Caterpillar Inc's Role in Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

December 23, 2010

A coalition of student groups from the Arizona university system invited me recently to talk to the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) about Caterpillar, Inc’s role in violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).  Although an unusual setting, I accepted for a number of reasons.

Although Amnesty International (AI) hasn’t focused on Caterpillar (CAT) in an action since our 2004 report, there has been a frightening surge in home demolitions and forced evictions in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem recently, as well as demolitions in ‘unrecognized’ villages like Al-‘Araqib inside Israel – which has a current AI Urgent Action in effect.  Over the past 3 weeks, the IDF has demolished dozens of structures in the OPT and the Israeli authorities continue to use CAT equipment regularly to carry out these demolitions, so AI continues to have longstanding and ongoing concerns.

Grandfather and grandchild watch home in Sur Baher east Jerusalem being demolished by CAT machinery March 2007. Keren Manor/

The day before I left for Arizona, the IDF demolished 10 residential structures and the village school in the West Bank village of Khirbet Tana.  Sixty-one (61) people including 13 children were left without shelter.

CAT equipment has been used to uproot olive trees and destroy other agricultural products and land.  During ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in the Gaza Strip two years ago, Israel used armored D9 bulldozers to demolish wide swathes of homes, factories, agricultural land and civilian infrastructure, including water pipes and networks needed for basic survival.

There have been several Palestinian deaths during home demolitions, most of them occurring during the second intifada in the early 2000’s.  A Caterpillar D9 bulldozer is directly involved in the death of U.S. citizen Rachel Corrie in March 2003.  An Israeli soldier drove the armored bulldozer over Rachel as she protested an imminent home demolition in the Gaza Strip.  An IDF investigation ruled it an accident, but the Corrie family has filed a lawsuit and the current trial underway in Haifa, Israel, ‘Rachel Corrie v. the State of Israel‘, has uncovered discrepancies and short-comings in the investigation.

Although produced in 2005, this news clip produced by Inigo Gilmore gives a good idea of the type of actions CAT bulldozers and equipment are still used for in the OPT:

CAT has temporarily suspended the transfer of D9 bulldozers to Israel.  However, this suspension is only temporary and there is no guarantee that the sale and transfer of CAT equipment won’t begin again once the Corrie trial is over.

CAT’s role in human rights violations in the OPT continues to be relevant and these recent developments made the invitation to make the ABOR statement particularly timely.

AI campaigns for global standards on business and human rights and stronger legal frameworks at the national and international levels to hold companies to account for their human rights impact. Companies, including Caterpillar, must ensure that their business operations do not undermine human rights.

So far, Caterpillar’s public position is that they are unable to monitor all the uses of their equipment by their customers.  They have stated, “we expect our customers to use our products in [ways] consistent with human rights and the requirements of international humanitarian law.”

According to the ‘Respect, Protect, and Remedy’ framework on business and human rights developed by John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations, that’s not enough.  Ruggie elaborated the concept of human rights due diligence (pg. 17, 56-64), which sets out what corporations must do to discharge ‘their responsibility to respect’  and prevent their equipment or services from becoming complicit in or benefiting from human rights abuses.  Due diligence includes all of the following:

  • producing a statement of policy articulating the company’s commitment to respect human rights;
  • conducting periodic assessment of actual and potential human rights impacts of company activities and relationships;
  • integrating these commitments and assessments into internal control and oversight systems;
  • and tracking and reporting performance.

Amnesty International takes no position on what tactics to use to achieve corporate responsibility (such as boycott and divestment initiatives, protests or direct actions); neither supporting, nor opposing them.  It is simply outside our mandate, but we do support the principle that human rights due diligence is essential to fulfilling the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and to reduce the risk that they may become complicit in violations.

Any actor considering a relationship with Caterpillar – or any corporation or company whose services or products have played a role in violations of human rights – should ask that company to demonstrate its commitment to human rights and to ensure that it does not contribute to or benefit from human rights violations. Such a demonstrated commitment should include the company demonstrating human rights due diligence.