A New York Times Op Ed headline Treat Greed in Africa as a War Crime about the International Crimes Court and the problem of “a vast and unregulated system of extractive capitalism” initially caught my eye today because I live in Africa, but as I read it I saw that the problem identified and solution offered would benefit all continents on earth.
Written in Ethiopia by Kamari Maxine Clark, a professor of Anthropology at Yale, the essay addresses the source of crimes against humanity. She writes:
Violence in Africa begins with greed — the discovery and extraction of natural resources like oil, diamonds and gas — and continues to be fed by struggles for control of energy, minerals, food and other commodities. The court needs the power to punish those who profit from those struggles. So do other judicial forums. At a summit meeting here last week, leaders of the African Union proposed expanding the criminal jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to include corporate criminal liability for the illicit exploitation of natural resources, trafficking in hazardous wastes and other offenses.
My first thought was, “Replace Africa with Anywhere and this is still true.” And then I saw the part about Corporate Criminal Liability. Of course! If global corporations are to enjoy the benefits of “personhood” they should also be as accountable as individuals for criminal acts. You might say they were guilty of their own ICC – Inordinate Corporate Crime.
Any time anything becomes a commodity the chase to squeeze as much profit from it begins. I first realized this in the 1970’s while grooming horses on America’s race tracks. Horses, their grooms and exercise boys were worked until exhaustion while the owners wore fancy hats and/or smoked cigars in their catered grandstand boxes.
Not even wholesome food is exempt. Last week Amy informed me that twenty years of enthusiasm for Quinoa has transformed it into commodity to the point where the very farmers who grow it cannot afford to eat what was once a staple of their diet. Read more at The Guardian.
I can’t think of anything more criminal than lining your pockets with profits from natural resources that you don’t have to pay full price for. Oil, gold, diamonds, cocoa, lumber, coal – the list is endless. It’s worst than taking candy from a baby because the baby didn’t make the candy or toil to harvest it and babies shouldn’t be eating candy anyway.
In the guise of providing inexpensive commodities to the masses, multi-national corporations often count on the labor of people who make a couple of dollars a day at best. In most cases, the savings are not passed down to the consumer or used to pay the laborers a just wage but rather to fluff up the wallets of those wealthy officers at the top. This realization always gets my dander up so it was refreshing to see it being taken seriously by Ms. Clark.
She goes on to say:
The I.C.C. should be empowered to prosecute corporate crimes — and not be restricted to genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression…
I couldn’t agree more and hope that some day the ICC can do something about Inordinate Corporate Crime.