Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Multinational Oil Company: the Real Victim?

Chevron is looking for something new from America: sympathy. According to a blog following Latin American issues – The Latin Americanist – Chevron has issued a new press release claiming that the company is the true victim in the long-running dispute between it and 30,000 indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest region. Forget the fact that the people in the area are living in conditions similar to a toxic waste dump after more than 25 years of shoddy and unsafe oil drilling. And forget the fact that the people are dealing with a huge health impact from incredibly high cancer rates. And forget the fact that Chevron abandoned its responsibility to clean up the toxic waste it left behind. No, Chevron, a company that just booked a record $23.8 billion profit in 2008, is the victim – because the court-appointed independent expert thinks that it may cost $27 billion to repair the damage that the company left behind.

This isn't the first time Chevron has played this card. They first tried claiming they were the victim after two of the organizers for the plaintiffs – Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo – won the Goldman Award (basically the Nobel Prize for the environmental industry). And it didn't fly anymore than then it does now. Sourcewatch captured some of the public reaction to the last time chevron tried to play victim:

"For shame! Caught red handed perpetrating one of the worst environmental disasters in history, Chevron now goes on the offensive, calling itself the "victim" and blaming everybody but itself: the Ecuadoran government and courts, the indigenous people themselves, other oil companies, and "trial lawyers" (an irony for a hatchet job written by the company's general counsel, who oversees a huge litigation budget),"

"Scapegoating activists who won an international prize for pointing out the pollution you swept under your rugs and stacked in your closets is poor form and unworthy of the company your advertising insists you are,"

"Public relations can save you for the moment but you will end up as just another chapter in the history books of Corporate Criminality. Hope your grandchildren are better than you are."

But this reaction didn't stop Chevron from claiming that it was a victim again, this time whining that the court-appointed expert, Prof. Richard Cabrera, was unfair because his report found that the evidence supported what the plaintiffs were alleging. Chevron's infamous chief lawyer Charles James even has the gall to say that Cabrera has an "undeniable disdain for science." Pretty rich coming from a guy who hires the scientists who did the Tobacco industry stuff as his main advisors (Exponent Consulting is an infamous "product defense" science and engineering firm – but more on this another day). Not to mention the fact that Cabrera, the 14 other scientists on his team, the university where he is a tenured professor of geology, the 10 American scientists who have reviewed and confirmed the findings of the report, and the Court itself, may take issue with James' assertions that he has a disdain for science.

It seems clear that Chevron has taken the tact that anyone who thinks they did anything wrong in Ecuador is victimizing them – no matter how much evidence they have backing them up.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chevron Bribing Becomes SOP?

We've written before about Chevron's willingness to jump into the bribing business, where expedient, paying soldiers, auditors, etc. But now it appears this is just becoming a day-to-day thing for the company. According to the Asia Times, Chevron has refused to disclose how much the company paid officials in Cambodia to secure the rights to drill in the area.

''[Chevron has] yet to respond to our detailed questions in a letter written to the company in October 2008,'' said Gavin Hayman, campaigns director for Global Witness (GW), a London-based anti-corruption watchdog. ''It is not in favor of supplying information about what it pays foreign governments to secure rights for oil exploration.''

Chevron's attitude towards disclosure ''will be telling'', he said in an interview, since revelations could help measure the scale of ''under-the-table payments'' involved in a country where a small and powerful elite has ''captured the country's emerging oil and mineral sectors'' for personal gain.

According to the article, Cambodia lacks a well-functioning anti-corruption regime and is susceptible to "the powerful few filling their personal coffers" from the extractive industry. This is a perfect situation for Chevron and is very reminiscent of Ecuador circa 1964 or so. After all, the company has already been awarded part of the mining contract, with oil to start flowing in 2011 to the tune of $174 million annually, with oil production probably reaching $1.7 billion annually at its peak.

Hey Cambodia, be careful – I know this oil deal-with-the-devil thing seems like a good idea now, but you may want to take a look at how this same dance worked out for Burma, Ecuador and Nigeria. You may figure out that you don't want to be dealing with cancer, human rights violations, and the wholesale destruction of your country 20 years down the line.

Just a thought.

Monday, February 9, 2009

WTF is going on? Is Chevron just evil?

News out of San Francisco today: Chevron, which posted a record profit of $23.8 billion in 2008 is suing a group of Nigerian villagers for almost $500,000 in legal costs resulting from a embarrassing legal case (Bowoto v. Chevron) that Chevron narrowly survived this past November. This was the legal case in which a group of unarmed Nigerian villagers were shot and killed during the oil-derrick version of a sit-in protest. The villagers sought to hold Chevron responsible since it paid for, housed, fed, and directed the Nigerian military forces who shot the protestors. While Chevron prevailed during the trial, the entire episode was seen as a public relations disaster as a high-profile human rights trial took place just miles from Chevron's San Ramon, CA headquarters, further tarnishing Chevron's already shoddy image. Take a look at Dan Firger's blog on the Huffington Post - Landmark Human Rights Trial Bowoto v. Chevron Set To Begin October 27 for a short recap.

