Friday, November 11, 2011

Chevron's Leadership is an Oxymoron

Chevron has no clothes
The theme for this year's Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) conference in San Francisco last week was "redefining leadership". I have no qualm with that, for when I realized that Chevron was not only a major sponsor but a featured speaker on a panel about "community engagement," I agreed. Indeed, that is a new definition of leadership – appallingly bad leadership.

Inviting the oil company that was found guilty of deliberately dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the pristine Ecuadorian Amazon – poisoning over 30,000 people who live there – to lead a session on community engagement is like asking the Taliban to chair a conference on women's rights. Is this really the message that BSR wants to send to its members?

We are confronted by hypocrisy every day, and yet somehow there's a fundamental disconnect here that defies explanation. The jury is no longer out. Chevron has lost an 18-year legal battle, been found guilty and fined $18 billion in a venue of its own choice. Because they refuse to accept responsibility and pay for a clean-up, Chevron is now the "poster-child" for corporate irresponsibility. Adding insult to injury (and these are not metaphorical injuries), Chevron filed a RICO suit against the plaintiffs earlier this year accusing them of extortion. That case was eventually laughed out of court, but Chevron's strategy remains the same: delay, disrupt and deny. Is this a new definition of leadership? I'd call it the same tired tactics on which corporate criminals spend millions each year.

How does Chevron go from such infamy to sharing the stage with Aron Cramer, President and CEO of BSR (and on the 18th anniversary of the launch of the epic lawsuit against Chevron, no less)? During the panel, Chevron spokesperson Rhonda Zygocki, VP of Policy and Planning, actually said that there's no longer a CSR Department at Chevron because corporate responsibility is integrated into every aspect of the company's operations. Why would they need a department to evaluate how they treat communities and the environment, since everybody at Chevron so completely loves community and the environment? That would be silly. Mr. Cramer, who according to the BSR site is, "recognized globally as an authority on corporate responsibility by leaders in business and NGOs and by his peers in the field," did not question this position. It certainly seems like a colossal step backward to us. On the other hand, eliminating the CSR department at Chevron may be the first honest thing they have done in a long while.

Zygocki went on to tell the room that "values-driven leadership is visible… values have to be overt." This is from a woman who has sat, face to face with Cofán leader Emergildo Criollo, a man who lost two children to Chevron's toxic mess in Ecuador and blamed another company for pollution she knows her company created. Chevron's "values" have led them to try every dirty trick in the book to avoid responsibility, and now, after years of legal battles, when the decision has finally been made, they vow never to pay to clean up the mess they made, pledging instead to "fight it out until hell freezes over, and then fight it out on the ice." How dare they speak of values?

One value that Chevron does understand, however, is the value of an ad campaign. The recent "We Agree" PR blitz is actually an example of hollow leadership. Like the concept of corporate social responsibility, Chevron can vaguely "agree" that "oil companies should care" without ever actually doing anything to back that up. Greenwashing like this deserves its own panel at a BSR conference, but certainly not as an example of leadership. In fact, Mr. Cramer should dedicate an entire day at next year's conference to examining the brutal reality of Chevron's "community engagement." Amazon Watch, and many other organizations working with communities in Angola, Ecuador, Nigeria, Indonesia, the tar sands of Canada, Alaska, Texas, and even Richmond, California would be eager to contribute. Instead, by touting Chevron as a responsible business leader, BSR's commitment to its own mission must be questioned.

Hypothetically, what would it mean if Chevron accepted its responsibility for the worst oil-related disaster on Earth? If they paid for a full-scale clean-up and helped to heal the sick and dying communities in Ecuador? That type of leadership would not only be responsible but revolutionary. It would send shock waves through every major industry and cement Chevron in place as a true leader in corporate social responsibility. How to make this thought experiment become a reality is what BSR should be examining – the "Business of a Better World."

A true advocate for corporate social responsibility would join the growing wave of voices telling Chevron that enough is enough. That there will be no bold "new leadership" if corporations can't accept their role in egregious violations such as the case in Ecuador. Chevron is a criminal – an unrepentant recidivist – not a leader.

