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UN warns Caterpillar may be implicated in human rights violations

Jewish Voice for Peace, ISM, Caterpillar Out, Tom Hurndall Foundation | 16.06.2004 23:37 | Anti-militarism | Repression | London | Oxford

**For immediate release**

On 28th May 2004 the Special Rapporteur on the right to food for the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights – Jean Ziegler – wrote to Jim Owens, CEO of Caterpillar Inc., to express deep concern "about the actions of the Israeli occupying forces in Rafah and in other locations in Gaza and the West Bank, using armoured bulldozers supplied by your company." (1)

The letter (Ref: RRDB/RH) goes on to outline Caterpillar's responsibilities under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other international human rights instruments:

"While only States are parties to the Covenant and are thus ultimately accountable for compliance with it, all members of society – individuals, families, local communities, non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, as well as the private business sector – have responsibilities in the realization of the right to adequate food. In this context, there is also a concern that allowing the delivery of your D-9 and D-10 Caterpillar bulldozers to the Israeli army through the Government of the United States in the certain knowledge that they are being used for such actions, might involve complicity or acceptance on the part of your company to actual and potential violation of human rights including the right to food." (2)

Caterpillar's worldwide code of business conduct states:

"Caterpillar accepts the responsibilities of global citizenship. Wherever we conduct business or invest our resources around the world, we know that our commitment to financial success must also take into account social, economic, political, and environmental priorities." (3)

However, when confronted by campaigners, Caterpillar claim that they "have neither the legal right nor the means to police individual use of that equipment." As the Special Rapporteur points out, where sales to Israel are concerned it is simply not credible for Caterpillar to claim that the end use of their products is not foreseeable, and the company have a duty to prevent such foreseeable misuse. By ignoring this fundamental duty of all citizens, be they corporate or individual, the company is implicating itself in the human rights violations and war crimes being committed in the Occupied Territories.

This strongly worded letter from the UN follows a recent report by Amnesty International (Ref: MDE 15/040/2004) advising Caterpillar to "take measures – within the company sphere of influence – to guarantee that its bulldozers are not used to commit human rights violations, including the destruction of homes, land and other properties" (4), and echoes the tens of thousands of letters sent to the company by activists in the US, UK and elsewhere. The lack of any credible response from the company has led activists to tackle Caterpillar more directly, visiting company offices, factories, dealerships and trade exhibitions, engaging employees, customers and shareholders in dialogue.

In April, US activists from Jewish Voice for Peace attended the Caterpillar Annual Meeting in Chicago, having obtained sufficient shares in the company, backed by the Mercy Investment Program and the Sisters of Loretto, to present the first shareholder resolution in US history examining a corporation's relationship with the Israeli occupation. The resolution did not pass but achieved more than enough support to allow them to refile next year. (5) After the meeting, Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens wrote a letter to the activists, refusing to meet with Rachel Corrie's parents, saying "I feel we have seen this issue to its conclusion."

Rachel Corrie was crushed to death under the blade of a Caterpillar bulldozer in Rafah, Occupied Palestine, as she stood in front of the home of a local pharmacist, and friend, to prevent it being demolished. The Nasrallah family home survived for nearly a year after Rachel’s death, but was demolished by the Israeli army early in 2004. Just four weeks after Rachel was killed, Tom Hurndall was shot through the head by an Israeli soldier in Rafah. As with Rachel’s death, the Israeli Army conducted an investigation and exonerated itself of all responsibility for Tom’s shooting. However, Tom’s family and supporters conducted their own investigation and, after a long campaign, the soldier that shot Tom was finally charged on 13th January 2004; Tom died the same day, having spent nine months in a coma. The soldier is currently standing trial in Israel. The Hurndall family strongly urge a similar investigation into the killing of Rachel Corrie and all other innocents killed in this "culture of impunity".

In March and April, actions took place across the world to mark the first anniversary of the killing of Rachel Corrie. In Palestine, activists from the International Solidarity Movement (6) and the Christian Peacemaker Team remembered Rachel with a 'die-in' at the Erez checkpoint, Gaza. Activists in the US visited Caterpillar dealerships across the US and, the following month, went to corporate headquarters with Craig and Cindy Corrie, Rachel's parents, in an attempt to meet with Caterpillar CEO, Jim Owens. Meanwhile, activists in the UK paid a visit to the Ministry of Defence-owned base of Caterpillar Defence Systems Ltd, in Shrewsbury, and succeeded in shutting down production for the day when management decided to evacuate the buildings rather than observe a three minute silence for Rachel. (7)

More recently, activists from the UK have been attempting to present the Homewrecker of the Year Award to Caterpillar, so far without success. Activists have also targeted the company at their Headquarters, at the DSEi arms fair in London, at a trade fair and in shopping centres and high streets all over the UK. (8)

