Still, a US district judge has ruled that IBM cannot be prosecuted in the US for supplying computer systems to South Africa’s apartheid regime. Describing her own decision as “regrettable,” Judge Shira Scheindlin explained that the 1789 Alien Tort Statute doesn’t usually apply to behavior by companies outside of US borders.
The judge said she was bound by earlier court rulings barring U.S. lawsuits over corporate conduct that occurs in foreign countries, including a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a lawsuit accusing two foreign-based units of Royal Dutch Shell Plc of facilitating torture and executions in Nigeria.
The suit against IBM has been working its way through the justice system for 12 years and also included Ford which is alleged to have supplied vehicles to the South African security forces during apartheid.
Back in 2009 the BBC reported that Judge Scheindlin would allowed claims against IBM, Ford and several others to go ahead, while others were thrown out.
[The judge] dismissed complaints against several companies but said plaintiffs could proceed with lawsuits against IBM, Daimler, Ford, General Motors and Rheinmetall Group, the German parent of an armaments maker…
“That level of wilful blindness in the face of crimes in violation of the law of nations cannot defeat an otherwise clear showing of knowledge that the assistance IBM provided would directly and substantially support apartheid,” she said.
Ahead of that earlier decision, IBM argued that it wasn’t their job to decide how customers use their products. Or in other words: IBM hardware doesn’t torture and kill people, oppressive regimes torture and kill people (and IBM hardware makes it easier than ever!)
IBM hasn’t yet responded to my offer to help them write new advertising slogans.