Ecuador Disaster Dominates Chevron Shareholder Meeting
Chevron CEO Invited: "Join Us: Put These Scandals behind You."
Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network
25 April 2007 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
San Ramon, CA - Chevron's annual shareholder meeting was again dominated by allegations of human rights abuses and environmental destruction today as two leaders of indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon confronted CEO David O'Reilly about his company's massive toxic dumping in the region.
Attending the meeting as proxy shareholders, the pair, Humberto Piaguaje and Guillermo Grefa, had traveled for days by foot, boat, bus and plane to tell Chevron management and investors how the company had poisoned their communities and tropical rainforest homelands.
Dressed in traditional robes and colored headdress, Mr. Piaguaje, a leader of the Secoya indigenous people, told the meeting: "Our struggle is not for money. We want you to give us back our lives. We want you to let us live in peace and harmony with nature. We want you to repair the damage so that our children do not have to continue suffering."
Texaco (now Chevron) drilled in the Ecuadorian Amazon from the 1960s through the 1990s, using sub-standard technology and allegedly dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic by-products directly into the rainforest, contaminating rivers and streams on which local people still depend. Communities in the area are now racked by cancers and other serious illnesses. A class-action lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador is due to conclude in 2008, with the 30,000 plaintiffs demanding an environmental remediation estimated at $6 billion.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which this week joined the international campaign to hold Chevron accountable for the Ecuador disaster, warned that employee morale and investor confidence were being damaged by the company's disturbing human rights and environmental record from Ecuador to Burma.
Borrowing wording from Chevron's current ad campaign, Mr. Brune told Mr. O'Reilly: "Join us: Please join the campaign to clean up Ecuador. Clean up the mess you've inherited. Please put these scandals behind you, and set a standard of which we all can be proud.
"It is a different world from when many of you started in your positions. The public's commitment to environmental values is deepening, and their support for companies that take responsible action is growing. By the same measure, the movement for social justice is also growing, and Chevron will lose its social license to operate unless it adapts to a changing world."
Atossa Soltani, Executive Director of San Francisco-based green group Amazon Watch, told the meeting that every one of the 45 sites inspected by the Ecuador court so far was found to be contaminated. She also asked for details of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) into Chevron management's failure to disclose the potential Ecuador liability to shareholders.
Mr. O'Reilly declined to comment on the matter while the case was still being heard in Ecuador. However, he denied that Chevron was liable for the contamination.
Environmental and human rights campaigners gathered outside the meeting at Chevron's global headquarters in San Ramon, Calif., to protest the company's disregard for human rights and the environment in Burma, Ecuador, the Philippines and the United States. Communities living in the shadow of a Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif., suffer some of the highest rates of cancer in the state.
After the meeting, Mr. Grefa, a leader of the Kichua ethnic group from Ecuador's rainforest, said: "I don't know how Mr. O'Reilly can look at himself in the mirror. My people are dying while Chevron spends millions of dollars on its legal defense. Mr. O'Reilly needs to stop denying reality and clean up the contamination his company left in our rainforest."
Ms. Soltani added: "Mr. O'Reilly is still in denial. For the sake of Chevron's brand name and investor confidence, he urgently needs to take responsibility for this disaster. The scientific evidence presented to the court is overwhelmingly against Chevron, despite Chevron's misrepresentations."
Shareholder concern also appeared to grow. Two related shareholder resolutions were voted on at the meeting, and one investor asked Mr. O'Reilly whether Chevron had established a contingency fund for the possible multi-billion dollar damages award in Ecuador. Mr. O'Reilly said the company had not set aside any money.
The first resolution, which called on Chevron to "adopt a comprehensive, transparent, verifiable human rights policy," received 28 percent support, an extremely high figure given Chevron management's control of company stocks. Another resolution, explicitly referring to the Ecuador case and demanding a report on Chevron's interpretation and compliance with environmental legislation in host countries, received nine percent, also a relatively high figure by Chevron standards.
On Thursday, Ecuador President Rafael Correa, who has taken a critical look at the oil industry's exploitation of his country's natural resources, is due to visit the affected communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon.