"Systemic" Human Rights Abuses Dominate Chevron Annual General Meeting, Casting Shadow over CEO and Record Profits
Chevron's Victims from Burma, Ecuador and Nigeria Confront CEO David O’Reilly at Shareholder Meeting
28 May 2008 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
B-Roll and photos of Ecuador pollution and today's protests available upon request.
San Ramon - In a dramatic face-to-face showdown at Chevron's annual general meeting, victims of the company's grave human rights abuses from three continents today told shareholders and senior executives that the oil major must live up to its corporate rhetoric on human rights and the environment, and also take decisive action to make amends to the communities it has devastated.
Community representatives from Burma, Ecuador and Nigeria traveled for days to participate in the meeting as proxy shareholders, calling on Chevron CEO David O'Reilly to stop hiding behind lawyers and PR misinformation, and to recognize and rectify the suffering the company has caused.
In Burma, revenues from a Chevron pipeline props up the repressive military dictatorship while pipeline security forces have been accused of murder, rape and forced labor. In Ecuador, the company is facing a potential $16 billion damages payout for dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater and leaving local communities to suffer a wave of cancers. In Nigeria, Chevron is accused of massive environmental contamination and having soldiers shoot and kill peaceful protestors.
Mr. O'Reilly's response today was to deny any wrongdoing by Chevron and instead blame the victims.
Mercedes Jaramillo, who had traveled by days from her home on a former Texaco oil concession in the Ecuadorian Amazon, had her microphone turned off by Mr. O'Reilly who claimed, inaccurately, that Texaco had cleaned up the area, and attempted to blame Ecuadorian company PetroEcuador, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the pollution in the area was caused by Texaco, which only handed over the concession to PetroEcuador once it was largely exhausted. Ms. Jaramillo is disfigured by a skin ailment doctors have been unable to diagnose.
Atossa Soltani, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, a US environmental group working on the Ecuador case, then told the meeting that Ms. Jaramillo, who lives on a former site supposedly "remediated" by Chevron, had wanted to say that her skin condition covers most of her body. Ms. Soltani then asked Mr. O'Reilly how he wants the legacy of his reign at Chevron to be remembered. "Chevron was the sole operator," she added, noting that Chevron designed, constructed and operated the outdated technology that caused devastating toxic contamination in Ecuador.
Larry Bowoto, who was shot multiple times by Nigerian soldiers flown in by Chevron to stop a peaceful protest against the company's devastation of wetlands on which local communities depend, told the meeting survivors of the notorious 1998 shooting in the Niger Delta had been tortured by police. "We were unarmed," he said. "We were there to protest the loss of our fish, our clean drinking water and our food trees."
Mr. O'Reilly responded by calling Mr. Bowoto, who has never faced an legal proceedings arising from the incident and is now a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Chevron due to be heard in Federal Court in San Francisco in September, a "criminal".
The controversy appeared to cause growing unrest among the shareholders, several of whom asked Mr. O'Reilly and the other executives why Chevron was failing to behave like a "better corporate citizen" and put these human rights abuses behind it, thus allowing the company's reputation and brand to continue to be tarnished.
Concern about Chevron's apparent disregard for human rights has now also spilled over to Chevron's San Ramon staff. A source within the company has said employees at San Ramon are increasingly preoccupied by the constant flow of negative news, particularly from Ecuador, and are waiting for CEO David O'Reilly to show leadership on the issue.
Meanwhile, outside the meeting, more than 75 protestors donned full-body haz-mat suits and brooms in a public "clean-up" display highlighting the grave human rights and environmental violations which they say are systemic and rooted in inadequate governance at Chevron's global headquarters in San Ramon.
Emergildo Criollo, an indigenous leader from Ecuador whose two children died after drinking contaminated water and whose wife has suffered uterine cancer, and who was also prevented from finishing his question by Mr. O'Reilly, said: "I felt ashamed and embarrassed for Chevron after they cut me off. They wouldn't even hear my voice."
And Omeyele Sowore, a Nigerian human rights campaigner, accused Mr. O'Reilly of being a self-appointed "sheriff", insulting innocent people rather than listening to their serious grievances. Ms. Soltani added: "He is enjoying a $19 billion profit and we are here to remind him that there is a human toll, which his company must address. These issues are not going away and neither are we, unless and until Chevron makes amends to the families and communities it has devastated."
Investors owning more than $12 billion of Chevron shares supported a resolution filed by New York City's public pension funds, one of the largest institutional investors in the US, calling on management to explain how it assesses human rights protections in countries where it operates. The resolution thus passed the threshold needed for it be re-submitted next year.
Pat Doherty, New York City's Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, called for an independent human rights review by the Board of Directors. He told the meeting: "As long-term investors we are concerned that potentially serious liabilities such as these arising from the company's international operations run the risk of depressing long-term shareholder value. We are concerned that the company may not be properly evaluating potential environmental and human rights risks in its international operations."
Today's confrontation comes two months after Chevron was hit with a damages assessment of between $7 billion and $16 billion in a landmark class-action environmental lawsuit in Ecuador - potentially the largest judgment in civil court history - and after a U.S. federal judge in San Francisco ordered the company to stand trial in September over the Nigerian slayings.
Meanwhile, members of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, including Tom Ammiano, Ross Mirkarimi, and Chris Daly, are filing a resolution that condemns "...Chevron Corporation for a systematic pattern of socially irresponsible activities and complicity in human rights violations that is at odds with the values of the citizens of San Francisco, and at odds with the standards of ethical conduct those citizens expect from corporations based in the Bay Area, in our own communities as well as abroad."
The main human rights issues include:
Nigeria: Security forces flown in and closely supervised by Chevron Nigeria shot nonviolent environmental protestors in an infamous case that will be the focus of two trials in San Francisco later this year. Two people died, several others were injured and some survivors of the attack were then tortured in a Nigerian jail. One decade after the incident, and after years of legal wrangling in American courts, Chevron management has yet to compensate the families of those killed and injured or resolve the original issues raised by the community.
Burma: Chevron's Yadana pipeline has provided revenues that have propped up the country's repressive military dictatorship, while security forces guarding the pipeline have been accused of rape, murder and forced labor. The pipeline has also had significant direct and indirect environmental impacts on the Tenassirm region, one of the largest surviving tracts of tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia, including illegal logging, fishing and poaching. Meanwhile, the pipeline has exacerbated the human rights abuses perpetrated by Burmese security forces against the region's Mon, Karen and Tavoyans indigenous peoples. Naw Musi, a Karen woman who lives in exile, attended the shareholder's meeting.
Ecuador: Chevron is accused of causing the most extensive oil-related contamination on the planet. Chevron had admitted to deliberately dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways and abandoning almost 1,000 open-air toxic waste pits, leading to the decimation of indigenous groups. A court-appointed special master recently found 428 deaths from cancer in the region related to Chevron's oil operations. In addition, community leaders heading the lawsuit have been subject to death threats, office break-ins, and assaults that have resulted in protective measures being ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
United States: In Richmond, in the East Bay, 35,000 families live in the shadow of a Chevron refinery that spewed out three million pounds of contaminants during the last three years. Existing pollution from Chevron already causes premature death, cancer, and other health ailments. Richmond asthma rates are 5 times the state level. Now Chevron wants to expand the refinery, allowing it to process both more and dirtier crude oil, despite overwhelming opposition from local residents. Most of the people who live in the area are minorities, leading to charges of environmental racism.