Permanent Peoples' Tribunal on TNCs, 2006

10 May 2006
Article
Peoples' Permanent Tribunal uncovered overwhelming evidence of European TNCs' abuses of human, social, cultural and workers' rights in Latin America, aided and abetted by European governments and institutions.

Hearing on Neo-liberal Policies and European Transnational Corporations in Latin America and the Caribbean
Vienna May 10-12, 2006
President: Salvatore Senese

INDICTMENT

Members of the Panel:
Elmar Altvater (President, Germany), Miren Etxezarreta (Spain), Susan George (France), Lilian Manzella (United States), Francesco Martone (Italy), Freda Meissner-Blau (Austria), Sandra Quintela (Brazil), Roberto Schiattarella (Italy), Gianni Tognoni (Secretary-General, Italy)

1. Why a Permanent Peoples' Tribunal on European Transnationals?

The EU-LAC bi-regional network, which organised Enlazando Alternativas 2 (EA2), officially requested to convene a session of the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal (PPT) on Transnational Corporations (TNCs) in Latin America on 2 February 2006, to investigate the increasingly dominant role of European TNCs in strategic areas, such as services, infrastructure, petroleum, water, finance and telecommunications. They particularly asked for an examination of the threats thereby posed to political sovereignty, development policy, economic autonomy, environmental sustainability and democratisation in Latin America.

The network of organizations represented in EA2 requested a hearing of many cases from Latin American countries on aspects of life and work, rather than a formal judgment. Following the instruction phase foreseen by its Statutes, the PPT accepted the request, which appeared specifically for two main reasons:

  1. The peoples, the movements, the spectrum of actors participating in the EA2 (see annex 1) represent one of the most important expressions of the ongoing struggle for the rights of peoples, which is the justification of the existence of the PPT, based on the Universal Declaration of the Right of Peoples in Algiers, 1976.
  2. The themes of the request are an important opportunity for continuing and expanding the research role of the PPT with respect to the relationship between economic laws and human and peoples' rights. This work is ongoing since the beginning of the Tribunal in the second half of the 1970s in a series of judgments, which include sessions on:
  • the role of transnational corporations in the Latin American dictatorships (Brussels, 1975)
  • the causes of impunity of those who committed crimes in Latin American countries (Bogota' 1991);
  • the conquest of Latin America and the origins of International Law (Venice, 1992);
  • Transnational Corporations in the Textile, Garment and Sportswear industries and their impact on labour rights and the environment (Brussels, 1998)
  • the case of the Bhopal-disaster and corporate irresponsibility (Bhopal, 1991- London, 1994);
  • the wrong-doings of TNCs (Warwick, 2001)
  • the role of TNCs in Colombia (Berne, 2005; Bogota', 2006).

(Further information on these Tribunals: www.grisnet.it/filb/tribunal)

2. The Procedure

The hearings of the PPT took place in three sessions following an opening session, each lasting around 4 hours. A detailed dossier of case studies and complaints was submitted to the jury. Witnesses and experts presented orally the documented cases and also answered questions posed by members of the jury. The cases covered several areas of TNC activities and their impact on: natural resources, labour rights, public services with particular emphasis on water provision, sewage and electricity, the role of global finance and the role of TNCs active in financial services in Latin America, the food chain and agricultural diversity, the oil and gas industry. (Full documentation will be available on www.asc-hsa.org and www.tni.org).

3. General Indictment

The members of the jury of the PPT thank the organizers of this important event, commend the thoroughness and high quality of the research and documentation presented in the course of the hearings and salute the commitment of the witnesses to achieving justice for their communities and their countries.

We have heard testimony and case studies concerning several TNCs and banks headquartered in Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and one non-EU country, Norway (refer to Annex 2 for list of cases on TNCs presented to PPT). We have been presented with overwhelming evidence concerning European TNCs abuses of human, social, cultural and workers' rights, their irresponsible and sometimes irreversible actions towards the environment and their complete disregard for the welfare of local communities.

We have heard, in particular, of the complicity of European governments that aid and abet their own TNCs. Furthermore, international public institutions including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the European Investment Bank, Export Credit and national development agencies, as well as European bilateral free trade agreements and investment treaties, pave the way for the exploitative activities of TNCs.

We were presented with cases of corporate-led public service privatisation (notably water, sanitation and energy), use and extraction of natural resources, oil exploration, land use and agribusiness practices, expansion of monocultural plantations for pulp, liberalization of financial services and the role of European Banks in various Latin American countries.

