Wednesday, May 26, 2010

RAN’s Maria Ramos to Chevron CEO: You are Hiding the Truth about Egregious Human Rights and Environmental Abuses

Maria Ramos, the campaign organizer for the Rainforest Action Network's (RAN) "Change Chevron" campaign confronted Chevron CEO John Watson at the company's annual shareholder meeting in Houston today. While Chevron barred the majority of the individuals that were brought with various environmental groups, despite their having legal proxies, the company could not bar Ramos from being speaking during the meeting. Her comments are below.

Ramos' comments to the Board during the board re-election process:

I would like to echo outrage for disenfranchising legal shareholders from entering this meeting. These people have travelled from around the world from Angola, Nigeria, the Philippines, Ecuador, to speak about egregious human rights and environmental abuses. You are not letting shareholders hear the truth. That is not the Chevron way. I would like to speak directly to your nomination to the board Mr. Watson.

Highlighted as a qualification in the 2010 proxy statement for Mr. Watson's election to the Chairmanship of the Board of Directors of Chevron is Mr. Watson's role in leading Chevron's integration effort after its acquisition of Texaco Inc. Whether or not Mr. Watson's leadership in the merger with Texaco represents a qualification, or rather a poor lack of judgment is another question. Since taking the helm of Chevron, we have seen Mr. Watson continue to endorse this company's long running, expensive and dead-end strategy with respect to the dire situation in the Amazon -- a strategy which has cost both the company and the people of the Amazon dearly.

A particularly important question for shareholders is whether or not Mr. Watson, as architect of the Chevron-Texaco merger, adequately vetted Texaco before purchasing the company in 2001 for $31 billion -- a sum which is just $4 billion more than its current financial exposure in the Ecuador lawsuit. It strikes us that Chevron's management overpaid for Texaco by billions of dollars and thereby diminished shareholder value through its own negligence.

And an even more important and urgent question is -- given the position that Chevron is in, with the cloud of Ecuador threatening its stock price, and causing grave political and reputational risk -- are you Mr. Watson ready to take charge of this company, put an end to the days where lawyers and public relations officials are running the show, and come to an honest, fair, and equitable resolution with the people of Ecuador?

Mr. Watson, the question to you is if you have the courage to change Chevron?

Ramos' comments seconding the shareholder resolution requiring that at least one board member have "significant" environmental experience:

Maria Ramos again with Rainforest Action Network. I would like to second Stockholder proposal regarding the appointment of an independent director with environmental expertise - Item #4 on the proxy card.

It is disconcerting that your board has recommended a No vote on this proposal - by just looking around this room and having seen the protest outside and the many people from around the world who were not allowed in with legal proxies - it is clear that Chevron's track record is riddled with environmental abuses. It is neither some mass global conspiracy nor coincidence that has brought people from as far as Nigeria, Australia, Angola, Ecuador, Alaska Canada and Richmond California - all with accounts of environmental pollution, all supported by a broad body of evidence. The California Air Resources Board has found Chevron's Richmond refinery to be the biggest single source polluter in the state. Chevron blatantly continues the illegal practice of gas flaring in the Niger Delta. And in Ecuador, Chevron is on trial for widespread oil contamination, facing a possible $27 billion liability. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced his office would be launching inquiry to determine if the company is misleading shareholders over its Ecuador liability - this at the request of New York shareholders.

Shareholders should know that this proposal has received high level of support from investors, representing billions in Chevron stock - including the support of RiskMetrics - because there is a broad concern that Chevron's board has failed to comply with their governance obligations and has failed to address serious environmental risks.

On the Ecuador case: there is no evidence that Chevron board members ever visited Ecuador to understand the potential environmental liability. There is no evidence that Chevron board members have vetted the company's Ecuador liability independent of senior management.

Why the board would not want to better position Chevron to deal with the profound environmental challenges that the company is facing is troubling. The board's negative response to the proposal -- citing that board members should not be selected on the basis of a single criterion - is myopic, when faced with an onslaught of legal and public relations debacle. The board's negative response citing that the board already includes directors with experience on environmental matters -- well, If Chevron believes it already has this level and caliber of expertise, then shareholders should be told now - who that is, and what makes them experienced.

Some of the members of Chevron's board of directors have been on the board for 2, 3 decades -- Mr. Armacost, Chair of the Governance Committee has been on the board for 29 years. And I want to direct my comments to you -- it's a different world from when many of you started your positions on the board. The public's environmental values are deepening, their support for companies to take responsible action is growing.

Chevron is an oil company. It is inconceivable -- even as the oil spill off the Gulf is fresh on the mind -- that the board would not deem it important for an oil company to have adequate environmental oversight. It's only sensible to vote in favor of this proposal.