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10 Famous Companies With A Shocking Human Rights Problem

Morris M.

None of us are really naïve enough to think that corporations care about anything but profit. That’s why they’re corporations after all, and not charities. However, there’s commitment to your shareholders, and then there’s stamping all over human rights in exchange for a quick buck. Extortion, murder, slavery… it turns out there’s nothing the following companies won’t do in the name of the almighty dollar.

10 Nestle Uses Child Slave Labor

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Nestle is a global multinational with only one goal: To get cheap, quality chocolate to as many people as possible. And what better way to cut costs than through child slavery?

In 2001, it was discovered that a large part of the cocoa Nestle uses to make that lovely cheap chocolate came from farms in the Ivory Coast. Farms that don’t exactly have much in the way of governmental oversight—which is our polite way of saying they keep over 600,000 children in conditions even Calvin Candie would describe as a bit harsh. So what happened—Nestle admitted they’d screwed up and put a stop to the practice, right?

Nah. They carried right on buying from those same farms up until 2012, when an internal audit revealed the extent of their collusion. This report, by the way, included information on indentured children with obvious machete wounds, and entire families being forced to work without pay. Now, Nestle has since pledged to eradicate child labor from its supply chain, but judging by how that went in 2001, we won’t be holding our breath.

9 FIFA Supports Slave Labor And Murder

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FIFA is the organization behind just about every big soccer match on Earth: A company so devoted to clusters of grown men kicking a ball around a muddy field that it’s willing to trade the lives of 2,000 innocent people to make it happen.

You’ve probably heard of Qatar. In 2010, the oil-rich country won the bid to host the 2022 soccer World Cup. Part of their contract as host nation requires the construction of a brand new stadium right in the heart of the burning desert. And for thousands of the Nepalese migrants working on it, that equals a death sentence.

See, migrant workers are routinely exploited in Qatar, and the police typically turn a blind eye. In the grand traditions of indentured servitude, they pay enormous fees to shady go-betweens for the right to work in Qatar, which they have to pay back at exorbitant interest. Their passports are then confiscated, trapping them in Qatar, and their pay is not enough to pay back the debt, if they end up being paid at all.

This means abuse is rife: Abuse such as making them work in 50°Celsius (122°F) heat with no access to water, and being beaten or starved for speaking out. According to The Guardian, around one migrant worker is currently dying per day—with more than 2,000 expected to have been killed by the time of the World Cup. Want to guess how FIFA is responding to this unfolding crisis? They’re totally ignoring it.

8 Freeport Courted A Corrupt Dictator

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You may have heard of former President Suharto. According to Transparency International, he’s the most corrupt man who ever lived; a brutal dictator who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist and was responsible for two separate campaigns of genocide, killing over a million people. And his 31-year reign may not have been possible without the help of the good people at the Freeport Company.

In 1967, the Indonesian regime was in desperate need of legitimacy. Having murdered over half a million ethnic Chinese in an orgy of violence, they risked turning into another pariah state. So Suharto concocted a plan to get the international business community on board by flogging Indonesia’s natural resources to the highest bidders. If Western companies stayed away, it could have led to disaster.

Luckily for the murderous thugs in charge, the Freeport Company—aided by David Rockefeller—was willing to do business. In a deeply depressing display of exploitation, the company became the first to sign a contract with the regime, guaranteeing them 30 years mining rights in the Indonesian province of West Papua. Unfortunately for the West Papuans, the province wasn’t actually part of Indonesia at the time, so Suharto had his goons go in and threaten West Papuan leaders with murder until they handed over sovereignty. So to sum up: Freeport gave international legitimacy to a regime that killed more people than Gadaffi and caused the illegal annexing of West Papua. Nice work, guys.

7 Daewoo Facilitates Torture And Slavery

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Uzbekistan is a semi-feudal Central Asian nation where dissenters can expect to be murdered or even boiled alive, and where each year one million people are forced into slavery picking cotton. For two months or so they lose all their rights, are beaten, harassed, tortured and sometimes even killed, all so Uzbekistan can shift cotton to the international market quickly and cheaply. This annual enslavement is so shockingly grim that kids as young as six are reported to have died during it… and Korean company Daewoo is apparently totally cool with that.

