The Corporations On Trial – IBM, Ford, GM, Daimler and Rheinmettal

21 Jun

The Khulumani Apartheid litigation currently targets 5 multinational corporations using unique legislation in the USA. As part of the Red Card campaign, today’s major focus will be exploring who these companies are and why they’re on the list of alleged aiders and abettors of apartheid crimes. All these companies are being charged not because they were simply in South Africa at the time and selling to everyday civilians (“just doing business”) – these companies are charged because they specifically did business with the apartheid security forces who were perpetrating one of the clearly identified crimes against humanity of the 20th century. The following summary does not include the full details of the complaint, but some key points of what actions these corporations undertook.

International Business Machines (IBM)

Global Headquarters: New York, USA

Profits (2009): $12.334 Billion

Total CEO compensation (2005): $14.394 Million

International Business Machines (IBM) is the only technology company still listed in the Khulumani case. As many people may remember, IBM faced similar charges for aiding and abetting the commission of the Holocaust through its subsidiaries providing the technology for the Nazi regime to process millions of Jews in concentration camps (a little known fact is that the number tattoos branded onto Jews in these camps, were actually identity numbers for use in IBM machines). The case for IBM’s involvement with the Nazi regime was propounded in the book: IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black.

The allegations against IBM in the Khulumani lawsuit are similar. In the complaint, Khulumani argues that IBM provided the equipment to facilitate the apartheid government’s system of pass laws that disenfrachised, tracked, and violated the rights of non-white South Africans on a daily basis, and was the cornerstone of apartheid.In 1952 IBM-SA received its first order for an ‘electronic tabulator’ which was the first step in its automation and expansion of the population control programme. IBM leased the equipment to the South African government (and thus could have easily withdrawn support) and carried out maintenance on the machines even after it was clear that they were being used to uphold a crime against humanity.

Ford Motor Company:

Global Headquarters: Michigan, USA

Profit (2009): $2.7 Billion

Total CEO Compensation: $17.9 Million

The Khulumani litigation alleges that transport and motor companies such as Ford Motor Company aided and abetted the commission of apartheid crimes by providing the military forces with military-style vehicles and parts. Ford’s vehicles were used to patrol townships, and to arrest, detain and assault their inhabitants. Ford sold at least 1,582 F-series US-origin trucks to the police. Ford argued in 1986 that it could not refuse to sell vehicles to the security forces, because that would then cause them to lose their contracts with the broader apartheid government which would affect profitability.

General Motors Corporation:

Global Headquarters: Michigan, USA

Revenue (2009): $148,979 Billion

Total CEO Compensation: $9 Million

General Motors, alongside the other transport companies, is alleged to have sold parts and vehicles to the apartheid security forces that enabled them to carry out crimes against humanity. In 1978, GM reported that it annually sold 1,500 vehicles to the South African Police and military. For at least 15 years GMSA provided Bedford trucks directly to the SA military. In addition to selling these vehicles to the apartheid government, General Motors also assisted with the repair and maintenance of vehicles.

Daimler AG:

Global Headquarters: Stuttgart, Germany

Profit (Q1 2010): $817 Million

Total CEO Compensation: €5 Million

Daimler AG is charged with having sold military vehicles such as Unimogs, Casspirs, Hippos, and other vehicles that were used by security forces to track, arrest, detain and assault people across South Africa. When it came to the 6,000 Unimogs shipped to South Africa, their military purpose was clear in that they had mountings for arms—such as the “Valkiri,” a 127mm rocket launcher—gloss paint to avoid infrared detection, a 24-volt battery, and bulletproof tires. These Unimogs were shipped despite a UN Security Council mandatory arms embargo against South Africa. Components of Unimogs also formed the basis of the commonly used Casspirs and Hippos which wreaked havoc on townships, and from which police indiscriminately shot and killed Black, Indian and Coloured South Africans.

Rheinmettal AG:

Global Headquarters: Dusseldorf, Germany

Profit (2009): $15 million

Total CEO Compensation: €1.16 Million

Rheinmettal AG was a top producer of armaments including the MK 20RH 202 (a component of the armored personnel carrier), the MG3 machine gun, and various weapons systems for battle tanks, exported significant quantities of armaments and related equipment and expertise to South Africa, for use by the security forces. In the 1970s, Rheinmetall, under fraudulent export declarations, exported a complete ammunition factory to apartheid South Africa to manufacture the 155mm extended range projectiles needed by the South African security forces. The plant was erected in Pretoria and began operations in 1979. The plant made ammunition at the rate of 80 to 100 rounds per hour. In addition to the munitions plant, Rheinmetall aided the South African security forces in other ways, such as training members of the SADF in the use of certain artillery systems on its Unterlüss test range. Even after a criminal investigation was launched against Rheinmetall in 1980, Rheinmetall continued these trainings.

For more information about the lawsuit and the specific complaints against these corporations, please visit the lawsuit documents section of the Khulumani website.

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