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Raytheon Video Claims Riot Software Can Track Users Via Social Networks

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on February 13th, 2013
CorpWatch Blog
Riot logo created by Raytheon. Image via the Guardian newspaper

Raytheon, a U.S. military manufacturer, is selling a new software surveillance package named “Riot” that claims to predict where individuals are expected to go next using technology that mines data from social networks like Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter.

Based just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, Raytheon sells $25 billion worth of equipment a year to military clients like the Pentagon. Some of its most famous products include Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, Maverick air-to-ground missiles, Patriot surface-to-air missiles and Tomahawk submarine-launched cruise missiles.

Raytheon’s Rapid Information Overlay Technology (Riot) software extracts location data from photos and comments posted online by individuals, and then analyzes this information to create a variety of spider diagrams to show where the individuals like to go, what they like to do and whom they communicate with.

A video demonstration of the software was recently published online by the Guardian newspaper. In it, Brian Urch of Raytheon shows how Riot can be used to track “Nick” – a company employee – to predict that the best time and place to steal his computer or put spy software on it.

“Six a.m. appears to be the most frequently visited time at the gym,” says Urch in the video which is dated November 2010. “So if you ever did want to try to get a hold of Nick - or maybe get a hold of his laptop - you might want to visit the gym at 6:00 a.m. on Monday.”

"Riot is a big data analytics system design we are working on with industry, national labs and commercial partners to help turn massive amounts of data into useable information to help meet our nation's rapidly changing security needs,” Jared Adams, a spokesman for Raytheon's intelligence and information systems department, told the Guardian.

Adams says that nobody has bought the software – which is still under development - yet. However, company filings indicate that Riot is classified as an "Export Administration Regulations 99" item which allows it to be sold or exported to any client.

But it is certainly true that a number of U.S. government agencies have been eagerly pursuing surveillance software to exploit the vast quantities of data that individuals are posting online about themselves. In January 2012 the Federal Bureau of Investigation posted a request for an application that would allow it to “provide an automated search and scrape capability of social networks including Facebook and Twitter … and (i)mmediately translate foreign language tweets into English.”

Last month the U.S. Transportation Security Administration asked contractors to propose applications “to generate an assessment of the risk to the aviation transportation system that may be posed by a specific individual” using “specific sources of current, accurate, and complete non-governmental data.” The initial plan is to use it to screen volunteer flyers who will be offered the benefits of “expedited screening lanes … leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belts, as well as leave laptops and … compliant liquids in carry-on bags.”

Privacy activists say that the Riot package is troubling. "This sort of software allows the government to surveil everyone," Ginger McCall, the director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center's Open Government program, told NBC News. "It scoops up a bunch of information about totally innocent people. There seems to be no legitimate reason to get this."

“(T)he government has no business rooting around people's social network postings—even those that are voluntarily publicly posted—unless it has specific, individualized suspicion that a person is involved in wrongdoing,” writes Jay Stanley,  a senior policy analyst at the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Among the many problems with government “large-scale analytics” of social network information is the prospect that government agencies will blunderingly use these techniques to tag, target and watchlist people coughed up by programs such as Riot, or to target them for further invasions of privacy based on incorrect inferences.”

Indeed, it would also be possible for a tech-savvy malcontent to lead security officials on a wild goose chase, or even deliberately frame anyone they wanted.

Serengeti Under Threat from UAE Big Game Hunting Company

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on August 20th, 2012
CorpWatch Blog
Maasai warriors. Photo: David Berkowitz. Used under Creative Commons license

Serengeti national park is under threat from Ortello Business Corporation (OBC) in a deal that could displace 48,000 indigenous Maasai and open it up for hunting of lions and leopards. An urgent action by Avaaz, an international campaigning group, has gathered close to a million signatures to protest the scheme.

The Serengeti region covers 12,000 square miles (30,000 square kilometers) from north Tanzania to south western Kenya. Over 2,000 lions roam the area among dozens of other species from the crowned eagles to elephants and rare black rhinos. It is most famous for an annual migration during which over a million wildebeest and about 200,000 zebras travel south from the northern hills to the southern plains in October and November and then move west and north between April and June.

The region is also called Maasailand, after the semi-nomadic indigenous community that lived there for centuries until the British colonialists started to grab their lands to build ranches. Today the colorfully dressed spear carrying tribe have become a global tourist attraction.

“(O)ur vision of virgin nature has encouraged the takeover of the land by a new breed of super-rich conservationists and tourism operators,” writes New Scientist journalist Fred Pearce in his new book, The Land Grabbers. “The Serengeti has become the world’s biggest zoo, in which the Maasai warriors are reduced to decorative walk-on parts.”

One of these operators is OBC, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, and markets big game safaris. The company prefers not to speak to the media but a Conde Nast Traveler reporter sketched a profile of the company and its recent conflicts with the local Maasai.

In the early 1990s the Tanzanian government “granted OBC the right to hunt in more than 50,000 acres of savanna and hills in Masailand, reportedly in exchange for millions of dollars in financial aid to the Tanzanian armed forces,” writes Joshua Hammer.

In July 2009, the Tanzanian army allegedly kicked dozens of Maasai out of the area for "trespassing" on OBC land. " They ordered us out of our bomas (thorn bush compounds), then they poured gasoline on them and set them on fire," a cattle herder told Hammer. "After the burning, we rebuilt, and they came and did it again."

A similar report was published by a Tanzanian fact-finding mission conducted in August 2009 by Feminist Activist Coalition (FEMACT) which reported that “there were ruthless eviction operations conducted in the Loliondo villages. Contrary to the District Commissioner’s claims, the investigation team came across testimonies and evidence of despicable despicable acts. The team came across women who had undergone miscarriages, rape, loss of children and other properties including food and shelter. Men who were chained beaten and humiliated in front of their families, those who had lost thousands of livestock among other properties and those who were imprisoned for no apparent reasons.”

In September 2009, James Anaya, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples wrote to the Tanzanian government to ask for an explanation of the incidents.

The UN letter notes that the original contract between OBC and the government, required to company to make payments of three million Tanzanian shillings to each villager and provide employment, roads, schools and water to the community. But OBC “has not complied with the contractual terms related to compensation, provision of services, and employment,” writes Anaya.

A week ago Avaaz, a letter writing campaign group, heard from the Maasai that OBC had new plans to expand and asked for their help.

“The last time this same corporation pushed the Maasai off their land to make way for rich hunters, people were beaten by the police, their homes were burnt to a cinder and their livestock died of starvation,” wrote Avaaz’s Sam Baraat in an email sent out last week. “But when a press controversy followed, Tanzanian President Kikwete reversed course and returned the Maasai to their land. This time, there hasn’t been a big press controversy yet, but we can change that and force Kikwete to stop the deal if we join our voices now.”

"For us, our land is everything, but these Arab princes have no respect for the animals or our rights,” Mzee Orosikos, a Maasai elder, told the Observer newspaper. “Many of us would rather die than be forced to move again."

The government denies the allegations. "(N)o eviction exercise has been planned for the Serengeti district, which is one of the districts in Mara region” George Matiko, spokesman for the resources and tourism ministry, told the newspaper. “In the Serengeti there is no hunting bloc allocated to Middle Eastern kings and princes to hunt lions and leopards."

The campaigners says that the government reply has been carefully worded to avoid the bigger question. "(T)he Tanzanian government is playing cynical word games – the Maasai lands in question are commonly understood to be within the Serengeti ecosystem’” says Emma Ruby-Sachs, campaign director at Avaaz. “If the government does not believe there is any threat to the Maasai lands, it should be easy for it to commit to a policy of not forcibly evicting any of its people to make way for foreign interests."

TrapWire Leaks Shine Light on New Video Tracking Technologies

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on August 14th, 2012
CorpWatch Blog
Tag and Track footage from Ipsotek. Footage from company Youtube video.

TrapWire, a company founded and run by former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers, that offers to track “suspicious” activities from surveillance video, has been spotlighted in a new Wikileaks release.

The system is described on the TrapWire’s website as "a unique, predictive software system designed to detect patterns of pre-attack surveillance and logistical planning.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security paid TrapWire $832,000 to deploy Trapwire in Washington DC and Seattle in December 2011, according to federal spending data records.

The information on Trapwire’s contracts emerged from one of the five million internal emails from Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based company that brands itself as a "global intelligence" provider, were recently obtained by Anonymous, the hacker collective, and were released in batches by WikiLeaks, the whistleblowing website, earlier this year.

The Trapwire technology was created at Abraxas corporation, which was founded by Richard "Hollis" Helms, a former CIA agent (but not the former head of the CIA under Nixon). Abraxas spun off Trapwire into another company which still has several senior employees who once worked at the agency. They include Dan Botsch, who worked at the CIA for 11 years as a Russian and Eastern European analyst,  Michael Maness, a 20 year CIA veteran who worked in counterterrorism and security operations in the Middle-East, the Balkans and Europe, and Michael K. Chang, a 12 years CIA veteran on counterterrorism operations.

The company appears to have deleted the list of senior employees from its website when the Wikileaks release occurred. But the company still promotes their prior experience: “Our professionals have led successful intelligence operations against terrorist organizations and fought on battlefields across the globe.”

The software has been described as a real life version of a system portrayed in Minority Report, a Hollywood blockbuster. “Anyone who takes a photograph at high-risk locations is logged as a suspected terrorist on a vast network of secret spy cameras linked to the U.S. Government, according to leaked emails,” writes Rick Dewsbury at the Daily Mail, a tabloid newspaper in the UK.

Mainstream media have reacted more cautiously to the TrapWire leaks. The New York Times commented that the “reports appear to be wildly exaggerated” noting that the Homeland Security had ended trials on the technology last year “because it did not seem promising.” The company refused to comment.

While TrapWire is now keeping quiet about its software, a similar UK venture is doing the opposite. Tag and Track, a technology developed by Kingston University researchers, is now being marketed by Ipsotek.

“The notion that you can tag a person and let the system do the tracking is a dream come true for CCTV operators,” says Professor Sergio Velastin who is also co-founder of Ipsotek. “The system relies on the identification of a person through features, such as their appearance, which different cameras can then pick up on.”

Ipsotek has sold its products to the Australian parliament and to airports in Belfast and Edinburgh. In a Reuters video report, the company demonstrates how it can follow any individual that an operator identifies and tags when analyzing video footage. The Tag and Track software then creates a unique colored trail to show where that individual has traveled.

A similar technology called Footpath, which is manufactured by Path Intelligence in the UK, tracks individuals based on the strength of their cell phone signals. The system was piloted by Forest City, a shopping mall company in the U.S. in Promenade Temecula in Temecula, California, and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Virginia last year.

The pilot project was canceled after privacy advocates pointed out that it was most likely illegal and members of Congress started to raise questions.

How accurate are these new video surveillance technologies? “(I)t’s extremely difficult, and probably impossible, to distinguish the one-in-a-billion terrorist from innocent people doing ordinary things like taking pictures,” Jay Stanley at American Civil Liberties Union told the New York Times. And therein lies the greatest danger.

U.S. Federal Agencies Targeted Employees With Commercial Spy Software

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on July 23rd, 2012
CorpWatch Blog
Image courtesy: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

SpectorSoft spyware is the latest tool to be employed by some U.S. government officials to conduct surveillance on staff. Best known for its off-the-shelf products for parents to track children, the Vero Beach, Florida, digital manufacturer has been revealed to be selling “keylogger” software to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to track every digital move of certain employees.

Police officials have long been happy to endorse the 14 year old private company’s products: "Our Internet safety presentation for parents and children has several tools that are important for parents, and Internet monitoring software is one of the tools," Sergeant Paul Garcia of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was quoted as saying in company literature in 2009. "Along with our IT team, I tested several products, and our first choice is Spector."

Dr Jefrrey Shuren, the director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health at the FDA, apparently concurs. According to a court filing by Steven Kohn, a lawyer at the National Whistleblower Center, Shuren personally sent federal investigators at the office of the inspector general “several screen shots and documents obtained through spying on the private email correspondence of Dr. Robert C. Smith, Dr. Ewa M. Czerska, Mr. Paul T. Hardy, and Mr. Julian J. Nicholas.” (all FDA scientists apart from Hardy who worked for the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps)

The technology used by the FDA was identified by Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane at the New York Times as SpectorSoft products which “captured screen images from the government laptops of the five scientists as they were being used at work or at home. The software tracked their keystrokes, intercepted their personal e-mails, copied the documents on their personal thumb drives and even followed their messages line by line as they were being drafted.”

The surveillance began soon after the scientists sent a letter in January 2009 letter to John Podesta, then director of the transition team of the newly elected Obama administration, blowing the whistle on how senior FDA staff  “ordered, intimidated, and coerced FDA experts to modify their scientific reviews, conclusions and recommendations in violation of the law.”

Journalists took an immediate interest in the concerns raised by the scientists. An article published on January 12, 2009, took issue with the SecondLook Digital Computer-Aided Detection System for Mammography manufactured by iCAD Inc. of New Hampshire. The reporter quoted an internal FDA review of the product that suggested it might miss cancers and risked “unnecessary biopsy or even surgery (by placing false positive marks) and unnecessary additional radiation.”

A second critical article appeared in the New York Times in March 2010 challenging FDA approval for coloscopy devices manufactured by General Electric of New York. “One CT colonoscopy device that they exposed made it onto the market, 600 to 800 times the radiation dosage of similar devices that are more effective,” says Kohn. (Researchers estimate that as many as 14,000 people may die every year of radiation-induced cancers as a result of excessive use of such scanning practices).

After the articles appeared GE officials and iCAD CEO Ken Ferry allegedly complained to the FDA the whistleblowers may have revealed trade secrets. In June 2010 Shuren took a personal interest in the matter by sending the results of the surveillance of the scientists to federal investigators. (To the credit of the investigators, they declined to act noting that government employees have the right to blow the whistle to Congress.)