According to charity Cotton Campaign, Korean companies account for 30 percent of Uzbekistan’s cotton sales, with Daewoo leading the charge. So if they demanded change, you can be pretty sure the Uzbek despots behind this horrorshow would sit up and listen. But they’re not demanding anything—expect maybe even cheaper cotton.

That means Daewoo literally values their profit margin above the lives of kindergarteners. That’s the same Daewoo that claims on its website to be committed to going “beyond the basics of ethical business practice and embracing our responsibility to both local and global society.” Except in Uzbekistan, because screw dead children.

6 HSBC Knowingly Laundered Money For Terrorists And Drug Cartels

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If you want a living definition of evil, look no further than Mexico’s brutal drug cartels. Notorious for massacring entire towns, decapitating their victims and other stuff we don’t even wanna talk about, the cartels are simply some of the most vicious criminals who have ever walked the Earth. So when they asked global banking giant HSBC if they could open an account with them, what do you think the law-abiding bankers did?

That’s right: they illegally helped them launder their blood money, essentially financing a criminal operation that has left hundreds of thousands dead and the Mexican countryside in a state of near civil war. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a Senate investigation also revealed the bank had spent decades helping rogue states like Iran circumnavigate US financial embargos, while helping al-Qaeda source funding. Yes, that al-Qaeda. It was a litany of abuse and illegality that probably would have triggered a minor war if it was being committed by an enemy state—but instead we just fined the bank less than it makes in three months’ trading and made them promise, hands on hearts, to never do it again.

5 UK Banks Are Financing Weapons Banned By The Geneva Convention

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Let me introduce you to one of the most benighted little bits of psychopathy to ever grace the human mind: cluster bombs. Basically, these are bombs that are dropped into a warzone, where they explode and shower the area with hundreds of mini “bomblets.” These bomblets routinely fail to detonate for years, until some innocent farmer stumbles over them long after the war is over—whereupon they explode. Studies show that 98 percent of their victims are civilians, and a third of those civilians are children. They are illegal in most of the world, including Britain—and UK companies are investing in them like they’re going out of fashion.

In 2011, it was revealed that nine British companies were funding producers of cluster bombs, despite the practice being significantly less moral than punching a baby in the face. Banks including RBS, Lloyds and (surprise, surprise) HSBC were found to be—bluntly—paying for idiots to murder children by investing heavily in these civilian-killing bombs. Just to be clear, this was at best questionable under UK law, and possibly downright illegal.

The resultant scandal had all companies involved rushing to cancel their investments and save their good name… until it was revealed a year later that plenty of them were apparently still cool with funding large-scale atrocities.

4 Dow Chemical’s Empathy Bypass

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You may have heard of the Bhopal Chemical Disaster. On December 2nd, 1984, a chemical plant run by Union Carbide (UCC) sprang a leak, releasing a blanket of toxic air over a residential neighbourhood in Bhopal, India. People died in unimaginable agony, their throats and lungs boiling, their eyeballs scorched by the gas. At least 20,000 people were killed and another 100,000 were left in need of serious lifelong care. A new generation is developing major health problems from drinking the contaminated groundwater. Officials estimate 800,000 people were affected overall.

Recognising this obscene tragedy, Union Carbide accepted responsibility and paid out $470 million—which sounds a lot until you remember how many victims there were. The roughly $570 per victim doesn’t cover basic medical bills, even in India. The victims rightly considered the payment an outrage and pushed for real compensation. Unfortunately, that’s when Dow Chemical took over Union Carbide.

