Evil Doers

Documenting evil behavior of corporations and other powerful entities.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Bechtel's right to profit

From Pacific News Service:

The Bechtel vs. Bolivia case is round two of a fight over something basic: water. Two years ago Bechtel took over the public water system of Bolivia's third-largest city, Cochabamba, and within weeks raised rates by as much as 200 percent, far beyond what families there could afford. When the company refused to lower rates, the public revolted. Widespread protests eventually forced Bechtel to leave.

In November 2001, Bechtel filed a demand of $25 million against Bolivia, seeking to recover the money it says it invested, as well as a portion of the profits the corporation expected to make.

"We're not looking for a windfall from Bolivia. We're looking to recover our costs," explains Michael Curtin, the head of Bechtel's Bolivian water company.

But the company didn't invest anything close to $25 million in Bolivia in the few months it operated there. Furthermore, the $25 million prize Bechtel now seeks is equal to what the corporation earns in half a day. For the people of Bolivia, that sum is the annual cost for hiring 3,000 rural doctors, or 12,000 public school teachers, or hooking up 125,000 families who don't have access to the public water system.
As Ambrose Bierce said, a corporation is "an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." Of course the corporation is just one the better tricks to avoid responsibility.

Corporations themselves employ many tricks themselves to avoid responsibility. For instance, Tom Glegola (External Affairs Associate Bechtel Corporation San Francisco: wikipedia Bechtel:talk) will tell you the Bechtel did not have the contract to run Cochabamba's water system, Aguas del Tunari (which Bechtel held a 27.5% interest in) did. One more layer of insulation to help avoid being held accountable. Bechtel can claim that someone else is 72.5% reponsible for Aguas del Tunari's actions.

Interesting how "recovering their costs" mean's recouping expected profits.

Perhaps I'll have more on Bechtel later.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Unocal is complicit in conscription and murder

In today's example of evil we have Unocal settling a lawsuit that accused them of being complicit in the conscription and murder of Burmese villagers.

Here is RFA's article on the subject:
Unocal has consistently denied that any abuses occurred.

In a joint statement carried on Earth Rights International’s Web site, the two sides announced that "although the terms are confidential, the settlement in principle will compensate plaintiffs and provide funds enabling plaintiffs and their representatives to develop programs to improve living conditions, health care, and education and protect the rights of people from the pipeline region."
If no abuses occurred Unocal is innocent and a jury would obviously recognize this fact. Everyone knows that giving in to legal extortion by settling with the plaintiff only invites more legal extortion, especially when you have deep pockets like Unocal.

Here is some other coverage. From commondreams.org:

According to court documents, Burmese soldiers entered a house in the village, broke into the rice storeroom with an axe, kicked the woman of the house and pushed her down some stairs. After a brief hunt for her husband, the soldiers came back and kicked the woman again, knocking her unconscious and pushing her into a lighted fireplace. They kicked her infant daughter into the fire too.

The soldiers wanted the family to relocate to another village to make way for the pipeline, and they weren't about to take "no" for an answer. The baby desperately needed medical care, but the soldiers forced the family to stay in a field without water for two days as they ransacked their belongings. By the time the family had paid off the soldiers, by selling a cow, it was too late. The baby died from an infected head wound.

The human rights organizations that have brought a suit against Unocal allege that the Yadana pipeline project has led to dozens of similar incidents, as well as rape and extortion. They say villagers - who are left unnamed in the suit for their own protection - have been systematically relocated and pressed into forced labor.

American Radio Works coverage of the story:
If you'd visited Myanmar back then, back in the early 1990s, you might've heard government officials boasting about their big pipeline project. The military rulers announced they were joining hands with two famous foreign companies - - the French firm called Total, and Unocal from the United States. They were building a pipeline that would pump natural gas from way out at sea all the way up on land. This project would take thousands of workers. And Neerohd says he and the other men from his village were forced to work on the project – for free. In fact, he says the soldiers were so worried that the villagers might try to escape, that the soldiers locked them up at night, inside stockades, and tied each man's wrist to the man next to him.


And consider this: according to company sources, Unocal hired a former Pentagon analyst to investigate whether the army was abusing human rights along their pipeline. And he warned Unocal executives that Myanmar's military was committing "egregious human rights" violations. According to company sources, the consultant flatly told executives that when they keep insisting that slave labor is not being used to support the project, they appear "at best naïve and at worst a willing partner in the situation."
While it is possible that Earthrights International's purpose in life is to extort money from innocent corporations using the tool of frivolous lawsuits I think history and the evidence supports the view that Unocal are the greedy unscrupulous ones and Earthrights International are the straight shooters.

Here is one third party opinion on Earthrights International.