The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has found that, since 1967, Caterpillar Inc. bulldozers have destroyed 15,000 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories. McGill uses the company for much of the construction work done on campus. The money that students give the University in tuition and fees contributes in a tangible way to oppression and exploitation.
As students in the Western world, we often fail to recognize and take accountability for the role that our actions play in international conflicts. The nature of globalization and the world economic system have created mechanisms through which dollars spent in Canada can have an impact in Burma, Mexico, El Salvador, and Palestine – nations where Canadian investment has been linked to wide-scale human rights violations.
It is in this view that the McGill chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) has put forward a motion for this Wednesday’s SSMU General Assembly. The motion for the defense of human rights, social justice, and environmental protection seeks to restore our agency in the use of our money worldwide. The motion is intended to increase transparency and accountability in University finances. For these reasons, the motion proposes that SSMU “will thoroughly investigate McGill University’s involvement with companies on the basis of negative ethical practices, and will, on behalf of the students of McGill University, call upon the administration to divest from companies that do not meet specified criteria for ethical investment.”
The motion’s critics will attempt to portray this proposal as a radical or leftist condemnation of the State of Israel. They will argue that SPHR has singled out Israeli human rights violations and not those of human rights violators like Saudi Arabia or Iran. SPHR names Israel’s illegal occupations in the whereas clauses because it fulfills our mandate to raise awareness about Palestinian oppression. Israel has simply violated more United Nations resolutions than any other member country. The motion’s strength, however, is in the breadth of its focus. It corresponds to ethical investment in all parts of the world, not solely the Occupied Territories. If the world’s most powerful countries refuse to abide by international law, this motion will at least ensure that SSMU and McGill do so. McGill’s commitment to the U.N. is longstanding; Faculty of Law professor John Humphrey was instrumental in the drafting of the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
The motion further ensures that McGill’s primary financial contributors – students – can be assured that their money is not being used for the contravention of international law. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is mentioned here simply as a human rights violation in which we, the McGill student body, are particularly economically implicated. The spirit of the motion is not exclusive to SPHR McGill. It coincides with the Canadian Private members’ bill C-300, which intends to force Canadian corporations operating abroad to act in a manner consistent with environmentally ethical practices and with Canada’s commitments to international human rights.
The student body must vote “yes” for the creation of a corporate social responsibility watchdog who will advocate for social justice, human rights, and environmental protection.
Urooj Nizami is a U0 Arts student and the incoming vice president internal of SPHR. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.