The scientists are predictably outraged by the news of the surveillance. "Who would have thought that they would have the nerve to be monitoring my communications to Congress?" Robert Smith, one of scientists, told the Washington Post. "How dare they?" Members of Congress were also furious. The FDA "sound(s) more like the East German Stasi than a consumer protection agency in a free country” said Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa.

The agency denies it broke the law. "FDA did not monitor the employees’ use of non-government-owned computers at any time. Neither members of Congress nor their staffs were the focus of monitoring," the FDA told Democracy Now! “At no point in time did FDA attempt to impede or delay any communication between these individuals and Congress. Employees have appropriate routes to voice their concerns without disclosing confidential information to the public, and FDA has policies in place to ensure employees are aware of their rights and options.”

However, Quality Associates Inc. of Fulton, Maryland, another FDA contractor mistakenly posted the data retrieved by the SpectorSoft software on the Internet, where one of the scientists recently discovered the data and the extent of the surveillance operation. “(O)ne congressman, Van Hollen, was specifically put on it. Aides for Senate and House were put on it. Journalists were on it. Scientists and doctors were on it,” says Kohn.

“This is the insidious nature of electronic surveillance, because once they had the first whistleblower, Dr. Smith, target number one, they were able to learn who he was talking to and who was supportive of what he was trying to change. They were able to then identify all the other whistleblowers and then people who endorsed them. And then they created a list. And this list set forth additional targeted monitoring or surveillance.”

While one would hope that the FDA’s action was a rogue operation, it is definitely not the only agency in the market for covert surveillance spy software to track federal employees. A contract posted in June by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) seeks a product to “monitor user activities through keystroke monitoring/logging; chat monitoring/logging; email monitoring/logging; attachment monitoring/logging; website monitoring/logging; network activity monitoring/logging; files transferred monitoring/logging; document tracking monitoring/logging; screenshot capture; program activity monitoring/logging,” with a key requirement that the “end user must not have the ability to detect this technology.” (first revealed by NextGov)

The solicitation was simply posted for public information, the TSA will not accept unsolicited bids. One presumes that SpectorSoft would be keen to bid. The company is in no trouble since it did not break any laws in selling software to the FDA. On the other hand, Quality Associates, which has a $20 million document archival contract with the FDA as well as a $30 million contract with the National Institutes of Health, seems likely to be shunned for future government contracts.

Iowa Company Linked to Refugee Abuses In Tanzania

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on July 10th, 2012
CorpWatch Blog
Local fisherman in Rukwa province. Image courtesy Oakland Institute.

AgriSol, an Iowa company, has been linked to plans to evict 160,000 Burundian refugees from Katumba and Mishamo in western Tanzania, according to “Lives on Hold,” a new report by the Oakland Institute.

Kilimo Kwanza which translates as “Agriculture First” is a recent Tanzanian government initiative to promote a “greener revolution” through agricultural modernization and commercialization via public-private partnerships. The program was launched in August 2009 by Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete.

Enter Agrisol Energy LLC's - an Iowa-based investment company that specializes in agribusiness. The company’s goal is to find “underdeveloped global locations that have attractive natural resources but lack best-in-class agricultural technology, farming techniques, equipment and management.” The company opened talks with the government to start large-scale crop cultivation, beef and poultry production, and biofuel production in three “abandoned refugee camps” - Lugufu in Kigoma province (25,000 hectares) and Katumba (80,317 hectares) and Mishamo (219,800 hectares), according to company business plans.

A 2011 investigation by the Oakland Institute,  a California based NGO, revealed that the refugee camps were not abandoned but very much occupied by Burundian refugees who have lived in the area for 40 years.

Agrisol does not deny this. Henry Akona, AgriSol Tanzania's director of communications, says that the company officials were initially told that plans had been made to move the refugees from the settlements. "We were considering those areas a few years ago, but we have suspended any plans because the land is occupied," Akona told the Daily Iowan. "We should have done better homework."

Oakland Institute profiled Sembuli Masasa, the father of seven children, who had been farming in Katumba for 39 years who told researchers: “They are giving us $200, ask us to dismantle our own house and to move to a place we have never seen before.”

"Initially promised citizenship, the residents still await their papers, conditional on them vacating their homes and lands in order to make way for the foreign investor,” says Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute. “The residents have been banned from cultivating crops including perennial crops such as cassava or building new homes and businesses, leaving them with no other option but to consider moving.”

The new report alleges human rights abuses of the refugees “which range from the burning down of houses and crops and violation of their freedom of speech to inequities in social services.”

Akona disputes charges that the company is responsible for the fate of the Burundians. “AgriSol has absolutely nothing to do with the refugees in Katumba and Mishamo,” he told the Daily Iowan.

The Oakland Institute report has created a storm in Iowa, notably for Bruce Rastetter, CEO of AgriSol Energy who worked with Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in Ames, Iowa, to get support for the deal.

Faced with growing questions, the university pulled out in February 2012

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a community group in Des Moines, Iowa, has filed an official conflict of interest complaint against Rastetter with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, and are lobbying for Bruce Rastetter to be removed as Iowa Board of Regents President Pro Tem.

The Tanzania project is part of a new phenomenon that activists are calling “land grabbing.” GRAIN, a global agricultural think tank based in Barcelona, estimates that at least 50 million hectares of good agricultural land – enough to feed 5 million families in India – have been transferred from farmers to corporations in the last few years alone.

Economists say that governments have to be very careful about inviting corporations to manage vast swathes of land in poor countries. “If it’s done properly, and if African governments take care of their countries and their populations, this can be a big benefit,” says Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University told Dan Rather reports. “If they in effect give away these valuable resources, then what happens is these scarce resources benefit some other part of the world. And Africa is left even worse off than it was before.”

Middle Eastern Investors “Grab” Sudan Farmland

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on April 30th, 2012
CorpWatch Blog
Salah, Sudanese farmer. Photo: Al Jazeera TV

Dalla Al Baraka, a Saudi conglomerate with an estimated $5 billion in annual revenue, has acquired two million acres of farmland in eastern Sudan, to produce food for export to the Middle Eastern kingdom. While the investors are hoping to wean Saudi Arabia off imports from South America, such agreements have also caused concern among local Sudanese farmers.

Sporadic protests have occurred in Jazira state where much of best land is being bid on by foreign investors. "The farmers are complaining, because the price they are being offered for their land is not fair," Majdi Selim, a local lawyer and political activist told Agence France Press last year. Their concerns are part of a trend that is accelerating around the world according to multiple reports tracked by farmlandgrab.org, a website run by GRAIN, an international NGO.

Sudan, which was divided into two countries in 2011, is expecting a sharp downturn in its export income because most of its oil deposits became part of the new nation of South Sudan. This has served as an impetus for Khartoum to seek other forms of income. Ali Mahmood Abdel-Rasool, the finance and national economy minister, led a delegation to Saudi Arabia in March to seek foreign investment.

Sheikh Saleh Kamel, the founder of Dalla Al Baraka, told the Sudan Tribune that the two million hectares that he has obtained will be considered a “free trade” zone: that is to say his company would neither have to pay taxes nor follow Sudanese laws. He is not the only outside investor - Essa Abdullah Al Ghurair of Al Ghurair Foods in the United Arab Emirates has just leased 100,000 hectares of farmland in Sudan. And Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council, says this government is also considering investment in Sudanese land.

Local farmers in Sudan are say they have not been consulted on the plans to lease off the country’s land. “The whole process is not clear to me because part of it is the sale of land, part is rent and part is lending,” Salah of the Al Jazira Land Owners Group told Mohamed Vall of Al Jazeera television in an interview about the subject this past January. “Agricultural land is the basic source of living for most people here, so if all the arable land is given to big companies, what are those people going to live on?” (the word “jazeera” means peninsula, and is a common business title)

Others think the new investors can help. “There is vast area of empty fertile (land) with plenty of water. This land has remained empty for hundreds, if not thousands of years and it will remain (that way) It needs mechanization, it needs capital,” Mamoun, Salah’s cousin, who is also a local farmer, told Al Jazeera TV.

Sudan is not the only country to be targeted for export agriculture. Indeed a new “gold rush” on farmland has begun in the Third World, say studies by GRAIN, a global think tank based in Barcelona, the International Land Coalition (ILC), based in Italy, and Oxfam in the UK. ILC and Oxfam have created a ‘Land Matrix’ of deals which suggest that 71 million hectares have been “grabbed” by international investors. Africa accounts for almost half at 34 million hectares, followed by Asia with some 29 million hectares and South America with about 6 million hectares.

These investments or “landgrabs” have fomented anger and even violence, on occasion. In neighboring Ethiopia, Saudi Star, a similar Saudi Arabian project in Gambella province, the extremely fertile southwestern region of the country, was attacked on April 28 evening. Ten people, most of whom were agricultural experts from Pakistan, were allegedly killed at the 10,000 hectare agricultural rice farm owned by the billionaire Al Amoudi.

Facebook Lobbies Washington to “Like” Spying on Users

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on April 26th, 2012
CorpWatch Blog
Image courtesy: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Facebook, the social network behemoth that is about to become a multi-billion dollar company, has been lobbying for a proposed new U.S. law called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) that would allow companies to share information with government agencies. Zaid Jilani at the Republic Report has been digging up details on the Washington lobbyists who are helping Facebook.

“Under CISPA, private companies may spy on user communications, whether stored or in transit, and freely pass personal information to the government as long as they claim a vague "cybersecurity" exception,” write Mark M. Jaycox and Lee Tien at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The bill also creates expansive legal immunity that makes companies and the government largely unaccountable to users. Companies ‘acting in good faith’ are also excused from all liability for engaging in potential countermeasures, even if they hurt innocent parties.”

This is not the first time that the U.S. Congress has tried to pass a dubious law on computer security in the name of stopping piracy. Last year, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act – backed by Hollywood and opposed by Facebook, Google and Wikipedia – was defeated after a huge backlash. Opponents noted that the law – as drafted - would threaten freedom of speech and support Internet censorship.

Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan, and Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat from Maryland, are the sponsors of the new bill. Unusually for Washington, the two men work together well, according to the Washington Post.  Rogers is a former Federal Bureau of Investigations agent who has been promoting the drone war, notes the Post, and the two men have the backing of people like Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. So it is small wonder that CISPA will help out the intelligence agencies by expanding their powers of surveillance.

Not surprisingly, activists like Avaaz are campaigning against CISPA and so is (surprisingly) the Obama White House, which has threatened to veto the bill if it makes it to the president’s desk.

But Facebook – which opposed the cyber-security bills last year – has decided to support CISPA. The proposed law “would make it easier for Facebook and other companies to receive critical threat data from the U.S. government,” Facebook’s Washington DC office posted on its blog.  It would “impose no new obligations on us to share data with anyone –- and ensures that if we do share data about specific cyber threats, we are able to continue to safeguard our users’ private information, just as we do today.”

Well, many Facebook users would testify that the company actually does a very poor job of protecting user’s private information.

Zaid Jilani at the Republic Report points out that Facebook is actively paying a Washington lobby firm to lobby for CISPA. In his article titled “Dislike: Meet The Lobbyists Facebook Hired To Help The Government Spy On You” he reports on the people at Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock that are working the halls of Congress to get the bill passed.

“What’s particularly interesting about all of these individuals is that every single one previously worked somewhere in the executive or legislative branches of the Federal government. They were paid by taxpayers to get the training and connections that now allow them to have high-paid lobbying jobs representing corporations,” writes Jilani.

After all, Facebook has a lot to gain from this such as the ability to “freely pass personal information to the government” and to be “excused from all liability even if they hurt innocent parties.”

On Friday, when Congress gets to vote, we will find out which members “like” Facebooks plans.

Exploiting Indonesia: Adidas for London Olympics 2012

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on April 16th, 2012
CorpWatch Blog
Photo: Martin Wurt/Oxfam Australia

Adidas, the German sportswear company, is making Olympics uniforms for the UK team at sweatshops in Tangerang city, near the main international airport of Jakarta, Indonesia. Young female workers are paid 5,000 rupiah (54 cents) an hour for a 65 hour work week, according to revelations made in the Independent newspaper.

The new scandal comes on the heels of widespread protests against the Olympic stadium sponsorship by Dow Chemical, the new owner of Union Carbide Corporation, responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster which killed more than 15,000 people.

Britain’s new uniforms were designed by Stella McCartney, daughter of the former Beatles singer. The manufacturing contract was awarded to Adidas, a company with an annual revenue of $16 billion, which in turn outsourced production to a number of Indonesian contractors like Taiwanese-owned Shyang Yao Fung which manufactures women's sports shoes, PT Panarub Industry who make football boots, as well as PT Golden Castle and PT Tuntex which make clothing emblazoned with the Olympic logo.

Kathy Marks, the reporter who uncovered the story for the Independent, says she discovered that four of the nine contractors paid less than the minimum wage. (Adidas defended itself claiming that only one company did so!) Workers also complained about long working hours and bad working conditions.

"The management says that overtime is compulsory," a worker named Sobirin at Shyang Yao Fung told the newspaper. "And there are many times when workers are working without payment on overtime, or are not paid properly. Every day there's a worker who passes out because they're exhausted or unwell."

"It's hard to get permission even to go to the bathroom," said Yuliani, a 23-year-old seamstress told the Independent. "If you're forced to go, the pile of work becomes so high that you get shouted at by the production line leader. They call you a dog, brainless, uneducated. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our lunch break to reach the target."

