Friday, January 23, 2015

In Davos, Chevron Crowned Worst Corporation of the Year for Ecuador Disaster

Chevron's battered image over its Ecuador disaster has taken another big hit -- this time in Davos in front of the world's political and policy elite attending the World Economic Forum. That's where Chevron CEO John Watson was crowned today with the humiliating Public Eye award given annually to the world's worst corporation.

Actually, Chevron won the Public Eye award way back in 2006 for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways in Ecuador, decimating five indigenous groups and causing a severe outbreak of cancer and other oil-related diseases. It is a powerful illustration of Chevron's warped culture that almost ten years later the same company wins the same award for the same atrocious conduct.

This year, Public Eye upped the ante by giving Chevron a "lifetime achievement" honor for its continued refusal to clean up its toxic pollution in the South American nation despire various court orders that it do so. (Chevron operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992 under the Texaco brand.)

According to a press release published today by the American environmental group Amazon Watch:

Prominent Swiss environmental organizations have crowned Chevron with an embarrassing "lifetime achievement" award for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into streams and rivers in Ecuador's rainforest relied on by local indigenous communities for their water.

Several independent health evaluations submitted to courts have confirmed high rates of childhood leukemia and other cancers in the area where Chevron operated.  More than 2,000 people are estimated to have died from cancer with another 10,000 currently at risk of contracting cancer because of continued exposure to carcinogenic chemicals in surface waters, groundwater, food, and in the air.

"Chevron is a recidivist toxic polluter that deserves condemnation from the world community for its horrific acts against the vulnerable indigenous peoples of Ecuador," said Paul Paz y Mino, of the U.S.-based environmental and human rights group Amazon Watch.

The full copy of the Amazon Watch press release can be read here.

Chevron beat out several competitors for what is surely seen inside corporate headquarters as an unwanted accolade. Those challenging it included Goldman Sachs, Dow Chemical, and Gazprom. Open voting took place on the internet.

In a sign of the growing support around the world for the indigenous communities in Ecuador, Chevron received more than twice as many votes as the second-place finisher. Just a few months ago, citizens from 20 countries on five continents organized a day of protest against the oil giant's failure to adhere to basic environmental standards in the communities where it operates.

We of course are all too familiar with Chevron's questionable conduct in destroying a large swath of Ecuador's Amazon. The company not only deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the forest, it has fought for years to evade paying a court-ordered $9.5 billion judgment that it clean up its mess. Locals call the disaster the Amazon Chernobyl.

As Amazon Watch pointed out in its press release, Chevron has engaged in what is likely the most well-funded corporate retaliation campaign in history. It has admitted using at least 60 law firms and 2,000 lawyers to attack and try to silence those who have held it accountable.

Those targeted by Chevron with harrassing lawsuits include community leaders, their lawyers and financial supporters, environmental activists, bloggers who expose Chevron's bad acts, and even ]Chevron's own shareholders who have questioned company management over its strategy.

In a further sign of Watson's eroding credibility, Chevron's management team doesn't seem to have gotten much in return for spending large wads of shareholder cash to go after its perceived enemies.

Nine separate judges in Chevron's chosen forum of Ecuador reviewed the evidence and affirmed the company's liability. That was after top Chevron executive Rodrigo Perez Pallares admitted during trial that the company dumped billions of gallons of benzene-laden toxic waste into streams and rivers.

There's also the little problem for Chevron of the 105 technical expert reports submitted to the court that demonstrate extensive toxic contamination at 100% of the company's former well sites. Not to mention the additional problem of the videotapes of Chevron's technical workers secretly pre-inspecting waste sites to try to figure out ways to hide the contamination from the court.

As Amazon Watch underscored, Chevron fought for years to move the lawsuit from U.S. federal court to Ecuador where it though it could engineer a quick dismissal. The company even worked with U.S. embassy officials in Quito to craft a package of "debt relief" for Ecuador's President with the hope that he would quash the legal claims of the country's citizens.

When that plot failed, the company simply stripped its assets from the country and high-tailed it back to the United States.

Again, from Amazon Watch:

When the evidence against it mounted in the ensuing trial in Ecuador, Chevron stripped its assets from Ecuador and then went back on its word and began to attack the very courts it had previously praised.  Chevron also returned to the same U.S. court where it blocked the original lawsuit and filed a civil racketeering case against indigenous leaders and their lawyers.

Chevron's sale of its assets in Ecuador forced the communities to try to seize company assets in jurisdictions such as Canada to force it to comply with the Ecuador court order. But Chevron is now arguing its assets in Canada should be immunized from judgment because they are held in wholly-owned subsidiaries, even though 100% of the profits from those subsidiaries flow to Chevron shareholders.

By engaging in a jurisdictional shell game with courts around the world, Chevron is accelerating the death and suffering of untold numbers of people in Ecuador due its shoddy operational practices and refusal to abide by court orders. Judges must ensure that these Chevron games stop once and for all.

Congratulations to the Swiss environmental organizations for their decision. We cannot think of a more deserving recipient than Chevron for Public Eye's award.

(For more background on Chevron's human rights violations in Ecuador, see this summary of the evidence, this article in Rolling Stone magazine, and this video.)