Indigenous communities throughout world fight oil giant Chevron

TORONTO – On May 21, 2014 demonstrators in over a dozen countries held actions and rallies to denounce Chevron’s disastrous environmental record, marking the first International Anti-Chevron Day.

Several dozen gathered in Toronto’s Dundas Square to show their support to communities around the world that have been affected by Chevron. Representatives from many environmental and human rights organizations were also present to demonstrate.

The global day of action was called by the Union of those Affected by Texaco’s Oil Operations (Union De Afectados por las Operaciones Petroleras de Texaco). They represent various indigenous communities in Ecuador’s Amazon where Texaco, which was later purchased by Chevron, dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste between 1964 and 1992. The global day of action aimed to gather support for the affected communities and to pressure Chevron to pay for the contamination it caused.

In Canada, Chevron has announced plans to build its Pacific Trail Pipeline, which would cross through Wet’suwet’en territory in Northern British Columbia, an indigenous territory that has never ceded to the settlers.

The Unist’oten’s clan has called for support from its allies, and have been physically blocking the project since 2010. Chevron has – characteristically – gone on the offensive.

“At a recent open house in Prince George,” reads a Facebook page titled Ally Caravan Toronto-Unist’ot’en, “representatives from (Chevron) declared that if the community did not sign on to the pipeline it would be ‘tough luck for them’ and that if the Unist’ot’en Camp did not stand aside they threatened to have the blockade removed by force.”

But Safia Gahayr, president of CUPE 3907, says this is not just an issue for indigenous peoples. She urges Canadians to join the fight, and says the labour movement can play a big role in helping achieve this.

“Unions are behind their struggle,” she says. “We know what these Canadian mining companies are doing in the so-called third world…. But what Chevron is doing, and the destruction of the environment, is not just out there, it’s not just happening to those people… It’s happening to us, because this environment is ours…and this destruction affects Canadians as well.”

Former Toronto city councillor, Adam Vaughn, who was at the event, also spoke of the high standards Canadian mining companies ought to be held to, particularly when overseas. he says “When it comes to mining, we know that Canadian multinationals get away with very bad practices in the Amazon basin and in South America.” Vaughn, who will be running in the June 30 by-election in the Trinity-Spadina riding, said that’s the message he will be taking to Ottawa.

Paul Paz y Miñoz, online and operations director for Amazon Watch, a California-based non-profit organization, says he is also confident in the outcome of the Ecuadorian communities’ struggles. “Communities in Ecuador led the call to not buy Chevron’s products and to build an alliance,” says Paul Paz y Miñoz, “And to their pleasure, they were joined by Nigerians, Argentineans, communities in Richmond (U.S.) and Romania.”

“This campaign, specially the Ecuador portion, is a campaign that is too big to fail,” he says, and adds that even shareholders are reaching the end of their line and are proposing to reform Chevron from the inside.

One of these shareholders is Simon Billenness, based out of Washington, who has organized shareholder activism and socially responsible investment for a long time. Billenness says the company’s poor handling of the Ecuadorian situation has a lot of shareholders sympathizing with the protesters and also demanding accountability. “We’ve got serious concerns and questions regarding Chevron’s management’s legal strategy in this case,” he says. “By taking a hyper-aggressive legal approach, it’s made it much harder for the company to settle this case.”

Quoting Chevron’s sworn testimony, Billenness says the company will face “substantial and irreparable damage” from the enforcement of the $9.5 billion Ecuadorian judgment. But Ecuador, he says, is only a symptom of a larger issue.

“Chevron’s board is too beholden to management and hasn’t provided the necessary oversight in handling the case,” he says. “The Global Day of Action demonstrates there’s a pattern of mismanagement by Chevron…(And) it’s clear…that Chevron’s management doesn’t have a handle on the impacts of these operations on…the world.”

Over the last few years, progressive shareholders have fielded resolutions to reform Chevron’s management structure. One resolution was to separate the CEO and chair of the board positions. This got 38% approval two years ago. Other similar resolutions, typically referencing Ecuador, says Billenness, have received between 25% – 38% approval.

Another resolution — fielded the last two years by “one of the largest holders of Chevron’s stock in the world” — has been to add to the board a director with expertise in environmental liability. This, says Billenness, is aimed directly at the heart of Chevron’s problems.

“These days the competition among oil companies for legal and social licenses to operate and get access to oil reserves is very fierce,” he says. “If a company like Chevron builds a reputation of being…a bad corporate citizen, it stands to lose out in its bidding for new operations around the world.”

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