As new owners of the murderous firm, they refused to pay another penny to the victims, arguing it had been UCC’s fault, not Dow’s. Technically, of course, this is true, but it ignores the fact that UCC no longer exists as an independent company. In effect, Dow has spent 30 years sticking a gigantic middle finger into the face of people suffering from stratospheric rates of cancer, kidney failure, lung disease and deformities, all while ignoring an Indian court summons accusing it of culpable homicide and an arrest warrant for CEO Warren Anderson. America has so far refused to extradite him.

3 The International Olympic Committee’s Human Rights Hypocrisy

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I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume that not many of us have read the IOC’s Olympic Charter (pdf). Basically, it’s a fancy document that sets out the “fundamental principles” of the Olympics, including a commitment to human rights, equality and “the preservation of human dignity.” It’s the closest the Olympics have to a Constitution, and right now the IOC is allowing Russia to systematically crap all over it.

In less than 100 days, Russia is set to host the Winter Olympics. In preparation for this momentous occasion, the country has turned the clock back on LGBT rights, illegally evicted 2,000 people from their homes, allowed the abuse of 70,000 migrant workers in violation of Russian law and began (continued?) arbitrarily detaining journalists. Since this is pretty a much a how-to for punching equality and human dignity right in the face, the IOC’s own charter commits them to either stepping in or canceling the games altogether—something you’ll be surprised to learn they have no intention of doing whatsoever.

Incidentally, you remember Dow Chemicals, from the previous entry? They were a major sponsor for the London 2012 Olympics.

2 The American Banks Endorsing Ethnic Cleansing

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Okay children, it’s time to gather round for another chilling tale of corporate malfeasance and human misery. Meet Coal India, a company that does exactly what it says on the tin. One of the largest coal miners in the world, it has a regime of going into remote areas of India and systematically displacing indigenous tribes with its dangerous open-cast pits.

Fun fact: Since this government-controlled company only ever seems to destroy the lands of and starve out the aboriginal peoples of India (the Adivasis), this could technically constitute a sort of corporate ethnic cleansing. And at least four American banks are apparently so oblivious to the problem that they’re willing to help finance it.

See, in the coming months, India plans to sell 5 percent of its share in Coal India—shares valued at over a billion dollars. Despite the company’s sideline in environmental destruction and tribal displacement, the Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank have all leaped at the chance to help manage the sale—a move that basically laughs in the face of the suffering Adivasi tribes. Now obviously this is a business deal, but it’s also a clear international signal to Coal India that the world endorses their slow-motion land grab. I would wonder how these people sleep at night, but I already know the answer: on a gigantic pile of blood-stained money.

1 Shell Oil May Have Facilitated Genocide

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Speaking of ethnic cleansing, you’ve probably never heard of the Ogoni people. It’s not your fault: they’re a Nigerian indigenous tribe who have the misfortune to be living on land that Shell wants to mine for oil. Over decades they’ve watched their lands be destroyed, and seen all attempts at peaceful protest brutally put down by the Nigerian military. In the 1990s, this culminated in a wave of violence so systematic that Ogoni academics have labeled it genocide. Thousands of the Ogoni were slaughtered. Thousands more displaced. And Shell Oil may have facilitated the whole thing.

In 2009, a lawsuit was brought against Shell for their actions in Nigeria. Although it settled out of court, a number of memos pertaining to the case were later leaked to the press. According to the Guardian, these leaked memos revealed that Shell had frequently paid the Nigerian military to brutally quash protests and even helped organise raids on villages opposed to the drilling. Needless to say, all this raiding and quashing frequently escalated into massacres. As Human Rights Watch pointed out in 1999, those who criticized the company frequently wound up dead at the hands of a military that was apparently in Shell’s pocket. A military that was engaged in a campaign of genocide against a tribe that just happened to be in Shell’s way.

To be blunt, there’s a very real chance Shell Oil is at least part responsible for one of the most sustained extermination campaigns in modern history—and no one in power seems to care in the slightest.

Morris M.

Morris is a freelance writer and newly-qualified teacher, still naively hoping to make a difference in his students' lives. You can send your helpful and less-than-helpful comments to his email, or visit some of the other websites that inexplicably hire him.

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