to highlight company’s successes turned into forum on abuses: Oil giant
withers under criticism from communities suffering human rights and
by Antonia Juhasz
San Ramon, Calif. – At Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting
May 25, 22 indigenous, First Nation and other impacted community
members and supporters who had traveled to the company’s headquarters
from locations around the globe and across the state confronted CEO
John Watson with the brutal human and environmental abuses caused by
the oil giant’s operations.
this year’s annual shareholder meeting, Chevron brass had to listen to
representatives of the many peoples whose lands and lives the oil giant
has exploited, poisoned and destroyed. They came from all over the
world to speak outside Chevron’s San Ramon headquarters, and then,
armed with shares and proxies, they walked inside and debated the CEO.
Emem Okun – at the mic – came from the Niger Delta to tell of decades
of toxic flaring and oil contamination ruining once rich farming and
fishing. In the delta, despite the people’s heroic resistance, oil
means not wealth but poverty, sickness and death. – Photo: Tonya
Watson struggled to defend his company’s record in the face of
the devastating criticism from institutional investors, shareholders
and impacted community members and was instead forced to turn multiple
times to pre-packed video and slideshows prepared prior to the meeting.
Outside the meeting, 150 supporters rallied in a colorful and
creative protest against the company’s operations around the world and
across their home state.
Community leaders from Angola, Ecuador, Nigeria, Indonesia, the
tarsands of Canada, Alaska, Texas and Richmond, Calif., and those
representing communities in China, Australia, the Philippines,
Kazakhstan and more attended the meeting as share- and proxy-holders
providing first-hand descriptions of their lives and environment in and
around Chevron’s operations.
While Watson tried to highlight the company’s human rights,
environmental and economic successes, when the microphones were opened
to shareholders, those successes quickly turned to failures. Half the
meeting became a referendum on the company’s disastrous track record of
supporting brutal dictators in Burma, decimating local livelihoods
though its offshore operations in Alaska and Angola, and causing mass
pollution and destruction of human health in locations as diverse as
Ecuador, Richmond, Kazakhstan, Indonesia and Nigeria.
Emem Okon of the Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre,
who had come from Nigeria’s Niger Delta, challenged Watson’s assertions
that the company had improved its record on flaring.
“I am here to represent the women of the Niger Delta who live in
communities near gas flares and who suffer health issues of
infertility, early menopause, miscarriages, cancer, rashes – women who
fish in waters polluted by Chevron.” Ms. Okon asked CEO Watson, “When
will Chevron stop environmental violence against women? When will
Chevron stop the toxic flares in the Niger Delta? When will Chevron
management meet with the women of the Niger Delta and our international
Thomas Evans of the Nanwalek Tribe spoke in response to Chevron’s
claims about the health and safety of its offshore operations. Evans
spoke of the harmful impacts from the toxic discharge of produced waste
from Chevron’s offshore drilling rig on his community and environment
in Cook Inlet, Alaska. Mr. Evans said he will return to Alaska and
report to his tribe that Chevron CEO Watson “does not care about our
subsistence way of life and is totally disrespectful of our culture and
of all the people dying of cancers.”
Gitz Crazyboy (Ryan) Deranger of the First Nation Dene/Pikini
(Blackfoot) people came to the meeting from Alberta, Canada, where
Chevron is partner in extensive tarsands operations. “Chevron’s
pollution is killing our way of life. Our moose and caribou are dying.
Our fish are dying. Chevron is destroying our culture. Chevron is
committing cultural genocide.”
Elias Isaac of the Open Society Institute traveled from Angola to
attend the meeting and directly challenge Watson’s assertion that
Chevron is supporting human rights and local economies in Angola.
“Chevron’s understanding and definition of human rights is completely
distorted. Their approach is to respond with charity work, but this
does not address the long-term sustainable economic and social
challenges facing the local fishing communities of Cabinda Province.”
Each speaker carried a copy of the “True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report,”
on which all had worked. They provided the report to eager
shareholders, but when Richmond resident Rev. Kenneth Davis attempted
to hand the report to Watson, he was stopped by private security
guards. Watson threatened to stop the entire meeting if the Reverend
insisted on handing the report directly to him.
At the meeting’s conclusion, the community leaders exited to a
cheering and supportive crowd. They called the meeting a success and
vowed to return again next year.