The use of sweatshop labor to manufacture clothing is very commonplace. BehindTheLabel, an activist group, estimates that over 2 million people work in garment sweatshops producing clothes for U.S. retailers with about 80 percent of them working “under conditions that systematically violate local and international labor law.” http://www.behindthelabel.org/specialreports.php

Adidas has come under criticism before for its labor practices in south-east Asia. For example, 90,000 workers went on strike at the Pou Yuen Adidas suppler in Ho Chi Minh City last August against low wages and inhumane treatment, according to the Committee to Protect Vietnamese Workers. Campaign groups like Oxfam Australia have launched online protests to bring attention to the plight of workers. (see “Sneaky Business”)

The company also faces protests in the U.S. where students at the University of Michigan have called on the chancellor to cancel sponsorship contracts with the company for shutting down factories in Indonesia and El Salvador without paying workers backwages.  Similar protests have taken place at the the University of California at Berkeley and at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Green Tribunal Weighs Multinational Projects in India

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on April 9th, 2012
CorpWatch Blog
Sukhdev Sahoo mourns the loss of his betel farm. Photo: Basant Sahoo

Two controversial multinational projects in Orissa, an eastern Indian state, face high level decisions in the next few weeks: a bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri hills planned by Vedanta of the UK and an iron and steel refinery in Jagatsinghpur being developed by POSCO of South Korea.

CorpWatch has reported on both in the past: the bauxite mine threatens the sacred hills of the Dongria Kondh people while the iron and steel refinery threatens traditional betel nut farmers.

As we noted last year, these two battles “encapsulate the chasm between two competing visions of how the second most populous country in the world should develop within the modern world. Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first prime minister referred to dams and factories as the "temples of modern India," and his successors have gone cap-in-hand to international agencies such as the World Bank to fund major development projects such as the Narmada Valley Dams.

“Rural communities – with the help of city-based activist groups – have struggled to stop the mega-projects. They argue that the displacement of traditional communities, as well as the major environmental impacts of these projects, outweigh the financial benefits. The Narmada dams, for example, while generating electricity and irrigating great areas, would destroy villages and traditional farmland, displacing millions of people.”

Vedanta went before the Indian Supreme Court today to appeal an August 2010 decision by the Indian environment ministry blocking the mine from going forward because of the impact on the indigenous community. The court adjourned without making a decision but justices K S Radhakrishnan and C K Prasad are expected to rule  before the summer vacations. The court may refer the matter to the brand new National Green Tribunal which started hearing cases last year.

The Tribunal which was created in 2010 is “a specialized court with expert members having extraordinary powers to provide remedies to environmental problems.”

One of the Tribunal’s most significant decisions so far has been the suspension of POSCO’s permit last week. The ruling was made when Prafulla Samantray, an activist from Bhoinagar, brought suit over the fact that a comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) report was not done for the 12 million tonne production project. Ritwick Dutta, the lawyer for the activists, told CNN-IBN TV: "Strangely enough the environmental impact assessment studies (were) done only for a 4 million tonne project.”

These two important cases will demonstrate whether or not the National Green Tribunal is up to the task of protecting local communities and the environment in India. Blocking either or both projects will not stop other multinational corporations from continuing to try to exploit the country, but it will surely give them pause in the knowledge that powers that be in New Delhi will listen to communities that organize and push back successfully against irresponsible development and human rights abuse.

As Dongria elder Dodhi Sikaka told Survival: “We are fighting for our own people, for our ancestral land, for Niyamgiri. Those who are fighting for their rights are beaten up and put behind bars. Now all we Dongrias are together in resisting this.”

For a recent and very vivid description of what the Dongria Kondh face, see Bianca Jagger’s latest. She notes: “According to the UN, companies have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they do business. It is deplorable that local inhabitants should have to implore and appeal to the better nature of shareholders and company executives to protect their human rights, their homes and their livelihoods. Companies who violate this fundamental right should be held accountable in a court of law.”

Adds Jagger: “In the 21st century, we need to redefine the meaning of "development." It must be sustainable. Any development project must take into account the needs and aspirations of the local communities, and should benefit all sectors of society.”

Big Brother in Iran: With A Little Help From Chinese and European Companies

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on March 27th, 2012
Special to CorpWatch
Mad Graffiti Week Iran Poster. Photo: United4Iran. Used under Creative Commons license

Big Brother is watching Iranians with a little help from Chinese and European companies. Reuters revealed last week that ZTE Corporation, a major Chinese telecommunications company, had sold Tehran surveillance technology that is “capable of monitoring landline, mobile and internet communications.” This comes in wake of revelations late last year by the Wall Street Journal that Creativity Software in the UK and Huawei in China had sold the Iranians location tracking equipment.

Steve Stecklow of Reuters reported on March 22 that Shenzhen-based ZTE sold Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) a $130.6 million package of networking equipment. TCI is the biggest telecommunication provider in Iran while ZTE sold equipment to more than 500 buyers in more than 160 countries for an annual revenue of $10.6 billion in 2010.

The ZTE equipment in question is called the ZXMT system which does "deep packet inspection” – that allows buyers to reconstruct individual web and email traffic and block users from accessing certain web sites.

Li Erjian, a ZTE spokesman in China, initially emailed Reuters to say that there was nothing unusual about the sale: "We sell standard equipment in Iran as we do globally,” he wrote. But Mahmoud Tadjallimehr, a former telecommunications project manager in Iran, told Reuters that the equipment was able "to locate users, intercept their voice, text messaging ... emails, chat conversations or web access."

And Privacy International says that ZTE has pursued business in Iran for a while. The London-based NGO obtained a copy of a May 2008, ZTE presentation to the Iran Telecommunication Research Center about the "ZTE Lawful Intercept Solution” among other products.

ZTE surveillance equipment was also found in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi’s regime.

ZTE pulled back from the project immediately after the Reuters report came out. The very next day, ZTE spokesman David Shu told Reuters: "We are going to curtail our business in Iran.” On March 27, the Chinese company sent out a statement that said: “"Due to local issues in Iran and its complicated relationship with the international community, ZTE has restricted its business practices in the country since 2011. ZTE no longer seeks new customers in Iran and limits business activities with existing customers."

ZTE is not the only company to sell such equipment to Iran. In 2009, Nokia Siemens Network was revealed to be supplying Iran with surveillance equipment. The company subsequently backed out of Iran because of protests and sanctions.

Last October, after the Journal revealed Creativity Software and Huawei's role in Iran, Bloomberg followed up with a report that Stockholm-based Ericsson AB and Dublin-based AdaptiveMobile Security Ltd. had sold Iran location tracking and text-message monitoring equipment.

Ericsson initially sold a mobile- positioning center for customer billing purposes to MTN Irancell Telecommunications Services Company, Iran’s second-largest mobile provider. Ericsson decided in October 2010 that it would stop selling products to Iran because of sanctions. AdaptiveMobile offered Iran equipment to “filter, block and store cell phone text messages” according to Bloomberg. The company claims the technology is to beat spam, viruses and “inappropriate content” not for repression, but has also decided to pull out of Iran because of sanctions. Huawei did the same.

The technology provided by Creativity Software allows buyers to get reports every 15 seconds about mobile phone users location. The company maintains, however, that it has not sold equipment for human rights abuse. “Any connection implied between technology supplied by CS and any alleged human rights abuses in Iran in 2009 are clearly erroneous,” the company announced in a statement issued last November. “Please also be aware that the use of the term “Surveillance equipment” in describing location based services technology is both pejorative and inappropriate, the statement added.

For more information on the boom in surveillance technology sales to governments around the world, please see: “State of Surveillance”

U.S. Supreme Court: Can Multinationals Be Sued for Crimes?

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on March 1st, 2012
CorpWatch Blog
Project Underground poster on Shell

Barinem Kiobel was executed on November 10, 1995 by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha of Nigeria. Almost 16 years later, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide whether Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil multinational, can be held responsible for his death.

The lawsuit has been brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789 which allows lawsuits against individuals in U.S. courts for violations of international law – but what the court will decide is if this law applies to corporations. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiff – his widow Esther – it could represent a watershed in holding corporations accountable for crimes around the world. (See EarthRights for more on Alien Torts)

The 42 year old was one of nine activists from Ogoni land in the Niger Delta who were sentenced to death by hanging. Ken Saro-Wiwa, another of the men who was executed that day, had already become an international cause celebre as a poet and an outspoken leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) that was leading protests against the massive pollution of the region caused by its oil extraction. (See MOSOP website here)

In 2009, Shell agreed to pay out $15.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Saro-Wiwa’s family against the company in which they were alleged to have conspired with the military to capture, torture and kill protestors. The company did not admit guilt: "While we were prepared to go to court to clear our name, we believe the right way forward is to focus on the future for Ogoni people," Malcolm Brinded, a Shell director, said at the time. The money was placed in a trust for the education of the Ogoni people. (See the Center for Constitutional Rights summary here)

“Businesses with mining and drilling operations abroad decimate local populations with the full consent of brutal regimes, and when the people affected assemble and protest, family members are abducted, people are murdered, profits are defended at all costs and no local justice or accountability is possible because of government complicity,” wrote Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights in the New York Times. “The decision before the court now boils down to whether corporations — considered legal persons already in many cases — should be held to the same standards of accountability as actual people when they commit egregious crimes.”

Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini, the directors of the International Human Rights Clinic of the Harvard Law School agree: “In exchange for rights, corporations accept certain responsibilities, including liability for harms committed by their agents,” they wrote in the same newspaper.

What makes this argument compelling is another decision made by the Supreme Court on January 21, 2010, in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, where the justices decided, by a vote of five to four, that, since corporations were legal persons, they were entitled to the protection of the first amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech. (The case was brought by Citizens United, a company that wanted to air a film critical of Hillary Clinton)

Chevron Gets Fixed

Posted by Antonia Juhasz on November 4th, 2009
Huffington Post

Originally published on 3 November 2009.

On Sunday, Chevron became the first oil company to come under a Yes Men Audience Attack.

(See Video, Photos, and Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum's Blog of event)

Chevron was chosen because Chevron is different from other oil companies.

It is bigger than all but three (only ExxonMobil, BP and Shell are larger). It is facing the largest potential corporate liability in history ($27 billion) for causing the world's largest oil spill in the Ecuadorian rainforest. It is the only major U.S. Corporation still operating in Burma and, with its partner Total Oil Corp., is the single largest financial contributor to the Burmese government. It is the dominant private oil producer in both Angola and Kazakhstan, with operations in both countries mired in human rights and environmental abuses. It is the only major oil company to be tried in a U.S. court on charges of mass human rights abuse, including summary execution and torture (for its operations in Nigeria).

It is the only oil company to hire one of the Bush Administration's "torture memo" lawyers (William J. Haynes). It is the largest and most powerful corporation in California, where it is currently being sued for conspiring to fix gasoline prices. It has led the fight to keep California as the only major oil producing state that does not tax oil when it is pumped from the ground, thereby denying the state an extra $1.5 billion annually. It is the largest industrial polluter in the Bay Area and is among the largest single corporate contributors to climate change on the planet.

Chevron is also the focus of one of the world's most unique and well-organized corporate resistance campaigns.

That campaign got a jolt of energy when Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum came to San Francisco on Halloween weekend for a special screening of The Yes Men Fix the World.

Global Exchange and I teamed up with Andy (the movie's co-writer, director, and producer) and a host of the Bay Areas most creative activists, to lead an entire movie audience out of the theater, into the streets, and in protest of Chevron.

We spread the word early, far, and wide: The Yes Men are coming! The Yes Men are coming! They will not only fix the world, they will fix Chevron too!

Larry Bogad, a Yes Man co-hort and professor of Guerilla Theater, helped concoct a masterful street theater scenario. A crack team of protest and street theater organizers was compiled, including David Solnit of the Mobilization for Climate Justice and Rae Abileah of Code Pink. Rock The Bike signed on and the word kept spreading.

On Sunday, the Roxie Theater in San Francisco's Mission District was filled beyond capacity with an audience that came ready to protest. They laughed, clapped, booed, and cheered along with the film. When the movie ended, Andy answered questions, I talked about Chevron, and Larry laid out the protest scenario.

Three Chevron executives, protected from the early ravages of climate change in SurvivaBalls, were dragged up the street by dozens of Chevron minions with nothing but haz-mat suits to protect them. Those unable to afford any protection (i.e. The Dead) followed close behind. Next came resistance: the Chevron street sweepers, actively cleaning up Chevron's messes who were followed by the protesters, ready to change the story.

We didn't have a permit, but we took a lane of traffic on 16th street anyway. The police first tried to intervene, then they "joined in," blocking traffic on our way to Market and Castro.

As we marched and the music blared, people literally came out of their houses and off of the streets to join in. Passersby eagerly took postcards detailing Chevron's corporate crimes.

Once we arrived at the gas station, I welcomed everyone and explained that we were at an independent Chevron (as opposed to corporate) station, whose owner (whom I'd been speaking with regularly) had his own list of grievances with his corporate boss. The particular station was not our target of protest, but rather, the Chevron Corporation itself.

Larry and Andy than led the entire crowd in a series of Tableaux Morts. The Chevron executives in their SurvivaBalls drained the lifeblood from the masses. The people began to rebel, forcing the SurvivaBalls into the "turtle" position to fend off the attacks. Ultimately, the separate groups saw their common purpose in resisting Chevron's abuses. The dead rose, the Chevron minions rebelled, and the sweepers and protesters joined together. They all chased the Chevron executives off into the distance, and then danced in the streets, rejoicing in their shared victory!

The Chevron Program I direct at Global Exchange seeks to unite Chevron affected communities across the United States and around the world. By uniting these communities, we build strength from each other, and become a movement. By expanding, strengthening, and highlighting this movement, we bring in more allies and create a powerful advocacy base for real policy change. Those changes will reign in Chevron, and by extension, the entire oil industry. And, by raising the voices of those hardest hit by the true cost of oil and exposing how we all ultimately pay the price, we help move the world more rapidly away from oil as an energy resource altogether.




