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April 30, 2011
Shareowners to Vote on Motorola's Human Rights Policy
    by Robert Kropp

As charges of complicity with the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands mount and organizations call for divestment, ICCR members seek to reform the company's human rights policy with a shareowner resolution.


The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank has resulted in "serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," and possibly crimes against humanity as well, according to a report by the Unite d Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. That Richard Goldstone, one of the report's co-authors, subsequently retracted the statement that Israel had a high-level policy to target civilians did nothing to undermine the findings of the report. It concluded "that Israel had imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip."

According to Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, "Goldstone has not retreated from the report's allegation that Israel engaged in large-scale attacks in violation of the laws of war. These attacks included Israel's indiscriminate use of heavy artillery and white phosphorus in densely populated areas, and its massive and deliberate destruction of civilian buildings and infrastructure without a lawful military reason. This misconduct was so widespread and systematic that it clearly reflected Israeli policy."

As is the case with most if not all human rights violations carried out by governments, those conducted by Israel on Palestinian land could not have occurred without the complicity of corporations. In his recently published Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, made explicit reference to "the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts that occur."

One of several companies that have conducted business with the Israeli military is Motorola Solutions. According to Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, Associate for Mission Responsibility Through Investment at the Presbyterian Church (USA), "Motorola has a wholly owned subsidiary called Motorola Israel, which was an R&D facility and also owned a cell phone company. They had a number of direct relationships with the Israeli government. They sold the government a telecommunications system called Mountain Rose, which was immediately adapted for use by the military."

"They also sold the government a number of telecommunications devices, including a high tech wide-area surveillance system, which has been installed at quite a few of the settlements on the West Bank," Somplatsky-Jarman continued. "It has been designed to provide security at many illegal settlements existing on private Palestinian land."

As a result of Motorola's business activities in Israel, several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace, have called for public boycotts of Motorola products and divestment from the company by shareowners.

According to the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the Mountain Rose telecommunications system "has allowed the Israeli military to coordinate incursions and assaults… Mountain Rose also supports Israel’s regime of more than 600 checkpoints in the Occupied Palestinian Territories."

For several years, a coalition of Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) members, led by the Presbyterian Church, has chosen engagement with Motorola through shareowner resolutions addressing the company's human rights policy. At Monday's upcoming annual meeting, the coalition will once again call on Motorola to amend its "policies related to human rights that guide its international and US operations to conform more fully with international human rights and humanitarian standards."

Somplatsky-Jarman told SocialFunds.com, "We've had this resolution with Motorola Solutions for three or four years now. When we first started engaging the company six years ago, they had a bare-bones human rights policy, which included everything from equal employment to fair treatment on the job to contract supplier guidelines and so on. They conducted a review but only modest changes were made."

"One issue they never engaged was how this policy applies to contractual business relationships with governments," he continued. "That's the issue we've tried to focus on. What's the obligation of a company when it's selling to a government that is not protecting the human rights of its citizens or the people under its power? We've encouraged Motorola to look at all the UN documents as well as international humanitarian law, especially regarding their responsibilities in conflict zones."

As for the results over the years of the coalition's engagement, Somplatsky-Jarman observed, "Unfortunately, after two meetings Motorola chose not to have face-to-face meetings with us on this subject, so we have not been able to engage these issues beyond the shareholder resolution on the proxy ballot."

Last year, the resolution gained approximately 12% of the vote of shareowners, enough to permit it on the proxy ballot again this year.

"We're asking the company to review significant human rights documents and make specific reference to them in their policy, and to develop more concrete language about how they will operate in conflict zones where international law would be applied," Somplatsky-Jarman said.

The coalition has also filed resolutions at ITT and Caterpillar. According to Jewish Voices for Peace, "The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights sent a letter to Caterpillar warning the company that the sale of its bulldozers to Israel 'might involve complicity or acceptance on the part of your company to actual and potential violations of human rights, including the right to food.'"

Yet, Somplatsky-Jarman said, "Caterpillar tried to challenge the resolution at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), arguing that it was too vague for them to know how to implement it." The SEC denied Caterpillar's request for an exemption, and the resolution will be voted on by shareowners at the company's annual meeting in June.

"Human rights is emerging globally as a key issue that all companies are going to have to deal with, to effectively promote a culture of human rights in all areas in which they operate globally," Somplatsky-Jarman said. "I think that is what Ambassador Ruggie is trying to accomplish."

 

 
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