- Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
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
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
the largest power plant in the world-in the state of Maharashtra,
The brutal police raid on Veldur village was clearly an act of terror
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,
Pawar, an economics professor from Bombay, because he had "spread
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,
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..."
orders squashing free speech expire every 15 days, but police
renew them to maintain the semblance of rule of law. By March 1998,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
are only too happy to support these multibillion-dollar energy or
infrastructure projects by taking human rights off their foreign
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
Indonesian military to dig mass graves during its murderous campaign
crush an insurgency on the island of Aceh in the early 1990s,
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,
conscripted the labor of villagers along the pipeline's route,
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
the use of forced labor and the Burmese military's human rights
* 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
oil company's proposed pipeline through Chad and Cameroon. The German
parliament and African and European groups predict further human
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
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
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
that gives citizens the power to raise their voices in protest.
Human rights violations become framed as a "necessary evil" that
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-
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
is to severely limit or curtail the use of sanctions by the U.S.
The reality is that "constructive engagement" with undemocratic
governments is a myth. Instead, engagement has the opposite impact as
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
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
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-
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,
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
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
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
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
rights abuses in Turkmenistan to okay a $96 million award from the
Export-Import Bank to four U.S. companies selling natural gas and
equipment to the country. Any Ex-Im Bank loan over $ 10 million
the State Department to conduct a human rights impact assessment "to
determine if it may give rise to significant human rights concerns."
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
government to a democratic system." Its state security forces "operate
with relative impunity and have been responsible for abusing the
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
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
(General Electric and Bechtel, both U.S. companies, eventually won the
pipeline project in February 1999.) After the Enron deal was signed,
White House issued a press release stating, "Turkmenistan is committed
to strengthening the rule of law and political pluralism, including
and fair elections for Parliament and the presidency in accordance
international standards...." But when reporters asked Niyazov about
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
game of "hostage politik"-where repressive governments release
prisoners to gain political and commercial favor with Washington-
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
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
government are essentially deals between two private parties-they are
profit-making enterprise for the company and for those in power. When
resource brings in hard currency, like oil, an autocratic government
often becomes a kleptocratic one, enabling a few to steal the wealth
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
of law, and an active judiciary. It largely accepts free expression
peaceful assembly. The conflict in the Ratnagiri district flows
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
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
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,
the citizenry of the world.
If you are interested in a free subscription to The
Konformist Newswire, please visit:
Or, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the
subject: "I NEED 2 KONFORM!!!"
(Okay, you can use something else, but it's a kool
Visit the Klub Konformist at Yahoo!: