The news of the last couple of days has brought two reminders of the continuity of problematic corporate behavior in Iraq. Texas oilman Oscar Wyatt pleaded guilty on October 1 to paying massive kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s government in 2001 in order to secure oil contracts and defraud the UN oil-for-food program. Then, this morning’s top New York Times headline is of a Congressional report on Blackwater USA’s excessive use of violence in its private security work in Iraq, including over 200 shootings since 2005.
The juxtaposition of these moments, together with reading a 2004 article by oil violence in Nigeria by Michael Watts this morning, reinforces to me the importance of critically engaging mechanisms for addressing transnational state-corporate relationships more effectively. Numerous scholars, such as Laura Dickinson, Robert Dufresne, Lillian Miranda, and me, have tackled this terrain, but the persistence of these dynamics suggests that meaningful legal change is needed. The recognition of state sovereignty over natural resources, even when not grounded in popular sovereignty, combined with the national and subnational levels at which we regulate corporate behavior create a staging ground for these kinds of excesses.