Written by Gabriel Matthew Schivone
Arizona student Gabriel Matthew Schivone was invited to address the annual stockholder meeting of the Caterpillar Corporation that took place this year at the Marriot Riverwalk Hotel in San Antonio, Texas as a proxy shareholder on behalf of the largest Jewish-American peace group, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and other religious organizations. While the meeting was taking place, a locally organized demonstration to bring attention to Caterpillar’s presence in San Antonio and the company's role in human rights abuses against Palestinians under Israeli occupation and Latino communities along the US/Mexico border and throughout the US. Below is the full text of Gabriel's speech in support of shareholder “Proposal 8” which urges Caterpillar to adopt a review and public reporting of the company’s worldwide business practices, and to enact policies requiring all of their dealers to “conform more fully with international human rights and humanitarian standards."
CAT Shareholder Meeting, San Antonio, TX, June 13, 2012
Board members, Mr. CEO, fellow shareholders:
Good morning. My name is Gabriel Matthew Schivone. I am a student from Tucson, AZ. I am speaking today as an authorized shareholder in favor of Proposal 8, on behalf of Jewish Voice for Peace and a robust coalition of religious organizations.
As a company, we claim that we cannot control what our dealers do with our equipment. And yet, in 2010, we issued a clear directive to all our dealers worldwide to avoid sales that are even likely to end up for use in the State of Iran. Why single out Iran without having a universal policy in place to apply human rights standards evenly across the globe? I remind us that companies like ours didn’t want to single out South Africa during apartheid; companies opted for general policies which, in turn, they were compelled to apply to South Africa through divestment.
Without a general policy, as Proposal 8 stipulates, we’re vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy. For example, Israel has a far worse human rights record than Iran and is engaged in its 45th year of military occupation and settlement of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and crucially uses armies of our bulldozers to do it. This opens us up to more criticism of hypocrisy.
It also opens us up to legal action. I remind everyone here of the example that eminent New York District Judge Shira Scheindlin made out of IBM Systems in 2009 when their lawyers used our exact same argument in court. The South African apartheid regime used IBM equipment in ways that contributed to international crimes including unlawful killings, like those for which our company equipment has been used by the Israeli military against Palestinians and a young American college student. The IBM lawyers said the company was not responsible for how their clients used their products, just as we say it today. Judge Scheindlin sharply retorted: “That level of willful blindness in the face of crimes in violation of the law of nations cannot defeat an otherwise clear showing of knowledge that the assistance IBM provided would directly and substantially support apartheid.” I’ll repeat that phrase.
“Willful blindness.” Willful blindness—remember that.
For these reasons, last week, members of the student senate of the largest public university in the United States, Arizona State University (ASU), announced their unanimous vote demanding divestment from companies supporting the Israeli occupation, including Caterpillar. Other student bodies have taken similar actions and dozens of divestment campaigns throughout US schools are underway. But this is not just a bunch of young, rapscallion kids (like me) throwing a ruckus without a cause. The Quaker Friends Fiduciary financial services organization just divested nearly $1 million of our stock due to their “zero tolerance for weapons and weapons components”. Further, the Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission for Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) is recommending full divestment from us at their General Assembly later this month for our participation in the Israeli occupation.
Returning to the university market, it’s not just students calling us out on the carpet. The University of Arizona (UA) is, as many of us know, a key part of our mining industry. A few years ago, we donated nearly $1 million to the mining college there because we know how crucial a partner they are to us. Well, the Dean of the Engineering College which controls a contract with us actually expressed regret in the school paper in 2010 about our deal when he found out about the accusations against us carried forth by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, even the United Nations. He said that had officials within his mining department known this information they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in—namely, maintaining the contract. More than that, the corporate monitoring board of the university’s Faculty Senate expressed “grave concerns” with the Caterpillar contract due to the “compelling international evidence” against us—indeed of our “wrongdoing.” This is all very damning and damaging. Now multiply it all over the country and beyond, and then multiply that by previous and subsequent years (i.e. the future). It can’t hold. In the long term, it’s bad policy that will come back to haunt us more than it’s haunting us already. And I can promise you that.
To conclude: We’re here in San Antonio, TX, in the heart of the US/Mexico borderlands. Our equipment is being used to harm Latino and migrant communities. This has been documented in local newspapers such as the Arizona Daily Star and by the excellent photojournalist, Maurice Sherif, who reported from right here in South Texas of Caterpillar equipment used to illegally destroy people’s tree groves to make way for the violent border wall that is helping kill hundreds of migrants every year by pushing them into the “mortal danger” of the most “hazardous” areas of the border (through Arizona), according to US Border Patrol planners. And we’re helping that.
I think of Ken Fleck who was one of our engineers for some 30 years. Ken loved Caterpillar for how well our company treated him through the years. After he died he left his owning share in the company to his daughter and son, Nancy and Jack—who incidentally reside in US/Mexico border states.
Nancy, Jack and I are among those who are increasingly supporting such efforts of divestment from our own company until the company stands on the right side of history. I support divestment from our company; I support legal action against our company—anything necessary to move us toward supporting human rights.
I move for supporting Proposal 8.
This speech, by Gabriel Matthew Schivone was first published at The Nation. Gabriel Matthew Schivone is a Chicano-Jewish American from Tucson, and coordinator of Jewish Voice for Peace at the University of Arizona.