Oil Giant Under Fire In Burma, Nigeria and Ecuador For Rights Abuses and Environmental Neglect
Still No Defined Human Rights Policy Despite Shareholder Pressure
8 October 2007 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
San Francisco - Repression in Burma, an environmental disaster in Ecuador's rainforest, and a federal judge's decision last month to force Chevron to stand trial in the U.S. for the massacre of Nigerian villagers highlight the oil giant's growing human rights liabilities around the world.
In Burma, the company's ties to the military junta carrying out a brutal crackdown against peaceful street protests has brought international scorn. As a result of its recent take-over of Unocal, Chevron now owns the Yadana gas operation in Burma. Yadana is allowed to operate by a loophole in existing U.S. sanctions against the country, and has provided significant revenues to Burma's military regime.
Chevron's human rights liabilities are both financial but also to an even larger degree reputational, as Chevron is now the target of multiple grass roots campaigns asking it to withdraw from Burma, say experts in corporate governance.
Simon Billenness, Co-Chair of the US Campaign for Burma, said: "Having a positive brand image is vital for oil companies when searching for supplies in a tightening global market where average citizens have a greater say in investment policies. Chevron's deteriorating human rights image can easily put it at a competitive disadvantage."
In Ecuadorian courts, Chevron (formerly Texaco) is accused of intentionally dumping 18 billon gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest during the 28 years (1964 to 1992) it operated an oil concession there. Thousands of people are considered at risk of developing cancer, and four indigenous groups report they are on the verge of extinction in areas of the rainforest where Chevron operated.
A decision in the case is expected in 2008. Representatives of the tens of thousands of plaintiffs in the class action say they are seeking more than $10 billion in damages.
Chevron also faces a trial in U.S federal court in San Francisco on charges it paid Nigerian military and police personnel to fire weapons at villagers staging a protest at a Chevron oil platform in 1998, killing two. Nigerian villagers also charge the company with being complicit in an attack on two villages that left four others dead.
Unlike most oil companies, Chevron operates without an official human rights policy. A shareholder resolution calling for such a policy has been filed with the company for the last two years, but management has rejected it each time.
"By failing to develop an effective global human rights policy, Chevron is lagging behind most other large oil companies. Given the company's burgeoning human rights problems this might be a calculated effort to avoid being held to account," said Kevin Koenig, of environmental group Amazon Watch.
"It is astounding that the company has let the trials in Ecuador and Nigeria get as far as they have," added Koenig. "These are case studies in how not to handle human rights and environmental lawsuits. They represent a red alert to shareholders, of gross company mismanagement and the failure of basic corporate governance."
Marco Simons, of legal non-profit Earthrights International, which recently won a human rights settlement from Unocal regarding its Burmese operations, said: "Chevron's controversial stake in Burma is symptomatic of a general disregard for human rights around the globe. What were once minor distractions for the company in countries such as Ecuador, Nigeria, and now Burma, have evolved into sizable legal and public relations problems for Chevron that could start to affect the bottom line in multiple ways. While Chevron invests millions avoiding responsibility, people on the ground continue to suffer."