Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bridgestone subsidiary hired an African warlord to "squeeze out" profits as Bridgestone lost money

Jim Cooper and Megan Barry at Karl Dean's Bridgestone announcement.

On top of all of his other government handouts to corporations, sports teams and TV shows, Mayor Karl Dean plans to give the Bridgestone company $50 million keep its headquarters in Nashville. There is no promise of new jobs, but only that 1,100 existing positions in Nashville and 600 in other states would be relocated downtown. In exchange, Bridgestone does not have to pay property taxes for 20 years (even though politicians are fond of saying that relocating business mean more property taxes to pay for Metro services).

Got it? There is no requirement that new jobs be created, although the Tennessean gushed that Bridgestone is "welcome" to create some.

Thanks to Mayor Dean (and Republican Governor Bill Haslam) the international auto parts manufacturer will be squeezing profits out of this Nashville deal (after the compliant Metro Council approves) for the next 20 years, obligation-free.

My concerns about how we're going to pay for vital infrastructure in the future while Hizzoner hands out free candy to corporations is strictly a first world problem; although it is a problem that falls disproportionately on working class people. Bridgestone also has a significant third world problem: the company does not have a clean past on the human rights front.

In the 1990s, their subsidiary Firestone had financial arrangements with rebel forces in Africa lead by Charles Taylor who would eventually be convicted for crimes and imprisoned for crimes against humanity. ProPublica has a podcast on the "secret history" of Firestone's dealings. Here is an exerpt:

During this time Bridgestone is purchasing Firestone in a big corporate merger back in the United States. It's a disaster by many accounts, and Bridgestone was losing money. So, they're trying to squeeze profits out of anywhere they can, and if you're the manager of the branch that holds Firestone, you're looking to save wherever you can. And so, Firestone is now this plantation ... making no money at all. Losing money. And so, you want to get it to become this profit-making enterprise again. And you have this connection ... with the people of Liberia that you don't want to break .... After months of negotiation they reach a deal in January of 1992 .... It's a memorandum of understanding between Firestone and Charles Taylor's government .... Firestone says, "We'll come back and we'll start paying taxes ... to Charles Taylor. In return, Charles Taylor will provide them with security. Now keep in mind that Charles Taylor is running a rebel army. This is not a state. So, essentially, Firestone is hiring a guerrilla army to protect their investments and they are paying money to a guerrilla army, which is trying to take over a country .... At the bottom line, money gets moved around, and Firestone was contributing to the war chest of Charles Taylor.

Late in the podcast, the ProPublica reporter talks about the long-term consequences of Firestone's financial arrangement with the African warlord:

One of the most shocking things about Liberia, is that there is not a single person who has ever been convicted of crimes against Liberians in a war that left 200,000 people dead [from 1989 to 1996]. Where there was thousands and thousands of child soldiers. Where there was cannibalism and people were eaten alive, burned, raped. An entire generation essentially erased, and no one has been held responsible for that .... You can't make a direct connection between what Firestone did in the 1990s and the Ebola crisis today. What is true is that the Liberian civil war ... led largely by Charles Taylor absolutely destroys the country. And afterwards, the people who helped in that destruction ... are never held accountable. So, now they're running the country. So, the very people who destroyed the country are no in charge of rebuilding it .... Liberia received tons and tons of aid after the civil war ended. Where has that gone? Why hasn't the health system improved? .... It's very easy to make a link between the civil war and Liberia's current horrible disease situation with Ebola.

ProPublica makes it clear that Charles Taylor relied on the money he received from Firestone to build an empire that waged war on its own people. That war destroyed infrastructure and created deadly social conditions, which made the Ebola cataclysm inevitable.

Since Mayor Karl Dean is proposing that Nashville taxpayers subsidize Bridgestone's new skyscraper headquarters with public dollars, the company should be held accountable for political conditions it generates with subsidized wealth at home and abroad. We should be more circumspect before gushing about how good Bridgestone is for people and jumping on their bandwagon.

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