Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Happens When an Oil Company Actually Chooses to Be a Sociopath? #AntiChevron Day

Reposted from the Eye on the Amazon

You gotta give Chevron's management credit for bringing people together – across oceans, continents, and borders. Not because the company is a good neighbor; quite the opposite. Communities on five continents who live where Chevron operated, operates, or seeks to operate, came together yesterday in a worldwide day of protest to denounce the oil giant's environmental and human rights practices.

May 21st, the inaugural International #AntiChevron day, marked a new chapter in the company's deteriorating relationship with the communities where it works and a major challenge to its brand as concerned citizens in twenty countries pledged to target Chevron products. Despite what senior management is saying from behind their rose-colored glasses, it was a referendum on the company that seems slated to grow unless Chevron changes course. But time and again, Chevron management has made major strategic miscalculations, whose effects can now be seen literally around the globe. (for a list of organizations and communities in solidarity with these movement, look here).

Chevron has truly become the poster child for crimes against the environment and human rights. The bizarre thing is that their management chose that mantle and they appear to be sticking with it.

When Chevron (operating as Texaco) made the choice to save $3 per barrel by designing oil extraction systems which deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the pristine Ecuadorian rainforest, they never imagined that they'd one day be found guilty and ordered to pay $9.5 BILLION for it. A very bad calculation. Not too long after that initial choice, they doubled down and rejected pleas to safely line the growing number of waste pits, stating that $4 million was too high a price to avoid poisoning local communities.

Later, Chevron calculated they could delay and eventually derail the decades-long legal battle in New York and then Ecuador. They blew that calculation, too. Not once did they listen to the math lessons given to them by concerned shareholders, government officials, indigenous communities, the environmental and human rights community – it's more costly in the long run for everyone if you refuse to do the right thing and clean up your messes.

The current Chevron CEO, John Watson, is by no means solely responsible, but his math skills may be worst of all. After helping to orchestrate the Chevron-Texaco merger (despite full knowledge of its massive liability in Ecuador), Watson has led the company down the path to its current status as an international pariah. He did this by insisting that rather than accept its clear responsibility for environmental destruction in Ecuador and elsewhere, the company should attack, overwhelm and crush its critics wherever they are. And, tellingly, it then spent millions on ad campaigns telling the world that Chevron cares, because Chevron knows that is where it's most vulnerable.

On May 21, 2014, it became clearer than ever that Chevron's choices are going to come back to haunt them – with financial consequences (the only kind they actually care about). You see, yesterday people were outraged in Argentina, where Chevron has considerable assets – and is investing more. They were protesting in Romania, a key location for Chevron's plans to expand its fracking operations. They were in the streets in Bulgaria, Brazil, and Bolivia, too. And pretty much throughout Europe: the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden. And lets not forget Australia and the Philippines; yes protests took place there, too.

These actions took place because communities living with Chevron's deliberate environmental destruction and human rights crimes in Ecuador, Nigeria, Argentina, Romania and Richmond, California ASKED for them. Because it's obvious to anyone paying attention that Chevron's actions wherever it operates are a growing threat to human rights and the environment everywhere. That Chevron has as little regard for democratic principles in Romania as it does in Richmond. That Chevron's abuse of the rule of law in Ecuador is a dangerous threat to workers in Australia. They all see that Chevron is not just an irresponsible oil company and poor “global citizen” – its behavior is akin to a sociopath's: antisocial, often criminal, and that lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience with no signs of remorse or reform.

Chevron smugly announced that it has no assets in Ecuador and so it will never pay what it owes to the 30,000 Amazonian inhabitants it poisoned. But it does hold quite a lot of assets in Canada. And yes, protests took place there, too. Indeed, Chevron's strategy in the Canadian judicial system may be the next example of poor calculating as the Ecuadorian's efforts to seize assets progress there.

Next week, Watson will sit in front of shareholders, take their questions and face four separate resolutions challenging his authority on these issues. Last year, one of the resolutions challenging Watson's authority related to the Ecuador liability garnered a whopping 37% shareholder support, representing $73 billion in company assets. This year will they begin to do the real math?

The take-home for shareholders is that while Watson can talk and tout his company's scorched earth legal tactics and attacks on victims of its own contamination until he's blue in the face at this year's AGM (and he most certainly will), yesterday's actions underscore that none of its bad boy tactics appear to be insulating it from risk, and in fact they are escalating it. There's a sea change needed, starting at the top, of corporate culture that understands that doing the right thing can also be good for business.

Looking out the window in Midland, TX, Watson won't see the hundreds of protesters he would have had he not decided to move the shareholder meeting from Chevron's San Ramon headquarters, but he won't escape the voices chanting for justice from Chevron because they now emanate from every corner of the planet.

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