Well, now Chevron has added insult to injury, seeking $500,000 from the villagers who sued the company. So, people on Chevron's payroll literally shot the villagers, and now Chevron wants the villagers to pay the corporation for daring to take the company to trial over the shootings. Now, I don't have a ton of experience in this area, but I was always of the mindset that if you shoot someone its bad form to ask them to pay for the bullet. I mean damn, is Dick Cheney running Chevron now? Who shoots someone and then tries to make them pay for the fact that you shot them? And even Cheney only made his friend apologize for getting shot...I mean, this just reeks of heartless evil. According to the L.A. Times:

Laura Livoti, founder of Bay Area-based Justice in Nigeria Now, said the $485,000 sought by Chevron, California's largest company, would constitute a fortune for the Nigerians. That sum would be enough to sustain at least four villages in the Niger Delta for a year, she said.

"Chevron's attempt to squeeze nearly half a million dollars out of poor villagers who don't even have access to clean drinking water and who had wanted jobs with the company is a dramatic illustration of Chevron's heartlessness," she said.

In its claim, Chevron is seeking reimbursement from 19 plaintiffs and 30 former plaintiffs who dropped out of the case before it went to trial. At least a dozen of those named are children, Livoti said.

So this is perfect: Chevron is now suing children for enough money to support their entire village (and their neighbors!) for an entire year. Suing children? What, were all the puppies and kittens already claimed by Halliburton? I mean, this is getting almost comic book supervillain-y - with the lawsuits against children after Chevron shot their parents - did Lex Luthor take over this company?

And it's not like Chevron needs the money. Chevron made $23.8 billion profit last year. That means Chevron was making $65.2 million per day, $2.7 million per hour, and $45,251.56 per minute. At that rate it would take Chevron all of 10.72 minutes to make the $485,000 they're suing the villagers for. And these numbers are based on Chevron's profits, not their revenues, even though the $485,000 Chevron is seeking would all be tax-deductible business expenses anyway, meaning it would probably take the company about 5 minutes to generate that revenue. But Chevron isn't one to pass up an opportunity to sue children and the downtrodden, so here we are.

Even if you buy Chevron's argument that they're just trying to dissuade future lawsuits like the Bowoto case, the whole idea of suing Nigerian villagers and children is just horrible. Don't they have a single public relations professional in San Ramon? I have to imagine that a company posting $23.8b profits can afford to hire someone who is savvy enough to say "um guys, maybe we shouldn't shoot unarmed and impoverished villagers. And if we do, let's just sort of pretend it didn't happen, say we're sorry and we didn't mean to and hope the bad p.r. goes away – let's not go sue the people we shot for more money than any of them will ever make in their lifetimes. Ok guys? Because it looks really bad when a company making billions and billions of dollars is suing poor people because they stood up to us. Ok? And, by the way, can someone open a window? It's beginning to smell like sulfur in here again…"

But I guess no one in Chevron cares. Or maybe they just can't see the folly of their actions through all the smoke from the fire and brimstone filling up their big offices.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Director of Crude Points Out Lies

Interesting letter to the editor in today's Washington Times. Apparently filmmaker Joe Berlinger wasn't thrilled with Chevron's misinformation about the production of the documentary. Read on:

In his article about the ongoing legal battle against Chevron Corp. in the Ecuadorean Amazon ("Chevron urges U.S. to revoke Ecuador trade," Nation, Thursday), Tom LoBianco mentions that Chevron "has been bombarded with negative stories surrounding the lawsuit and is the target of a new documentary produced in part by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit." I assume that the documentary Mr. LoBianco refers to is my film "Crude," which premiered to great critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival last month. Contrary to your article, "Crude" was in no way produced by the plaintiffs or anyone affiliated with either side of the lawsuit. The film is a wholly independent production and was made with the cooperation of representatives of both the plaintiffs and Chevron, including Kent Robertson, the Chevron spokesperson quoted in Mr. LoBianco's article. In fact, I invited Kent Robertson to participate in the film's premiere in Park City, Utah - which was attended by the festival's founder, Robert Redford - but Mr. Robertson declined my invitation.

Making "Crude" was an intense, often grueling three-year process, and we worked extremely hard to ensure that the film presents an accurate portrayal of this highly controversial and complicated case. Following the screenings at Sundance, the film was widely praised by critics and journalists not only for its artistic merits, but also for its editorial balance and fairness to all sides of the lawsuit. For example, James Nelson of Agence France-Presse wrote, "Berlinger clearly knows about balance in covering an important issue." David Germain of Associated Press calls the film "a fairly balanced portrait of the case, with Chevron's side well represented."

