Portland Tribune: Don’t let tax dollars support Caterpillar

Source: Portland Tribune
By: Rod Such
Created on Tuesday, 20 September 2016 02:00

Portland’s Socially Responsible Investments Committee recently voted 4-2 to recommend placing Caterpillar Inc. on the city’s Do-Not-Buy List. The recommendation has yet to be approved by the City Council.

However, the council already has voted to exclude Walmart and 200 fossil fuel companies from its $1.7 billion investment portfolio, in keeping with the seven criteria outlined in its socially responsible investment policy.

The city’s policy wisely prohibits the use of our tax dollars to support corporations that violate community values, such as abuse of the environment, human rights, workers’ rights, health concerns and egregious corporate practices, such as extreme tax avoidance and excessive market dominance. The Socially Responsible Investments Committee, a citizen volunteer advisory group, found that Caterpillar violated five of those seven criteria..

In February, the committee heard testimony from Dr. Jeff Halper, co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions; Cindy and Craig Corrie, the parents of Evergreen State College student Rachel Corrie, who was killed by a militarized Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza; the Rev. Diane Dulin of the United Church of Christ; and others who testified about Caterpillar’s involvement in war crimes and other human rights violations resulting from Israel’s illegal settlements and occupation of Palestinian land. The SRIC also received research from Occupation-Free Portland, a coalition of faith, social justice and peace organizations, documenting Caterpillar’s other violations of the socially responsible policy.

Besides human rights abuses, Caterpillar also is a major player in the oil and natural gas extraction industry. It sells powerful portable generators for use in fracking for shale oil in the Bakken Formation, which provides the volatile and unsafe oil being transported by train into the Portland/Vancouver metropolitan area.

When the City Council placed 200 fossil fuel companies on its Do-Not-Buy List because they contribute to global warming, it overlooked the key role Caterpillar plays in fossil fuel extraction. Caterpillar also avoided paying $2.4 billion in taxes over a 10-year period, according to a U.S. Senate investigation. Portland placed Walmart on its Do-Not-Buy List for similar tax avoidance.

It was therefore not surprising that the SRIC made its recommendation. Incredibly, however, it has received some pushback. One objection was that the company is not responsible for how its products are used. This claim, however, was quickly debunked by the respected Human Rights Watch, which recently called for sanctions against all companies involved in Israel’s occupation because the occupation itself is a war crime.

In its report, “Occupation Inc.,” Human Rights Watch also called attention to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which does indeed hold businesses accountable for how their products or services are used. Since Caterpillar sells its D9 bulldozer through the U.S. military sales program, it knows full well that its product is being used as a weapon, to build illegal settlements and an illegal Separation Wall, and as an instrument of collective punishment.

Another objection raised is that this recommendation ventures into international affairs and has nothing to do with issues the city of Portland should be concerned about. However, Portland has invested more than $110 million in Caterpillar commercial paper since December 2014, making it a local issue because those are our local tax dollars being invested. Moreover, even if human rights violations against Palestinians seems to be “international,” no less so is the problem of global warming, which the City Council addressed by boycotting 200 fossil fuel companies.

As a local taxpayer, I object to the use of my tax dollars to support corporations that egregiously violate my values. After all, that is why the city drafted a socially responsible investment policy in the first place.

Rod Such is a member of the steering committee of Occupation-Free Portland. Email: info@auphr.org