Other companies supporting Israel’s activities in the Occupied Territories have also been targeted. In April, an 8 month campaign against Rafael, a now-privatised former "support unit" of the Israeli Occupation Forces, culminated in the company being evicted from their central London offices, and this week Caoimhe Butterly, an Irish activist, started a 2 week hunger strike outside of Cement Roadstone Holdings in Dublin to focus attention on direct Irish complicity in the construction of the Apartheid Wall. Joining, visiting or supporting the fast are a number of activists and politicians, including Dennis Halliday, former UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator  to Iraq, Tom Hyland, Senator David Norris and Nuria Mustafa. (9)


Jewish Voice for Peace (US)

ISM London & Caterpillar Out (UK)

The International Solidarity Movement (Palestine)

The Tom Hurndall Foundation


US:             Liat Weingart  +1 510 465 1777  (Jewish Voice for Peace)

UK:             Josie Sandercock  +44 (0)7900 248 957 (ISM London & Caterpillar Out)

Palestine:   Huwaida Arraf  +972 (0)54 747 3308 or +970 (0)59 260 990, or
ISM Media Office  +972 2 277 4602 (International Solidarity Movement)

Notes for editors:

A cartoon is available:

Carlos Latuff, the Brazilian cartoonist, has drawn a special cartoon to accompany this press release. It may be reproduced freely and without charge. It can be downloaded from:

(1)     Since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967, Israel has destroyed over 7,000 buildings, leaving 50,000 men, women and children homeless. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), since the start of the current intifada no fewer than 14666 people have been made homeless in a single Palestinian town – Rafah. As well as 1476 homes crushed to rubble, the army has destroyed sewer and water networks, creating a serious health risk for the local community.

        The IDF’s weapon of choice in its home demolition campaign is the specially designed Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer. But Caterpillar bulldozers are used for more than house demolitions. Since the Intifada began, Israeli troops and settlers using Caterpillar equipment have uprooted an estimated 385,000 olive trees – as well as orchards of dates, prunes, lemons and oranges. The economic hardship this has imposed on thousands of Palestinians comes on top of already dire levels of unemployment and poverty in the Occupied Territories.

Caterpillar bulldozers are sold to Israel as weapons, through the US Foreign Military Sales Program. See

(2)     A .pdf of the letter may be found at:

A copy of the document has also been made available at: High Commissioner Letter to Caterpillar.pdf

 (3)    From Caterpillar's Code of Worldwide Business Conduct:

"We look for suppliers and business allies who demonstrate strong values and ethical principles ... We avoid those who violate the law."

"Caterpillar accepts the responsibilities of global citizenship. Wherever we conduct business or invest our resources around the world, we know that our commitment to financial success must also take into account social, economic, political, and environmental priorities."

Caterpillar has repeatedly failed to respond to letters about the nature of their trade with Israel and its compatibility with their published code of conduct. For more information see,,

(4)     The Amnesty report may be accessed at:

        The Main Recommendations in the Executive Summary include the following sub-heading:


Caterpillar Inc., the US company which produces the bulldozers used by the Israeli army, should take measures – within the company sphere of influence – to guarantee that its bulldozers are not used to commit human rights violations, including the destruction of homes, land and other properties.”

(5)     For full reports of the shareholder action and texts of the speeches see:

(6)     Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall were working with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Rafah. Some of Rachel's writing is included in a new book by and about the ISM – Peace Under Fire – with cover photograph by Tom Hurndall. The book is available on Amazon and from all major bookshops in the US and UK from July. For details of the book launch, please contact:

US - Radhika Sainath    +1 212 807 9680 (c/o Verso NY),
UK - Nicholas Blincoe   +44 (0)207 730 4254,

(7)     Links to reports and pictures of these actions:
(Remembering Rachel at Erez Crossing, Gaza)
        (Video: 60 JVPers visit CAT dealership on anniversary of Rachel’s death)
(A visit to corporate HQ in Peoria, IL)

(8)    Links to reports and pictures of these actions:
(Caterkillar refuses Homewrecker of the Year Award)
(Breakfast with Caterkillar – 2nd attempt to present Homewrecker of the Year Award)
(Fun at a trade fair)
(A visit to Head Office)
(Shutting down the arms factory for a day)
(One of many high street actions)

(9)    Links to reports of actions at other companies
(Using our Caterrorpillar bulldozer to evict Israeli arms dealers from their central London offices - permanently)
(Irish Activist Begins 14-Day Hunger Strike for Palestine)

Jewish Voice for Peace, ISM, Caterpillar Out, Tom Hurndall Foundation
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Display the following 4 comments

  1. CopyLEFT cartoon by Carlos Latuff — Caterpillar Out of Palestine
  2. Just did it again... — Caterpillar Out of Palestine
  3. Fiday June 25th - Day of Action against CAT — anti-caterpillarist
  4. Caterpillar's Plants — Planters Punch