By Michael Liedtke, Associated Press
28 April 2004
SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) - Thrusting a celebrity's punch into a long-running battle, social butterfly-turned-social activist Bianca Jagger urged ChevronTexaco Corp. Wednesday to clean up an environmental quagmire in the Ecuador jungles where the oil giant once thrived.
Jagger -- a former model who became an habitu De of the 1970s party scene during her eight-year marriage to rock-and-roll star Mick Jagger -- was one of several critics who faced off with ChevronTexaco chairman and CEO David O'Reilly during the company's annual shareholders meeting.
Echoing the allegations in a lawsuit currently on trial in Ecuador, Jagger accused San Ramon, Caif.-based ChevronTexaco of turning its back on Amazon Indians who are dying from cancer and other lethal health problems caused by decades of oil drilling in the Amazon jungle.
"We all want to be part of a profitable corporation," Jagger told O'Reilly. "However, innocent life and the environment should not be sacrificed in the name of profit."
O'Reilly allotted 35 minutes to listen to Jagger and several other critics before reiterating ChevronTexaco's long-held belief that it has no liability for the demise of the Indian tribes.
After spending $40 million cleaning up Ecuadorean oil pits from 1995 to 1998, ChevronTexaco contends the remaining responsibility is with its former business partner, the Ecuadorean government. The oil partnership lasted from 1964 through 1992, with ChevronTexaco holding a 37.5 percent stake.
Describing the Ecuadorean government as "inept and inadequate," O'Reilly told shareholders that ChevronTexaco had become a "target of convenience" for crusaders upset about the fallout from decades of oil production.
"We will not accept blame for something that is not ours," O'Reilly said.
Ecuador's government has already certified ChevronTexaco's past cleanup as satisfactory.
Wednesday's attacks on ChevronTexaco did not appear to strike a chord with shareholders. A proposal asking ChevronTexaco's board to address the Ecuador mess was overwhelmingly rejected, with 91 percent of the votes opposing the recommendation.
Four other shareholder proposals also lost by wide margins.
Two proposals sought company reports on the economic effects of HIV/AIDS and the prospects for renewable energy. Two other proposals wanted greater disclosure about the company's political contributions and a mandate requiring all directors much be re-elected by a majority vote. Shareholders this year re-elected 11 incumbent directors and approved a fresh face, attorney Robert E. Denham.
The allegations against ChevronTexaco went to trial last October in Ecuador. A verdict in the case, representing 30,000 poor jungle settlers and Amazon Indians, might not be reached until next year. Several more years of appeals could follow.
Jagger and other ChevronTexaco critics fear hundreds of people will die while the legal process plays out. Thousands of Amazon Indians already have died from health problems with alleged links to contaminated oil pits, according to Amazon Watch, a group leading the charge against ChevronTexaco.
An environmental engineer hired by the attorneys suing ChevronTexaco has estimated the company's liability at roughly $6 billion -- a figure the oil giant ridicules as biased and unfounded.