Berkeley, Oakland urge oil money transparency

Posted by Josh Richman on October 20th, 2009

Originally posted, October 14, 2009 on http://www.ibabuzz.com/politics/2009/10/14/berkeley-oakland-urge-oil-money-transparency/

Berkeley City Council last night approved a resolution urging the U.S. Senate to approve S.1700, the “Energy Security Through Transparency Act” by U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., which would urge the Obama Administration to require that companies disclose payments to foreign governments for oil, gas and mineral rights. Oakland City Council passed a similar resolution last week.

“Good governance in extractive industries contribute to a better domestic investment climate for U.S. businesses, increase the reliability of commodity supplies, promote greater U.S. energy security and thereby strengthen our national security,” says the summary on Lugar’s Web site.

San Francisco-based Justice in Nigeria Now hails the cities’ actions as a moral victory.

“I was tortured and imprisoned by the Nigerian military for my peaceful protests against Shell Oil’s destruction of our land,” Suanu Kingston Bere, a Nigerian activist who spoke at the Berkeley City Council meeting, said in JINN’s news release. “I believe the City’s support sends a strong message that communities in the U.S are concerned about the human rights abuses and environmental damage associated with oil extraction. I do not want to see my people continue to go through what I went through.”

Berkeley’s resolution also calls on the State Department to support third-party peace talks in the Delta to address environmental destruction and lack of investment in the oil producing region. The resolution was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin, Darryl Moore and Max Anderson and was introduced to the council through the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, which worked with JINN to draft it.

JINN says 50 years of oil exploitation in the Niger Delta has produced over $700 billion in oil revenues shared between the Nigerian government and oil giants like San Ramon-based Chevron as well as Exxon Mobil and Shell. More than 40 percent of Nigeria’s oil is exported to the U.S. Yet despite the corporate oil wealth, local residents’ quality of life has deteriorated – their drinking polluted, their food fisheries poisoned, their access to education, health care and even electricity limited.

“Oil companies in Nigeria have had long a relationship with the notoriously corrupt and historically brutal Nigerian government where rampant corruption, fraudulent elections and violent suppression of peaceful protests are the norm in the Delta,” Nigerian writer and activist Omoyele Sowore said in JINN’s news release. “The proposed ESTT Act in the Senate is an important step toward holding oil companies accountable for their collusion with the Nigerian government, which protects their profits while killing and injuring innocent local people and destroying the Delta’s fragile environment.”

Corporations and the Amazon

Posted by Philip Mattera on August 16th, 2009


Originally posted on August 13, 2009 at http://dirtdiggersdigest.org/archives/746

These days just about every large corporation would have us believe that it is in the vanguard of the fight to reverse global warming. Companies mount expensive ad campaigns to brag about raising their energy efficiency and shrinking their carbon footprint.

Yet a bold article in the latest issue of business-friendly Bloomberg Markets magazine documents how some large U.S.-based transnationals are complicit in a process that does more to exacerbate the climate crisis than anything else: the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rain forest.

While deforestation is usually blamed on local ranchers and loggers, Bloomberg points the finger at companies such as Alcoa and Cargill, which the magazine charges have used their power to get authorities in Brazil to approve large projects that violate the spirit of the country’s environmental regulations.

Alcoa is constructing a huge bauxite mine that will chew up more than 25,000 acres of virgin jungle in an area, the magazine says, “is supposed to be preserved unharmed forever for local residents.” Bloomberg cites Brazilian prosecutors who have been waging a four-year legal battle against an Alcoa subsidiary that is said to have circumvented the country’s national policies by obtaining a state rather than a federal permit for the project.

Bloomberg also focuses on the widely criticized grain port that Cargill built on the Amazon River. Cargill claims to be discouraging deforestation by the farmers supplying the soybeans that pass through the port, but the Brazilian prosecutors interviewed by Bloomberg expressed skepticism that the effort was having much effect.

Apart from the big on-site projects, Bloomberg looks at major corporations that it says purchase beef and leather from Amazonian ranchers who engage in illegal deforestation. Citing Brazilian export records, the magazine identifies Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Kraft Foods and Carrefour as purchasers of the beef and General Motors, Ford and Mercedes-Benz as purchasers of leather.

The impact of the Amazon cattle ranchers was also the focus of a Greenpeace report published in June. That report put heat on major shoe companies that are using leather produced by those ranchers.

Nike and Timberland responded to the study by pledging to end their use of leather hides from deforested areas in the Amazon basin. Greenpeace is trying to get other shoe companies to follow suit.

Think of the Amazon the next time a company such as Wal-Mart tells us what wonderful things it is doing to address the climate crisis.

Chipotle Grilled!

Posted by Denver Fair Food on July 31st, 2009

Originally posted on July 23 at http://denverfairfood.blogspot.com/2009/07/chipotle-grilled.html.

Chipotle is getting burned by the very scheme it cooked up as what it thought was a great public relations opportunity - sponsoring free screenings of Food, Inc. - is becoming a PR fiasco.

Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner and co-producer Eric Schlosser speak out and Chipotle has to answer tough questions in Tom Philpott's must-read article on Grist.org "Chipotle Grilled: Burrito chain’s Food, Inc. sponsorship generates off-screen drama over farm-worker issues."

Schlosser explains that while many of Chipotle's efforts are great, he nonetheless "cares more about human rights than any of those things." He continues: "If Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King, and McDonald’s can reach agreement with the CIW, I don’t see why Chipotle can’t."

Kenner likewise, the article states, "made clear that he disagreed with the company’s position on the CIW" even if he agrees with other things Chipotle is doing. Kenner explains: "I was hopeful that by associating itself with a film that promotes workers’ rights, [Chipotle] might be inclined to sign with the Coalition . . . And now I’m not confident they will.”

Our cameo in this unfolding fiasco is also noted: "Chipotle clearly resents such critical statements at events designed to demonstrate its sustainability cred. At one of its screenings in Denver, Chipotle employees barred people from the Campaign for Fair Food to speak after the screening—overturning an arrangement that had been made with Food, Inc’s public-education campaign. " After investigating the incident, the article decides: "In other words, people wanting to discuss the CIW issue aren’t to be given stage time at the Chipotle-sponsored Food, Inc. screenings."

Our story of Chipotle's eagerness to shut up members of Denver Fair Food has really made a splash on the internet, appearing on the websites of the Organic Cosumers Association, the Coporate Ethics Network, US Indymedia, and others.

Of course Denver wasn't the only city where Chipotle got heat from Fair Food activists while trying to bask in Food, Inc.'s glory. All over the country allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers took to the movies to deflate Chipotle's hot air about "food with integrity" with some sharp truths about farm labor in Chipotle's supply chain. See the great photo report from the nationwide "Battle of the Burrito" on the CIW website.

References to this PR fiasco are popping up in unforseen places such as thedailygreen or even more surprising the mainstream investor blog The Motely Fool. And the bed which Chipotle made for itself in which it now must lie can't be feeling any more comfortable.

The lesson for Chipotle to learn from its bungled Food, Inc. PR experiment? The ecorazzi blog has these fitting words: "you can’t have your 1000+ calorie burrito and eat it too."

Shell's Settlement Doesn't Hide Unsettling Reality in Nigeria

Posted by Stephen Kretzmann on June 11th, 2009

Originally posted June 10, 2009, on The Huffington Post.

After thirteen years and countless hours by lawyers, community members, and activists around the world, Royal Dutch Shell finally settled the Wiwa v Shell case in a New York court for $15.5 million.

Plaintiffs in the case, which included Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr., and the families of other Ogoni men hanged in November 1995, charged the Royal Dutch/Shell company, its Nigerian subsidiary, and the former chief of its Nigerian operation, Brian Anderson, with complicity in the torture, killing, and other abuses of Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and other non-violent Nigerian activists in the mid-1990s in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta.

Shell says they settled the case as a "humanitarian gesture" to the Ogoni. Does anyone really believe that after fighting for more than a decade to keep this out of court, Shell suddenly woke up and felt great compassion for the Ogoni? Please.

Shell settled because they were scared, and they knew the evidence against them was overwhelming. They publicly say they had nothing to do with the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogoni, and yet there were documents and video that they fought hard to keep out of the public eye.

Evidence that was to be introduced in the case included an internal Shell memo where the head of Shell Nigeria offered to intervene on Saro-Wiwa's behalf, if only Saro-Wiwa and others would stop claiming that Shell had made payments to the military.

Then there was this memo, requesting payment to the Nigerian military for an incident in which at least one Ogoni man died.

Witness were set to testify that they saw Shell vehicles transporting Nigerian soldiers, that they saw Shell employees conferring with the military, that they saw money being exchanged between Shell employees and military officers, and that they heard military officers, including the brutal Major Okuntimo of the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force, make admissions regarding the work they were doing on behalf of Shell.

We have known some of Shell's involvement in this tragedy for a long time. In early May of 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa Sr. faxed me a memo authored by Major Okuntimo which read "Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence" and further called for "pressure on oil companies for prompt regular inputs."

I received that fax and immediately called Ken. He said "this is it. They're going to kill us all. All for Shell." It was the last time I talked with him. Several weeks later he was arrested on the trumped up charges for which he was ultimately hanged.

In the last day, lots of people have asked me if $15.5 million is enough to compensate for the hanging of nine men, the death of thousands more, and for the destruction of an ecosystem. No of course not. But was it on par with what a jury would have awarded in this case? Yes, lawyers tell me, for sure.

More importantly, does the settlement bring relief to Ken Wiwa Jr. and the families of the other men who were executed? If you read Ken's thoughtful and moving piece in the Guardian , the answer is clearly yes. That alone should be cause for celebration.

Ken Sr.'s famous last words from the gallows were "lord take my soul but the struggle continues." In this moment, perhaps more than ever before, we need to heed that call to action. The settlement in this case brings satisfaction to the plaintiffs for an event that happened 14 years ago. It in no way, shape or form excuses or absolves Shell of their ongoing destruction of the Niger Delta environment.

One of the central complaints of Niger Delta communities for forty years has been gas flaring, which sends plumes of toxic pollutants into the air and water of the Niger Delta. Gas flaring endangers human health, harms local ecosystems, emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases, wastes vast quantities of natural gas, and is against Nigerian law. Shell does it nowhere else in the world in volumes that are even remotely comparable to what they flare in the Delta.

But Shell is still flaring gas in Nigeria.

While there is no doubt that the settlement represented a significant victory for the plaintiffs' in this one human rights case against Shell, true justice will not be served as long as the people of Nigeria continue to suffer the terrible impact of Shell's operations. Shell estimates it would cost about $3 billion -- only 10% of just their last year's profits -- to end Shell's gas flaring in Nigeria once and for all.

But instead of putting their great "humanitarian concern" into action, Shell points the finger at the Nigerian government and demands that they pay to end this practice.

Send a message to Shell's CEO
Jeroen van der Veer, and let him know that if he really wants to prove his great concern for the Ogoni people, he'll end gas flaring once and for all.

The struggle continues.

What's not in Chevron's annual report

Posted by Cameron Scott on May 26th, 2009

Originally posted at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/green/detail?entry_id=40674

When people with strong ideological perspectives are often outraged by media coverage of their pet issues. When both sides are mad, you know you're doing something right. But how often do you hear corporations furious about they way they are covered in the business section? The section seems to lend itself to favor-currying and soft-shoeing.

In the lead-up to Chevron's annual shareholders meeting tomorrow in San Ramon, the company landed a puff piece on KGO focusing on its efforts to decrease its water usage. No mention of the Amazon controversy, and no mention of outside pressure on Chevron, EBMUD's largest water user.

I'm disappointed to say that a Chronicle interview with the company's top lawyer also softballs the issues, while giving Chevron the opportunity to present its side of the story with no opportunity for response from the company's many critics. [Update: Chron editors tell me there will be more coverage of Chevron later in the week.]

Well, Chevron's opponents, including San Francisco's Amazon Watch, have taken matters into their own hands, releasing an alternate annual report that presents the externalities not listed in the company's balance sheet, which shows a record profit of $24 billion, making the company the second most profitable in the United States.

Did you know that Chevron's Richmond refinery was built in 1902 and emitted 100,000 pounds of toxic waste in 2007, consisting of no less than 38 toxic substances? The EPA ranks it as one of the worst refineries in the nation. With 17,000 people living within 3 miles from the plant, you'd think the San Ramon-based company would take local heat from more than just a couple dozen activists.

Chevron has sought to brand itself an "energy" company, one eagerly pursuing alternatives to petroleum. Its aggressive "Will You Join Us?" ad campaign asked regular folks to reduce their energy consumption, suggesting that Chevron was doing the same. In actuality, the company spent less than 3 percent of its whopping capital and exploratory expenditures on alternative energy. And it has refused to offer better reporting on its greenhouse gas emissions, despite strong shareholder support for it. (The aggressive, and misleading, ad campaign seems to have ired the report's researchers as well: The report is decorated by numerous parodies, and some have been wheat-pasted around town.)

It's a very well researched report, written by the scholar Antonia Juhasz, clearly divided into regional issues, and it's a much needed counterbalance to the friendly coverage Chevron is otherwise getting. (Juhasz was interviewed on Democracy Now this morning.)

For information on protesting the shareholder meeting early tomorrow morning, click here.

The IDB—50 Years, Zero Reflection

Posted by Laura Carlsen on April 3rd, 2009
Americas Policy Program, Center for International Policy

At the end of March, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) celebrated its 50th anniversary in Medellin. The occasion presents an opportunity to revise concepts and move toward a fairer development model. It is logical to think that among the festivities, a process of evaluation and self-critique would begin regarding the bank's actions and work in the region.

