Update from Chevron's Annual Shareholder Meeting,
April 26, 2006
On April 26th, Amnesty International USA joined a delegation of concerned shareholders and activists at the Chevron Corporation annual stockholder meeting in Houston, Texas, to demand the company address its human rights responsibilities in Ecuador's Amazon and the Niger Delta. The delegation on Ecuador included Emergildo Criollo, a leader from the Cofan tribe in Ecuador and Rita Maldonado, a Guanta community member, as well as representatives from Amazon Watch, and Steven Donziger, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the Ecuador lawsuit Chevron is currently facing. Joining us to raise concerns about Nigeria were acclaimed Nigerian environmentalist Oronto Douglas, and representatives from Corporate Accountability International.
The day started at 7am, when protestors gathered for a demonstration in front of Chevron's downtown Houston office building where the meeting was being held. As shareholders entered the meeting, about 25 activists raised their voices in protest, many wearing contamination suits and displaying "contaminated" water from the Amazon. In addition to the demo at the meeting, AI activists up the western coast also held protests in San Ramon at the company's headquarters, as well as in Sacramento, San Francisco, and Berkeley.
Meanwhile, inside the stockholders' meeting, Chevron began with review of their success –including 14.1 billion dollars net income – before moving on to vote on shareholder resolutions. Chevron recommended that shareholders vote against all the resolutions our delegation supported, including the resolution co-filed by Amnesty on Ecuador, and another resolution calling on the company to establish a comprehensive human rights policy.
According to Suha Dabbouseh, AIUSA Texas Field Organizer, who represented Amnesty at the meeting, Chevron CEO David O'Reilly responded to the Ecuador resolution by saying, "We cleaned up what we were supposed to clean up." Speaking to the Ecuadorians present at the meeting he added, "Your problem is with your government and local oil companies." Those claims were systematically challenged in several statements and questions made by members of our delegation during the meeting.
According to an Amazon Watch press statement, Mr. Criollo, who had spent several days traveling from his rainforest home by foot, canoe, bus and plane to be at the shareholder meeting, told O'Reilly: "The activities of Chevron have put the survival of our culture, our language, and our people at grave risk. Do you want our tribe to die off? I am here to ask you to live up to your ethical responsibilities and clean up the contamination that is destroying my people."
Rita Maldonado, who had traveled a similar distance, also spoke at the meeting, telling Chevron shareholders and executives: "Texaco left us toxic waste pits that have contaminated our water and our soil." O'Reilly did not respond directly to either Emergildo or Rita.In the question and answer session, Suha spoke on behalf of Amnesty. Speakers were allotted 3 minutes each to speak in support or against a resolution. Our delegation and partner members divided ourselves on each side of the two microphones.
At the beginning of the Q and A session, CEO O'Reilly extended the time for Emergildo Criollo. However, after Mark Quarles, spoke; O'Reilly tried to stop discussion on Chevron's responsibilities in Ecuador and asked, like last year, that no one else speak on the topic. Quarles is a representative with E-Tech International, a leading environmetal remediation firm working to debunk the toxicology and scientific reports by Chevron.
Based on our experience at the Chevron meeting last year, we knew there was a chance that O'Reilly would refuse questions on Ecuador, so we prepared a question on Nigeria, to ensure that shareholders would hear about the broad range of human rights issues Chevron is facing.
Before our question, Oronto Douglas, a lawyer involved in suits charging Chevron with complicity in human rights abuses by the Nigerian government, took the floor to ask Chevron how it would address such violations, as well as the severe pollution caused by gas flaring.
O'Reilly acknowledged serious problems in the impoverished areas of Nigeria where Chevron produces oil but said the government must lay the groundwork for solutions. Chevron "can play a contributing role," he said. "First, we need peace and security."
Read Activists Protest Chevron Meeting: Environmentalists, human rights workers pepper shareholders with criticism over issues in Ecuador and Nigeria by Rick Jurgens in the Contra Costa Times.
