resource brings in hard currency, like oil, an autocratic government
      often becomes a kleptocratic one, enabling a few to steal the wealth
      of
      the nation. Then there is Enron. If increased investment necessarily
      leads to improvements in human rights and respect for the rule of law,
      then how to explain the human rights violations surrounding the
      company's power project in India? India is considered the world's
      largest democracy, governing under the banner of human rights, the
      rule
      of law, and an active judiciary. It largely accepts free expression
      and
      peaceful assembly. The conflict in the Ratnagiri district flows
      directly
      from the conduct of Enron's subsidiary and the state after villagers
      opposed the seizure of their lands, and the polluting and diversion of
      their water. The abuses visited upon dissenting villagers are
      traceable
      to the supposedly beneficial investment by Enron.

      Despite cheerleading that promotes foreign investment as the key to
      improving human rights, the reality is human rights are not
      safeguarded-even in countries considered democratic-without forceful
      action on the scale that defeated apartheid in South Africa. Financial
      institutions must enact human rights guidelines in their loans.

      Campaigns sanctioning corporate investors must enlist the support of
      those suffering under corporate/government collusion. Corporate codes
      on
      human rights-such as those enacted by Unocal and Shell after their
      operations in Burma and Nigeria were exposed-are only one piece of a
      project that requires action by governments, financial institutions,
      and
      the citizenry of the world.


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