The circumstances demand it. The continent has been plunged into a grave economic crisis, in part because of the string of structural reforms, deregulation, foreign market dependence, and privatization that the IDB has supported in the region. Limits on the use of non-renewable fuels have become more and more obvious while climate change threatens to affect the production of basic foods and increase the frequency of natural disasters. Forced migration characterizes modern life and growing inequality has become the most important challenge faced by all the countries in the region.

      Medellin: site of the 50th anniversary of the IDB. Photo: www.skyscraperlife.com.

In spite of this gray outlook, it seemed that until now everything suggested that the IDB would prescribe more of the same medicine. They predicted an increase in loans to the region for the record figure of US$18 billion for 2009 as a response to the crisis. This will generate a new wave of debt in the recipient countries, while at the same time the development model behind the loans faces a crisis of credibility due to its dubious results. For the IDB, development is seen as a process of ensuring the transnational mobility of capital, enabling foreign investment, the transfer of goods, and access to natural resources. In recent years, this model has been imposed on regions that were previously closed off due to their geographical location or because of little interest from big business. Now that the value of natural resources is increasing and national economies have opted for exports, mega-projects including transportation infrastructure and hydroelectric power plants, among others, have become attractive again. They generally target regions with a low population density, and, in many cases, significant indigenous populations. While these communities are often forgotten by their national governments and suffer high levels of marginalization, at the same time their territories are rich in both culture and biodiversity.

The IDB has been a major promoter of infrastructure mega-projects designed to drive this vision. Two mega-project master plans have been of particular interest to the IDB: The Plan Puebla-Panama (also known as the Mesoamerican Integration and Development Project) and the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA). These plans include the construction of super-highways, dams, electricity networks, and more. The projects signal a drastic change in the use of land and resources. Local, regional, and national markets—which generate more jobs and constitute the majority of food distribution—are seen as a hindrance, and natural resources—conserved by indigenous communities—are considered the spoils of transnational business.

Among its objectives, the IDB aims to generate development in these regions. However, a recent study revealed that the mega-projects financed by the IDB in many cases end up displacing thousands of people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries. The construction of dams is the clearest example because it entails the involuntary displacement through the flooding of vast areas which often include pre-existing communities. One example is the La Parota hydroelectric dam in Guerrero, Mexico which would displace around 25,000 people and has currently been halted due to popular resistance. A group of 43 grassroots organizations met prior to the IDB meeting in Medellin. They presented studies and testimonies on the impacts of these projects in an effort to change the IDB's policies. Through the campaign known as "The IDB: 50 years financing inequality," these groups argue that, rather than alleviate the issue of poverty, mega-projects channel the profits gained from natural resources into the hands of the private sector and destroy the social fabric and community networks necessary for indigenous survival.

The solution to poverty that the IDB fundamentally proposes would seem to be: reduce poverty by expelling the poor. The two meetings—that of the IDB authorities and that of the organizations which question its practices—present an opportunity to revise the concept of development and move toward a fairer development model.

Originally posted on April 1, http://americas.irc-online.org/am/6008.

Not Quite Beyond Petroleum

Posted by Philip Mattera on February 20th, 2009

For the past eight years, the oil giant formerly known as British Petroleum has tried to convince the world that its initials stand for “Beyond Petroleum.” An announcement just issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may suggest that the real meaning of BP is Brazen Polluter.

The EPA revealed that BP Products North America will pay nearly $180 million to settle charges that it has failed to comply with a 2001 consent decree under which it was supposed to implement strict controls on benzene and benzene-tainted waste generated by the company’s vast oil refining complex in Texas City, Texas, located south of Houston.  Since the 1920s, benzene has been known to cause cancer.

Among BP’s self-proclaimed corporate values is to be “environmentally responsible with the aspiration of ‘no damage to the environment’” and to ensure that “no one is subject to unnecessary risk while working for the group.” Somehow, that message did not seem to make its way to BP’s operation in Texas City, which has a dismal performance record.

The benzene problem in Texas City was supposed to be addressed as part of the $650 million agreement BP reached in January 2001 with the EPA and the Justice Department covering eight refineries around the country. Yet environmental officials in Texas later found that benzene emissions at the plant remained high. BP refused to accept that finding and tried to stonewall the state, which later imposed a fine of $225,000.

In March 2005 a huge explosion (photo) at the refinery killed 15 workers and injured more than 170. The blast blew a hole in a benzene storage tank, contaminating the air so seriously that safety investigators could not enter the site for a week after the incident.

BP was later cited for egregious safety violations and paid a record fine of $21.4 million. Subsequently, a blue-ribbon panel chaired by former secretary of state James Baker III found that BP had failed to spend enough money on safety and failed to take other steps that could have prevented the disaster in Texas City. Still later, the company paid a $50 million fine as part of a plea agreement on related criminal charges.

In an apparent effort to repair its image, BP has tried to associate itself with positive environmental initiatives. The company was, for instance, one of the primary sponsors of the big Good Jobs/Green Jobs conference held in Washington earlier this month. Yet as long as BP operates dirty facilities such as the Texas City refinery, the company’s sunburst logo, its purported earth-friendly values and its claim of going beyond petroleum will be nothing more than blatant greenwashing.

Originally posted at:

http://dirtdiggersdigest.org/archives/327

Dirt Diggers Digest is written by Philip Mattera, director of the Corporate Research Project, an affiliate of Good Jobs First.

Norway finds Canada's largest publicly-traded company, Barrick Gold, unethical

Posted by Sakura Saunders on February 2nd, 2009
protestbarrick.net

Norway's Ministry of Finance announced Friday that it would exclude mining giant Barrick Gold and U.S. weapons producer Textron Inc from the country's pension fund for ethical reasons.  This is an especially significant judgment for Canada, as Barrick Gold is currently Canada's largest publicly traded company.

While the Norwegian Council of Ethics full recommendation mentions conflicts involving Barrick in Chile, Tanzania, and the Philippines, the panel acknowledged that, "due to limited resources," it restricted its investigation of Barrick to the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea.  The Porgera mine has been a prime target for criticism for its use of riverine tailings disposal, a practice banned in almost every country in the world.

"It's unbelievably embarrassing," admitted Green Party deputy leader Adriane Carr. "It's got to be bad news for Canada when a foreign government says it's going to sell its shares in a Canadian company they figure is unethical."

This isn't the first time that Norway's Fund has divested from a gold mining company. In fact, looking at a list, the fund – with the notable exception of Walmart – divests exclusively from mining (primarily gold mining) corporations and corporations that produce nuclear weapons or cluster munitions... an interesting juxtaposition highlighting the comparable nature of mining to the production of weapons of mass destruction, especially in terms of long-term environmental consequences.

Compare that to Canada's treatment of gold mining companies. Just this last December, Peter Munk, the chairman and founder of Barrick Gold, received the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civilian honor. Additionally, within Toronto he is honored as a philanthropist, with the Peter Munk Cardiac Center and the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto both adorning his name. Similarly, Ian Telfer, the chairman of Goldcorp, the world's second largest gold miner behind Barrick, has the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa bearing his name.

These symbolic gestures, along with the fact that several Canadian Pension funds and even Vancouver-based "Ethical Funds" are still heavily invested in Barrick Gold, show that Canada has a long way to go in demanding that its companies honor human rights and halt its colonial-style, exploitative economic regime. In fact, by its own admittance, Canada's Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade stated that "Canada does not yet have laws to ensure that the activities of Canadian mining companies in developing countries conform to human rights standards, including the rights of workers and of indigenous peoples." Since the date of that landmark confession, Canada has yet to adopt any intervening structures (like an ombudsperson) or develop any mandatory regulations for Canadian companies operating abroad.

Gold mining produces an average of 79 tons of waste for every ounce of gold extracted, 50 percent of it is carried out on native lands, and about 80 percent of it is used for jewelry, according to the "No Dirty Gold" campaign, a project of Oxfam and Earthworks. It is no wonder that in a portfolio with plenty of human rights abuses, the Norwegian Pension Fund decided to concentrate on gold miners, cluster munition manufacturers and nuclear weapon producers first. It is time that the rest of the world catch up.

Hemispheric Conference against Militarization Says No to Merida Initiative, U.S. Military Bases

Posted by Laura Carlsen on December 30th, 2008
Americas Policy Program, Center for International Policy

More than 800 representatives from organizations throughout the Americas made their way to the northern city of La Esperanza, Honduras to take a strong stand against the militarization of their nations and communities. Following three days of workshops, the participants read their final declaration in front of the gates of the U.S. Army Base at Palmerola, Honduras, just hours from the conference site. The first demand on the list was to close down this and all U.S. military bases in Latin America and the Caribbean. By the end of the demonstration, the walls of the base sported hundreds of spray-painted messages and demands that contrasted sharply with their prison-like austerity.

Palmerola, formally called the Soto Cano Air Base, brought back some very bad memories among the hundreds of Central American participants. The U.S. government installed the base in 1981 and used it to launch the illegal contra operations against the Nicaraguan government. The base was also used to airlift support to counterinsurgency operations in Guatemala and El Salvador and train U.S. forces in counterinsurgency techniques during the dirty wars that left over 100,000 dead, and is now used as a base for the U.S.-sponsored "war on drugs."

The demilitarization conference also called for an immediate halt to the recently launched "Merida Initiative," the Bush administration's new Trojan horse for remilitarization of the region. The resolution asserts that the measure "expands U.S. military intervention and contributes to the militarization of our countries" and representatives from the Central American nations and Mexico included in the military aid package committed to a process of monitoring the funds and defeating further appropriations.

The Merida Initiative was announced by President Bush as a "counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and border security" cooperation initiative in October 2007. The model extends the Bush administration's infamous national security strategy of 2002 to impose it as the U.S.-led security model for the hemisphere. The approach relies on huge defense contracts to U.S. corporations, and military and police deployment to deal with issues ranging from drug trafficking to illegal immigration and seeks to extend U.S. military hegemony in foreign lands. It has been proven in Colombia and other areas where it has been applied to have the effect of increasing violence, failing to decrease drug flows, and leading to extensive human rights violations.

Among the 14 resolutions of the conference, three others reject aspects of the Initiative: the repeal of anti-terrorist laws that criminalize social protest and are a direct result of U.S. pressure to impose the disastrous Bush counter-terrorism paradigm; the demand to replace the militarized "war on drugs" model with measures of citizen participation, community heath, etc.; and the demand for full respect for the rights of migrants.

Although on the surface, Latin America is experiencing a period of relative calm after the brutality of the military dictatorships and the dirty wars, grassroots movement leaders from all over the continent described a context of increasing aggression. The indigenous and farm organizations that occupy territories coveted by transnational corporations have become targets of forced displacement. Social movements that protest privatization and free trade agreements have been dubbed terrorists and attacked and imprisoned under new anti-terrorist laws that are a poor legal facade for outright repression. The use of the military troops in counter-narcotic activities has become commonplace and often hides other agendas of the powerful. Police forces have come to deal with youth as if being young itself were a crime.

In viewing the threats of militarization in their societies, participants use a broader definition than just the presence of army bases and troops. "Militarism," states the Campaign for Demilitarization of the Americas, is " the daily presence of the military logic in our society, in our economic forms, in our social links, and in the logic of gender domination and the supposed natural superiority of men over women." Using this concept, the conference covered the profound need to change the educational system and social norms, to work from within communities, as well as making demands for changes in the external conditions that affect them.

Despite days of testimonies that sometimes included tears and anger, delegates to the conference expressed hope above all else. Ecuador's new constitution and decision to kick out the U.S. army base at Manta was cited as proof of progress.

Both concrete plans for action and an encouraging consensus emerged: the breadth of the challenge can be overwhelming but the dream of lasting peace provides an irresistible light at the end of the tunnel.

The declaration concludes on this note: "... through these campaigns and actions on the grassroots level, organized within each nation and throughout the continent, we can reach a day not long from now when we fulfill the dream of living free of violence, exclusion, and war."

Originally posted on October 17, 2008. Read the full declaration:
http://americas.irc-online.org/am/5605

Popular Uprising Against Barrick Gold in Tanzania sparked by killing of local

Posted by Sakura Saunders on December 14th, 2008
ProtestBarrick.net

Why would "criminals" set fire to millions worth in mine equipment?

How was it that these "intruders" had an estimated 3,000 - 4,000 people backing them up?

In what appears to be a spontaneous civilian movement against Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold miner, thousands of people invaded Barrick`s North Mara Gold Mine this week in Tarime District and destroyed equipment worth $15 million. Locals say that the uprising was sparked by the killing of a local, identified as Mang'weina Mwita Mang'weina.  According to a Barrick Public Relations officer (as reported by the Tanzanian Guardian newspaper), "the intruders stoned the security personnel relentlessly until they overpowered them. The guards abandoned their posts and retreated to safety."

While Barrick implies that "high levels of crime" are the cause of this recent outbreak, recent reports suggest a different picture.

Allan Cedillo Lissner, a photojournalist who recently documented mine life near the North Mara mine, explains:

Ongoing conflict between the mine and local communities has created a climate of fear for those who live nearby. Since the mine opened in 2002, the Mwita family say that they live in a state of constant anxiety because they have been repeatedly harassed and intimidated by the mine's private security forces and by government police. There have been several deadly confrontations in the area and every time there are problems at the mine, the Mwita family say their compound is the first place the police come looking. During police operations the family scatters in fear to hide in the bush, "like fugitives," for weeks at a time waiting for the situation to calm down. They used to farm and raise livestock, "but now there are no pastures because the mine has almost taken the whole land ... we have no sources of income and we are living only through God's wishes. ... We had never experienced poverty before the mine came here." They say they would like to be relocated, but the application process has been complicated, and they feel the amount of compensation they have been offered is "candy."