To my knowledge, Mr. LoBianco has not yet seen the film, so his characterization of the film as a partisan attack on Chevron is troubling and makes me wonder where his information is coming from. Unlike my film, the writer of your article did not seem to think it was important to either see the film or to research the false claim of the film's partiality.


Director/producer, "Crude"

Hmmm. Looks like the Washington Times has egg on their face on this one. I bet they're not super thrilled with the Chevron PR guys right about now - looks like they trusted what this "Kent Robertson" told them about the production of the film and then they got burned.
I guess that's one newspaper that won't be rushing to do Chevron any favors anytime soon.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Great posting over at the DailyKos

Bob Zimway over at the DailyKos has posted a fantastic series of commentaries on Chevron's Amazon disaster. I think he summed up Chevron's plight quite well:

News: Chevron Faked Lab Results in Spill Trial

This news comes on the heels of two diaries I published in the last week, about the Chevron case, and about Yasuni National Park and Ecuador's new constitution.

The caca's really hitting the ventilidor for Big Oil. If this case goes against them, every third world country with a trans-national corporation drilling in its back yard has suddenly been dealt the upper hand.

I love it when a writer can be both snarky and accurate - if Chevron eats a $27 Billion judgment, such as they're facing in Ecuador, it will set a precedent that could lead to people all around the world suddenly having the right to sue companies for years of mistreatment. Suddenly we would be looking at a world where people who feel that they've been oppressed would actually have a way to fight back - they could go to court and try to prove their case, even if the company that destroyed their lands is far away. So, as Bob summed up so well, the caca is really hitting the ventilidor.

Good comment on the Washington Times Story

Oh yeah, also – I saw this comment on today's Washington Times story about Chevron in Ecuador. Thought it did a good job laying out the factual problems with the story.

Take a look:

The article clearly shows how weak Chevron has become in Washington. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce seems to be down about the company's prospects. That said, there is inaccurate information that needs to be clarified:

*The article reports that Chevron says the legal case was moved from U.S. court (where it was filed in 1993) to Ecuador at the request of the plaintiffs. This is incorrect. The case was moved to Ecuador at Chevron's request after the company submitted ten sworn affidavits from experts claiming the courts in Ecuador were fair. Aguinda v. Texaco, Inc., 142 F.Supp.2d 534 (S.D.N.Y.2001). Once the evidence started to show Chevron's culpability, the company began to claim the Ecuador courts it had previously praised as fair were suddenly unfair.

*The article indicates that the plaintiffs "produced" a documentary film (called Crude, by Emmy award-winning director Joe Berlinger). The plaintiffs had nothing to do with the production of the film, which was made independently.

*The article indicates that lawsuit was filed by only 50 Ecuadorean residents. These individuals, however, represent a class of 30,000 Ecuadorean residents. The damages are almost entirely for environmental clean-up of what many experts consider the worst oil-related contamination on earth – one that resulted from the dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest.

Chevron’s Washington Tricks Exposed

The Washington Times ran an article today exposing Chevron's strategy for dealing with their huge legal liability in Ecuador: try to get the U.S. government to force the government of Ecuador to sweep the case under the rug. Apparently, Chevron has decided that they can't win the lawsuit and so they're trying the good ol' extortion strategy: threaten Ecuador's economy to force the Ecuadorean government to kill the case. Basically, Chevron is trying desperately to get the U.S. to cancel (or not renew) the Andean Trade Preferences Act unless the Ecuadorean government forces the court system to dismiss the lawsuit. So much for corporate responsibility, the rule of law, or having your day in court: around here, if Chevron doesn't think they can win, they just try to cheat.

Thankfully, as the Washington Times article clearly illustrates, nobody is buying what Chevron is selling (well, other than oil and gas – the company had a record year last year, making over $24 billion in profit. Unfortunately, while they were making money hand over fist the contamination they left behind was just getting worse, and causing more people to get sick). The oil company already tried this political tactic once - and failed miserably, losing a huge lobbying battle in Washington and diminishing whatever credibility the company had in Washington. And this time, even Chevron's allies, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), aren't defending the company, distancing themselves from the company and saying that this tactic just isn't going to work.

So why is Chevron trying to get the U.S. government to strong-arm the Ecuadorean government for them? Well, it looks like they're just getting desperate. The Chevron officials admitted that they expect the Ecuadorean court hearing the case to "file a judgment against them on behalf of tens of thousands of Ecuadorean Indians." And since the best estimate of what that judgment will be is the $27 billion assessment of damages made by the independent expert appointed by the court in the case, it's no wonder that Chevron is starting to panic.