The European Union and European governments were found to be complicit in the crimes of transnational corporations, including damage to the environment and human rights violations, at a special tribunal which took place in Madrid in May.
Several hundred people filled the conference room in the Círculo de Bellas Artes in the centre of Madrid to hear the Permanent Peoples Tribunal ruling
on Monday 17 May 2010. Complaints had been submitted against 27 EU-based corporations
whose activities in Latin America have caused serious environmental damage and human rights violations.
Among the 27 companies on trial in Madrid were Swedish-Finnish Stora Enso for the social and environmental impacts of its giant tree monoculture plantations in Uruguay and Brazil, Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica for labour rights violations, as well as fishing multinational Pescanova.
The Permanent Peoples Tribunal, with roots in the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal, investigates cases where victims currently lack legal protection and access to justice. In the cases before the Madrid Tribunal, the victims lacked access to justice, both in the Latin American countries where the crimes occurred, and in Europe where the TNCs have their headquarters. "Instead of the current impunity we want to insist on the social and environmental responsibility of these companies", said Marcos Arruda, a Brazilian economist and Tribunal member.
Compared to previous sessions in Vienna and Lima, the ambition of the session in Madrid was not only to assess the behaviour of transnational corporations in Latin America, but also the complicity of the EU in creating the conditions for these violations to take place and go unchallenged.
The Tribunal was very clear in its verdict, accusing the EU of both direct and indirect complicity. Colombian jury member and human rights lawyer Dr. Alirio Uribe condemned "as immoral the behaviour of EU corporations in Latin America and their serious violations of international conventions protecting the social, economic and cultural rights." The tribunal also condemned the EU governments for allowing this to happen. "Despite all this indefensible behaviour by EU corporations, we see no will from EU to act and prevent such behavior,", Uribe concluded.
The European Commission and governments, indeed, have so far rejected any form of enforceable corporate accountability rules.
The jury also criticised the EU for narrowly defending "the interests of these corporations through trade and investment treaties and the promotion of privatisation without any concern for development". Uribe called this "a complicity with serious consequences".
One example highlighted by the jury was the case brought against Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and other large pharmaceutical companies
lobbying heavily to outlaw generic drugs, despite the crucial importance of these affordable drugs for the health of the poorest in developing countries like Brazil. Public health NGOs from across Latin America had accused the EU and pharma lobby groups of "provoking a deliberate confusion" between legitimate generic medicines and counterfeits. Earlier this month shipments of generic drugs in transit on the way from India to Brazil were confiscated in European ports, a practice the Tribunal strongly condemned.
The Tribunal called on the UN "to create a framework to prevent this behaviour", and demanded that the statues of the International Criminal Court be changed to include the responsibility of these companies, so they can be charged for environmental and human right crimes.
The Tribunal insisted that the EU must respect the rights of the victims of corporate abuses and develop rules to grant access to justice for victims that have suffered as a result of the behaviour of EU-based companies outside of Europe. The tribunal also called on the EU to establish a centre on TNCs to monitor the behaviour of the companies on the ground.
ruling will be sent to the 27 companies as well as to the EU institutions and the UN.