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My View: City shouldn't invest in Caterpillar

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Human Rights Watch and numerous other human rights organizations have called for sanctions to be imposed on any corporations doing business with Israel's illegal occupation.

Jim Redden's March 26 article, "Socially responsible investing policy heads to City Council," contains several erroneous statements, chief of which is the assertion that the city's Socially Responsible Investments Committee recommended placing Caterpillar Inc. on the city's Do-Not-Buy list for "largely political reasons."

In fact, the committee's final report shows clearly that this citizen advisory group based its recommendation on established human rights criteria and international law. Moreover, the report concluded with the fact that Caterpillar violated six of the seven criteria established by the socially responsible investments policy, including environmental violations, unfair labor practices, corrupt corporate ethics, and extreme tax avoidance.

The committee cited a U.N. Human Rights Council finding that Caterpillar D9 bulldozers, actually militarized weapons, are used by the Israeli military to carry out attacks on civilians. For example, the Caterpillar bulldozer that killed Washington state peace activist Rachel Corrie occurred when Corrie was trying to protect the home of a Palestinian in Rafah. At least five Palestinians also have been killed in these home demolitions.

The committee report also noted the Israeli use of Caterpillar bulldozers to attack "Palestinian residences, orchards and other property." The Tribune article makes no mention of this citation and instead misleadingly suggests that the Israeli government only demolishes structures that lack building permits. Even if that were true (and it's not), it is notable that Palestinians are almost always denied building permits by the Israeli occupying power.

The assertion that charges against Caterpillar were merely "political" is contradicted by a legal ruling from the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands, which found Israel's Separation Wall was "contrary to international law." The court cited the Fourth Geneva Convention that both Israel and the United States have ratified.

Under our constitution, ratification of a treaty makes that treaty the "supreme law of the land," imposing obligations on the United States to uphold its provisions. Caterpillar bulldozers were used in the construction of that wall, making it complicit in international law violations.

Human Rights Watch and numerous other human rights organizations have called for sanctions to be imposed on any corporations doing business with Israel's illegal occupation.

The U.N. Security Council recently voted unanimously, with one abstention, to condemn that occupation as a "flagrant violation of international law." The administration of President Barack Obama abstained due to its frustration with the Israeli government's ongoing settlement-building. Again, Caterpillar bulldozers played a significant role in the construction of those illegal settlements, making it complicit in violations of both U.S. and international law.

The U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights make it clear that corporations are obligated to ensure that their products or services are not being used in human rights violations. These principles are an outgrowth of the Nuremberg war crime tribunals following World War II that sought to hold accountable executives of German corporations, such as I.G. Farben, makers of the Zyklon B gas used to exterminate millions of Jews and other persecuted people in Nazi-run concentration camps. The guiding principles specifically require that corporations practice "due diligence" to ensure that their products are not involved in human rights violations.

Does the Portland Tribune believe that all laws are merely "political issues," which can be violated if you disagree with them? Or will the Tribune encourage Portland's City Council to take human rights violations into account when it invests taxpayer dollars? I believe the City Council is obligated to uphold the law. As a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the U.S. government is sworn to uphold it. Elected city officials at the very least have a moral obligation to do the same.

Rod Such is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and Occupation-Free Portland. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.