Chevron shareholders call for payment to Ecuadorian communities

By Jim Cummings

As over a hundred protesters hung signs and speechified outside, Chevron shareholders met this week and heard from some of their own that it’s time to pay a fair settlement to Ecuadorian communities that suffered from environmental contamination near Chevron facilities.  An Ecuadorian court sided with the communities and ruled they should receive $18 billion from Chevron for cleanup and health costs; this is, not surprisingly, seen as wildly excessive by the company, which claims the entire court process was fraudulent and corrupt.  Nonetheless, over 20 shareholders representing $156 billion in Chevron stock, urged the company to settle the case:

“In failing to negotiate a reasonable settlement prior to the Ecuadorian court’s ruling against the company, we believe that Chevron displayed poor judgment that has led investors to question whether our Company’s leadership can properly manage the array of environmental challenges and risks that it faces,” the letter states.

Signatories include many organizations who purchase company stocks specifically in order to participate in these discussions inside the corporate halls: Oxfam America, Catholic Health Partners, International Brotherhood of Teamsters General Fund, Mercy Investment Services, Pinnacle Investment Advisors, Unitarian Universalist Association and American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

New York State Comptroller, representing the state’s Common Retirement Fund, said that it’s time for  Chevron to resolve the situation to avoid protracted and costly litigation, stating “It is time to face reality.” Di Napoli continued, “The entire case is looming like a hammer over shareholder’s heads. Chevron should start fresh with a new approach that embraces environmental responsibility … More legal proceedings will only delay the inevitable.”

In 2009, a Chevron spokesman said, “We’re going to fight this until hell freezes over. And then we’ll fight it out on the ice.” A spokesman for Trillium Asset Management told Courthouse News that this sort of talk makes shareholders uneasy.  “Do they want to go to hell with Chevron?” asked Sanford Lewis, a Trillium lawyer.  Trillium has taken steps beyond internal shareholder pressure by asking the SEC to investigate Chevron’s handling of the case, since most companies “self-correct” when faced with SEC investigation, and this brand of shareholder activism “helps to clean up the disclosure market,” according to Lewis

A good range of coverage of the meetings is available at these links:
Alternet and Rainforest Action Network each focus on the indigenous communities and protests outside the meeting
Courthouse News has the most comprehensive look at what occurred among the shareholders, and the San Francisco Chronicle speaks to both sides of the controvery, with links to dueling reports, and has a brief article noting that a possible opportunity to settle for about $1 billion was dropped in 2009.

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Jim Cummings

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