By Terence Chea, Associated Press
28 May 2008
SAN RAMON - Chevron Corp. CEO David O'Reilly faced intense criticism from environmentalists and human rights advocates who detailed their grievances at the company's annual shareholders meeting Wednesday.
Activists took advantage of the gathering at Chevron headquarters in San Ramon to blast the oil giant for alleged environmental and human rights abuses in Ecuador, Nigeria and Myanmar. Outside, protesters in white protective suits waved broom-shaped "Clean Up Chevron" signs at the company's front entrance.
Despite activists' efforts to draw attention to the alleged abuses, Chevron shareholders soundly rejected six resolutions that would create new company policies on human rights and environmental protection.
In Ecuador, Chevron faces a multibillion lawsuit by 30,000 jungle settlers and Indians who allege the company failed to clean up billions of gallons of toxic wastewater produced by Texaco Petroleum Co., which Chevron acquired in 2001.
At Wednesday's meeting, activist Luis Yanza told O'Reilly that the contamination has poisoned the land and sickened thousands of people who live in the Ecuadorean Amazon rainforest.
"We will never rest until we have obtained justice," said Yanza, who was named a winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize last month.
O'Reilly acknowledged there were serious environmental problems in Ecuador, but said the company had already spent $40 million on environmental cleanup and was released from liability by the Ecuadorean government.
"Chevron is the wrong target here," O'Reilly said before he played a company video that claimed the state oil company PetroEcuador was chiefly to blame for the pollution.
Chevron faces another lawsuit by Nigerians who claim that the company hired soldiers who shot and killed protesters at an offshore oil platform in the Niger Delta in 1998. The company claims the protesters were armed youths who were shot after they demanded money and took more than 200 workers hostage.
The case is set to go to trial in San Francisco later this year.
Larry Bowoto, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, told shareholders Wednesday that he was "shot by soldiers bought and paid for by Chevron" exactly 10 years ago when he was on an oil barge protesting environmental damage caused by oil operations.
"Chevron has responded with violence when Nigerian villagers have protested," Bowoto said. "Chevron must give up violence as a way of doing business."
O'Reilly angrily responded that Bowoto had participated in a "criminal act" and the soldiers were dealing with a dangerous situation in which the protesters had taken Chevron employees hostage.
"This is the most outrageous presentation I've seen in my time at Chevron," O'Reilly said. "This gentlemen has the nerve to come out here ... and make those kind of claims."
Activists also complained about Chevron's operations in Myanmar, where the company owns a minority stake in a natural gas pipeline that generates revenue for the country's military dictatorship. They said the firm hasn't done enough to push the regime to accept international aid following the devastating Cyclone Nargis earlier this month.
The Chevron CEO pointed out that the company had donated $2 million to provide disaster relief to cyclone victims.
While many Americans are fuming over skyrocketing gas prices, shareholders didn't complain Wednesday that the company has been reporting record profits amid soaring demand for petroleum.
O'Reilly said he expects gas prices to fall over the next year or two as supply rises to meet increasing global demand.
"You do have an incentive to invest more," O'Reilly said. "We expect supply and demand to come into balance, and you'll see lower prices."