Evans Rubara, an investigative journalist from Tanzania, blames this action on angry locals from the North Mara area who are opposed to Barrick's presence there. "This comes one week after Barrick threatened to leave the country based on claims that they weren't making profit," comments Evans after explaining that Barrick does not report profit to avoid taxes in the country. "This is a sign to both the government of Tanzania and the International community (especially Canada) that poor and marginalized people also get tired of oppression, and that they would like Barrick to leave."

Only one week prior, Barrick's African Region Vice President, Gareth Taylor threatened to leave Tanzania due to high operating costs, claiming that the company did not make profits there. Barrick's Toronto office quickly denied this report, stating that "the company will work with the government to ensure the country's legislation remains 'competitive with other jurisdictions so that Tanzanians can continue to benefit from mining.'"

Interestingly, Taylors threat came shortly after he attended a workshop to launch the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in Dar es Salaam.

One thing is clear, though; these reports of hundreds, backed by thousands, of villagers attacking mine infrastructure reflects a resentment that goes beyond mere criminal action. And this surge in violence should be examined in the context of the on-going exploitation and repressive environment surrounding the mine.

James Bond Takes on the Corporate Water Privateers

Posted by Jeff Conant on December 10th, 2008

Spoiler Alert!

Back in the good old days of the Cold War, everybody’s favorite secret agent, James Bond, fought villains like Dr. No, an evil scientist out to sabotage U.S. missile tests, and Mr. Big, a Soviet agent using pirate treasure to finance espionage in America. But as Bond’s friend Mathis tells him in Quantum of Solace, released this month, “When one is young, it’s easy to tell the difference between right and wrong. As one gets older, the villains and heroes get all mixed up.”

The reference is to a shady new Bond villain, agent of the Quantum organization – one Dominic Greene. In public, Greene is a leading environmentalist whose organization, Greene Planet, buys up large tracts of land for ecological preserves. But behind the scenes, Greene has another agenda. As he says to his co-conspirators, “This is the most valuable resource in the world and we need to control as much of it as we can.”

The film makes a number of plays on the assumption that the resource in question is oil – but oil is so…twentieth century.

By the time Bond has pursued Greene from Italy to Haiti, from Haiti to Austria, and crash-landed his plane in a sinkhole in the high, barren desert of Bolivia, we make the discovery that this vital resource is – surprise! – water.

Colluding with Greene is a cast of evil characters taken straight from the history books. We have General Medrano, the ex-dictator of Bolivia, to whom Greene says, “You want your country back? My organization can give it to you.” We have the U.S. Ambassador, myopically sticking to the familiar program: “Okay, we do nothing to stop a coup, and you give us a lease to any oil you find.” And we have the British foreign office, continually wrangling with M15, Bond’s spy agency. When Bond’s boss, M, tells him that Greene is not an environmentalist but a villain, the Foreign Minister says, “If we refused to do business with villains, we’d have almost no one to trade with.”  Ain’t it the truth.

The fact that Quantum of Solace makes water the villain’s object of greed, replacing oil, gold, diamonds, and mutually assured destruction, is telling of the point we’ve reached. More telling still is the fact that our villain’s cover has him acting as an environmentalist, the ultimate corporate greenwasher. The fact that the action winds up in Bolivia – the country where, in real life, both Bechtel and Suez have tried and failed to take control of community water resources during and shortly after the reign of former-dictator-turned-neoliberal President Hugo Banzer – brings the plot frighteningly close to reality. The privatization of water in Bolivia back in 2000, and the massive popular response that turned out rural water stewards and urban ratepayers to riot for months until the multinational transgressor was ousted, was the spark that set social movements worldwide on red alert. Since then, numerous private water companies have been refused contracts on the grounds that popular movements, and, increasingly, governments, recognize the need to treat water as a human right and a public good – not a commodity.

If only the water movement had a few organizers with the physique, the gadgets, and the, er, style of Bond.

While we have many great documentaries telling the story of the global water wars, including this year’s Flow and Blue Gold, one is forced to wonder if 007 does a greater service to the water movement than even our most highly talented documentarians. After all, who better than Hollywood to characterize the greenwashing corporate water profiteers as straight up evil, sans the need to justify the hyperbole?

Matieu Amalric, the actor who played Dominic Greene, wanted to wear make-up for the role, but director Marc Forster “wanted Greene not to look grotesque, but to symbolize the hidden evils in society.” Similarly, the original screenplay had Greene having some “hidden power.” But in the final cut, the director seems to have decided that corporate power was power enough.

One wonders if Dominic Greene – had he not died drinking motor oil to quench his thirst in the Bolivian desert – might give the keynote speech at the upcoming World Water Forum in Istanbul (WWF). After all, the World Water Council (WWC) that puts on the forum is presided over by Loïc Fauchon, a former executive at one of the French subsidiaries of Suez, the world’s largest private water corporation.

As we learn from the WWF website, “One of the benefits of joining the WWC is the Council's ability to influence decisions related to world water management that affect organizations, business, and communities.” Perhaps their secret meetings will also be attended by executives of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, whose recent partnership with Coca-Cola aims to help the global soft-drink giant become “the most efficient company in the world in terms of water use,” with “every drop of water it uses…returned to the earth or compensated for through conservation and recycling programs.” And, with this blending of fact and fiction, it would hardly be surprising to find Greene’s signature on the CEO Water Mandate, which has companies with such devastating environmental track records as Dow Chemical, Shell Oil, Unilever, and Nestlé pledging to “help address the water challenge faced by the world today.”

When M, Bond’s overweening boss at M15, finds out about Quantum, she demands, “What the hell is this organization, Bond? How can they be everywhere and we know nothing about them?”

Well, my darling M, the answer is simple: like transnational corporations, and like the large NGO’s that work with the private sector to reform its practices and green its reputation, and like the International Finance Institutions whose interests are increasingly endangering the United Nations’ mandate to defend and protect human rights, they can be everywhere because their particular form of villainy works best when hidden in plain sight.

Thankfully, the world’s water is safe, because, behind the scenes, secret agent 007 is on the job.

Well, not true. But countless people and organizations worldwide, from the Red Vida to the African Water Network, from the People’s Health Movement to the Reclaiming Public Water Network, are vigilant in the defense of the human right to water. With the recent placement of water warrior Father Miguel D’Escoto, a Nicaraguan liberation theologian, in the presidential seat at the UN General Assembly, and his selection of Maude Barlow as a senior advisor on water, we are witnessing a tidal change in the highest levels of international cooperation.

They may not have the brutal take-no-prisoners attitude or the classy cocktail swagger of Mister Bond, but they represent a lot of people, and they’re on the right side.

So, corporate evil-doers, and your greenwashing NGO henchmen, beware. The forces of good are on the loose.

Originally posted at Food & Water Watch:

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/blog/archive/2008/11/20/james-bond-takes-on-the-corporate-water-privateers/view

Giant Mining Firm’s Social Responsibility Claims: Rhetoric or Reality?

Posted by Philip Mattera on August 1st, 2008

The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to slash the damage award in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case and the indictment of Sen. Ted Stevens on corruption charges are not the only controversies roiling Alaska these days. The Last Frontier is also witnessing a dispute over a proposal to open a giant copper and gold mine by Bristol Bay, the headwaters of the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery. Given the popularity of salmon among the health-conscious, even non-Alaskans may want to pay attention to the issue.

The Pebble mine project has been developed by Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Ltd., but the real work would be carried out by its joint venture partner Anglo American PLC, one of the world’s largest mining companies. Concerned about the project and unfamiliar with Anglo American, two Alaska organizations—the Renewable Resources Coalition and Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of the Land)—commissioned a background report on the company, which has just been released and is available for download on a website called Eye on Pebble Mine (or at this direct PDF link). I wrote the report as a freelance project.

Anglo American—which is best known as the company that long dominated gold mining in apartheid South Africa as well as diamond mining/marketing through its affiliate DeBeers—has assured Alaskans it will take care to protect the environment and otherwise act responsibly in the course of constructing and operating the Pebble mine. The purpose of the report is to put that promise in the context of the company’s track record in mining operations elsewhere in the world.

The report concludes that Alaskans have reason to be concerned about Anglo American. Reviewing the company’s own worldwide operations and those of its spinoff AngloGold in the sectors most relevant to the Pebble project—gold, base metals and platinum—the report finds a troubling series of problems in three areas: adverse environmental impacts, allegations of human rights abuses and a high level of workplace accidents and fatalities.

The environmental problems include numerous spills and accidental discharges at Anglo American’s platinum operations in South Africa and AngloGold’s mines in Ghana. Waterway degradation occurred at Anglo American’s Lisheen lead and zinc mine in Ireland, while children living near the company’s Black Mountain zinc/lead/copper mine in South Africa were found to be struggling in school because of elevated levels of lead in their blood.

The main human rights controversies have taken place in Ghana, where subsistence farmers have been displaced by AngloGold’s operations and have not been given new land, and in the Limpopo area of South Africa, where villagers were similarly displaced by Anglo American’s platinum operations.

High levels of fatalities in the mines of Anglo American and AngloGold—more than 200 in the last five years—have become a major scandal in South Africa, where miners staged a national strike over the issue late last year.

Overall, the report finds that Anglo American’s claims of social responsibility appear to be more rhetoric than reality.  Salmon eaters beware. 

http://dirtdiggersdigest.org/archives/148

Dirt Diggers Digest is written by Philip Mattera, director of the Corporate Research Project, an affiliate of Good Jobs First.

An Afternoon with L-3 Communications/Titan

Posted by Tonya Hennessey on April 30th, 2008


A funny thing happened on the way to exercising my presumed right, as a shareholder, to attend yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting of private military contractor L-3 Communications, held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Manhattan’s financial district.

I was one of a group including a translator, Marwan Mawiri, who worked for a year and ½ for Titan, now an L-3 subsidiary, in Iraq. Marwan has witnessed first-hand numerous problems with the way interrogation and translation contracting is being handled in Iraq – a practice that may be putting at substantial risk the national security and lives of the Iraqi people, of U.S. and multinational troops, officials and contractors, and of the United States itself.

The problem is clear: inadequate and downright bad vetting and hiring practices for analysts, interrogators and linguists. Indeed, the U.S. military has recently cancelled Titan’s translation contract due to poor practices along with waste, fraud and abuse.

What is also crystal clear is that the war in Iraq can neither be won, effectively prosecuted, nor competently withdrawn from until these problems are solved and until proper oversight is in place.

If people hired to translate in critical battlefield and other situations are not even fluent in at least Arabic and English; if screeners monitoring the entry and exit of people to U.S. military bases at times have no more qualification and training than having been a baggage screener at a U.S. airline (see CorpWatch’s new report [note: updated December 2008] "Outsourcing Intelligence in Iraq":); if interrogators are not qualified, experienced and trained to the highest standards possible, how can we ensure that we avoid future travesties due to bad intelligence? Such as the bad intelligence around the supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program (which was, of course, Bush/Cheney and neocon-driven, not L-3-driven), that got the U.S. into this war  in the first place? (And remember, even when U.S. soldiers start coming home from Iraq, large numbers of private contractors will stay, making proper oversight all the more crucial.)

It turned out that L-3’s management wasn’t so happy to see us, and that my co-worker, Pratap Chatterjee and I, were supposed to have received a certain admission ticket to attend the meeting. The same went for our companions from the Iraq Campaign 2008 – a major coalition to oppose the war, which is now taking on private military contractors as part of their broader campaign on the high cost U.S. taxpayers are paying for the war in Iraq – and Foreign Policy in Focus, who were holding proxies. Funny that.

Looking out at the Statue of Liberty from the hotel lobby downstairs, where we gathered to figure out how to proceed, I pondered the damage this war has done to the liberties of so many Iraqi people, and to so many U.S. liberties and values that I hold dear. Like respect for human rights, compliance with the Geneva Conventions around torture, appropriate security that is handled with skill and integrity. I wasn’t surprised that L-3/Titan didn’t want to hear our message; though I sincerely hope some of the shareholders, managers, directors, staff and  financial analysts do take the time to read our report and to talk to current and former contractors like Marwan. We didn’t go in malice.

We went in genuine concern over business operations that, while they may be earning a pretty profit for large shareholders, pose a genuine reputational risk to the company for future liability. And are causing harm on the ground, to real people. We challenge L-3 Communications to become a truly ethical leader in business practices, not just in products and sales. Surely the sixth-largest U.S.  defense industry company (according to their website) has the intelligence to recognize bad practices and the ability to change them for the better.

Or are we simply destined for years more, as Huffington Post blogger Charlie Cray put it, of companies and investors milking a “Baghdad Bubble as a result of the Bush administration's refusal to hold them accountable”?

As the meeting ended, and the muckety-mucks began leaving the Ritz-Carlton to be chauffered away in their Lincoln Town cars and limousines, we gave these decision makers another opportunity to take a copy of CorpWatch’s report, or even to talk to us directly. The vast majority kept their blinders on and marched resolutely past.

Suddenly we saw General Carl Vuono (ret.). Vuono is former chief of staff of the U.S. Army, and long-time president of private military consulting firm MPRI, which is now also an L-3 subsidiary. Pratap and Marwan rushed to try and speak  with him, while a reporter and cameraman from Al-Jazeera English filmed and stood at the ready for the general’s reply. The general didn’t want to talk, but you can see some of the footage on YouTube. You can also watch Pratap and Marwan describe their experiences on Democracy Now!, where they were interviewed live this morning.

Pratap gave the general a copy of “Outsourcing Intelligence In Iraq” – maybe he’ll decide to have one of his staffers give it a read. We’d love to talk, and welcome any dialogue with officials of L-3.

Made in the U.S.A.