4. The Findings of the Tribunal

4.1 On the basis of the above we have identified common elements and violations that the PPT considers deserving of further work:

  • Violations to the right to access essential services: Water has been transformed into a commodity rather than a common resource. Pricing and distribution policies implemented by TNCs with the support of International Financial Institutions deprive broad sections of population (mostly the poor) from the enjoyment of this fundamental human right. Electricity privatisation and liberalization has similar results;
  • Violations to the right to land: The expansion of monocultural plantations for export (notably for soy and wood pulp) is destroying small-scale farmers' livelihoods, while preventing fair and equitable access to land;
  • Violations to the right to food sovereignty, safety and security: Industrial scale production of food for export, and the privatisation of biodiversity and seeds, driven by imbalanced international trade regimes and corporate interests, is destroying the capacity of Latin American countries to realize these rights;
  • Violations to labour rights: So-called labour "flexibility", the push for high returns for private investment, the need to produce cheap goods for global markets, together with the repression of Latin American trade unions, undermine core labour standards. Furthermore, TNCs use cheap suppliers of labour in order to keep costs low, thereby expanding an already huge informal sector;
  • Violations to indigenous peoples' rights: EU TNCs and Latin American governments collaborate in invading and exploiting indigenous peoples' lands without their prior informed consent or participation, thereby violating their cultural identity and fundamental rights;
  • Violations to environmental rights: Negligence and abuse by EU TNCs of fragile ecosystems in hotspots of biodiversity and wildlife, as well as key bioregions for climate stabilization augmented by deforestation for economic reasons, contamination of water, infrastructure expansion, result into a substantial ecological debt and contradict EU public commitments for sustainable development. Irresponsible exploitation of natural resources by European TNCs such as oil and gas result in widespread ecological impacts both at a local and ultimately global level;
  • Violations to civil and political rights: EU TNCs can proceed undisturbed thanks to the complicity and cooperation of local and national governments. All this can occur in spite of popular dissent since those same governments do not hesitate to repress dissent and often crackdown on environmental, social and labour movements.

All of these violations combined with the erratic behaviour of financial markets and the unbearable burden of the foreign debt result in a major attack on economic and social rights to development, and hence represent the central core of, and a major challenge for, the future work of the PPT.

4.2 TNCs are not solely responsible for this situation. The responsibility also extends:

  • to the host governments; and
  • to the EU that allows enterprises to apply inferior standards to those practiced in Europe.

The EU, in its negotiations with Latin American countries, follows an agenda of trade and financial liberalization and support for TNCs. Economic aid is often made conditional to the acceptance of EU criteria, while the EU maintains trade and preferential arrangements with certain countries even where they are in violation of international human rights norms, such as those established by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

4.3 The PPT has been unfortunately obliged to consider these cases due to the unavailability of any other forum for adequate recourse and redress as well as the absence of binding rules applicable to TNCs. Unless and until such norms are developed and properly implemented cases as the ones examined will recur again and again.

Therefore the PPT concludes that the complexity and seriousness of accusations and the corresponding violations of rights require further in depth investigation with also a view to contribute to the development of international legal instruments that would make TNCs truly and effectively responsible and accountable for their practices.

 

Perspectives

 

The PPT purpose and modalities of action have always been intended to provide support and to empower social movements and responsible citizens in their different struggles for justice and human rights. Not incidentally, therefore, the preparation of this session has generated an unprecedented level of interest and expectation in Latin American and European movements, that created new networks and a basis for strengthening their struggles, resistance and search for alternatives to the dominant economic and social paradigm.

At the same time, the opportunities that Latin America is currently experiencing in its own way to social justice and self-determination can provide inspiration to movements in Europe, in their practices and proposals for an alternative of justice.

The cross-fertilization of action and analysis, that this Tribunal seeks to foster, makes its work more than a mere academic exercise, but rather a genuine effort to contribute with its experience to a common endeavour of social, environmental and labour movements in both regions. It is their determination and visionary action that encourage us to pursue our future initiatives dealing with the challenges that economic and financial globalisation pose on the affirmation of peoples' fundamental rights.

In view of the importance and of the gravity of the findings of this Hearing, the Tribunal herewith states its intention to convene a formal session to judge the responsibilities and activities of European TNCs in Latin America.

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