In a 2004 report Amnesty International explained, “More than 3,000 homes, hundreds of public buildings and private commercial properties, and vast areas of agricultural land have been destroyed by the Israeli army and security forces in Israel and the Occupied Territories in the past three and a half years. Tens of thousands of men, women and children have been forcibly evicted from their homes and made homeless or have lost their source of livelihood. Thousands of other houses and properties have been damaged, many beyond repair. In addition, tens of thousands of other homes are under threat of demolition, their occupants living in fear of forced eviction and homelessness… Thousands of families have had their homes and possessions destroyed under the blades of the Israeli army’s US-made Caterpillar bulldozers.”
As a result, Amnesty International recommended that, “Caterpillar Inc., the US company which produces the bulldozers used by the Israeli army, should take measures – within the company’s 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.” Human Rights Watch, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, War on Want, and the Presbyterian Church USA, among others, have all made similar recommendations to Caterpillar, to no avail.
The Israeli military continues to use Caterpillar bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes. For example, in 2010 Human Rights Watch documented Israel’s continued destruction of Palestinian homes using Caterpillar bulldozers during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009.
Yet Caterpillar has consistently rebuffed related concerns. In 2011, the Presbyterian Church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investing (MRTI) committee, which has attempted to engage Caterpillar over a five year period, summarized recent meetings by explaining, “Company officials made it clear that the company took no responsibility for the use of its products even by its dealers (the only party considered to be a customer), had no procedure in place for monitoring or ensuring compliance with Caterpillar’s stated expectations even in a situation with a documented historic pattern of the equipment being used in human rights violations, and no desire to develop such a procedure. Further, they indicated that Caterpillar, although a global company doing business in virtually every country except where prohibited by U.S. law, had no capacity to evaluate whether particular actions are in accord with human rights conventions or international humanitarian law.” At the same time, according to the Presbyterian Church’s MRTI committee, “Caterpillar announced that it was instructing its European dealerships not to sell any Caterpillar products which might then be transshipped to Iran. This violated Caterpillar’s previous statements to religious shareholders that the company did not have the authority to tell its dealers where and to whom they could sell Caterpillar products.”
Caterpillar has been the target of shareholder resolutions and protests every year since 2004.
The students at Evergreen College voted overwhelmingly to make their campus CAT-free, and other campuses are likely to follow suit. Friends Fiduciary, the largest Quaker retirement fund, divested from Caterpillar as well.
And yet Caterpillar does not get the message.
Caterpillar itself has acknowledged that it sells bulldozers under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program–in other words, it sells these bulldozers as weapons. Caterpillar claims that it does not manufacture or sell weapons. This is not true. After all, the company acknowledges that it sells “a limited quantity of commercial equipment, as well as commercial equipment that has been modified for military purposes (Modified Equipment), to foreign governments predominantly under federally sponsored programs — most notably the Foreign Military Sales Program (Program)” in its Notice of Annual Meeting to Stockholders.
Caterpillar’s sale of bulldozers to Israel have negligible economic value to the company. This makes its refusal to heed the call of human rights activists and people of conscience throughout the world all the more unnerving.
Caterpillar’s previous CEO went as far as to recommend divesting to those shareholders not satisfied with the company’s policies. The time has come to take him at his word.
Where is Caterpillar?
- The company is headquartered in 100 NE Adams Street
Peoria, Illinois 61629
- Caterpillar has dealerships all across the United States. You can find a list here.
- Caterpillar has offices and facilities in 23 countries around the world.
- Shareholder meetings are held annually in early June in Chicago.