About Corporate Action Network

The Corporate Action Network includes members from Amnesty International USA's Business & Human Rights Group (BHRG), an expert group of volunteers who support the organization's work on corporate accountability for human rights abuses. Our current areas of work include: Extractives, Trade and Investment, Private Security Contractors, and Technology. BHRG members blogging include: Simon Billenness Tony Cruz Rebecca DeWinter-Schmitt Amol Mehra
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London Olympics Further Tainted by Dow Chemical

Activists and survivors of the 1984 Bhopal disaster

Activists and survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster demonstrate. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Since we last told you about Dow Chemical’s controversial Olympic sponsorship, things seem to have only gotten worse for Dow Chemical – from a public relations perspective anyway. Along with Dow Chemical’s horribly insensitive comments, the increased media attention has only revealed additional ethically troubling business practices.

The International Olympic Committee and games’ organizers continue (for now) solidly and uncritically back Dow as a sponsor, despite harsh criticism from Amnesty and others. But if Dow Chemical was hoping that it might benefit from the benevolent glow of the Olympic spirit of international goodwill, the past few weeks have not been kind.


Corporate Accountability Comes Before the U.S. Supreme Court

By Erica Razook, Amnesty’s Business and Human Rights Group

Members of the Ogoni community outside of the Supreme Court, February 28, 2012. Esther Kiobel, center.

Esther Kiobel is a person.

The bright sunlight that washed the steps of the US Supreme Court on Tuesday did not compete with her radiance, the resolve of a widow, a survivor. Outside the court, her eyes searched unquestionably and steadfastly for justice.

In January 1995, when she visited her husband Barinem in a Nigerian prison to bring him some food, she was stripped, beaten and thrown into a cell herself. In November that year, Barinem was executed alongside eight other activists from the Ogoni region of Nigeria, provoking widespread international condemnation of the country’s military rulers.


Is Your Cell Phone Funding Human Rights Abuses?

Workers dig at a gold mine in north eastern Congo. (Photo LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images)

From jewelry to cell phones, global consumers are inadvertently supporting a trade in minerals that perpetuates horrific human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and surrounding areas.  But we have a chance to break this link – by using transparency as a tool to promote and protect human rights.

Last year, President Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  Within this landmark law is a provision that addresses an ongoing activity at the intersection of business and human rights: the trade and mining of minerals from Africa.


Four Years After Blackwater Massacre in Iraq Gaps in Contractor Liability Remain

© Scott Olson/Getty Images

This week marks the four year anniversary of the Nisour Square massacre, where on September 16, 2007, 17 Iraqi civilians were allegedly shot and killed and dozens more injured by Blackwater (now known as Xe) security contractors employed by the Department of State.

Five eyewitnesses insisted that the company guards fired without provocation, forcing civilians and Iraqi Police to run for cover.

The incident gained worldwide attention and highlighted the consequences of the U.S. government’s increased privatization of military and security functions. Today it is a reminder that after four years, Congress has still failed to clarify and strengthen jurisdiction of U.S. courts over its security contractors operating overseas by passing the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act.


Bad News For Accountability For Detainee Abuse At Abu Ghraib

By Rebecca DeWinter-Schmitt, Amnesty’s Business & Human Rights Group

Earlier this week, we reported on this blog that the possibility of a civil remedy for the detainees abused by Titan (L3) and CACI employees at Abu Ghraib was denied when the Supreme Court refused to allow the suit against the two companies to move forward.

The Center for Constitutional Rights had brought the lawsuit on behalf of 250 victims of abuse using the Alien Tort Statute, a key legal tool in ensuring civil remedy to victims of corporate human rights violations committed overseas.

Now, an opportunity for criminal justice for those abused by Titan (L3) and CACI employees has also been squandered. Today, the Washington Post reports that Special Prosecutor John Durham has closed his investigation of 101 cases of CIA interrogators and contractors alleged participation in detainee abuse.


Holding Private Security Contractors Accountable for Human Rights Abuses

By Rebecca DeWinter-Schmitt, Amnesty’s Business & Human Rights Group

Justin Cannon and Christopher Drotleff were working for private security company Blackwater (now known as Xe) when they were accused of killing two civilians and injuring two others after opening fire on a vehicle in Afghanistan in May 2009. Romal Mohammad Naiem, who was a passenger in the car, which had approached the scene of a traffic accident involving two Xe vehicles and was leaving when it was repeatedly shot upon, was killed.

© Scott Olson/Getty Images

On Monday, Cannon was given a 30-month sentence for involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Naiem. Drotleff, his partner, received a 37-month sentence earlier this month.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, they are the first Xe contractors to be punished for killing a civilian in a conflict zone. (Four more Xe contractors still face manslaughter charges for the Nisour Square shootings that resulted in the death of 17 civilians.)


