Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chevron throws book at shareholder activist... I mean, shareholder activists

UPDATE [~6 hrs after I published the post below]:
The Wall Street Journal has picked up the story, though under a headline with a very different tone: 'Activist Faces Charges in Chevron Meeting Outburst.' At the same time, MarketWatch has a new, longer version of the story up that still omits the fact that Chevron barred 20 valid proxy holders, but does in fact note the arrest of four critics in addition to Juhasz.

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A must-read story was published today with the headline, 'Chevron throws book at shareholder activist.' The article, which appears on the Dow Jones affiliate MarketWatch.com, asks the question – as reporter John Letzing puts it in the subtitle – Are criminal charges the best way to deal with a meeting disruption?

As the article explains, outspoken Chevron critic and oil industry expert Antonia Juhasz was arrested at Chevron'a annual shareholder meeting in Houston, last May:

After causing a scene by blasting Chevron’s environmental record and starting a derisive chant, Antonia Juhasz was plucked from the audience and arrested. The meeting wrapped shortly afterward. She now faces up to six months in jail.
The article continues:
“This is very, very unusual,” says Sanjai Bhagat, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Leeds School of Business. “I’m a little puzzled as to why management would take such unusually strong steps.”
The professor goes on:
“The severity of this response is going to be counterproductive,” according to Bhagat. “At the next meeting you’ll have even more activists.”

Appearing in a Wall Street Journal-affiliated business news outlet, it's a relatively balanced article, though the reporter does focus on how the action "raises questions about the best way for firms to deal with activists..." rather than the legality of Chevron's actions, or the trend of public companies increasingly limiting discussion and debate at its shareholder meetings.

Most unfortunate though is that the reporter fails to mention that Chevron had four other people arrested that day, and barred nearly twenty other concerned community leaders from the meeting. Each of those people came as legal proxies for Chevron shareholders large and small. In an effort to silence critics, Chevron management systematically denied entry to more than a dozen people negatively affected by Chevron's operations in their communities in places like Ecuador, Nigeria, Burma, and the Philippines.

Amazon Watch's Mitch Anderson (L) and Han Shan (R) under arrest outside Chevron's Houston headquarters, before being taken to Houston City Jail.

The four other people arrested in addition to Antonia included Amazon Watch corporate campaigns director Mitch Anderson (a shareholder) and myself (coordinator of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign) alongside environmental justice leaders Juan Parras of Houston and Rev. Ken Davis from Richmond, California. After being unjustly denied entry to the meeting, the four of us refused to leave, before being taken into custody at the direction of Chevron security personnel.

As the article notes, there is a court hearing in Houston on Thursday at which a trial date will be set.

While it's at the very least disheartening to be facing prison time for showing up to a meeting at which I had every right to be, my plight stands in stark relief to friends I have made in the Ecuadorian Amazon whose lives and communities have been devastated by this arrogant American company.

And we refuse to be silenced by Chevron's ongoing campaign of character assassination and intimidation.

Indigenous Kichwa leader Guillermo Grefa (L) from Ecuador, and Debora Barros Fince (R), an Indigenous Waayu leader from Colombia, sit outside Chevron's shareholders meeting after being denied access even though they both held legal proxies.

*Note: go read the entire article, and if you like, leave a comment. Say what you please but while I noted omissions in the article above, I'm by no means suggesting you slam the piece, which at least highlights the kind of tactics Chevron employs against its critics.

– Han

Han Shan is the Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

1 comment:

  1. I notice a few of the pictures from the above blog are similar to images that can be seen in Justicia Now!

    The fact that we are able to share such powerful images to affect social change gives me a little hope. That said, I see that a draconian response to activism by Chevron management gives credit to the argument that they are in fact responsible for damages done in Ecuador, and are doing their best to effect damage control done to their public image.

    Chevron has decided here to silence descent from its own shareholders, both by having them physically removed from shareholder meetings, and also barring those with legal proxy from entry into shareholder meetings. Is it possible that the image of Chevron we are allowed through the commercial media (that image being one of a green company that cares for the environment) is in danger? I hope so.

    Chevron's online campaign willyoujoinus.com can offer some insight as to the scope of the damage control campaign the company's Public Relations team is trying.

    Justicia Now is also available for free online. http://www.mofilms.org/justicianow/ run time 30 Minutes.

    Finally chevrontoxico.com offers further insight into the Public Relations campaign Chevron is waging today, yet from the perspective of those affected by toxic waste left by the company.

    More later...