Shareholders of US heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) yesterday rejected by a crushing majority a motion calling on the company’s management to reconsider sales of bulldozers to Israel, because of Israel’s use of the bulldozers to destroy Palestinian houses.
Several human rights organization and religious groups submitted the resolution, including Jewish Voice for Peace, which acquired shares in Caterpillar in order to be able to vote for the resolution, and persuade other shareholders to support it. In order to obtain wider support, the motion did not call for a ban on bulldozer sales to Israel. It required the Caterpillar board of directors to appoint an external committee to examine whether direct or indirect sales of bulldozers to Israel were consistent with the company’s code of business conduct.
Shareholders owning 97% of the company’s shares voted against the resolution. Caterpillar chair James Owens told the shareholders meeting, “We don’t sell armored weaponized products.” He said that in any case, the company had no means of supervising the daily use around the world of over two million machines that it had manufactured.
While the overwhelming defeat of the motion was expected, the initiators of the motion had hoped for support from shareholders owning at least 6% of the company, which would have enabled them to raise the motion again at the next shareholders meeting in April 2006. A vote of only 3% in favor means that the resolution will be shelved for a very long time.
The vote at the shareholders meeting became a national contest between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli organizations in the US. National Jewish organizations, led by the American Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, together with regional Jewish groups, organized activity against the resolution.
Jewish activists regard the pro-Palestinian initiative at Caterpillar as another link in a chain of initiatives for delegitimizing business with Israel, along the same lines as the campaign against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The crushing of the pro-Palestinian initiative at Caterpillar is therefore very important.
Published by Globes [online] - www.globes.co.il - on April 14, 2005