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August 21, 2014
Heavy Construction Equipment and the Israeli Occupation
    by Robert Kropp

Who Profits, a research organization based in Tel Aviv, issues a report analyzing the role of heavy equipment manufacturers in supporting Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

The corporate responsibility to not only respect human rights but address violations has been enshrined, at least to an aspirational extent, by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, developed by Professor John Ruggie and endorsed by the United Nations' Human Rights Council in 2011.

Among the global hot spots where human rights violations are of greatest concern are the Palestinian occupied territories. The military activities of Israel in the territories often seem to fail to differentiate between military and civilian targets. There are many who would cast those activities in a much harsher light.

What then is the corporate responsibility of companies whose products and services help enable the Israeli military to undertake such harsh actions against a civilian population? Members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) have put this question to corporations in the form of shareowner resolutions for years. One of those resolutions, filed with the heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, requests that the company address this concern by amending its current human rights policy, and monitoring the amended policy for its effectiveness.

“Caterpillar’s current policy, the Worldwide Code of Conduct, contains no references to existing international human rights codes except for a corporate policy of non-discrimination, and aspirational goals to maintain employee health and safety,” the resolution states. “It does not apply to company dealers whose activities can carry extensive reputational risks for Caterpillar.”

Also, “we believe significant commercial advantages may accrue to Caterpillar by adopting a comprehensive policy based on UN Human Rights Norms serving to enhance corporate reputation,” the resolution concludes.

A recent report by the Tel Aviv-based research organization Who Profits highlights the corporate responsibility of heavy equipment manufacturers in the Palestinian occupied territories. The report focuses on four mechanisms by which the Israeli military seeks to entrench its occupation through the use of heavy equipment:
1. House demolitions. “Since 1967, Israel has demolished more than 28,000 Palestinian houses, public buildings and private commercial properties in the occupied Palestinian territories,” the report states. “This massive, man-made destruction is not a side effect of the occupation but a fundamental element in a control mechanism, designed to tighten the Israeli hold on East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
2. Military use of engineering tools. “The Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer...includes weapon mounts, storage compartments, a spotlight and projector lamps and communication equipment,” according to the report. “The D9’s shield also includes a protection system against anti-tank weapons and as of 2006 an additional slat armor.”
3. Construction of settlements, which are illegal under international law.
4. Construction of the wall and checkpoints.

The report focuses on 11 manufacturers of heavy equipment, including Caterpillar. Descriptions of each of the 11 manufacturers include lists of major shareowners and financial information.

“Two troubling aspects of the distribution of civil and military engineering tools in the Israeli market must be addressed,” the report concludes. “The growing importance of engineering tools to the Israeli army’s military tactics and the large-scale complicity of the Israeli construction sector in demolitions and construction operations in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Who Profits notes in an appendix that it contacted all 11 heavy equipment manufacturers for responses to its report. Appended to the report is a response by Caterpillar. “Caterpillar cannot monitor the use of every piece of its equipment around the world,” the company stated. “However, we recognize the responsibility companies have to encourage the constructive use of their products.”

The company also claimed that it is constrained by anti-boycott legislation in the US, and that it prefers a “resolution to be reached via political and diplomatic channels,” rather than through response to shareowner action.


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