Tuesday, 7 November 2006

RHODESIA,CONGO,SUDAN…IRAQ? 1890, 1960, 1999, 2003

Conscripted villagers who fail to produce rubber quotas are flogged; unsuspecting Africans are machine gunned by mercenaries in their hut at dawn, villagers are forced to leave their land at the point of a gun to make room for oil development. From Cecil Rhodes' British South Africa Company in the 19th Century to Canada's very own Talisman Energy in the 1990's, the list of what George Bush might call evil by bad guys for profit and, usually, some high sounding goal like empire, or, freedom, goes on. Madelaine Drohan, the author of "Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force To Do Business", just published by Random House, recently spoke to Taodhg Burns of Torontothebetter.net (http://www.torontothebetter.net) Toronto's socially responsible shopping directory about what has been done and what can be done about it.

Taodhg Burns: Your book consists of a number of case studies from Cecil Rhodes' British South Africa Company in the 19th century up to Canada's own Talisman in the 1990's. Other than the fact that they all feature capitalist businesses that raise variously titled militias to kill and intimidate, what unites them?

Madelaine Drohan: 1. There is usually some global crusade they claim to be part of, be it freeing markets, expanding an empire, or fighting the communists, a cause in whose flag they can wrap themselves and get the support of governments.
2. Resource companies, and most of them are resource companies, are full of operatives, engineers and other techies who are consumed with the physical challenges and blinkered. They shut their eyes to everything else.

TB: Shades of oil industries in the "new" Iraq.

MD: Absolutely. There are clear parallels. Dick Cheney's Haliburton comes to mind as a lead actor in a possible next chapter.

TB: What can be done to stop history repeating itself? You identify some legal routes. Will international law really do the job?

MD: Companies operate in a legal world. They ask themselves, "is it legal?" So it's helpful to use international legal barriers where they exist or to create new ones when they don't.

TB: What role does the anti-globalization movement play in this?

MD: I was in Seattle for the protest at the 1999 WTO meeting [now legendary as the "Battle in Seattle"]. They've been very effective in publicizing the issues, though there was a lot of diversity within the movement. Certainly public input helps.

TB: And what about consumers? What can they do?

MD: The consumer boycott was quite effective with Shell in Nigeria. But, of course, companies make bottom line arguments about what they have to do and then just do more public relations. I think Shell is trying to change. It's absolutely important for consumers to bring pressure to bear about corporate governance.

TB: You mention business schools in the book. Aren't they training schools for the companies that are abusing human rights? How can they help?

MD: I think business schools that introduce ethics into their core curriculums can help. Not just an optional ethics course, but ethics as part of each course. The problem is a lot of the business school teachers are from the old school where the bottom line and return on investment is the only law. Their discourse is entirely about profit. Investment analysts in particular don't key into the ethical issues, though they are beginning to be more sensitive to the environment.

TB: And what about Canada? We have our very own company Talisman implicated in Sudan in recent years and suffering a share price meltdown.What should Canadians learn from Talisman?

MD: I think Talisman should be taken up as a case study in business schools. they should recognize that human rights abuses can, and do, affect the bottom line.

TB: You also talk about the reaction of the Canadian government to information about events in the Sudan. Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham seems to have ignored what he was told about atrocities in the Congo. Why was Canadian Foreign Affairs so weak?

MD: There was no pressure by Canada. They're schizophrenic because they have two mandates: promoting trade and Canadian values. They are not always the same thing. Foreign Affairs and International Trade should be split. Graham is not powerful, and the ministry itself is sidelined in Ottawa.

TB: Who will push for things to happen?

MD: I hope companies will voluntarily recognize the problem. As for business schools, they should fully integrate ethics into their curriculum.

TB: What about Pension Funds like the Ontario teachers' fund? How should they be involved? What can they do?

MD: US funds are calling for change. Canadians by contrast cite their fiduciary responsibility [to make the best financial return]. They're more complacent. Of course, there is a smaller pool of stocks in Canada, so it's more difficult to dump big stocks even if the companies don't behave well. Pension funds need to rethink their roles and responsibilities.

TB: Will Iraq in 2003 give us the British South Africa Company of the 21st century?

MD: Well, there is a grand crusade obscuring corporate activity: the war on terrorism. As the reconstruction goes ahead companies will be moving into a war zone and likely violating human rights. Companies say "we're neutral" but nobody believes it. There can be no avoidance, no neutrality when you're in a war zone.

"Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to do Business" was published by Random House in 2003. Copies can be ordered at a discount from http://www.web.ca/~libra/xspec.htm . Madelaine Drohan will be guest speaker at the of the Social Investment Organization's Annual General Meeting in Toronto on January 19th. For full information go to http://www.socialinvestment.ca/event.htm

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