Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Notre Dame Law Professor Under Scrutiny for Accepting Chevron Funds to Attack Ecuadorian Villagers

17 September 2015 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

New York, NY – A Notre Dame “human rights” law professor has admitted Chevron is paying him to publicly attack Ecuadorian villagers and their lawyers who won a historic $10 billion judgment against the company in Ecuador, according to an analysis published by representatives of the affected communities.

The analysis, which appeared here on The Chevron Pit, criticized Professor Douglas Cassel for being an example of “corruption in academia” and said he was violating Notre Dame’s conflict of interest policy and compromising the university’s academic integrity by not being transparent about his financial relationship with Chevron.  It also called on the Notre Dame faculty to determine whether Cassel is violating university policy.

 “It is pretty clear that Cassel is allowing himself to play a central role in a classic oil industry subterfuge,” the analysis said. “Since the corporation (Chevron) that dumped billions of gallons of oil waste into the rainforest has no credibility, it tries to enlist a third party academic to launder its agitprop.

“It is another example of how Chevron tries to use money to corrupt institutions, whether they be courts or universities,” it added.

Cassel, who teaches international human rights law, admitted he is being paid by Chevron after he came under furious criticism on various legal blogs for trying to defend the company’s litigation strategy.  The villagers have demonstrated that many of his writings on the case are rife with factual distortions and other shortcomings of scholarship and generally parrot the company’s legal filings, as this detailed critique points out.  Cassel never commented on the long-running case, considered one of the most significant environmental and human rights litigations ever, until Chevron began to pay him. 

Cassel, who often downplays his relationship with Chevron by calling himself an “independent” consultant, has refused requests to disclose how much his client is paying him or whether he allows the company to edit or review his posts prior to publication.  These disclosures must be made so his credibility can be assessed by his students, peers in academia, and the general public, said Julio Prieto, a lawyer for the Ecuadorian villagers.

“If a professor is inclined to let himself be used by a giant oil company trying to evade the rule of the law, he should at least disclose the details of the financial relationship to his students and fellow faculty so his credibility can be properly assessed,” said Prieto.  “It is disturbing that any law school would allow one of its faculty members to engage in acts that appear to compromise the academic integrity of the university and the objectivity of the professor’s scholarship.”

Cassel’s posts generally are based on Chevron’s public relations talking points rather than independent research, said Prieto. 

Chevron has a history of trying to use third-party academics to “launder” company talking points as part of a broad corporate campaign to undermine the Ecuador judgment, which is based on extensive scientific evidence including more than 100 technical evidentiary reports, according to the analysis.  The company previously enlisted a global warming skeptic and a former lobbyist for the Texas chemical industry as “academics” to advocate its position on the Ecuador matter, but both left the case after their backgrounds were exposed.  (See here and here.)

Ecuador’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2013 that Chevron (operating as Texaco) deliberately discharged billions of gallons of toxic waste into the country’s rainforest in the 1970s and 1980s, causing an outbreak of cancer and decimating indigenous groups. The original case was filed in 1993 in New York but moved to Ecuador at Chevron’s request after the company agreed to jurisdiction there.  When Chevron began to lose the case in its preferred forum of Ecuador, the company stripped its assets from the country, refused to pay the judgment, and began to attack the villagers in the United States by claiming the entire was “sham” litigation. 

(For a summary of the overwhelming evidence against Chevron in the Ecuador trial, see here.  For a summary of Chevron’s attempts to sabotage and corrupt the proceedings in Ecuador – including bribery of witnesses and falsification of evidence -- see this sworn affidavit and these videos that show scientists trying to hide evidence of pollution.  For a 60 Minutes segment documenting Chevron’s toxic dumping in Ecuador, see here.)

Just last week, Canada’s Supreme Court issued a groundbreaking ruling allowing the Ecuadorians to try to seize Chevron’s assets in that country to force compliance with the Ecuador judgment.  See here for background. 

After explaining other examples of Chevron’s undisclosed payments to academics in the case, the legal team’s analysis said that the company’s “lineage with low-grade ‘academics’ reflects poorly on both Cassel’s personal ethics and those of Notre Dame’s reputable law school.” 

“Notre Dame should not be letting Cassel trade on its credibility to sell his own soul, and by extension the university’s, to a corporate human rights abuser – particularly when there is no real transparency about the amount of money changing hands and the conditions placed by the company on any ‘research’ for publication,” the analysis asserted.

“While Cassel reaps cash for the arrangement, Notre Dame must pay a high cost via its harmed reputation and compromised academic integrity,” it added.  “Cassel’s spectacle is made worse by the fact Notre Dame expressly states that its mission is to help combat poverty, oppression and injustice – the very life conditions forced on thousands of indigenous persons and farmers in Ecuador by the irresponsible operating practices of Cassel’s client.” 

As part of its investigation, the analysis called on Notre Dame to require Cassel to disclose any and all of his written agreements with Chevron and any email correspondence between the professor and company officials.

“It would be interesting to know how much [Cassel] charges to compromise his personal ethics, the ideals of the human rights movement, and the academic integrity of a university,” concluded the analysis. 

Recently, after his relationship with Chevron was exposed, Cassel removed all of his Chevron-paid writings from his silo on the university’s official website and placed them on an independent site he appears to have constructed to house his work for the oil company.