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Should an American company be charged for utilizing a military dictatorship in a Third World country to further its own ends? Recently it has been reported that Shell Oil "aided and abetted" militant groups in Nigeria to violently suppress non-violent opposition to oil drilling activities in Nigeria.

Do Objectivists believe that Shell has a moral right to drill oil there? If so, does that morally justify funding armed gangs to murder civilians who peacefully oppose Shell's oil drilling activities?

"Shell has fuelled armed conflict in Nigeria by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to feuding militant groups, according to an investigation by the oil industry watchdog Platform, and a coalition of non-government organisations." From this news source.

"The Ogoni people are ethnic minority that farms and fishes the rich Niger River Delta. Since the 1950s the Ogoni and their land has been poisoned and exploited by oil development. Nigeria is Shell's largest source of oil outside the U.S. In the 1990s, Shell collaborated with the military dictatorship to target Ogoni leaders who opposed Shell's oil operations in their homeland. A 2002 lawsuit, Kiobel v. Shell, alleges that Shell "aided and abetted" the Nigerian military dictatorship in committing severe human rights abuses against members of the Ogoni people who were involved in a nonviolent movement to stop it from drilling for oil in their rich Niger River Delta homeland. But...Shell is arguing that as a corporation it cannot be held responsible for human rights violations abroad.

The company isn't denying the charges; it's claiming that as a corporation it should be able to get away with murder." From this news source

asked Oct 15 '12 at 20:50

user890's gravatar image


edited Oct 16 '12 at 12:09

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I asked a question that somewhat reads on this one here: http://bit.ly/RATAEt There is also another news item here on this topic: http://bit.ly/OXdMRu I do think the question of how an advanced industrial culture deals with undeveloped cultures is important and while I got some very good answers, This is still an open question for me. Who could/should/would enforce law against a corporation hailing from an advanced culture like the UK when it violates the rights of people in say Mozambique? Clearly short-term profits are to be had by dumping pollutants etc. and it happens every day.

(Oct 16 '12 at 07:58) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Objectivists view all rights violations the same: they're evil.

Rand laid out the principle in "Galt's Speech":

Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate—do you hear me? no man may start—the use of physical force against others.

Please see the rest of the passage at the link above for an excellent discussion. This is a central idea in Objectivism -- for example, she reiterated it in her seminal article "The Objectivist Ethics":

The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. No man—or group or society or government—has the right to assume the role of a criminal and initiate the use of physical compulsion against any man. Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. The ethical principle involved is simple and clear-cut: it is the difference between murder and self-defense.

And she explained the connection of initiating physical force to violating rights in several places, like "The Nature of Government":

Man’s rights can be violated only by the use of physical force. It is only by means of physical force that one man can deprive another of his life, or enslave him, or rob him, or prevent him from pursuing his own goals, or compel him to act against his own rational judgment.

The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships—thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement.

Please follow the links above for further discussion and references.

answered Oct 16 '12 at 12:26

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

edited Oct 16 '12 at 12:26

I think we are agreed on the evil nature of violating the rights of others. That said, how should we view, and more importantly punish these violations when they are perpetrated by a corporation, not upon fellow citizens of a developed country but upon the natives of, say a 3rd world country? This is what I believe the questioner was asking. Simply accepting that it is evil and not doing anything seems morally puzzling.

(Oct 16 '12 at 15:21) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I don't think it matters whether the victim is 1st-world or 20th-world. If someone is violating rights in our jurisdiction (which includes from in the case of cross-jurisdictional crime), then a proper government should prosecute them here. (So this is prosecuting a crime, not a war. Our government should not be sending soldiers and bombs or whatever into other jurisdictions unless we're at war with that place.)

(Oct 16 '12 at 16:32) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

So, for clarity, when USA-based corporations violate rights in say, Mozambique, would anyone be punished if the Mozambique government is corrupt and turns a blind eye to violations? This is not some fanciful example, it is taken from reality. Your answer seems to indicate that they should be prosecuted here ? If so, under what statutes would we do so?

(Oct 17 '12 at 14:41) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

If the statutes do not exist, we certainly can add them.

(Oct 17 '12 at 14:44) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

I said what I thought a proper government should do. What our government can/will do is an entirely different question... ;^)

(Oct 17 '12 at 15:45) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

If you believe what Shell is doing is wrong--and it is--don't buy gas from them. Don't support them. In fact, try to make as many people aware of what they're doing, so as to spread the news over to the media, who would and should report on it. Mass attention of an activity like that committed by a corporation is bad news for them.

(Oct 17 '12 at 23:03) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

Remember that a corporation is not a person, and so criminal punishment of the corporation itself is problematic. Fines can be levied against the corporation, but if we are talking about prosecution for murder, then it is the actual people responsible for the murder who need to be prosecuted. This could include, of course, more than just those who pulled the trigger---perhaps also those who authorized or knowingly facilitated the murder, which could include, for example, certain corporate executives. Culpability, however, would have to be proven individually.

(Oct 20 '12 at 14:43) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image
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Asked: Oct 15 '12 at 20:50

Seen: 1,311 times

Last updated: Oct 20 '12 at 14:44