– Paul Paz y MiƱo

Thursday, November 3, 2011

18 Years of Fighting Chevron

Lago Agrio, Ecuador – The sprawl of scorched pavement and crumbling cement buildings in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. This city, once a small oil boom town founded by Texaco in the late 1960s (and given, appropriately, the name "Sour Lake" after Texaco's hometown in Texas) is now a bewildering and feverish mess of oil workers, drug-traffickers, street children, shop owners, impoverished farmers, and indigenous people stripped of their ancestral territory and forced to survive, as the Cofán people say, in the kokama kuri sindipa ande (the white man's world of money).

Just several days ago, at the edge of the pavement on the outskirts of the city, where the Cofán people have recovered (yes, purchased) a narrow tract of their ancestral territory, I spent the afternoon with Marina Aguinda Lucitante, an elder of the tribe. She was born along the banks of the Agua Rico river. She was married at a young age to a Cofán Shaman, Guillermo Quenama, who died, she says, "because the oil company poisoned him with alcohol." She remembers when the forest was filled with animals. And she remembers when the river ran black with crude oil. She seems to remember everything – and all of her memories are divided: Life before the oil company and life after the oil company.  

It has been nearly 50 years since Texaco began oil operations here in the northeastern Ecuadorian Amazon. Nearly 50 years since the death of Marina's husband, Guillermo Quenama. And over that time, the impacts of Texaco's (now Chevron's) reckless pump and dump oil operations have been well documented. The abandoned oil pits littered throughout the rainforest, the billions of gallons of toxic wastewater dumped into rivers and streams, the felled primary forest, the noxious gases rising into the sky from 24 hour-a-day flaring, the crude oil sprayed on the roads, the towering black plumes of smoke from spilt and burning crude, the resultant public health crisis racking indigenous and mestizo farmer communities, including cancer, spontaneous miscarriages, and birth defects.

But what has not been documented – what cannot possibly be understood by anyone who has not been here to endure the last 50 years of oil operations – is how the oil conquest has affected the spiritual life, the inner world, of those who live here.

Today, which marks the 18th anniversary of the monumental legal struggle against Chevron for massive environmental crimes in the Amazon rainforest, Marina has asked me to share with the world a song that she has been carrying within her for these last 50 years. Marina is one of the last Cofán women who remember how to sing in the way of her ancestors. This is her song.

– Mitch Anderson

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chevron Fights Like Mad to Block Release of Documents

Court Begins to Question Oil Giant's Double Standard When It Comes to Disclosure of Case Files

Reposted from The Chevron Pit

If you want an example of how a large oil company can mock court orders and get away with it, look no further than Chevron's behavior in the Ecuador environmental case where the company faces an $18 billion liability and allegations that it engaged in criminal misconduct to undermine a trial.See here and here.

The bottom line: due to a series of discovery decisions by a U.S. federal judge, who is clearly biased against the Ecuadorians, Chevron has almost the entire case file of the Ecuadorian's legal team while the Ecuadorians and their lawyers have almost none of Chevron's documents. There is simply no level playing field in the case.

Reporters covering the matter have completely missed the story of Chevron's gamesmanship before U.S. Judges. This gamesmanship makes it clear that Chevron will do anything to evade what is the largest court judgment in history for environmental damage. (See here)

One example vividly illustrates Chevron's maneuvering. For more than a year, the Ecuadorians have been fighting to obtain thousands of documents related to Diego Borja, the Chevron operative who secretly videotaped himself and his colleague Wayne Hansen offering a bribe to be given to the presiding judge in Ecuador as a way to sabotage the proceedings. Borja's own lawyer has admitted publicly that his client faces criminal liability in the U.S. and Ecuador for his actions. Borja has admitted Chevron has paid him vast sums of money – including covering his U.S. income taxes – for not working while living in the U.S. out of reach of journalists and investigative authorities.

When it comes to seeking Chevron's documents, the Ecuadorians have been met with nothing but obstructionism from Chevron's army of lawyers at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, King & Spalding, Jones Day, Boies Schiller & Flexner, and Arguedes Cassman & Headley. (Yes, you read that correctly – Chevron has hired five of the most powerful corporate and criminal defense firms in America to defend its environmental dumping in Ecuador. The Gibson Dunn firm recently disclosed it has at least 75 lawyers working on the case, meaning it is probably is billing the oil giant well over $100 million annually to get it off the hook for human rights violations in Ecuador.)