Suha intended to preface her question by mentioning that Amnesty had co-filed the Ecuador resolution and was deeply discouraged that despite another year passing, Chevron had still taken no steps to address the concerns of the Ecuadorian communities. But as soon as the word "Ecuador" crossed her lips, she was interrupted by O'Reilly stating, "I asked for something other than Ecuador." Suha replied, "I have my 3 minutes," and he retorted, "Not if it's about Ecuador." But Suha stood her ground, insisting that her question was not about Ecuador. Allowed to continue she stated,
"...today our question is not about Ecuador. It is about another extremely serious incident in the Niger Delta for which Chevron has refused to take their human rights responsibilities seriously – failing to implement the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights. Avoiding conflict with local communities is a basic first step for Chevron. But despite having had 5 years to get it done, Chevron has made a mockery of the Principles process, effectively doing nothing while your competitors appear to be taking concrete steps. Amnesty International released a report detailing Chevron's failures in Nigeria and describing how the company risks being complicit in human rights violations by their security forces, which we shared with Chevron's leadership nearly 6 months ago. These issues seriously affect the company's credibility and reputation, and open up Chevron to significant risks in countries around the world, where security is an issue. Increasingly, that is nearly everywhere Chevron operates.
So my question is this: Since the violent incident occurred at Escravos Terminal last year, what have you done to ensure that you are fully upholding the commitments you made as part of the Voluntary Principles process, keeping pace with your competitors in efforts to ensure that similar events are prevented in the future and Chevron is never complicit in human rights abuses by security forces?
As she finished reading her question, Suha noticed that Rita Maldonado, the Guanta community member who had traveled so many miles to attend, still had not had a chance to ask her question.
Rather than wait for a response from O'Reilly, Suha instead pleaded for him to allow Rita her chance to ask a question. O'Reilly relented, and permitted Rita to take the microphone. Rather than speak, Rita stood silent for about 2 minutes, creating a powerful moment of reflection. Immediately after, O'Reilly adjourned the meeting.
In the end, we garnered 8.37% on the Ecuador resolution and 25% on the human rights policy resolution. Though these results may seem small, they are significant:
- Securities and Exchange Commission rules allow for resolutions to be reintroduced if they attain at least 3% of the vote the first year; 6% the second, and 10% the third. This means we have passed the milestone by a long shot on the human rights policy resolution (in fact 25% is a near record at Chevron for a resolution of this kind!).
- Though 8.37% is not enough for us to be able to re-file the Ecuador resolution next year, it still represents a lot of investors when you start talking about dollars. Major institutional shareholders backed us, such as the New York public pension funds, and that makes management sit up and take notice.
- Regardless of the vote, every board member and shareholder present had no choice but to listen to the powerful remarks made by our delegation, and to reflect on them while the victims of Chevron's irresponsible business practices stood before them. It takes a lot of courage to stand up before one of the most powerful oil companies on the planet and draw attention to their failures. But Emergildo, Rita and Oronto did just that, and we are sure it is something that Chevron's management, and shareholders won't soon forget.
Our task now is to get more creative with the ways we pressure the company in the coming year. Amnesty is looking into filing new human rights resolution next year and will continue our efforts to bring additional influential shareholders to our side. You can help with that effort by joining our SHARE POWER Campaign. Most importantly, we must boost our direct action efforts targeting the company. Over the coming year we will be calling on Corporate Action Network members and other concerned consumers and activists to take our Chevron activism to the next level. We need to do more public education, more demonstrations, write more letters and send more faxes. Unfortunately, Emergildo, Rita and Oronto cannot be at every Chevron event. But with your help, Amnesty can have a presence whenever Chevron is in the public sphere, whether they are trying to recruit new employees at your school or university or making a speech about corporate responsibility. We can be there to share stories from the activists and community members who are on the ground dealing with Chevron everyday, and we can make sure the public knows the full truth about Chevron.
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Earth Day Events Feature Chevron's Toxic Legacy in Ecuador
Earth Day, April 22, fell just a few days before the Chevron annual meeting, and many CAN members also attended Earth Day events where they tabled with petitions to Chevron asking the company to clean up Ecuador. Do you have photos or a story from an Earth Day Event that you'd like to share?
Send them to [email protected]
50 local children "signed" the Chevron petition by tracing their hands - the local Pasadena group sent the petitions to Chevron's headquarters in advance of the shareholder meeting. Photo: CAN Member Joyce Wolfe