A donation to the building of Queen’s new £45 million library has caused Amnesty International to call on the University to mount pressure on the company in question which is allegedly involved in Human Rights abuses in the Middle East. The Caterpillar Foundation - the charitable branch of Caterpillar Inc – donated $100,000 last November to the Sir Anthony O’Reilly library due for completion in 2009.
Caterpillar is one of the main suppliers of bulldozers to the Israeli army which has been criticised by the United Nations for its destruction of Palestinian homes and farmland. The West Bank and Gaza Strip have long been areas of contention between Israel and Palestine. A separation barrier, referred to by Israelis as a Security Wall and Palestinians as an Apartheid Wall, is partially complete and undergoing continued construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In an Advisory Opinion given by The International Court of Justice the wall was ruled to be contrary to International law. In an excerpt from an Amnesty International report of 2004 it was stated “Tens of thousands of men, women and children have been made homeless or have lost their livelihood as a result of house destruction by the Israeli army.”
The Gown’s coverage of this story has provoked Amnesty International to issue a press release calling on Queen’s to take action on their corporate sponsor. Such a donation is “the perfect opportunity for the University to ask some hard questions of the company” according to Peter McGovern, chairperson of Queen’s Amnesty Student Society. “Caterpillar may see this donation as a positive PR opportunity - let's see them prove their bona fides as good corporate citizens by ending their complicity in these abuses.”
In a statement from Queen’s, the University maintained that they had “accepted the gift in good faith having undertaken due diligence”. Caterpillar’s Code of Worldwide Business Conduct asserts “As a company and as individuals, we hold ourselves to the highest standard of integrity and ethical behavior” yet they maintain a lack of “the practical ability or legal right” to control the use of their machinery after it is sold.
Patrick Corrigan, Programme Director of Amnesty Northern Ireland has urged both the University and the student body to “bring pressure on Caterpillar Inc for their role in the destruction of Palestinian homes.” A small group of (Socialist?) students held demonstrations at the front of the University before Christmas but the general consensus is that the majority are simply not aware of the donation or Caterpillar’s role in the these human rights violations.