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Arrrr! Shell Tries to Plunder Human Rights

Posted: 09/19/2012 11:50 am

In case you hadn’t heard, today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Don’t worry if you’re feeling out of the loop; I didn’t know this day existed until recently. From what I have learned, the day is all in good fun, celebrating pirate culture and Johnny Depp movies, which is why we don’t associate things like slavery and genocide with this kind of lighthearted stuff.  But oil giant Royal Dutch Shell puts a different spin on it. They’re actually talking like a pirate, and to the U.S. Supreme Court no less.

You can hear it in this video where Shell’s lawyers actually argued to the Supreme Court that a hypothetical company — Pirates Incorporated — should not be held accountable for their crimes, because, you guessed it, they’re a corporation. Take a listen — it’s only 90 seconds.  You can hear the disbelief in Justice Breyer’s voice when he asks if it’s really true that Shell thinks Blackbeard should keep his ill-begotten gold.  Shell’s answer:  “The corporation would not be liable.”

The video is funny.  It would be hilarious — if it weren’t peppered with images of the kinds of human rights abuses that Shell and other companies will get away with if the Supreme Court accepts Shell’s arguments.  On October 1 — the first day of the Supreme Court’s new term — Shell will be back in courtarguing that they should never be sued for something they did overseas. Just like Blackbeard on the high seas, with the raping, pillaging and all that pirates do to get their gold, Shell says that the corporation would not be liable.  And it’s not just Shell.  Dozens of corporations, including Chevron, BP, Dole and Rio Tinto, lined up to support Shell in the quest for absolute immunity from human rights liability.

The Supreme Court has already said in Citizens United that corporations have free speech rights, as people, to influence elections.  Will the same court say that they also have no responsibility for slavery, genocide and torture?  Do they really get to keep the gold, no matter what they do, just because they’re a corporation?  Kiobel v. Shell, to be argued on October 1, will raise that question.  How will the Court answer it?

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