Oil Corp Caught Assisting Taliban
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Oil Corp Caught Assisting Taliban
Move to Revoke Oil Company’s Charter
What should happen if a U.S. corporation is connected with slave labor and the Taliban? Here are excerpts from a story distributed by InterPress Service.
by Jim Lobe
A coalition of 30 environmental and human rights groups has asked the attorney-general of California to revoke the corporate charter of Union Oil Company (Unocal) for its activities in Burma and Afghanistan.
In a petition delivered to the attorney-general’s office in Sacramento, the groups charged that the oil company had broken US and international laws, particularly in its dealings with the military government in Burma and with the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan.
Unocal denounced the move and denied any illegalities.
The company already is the target of several lawsuits, including one based on the Alien Tort Claims Act by Burmese nationals who claim to have suffered serious human rights abuses resulting from a Unocal project.
In Burma, Unocal owns a 28 percent share of a 1.2 billion-dollar consortium with the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, Total SA of France and a Thai company to build a gas pipeline running from off-shore fields in the Andaman Sea through Burma to Thailand.
Activists have charged that the project has involved the forcible relocation of villagers, the use of slave labor, and other serious abuses of human rights. They have insisted for years that Unocal withdraw from the project and from Burma altogether in light of the repressive measures used by the military regime.
In Afghanistan, Unocal has worked with the Taliban militia, which currently controls most of the country, to promote the construction of an estimated two billion-dollar gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan.
Women’s groups have been upset this effort, which has included Unocal’s sponsorship of visits by senior Taliban officials to Washington, because of the faction’s notoriously harsh measures against the rights of women. Indeed, women’s rights leaders have taken the lead in the campaign against Unocal in California.
”If Unocal thinks it can do business with a regime that, in effect, denies women their right to exist as human beings, then we think Unocal’s privilege to exist as a corporation must also be denied,” according to Katherine Spillar, national coordinator for the Feminist Majority Foundation, one of the groups behind the latest move against the oil company.
Other groups include the National Organisation for Women, the National Lawyers Guild, Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch, the Earth Island Institute, and Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based activist and public-education organisation.
In addition to its activities in Afghanistan and Burma, the petition also cites Unocal’s alleged responsibility for for a 1969 oil blowout, a major environmental disaster which fouled beaches in southern California, as well as ”hundreds” of violations of U.S. labour, safety, health, and pollution laws as reasons why its corporate charter should be revoked.
The petition rests on the idea that the state, as the sovereign power which grants life to a corporation, has the obligation to protect the public from its illegal activities.
”Courts have always held that corporations are artificial entities, ‘mere creatures of the state,’ and must be summoned to answer to the people for usurpations of power and violations of the public trust such as those repeatedly committed by Unocal,” said Richard Grossman, a lawyer who helped draft the petition.
”[We don't have] to try to control these giant corporate repeat offenders one toxic spill at a time, one layoff at a time, one human rights violation at a time,” added Robert Benson, a Loyola University law professor who is acting as the coalition’s lead attorney. ”The law has always allowed the attorney general to go to court to simply dissolve a corporation for wrongdoing and sell its assets to others who will operate in the public interest,” he said.
Precedents, according to Benson, include a recent suit by the attorney general of New York to revoke the charters of two corporations that allegedly put out deceptive information for the tobacco industry, and another request by an Alabama judge to dissolve the tobacco companies themselves. In California, a Republican attorney-general petitioned a court in 1976 to dissolve a private water company for allegedly delivering impure water to its consumers.
The government grants special privileges to corporations, paid for by the taxpayers. How bad does a corporation have to be before it forfeits those privileges? Why are there special privileges in the first place?
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