Colgate Alumna and Human Rights Activist Speaks

EarthRights International Co-Founder and Director Katie Redford ’90 spoke in Love Auditorium about the connection between human rights abuses and environmental degradation on April 17.

Using the “power of law and the power of people in defense of human rights and the environment,” EarthRights International fights to stop human rights violations perpetrated by American corporations working in third world countries. After showing a short video introducing EarthRights International’s goal of shifting the balance of power in the global economy, Redford spoke about her time at Colgate and her work with EarthRights International.

An English major, Redford was involved in Amnesty International and was passionate about human rights during her time at Colgate. One of her professors told her, “You have this amazing education and you’ll get in to a great law school, but if you’re going to fight for justice you have to see what injustice really means.” This motivated Redford to volunteer at a refugee camp on the Thailand-Burma border after graduation where she witnessed people literally running for their lives. The Burmese army was terrorizing its people due to the valuable hard wood forests in the region.

Every human rights violation Redford fights against involves the protection of natural resources, such as wood or oil. Major American companies such as Exxon-Mobil and Chevron exploit local people to protect these resources, leading to murder, rape and other human rights violations. These companies get away with their actions because it has often been accepted that any legal action against them should take place in these countries, where a court system may not be in place. Redford, however, recognized that American-based companies should be held accountable for their actions in American courts.

“That’s what we do in America. We sue. We’re really good at it,” Redford said.

With two friends, Redford created EarthRights International and successfully sued an American oil company for human rights violations overseas for the first time in American history. Soon she had legal experts calling to work with her, not realizing she was only 25 years old. EarthRights International has since grown astronomically. Currently, it has cases against Occidental Petroleum for the dumping of toxins in Peru and Chiquita for hiring paramilitary death squads in Colombia, among others. Redford let the audience know that with enough determination you can achieve your goals, regardless of if those goals have been achieved by others.

“People like me are looking for people like you to do crazy things and save this world…We use whatever crazy tool we can find to hold perpetrators of abuse accountable,” Redford said.

To conclude, Redford encouraged students to get involved and urged Colgate to divest from fossil fuels, meaning Colgate would remove financial investments in any companies with relations to fossil fuels. Recognizing Colgate’s admirable goal to be carbon-neutral by 2019, she called for even more work to be done.

“How can you go carbon neutral when your endowment is invested in oil companies? It shoots yourself in the foot,” Redford said.

Redford recognized that it can be an uphill battle, but noted successful divestment campaigns are taking place as close as Binghamton. She believes that motivated and passionate students can make divestment happen at Colgate.

“Putting your money where your mouth is and affecting the companies where it really hurts is going to make the radical change we need to protect the incredible resources we need, which is this planet,” Redford said.