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From: Iain Wilson (Iain@paloma.co.uk)
Reply-To: schnews-l@gn.apc.org
Subject: SchNEWS 280, Friday 27th October, 2000
URL: http://www.schnews.org.uk/

The Right To Profit

"There has to be considerable concern in Scotland that... the application of the European Convention of Human Rights grants 'human rights' to a French multi-national." Kevin Dunion, Director of Scotland Friends of the Earth.

It is the usual story - a large corporation wants to get its greedy mits on a bit of 'under-developed' land. There were protests and a long public inquiry. The company loses patience and runs to the courts.

Except this time the company uses Article 6 of the European Convention complaining that because of the delay its human rights have been violated.

Come again? Since when did corporations have human rights? And what sort of a corporate can of worms are we opening now the Human Rights Act has become law in the UK?

Hold Up

The countryside in question is the Roineabhal Mountain of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. Despite it being part of a National Scenic Area, Lafarge Redland Aggregates Ltd. want to flatten the mountain and dig a super quarry to supply aggregate for roads in England and Europe, which is nice. They took the Scottish Environment Minister to court because of the time taken to reach a decision over its superquarry - and won. Kevin Dunion says of the decision, "The clear public perception is that the Act was brought in to protect the rights of individuals against powerful commercial interests. Given that companies already have rights not available to individuals or community organisations (e.g. their right to appeal planning decisions and that of 'commercial confidentiality') then it appears, by this decision, that far from levelling the playing field once again it is the powerful and rich who can play on both halves of that field ".

Lafarge supplies about 10 per cent of the UK's demand of quarry stone, but reckon it's up with the best of them when it comes to environmental credentials. Well, they are corporate members of 17 County Wildlife Trusts. Hey, one of the World Wildlife Fund UK directors even used to work for them.

The public inquiry finished over five years ago, and while the decision has been a little long in coming, the goalposts have moved considerably. As Kevin Dunion, points out, "There is no need for this quarry, and Government policy has changed since the close of the inquiry." Coming in 2002 is the Aggregates Tax, which will tax quarrying operations according to the environmental costs such as noise, dust, visual intrusion, loss of amenity and damage to biodiversity. Demand for aggregates across Europe has collapsed, and there is a lot more emphasis now on recycled rather than 'virgin' aggregate. However, by taking the case to court the company managed to get all these new arguments ignored.

Peace Take

By about the middle of the 18th Century companies had managed to get themselves treated as people under the law - which means they can have human rights.

In this country corporations have used this 'right' to apply SLAPP's (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation - see SchNEWS 184) to silence critics. But the most useful of all Rights to the corporations is 'the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions', which is used for example to bully councils to gain planning permission. And it was this Right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions that the Court of Appeal referred to when judging that Monsanto's rights had been violated by people who peacefully decontaminated fields of GM crops.

Even more worrying is, as solicitor Daniel Bennett points out, the fact that Article 13 of the European Convention, by which people could have contested the corporations' control of resources has been deliberately excluded from our own Human Rights Act.

So will corporations be running to the courts to reclaim their 'freedom' to destroy, pollute and contaminate every time it is challenged? Perhaps as Freedom newspaper points out, (while lawyers might be rubbing their hands with glee,) campaigners shouldn't exactly being doing cartwheels over the new Act. Rights are gains of struggle not gifts of the state...When the state's interference with our right to organise is manifest in the Terrorism Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, it would be a fatal error to allow ourselves to be conned into seeing the courtroom as a prime site of struggle."

* To get involved in the campaign against Lafarge digging up Harris contact
Scotland Friends of the Earth, 72 Newhaven Rd., Edinburgh, EH6 5QG
Tel 0131 554 9977
www.foe-scotland.org.uk

* For a brief history of how corporations got human rights check out the new issue of the indispensable Corporate Watch.
£4 inc. postage to 16 Cherwell St., Oxford, OX4 1BG
Tel 01865 791391
www.corporatewatch.org

* The Environmental Law Centre is organising a conference on the 24th November which will focus on key issues of injustice in the UK legal system and whether the Human Rights Act will make any differences.
It's at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London. (nearest tube Holborn)
Bonafide law students/ NGOs free on first come basis/Others 50 www.ele.org.uk

* 'Challenging corporate influence over our lives, our politicians and global trade.' Public meeting to launch the World Development Movement's campaign on the threat posed by the World Trade Organisation to public services worldwide.
Thursday 9 November, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL 7 - 9pm (nearest tube Russell Square)

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We think that the Bill Of Human Rights should be extended to those without enough rights: corporations.

Here's our proposed Bill Of Corporate Rights:

1. Nothing Should Get In The Way Of Making Money.
2. Corporations Are More Important Than Humans.
3. Corporations Are Humans If They Want To Be.
4. Business Is More Important Than The Environment.
5. It Is Everybody's Right To Deprive Their Children Of A Habitable Planet.
6. Governments Who Bring In The Bill Of Human Rights Are In No Way Obliged To Follow It.


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NEWSFLASH - 3 NOV 2000

The Harris superquarry was last week rejected by the Scottish Office.
http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/nation/superquarry.htm


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