By David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle
19 May 2010
The corporate annual report - that glossy, seldom-read staple of the business world - usually features upbeat words and images showcasing a company's stellar year.
The "True Cost of Chevron" alternative annual report, in contrast, features a cover photo of an oil spill.
Released Wednesday by a coalition of Chevron Corp.'s fiercest critics, the report pillories the San Ramon oil company for pollution and alleged human rights abuses around the globe, in places as disparate as Ecuador, Burma, Texas and Richmond.
The report represents an effort by separate groups that have fought Chevron in the past to form a united front against the nation's second largest oil company. It comes a week before Chevron holds its annual shareholders' meeting in Houston, a meeting that many of the people involved in the "True Cost" report plan to crash.
The report also arrives one month after explosions on an offshore drilling rig working for BP triggered a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That isn't the spill featured on the cover, which instead shows an 18,000-gallon spill from a Chevron-operated pipeline in Louisiana in early April. But the report's authors hope the disaster in the gulf will help draw public attention.
"Chevron's operations are mired in human rights, environmental, and social damages and harm," said lead author Antonia Juhasz, who also wrote the 2008 book "The Tyranny of Oil."
"These things happen every day, across the United States and around the world," she said. "But they almost always happen out of the public eye. It takes a big spill in the gulf for people to notice."
This is the alternative report's second year. During the 2009 shareholder meeting, Chevron's then-CEO David O'Reilly called the report's first edition an insult to his employees and said it should be thrown in the trash.
This year, the company merely issued a terse statement, saying, "The only report that accurately represents the true value of Chevron around the world is our Corporate Responsibility Report." The responsibility report, issued this month, discusses the human rights policy that Chevron adopted last year as well as the $144 million the company says it invested in communities around the world to promote education, business development and provision of basic human needs.
The "True Cost" report summarizes Chevron-related controversies in eight states and 16 foreign countries. Many of them were covered in the original report, while others were added this year. Most of the summaries were written or co-written by environmental or social justice groups fighting Chevron in the disputes being described.
Examples of the controversies include:
- The high-profile, $27 billion lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador. The suit, originally filed against Texaco before Chevron bought Texaco in 2001, tries to hold the company accountable for oil-field pollution in a swath of the Ecuadoran Amazon, whose residents blame contaminated soil and water for a wave of illnesses. Chevron says that Texaco, which no long operates in Ecuador, already cleaned up all the wells and waste pits that were its responsibility under an agreement with the government.
- Chevron's stalled effort to upgrade its refinery in Richmond. Local environmentalists say the upgrade would create more air pollution by allowing the refinery to process heavier grades of crude oil. The company says the refinery would still use the same grades as it does today, although it would be able to process larger amounts of the heavier grades it already uses.
- Court cases in Texas that accuse the company of exposing refinery workers there to deadly levels of asbestos and benzene.
- Investment in a natural gas project in Burma that provides the country's ruling junta a major source of cash.