Posted by Amelia Hight on October 22nd, 2007

In a recent decision reported in the Guardian, a federal appeals court ruled that Caterpillar Inc. could not be sued over the death of an American peace activist who was crushed under bulldozers sold to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The story of Rachel Corrie, the activist who was crushed by a 60-ton Caterpillar D9 Bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza in 2003 while trying to prevent the razing of a Palestinian home by the Israeli army, achieved widespread media attention. Reports of the IDF’s razing of homes in Rafah were issued by numerous human rights watchdog organizations, including Human Rights Watch. Corrie’s family, along with four Palestinian families of victims killed while their houses were bulldozed, began legal proceedings against Caterpillar in 2005 for selling machines to Israel. Lawyers arguing for the families insisted that the company sold the bulldozers to the Israeli government on a commercial basis and knew, or should have known, that they would be used to demolish homes and kill innocent victims in violation of international law.

Explaining its decision, the court claimed that it could not rule in favor of the bereaved families "without implicitly questioning, and even condemning, United States foreign policy towards Israel." Of course, this is not the first time that U.S. companies have been implicated in mass human rights abuse and not had to answer for their participation. Indeed, U.S. companies have been intimately connected to the human rights abuses of regimes throughout modern history. Near the turn of the millennium, pressure from Jewish organizations finally forced the U.S. to begin looking at the use of slave labor by U.S. corporations (and their subsidiaries) in Nazi Germany.

A court case brought against Ford Motor Co. was dismissed, but Ford admitted that its German subsidiary, Ford-Werke AG, used labor at the Buchenwald concentration camp to build vehicles. Other major U.S. corporations that continued to operate in Nazi-occupied Europe and used slave labor include General Motors, Chase Manhattan Bank and JP Morgan. ''There are things that have to be faced up to,'' alleged Elan Steinberg, World Jewish Congress executive director, ''American companies were collaborating with Nazi Germany at a time when we were at war, because there was an ethos that demanded huge profits at the expense of everything else.''

Modern history is peppered with examples of corporations seeking profit during periods of mass human rights abuse: In the 1970s, the U.S. manufacturing giant, ITT, and others helped overthrow democracy and install the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (to listen to the Nixon Whitehouse tape that acknowledges this relationship visit GWU’s website, The National SecurityArchive). Numerous companies supported South African apartheid, including U.S. giants IBM, General Motors, ExxonMobil, J.P Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Caltex Petroleum Corporation, Ford Motor Company and the Fluor Corporation. In 2002 a group of South Africansunsuccessfully sued 20 banks and corporations that did business in South Africa during apartheid. The list goes on and on.

Even if these corporations are not held accountable for their role in mass human rights abuse and economic activities are allowed to take legal precedence over human rights, it is of vital importance to recognize the role that corporations play in this abuse. It appears to be the responsibility of the public to put pressure on corporations to consider where they do business and with whom.

Outsourcing Fear

Posted by Robert Young Pelton on October 2nd, 2007

Robert Young Pelton is the author of "Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror " and the "Guide to the World's Most Dangerous Places." He is also co-founder of http://www.iraqslogger.com . This blog item is about his experiences attending the Congressional hearing into the Blackwater shootings in Iraq written on October 2nd, 2007.

Standing in line to get into Tuesday's hearing, I found myself in a strange position. In front of me, dark-suited and staid Blackwater executives stood waiting to show moral support for their boss, Erik Prince, while the colorful and animated Pink Ladies behind me ticked off reasons he and his industry should be feared.

The two extremes represent the bookends of public debate on the private security industry. The former military men who run Blackwater view their supporting role in the war on terror as both necessary and good, while human rights activists believe there is something deeply wrong with authorizing private citizens to kill other private citizens.

One of the women waiting in line asked me, "How can we find out what these people are doing?"  I suggested she could go to any neighborhood in Baghdad and just ask the locals.

Or better yet--spend a week driving through Baghdad in an unmarked car to see how often convoys blast through intersections, guns bristling from every door, pointed directly at you, giving you mere seconds to get out of the way before the bullets start flying. Feel your own pulse racing as you realize how easily you could have been killed if you'd had your radio a little louder, or hadn't noticed their approach, or hadn't swerved to a stop fast enough.

Companies like Blackwater wield a life-and-death power in Iraq, creating an arrogant misuse of force the United States has put into civilians hands.

I spent time in Sadr City and other areas interviewing the victims of Blackwater and other security companies. Terrified Iraqis, many who did not want to be identified or publicly quoted, told of sudden unexpected encounters with fast moving convoys of SUVs--then death, destruction, or permanent life change as family members were crushed, maimed, killed, or traumatized.

During the time I spent researching my book Licensed to Kill, I realized there were thousands of stories waiting to be heard about excessive force being used on civilians in the name of "security". Not surprisingly, many victims look to a militia to seek some revenge for the transgression in the form of an ambush or IED.

Security companies are reviled; the Iraqis that work for these companies have to cover their faces because they know militias or their neighbors will kill them and or their families.

Military commanders understand that a non-state actor on the battlefield is a wild card--whether death squad, militia or security company. Iraqis know that the undermanned military must rely on contractors to deliver 16 flavors of ice cream, frozen lobster and bullets to the war effort.

The normally timid State Dept, known more for issuing warnings and shutting down embassies when things get rough, has decided that its people must travel the mean streets of Baghdad rather than give in to intimidation. Security contractors are literally the grease that makes our forward-leaning foreign policy in Iraq work.

So when Prince pretends like he is defending the US--justifying violent acts by categorizing it as fighting bad guys--he does it with the support of the State Department, though to the direct detriment of the Iraqi civilians those actions terrify and kill.

When Prince testified that his people "acted appropriately at all times," it made me wonder how many killings he investigated from the Iraqi viewpoint. He has a blind spot towards the damage he causes if he thinks that firing a contractor who just murdered someone somehow fixes the problem. "Window or Aisle" instead of "guilty or not guilty" does not enforce any accountability

It is no coincidence that BW has been involved in shootouts with the Iraqi police. They too have seen the destructive force Blackwater has been authorized to unleash on their citizens. 

When Prince rattles off the various legal umbrellas he operates under, he conveniently ignores that none of his hired guns have been brought up on any charges for anything-despite clear incidents of malfeasance. Blackwater itself faces no ill consequence for deploying unstable men into the war zone.

"Anytime a contractor is abroad, he can be brought up on charges," is the equivalent of saying speeding is illegal while cars whip by at 80 mph without a cop in sight.

Blackwater is the personification of war as a business, violence as a service, and chaos as a product. Prince recognized the lack of sufficient available US troops and provided a privatized solution. He cannot be faulted for that.

Any corporate master would take the position, like Prince did in front of Congress Tuesday, that his people are perfect, his conduct perfect. 

Exposed deceit or corruption at most companies would lead to its own downfall. If it's a monster like Enron, it could conceivably flutter Wall Street for a few days.

But the conduct of companies like Blackwater directly impacts US strategic interests.

The obvious polarization of politicians addressing Prince during the hearing indicates that Republicans are willing to bless the use of lethal force by a private individual against the people they are trying to pacify, while Democrats have yet to quite capture what it is about the industry that makes people so nervous.

I say again: Go to Iraq. Talk to the people. Drive in an unmarked car.  When an armed convoy pushes you off the road with guns drawn, you'll understand the naked fear that Blackwater sells.

Digging for Dirt in the DRC?

Posted by Amelia Hight on July 25th, 2007

Billy Rautenbach, a South African mining kingpin, was deported from Lubumbashi airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on July 18th. “He was accused of fraud, theft, corruption and violating commercial law [the expulsion document] said. He was persona non grata. He would have to leave,” writes Ben Laurence in the Sunday Times (UK).

Best known in South Africa and Botswana for his activities in assembling Hyundai cars, Rautenbach faces hundreds of charges of fraud, corruption and other crimes in his home country of South Africa (the reasons cited in the documents prepared for his deportation last week). South Africa is currently considering asking Zimbabwe to extradite him to stand trial.

But Rautenbach was also once a powerful man in the DRC. He ran Gecamines, the DRC’s state-owned copper mining company, from 1998 to 2000. At the time he was accused of under-reporting exports of sales of huge quantities of DRC cobalt when he was in charge – and diverting the profits to a company he controlled in the British Virgin Islands.

Although Rautenbach lost his job, he continues to play an important role in the mining sector, as he also happens to be a major shareholder of Central African Mining & Exploration Company (CAMEC), which won major contracts in the DRC a couple of years later.

CAMEC’s contracts were the result of an investor-friendly mining code introduced by the World Bank in July 2002. (An informative analysis of this code was done by the Bank Information Center.) While the code calls for a much-needed regulatory framework and environmental protection, it hands the responsibility for mining development to private companies.

However, it is doubtful that the Congolese public institutions charged with regulating the mining sector have the resources to carry through with it, and the World Bank certainly has not been successful in providing oversight. A memo leaked to the Financial Times in November 2006 details the World Bank’s failure to provide sufficient oversight in three major contracts made between Gecamines and international mining groups like CAMEC. Worth billions of dollars, these contracts reportedly gave these groups control over 75% of Gecamines mineral reserves. (In May 2007, the Financial Times also revealed that the World Bank withheld the findings of an inquiry into alleged mismanagement of funds in the Democratic Republic of Congo.) 

More details on the business dealings of Rautenbach and CAMEC may emerge from a DRC commission that recently began a three-month review of mining contracts signed in the last decade. The commission is the first attempt of a new “democratically elected” government to investigate ongoing corruption in the DRC’s valuable mining sector. The new commission follows a string of attempts by previous governments and international financial institutions to investigate the exploitation of natural resources in the DRC.

If the commission hopes to be successful it must take a look at whose interests are being promoted/protected in the Congo and how. This would include an investigation into local elites, regional influences, international financial institutions and the powers they represent, and international corporations along with the relationships between these different actors.

History has shown that the more resources a nation or region possess, the more conflict and poverty the people of that nation are forced to endure. The DRC is the third largest country in Africa and is rich in natural resources, particularly cobalt, copper, diamonds and gold. It is home to one third of the world’s cassiterite, the most important source of the metallic element tin and holds 64-80% of the world’s coltan reserves, an ore that is the source of the metal tantalum, which is used in cell phones and other devices.

In an article for Alternet, Stan Cox quotes a miner responsible for digging the valuable cassiterite:  "As you crawl through the tiny hole, using your arms and fingers to scratch, there's not enough space to dig properly and you get badly grazed all over. And then, when you do finally come back out with the cassiterite, the soldiers are waiting to grab it at gunpoint. Which means you have nothing to buy food with. So we're always hungry." This cassiterite will inevitably end up in cheap cell phones and laptops laying abandoned in American landfills.

Despite (or indeed because of) its abundance of resources, the DRC has been plagued by conflict, famine and political instability since its independence in the 1960s. Following the end of the 30-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko (who was brought to power by the U.S. in the 1960s), the greed of neighboring countries for natural resources forced the DRC into the center of what organizations like Human Rights Watch have deemed, “Africa’s first world war.”  The war resulted in the death of three to five million people, many from famine, exposure and disease.

A cease-fire ended the war in 1999, but the DRC has continued to suffer the extraction of resources and wealth through corrupt deals between local elites and international companies. A 2006 report from the London-based watchdog organization, Global Witness, describes how copper and cobalt are mined informally and illicitly exported,  robbing the Congolese people of any opportunity to reduce poverty.

The new commission’s plan to revisit mining contracts between the state and private companies is a response to years of domestic and international pressure. Hopefully, once the review is completed (assuming that it is a transparent and non-corrupt process), the international companies involved will be willing to re-negotiate contracts in a way that is more beneficial to the Congolese state and its citizens. An interesting precedent was established last year in Liberia when Mittal Steel, the world’s largest steel company, agreed to step down from an unbalanced concessionary agreement made with a corrupt transitional government once a democratically elected government was in place.

Web Sanctions Tool Backfires on SEC

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on July 24th, 2007


Boycotts and sanctions are two key tools that activists and governments use to target corporations who do business with "unsavory" regimes. There is a long history of progressive activists calling for boycotts, for example, against companies doing business in South Africa in the 1980s, Burma and Nigeria in the 1990s, and most recently Sudan in an attempt to topple or change regimes with a history of human rights abuse.

In the old days, activists created boycott flyers to target companies that were wheat-pasted on walls, they picketed stores that sold goods from the offending companies, and most recently many activist groups have created websites created to encourage consumers to vote with their dollars: such as Ethical Consumer in the UK or tools to track companies in specific countries such as the Sudan Divestment Network.

The U.S. government has followed a similar but more heavy-handed tactic to enforce its anger against other governments, by passing laws forbidding companies from doing business in countries ranging from Cuba in the 1960s, South Africa in the 1980s, Iraq in the 1990s and most recently in Syria. (A State Department official suggest that sanctions have been imposed on foreign countries well over 100 times since the First World War.) Of course, unlike activists, the U.S. government has the power to prosecute companies who fail to comply.

Some of the targets of boycotts and sanctions have been one and the same: South Africa being a notable example.

How successful have these boycotts and sanctions been? Activists argue that the South African apartheid regime was felled by such pressure, undertaken in solidarity with local movements, although one might argue that anti-apartheid protests within South Africa itself played an even more significant role. A variety of think-tanks (mostly conservative) have argued that sanctions don't work.

In May, Christopher Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut and the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, called on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to make it easier for "shareholders to access reliable information regarding publicly traded companies' business transactions involving Iran and Sudan."

In June, the SEC decided to copy activist tactics by putting up a Web tool that tracks corporations with investments in countries considered by the U.S. to sponsor terrorism -- specifically Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. "No investor should ever have to wonder whether his or her investments or retirement savings are indirectly subsidizing a terrorist haven or genocidal state," Christopher Cox, the SEC chairman, said. In three weeks the site got "exceptional public interest," with more than 150,000 hits.

The tool generated some odd results: Reuters, the media company, had reported news-gathering activities in Cuba, Iran and Syria, so it made all three lists!