Activists Demand Action At Chevron Shareholder Meeting

By Tony Cruz, Amnesty’s Business & Human Rights Group

Gas is flaring in the Niger Delta. © Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

On May 25, 2011, I attended Chevron’s Annual Shareholder’s Meeting representing Amnesty International.  This is the 4th meeting I’ve attended but much has changed since 2005.

With the recent 9 billion dollar class action verdict in Ecuador (and last year’s arrests in Houston), security was high and there were real questions as to whether or not the international delegation of NGOs would be allowed in. Fortunately, after an extensive security check, which makes TSA like a walk in the park, we were all allowed in to speak.

During the Q & A portion of the meeting, I addressed Chairman John Watson on the use of gas flaring in the Niger Delta; a technology that has led to serious health related issues and environmental contamination:


Supporting California's Call to go "Conflict-Free"

Last year, President Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  Buried within the Act is a provision that addresses an ongoing activity at the intersection of business and human rights: the mining of minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Section 1502, or the Conflict Minerals provision, essentially requires publicly traded companies to submit annual reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosing whether their products contain minerals from Congo or adjacent countries. If so, these companies must explain the actions taken to trace the origin of the minerals and whether they come from mines that help fund armed conflict.  While the Commission is still working out the rules pertaining to how exactly this gets done, the provision itself has received strong support.

Here’s why such disclosure and due diligence are necessary: armed groups perpetrating the violence finance themselves through trade in four main minerals – tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.  These minerals are turned into metals that are then sold on to be used in the very mobile phones and laptops you are using now.  If we as consumers knew which products contained the minerals from these mines, we could use our purchasing power as a force for change.


Chevron Found Guilty in $8 Billion Ecuadorian Human Rights and Environmental Case

By Chip Pitts, Lecturer in Law, Stanford Law School and Oxford University; former Chair, Amnesty International USA

After an eighteen-year, multinational court battle, Chevron was found guilty today in an Ecuadorian court and fined $8 billion for pollution that amounted to an ecological disaster and seriously harmed the human rights of the indigenous inhabitants in a small and sensitive part of the rainforest.

Before human rights, environmental, and corporate accountability advocates celebrate too quickly, however, they should be aware that the litigation – already so reminiscent of Dickens’ Bleak House – is likely to go on for some time yet.

Background to the Case

The heart of the claim – about which you can read much more at the website of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre — is that the oil company Texaco contaminated the land in question over three decades, dumping oil-drilling waste in unlined pits, contaminating the forest and causing illness and death among the local inhabitants. When Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001, the Ecuadorian plaintiffs say, Chevron acceded to responsibility for the harm done.  Chevron, in turn, argues that a 1998 agreement Texaco signed with Ecuador limits its liability at the $40 million allegedly spent on cleanup, and that any remaining pollution resulted from subsequent operations by state oil company Petroecuador.


Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers Endorsed in Geneva

On Tuesday, November 9, 58 private security companies signed an International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers. The signatories included major U.S. based firms, such as Triple Canopy, DynCorp, EODT, and even Xe (formerly known as Blackwater). The Code seeks to address the human rights impact of security providers and among its standards are rules for the use of force, prohibitions on child and forced labor, human trafficking, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and commitments regarding the vetting and training of personnel and the reporting of incidents of the use of force.

The participants reflect a multi-stakeholder group representing governments, companies and their trade associations, civil society groups, and experts and academics, many of whom were involved in the 14 month process to develop the Code facilitated by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. This Code initiative is distinguishable from other voluntary efforts to date to create standards for companies in that its goal is to have the clients of private security providers – both governments and non-state clients like humanitarian aid organizations and other companies – include requirements to adhere to the Code in their contract vehicles.

The British government has already committed to making this a requirement for its contracted security, and the U.S. government is currently contemplating doing the same according to U.S. Department of State legal advisor Harold Koh. This would lend these voluntary standards some real teeth, as the human rights commitments made by the signatory firms could be upheld in courts of law. Furthermore, it represents an important advancement in the recognition by a global industry of the obligations of firms to uphold human rights wherever they operate.

However, the credibility of this initiative will hinge on the nature of the external independent mechanisms for effective governance and oversight. OMB Watch and some non-governmental organizations have warned of the shortcomings of any mechanism of reporting the incidents of the use of force that relies on self-reporting. Humans rights groups, such as Human Rights Advocates, Right Respect, and other human rights groups have endorsed the Code, but warn that the Code not be viewed as a substitute for the development of binding legal instruments to ensure that private security firms are held accountable for their actions.