December 2014        

Corporate terrorism

Robert Navan

Chambers’ 20th-Century Dictionary defines terrorism as “an organised system of intimidation.” At present, 70 per cent of global trade is controlled by five hundred corporations, and their greed will not be satisfied until they have complete control. One of the main weapons in their arsenal is free-trade agreements.
     One of these corporations, the biotech giant Monsanto, has brought 145 court cases—on average about nine cases every year for sixteen consecutive years since 1997—against farmers who have “improperly reused their patented seeds.” Monsanto hasn’t lost a single case.
     The same company is now suing a Latin American country, Guatemala, after its government, under heavy pressure from environmental and agricultural organisations, moved to repeal the country’s contentious “Law for the Protection of New Plants and Varieties.” This law was dubbed the “Monsanto Law,” because it would have given companies like Monsanto, Bayer and DuPont “strict property rights in the event of possession or exchange of original or harvested seeds of protected varieties without the breeder’s authorisation.” The enactment of this law was part of a free-trade agreement in 2005 between Central American countries and the United States.
     The tobacco giant Philip Morris sued the Australian government over its legislation on plain packaging for tobacco, using an obscure Hongkong-Australia investment treaty from 1993.
     When Ecuador’s highest court upheld a judgement against Chevron Corporation for oil contamination in the Amazon, seeking $9½ billion for environmental liability after 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste was dumped into the Ecuadorian Amazon, the company counter-sued in an American court, and won, even though the judge who ruled in favour of the company held investments in the oil company at the time of his decision.
     Eli Lilly, the American pharmaceutical giant, is suing Canada for violating its obligations to foreign investors under the North American Free Trade Agreement by allowing its courts to invalidate patents for two of its drugs. The company made a complaint under the agreement, seeking $500 million in compensation.
     Canada is also being sued under the same agreement for $251 million by the Ethyl Corporation. The Canadian Parliament acted to ban the importing and interprovincial transporting of an Ethyl product—a petroleum additive, MMT—which Canada considers to be a dangerous toxin. The company responded by starting legal proceedings against the Canadian government under NAFTA.
     In Bolivia—on a subject which has much resonance here in Ireland—SEMAPA, the municipal water company of the city of Cochabamba, was sold to a consortium controlled by the American transnational Bechtel in exchange for debt relief for the Bolivian government and new loans from the World Bank to expand the water system. Between December 1999 and April 2000, in response to the privatisation of the water supply and subsequent big increases in the water rates, a series of protests took place, leading to what were called the Water Wars. Bechtel subsequently sued the Bolivian government for $50 million in compensation; but because of the level of civil unrest that they had brought about, the company was forced to abrogate its contract, return SEMAPA to public control, and withdraw its legal claim.
     A second water revolt, this time by neighbourhood organisations in the city of El Alto, ousted the French transnational Suez Company from the recently privatised La Paz-El Alto water district. Bolivia’s new constitution, enacted in 2009, proclaims that access to water is a human right and bans its privatisation. Is there a lesson here for us in Ireland?
     Coca-Cola’s cycle of violence against union leaders and organisers in Colombia in efforts to crush their union, Sinaltrainal, has been mentioned many times before in Socialist Voice, but similar stories concerning Coca-Cola workers have been uncovered in other countries as well, notably China, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Mexico, and Turkey.
     The Shell oil company agreed to pay $15.5 million (£9.6 million) in settlement of a legal action in which it was accused of having collaborated in the execution of the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other leaders of the Ogoni people of southern Nigeria. The settlement, reached on the eve of the trial in New York, was one of the largest pay-outs agreed by a transnational corporation charged with violations of human rights.
     Enough has been written already about the activities of the food giant Nestlé in promoting baby milk formula to Third World mothers who had no means of sterilising the water that has to be added to the formula or for cleaning the bottles.
     Many on the left will remember the role that the International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) Corporation played in 1973 in the coup against the democratically elected President Allende of Chile; but what many will not remember is its similar role in 1964 in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Brazil. It is also claimed that this corporation made cash payments to the SS leader Heinrich Himmler.
     These are just a few examples of wrongdoing by some of the largest corporations in the world, of which there are more than five hundred.
     Another dictionary defines terrorism as “the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.” From the examples cited, it would seem that the activities of many of the world’s largest corporations would fall within the definitions of terrorism, particularly if the words “political objective” are changed to “commercial objective.”

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