Not surprisingly, the Web tool provoked a storm of protest. "The list was fraught with distortions that could have actually harmed investors instead of informing them," Todd Malan, the president of the Organization for International Investment, which represents such companies, told reporters. "It was basically just a word search with no context, scale or reference."

Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, called the list "unfair and perhaps counterproductive." He said some companies "apparently have investments that are so negligible they could not be considered material either to investors or the economy of the terrorist-financing state."

On Friday the SEC took the web page down and promised to rethink the idea -- either to return with a new, more sophisticated, tool or to figure out another way to achieve the same results.

"Our role is to make that information readily accessible to the investing public, and we will continue to work to find better ways to accomplish that objective," says the SEC. We await the results eagerly -- will the SEC try picketing the listed companies or dropping protest banners? If so, we just might know some folks who might be able to help.

Total Denial: Burmese peasants fight Unocal

Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on March 20th, 2007

Continuing our film recommendations from last week, we'd like to mention "Total Denial" - a new documentary on corporate-financed human rights abuses in Burma. The film was made by Bulgarian-born Milena Kaneva. The Austin-Chronicle newspaper in Texas called the film: "heart-wrenching and utterly disturbing."

"Total Denial" chronicles a major human rights lawsuit brought by EarthRights International and villagers from Burma against oil giant Unocal, a company based right here in California, as well as a French multinational named Total. A number of screenings are coming up in the next few weeks here in the U.S.  If you live in the Bay area, do check it out on Thursday, in Los Angeles on March 27th or in Washington DC on April 11th.

The lawsuit was brought by 11 Burmese peasants who suffered a variety of human rights violations at the hands of Burmese army units that were securing the pipeline route. These abuses included forced relocation, forced labor, rape, torture, and murder.

The case was spearheaded by Ka Hsaw Wa, the executive director of Earth Rights International, an organization based in Washington DC. Of the Karen indigenous minority in Burma, he was one of the student leaders in the 1988 nation-wide student uprising for democracy and freedom, and has been a human rights activist since he fled Burma in 1988. He was helped by Paul Hoffman of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Hadsell & Stormer, and Judith Brown Chomsky.

Almost a decade after the case was brought, the court decided that:
"Unocal knew that the military had a record of committing human rights abuses; that the Project hired the military to provide security for the Project, a military that forced villagers to work and entire villages to relocate for the benefit of the Project; that the military, while forcing villagers to work and relocate, committed numerous acts of violence; and that Unocal knew or should have known that the military did commit, was committing and would continue to commit these tortious acts."
The legal basis for the case was a laws called the Alien Tort Claims Act (a 1789 law intended to curb piracy on the high seas by extending U.S. jurisdiction to cover breaches of international law outside its borders), which has been used primarily to sue international human rights abuses in U.S. courts.  In recent years a number of plaintiffs have sued multinational corporations for abuses outside the U.S. under this law. While many of these cases are now in court, Unocal decided to settle out of court and compensate the victims in January 2006.

Earth Rights International are using the same law to pursue another major oil company here in California (Chevron) with some success for abuses in Nigeria.

The case is based on two incidents: the shooting of peaceful protestors at Chevron's Parabe offshore platform and the destruction of two villages by soldiers in Chevron helicopters and boats.

Last week U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco agreed that the Nigerian plaintiffs: "have presented evidence of a link between the conduct of Chevron in the United States and the attacks in Nigeria at issue" as well as evidence that the corporation had substantial control over its Nigerian unit, that it  "designed and adjusted the general security policies and procedures" of its subsidiary and approved payments from the subsidiary to the Nigerian government security forces.


Incidentally, Earth Rights International is also pursuing a third Alien Tort Claims Act case against Shell in Nigeria for complicity in human rights abuses.

The particular abuses at issue are the November 10, 1995 hangings of Ken Saro-Wiwa and John Kpuinen, two leaders of MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People), the torture and detention of Owens Wiwa, and the shooting of a woman who was peacefully protesting the bulldozing of her crops in preparation for a Shell pipeline by Nigerian troops called in by Shell.

The Curse of Gold

Posted by Sakura Saunders on February 28th, 2007


This week's CorpWatch feature
highlights the plight of indigenous people in Papua New Guinea, where landowners feel that they are cheated out of their resources, livelihoods, and just compensation by the world's largest gold producer, Barrick Gold.

Papua New Guinea represents a case study in how resource extraction just might be the worst possible way to develop a country, especially where 85 percent of the population depends on the environment for their subsistence livelihood. Here, the pollution caused by open-pit mining and cyanide leaching creates an especially vulnerable situation for the indigenous people. In our recent feature, we attached testimonies from the landowners, mine workers, women, and human right activists who are affected by the mine. A principal landowner, Nelson Akiko, describes his disillusionment with the mine:

We depend on our land. You depend on money. Money is not need, it is only a want, but it is need in western society. I live on land, which is my stomach. I grow food from this land and then I survive. But now, where can I get food?

Also, the fact that mineral deposits, including oil, copper, and gold, account for two-thirds of PNG's export earnings leaves them susceptible to the Dutch Disease, or the phenomenon wherein resource exports raise the exchange rate for a country's currency, thereby making their labor less desirable. While this only accounts for a tiny part of the negative consequences of mining, it does illustrate that even within an economic paradigm, mining carries negative consequences for 'development', especially open pit mines because they require less human labor. Large mineral exports also make countries more susceptible to corruption because of the negotiating power held with government gatekeepers.

This is similar to Mali, where gold makes up 65 percent of its exports, dwarfing its former economic bedrock cotton. Some 64 mining companies have active mining and exploration projects in this landlocked African country, but despite a surge in gold prices, Mali's development indicators have stagnated. A recent Oxfam report 'Hidden treasure: in search of Mali's gold mining revenues', concluded that:

"There is not sufficient disclosure in an understandable form for citizens or civic groups to determine whether they are indeed benefiting as they should according to current law in Mali."


The fact that gold is a largely useless metal (that is already hoarded and unused in large quantities) makes the destruction caused by it's extraction all the more tragic. According the No Dirty Gold Campaign, 80% of the gold is used by the jewelry industry. On average, the production of one gold wedding ring produces 20 tons of waste.

Unfortunately, Papua New Guinea is not an isolated example of how gold mines can destroy communities. Mining Watch Canada summed their view of the mining industry in Canada, where 60% of the world's mining companies reside:

Metal prices are booming, and Canadian mining companies are taking advantage of the same prejudicial conditions to expand into all corners of the globe, manipulating, slandering, abusing, and even killing those who dare to oppose them, displacing Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike, supporting repressive governments and taking advantage of weak ones, and contaminating and destroying sensitive ecosystems. 
CorpWatch has been tracking Barrick elsewhere in the world, most recently at its Pascua Lama project in Argentina.
Barrick's plans to "relocate" three glaciers - 816,000 cubic meters of ice - by means of bulldozers and controlled blasting, is seen by mine-opponents as symbolic of the company's utter insensitivity to the environment. As headwaters for a water basin in an arid region receiving very little rainfall, many opponents are gravely concerned for the ice. They say the mechanical action involved in moving the glaciers will irreversibly melt much of it, jeopardizing a delicate ecological balance further downstream.

While Barrick originally planned to "relocate" three glaciers to another area, since being denied their original plan, the project now aims to build an open-pit mine next to the glaciers. However, most alarmingly, since construction has started on the mine, the glaciers have been depleted an estimated 50-70 percent, according to Chilean General Office of Waters (DGA). Barrick attempted to blame global warming for the melting, but those claims have been disproven.


Mining in the U.S.

In the U.S., Western Shoshone lands now account for the majority of gold produced within the United States and almost 10 percent of world production. The scale of development is unprecedented and will leave a legacy of environmental impacts for centuries into the future.

An excellent article on the boom in gold mining from the Las Vegas Mercury News explains the predicament that Shoshone face. 

Remembering Oil Spills, Old and New

Posted by Sakura Saunders on February 13th, 2007

The week opened with the start of a four month trial against France's oil giant, Total, by groups like Friends of the Earth France.

The Paris tribunal will examine the 1999 Erika tanker disaster that poured 20,000 tonnes of oil into the sea, polluted 250 miles of coastline and caused $1.3 billion in damage. At least 150,000 seabirds were found dead on the coast and up to 10 times as many were probably lost in the oil-blackened seas. Observers say this may also turn into a trial of the "globalized" international shipping system as the Erika was crewed by Indians, sailing under a Maltese flag, chartered by a shipping company registered in the Bahamas for a French oil company.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit between the state of New York against Exxon and four other companies has recently been announced. This suit addresses an oil spill from the 1950's that was several times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil leak in Alaska, but lay undiscovered until 1978. According to New York state attorney Andrew Cuomo, Exxon has been slow to clean up, with an estimated eight million gallons of oil and petroleum byproducts still underground and toxic vapors from the ground threatening neighborhood health.

A Bloomberg article quotes local residents:

"There are people who live above this that still don't know about it,'' said Basil Seggos, chief investigator for Riverkeeper, an environmental group that sued in 2004 to try to force Exxon Mobil to clean up the creek. Others in Greenpoint have become spill experts, according to Seggos, and they say the fumes that rise from basements and sewers are especially bad when the barometer drops before a storm. "The locals tell you they know when it's going to rain because they can smell the oil.''


In other oil spill news, Lagos' Vanguard newspaper reported today that ten Ijaw communities had been displaced and 500 made homeless by a Chevron Nigeria oil spill.

The report quotes Gbabor Okrika, the councilor representing the affected communities:

"Chevron is not bothered about the health of the people they are only concerned about their operations and they have now started a process that can only divide the people and create further division among them."

Also, last month's massive leak in the Chad Cameroon Pipeline caused a storm of criticism regarding the environmental safety of this project. This Exxon-managed pipeline extends from landlocked Chad through Cameroon and extends 11 kilometers off the coast into the Atlantic. This project, which is overseen by the World Bank, has already received much criticism due to money from this project fueling conflict in Chad.

IRIN News quoted Kribi Mayor Gregoire Mba Mba:

"Our town lives on fishing and tourism. If more incidents like this or worse occur it is the economic future of the town that is threatened."

Environmental groups are warning that a similar spill could happen in the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline operated by BP that transports crude 1750 kilometers from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea. On Monday, a coalition of Azeri, British and US watchdog groups leaked a report from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which says that cracks and leakages in the coating of the pipeline will need to be monitored closely.

Jordan: The New Saipan

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on May 8th, 2006

I received an urgent update from Charlie Kernaghan over that the National Labor Committee about the situation in Jordan, where a free-trade arrangement has created a labor force of indentured servants, and spawned a human-trafficking industry. He writes:

Tens of thousands of foreign guest workers, stripped of their passports, trapped in involuntary servitude, sewing clothing for Wal-Mart, Gloria Vanderbilt, Target, Kohl's, Thalia Sodi for Kmart, Victoria's Secret, L.L.Bean and others.

In the Western factory, which was producing for Wal-Mart, four young women, including a 16-year old girl, were raped by plant managers. Despite being forced to work 109 hours a week, including 20-hour shifts, the workers received no wages for six months. Workers who fell asleep from exhaustion were struck with a ruler to wake them up.

At the Al Shahaed factory, also producing for Wal-Mart, there were 24, 38 and even 72-hour shifts. The workers were paid an average wage of two cents an hour. Workers were slapped, kicked, punched and hit with sticks and belts.

In a factory called Al Safa, which was sewing garments for Gloria Vanderbilt, a young woman hung herself after being raped by a manager.

The issue isn't news to us, since we've been on top of the issue for years. In 2003 we reported that the free-trade agreement inked with the U.S. had some very political overtones:

Late last year (2002), Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Elizabeth Cheney paid a visit to the Al-Tajamout compound. The State Department official is also the daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney. "Jordan is a strategic tool for both the US and Israel," Marar says, noting the importance of the visit.

And yet, Jordanians own almost none of the factories. Most are owned and operated by entrepreneurs from China, Taiwan, Korea, India, Pakistan or the Philippines who import workers from over-seas.

Of the some 40 thousand workers employed in these Qualified Industrial Zones, fewer than half are Jordanian. Ninety percent are women under the age of 22, and almost all of them pay the minimum wage, about $3.50 a day.

Factory owner Syed Adil Ali says his factory only contracts Sri Lankan girls.

"They are very peace minded girls," he says. "I found some kind of problem with the boys. They made some kind of union, some kind of disturbance in the factory. So we prefer the girls."

And while we roll our eyes that The New York Times only managed to sniff out the story three years later, we give them props for a pretty good story on it last week.

The Old "When in Rome" Excuse

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on January 19th, 2006

Great article by Richard Cohen in today's New York Times about Microsoft's recent willingness to cave in to the Chinese government and shut down an MSN blog by a Chinese journalist that criticized the current regime. They, of course, follow Cisco Systems, which sells the equipment the Chinese government uses to censor the Web and Yahoo, who revealed the contact information for a dissident who is, as a result, now in a prison camp doing 10 years hard labor.

This is just the same old birthday suit on a new emporer. The Gap, Nike, Disney, Wal-Mart and scores of other corporations who farm out manufacturing to subcontractors in developing nations have used the same tired excuse: Sure, the working conditions are bad, the labor and evironmental laws are nonexistent, and the pay is paltry - but that's how everyone does it in (insert country here). It's a positively Clintonian splitting of factual hairs - we're not breaking any local laws, we're complying with the local custom. They conveniently ignore the moral implication if, say, the local custom is to whip children who don't meet their quotas. The same semantic jig is on display whenever one of these multinationals falls back on the old reliable "we don't own the factory, so we can't be held responsible for what a factory owner does."

It is remarkable, and remarkably sad, that companies like Microsoft who have grown incomprehensibly huge and prosperous precisely because of certain freedoms and ideals that make America great, yet they choose to sell out other freedoms and ideals when it is convenient. For shame.