Blood diamonds, and the top corporate human rights violators

I was recently at lunch with friends when the topic of blood diamonds came up. Lovely conversation topic, right? But it is amazing to me how many people are so unaware, even me, of the consequences of their purchasing decisions.

The unintended human cost of buying certain pretty things, certain foods, even certain necessities (in our culture at least) would really, should really, horrify us all. Horrify us so much that we would change the way we live. But we don’t.


Because it is easier to not know? Because it is easier to remove yourself from horrors happening halfway across the world? Because it is easier when it doesn’t appear to affect you personally?

It is easier, but easy isn’t always right.

Here are my top two human rights violators. It’s a place to start:

Big oil corporations. Does this come as a big surprise to anyone? The environmental cost has been clear for years. Even with the evidence of the human and environmental cost here in our own country, it hasn’t changed much in our oil consumption. But do you know about the human rights abuses? All major oil corporations violate human rights.

It is particularly evident in Nigeria, where for decades corporations like Mobil, Chevron, and Shell have taken action to support the violent repression of non-violent opposition to the harmful environmental and health effects of the oil extraction. Oil corporations heavily support the repressive and corrupt governments and in doing so are complicit in the murder, torture, kidnapping of people and the burning of their villages.

In 1995, Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were executed by the Nigerian government with the implicit, if not  explicit,  support of Shell Oil simply because they spoke out about the horrible human and environmental abuses the Ogoni people were faced with in dealing with the big oil corporations.

It is also clear of Unocal’s (Chevron) contribution to rape, summary execution, torture, forced labor and forced migration in Burma through collusion with the Burmese military who was given responsibility of security in the area, despite a long record of egregious human rights abuses.

These are only two examples in a long list of environmental and human rights abuses committed by oil corporations in collusion with the local governments clamoring for oil money.

What can we do?

Read more on these sites (search for oil):

Reduce our oil consumption.

Support action taken against oil corporations to end environmental and human rights abuses.

Spread the word.

Watch this video.

Nestle. Many people thought that the boycott of Nestle ended long ago, but it is still going today, and for very good reason. The variety of aspects to to the human rights abuses by Nestle, that it is astounding to me that they are as supported by the general public as they are.

Nestle and abusive child labor.

Chocolate made with cocoa beans harvested by illegal child labor, including slave labor, is not the delicious sweet it should be. Nestle USA is one of the biggest purchasers of of cocoa from the Ivory Coast, a country with hundreds of thousands of child laborers working in hazardous conditions on the cocoa farms. Nestle is very aware of the horrific labor practices on the West African cocoa farms it chooses to do business with. Knowingly supporting child labor and child slavery for chocolate should be unacceptable to us all.

You may have seen this UNICEF photo before. This woman was told she could not breastfeed both of her children. One died. This is not about the use of infant formula, this is about the misinformation given about using infant formula in developing countries where there is not sufficient access to clean water and money enough to provide basic nutrition through formula.

Nestle and the deaths of babies.

Inflammatory? Maybe. True? Certainly. Nestle’s aggressive, and misleading, marketing of its infant formula in developing nations has led to the deaths of countless children due to lack of nutrition and/or unsafe water needed to mix the formula. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.5 million infants die each year simply because they weren’t breastfed. The problem with Nestle’s infant formula is not because of it being formula though, it is because Nestle uses unethical methods to market to women who can’t afford formula are unable to breastfeed, and ensure their babies do not receive the nutrition they need to be healthy and thrive.

Nestle consciously violates the international code of marketing code by giving free formula to new mothers so a breastfeeding relationship is near impossible once the “free” formula is used up, to misleading (and often written in another language) information on the formula cans, to giving gifts to health care workers. The bottom line is more important than babies’ lives.

Nestle and water rights.

Nestle’s attempts to gain water supplies for bottling in rural communities is, perhaps, the least concerning, but is still indicative of the blatant disregard for human life and environment alike. Nestle uses predatory tactics, lawsuits, and interfering in local elections to gain water rights in many rural communities. Nestle then charges exorbitant rates for the bottled water and leaves a damaged watershed and pollution in its wake.

What can we do?

Read more on these sites:

Global Exchange
International Labor Rights Forum
Baby Milk Action
The International Baby Food Action Network
Save The Children
Stop Nestle Waters

Buy fair trade chocolate.

Boycott Nestle products. I am not going to mince words here, if you buy Nestle products you are supporting a company that is killing babies, enslaving children, and polluting our water. Check the list of all Nestle brands, there are many you might not know about!

Here a few:

Lean Cuisine
Libby’s Pumpkin
S. Pellegrino

Spread the word.


This was originally going to be a Tuesday Top Ten list. But to be able to go into any depth in the issues, I limited it to my top two. Do you have a corporation that you feel should be on this list? Let me know!

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Blood diamonds, and the top corporate human rights violators — 11 Comments

  1. Walmart. Their poor labor relations and union busting = bad news for me. You want to know how they get their prices so low? They force companies and businesses to sell them goods at a loss, forcing many hardworking employees for those industries to lose their jobs. They also don't pay a living wage and don't offer benefits to the vast majority of their workers. I just can't support a company like that, no matter how many $30 DVD players I can get.

  2. You are so right! I had wanted to work on a third corporation, but could not decide who deserved the honor more:

    Walmart for worker rights violations, labor discrimination, union busting ,

    Philip Morris for child labor, forced labor and other labor abuses, and aggressively marketing lethal products,

    major coffee companies in the U.S. (Kraft Foods, Nestlé, Proctor & Gamble and Sara Lee) for basic workers rights violations, child labor,

    Coca-Cola for violent killings, kidnap and torture, water privatization, health violations, and discriminatory practices,

    Dow Chemical for creation of chemical weapons, marketing poisonous chemicals, illegal dumping of toxins into populated areas, environmental destruction, health problems, death

    And these are just the tip of the iceberg. I just hope that one person might think more carefully about the impact of their daily purchases.

  3. This is such an important issue. Thank you for bringing attention to it. I'm surprised by how little people seem to know about this, especially following the major motion picture "Blood Diamond" that came out a few years ago!

    • Blood Diamond was an incredible movie to shine light on the situation in Sierra Leone, and all of Africa really! I just wish we, as a society, would pay more attention to even our small, everyday purchases and the impact they might have here and elsewhere in the world. We also can't forget that the fight for human rights is not over for those involved in the diamond trade. The Kimberley Process Certification is proven to be flawed and by allowing Zimbabwe to participate indicates even further that diamonds can not be guaranteed to be conflict-free.

  4. Pingback: A Eye-Opening Read that Couldn’t Wait «

  5. Agreed, the Kimberly process is not a resolution. We’re a provider of ethically sourced, conflict-free jewelry and have some great blog content that could be of interest to your readers. We’re launching a series of Educational posts that cover issues such as blood diamonds, child labor, and human rights abuse and why people should care to not support conflict diamonds.

    Here is a sample of the type of posts we write:

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