Consider the radically different ways U.S. courts have treated Chevron's requests for discovery, as compared to those made by the Ecuadorians.

In federal court in New York, the battle was fast and furious for release of privileged documents belonging to the Ecuadorians when Chevron wanted them. Thanks to a "technicality" ginned up by federal judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who insulted the Ecuadorians from the bench by claiming their lawsuit was imaginary, Chevron collected practically every document and email written about the 18-year-old case from their longtime lawyer Steven Donziger.

Kaplan prevented Donziger from arguing why particular documents were protected by privilege. Instead, he ordered Donziger to truck over his entire stash of tens of thousands of emails and internal memos to Chevron's law offices on the grounds his privilege log was turned in “late”. In fact, his log was prepared by numerous lawyers working furiously for weeks to list each of his thousands of documents, and it was clearly prepared in a reasonable amount of time (about four weeks after Kaplan denied Donziger's motion to quash the subpoena).

Using Judge Kaplan as its ally, Chevron also obtained documents from case interns, other lawyers for the Ecuadorians, consultants, financial advisors, and financial supporters – over 1 million documents in all, according to legal briefs.

Chevron's discovery orgy was abruptly shut down in September by the federal appeals court in New York, which stayed the underlying legal proceeding before Kaplan where Chevron was seeking an unprecedented (and probably illegal) worldwide injunction barring enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment. Without that case, Chevron lost the legal mechanism it was using to continue its U.S. discovery odyssey. Without the injunction, Chevron also now finds itself in a bigger jam now than when Kaplan was allowed to run wild on its behalf.

Interestingly, a few days before that appellate ruling staying Kaplan's proceeding, Chevron's double standard was revealed in a little-noticed decision by New York Magistrate Judge James Francis IV. Francis had this to say about Chevron's privilege logs (which lists Chevron's documents related to the litigation that the company is trying to prevent from being turned over to the Ecuadorians):

“(The review) reveals the categorization process engaged in by Chevron obscures rather than illuminates (emphasis added) the nature of the materials withheld….”
“Distressingly, Chevron has taken a view of its own discovery responsibilities sharply different from the obligations it seeks to impose on the (Ecuadorians) …. Chevron was highly critical of (the Ecuadorians’) privilege log descriptions that turn out to have been far more detailed (emphasis added) than Chevron's own.”
In the meantime, the wheels of justice have turned much more slowly in legal proceedings initiated by the Ecuadorians in California seeking Chevron's documents related to the Borja corruption scandal. See here.

Despite more than a year’s worth of motions filed by the Ecuadorians and granted by the court to compel Chevron and Borja to hand over documents, only a handful of largely irrelevant documents have actually been produced. With the legal action in New York dormant, Chevron is fighting even harder in California to stop anyone from discovering the depths to which the company sank with Borja in Ecuador. If Borja has potential criminal liability for trying to sabotage the proceedings in Ecuador, what does that say about Chevron's liability given that Borja was working for Chevron at the time and is now a “kept man” by the oil company in the U.S.? That's the question Chevron does not want answered.

Chevron has been trying ever since to cover up its involvement, even lying to the public about key facts in a press release – such as characterizing Borja as a "Good Samaritan", failing to disclose that his sidekick Wayne Hansen (who helped him shoot the videos) was a convicted drug felon, or hiding the fact the pair met with Chevron lawyers as the scheme was unfolding.

Arguing for a balanced playing field for the Ecuadorians, attorney Jim Tyrrell of Patton Boggs recently asked a California magistrate judge to force Chevron, Borja and a private investigative firm paid by Chevron to stop hiding behind their privilege logs.

“… Respectfully, what we get back from Chevron and their allies is garbage. We can't tell what those privilege logs mean,” argued Tyrrell before Magistrate Judge Nathanial Cousins, who is expected to rule soon.

“Chevron has every one of my lead lawyers' documents for 18 years," Tyrell said. "We're quibbling over one here or there. That's not a level playing field, and that's not what justice is about.

“If anybody deserves a press account as to their conduct with respect to fraud, it isn't my side. It's the folks, respectfully, at Chevron.”

We are waiting to see if Magistrate Judge Cousins stands up to Chevron and its army of lawyers. He should allow a full airing of the facts related to this scandal.